If I could pray to St. Martin…MLK Day

So…we have begun this simple exercise in imagination.  What would it be like to pray to the person many in our society and in the world are venerating today?  King has a large presence in my imagination, though I do not possess too much of an overly-romanticized view of the man, due to my proximity to the black Baptist tradition that groomed King.  As a kid I remember sitting in the pews, the preacher is doing the call and response performance, the choir is getting with him, and the most memorable image is that of the church fan.  If anyone has ever visited a traditional black Baptist church you will probably get a fan.  During the summer of course.  But these fans had something memorable about them.  On one side of the fan was usually a black funeral home advertisement.  While on the other side was an image of Dr. King.  This King-image would stay in the recesses of my ecclesial imagination for a while.  I always identified King with ‘church’.  As a got older and became more cognizant of King’s activities in the wider-democracy called America it never sat well with me to simply describe him as a ‘civil rights’ leader.  He was more like my pastor Reverend Harry and like the prophets we’d learn about in Sunday School.  So the primary site of my reflection on King is ecclesial…from the site of the church.  The church in its liturgy, sacraments, and in its various practices of what I call neighbor-love.  I left that church in my teens to be overwhelmed with a bout of street atheism.  I saw many things that left me reeling and rocking regarding the existence of a good God.  But I would come back as a young man into the fold.  Back into a black Pentecostal church tradition that would have multi-ethnic leanings.  I would then discover a different King.  A King that was both a sinner and a prophet.  It is this King that I am intrigued with.  Especially King the prophet rather than King the dreamer.  The metaphor of ‘dream’ does not sit well with me.  It conjures up waiting under a tree and watching the clouds go by or something like that.  I understand it though and appreciate the metaphor.  It is more of an eschatological metaphor…a deep longing for a present justice.  Something akin to postmodern philosopher Jacques Derrida’s “democracy-to-come”.  The Dream is an eschatological reality that finds its moorings in the Exodus story, Hebrew Prophets, and ultimately in Jesus from Nazareth.  This is the site from which I see the Dream.  It seems the Dream has become an opportunity for many of us to gorge ourselves on milk and honey.  Yahweh did not tell Moses for them to leave Egypt in order to gorge themselves on milk and honey.  Yahweh sent them into the wilderness and into the Promise land to worship and enjoy God first and foremost.  They were to engage in a very profound liturgy.  By liturgy I mean not simply a praise service of some sort but what the word truly means in the ancient language: the work of the people.  The Dream, as I have come to understand it, is an eschatological hope but a liturgical practice whereby the people of God being on a journey to do a particular kind of work.  The work being a Spirit-intoxicated preformance of the gospel and giving signification/fortaste to the kingdom of God…or as King called it the Beloved Community.  So as we dream today.  As we remember the life and work of Dr. King let us not forget that the Dream finds its ultimate source not in the vox populi….but in the vox dei.  It is the vox dei in the burning bush that would inspire a story that would inspire a descendant of slaves to proclaim the gospel.  A proclamation that has shaken our world to its core.  So…I end this post not with a prayer to King.  I end this post with a prayer to whoever delivered Israel from Egypt and whoever delivered Jesus from the death-grip of Roman imperial power.  It is that same whoever, I believe, that lived in King’s community.  That whoever being no other than Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  To God I give honor and blessing for this day.  To God I say thanks for finding a sinner and prophet that was willing to say, at large costs, “Here I am”. 

So…I thank you Dr. King for saying “Here I am”…and thank you God for holding King in your everlasting arms.  Shalom. 

4 thoughts on “If I could pray to St. Martin…MLK Day

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  1. I’ve never reflected publicly on Martin Luther King. But I do now:

    He was a great man, one moved by spiritual connectionism to all followers of Jesus Christ. May his spirit, and his message, be forever embraced by Christians of all walks.


  2. Anthony,

    Being raised non-religious, in the south, and then becoming a ‘republican’ as a young adult, and being white, Dr. King was never much on my radar… until the call for a holiday to recognize him… then my father recognized him… but it was not in a positive way.

    I am ashamed of my ignorance of this man. As I have become more familiar with the emerging church, become more disillusioned with the political 2-party system, become concerned about the war and the direction our president continues to push our country, I hear Dr. King’s words often quoted.

    Yesterday, I listened to the whole of his speech “Time to Break Silence”. It left me wanting to know more about a man who would speak out for peace even knowing that his life was in danger. His speech was full of historical information that I was and am ignorant of. I have been following lock-step with those who say, “If you question the president, you must not be a patriot.” No more!

    I hope to catch up again with the Charlotte Cohort in February!


  3. thankyou. I think we used to interact some at Steve Bush’s old blog…

    I remember the year they first started MLKjr day. I was 7 and had been almost killed when crossing the street to go to swimming lessons and a car hit me.

    I think the fact of my near-death experience and its trauma that haunted me in my subconscious drew me to MLKjr for his death and repulsed me, as I didn’t want to die.

    Here is my vision for changes that could be pressed for in the coming years.


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