“King’s View of Mutuality”
Ruth 1:16-17; John Fairfax “Little Song” and excerpt from Martin Luther King
By Rev. Don Ludwig, January 25, 2020
John Fairfax, “Little Song” Adrift on the Star Brow of Taliesin
On the Land an oak will grow
On a bough an owl may stand
From lasting cloud a rain will fall
Upon the earth to water seed.
Each to each returns its need
To act upon the other’s call
No locking ring may stay the hand
Nor halt the seasons as they flow.
Mahatma Gandhi, though a devout Hindu, was widely known to admire Jesus; Gandhi often quoted from the Sermon on the Mount. Once when the missionary E. Stanley Jones met with Gandhi he asked him, “Mr. Gandhi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is it that you appear to adamantly reject becoming his follower?” Gandhi replied, “Oh, I don’t reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
The Christian church — an institution that is supposed to embody the dynamic, life-changing message for the world, so very often switches allegiances to embody all the things that Jesus preached AGAINST. We know our history—from abuse of power to racism, from the Crusades to sexism, the church, this organized institution of faith that we know as Southminster, has for 2000 years struggled to express the teachings of Jesus and, very often, failed. Miserably.
So, why have a church at all? Why not be followers of Jesus on our own? If we could swing it, it might be a little less messy—no long budget meetings or labored discussions about building repairs, no one has to draw a diagram for how the chairs in the sanctuary have to be put back once they are moved, no usher or sound duty or grubby Sundays (sorry Matt) — and perhaps most attractive of all – no more meetings! Sounds great to me.
Culture of Fear
Dr. King once said, “we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality; tied in a single garment of destiny.” Those words still have resonance for us, particularly right now. // I don’t know about you but all too often these days I don’t quite know where to begin. I don’t quite know what to do. In these times of division, in these times when prejudice is given such license, in these times that can so easily have us questioning just how far have we come or not.
We live in a culture where there are many things to fear. We legitimately ask whether there will be clean air to breathe and pure water to drink. We worry about war and violence, we worry about what the future will be for our children. But fear can also be used to divide us. And we know how true that can be — especially in these days. So what can we do when it seems that nothing can be done?
Maybe, that right there, IRONICALLY, is the answer — maybe our mutuality is not so much about doing but about being — maybe the church’s purpose is not about action, but about a community that prepares us for action — maybe the church is the place where we set aside those cultural fears that work to divide us and come together as One. King called the church, “the beloved community”. He said the church is the community of those who know that love is the power through which we are created and sustained and mutuality is our inescapable destiny.
Martin Luther King: Vision of Something Greater
One story is told about the immense pressure that King was under during one of his boycotts. One night, just getting home from jail after being targeted and arrested on a bogus speeding charge, King was up late and unable to sleep. The phone rang with an anonymous caller threatening him. Historian Taylor Branch writes how that night King was overwhelmed by the juxtaposition of images and memories—the threats from whites juxtaposed with the memories of white mentors and colleagues in seminary; the middle-class blacks who were distressed by King’s assertive calls for justice juxtaposed with the hopeful courage he saw in the poor blacks who were the backbone of the boycott. It mirrored the tension he knew in himself—the reality of evil in human nature and the hope for progress and justice. I know that we feel that same tension today.
On one hand, King felt the potential in himself to be anything he wanted to be. On the other, he was constricted by the realities that paralyzed and defined him. On this night King buried his face in his hands at the kitchen table. He admitted to himself that he was afraid, he had nothing left, that the people would falter if they looked to him for strength. Then he spoke out loud, using the name of no deity, but his doubts spilled out as a prayer, ending, ‘I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.’ (TWICE) // As he spoke these words, the story goes, the fears suddenly began to melt away. He became intensely aware of what he called an ‘inner voice’ telling him to do what he thought was right. For King, this moment at his kitchen table awakened and confirmed his belief that he was connected with some force outside himself. That he was not alone in all of this.
So how do we sustain ourselves in our times? I don’t have all the answers but I think it begins with recognizing that we are not alone but part of something larger. It means we need to pay attention to what’s going on around us and within us. I think these times call for us to engage in a kind of spiritual practice that would have us moving out of our goals and our ideals—moving away from a “blueprint” Dr. King might say— to a focus on community — a community that keeps us grounded and steady. King would often refer to the “the solidarity of the human family”, recognizing that we are in this thing together!
I experienced solidarity two weeks ago while being on Strike at Clark College. I am not going to lie to you — I hated it — it was a miserable two days of walking and marching in the frigid cold and snow and rain and chanting and being angry — BUT the best result was not just getting a fair contract, not just getting 45,000 steps on my Apple Health App, but experiencing solidarity & togetherness and meeting so many fellow faculty that I had never met before.
There is power in our togetherness! Gandhi would say: “Christians, you not only have the capacity to be like Christ but together, you can change the world!”
Southminster Moving Forward: Community Builders
In a meeting with Session a couple weeks ago, we discussed moving forward to a mission study, bringing on the next Full-Time Interim Pastor, and electing a Pastor Nominating Committee. Well, here is the rub of it. My role over the next seven months is to help us look inward and to look to each other as we deepen community. When we bring on a Full-time Interim Pastor in September, her or his role will be to help us look onward.
In other words, as I tell members of my family quite often, let’s take some time and chill. Oh, but how do we chill?, I know many of you are asking. Recognizing that this is Southminster, a place where “chill” is not in our vocabulary, you should not be surprised, Session and I have developed a 3-Point Plan that will guide us in the process of “chilling”: A focus on programs that Build Community, Potlucks with Intentional Dialogues and Leadership Training provided by the Presbytery.
I invite you to come to the congregational meeting to learn more about the details. All of this “chilling” under my watch, of course, purposes to deepen our mutuality with one another and become the Beloved Community. In addition, as the chill Interim Pastor, I am always ready to meet with anyone for whatever reason as we seek to foster trust and build rapport with each other. I don’t drink coffee, but I do drink diet Pepsi and my 2nd office is at Ava’s Coffee House in Beaverton. As youth would say, just hit me up!
Mutuality – A Vision of Justice and Equality for All
Now, of course, it is not that “chilling” means we are not moving forward or doing things. For Dr. King, the Beloved Community of Mutuality embraces the vision for justice and equality for all. A while ago, I heard a lecture from Peter J. Gomez, the then chaplain at Harvard University when he spoke at Lewis and Clark College — a place where tuition and fees are a mere 55k.
Dr. Gomez got up to give his speech and in his introductory comments, he shared how good it was to be at a small private liberal arts college. Then he said, “this is the foundation of America – colleges like Lewis and Clark are what America are built on!”
Now I don’t mean to belittle someone from Harvard, but Evans Kaame, our speaker from last Sunday and I live in a different America. The foundation of America is not built on privilege but on hard work and on the capacity for us to share each other’s burdens and treat each other with fairness. Some have asked, why I don’t teach at a University or private college — as if I am settling for less? I tell that I have taught at Portland State for 2 years and at George Fox University for 2 semesters before they threw me out for being too liberal (now that is a different story). For me, a community college represents the very definition of “land of opportunity” which is juxtaposed in a world of haves and have nots. Whether you are on a fixed income, a recent immigrant, a child on the streets from Kenya, a single parent, recently out of prison, or like most of our students, simply non-privileged with little family support – Clark College represents empowerment and hope. One of my students last term said, “Clark is a real college for real people living in the real world!”
King’s vision of mutuality was a vision of a completely integrated society, a community of love and justice where brother and sisterhood would be actualized in all of social life. In his mind, such a community would be the ideal corporate expression of the Christian faith. The fate of the United States and indeed the entire world, King believed, hinged on the degree to which ALL people were acknowledged, accepted, and affirmed.
Southminster, it seems to me, is doing our best to actualize that vision. We have so many people doing great works – so many causes – so many task forces and passions. But let’s be careful folks. Let’s not let our “doing” become an obstacle to our being in community.
Above all, mutuality reminds us that God is at work in the Universe. As we struggle to defeat the forces of evil, the God of the universe struggles with us. Dr. King’s hope was rooted in his faith in something bigger than himself — in the power of each of us becoming more like Christ. None of us can do that on our own but in relationship with others, we will find our way. The writer Wendell Berry says “It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.”