“Power without love is reckless and abusive,
and love without power is sentimental and anemic.
Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice,
and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
-Martin Luther King Jr.
I have been a man moved by MLK for years, his words and works, along with a few others like John M. Perkins, Gandhi, Mother Teresa and above all Jesus, have been at the root of much of my work with people on the margins. In this current political and cultural climate, as a white dude now in his late 40’s, it seems I have lost my place as a legitimate voice to even reference such true social justice luminaries.
In the past, if I mentioned these men and women were powerful forces of good that motivated my involvement in ministry and mission, it was seen as a good thing. The words and works that their examples and prophetic challenges propelled me to, have led me through decades of adventures on the margins. Because of these heroes, I have had challenging and meaningful moments of monumental impact on my mind, heart and soul.
A few of those were:
Sidewalk Sunday school in West Central in a sketchy little park with all kinds of beautiful, dirty, wild and lovable rugrats, speaking in Spokane County Jail on the men and women floors to pedophiles, brutes, beasts and villains who through Jesus’s eyes and heart became sources of compassion and love to me. Preaching at the old Victory Outreach in Hillyard for Alvin Moreno one of the generals of street gospel work in this area. Housing multiple families of refugees in my home with no language options and watching them become testimonies of character, courage and competency in this city.
Turning my home shower over to my filth caked, needle pushing, homeless by choice, friend in my neighborhood, giving water to a strung out, scabbed over, gangling meth addict on my porch , she was the first visitor to my home in East Central. Growing food in the hard and rocky dirt of East Central to try to improve the lives of families with access to too much junk food.
Spending hours in stacks of State, local and Obama Care paperwork in our community resource center trying to help refugees, immigrants and low income folks figure out that labyrinth. Befriending the physically and mentally handicapped which led to cleaning shit off my truck seats more than once from incontinence and fending off a neighbor I loved who was in a psychotic episode and tried to put a stone paver through my plate glass window. Enduring, confronting and working for peace among murderers, abusers and chemically driven thieves. Feeding and praying for healing with street kids under street overpasses on dark and rainy nights, holding communion services and foot washing outside a strip joint under neon glow. Holding the hands of young kids locked up with self harm cuts all over their arms while praying they don’t end up like the kid who chewed off part of the wall in the restraining room.
Preaching and ministering to drunks and thugs in ‘have to’ services and ‘get out for an hour’ for service time meetings, who really just want to argue or sit there and give me the bird while others wept from behind locked doors looking through small glass windows while pleading prayers of gratitude, joy and hope. You have not heard the voice of Jesus until you have heard a man cry out from behind a locked door down the hall somewhere begging to talk to you about Jesus. I have washed the toilets of prostitutes and wept before their redlight sexshop windows.
I have witnessed whites refuse service to blacks and asians rip off the wages of refugees and slumlords rule tenants like the mafia and the white poor live like feral animals off the dime of others. I have seen amazing generosity of city programs, non-profits and officials and seen the ugly underbelly of the politically driven ‘do-good’ game that is driven more by vote collecting than justice and mercy. I have watched pastors and leaders succumb to underhanded, power and people grabbing competition to build their own private and public kingdoms. I have watched flashy, prosperity gospel preachers milk the faithful for their own glory stage and glitter dreams while sincere, sold out gospel workers struggle to just get enough to care for the their own families and flocks. I have welcomed black ministers into my pulpit and been told I would not be welcome in theirs. I have walked in ‘race unity’ parades, heard speeches, promises and dedications and yet not see or hear from those folks until next years march.
I have seen so much glory, drama and trauma on the margins and all of those moments have direct connections to the lives and voices of people like Martin Luther King Jr. I wouldn’t trade any of them, they are the blows, breaks and bruises that have been remade by God into the grit, nerve and pluck in my stubborn, human-weakness prone, sinful but passionate, justice driven, phoenix like soul. I’ve tasted plenty of burned up ashes over the years, but still God’s grace gives me lift again and again.
But now, skin color is once again the reason many people can’t come together. Now we label someone as racist or promotes hate if they don’t follow the party line or bow and lick the boot of some self-promoted advocate, leader or justice warrior.
Words can wipe out decades of work, simply because your politics don’t line up with a certain voting color on some stupid tv screen, newspaper opinion piece or angry keyboard assassin. I have learned hard lessons that people use race, poverty, homelessness, immigration and a host of other justice issues for their own selfish agendas and pocketbooks. They can take the sufferings of others and build their organizations, reputation, bank accounts, voting block, churches or ego. It’s a reprehensible thing to squeeze the breath out of the down and out to propel your own sailboat forward but it happens too often in our communities.
We cannot build or rebuild anything that will last without each other. No ministry, business, non-profit, politician or political party can do it alone. You can’t rise in any meaningful way by pushing other people down. Oh sure you can do it, but you will lose your soul, your humanity and your own self respect in the process and ultimately you will stand before God and give an account for your ways.
If love is going to truly prevail in the fight against evil, than we are going to have to start calling a spade a spade and repent of all the sin, stupidity and selfishness going on in the justice and mercy circles.
Faith without works…is dead. Don’t be mislead by talkers, find the walkers and stay close to them, you can find them on the margins and with the poor, and you will know they are legit, if they know the people’s names they work to ‘save’. True heroes see people first above problems, politics, policies and programs. We need more than heroes, we need the evidence that their words have driven us not to wonder, worship or wealth but to…works. I pray we all can be motivated for the glory of God and the most good for the most people.
I know this rant can be de-legitimized by my skin color by some, my failures by others and my politics by many, but in the end..I trust my hard fought scars will be my justification (Galatians 6:17).