From a preacher writing a letter from a Birmingham jail cell, to the preachers of L.A.

“….But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime—the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists….”–Excerpt From Martin Luther King’s :LETTER FROM BIRMINGHAM JAIL April 16, 1963

 

“..What we see, then, is that two societies have issued from two kinds of  love. Worldly society has flowered from a selfish love which dared to despise even God, whereas the communion of saints is rooted in a love of God that is ready to trample on self. In a word, this latter relies on the Lord, whereas the other boasts that it can get along by itself. The city of man seeks the praise of men, whereas the height of glory for the other is to hear God in the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own boasting; the other says to God: ‘Thou art my glory, thou liftest up my head’…St. Augustine, City of God

 

“…Every means is an obstacle. Only when every means has collapsed does the meeting come about..”…Martin Buber, I AND THOU

 

“..Christianity and the New Testament understood something perfectly definite by believing; to believe is to venture out as decisively as it is possible for a man to do, breaking with everything a man naturally loves, breaking, in order to save his own soul, with that in which he naturally has his life. But to him who believes is promised also assistance against all danger. But in “Christendom” we play at believing, play at being Christians; as far as possible from any breach with what we love, we remain at home, in the parlor, in the old grooves of finiteness—and then we go and twaddle with one another, or let the priest twaddle to us, about all the promises which are found in the New Testament, that no one shall harm us, that the gates of hell shall not prevail against us, against the Church, etc….” Soren Kierkegaard, Attack Upon Christendom

And so has it all been reduced to the urgency of the amount of “preaching fees”, and the composition, and size of the entourage. We wonder why the religious experience has been transformed into a god serving as a giant cosmic ATM machine. This god is promised to make you rich in the midst of great poverty held by those who unlike you are not selected to be “blessed”; if people are jobless, homeless, hungry and exposed to the ugly abuses of this world it is because this god loves you, and not them. When “mega” replaces meaning; when there is no distinction between the principles of the material world and the principles of the spiritual world, why bother going to church. There are plenty of good self-improvement, self-empowerment seminars, books, DVD’s and programs that won’t cost you a tenth of your annual salary. Where then is the distinction; the call to humility, service, sacrifice and salvation. Modesty and restraint is confused with a vow of poverty; but it is impossible, a contradiction for a true instrument of God’s love in this world to be poor, to not have the adequate tools and resources to act out your calling. If this single “truth”, is not true, then the whole meaning of seeking a spiritual life is false; then let every person “go for it” alone; and may the most brutal, selfish and cynical win. I believe that the striving for obscene materialism is the enemy of a spiritual life. What is the value of being the richest person in Sodom or Gomorrah; the “rich” are those who can escape the philosophy of spiritual death. The great contrast between an L.A. mansion and a Birmingham jail cell may not be so clear. We might think that one (the jail cell) represents defeat, poverty, confinement and degradation. But I assert that the preacher captured in the cell of his worldly-material mind is truly living a life of spiritual imprisonment, spiritual poverty in the midst of enviable luxury. The preacher held captive fighting for justice is the most free as they live out the words of the prophet Amos: “But let justice roll down like a river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”…… don’t focus on my confinement; rather focus on my assignment! We need spiritual leadership that can trust God to provide whatever they need to live because they are working within their calling to serve the neglected, rejected, the disenfranchised of this materially driven world. We need spiritual leaders who will speak truth to the powers that seek to subjugate and oppress those who are most vulnerable, those who cannot defend themselves. We need spiritual leaders who will not lie to people by telling them that selfishness and a focus on personal happiness are principles reflective of/or admired by God. Help the people find their calling in life, and don’t mislead them into thinking that their personal and unique calling can be acquired at the mall. The great lie of this world is that we can purchase happiness; and in a way we can purchase a false sense of happiness; but the cost of this false happiness is that we must wander off the path of our true calling; we are lost to our natural inclination to serve God by seeing, and serving that part of God we see in our fellow human beings. An example of Spiritual leadership can be seen in the daily practiced beauty of education service (as in any vocation); it is here that each day you are  offered the opportunity to see and nurture the Goodness of God emerging, and growing in young people; to help someone find their calling increases the possibility for a cascading effect of good works to resonate throughout the universe; but in the same but opposite way; misleading people away from their calling, causing them to fail to find their calling in life,  leads to increased suffering and evil in our world. I would think it would be better in the end, if one just went into business for the sake of just making a profit; as opposed to being a false prophet who specializes in making spirituality into a business.