We have an African American President. We’ve had African-American cabinet members, Supreme Court Justices, Oscar winners, Nobel Peace Prize winners, star athletes, astronauts, and titans of business. These positions were likely pipe dreams for those participating in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on that historic day 50 years ago.
For many, Dr. King’s dream has come true.
Unfortunately for many more, the dream has not come true.
As a pastor in the Birmingham suburbs, I have been drawn to this story. But my fascination has little to do with his arrests or the bizzare 12-minute local news station interview where he compared himself to Martin Luther King Jr. and accused the police of targeting him when he started reaching “black kids.” Nor am I mostly intrigued by the drama of that same TV station reporting his parole violation to the police, who chased him down after he jumped off a 45-foot cliff. Instead, I want to know how we got here. How did this happen?
I wish I had understood that if our church is seeing people come to know Christ consistently, we will always look a bit immature and messy around our fringes.
I would often lose heart in my first few years at what I believed was a lack of holiness in some of our members. My eyes would skip right over those who had been significantly transformed and the maturing center of our membership, and would fixate on the baby Christians struggling with their flesh.
Recently I attended a poetry reading from America’s former poet laureate, Billy Collins. Billy teaches poetry at Lehman College at City University of New York and during the interview portion of the program he was asked what one thing he emphasised to his students the most. Collins answered confidently: clarity. He said many of his students naively felt it was beneath them to be clear, as though their poem would be perceived as more sophisticated if its meaning was elusive. He jokingly asked his interviewer what he thought his poem Fishing on The Susquehanna in July was about, and the interviewer shrugged his shoulders as though he didn’t know. It’s about fishing on the Susquehanna in July, Collins laughed.
Collins challenged the audience to dare to be clear. I’ll never forget it. He wasn’t just giving advice about writing poetry, he was giving advice about life.
Dare to be clear.
Yet, I still have to wonder if we aren’t misreading and wrongly applying that Calvin quote. I don’t think “perpetual idol factory” is an accurate description of the heart of one transformed by Jesus Christ. Nor do I think that is what Calvin, or more importantly the apostle Paul, is saying. The reference for Paul—and Calvin after him is one that has not yet been redeemed.