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The following quote is from Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1962 speech titled “The Ethical Demands for Integration.”

The absence of freedom is the imposition of restraint on my deliberation as to what I shall do, where I shall live, how much I shall earn, the kind of tasks I shall pursue. I am robbed of the basic quality of [human-ness]. When I cannot choose what I shall do or where I shall live or how I shall survive, it means in fact that someone or some system has already made these a priori decisions for me, and I am reduced to an animal. I do not live; I merely exist. The only resemblances I have to real life are the motor responses and functions that are akin to humankind. I cannot adequately assume responsibility as a person because I have been made a party to a decision in which I played no part in making.

Now to be sure, this is hyperbole in some agree but only to underscore what actually happens when a [person] is robbed of his [or her] freedom. The very nature of his [or her] life is altered and his [or her] being cannot make the full circle of personhood because that which is basic to the character of life itself has been diminished.

Incredibly powerful. MLK Jr’s namesake, Martin Luther had much to say about freedom as well. I am captured when Luther writes in The Freedom of a Christian,

A Christian is lord of all, completely free of everything.

A Christian is servant of all, completely attentive to the needs of all.

According to Luther there is this duality to our freedom. We are completely free from [fill in the blank] and we are also completely free to [fill in the blank]. However, freedom is bound by love. Our freedom emerges from the freedom of God and ends at the beginning of our neighbor. The only way we can transgress the boundary of our neighbor is in and through love. Luther states:

Although we Christians are free from all works, we ought to use this liberty to empty ourselves, take on the form of servants, take on human form, and become human in order to serve and help our neighbors in every possible way. This is the very manner in which God in Christ acted and continues to act toward us. And this service ought to be done freely, having regard for nothing except the approval of God.

God, though completely free, took on the form of a servant in the incarnation. Through Jesus, God rejects power and uses God’s freedom to submit to, to serve and to empower the broken and weak. Freedom finds its ultimate expression in how we relate to others, not in how we behave to and for ourselves. The expression of freedom in the incarnation is one that binds itself to the well-being of others in a way that gives life.

This puts new perspective on the restrictions that Christians attempt to legislate against marriage equality. Or the ways in which churches restrict women and people who identify as queer from full participatory life within community. God help us restore agency, honor, and humanity to those whom we have stripped it from.

1. Christologies for the 21st century

Both Sallie McFague’s writings on metaphorical theology and feminist theology’s commitment to expanding the imagination in regards to our God-talk by challenging monolithic metaphors and imagery that favor patriarchal religious expressions have influenced me significantly. Sallie McFague’s article “An Ecological Christology: Does Christianity Have it?” in Christianity and Ecology (Cambridge, Mass: Center for the Study of World Religions, 2000), addresses a plurality of Christological approaches (prophetic, wisdom, sacramental, eschatological, process, and liberation) and weighs them against their validity and appropriateness to our global condition, their orthodoxy, and their practicality. Her attention to Christological praxis is crucial, speaking to the necessity of dislodging our doctrines from the realm of intellectual assent and allowing them to transform community, culture, and world, and giving the Incarnation a multivalent ability confront oppression and injustice in a variety of contexts.

Hope for our world lies not only in what Jesus tells us to do, but also, and more deeply, in Christian belief that God is with us as we attempt to do it. 1

It is important to move beyond “fully God and fully human” and expand on what that means for all of creation rather than what it means for salvation, as well as making use of the various metaphors and implications present in these approaches rather than pitting them against one another as doctrinal correctness tends to emphasize. More on this to come.

2. On the use of prophecy

This morning I read an article by Susan Ackerman about Dr. King’s recurring usage of Amos 5:18-24  in his orations and writings. There is far too much to say about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to do him or his legacy any justice in this short space, but I want to share some of Ackerman’s thoughts. She points out how quickly and easily any of us can (and do) point toward passages from the biblical text to support or condemn any number of issues, often gravely misusing the text and using it for abuse. What would the writers of these texts think about our application of their words to our modern situations? Ackerman believes, and I agree, that Amos would approve. Themes of injustice and oppression, economic and social inequalities flow throughout the prophetic voices of the Hebrew Bible. Ackerman ends her article with these words:

The challenge that follows for us as readers and hearers of the text, is to consider more ways in which Amos’s imagery might be transformed for our times yet still be consistent with Amos’s original message. THe waters that Amos evoked have so far proven mighty and everlasting. Our task, if we are to use Amos’s text in this new century, is to make sure they run clear to the prophet’s vision. 2

The reduction of prophetic texts to future-casting specific historical events or persons also reduces the power of the texts to continually speak to communities again and again. When prophecies are fulfilled we feel that can stop looking for and creating answers. Dr. King realized this.

3. More on Amos…

By now I’m sure that even my internet-challenged mother has stumbled onto the “Why I hate Religion, But Love Jesus” video that is making its rounds right now. Many have weighed in on this video, so I’ll just share a little bit. The poet is certainly makes some spot on critiques and observations, albeit none of them are new. In fact, they have been present for a few thousand years. Again, Susan Ackerman:

Yet because of the moral failings of Amos’s day, YHWH proclaims in Amos 5:21 that the festal celebrations have been despised. Similarly in Amos 5:22, the burnt offerings, grain offerings, and offerings of well-being that elsewhere in Israelite tradition are said to be pleasing to the depth (e.g., Lev. 23:18) are, amidst a climate of social injustice and unrighteousness, rejected by God. Music making in a religious context is also associated elsewhere in the Bible with rejoicing before and, by implication, with God (e.g., 2 Chr. 5:13). But Amos again turns the common idiom on its head to suggest that, in a society mired in discord, sacral music becomes discord as well (Amos 5:23). 3

The prophet Amos strongly criticizes religious business as usual in the midst of injustice and suffering. Amos disrupts tradition to call attention to the oppressed and to proclaim that tradition has the potential to dominate progress.

Both Justin McRoberts and Mike Morrell have offered helpful insights on this viral phenomenon. Check them out.

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1. Dieter T. Hessel and Rosemary Radford Ruether, eds., Christianity and Ecology: Seeking the Well-Being of Earth and Humans (Cambridge, Mass.: Center for the Study of World Religions, 2000), 29-43.

2. Susan Ackerman, “Amos 5:18-24”, Interpretation 57 (2003), 193.

3. Ibid, 192.