Last week my wife and I had the grand opportunity to leave our two kids in the care of her parents and spend five days on vacation in California. Afterward we both agreed that it was probably the most enjoyable vacation we've had. We walked the streets and hiked the hills of San Francisco and spent time with friends and family at a wedding of one of my childhood friends.
Yet with all of the fun we had, there was still a dark cloud that sat over us for those five days. It seemed overindulgent to be doing what we were doing when hundreds of thousands of victims were still suffering through the aftermath of the great earthquake in Haiti. Then three days into our vacation we found out a young teenager was killed in the middle of the street, in the middle of the day, just down the block from our house.
While on vacation I was reading some of the writings and speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. and was struck by the power of his words and the "fierce urgency of now" as he led others in breaking down the racial injustice that was pervasive in his time. Reading his words brought to life the intensity of the Civil Rights movement, the commitment of its supporters, and the evil of the injustice they fought against. All together these things created a deep uneasiness in me.
In a speech given in 1957 in Berkeley, Dr. King talked about the need to be "maladjusted" to the injustice in our world.
Now we all should seek to live a well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities. But there are some things within our social order to which I am proud to be maladjusted and to which I call upon you to be maladjusted. I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to mob rule. I never intend to adjust myself to the tragic effects of the methods of physical violence and to tragic militarism. I call upon you to be maladjusted to such things.
I wonder sometimes if we have become too adjusted and complacent with the suffering and pain that exists around us (both near and far), allowing things to feel normal that should never be made to feel normal.
Wouldn't you agree that there are some things we should all get angry about? When a country brutalized by poverty like Haiti is hit by a natural disaster, we should be angry. When a teenager walking down the street in the middle of the day is shot dead, we should be angry. No matter where we live, no matter how comfortable our lives are, no matter how rich or poor we are, these realities should shake us, should affect us, should push us to live and strive for something different. And more than the anger and beyond the emotion, we need to find ways to act -- individually and collectively. As I read through more of Dr. King this weekend, I struggled to know: What in our world today will move us the way his fight moved so many?
But instead of journeying to that more difficult place, a place that asks something of us, we push answers too quickly (see Pat Robertson), or too quickly blame others for their plight (see poverty in Haiti and the U.S.). In a lot of ways I think we've become brainwashed. Brainwashed into thinking that this is it. Brainwashed into believing we're stuck with what we've got. This is the way the world is. Work hard, follow orders, stay in line, and you'll get what you deserve, we're told. But is that really it? Is this the road we want to be on? Is this really the best it is going to get?
I don't think so. And I hope you don't either.
I think we need to hear again the words of Dr. King and wonder what it means for us to be maladjusted today. When hundreds of thousands of people can see their lives destroyed in a blink of an eye, or when a teenager can be shot in the middle of the day, we need to ask more questions, wrestle more with what we have and what we give.
Let us together be serious about transformation.
I call upon you to be as maladjusted as Amos who in the midst of the injustices of his day cried out the words that echo across the generation, 'Let judgment run down like waters and the righteousness like a mighty stream.' As maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln who had the vision to see that this nation could not exist half slave and half free. As maladjusted as Jefferson, who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery could cry out, 'All men are created equal and are endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights and that among those are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' As maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth who dreamed a dream of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. God grant that we will be maladjusted that we will be able to go out and change our world and civilization. And then we will be able to move from the bleak and desolate midnight of man's inhumanity to the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.
Neeraj Mehta has been working with others to uncover beauty and strength in North Minneapolis for the past 10 years. Previously he worked for Project for Pride in Living and most recently as program and strategic development director for the Sanctuary Community Development Corporation. Currently, he is working with the community-building intermediary Nexus Community Partners, partnering with others to create more engaged and powerful communities in the Twin Cities.