January 16, 2012
Creative Maladjustment: Practicing the Faith of Martin Luther King, Jr.
In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we thought we'd post an excerpt from Adam Taylor's Mobilizing Hope, a book that, inspired by the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, aspires to unleash a generation of "transformed nonconformists." King coined that phrase in a sermon that cut right to the heart of it: "The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority." Adam picks up on that theme and chases it throughout his book; it seems appropriate, just days after our New Year's resolution to do things differently this year, to remember it on this and every Martin Luther King Day, and to follow Adam on the chase.
I used to bemoan the fact that I wasn't alive during the 1950s or '60s, when injustice seemed so much more overt and movements seemed so much more robust. At that time there was no way to ignore the suffocating discrimination of Jim Crow segregation in the South. The task of realizing justice in our contemporary context often seems more difficult because injustice and inequality have become mutated genes that seem more invisible. The Goliaths of economic injustice and inequality may be more covert and institutionalized but are still pernicious. Goliaths are still embedded in systems and structures that subjugate and oppress. . . .
Trying to tackle injustice based on our own limited abilities means playing small. Instead we must tap into the renewing power of faith to overcome the barriers that get in the way of transformed nonconformism.
The first and most common barrier is inertia. Particularly in this Internet age, we are barraged and inundated with constant information and marketing campaigns enticing us to do or buy something. This information makes it more difficult to grab people's attention and solicit their commitment. After a while, we either start shutting out this information overload or become increasingly jaded about solicitations for our time and attention. Inertia becomes our fallback and the keeper of the status quo.
. . . The second barrier is fear, which includes the fear of real or perceived risks associated with getting in the way of injustice. We may fear fallout from colleagues, family or even friends, particularly if the issues we are getting involved in are controversial. Living a countercultural life of activism can involve persecution, particularly in countries that don't enjoy the same degree of protections for free speech and assembly as the United States.
. . . A third barrier is apathy. We can easily become desensitized to the pain and suffering in the world. Apathy is often fed by cynicism, the belief that nothing will really change regardless of our actions.
. . . As people of faith, we are often uneasy about power and blind to the power we possess. While it is important to remember Lord Acton's dictum that "power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely," we are often overly timid and passive about using our God-given power because power takes on an overly negative connotation. But power can be used for life-affirming or life-denying purposes. Dr. King said it best: "power without love is reckless and abusive. Love without power is shallow and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice."
. . . The last barrier is a feeling of isolation, which makes people feel alone and alienated from people who share similar interests and values. In any campus, workplace, church, and so on, are countless people who are waiting for the right call to action to be drawn out of their isolation. Without an invitation we often fail to realize the degree to which other people share our values and desire to build a better community and world.
. . . Activism can be intimidating, particularly when you think about the complexity and seeming intractability of many of the injustices in the world. Where does one start? What are the best entry points? . . . Creative maladjustment involves a broad range of daily-life commitments. At its core, it requires making a daily commitment to what Gandhi described as "being the change you want to see in the world." Our actions must become a mirror image of our core values and convictions. . . . We are called to be good stewards not simply of our money but also of our time and our talents. Creative maladjustment . . . a more holistic and radical stewardship of our time and resources . . . is at the very heart of discipleship.