Sunday, January 14, 2024

In This Moment: The Unheeded Prophet: Moses and MLK; 100 Days


In This Moment

Today marks 100 Days since October 7, and 100 days of captivity for the hostages. Israeli writer Eshkol Nevo writes about this on the front page of today's Yediot. The translation of th8is passage is found at the bottom of this email.

As I prepared to address the congregation Friday night, on two of the greatest prophetic leaders of all time, Moses and MLK, I was intrigued by an article I spotted from Time Magazine in 2020, 10 Historians on What People Still Don’t Know About Martin Luther King Jr.

One of these experts, Gary Dorrien, author of Breaking White Supremacy: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Social Gospel, said something rather shocking.

"Dr. King, in his last years, was more radical than everyone around him. He dragged the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to campaign in Chicago, where his lieutenants did not want to go. He got pelted with rocks in Chicago and admonished his staff that white Americans had never intended to integrate their schools and neighborhoods. He added pointedly that white Americans “literally sought to annihilate the Indian.” He defied the Civil Rights establishment, the Johnson Administration, and his closest advisors by opposing the Vietnam War. He campaigned for a minimum guaranteed income and bitterly regretted that he could not speak in public about democratic socialism. At the end he dragged SCLC into the Poor People’s Campaign, now outflanking even James Bevel, his usual barometer of going too far.

After he was gone the memory of King taking the struggle to Chicago, railing against the Vietnam War and economic injustice, emphasizing what was true in the Black Power movement, and organizing a Poor People’s Campaign faded into an unthreatening idealism. King became safe and ethereal, registering as a noble moralist. It became hard to remember why, or even that, King was the most hated person in America during his lifetime. But the King that we need to remember is the one who keenly understood what he was up against."

King might have been hated, but for Moses it may have been worse. He was unheeded. Is it better to be despised or ignored? Either way, for both, the message was not getting through.

Why did the people not listen to Moses? Exodus supplies two answers, one having to do with Moses himself - he begged God not to force him to speak in public because he had "uncircumcised lips" i.e. he stuttered; and one having more to do with the people, who were simply too exhausted from slave labor to listen to anyone, much less to understand the "Urgency of Now" of a Midianite refugee who grew up as a child of privilege.

They were too downtrodden to listen - much like Dr. King's audience in 1968.

The Torah commentaries give us much food for thought. In the end, of course, both prophets' messages propelled them to immortality and neither now face the enmity or apathy that make it so hard for them to break through while they were alive.

The sermon explores this theme in depth. How much of the problem was the speaker's and how much the listener's? I invite you to download and listen to it. You can either click on the Substack podcast link for the audio, or find video on the archived livestream (toward the end) and while you are at it, listen to the incredible music from Friday's service.

Tomorrow's Front Pages

Jerusalem Post


Yediot Ahronot

Recommended Reading

Click below to read Jewish passages reflecting MLK's key themes

100 Days

by Eshkol Nevo

Get up in the morning, open your eyes. reach the hand to the phone, to enter the news site.Go over the names of the dead. The eye passes over the names. The heart beats hard. First reading, quick. To make sure that there is no one among the dead that I know. The balance so far, in three months of war: the son of a good friend. Son of a student. My daughter's friend's brother.

A place, on trees, on the facades of buildings, in squares, pictures of abductees hang. Some are still there, languishing in some tunnel. Some will never return. And some returned in the first transaction, the only week in these hundred bad days where there was good news: a boy ran to hug his father. Grandma returned to her grandchildren. Good Israelis stood on the sides of the roads, at night, and waved their flags to express solidarity.

This morning there is no familiar name, so now a second, slower reading. Honor the fallen. Who did we lose? What young lives were taken. They always look like children in soldiers' costumes in the pictures.

Then get out of bed, force yourself to get out of bed even though the body is heavy, heavy, pulling down.

Don't despair. wear sweatpants. Go outside to the street, start running. The streets are empty, at such an early hour.

In general, if there is anything that inspires hope in the last hundred days, it is the Israeli spirit, which has been rediscovered.

  • 100 Days in Captivity (Judicious) Taking a break from the news, the constant bombardment of antisemitic and anti-Israel sentiment, and zero-sum thinking is a luxury that our loved ones in the Middle East simply do not have.

  • Unholy: Two Jews on the News, with Guest Michael Walzer: - As the war reaches an important milestone, Israel faces a legal challenge in the International Court of Justice in the Hague: Yonit and Jonathan go into that full throttle, and are then joined by the world's leading authority on the morality of war, philosopher Michael Walzer.

  • POV: Under God (PBS) Inspired by the lawsuits filed in Florida challenging the state's abortion ban on the basis of religious freedom, Under G-d is a documentary short film about the national Jewish response to the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization U.S. Supreme Court decision woven through the lived experiences of impacted Jewish women and the various lawsuits currently being launched by rabbis, Jewish organizations and interfaith leaders to challenge the overturning of Roe v. Wade, state by state. Through the lens of maintaining the separation between church and state, these nationwide efforts are predicated on ultimately protecting religious freedom – and democracy – for all. World Premiere, 2023 Sundance Film Festival

  • US pastors struggle with post-pandemic burnout. Survey shows half considered quitting since 2020 | AP News - Post-pandemic burnout is at worrying levels among Christian clergy in the U.S., prompting many to think about abandoning their jobs, according to a new nationwide survey. More than 4 in 10 of clergy surveyed in fall 2023 had seriously considered leaving their congregations at least once since 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, and more than half had thought seriously of leaving the ministry, according to the survey released Thursday by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. About a tenth of clergy report having had these thoughts often, according to the survey, conducted as part of the institute’s research project, Exploring the Pandemic Impact on Congregations. The high rates of ministers considering quitting reflects the “collective trauma” that both clergy and congregants have experienced since 2020, said institute director Scott Thumma, principal investigator for the project.“Everybody has experienced grief and trauma and change.” Many clergy members, in open-ended responses to their survey, cited dwindling attendance, declining rates of volunteering and members’ resistance to further change. “I am exhausted,” said one pastor quoted by the report. “People have moved away from the area and new folks are fewer, and farther, and slower to engage." Some of these struggles are trends that long predated the pandemic. Median in-person attendance has steadily declined since the start of the century, the report said, and with fewer younger participants, the typical age of congregants is rising. After a pandemic-era spike in innovation, congregants are less willing to change, the survey said. The reasons for clergy burnout are complex, and need to be understood in larger contexts.

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