Creative Maladjustment 101

By Shalom Agtarap

My current church gig involves revitalization work in churches throughout the south end of Seattle. My first thought: “How does one engage a community without understanding the evils that threaten it? How can you begin to turn something around when you don’t know what’s holding it back?” After five months it is clear the most pressing issues are declining churches, growing homelessness, underfunded schools and a lack of a living wage - all of which drove me back to Dr. King’s 1967 speech entitled, “The Three Evils of Society.” If racism, poverty, and militarization were the evils of his day, what are the evils of ours? Edit the phrasing and I would offer the same damn things: racism, poverty, and our penchant for war (in our streets and abroad).

What does it mean to create the beloved community in my new town given these three evils? For me, it has meant refresher course in creative maladjustment. Dr. King amplified the clinical meaning of maladjusted to be an affirmation of all those in history who balk, refute, and resist the evils that threaten the flourishing of all peoples. And this is his call to us today.

Refuse the creation of a registry that stems from religious bigotry.

Fail to adapt economic conditions that take from the masses to create luxury for the few.

Do not normalize the madness of militarism and self-defeating effects of physical violence.[1]

What I find particularly resonant today, almost fifty years since his speech, is the way the leadership of the National Conference on New Politics brought people working in silos to the same table. Dr. King spoke to a “diverse and truly ecumenical gathering convened under the aegis of politics in our nation.”

“We have come here from the dusty plantations of the Deep South and the depressing ghettos of the North. We have come from the great universities and the flourishing suburbs. We have come from Appalachian poverty and from conscious stricken wealth. But we have come. And we have come here because we share a common concern for the moral health of our nation. We have come because our eyes have seen through the superficial glory and glitter of our society and observed the coming of judgment. Like the prophet of old, we have read the handwriting on the wall. We have seen our nation weighed in the balance of history and found wanting. We have come because we see this as a dark hour in the affairs of men.”[2]

Can we convene in the same way on the heels of a soul-sucking campaign and election cycle? Could we bring about a convergence of the creatively maladjusted - an interfaith, no faith, deeply compassionate - movement willing to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world, declaring eternal opposition to poverty, racism and militarism?

If we could, I imagine a revitalized church would then look like this: the congregation would be in Sanctuary where all people, documented or not were welcome and safe. We would hear testimonies of the rich finding their reason for living and the poor finding their dignity with a living wage. The mentally ill would share without stigma and people of color would share with abandon, not contorting themselves to the fragility of whites. For offering, we would give economic and social policies that made sure the safety net was reinforced not punctured and we would tax tithe our money but also our best innovations and resources as to what makes community whole. We would close with embodied action and a song to remind us that all is not lost; that light shines in the darkness and that we are the blessing the world needs now.

Now, anyone want to help me revitalize a church?

[1] Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Speech at WMU, Western Michigan University Archives and Regional History Collections and University Libraries, December 18,1963.

[2] Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “The Three Evils of Society” 1967

Shalom Agtarap is an ordained United Methodist Elder currently serving a multiethnic congregation south of Seattle. She also facilitates work among four churches working to become more multicultural and multiethnic; better representatives of their neighborhoods. She is a graduate of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC and her formation as a Christ follower was shaped by the Upper Room's Two-Year Academy for Spiritual Formation. She drinks deeply from the well of guided meditation and spiritual reading but is usually found listening to a podcast on race and politics or gospel music. Or both. 

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