by Fr. Dave Kelly, C.PP.S.
I heard an audio recording of Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at Bethel College some 60 years ago. The word he used over and over was maladjusted.” He never wanted to become adjusted or conform to bigotry and hatred, poverty or racism.
Rep. John Lewis called it “good trouble”—the kind of trouble you get into because you have chosen to fight for the underdog, the powerless, right over wrong.
Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, and a litany of others followed the example of the one who ultimately choose love over hatred. Jesus was unwilling to conform to the rule of law when it conflicted with the commandments to love with all your heart. Jesus was maladjusted to poverty and racism and hatred; it got him into some “good trouble.”
How do we confront the violence that we are witnesses to? How do we interrupt systems that fail to protect or respect? Have we adjusted to a “that is just the way it is today” mentality? Or do we choose to live maladjusted, even when it gets us into some good trouble? As I reflect on my own life, I am afraid that I have at times allowed myself to become too adjusted, placating myself with phrases such as “That’s just how it is” or “What can I do anyway?”
We have a volunteer who recently came home from prison. He’s in his 40s and did more time inside than outside. He is about as gentle and kind a person as you can imagine. He cares deeply for the youth here at pbmr and tries to encourage them down a different path than the one he took so many years ago.
I overheard him speaking to a staff member the other day about how he continually gets stopped by the police. On almost a weekly basis he gets pulled over as he drives from his home to pbmr. Each time the police treat him with suspicion, make him get out of the car, question him as to whether he has any drugs or guns in the car. They often search his car, and when they find nothing, they tell him to “be on his way.” He says this happens weekly—at least. As I heard this, my heart was tired, laden with the countless young men who tell a similar tale—and frankly, I wasn’t surprised.
But the staff member who listened was deeply troubled by the reality of her talking partner. She shared that in the 12 years she’s been driving, she has never once been pulled over, much less searched or harassed by the police. She could hardly believe that in the 6 months since her talking partner has come home, he has been pulled over upwards of 30 times. She shared about how her driving record is far from perfect—driving a few miles over the speed limit, accidentally turning the wrong way down one-ways, never quite fully stopping at stop signs—yet her weeks go quietly uninterrupted by police.
Her shock and horror at the daily burden that our volunteer faces due to the condition of driving while black is right and just. It is right and just to balk at the pain, injustice, and inequality that exists in our world. It is right and just to recognize when something is contrary to God’s Kingdom. Like Jesus in the temple, it is right and just to feel anger at the plight of the poor and to be moved to turn over tables of oppression.
As we begin to loosen the shackles of the pandemic, my hope is that we come to value the ability to embrace one another and see that we are all part of the same sacred journey. I pray that we are all maladjusted to the injustices around us, that we not allow ourselves to be fooled in accepting “that is just the way it is.”
This article appeared in the April 2021 edition of the New Wine Press.