January 18th, 2010


Grump grump grump

I tried to call somebody at Hebrew-Union Seminary today, and got a recording. Oh, yeah, it's Martin Luther King Day. So, I thought I'd go run the errands that I have to get done. Wait a minute, can't go to the bank today, they're closed. It's Martin Luther King Day. That means no mail, either. It's Martin Luther King Day. *sigh*

Martin Luther King is a secular saint. His holiday has become a day of civic obligation observed by government employees and (most) schools. Everybody else trying to get stuff done is inconvenienced by it. I don't begrudge King his remembrance. I'm all for civil rights and the uplifting of minorities. But I can't help but remember that one of the gripes that the Reformers had about medieval Catholicism was its proliferation of saints' days upon which no work could be done.

I also note that we mainline Protestants tend to canonize good causes rather than good persons. We have Human Relations Day, UM Student Day, One Great Hour of Sharing, World Communion Sunday, etc. Even Aldersgate Day, the anniversary of John Wesley's conversion experience, has merged into the mostly unobserved Heritage Day. In this melange of slovenly remembrance and special offerings, Martin Luther King stands out as unique: the only "saint" most Protestants remember in church. Oh, they'll take their sweethearts out for dinner on (St.) Valentine's Day, and they'll wear green (and the older ones lift a glass) for St. Patrick's Day, but the cult of the saints is pretty much dead among us United Methodists and other low church types.

And why do I say that Martin Luther King is a "secular" saint? King stands out in people's minds, even among the clergy, not for his religious activity and relationships, but for his political activity and relationships. For progressive clergy, who are more into politics than religion (or, rather, for whom politics = religion), King is their kind of saint. Evangelicals honor King, too, since they also care about the poor and the disenfranchised, but their remembrances are more relational and less programmatic, I think.

Our other secular saints (Washington, Lincoln) get Presidents Day, and it's coming right up. You can't get much done then, either. I wonder why I never hear any clergy exhortations to civic virtue on that day? Used to be; Washington and Lincoln are passé, I suppose. Anyway, I guess I'll get paperwork done today, since I can do that without having to connect with the outside world.