I Can’t Get No Satisfaction

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I’ve never been a Stones fan.  A couple of their songs are great, no question, but mostly their sound doesn’t really pull me in and also I just don’t think moves like Jagger are really all that, if you know what I’m saying.  But aesthetics aside, their iconic phrase has been on infinite loop in my mind: I can’t get no satisfaction.  The original point of the song was to decry superficiality and personal emptiness;  these days that refrain cycles in my mind about communal ignorance and selfishness with the broadest and deepest consequences, and it makes me crazy.

From this world, these days, I can’t get no satisfaction.

From governments and leaders, most especially our own, ignoring climate change and the imperatives of life on this planet, in order to double down on posturing and weaponry and death, I can’t get no satisfaction.

From the natural disasters heightened by climate change and the devastation it wreaks everywhere, whole countries, Zambia facing the worst famine in decades, much of the Australian continent in flames and all the beautiful creatures fleeing and failing and dying, I can’t get no satisfaction.

From the willful renewal on poisonous fuel and the willful rejection of renewable energy, I can’t get no satisfaction.

From the perversity of human nature that chooses the inertia of myths and the comfort of denial over the imperatives of truth and the realities of science, I can’t get no satisfaction.

From the genetic, sociological, evolutionary tribalism that continues to look for the ‘them’ rather than the ‘us’, I can’t get no satisfaction.

From the objectification and neuroses that dog us all about restrictions around identity and acceptability and dignity, I can’t get no satisfaction.

From conservatives who will not acknowledge or condemn race prejudice and all it does to jeopardize and undermine and end beautiful human lives and souls, I can’t get no satisfaction.

From the progressives who speak with contempt about all white people – including fellow progressive white people – I can’t get no satisfaction.

Every day, another weight is added to the burden and again, and again, I can’t get no satisfaction.

Fine – you know what – fine – I don’t have to be satisfied.  What I do have to do – what I think we do have to do – is make sure we are doing something with our  – and this is an understatement – dissatisfaction.  This anniversary reminds us every year, when we are looking for hope and channels for our dissatisfaction, we can turn to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

MLK was profoundly dissatisfied, though he was a man of gifts and blessings, that wasn’t enough for him, he wasn’t willing to look out merely for himself and his family, because that wasn’t enough for his people and his world and his time. The Stones song came out a couple of years after Dr. King talked about maladjustment at Western Michigan, three years before he was assassinated in Memphis, right in the middle of a decade of great tumult and a lot of maladjustment and lack of satisfaction.

His maladjustment is a lesson for all of us.  We too could content ourselves with our gifts and our blessings, but we have to do more than that, and we hold Dr. King as a beacon and a teacher; we shared his dream, we marched with him decades ago, he gave the honored Ware Lecture at our General Assembly in 1965, we too were his disciples and adherents, we still believe in his dream, and we are not, we are so, not satisfied.

The American Dream is an individualist dream with community implications – when it works.  This nation is always torn between those poles, one and many, me and you, anyONE can be President – as we’re certainly seeing now – but while America is an individualist society in so many ways, we also know the truth of that great African proverb from Tanzania and Zanzibar, that it takes a village to raise a child.  The issue we’re struggling with as a nation isn’t about the necessity of community, it’s about the nature of community – what kind of village should raise a child, –  and what kind of child will that village raise?

A lot of churches are losing people in droves, here in the US, because the congregations seem out of touch or hypocritical.  But people still long for community, village, and they find it in new ways, building it in clubs and coffeehouses, even social media – the ginormous community that is the twitterverse where you can get to know and stay in touch with literally countless people, where the gossip and judgment of a village is replace by the gossip and judgment of the world – the exact same dynamic writ very large except that instead of watching at windows and talking at the kitchen table or café or pub we just tap our phones or log into our email.

And as with villages, a lot of the dynamics around social media are troubling, when they magnify and multiply a divisive, parochial mentality.  But the part  we can appreciate is that pervasive, irresistible human drive towards community, community in some form, community that can become a mob, yes, but also community that can become a congregation, a rally, a march, a movement that saves and holds.

The renowned American philosopher Judith Butler focuses on gender, identity and societal ethics.  Her most recent book is The Force of Nonviolence and in it she makes this point:  “an ethics of nonviolence cannot be predicated on individualism and must take the lead in critiquing individualism as the basis of ethics and politics.”  Because no one is self-sufficient, when we hurt anyone, we are also hurting, eventually, ourselves because we are interdependent – this is not a principle, it is a reality we need to address and honor in how we live.  This is a different way of understanding equality.  And it also, for her, means that calmness is not necessarily the only foundation for nonviolence.  She’s thinking – what can be done with rage, creatively and collectively channeling the rage that a lot of people experience daily these days with everything that’s going on, in order to honor and center the equal value of all human lives – and the equal, when it comes to that, ‘grievability’, as she puts it, of all human lives.  (BostonReview.net interview from January 7, 2020)  And as Dr. Butler points out, if your life is understood as deeply grievable, then it will also be more powerfully liveable, with conditions of life that allow you to flourish.  Conversely, if your life is not valued as being as deeply grievable if/when things go wrong or evil is done to you – then it’s not as liveable all along, you are more subject to racism or economic marginalization or genocidal violence.

Individualism perpetuates the unequal grievability of different people.  Community, at its best, healthy community, (not, I would argue, small-minded ‘village’ community but large-minded ‘congregation’ community, a true beloved community that keeps itself relevant and compelling by its very nature), this kind of community grows the equal grievability of all people because when we are in community with each other, we get to know each other and when we get to know each other, we care about each other, and when we care about each other we support and advocate for each other, which builds the world we dream about, the day Dr. King dreamed about.  That is the nature of the village we believe in, and that is the nature of the children we are trying to raise.

I remember when I used to be a lot more satisfied with life – not with my life always, but with a larger LIFE that did indeed seem to be bending towards justice.    I hate the feeling now of living so unsatisfied.  It is abrasive.  Abrasive to the soul.  It’s like someone has taken a giant emery board and kept rasp, rasp, rasping at the skin of my soul until it’s raw and weeping and burns at the slightest touch.  It hurts to live in these days.  And we’re so tired of hurting and being hurt.

And yet.  And yet.  Our dissatisfaction and anguish and maladjustment – the unbearableness of living like this – the unbearable heaviness of being – these are the reminders that yes, it is not right to live like this.  And so we will not bear it, we will not bear it if bearing it means simply hunkering down or getting used to it or lowering our expectations.  We will not be worn out or borne down by this suffering we feel and see around us and in us;  we will denounce it and we will fight it and we will remind each other about what life can be like for us all – everyone together – no fear, no pain, no persecution, no to the walls and the detention centers and the prison-industrial complex and the regressive, white supremacist vision, no to institutionalized hatred and injustice, no, no, none of it, none of it.

It’s unacceptable and our very souls tell us so, and so do our minds, and so do the great prophets from all times and places, including Dr. King.  The wrongness of now points us to the rightness of tomorrow, and if we can see it, we can bring it.

Thank you Dr. King, for your courage.  Thank you for walking us through that terrible time, that bleak and desolate midnight, even when you knew what it might cost you, you didn’t flinch.  We are in another bleak and desolate midnight… but we remember you, and so we too will not flinch.  And we will mourn you always – but also we know the dream did not die with you, and no one person, no matter how great, can save everyone.  The people must save themselves, and it’s only when we look beyond a savior to their message and become ourselves the messengers, every one of us an apostle, committed and courageous, that the people will be saved.  And so we cannot flinch from the changing and learning we ourselves need to do.  We cannot flinch from the risks we need to take and the work we need to embrace, and the joy we need to hold onto and the illusions we need to let go of. And we cannot stop, we just can’t stop, that’s how we deal with the pain and the hurt and the injustice and the outrage; with resolution and that strength of community that says when you are stumbling or tired, lean on me, pass your burden to me, rest and let me carry it, and I will do the same with you, because we trust each other and we’re in this together, that is the beauty of beloved community, that is the beauty of this church, that in this time that is an ever hotter mess, we will not despair or quit because we have each other and we remind each other that every instance of outrage and desperation teaches us and becomes an opportunity for change.  Strength in numbers isn’t just about polls or demonstrations – though it is also about demonstrations and voting and we certainly know the difference voting can make in this year.  But the strength that comes with numbers isn’t just from statistics or democracy, because not every year will be an election year.  But every year, and every day, we have each other.  We have each other to walk with us, to sit with us, to take a burden we cannot carry alone, to find a path we might not see by ourselves; that is the strength of numbers – it is the power of beloved community whether we are voting or marching or learning or praying.  We have each other and together we will journey and rest and help and lean on each other until we have leaned and journeyed and helped and walked ourselves and each other out, out of this bleak and desolate midnight, back on the path towards that bright dream, that cannot be just a dream, that bright and glittering daybreak, that bright world that we will build, we will, we will, we will build it, step by step, together. We are the ones we have been waiting for and we are together.  We are here and we are together. Will you say that with me?  ‘We are here and we are together.’  Turn and say it to someone, a friend, a lover, a stranger, next to you, in front of or behind you, ‘we are together.’  Say it loud now: we are together, raise this lofty roof with it, and please blast me with it because I need to hear it too – we are together!  Well then.  Well then.  Look out. So far we have come and we are just getting started!  Amen.


Excerpt from Dr. King’s address at Western Michigan University,  December, 1963

“There are certain technical words within every academic discipline that soon become stereotypes and cliches. Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any … It is the word “maladjusted.” This word is the ringing cry to modern child psychology. Certainly, we all want to avoid the maladjusted life. In order to have real adjustment within our personalities, we all want the well‐adjusted life …

But I say to you, my friends … there are certain things in our nation and in the world (about) which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of goodwill will be maladjusted until the good societies realize. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few, leave millions of God’s children smothering in an air tight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self‐defeating effects of physical violence.

I’m … convinced … that there is need for a new organization in our world. The International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment – men and women who will be as maladjusted as the prophet Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day could cry out in words that echo across the centuries, ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’ As maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln who had the vision to see that this nation would not survive half‐slave and half‐free. ….

Through such maladjustment, I believe that we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.”