Morning Worship Column: Moss Says King’s ‘Other America’ Still Relevant Today

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Be dissatisfied. Have a divine dissatisfaction until we see justice roll down like waters,” said the Rev. Otis Moss III at the 9:15 a.m. Friday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. His sermon title was “The Other America” and the Scripture reading was Luke 10:25-37, the story of the Good Samaritan.

“Neighbor, oh neighbor, it is time to recognize the other America,” he said.

At his church, Trinity United Church of Christ, during the Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations in January, Moss said he often reimagines the title and scripture of King’s messages.

“I highlight how the message is still relevant,” he said.

“The Other America” was a title King used.

There are two Americas, Moss said. One America has pristine lawns, clean walls and food. Housing and education are always assumed. But many live in the other America, the America of deferred dreams and the fatigue of despair. In this other America, a student is forced to move from home to home and couch to couch and the school still expects him or her to work to the highest ability.

In the other America, there is economic apartheid, health care is a luxury and “men with pensions and insurance and live in penthouses want to rescind the laws that provide universal health care and the only beverage they drink is tea,” Moss said.

America, he said, ranks at the bottom, educationally, of the industrialized nations, but at the top for exclusive schools.

The dirty little secret of America is that poverty and economic apartheid, cooked in racism, has driven many into the 12th circle of Dante’s Inferno.

“We had a colonial rebellion built on the backs of [black] bodies and the greatest transfer of wealth from the poor to wealthy in the world,” he said.

What does the Bible have to say about this, he asked. In the story of the Good Samaritan, the young lawyer knows that he is supposed to love God with all his heart and soul and mind and love his neighbor as himself. But he asks, “Who is my neighbor? Do you have a public theology and a public faith? Do you institute the faith you claim to operate under?”

The priest in the story is a fundamentalist, a conservative and moved to the other side of the road.

“When your religion restricts your ability to be compassionate, you need to run and find a new spirituality. This religious fundamentalist was restricted so he could not see the need in front of him,” Moss said. “If the church wants to close its eyes to pain, if you want to have a megachurch and a mini theology, you don’t have much of a ministry. Don’t allow religion to restrict your relevancy.”

The Levite, Moss said, did not attend “Hebrew Lives Matter” meetings. The people of Israel were brutalized by the Roman Empire, but the Levite thought if he stayed away, people would recognize him individually for his accomplishments. He didn’t realize the people in power associated him with them and saw stereotypes.

“We are all interconnected,” he said. “I am here because I am connected with a wider village. My name is Otis Moss III and there was an Otis Moss, Jr., and before him a first Otis Moss and before him Frederick Douglass and before him Roger Williams and before him Martin Luther.”

He continued the litany of ancestors all the way back to Adam and Eve and said, “And before them was God. We always stand on somebody’s shoulders; we are not in this alone.”

The only person who was not afraid of his culture or his ethnicity was the Samaritan who did attend Hebrew Lives Matter meetings.

“When Hebrew Lives Matter, all lives matter,” Moss said. “Salvation comes from unexpected sources. It will come from someone with a different orientation [Bayard Rustin who taught Martin Luther King Jr.], or someone with a third grade education [Fannie Lou Hamer who fought for voting rights in Mississippi] or William Sloane Coffin speaking on race and the military, or Cesar Chavez. God can use anybody, anywhere, anytime.”

“Be dissatisfied with a divine dissatisfaction until every family has a decent home, quality education and mass incarceration is obliterated. Let us not have an anemia of deeds. I know Chautauqua is not America, but it is an aspirational community,” Moss said. “There will be porches and democratic dialogue that will include the other America. Be dissatisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.’ ”

The Rev. Ed McCarthy presided. Emily Peterson, who serves as the Christian coordinator for Chautauqua’s Abrahamic Program for Young Adults, read the Scripture. The Motet Choir sang “Let All the People Say ‘Amen,’ ” by Pepper Choplin. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, directed the choir and Ginny Oram and Kathleen Riley served as soloists. The Gladys R. Brasted and Adair Brasted Gould Memorial Chaplaincy provided support for this week’s services.


The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.