How did Martin Luther King speak without a Xanax?

If you ever wondered what you would have said or done during the Nazi invasion of Germany or the Civil Rights movement, you’re doing it now.

That statement, as seen on Twitter, sits at the edge of my thoughts on a daily basis. Of course I imagine myself siding with the Resistance. My allegiance would be on the right side of history.

These days, however, defining what counts as “resistance” is a bit tricky. I never liked the term “slacktivism”: preaching politics from the pulpit of social media without having to actually do anything. But I’m a writer; I know that words have power. I also know that no one ever had their minds changed from arguing in a comment thread. Still, I firmly believe that words plant ideas, and ideas are the force that cultivates change.

At any rate, sharing political views on Facebook – a platform I greatly appreciate as an introvert – isn’t just for attention-getters and pot-stirrers anymore. Not when doing so can mean severing relationships that transcend the screen.

But face-to-face interactions don’t allow for a delete key to edit words after they’ve already been said. In that sense, the Internet has robbed us of something very important.

I’ve hid in the sanctuary of my home, with my beloved screen, for far too long. My anxiety makes public speaking of any kind an incredibly daunting task, even when limited to a round table of peers.

“I’m so grateful we have a vice president who leads a bible study,” someone said. The far side of the table “Amen’d” a response.

In hindsight, my response should have been simple. You know who else leads a bible study? I should have said. Hillary Rodham Clinton! But this was real life, not an online interaction. No going back to add something clever to my original response. Once the moment of relevance passes, it’s gone.

The heat wave rose in my chest, threatening to bring my vocal chords to a slow boil. Feeling my airway constrict, I dug in my purse for my inhaler.

So much for being discreet; so much for appearing like a calm, collected adult whose views happen to lean as far left from the person next to me as Colorado is from the White House on a map.

If you ever wondered what you would have said or done back then, you’re doing it now.

“Actually.” I cleared my throat, hoping no one noticed. “Actually, anyone can attend or lead a bible study. That doesn’t mean anything. A vice president who says nothing to denounce injustice like white supremacy is complicit, and not a real Christian.”

I didn’t fully believe that last part, about not being a “real Christian” (whatever that actually meant). I know toxic Christians exist, have existed – I’ve probably been one, at some point – but for the purpose of this audience, the words were meant to convict. If you couldn’t trust Christians to stand up in the face of injustice, then who could you?

“That’s your opinion,” he said, humbly and quietly.


Me: I won’t get political at bible study
Also me: ^^

I felt all eyes on me, like hands turning up a dial on the stove from low to high. If this interaction happened on a screen, you wouldn’t have heard my breathing pattern change from relaxed to ragged; you wouldn’t have heard the stampede of throat-clearing and hard swallows. You would have read the dignified words of an elegant leader: It’s not an ‘opinion.’ It’s Jesus getting angry, even flipping over tables when he saw injustice. That’s your bible. Is that an ‘opinion’ to you?!

Instead it was quiet; all quiet on the western church front.

Instead, in a moment of decidedly undignified anger, came one of the dumbest things I’ve ever said: “Well, thanks for making me have to take a Xanax to get through this discussion. Your president, and vice president, are both evil.”

Cue the angry shoving in my chair, the gathering of my long maxi dress so I wouldn’t trip over it, and quick shuffling away in noisy flip-flops before I could do anything else stupid, like cry.

“Thanks for making me take a Xanax”? Really, Beth? Why do you say such stupid shit? Would Martin Luther King ever say something like that? No, clearly he wouldn’t have, since Xanax didn’t exist. But even an oratory genius like himself had to have had his anxious, less-than-perfectly-articulate moments – or so I convince myself as I splash cold water on my face in the ladies room.

This moment, though – a triumph in speaking up, a risk of wading into “intolerant liberal” territory – still counted for something…didn’t it?

As far as that Twitter meme is concerned, doing your civic duty doesn’t have to be graceful. It just needs to be done.

But still I wonder: how did Martin Luther King give a speech like “I Have A Dream” without the calming power of Xanax? How did he face down those he knew hated him with a passion, as well as those who looked to him as the voice of a movement? I don’t know which group would trigger my anxiety more.

Clearly, not all of us are equipped to be a Martin Luther King – and thank God we’re not required to be. It’s not the method of delivery that matters, but the fact that you do it. The Resistance needs all the voices it can get, even if they shake and require medical assistance to be heard.


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11 thoughts on “How did Martin Luther King speak without a Xanax?

  1. As an anxious extroverted person, I deeply appreciate this. ❤ Also, I get so angry when church people bring up politics in a Bible study like that. 😦 I really feel like it's inappropriate and makes people feel unsafe.


  2. Thanks for the transparency Beth. We all have those moments when the right words just don’t seem to come fast enough. I think the hardest people to share Jesus with are often Christians. This is especially true of those who’ve been taught to memorize snippets of scripture. One of the worst things taught in Sunday School is to memorize “precious promises.” The Bible was never meant to be read and memorized by isolating verses, usually out of context. I experience this first hand a few months back while trying to share with a Christian at work that “hell” is not found in the Bible. He hit me with a barrage, fired off machine gun style, of KJV Bible verses all purporting to support God’s eternal punishment of the “wicked.” The smile of his face was disturbing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I find that many Christians just seem to end up agreeing with with the opinionated strong personality in the room, they very rarely get push-back. And ultimately, “that’s your opinion” was a weak argument in reply.

    “I think injustice is wrong.”
    “That’s your opinion.”
    “Oh really? Is there a kind of injustice out there that’s right and God-glorifying?”

    “I think racism is wrong.”
    “That’s your opinion.”
    “I’m sorry, do you mean that being prejudiced against an individual because of the color of his skin is good?”

    It’s kind of like:”Oh yeah?” “Yeah!” “OH YEAH?” “YEAH!”
    So many just go with the flow, they might not agree but they know better than to speak up because they will get shot down. But what you did – was to pull the rug from under him in a brilliant way to show him that he’s not really standing on the Bible but on an “image” of what he thinks Christianity is – just like Christianity was generations ago. It was about looking the part but not really being changed by Jesus’ challenge to love others .


      • Sadly, I’m not that great at giving my opinion / expressing myself. On the internet, I can mull over a thought, look it up with some other sites and get a better picture of what I want to say – but on the spur of the moment … I can’t process a thought quickly and it never seems to come out quite right.
        One big difference between us and MLK,Jr; he was trained in public speaking as a pastor – it was in his wheelhouse to speak up. My Christianity never really encouraged everyone in public speaking, never prepared us to make arguments or defend them. Our church would be a whole different force if everybody was trained in public speaking much as a pastor might be called on to defend their faith in public.


  4. That comment, “That’s your opinion,” won’t leave me alone. There are opinions, but there are also facts. We are living in a time in which is has become far too common to dismiss uncomfortable facts with, “That’s your opinion,” rather than consider them seriously and risk change.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. There’s a first step in any new path. Stumbles in that event are common, and its loaded with anxiety. You did OK. That said, I find it hard to imaging the current occupant of the Oval Office leading a Bible Study, and if he did, I shudder at the thought of where he would lead it. As for MLK, he had some of the best training and practice in public speaking any human can get, and a discipline forged in staking his very life, and the firm belief that that included the ultimate fate of his immortal soul, in his mission to confront an evil, love its perpetrators in the face of their hate, and never surrender to fear. The vast majority of us can only stand in awe of such as he.

    Liked by 1 person

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