Friday, August 30, 2013

I have a dream.....

Dr Martin Luther King Jr I have a Dream
Martin Luther King Jr addressing the crowds at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963
This week has recognized and celebrated the infamous 1963 March on Washington, where 250,000 gathered at the Lincoln Memorial and where Martin Luther King Jr delivered the stirring ‘I have a dream’ speech. 

Mahalia Jackson was also present, offering a stirring rendition of the spiritual, ‘I been ‘buked and I been scorned’.

The New York Times has revealed a story that most of us would not have otherwise have known. When Dr King was about half way through his prepared speech, Mahalia Jackson shouted out to him from the speakers’ stand: ‘Tell ‘em about the ‘Dream’, Martin, tell ‘em about the ‘Dream’!’ She had heard him speak about the ‘Dream’ on other occasions, but it wasn’t in his prepared speech on that day in 1963. So, he pushed aside the text he was reading from - a sobering assessment of current social injustices - and began to improvise, speaking with passion about his ‘Dream’, which would become the vision and rallying call for the civil rights movement, and one of the most recognizable refrains in the world. ‘I have a Dream….’

Anyone who has heard this speech can still hear the echoes of his voice – emotional, courageous, powerful, stirring, visionary. His voice, rising and falling, trembling with emotion. His ‘Dream’ – a radiant vision of hope - stirred imaginations and hearts on that day, and continues to do so. “I have a dream,” he declared, “my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!” The speech remains a powerful influence for those who seek and work for justice around the world.

I live in Australia, and it is just over a week until the national elections. I’m sure many voters long for leaders who do more than ‘huff and puff’, and long for substance rather than short sound bites carefully chewed over for easy digestion and delivery. Pragmatic politics and the aspirations of leadership seem to be the order of the day - and not just in Australia. 

People long for leaders with a vision where all have a place to belong, where privilege and power can make space for those who are on the margins, and the ‘least and the last’. Where people are judged not by the colour of their skin or their country of origin, but by the content of their character and what they can offer to shape the nation.

There have been moments when brilliant speeches, or even simple heartfelt speeches, have stirred our imaginations. But who is speaking about the ‘Dream’ in our contemporary context that will stir our minds, our hearts, our imaginations, and encourage us to commit ourselves to the ‘common wealth’ and the ‘common good’?

Jim Wallis’ begins his latest book, On God’s Side, with this paragraph:

‘Our life together can be better. Ours is a shallow and selfish age, and we are in need of conversion – from looking out just for ourselves to also looking out for one another. It’s time to hear and heed a call to a different way of life, to reclaim a very old idea called the common good. Jesus issued that call and announced the kingdom of God – a new order of living in sharp contrast to all the political and religious kingdoms of the world. That better way of life was meant to benefit not only his followers but everybody else too. And that is the point of it. Jesus told us a new relationship with God also brings us into a new relationship with our neighbour, especially with the most vulnerable of this world, and even with our enemies. This call to love our neighbour is the foundation for re-establishing and reclaiming the common good, which has fallen into cultural and political – and even religious – neglect'. 

Writing on the Sojourners blog this week, Wallis said, 'King taught us that day our complaints or critiques, or even our dissent will never be the foundation of social movements that change the world — but dreams always will. Just saying what is wrong will never be enough to change the world. You have to lift up a vision of what is right.The dream was about King’s vision for “the beloved community,” drawn right from the heart of his Christian faith and a spiritual foundation for the ancient idea of the common good, which we today need so deeply to restore'.

‘I have a dream’…….

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