January 21, 2013
“I have a dream…”
If your default historical horizon is biblical, your scanner presents Joseph as “The Dreamer” whose life became the basis for more verses in Genesis than Abraham, Isaac or his father, Jacob.
If your data base is more cultural, the pop-up screen in your mind brings Martin Luther King, Jr. into view. On August 28, 1963, his address from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC made him a timeless figure in the American biography. Today, across the country, the Federal holiday gives honor to a man whose efforts to neutralize the power of bigotry helped the nation realize the future for which a war had been fought and a president had been assassinated.
The details of the 17 minute speech – given at the conclusion of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom to 200,000 participants – were not clear to the crowd.
King had prepared his remarks for the historic event, assisted by Stanley Levison and Clarence Benjamin Jones. The original title was “Normalcy, Never Again.” In the prepared version, he cited sources as broad as the Bible, the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and the United States Constitution.
But, at the end of the speech, Dr. King veered off course, responding to the appeal from the crowd voiced by the Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson who shouted, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” With that, he moved into an adlib zone in which a theme that had been tested in multiple environments in the prior months became his passionate epilog.
That event was 50 years ago, but the echoes of his address continue to resonate: “I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream…” He went on to describe scenes of his dream, brought to real life; among them: “…I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character…”
“I Have a Dream” was not the only speech ever given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr…. but it was the single statement that captured the essence of his Calling. If you want to understand the life of the man, and frame the efforts to which he gave his abbreviated life (any life taken by an assassin we assume to have been shortened, unnaturally), you can get the picture from the Dream speech. Five years later, his earthly life ended. Fifty years later, we’re still quoting his comments and measuring our society against them.
As you are affected today by the impact of his life – in the holiday dedicated to his memory, and in the transformation of American society made possible by the movement he served – I wonder if it warrants some thought for you, as it does for me: if I had to capture the core of the message for which I want to be remembered, how would I script it?
Peter – the fisherman who shifted his daily pursuits to become a “Fisher of Men” – had that kind of view when he wrote: “So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 1:12-16)
So… what do you know, today, that generations beyond you ought to know? How has your wisdom and insight – gathered through the journey of your life, from consciousness to now – helped you to see what the future should be, in a world that would be different because of you and your Calling?
I hope Dr. King’s example – a message with life beyond the messenger – challenges you, today.