Remembering the Dream
Every year on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, I reflect on his legacy and impact. It can be daunting when you look at King’s legacy and the social ills we continue to face today. I always state that we desperately need a leader like King today. And I am sure that the previous idea may sound cliché, and it is probably filled with escapism to avoid confronting the work at hand. But is it?
Reflecting on King’s legacy, I think of what could have been and what continues to feel out of reach.
Where would we be if America had taken King’s dream to heart? Where would we be if everyone had embraced King’s dream as their own? I know it seems far fetch, but why would Dr. King set forth such a dream knowing our shortcomings and even the limitations that existed during his time? His dream was a gift but also a challenge.
How do we dream? King’s famous speech seems like the last public dream we have heard. The one and only dream that seemed by in large about others and not an individual. We all may be conditioned to dream individualistically and not collectively for the benefit of oneself and not for the benefit of all humanity. However, that is the charge, the legacy, for us to consider one another and our collective good.
King challenged his generation and ours with his dream. He challenged us to not see ourselves as an island but as a part of the whole. It is an audacious dream, given our conditioning to dream as individuals and not as a collective. We were steeped in the illusion of scarcity then, which still permeates our minds today. King’s dream was a bright light shining in the dark spaces of our individualism. A light that often seems dim at times but is not needed. We need King’s dream to shine a light on our individualism like never before. A dream or beam of light that will galvanize us to see our neighbor as ourselves. A dream or beam of light that reminds us that:
“We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
As a newly ordained minister, King’s words about “God’s universe” strike me deeply. I am keenly aware that much of Dr. King’s criticism, or accountability, was directed at the church. His clarion call to all clergy and believers was to start participating in God’s universe, not our own.
At the time, America prided itself on being a Christian nation, and in recent years you’ve heard that echoed quite a bit. But the blatant contradiction was never in what we said as a nation but in how our actions never aligned.
King’s dream came as a prophetic reminder that our words have repeatedly failed to align with our actions. Yet, the prophet never leaves us without hope. In King’s case, he left us with hope and a dream. What a gift to have both.
In a time where it may feel that King’s dream has been delayed or even denied, he still left us with hope and a dream of what could be. A hope that we can overcome our desire to control our brethren. That laws that govern people can be made by the people it governs. Hope that the police who patrol your neighborhood see your son and daughter as if they were their own. A hope that no matter how people identify themselves, they are never excluded from a table God had already made a space for them to be seated.
I personally dream and hope that the denomination I belong to, the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), sees itself, its assets, gifts, and treasures, as a solution to society’s ills today. I hope and dream that the PCUSA will become a household name…not because of our creeds and polity. Not because of the grand edifices we have built. Not because of our missionary footprint abroad but because of our domestic courage to live into the dream Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shined into the dark spaces of our hearts and minds almost 60 years ago.
Today, we can reflect that light. And let it shine into the dark spaces of our society. We can mirror what Christ had called us to do before MKL Jr.: affirm the human dignity in each other by loving our neighbor as ourselves.
May it be so with us, Amen.
Rev. Harlan Redmond, Outreach Chaplain