Monday, August 26, 2013

Dr. King and the Dream

"Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.    

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow."
--Langston Hughes,  "Dreams"

As we turn toward Washington on Wednesday to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. We probably wouldn't be celebrating as we will without that monumental Dream speech--that Martin Luther King gave on that hinge-turning day.

I stood at the Martin Luther King memorial in Washington. Huge and awe-inspiring the sculptured piece is a wonder to see. But what I remember about that day were the black folk that stood looking up. The little black boys and girls that wanted their picture taken on that very spot. Dr. King gave them and us hope again. He threw out the challenge to all to live up to the high principles that we say we believe. Somewhere he said, "Until all of us are free...none of us are really free." And he was right.

We name streets after him in almost every city. It is a shame that in many of these places they run right through the seamiest parts of town. But maybe that is not all bad--perhaps someone living in a not-so-nice place will look up at that street sign and maybe connect the dots: if  Dr. King could do that--maybe, just maybe I can too. Hope.

Such dreams do not come without a very great price. President Lincoln was shot as the war ended--and he had signed the Emancipation Proclamation. And then there is that long, long line of martyrs who gave their lives for this great cause of freedom through the years.

Let's not forget all the heroes  in the civil rights movement of our time were not black. Hundreds of Pastors lost their jobs because they would not send Deacons to turn away the wrong kind of folk on Sunday. People were shot and hanged and driven out of town because they dared to stand up for this cause. Many children and adults lived in utter terror.

Living in Birmingham where there a story about justice on almost every corner--I preached at the 16th Street Church where one terrible Sunday morning four little black girls at Sunday School were killed when a bomb went off. As I preached in that special place years later I looked up at the window the children of Wales provided to say to their brothers and sisters we stand with you...we love you...and we give you this window--the centerpiece in the church--as a holy reminder of terror and grace, too. The artist has given us a black Jesus with his hands outstretched and underneath are the shining words: "You Do It Unto Me..."

A friend of mine took me to the Gethsemani Monastery in Bardstown, Kentucky last year, too. He wanted to show me a special memorial We walked and walked through the woods until we came to this holy spot. At first some sculptor had fashioned the story of the sleeping disciples in the Garden of Gethsemani. And then you move up the hill and you see this life-size stature that takes your breath away. Jesus prays alone in that Garden while his disciples sleep. These pieces were give to honor not a black man but a young white theological student. Jonathan M. Daniels was an Episcopal Seminarian who went to Alabama to stand with his brothers and sisters in need. He was murdered in Alabama August 20, 1965. He is one of hundreds, thousands who gave
their lives to this important cause.

As the people gather Wednesday to remember that day fifty years ago--I hope our President sees the multitude. I hope he remembers that hard, hard times that Martin Luther King endured. There are cries today for the impeachment of our President. Even though these pronouncements get nowhere--they must hurt. And then the ugliness and hatred that the simple fact of his Presidency has shown us we really do have a long way to go after all these years.

Another photo and my reverie ends for a spell. On the street where my son lives in Philadelphia it is a mixed neighborhood. Some of the homes are being gentrified. But many still are filled with people on welfare, black folk who never were able to get too far. Walking down the street on the eve of President Obama's second try for the Whit House I noticed a door. Not a very nice house really. But on their door were words that I wish our President could see. By his very presence he gives hope to a multitude of people who some days think there is little hope in this vast, rich country for them.

We have a long way to go. But lest we despair--let us remember how far we have come. Progress is exceedingly slow. Much to slow. But looking back on these last fifty years from the Day Dr.King told us about the dream--my, my so much of what he said that day has become a reality.

(  You might enjoy reading Joshua Dubois'  "Free at Last" piece that is found in the online edition of Newsweek. It gives me hope. )

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