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Looking back on ‘a dream’
WHEN DO YOU blurt out what you really think, and when do you temper your comments to avoid unnecessary confrontation?
Is it possible to say something powerfully without saying it loudly?
If we self-censor ourselves to avoid causing offense, aren’t we creating an artificially sterile world?
Those are some of the questions that were bouncing around in my head recently as I prepared a sermon to offer at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Colonial Beach.
The Scripture for the day, particularly the lesson from James about the tongue being “a restless evil, full of deadly poison,” got me thinking about these questions.
My reflections led me to a place I did not anticipate—the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. The words that resonated with me from that violent, passionate time came from a speech given by a Baptist minister who had “a dream.”
It had been awhile since I had read the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. I remember the stately cadence Dr. King used as he spoke in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on an August day in 1963.
But it’s the words he used that reflect the power of his ministry. Their significance has grown over the past half-century. Indeed, they are a powerful antidote to the partisan shouting that all too often passes for political discourse these days.
King demonstrated how moral force can trump physical force. He spoke of radical change, but warned against the use of violent tactics. He cautioned against a return to “business as usual,” while also proclaiming that the “thirst for freedom” should not be sought “by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”
It’s easy to forget that King was criticized and ridiculed by some for his approach. In the years leading up to his assassination in 1968, there were those who said he was too meek, too passive, too willing to turn the other cheek.
But history sees it differently. Today, when we cull through our national memories in search of moral sustenance, it’s not those who called for bullets who offer us that support. It’s the man who dreamed of a day “on the red hills of Georgia” when “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
“Again and again,” he said, “we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force”—the kind of force you don’t get from the gym or from wealth, but from your conscience and your moral fiber.
In a 21st-century world where pre-emptive military action has been hailed as a new standard and where political parties often seem more interested in “winning the game” than solving the nation’s problems, King’s notion of “soul force” is worth remembering.
His goal was not to beat his adversaries, but to invite them to “the table of brotherhood.” That’s about as counter-cultural as you can get these days.
His words have never sounded more powerful than they do today.
Ed Jones: 540/374-5401