We've heard the sound bite hundreds of times... I have a dream. It's the tag-line of what is widely considered to be one of the greatest speeches ever delivered. And it was the heart cry of a man, Dr. Martin Luther King, whose birthdate we observe on the third Monday of January every year, around the time of his January 15 birthday.
Did you know that it was President Ronald Reagan who signed the holiday into law in 1983? Or that it was first observed in 1986? Or that there was enough resistance to this holiday that only as recently as the year 2000 did all 50 states actually observe it for the first time?
So, why post this? Well, candidly, I'm posting this because the issue that King raised in his speech (and in his mission in general) is an issue that is near and dear to the heart of God... justice. It's an issue that can certainly be a trendy bandwagon to jump on, and many have, and many more will, but the Scriptures don't allow us to just take this up as another do-good cause... we are called to live it.
The prophet Micah put it this way... He's already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It's quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don't take yourself too seriously - take God seriously. (6:8, The Message)
If you have the time, watch the video, or read the transcript, or both, which are posted below.
One thing though... don't get hung up on the I have a dream parts. There is so much more to the message. Case in point... we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, 'When will you be satisfied?' We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
I know that to some this may not make a whole lot of sense. Maybe some feel as though it's not really that big a deal or that these things don't go on anymore. Maybe because a black man will be sworn into office as the 44th President of the United States tomorrow we feel as though the proverbial glass ceiling has been shattered and there is no longer any legitimate reason for blacks to complain about not having a fair shake at a decent life. Maybe some, like me, didn't grow up in an area where justice issues were on the front burner because everyone pretty much looked the same... white. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. But let's not kid ourselves... prejudice and bias and favoritism and partiality and, yes, racism (however you define it) are alive and well and will continue to affect our world because they are matters of the human heart that cannot be legislated out of society.
I first looked this issue in the face when I moved to Chicago in the Fall of 2001. I noticed that, by and large, the homeless population was black men. Why? I participated in outreaches at Pacific Garden Mission on several occasions with fellow grad students, only to see an audience of a few hundred black men. Why? I attended The Masters golf tournament in Augusta, GA in 2005 and witnessed two amazing realities... Tiger Woods winning his fourth Green Jacket as well as 60-something-year-old-black men working as washroom attendants and teen-aged black men picking up trash on the grounds while white folks like me handled the cash in the vending and souvenir areas. Why? I've listened to a fellow grad student at Moody, who happened to be black, tell me about an experience he had in which a security guard followed him thru a parking lot. Why? I once met a homeless man named Cornelius Canaday at the corner of Chicago Ave & Franklin St in Chicago's Gold Coast area. And I asked him, "Cornelius, what's it like to be a black man on the streets of Chicago?" His response? "I wish people wouldn't look at me like I'm a criminal or like I'm about to do something to them. I'd just like some respect and to be treated with dignity."
And so does Yahweh, the God who calls us to do what is fair and just to our neighbors... the God who works justice and righteousness for all who are oppressed. (Psalm 103:6)
I'm thankful for Dr. King. And, despite our political differences, I am thankful for Barack Obama, the soon-to-be 44th President of the United States of America... because I know that all across America tonight, folks young and old, urban dwellers and suburban-ites too, are more encouraged than ever been before.
[ Martin Luther King's famous speech, delivered on August 28, 1963 in Washington, D.C. ]
[ Transcript ]