Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Keep Dreaming the Dream

This is the week in which we honor the birth of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King. It is a holiday that was, in the words of the song, "a long time coming".

This year, we are calling it "A Day of Service", with the slogan "Make it a Day On, not a Day Off." It is a noble and appropriate idea. And who could not be thankful that members of the first family and the cabinet cooked food at homeless shelters and soup kitchens, cleaned trash up in a beautification project, and directly delivered food to the hungry? It's a good thing to do to really honor Martin Luther King.
But I wish there were more things to hold up as ways we give honor to the legacy of Martin Luther King, who was about more than just feeding the poor.

Here are some quotes from Martin Luther King. Read them and let me know how much you think that, as a nation, we have outgrown our need for them.

Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies - or else? The chain reaction of evil - hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars - must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.

When we ask Negroes to abide by the law, let us also declare that the white man does not abide by law in the ghettos. Day in and day out he violates welfare laws to deprive the poor of their meager allotments; he flagrantly violates building codes and regulations; his police make a mockery of law; he violates laws on equal employment and education and the provisions of civil services. The slums are the handiwork of a vicious system of the white society; Negroes live in them, but they do not make them, any more than a prisoner makes a prison.

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

Many of the ugly pages of American history have been obscured and forgotten ....America owes a debt of justice which it has only begun to pay. If it loses the will to finish or slackens in its determination, history will recall its crimes and the country that would be great will lack the most indispensable element of greatness--justice.

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor in America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.

Being a Negro in America means trying to smile when you want to cry. It means trying to hold on to physical life amid psychological death. It means the pain of watching your children grow up with clouds of inferiority in their mental skies.

We no longer live in Martin Luther King's precise world. That is surely true. But as we watch violence increase, see hatred passed off as political rhetoric, listen to the strident calls of those who would divide us as a nation rather than unite us, then we know for certain that we may have seen the mountaintop, but we are not yet there. The spiritual wound in America is still raw, still needing to be healed.

I wish Martin's words made me say "oh, Gee -- that was so long ago." I wish the call to stand up for justice sounded as outdated as the saying "Someday man will walk on the moon."

We need to listen. It won't take long to be inspired again. Martin Luther King Jr's words are like a flame in a room full of wicks. They ignite us. I'll list some sites that carry videos or recordings of his speeches. Go listen. Let your heart hope that things can be better. Find what parts of the dream you may have forgotten. Dream it again.


The official MLK Day of Service Site

The Nobel Peace Prize Biography of MLK

The King Center

The MLK Online Site - an index to resources online.

The MLK Research and Education Institute

It is important to keep to the messages of leaders like Martin Luther King alive. Until we can measure up to the best part of them, we need to renew our dedication to them, over and over. It is hard to love instead of hate. It is hard to be non-violent. It is hard to, as MLK said, "Stand up for righteousness; stand up for justice; stand up for truth." It is not enough to spend one day a year. It is time to dream the dream, and to act on it -- again and again, until we need not dream it anymore, because it will have become real.


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