Reflection on MLK's "I Have a Dream" Speech
It is my privilege and honor to participate in this service of remembrance today. My thanks to Father Tom and Dr. Shank for allowing me this opportunity, and thank you, students, faculty, and friends for your presence here.
Each time I hear those words I am moved and inspired. "I have a dream," Dr. King spoke, and still his dream lives on.
Are you a dreamer?
In the biblical world, dream were real. Dreams represented the realm of the divine and the demonic. Dreams had meaning, often carried messages, and sometimes foretold the future. In ancient times, people went to temples or holy places to sleep there, in order to have a dream which would show them the decision to make. This is strangely comforting to me, since we still have those who fall asleep in church. I used to be offended, but now I know they are just looking for a word from God.
Those who study these things say that we are all dreamers. We dream as part of our normal sleep cycle, but only occasionally do we remember the dream - an especially vivid scene, a dream that moves us emotionally, or of course, the terrifying nightmare. When I was in college I had a few supreme pizza at midnight dreams that were just plain weird.
They tell us that our dreams are unique and personal and non-transferable. You and I will not have the same exact dream tonight.
But God's dreams are different. The dreams that God gives to us are unique and personal, but they can be transferred, they can be shared. God-given dreams can become just as vivid in another person as they were in the person who first had the dream.
In fact, God's dreams are contagious, they spread like a fever. God's dreams grip the heart and mind of everyone who comes in contact with them. It is a happy and healthy contagion, not to be isolated or quarantined, but to be shared freely, openly, persistently - God's dreams. So it is that Dr. King's dream lives today. His God-given dream has become our dream.
Such dreams can set the course for our lives. When we dream God's dreams, it will rivet our attention, it will become our driving passion, the magnetic compass that points the way. And when we dream God's dream, we will pay any price, make any sacrifice, go any distance, face any darkness, to see God's dream fulfilled in our world, in our time.
Our dreams determine who we are and who we become. The book of Proverbs reminds us, "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." (Prov. 23:7 KJV) This is perhaps life's strangest secret. We tend to become what we think about. Our dreams define us, shape us, and mold us. Our dreams become the steering currents of our lives. Dreams help us claim the future, our future.
Novelist Tom Clancy gave the 1991 commencement address at Johns Hopkins University. Here are some abstracts from those remarks:
"I will now give you your last lesson in metaphysics. Nothing is as real as a dream. The world can change around you, but your dream will not. Your life may change, but your dream doesn't have to. Responsibilities need not erase it. Duties need not obscure it. Your spouse and children need not get in its way, because the dream is within you. No one can take your dream away . . . The only way that your dream can die is if you kill it yourself."
Martin Luther King, Jr. stood before a country plagued by violence and bigotry and shared his noble dream of a truly color blind culture. He led the long, hard march for civil rights and human dignity, until an assassin's bullet cut his life short.
I was just eight years old on that April evening in 1968, but I remember sitting with my family watching the news of his murder and the riots that followed and thinking how dark and frightening this world of ours must be. Dr. King, like all of the world's great dreamers, paid a great price for standing against racism and injustice.
If you would dream God's dream you had better count the cost, for it will no doubt exact a toll from you as well. This sightless, heartless world is not often kind to its dreamers.
Never settle for less than God's dream for your life. Too many settle for such pitiful, little dreams, so shallow and selfish. Meager dreams of projecting an image, stockpiling stuff, gaining power and privilege, achieving celebrity status. Such dreams lead to empty, meaningless lives, revolving around ourselves in a selfish delusion of our exaggerated importance. Those are dreams that bring no fulfillment or satisfaction, dreams that make no difference and no advancement in the human condition. Worthless dreams.
Dare to dream God's dream, as Dr. King dreamed that we might become a compassionate and welcoming people embracing the full kaleidoscope of humanity.
The Hopi Native American tribe has a fascinating custom and belief. They speak of the "dream catcher," a symbolic net hung in the doorways of their homes. Into this net fly their dreams, their hopes and aspirations.
The Hopi believe that unrealistic or unworthy dreams, unattainable visions, pass through the net. Only those true and noble dreams, those hopes that can be fulfilled, remain inside.
Those dreams remain a part of them and keep them focused on their path. Once the dream has been attained, they add a feather to their dream catcher.
Do you see the truth for us? You and I are dream catchers. It's up to us to catch a worthy dream and make it our own, to claim that God-given dream for our generation, and to lay down our lives to bring it to pass.
An unknown poet said it like this:
"Dreams are they, but they are God's dreams.
Shall we decry them or scorn them?
Dreams are they to become man's dreams!
Can we say 'nay' as they claim us?
Dreams are they all, but shall we despise them - God's dreams?"
So, I ask you once more. Are you a dreamer? God's promise says, "And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions." (Joel 2:28)
Today we remember a noble dream. Now it is time to dream again.