Thinking about that dream …

This post — admittedly belated — initially ran two years ago and again last year for Martin Luther King, jr. Day. I think it’s still something to consider.

Today, my cousins and friends in the USA celebrate Martin Luther King, jr. Day, and it will be a time to discuss how far race relations have come — or haven’t come — in the years since Dr King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC.

Lately, there has been a lot of focus on diversity and identity, essentially breaking people up into discrete groups, based on outward characteristics. But was that the spirit behind Dr King’s dream?

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood … that … one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

He wasn’t talking about Black Power, or pride, or even affirmative action: he was talking about unity and brotherhood, as James Taylor reminds us.

King wasn’t the only one with that theme around that time: Kath Walker, an Australian Aboriginal poet and activist, wrote:

I could tell you of heartbreak, hatred blind,

I could tell of crimes that shame mankind,

Of brutal wrong and deeds malign,

Of rape and murder, son of mine.

But I’ll tell instead of brave and fine,

When lives of black and white entwine,

And men in brotherhood combine — 

This would I tell you, son of mine.

— Kath Walker a/k/a Oodgeroo Noonuccal 1920-1993

So … not “power” of any one race over another, and not separation based on race or history; not talk of revenge against former oppressors or even special consideration; but brotherhood and integration. The Apostle Paul would appear to agree:

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek (Gentile), there is neither slave nor free; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

— Galatians 3:27-29

In Canada, there is a similar situation involving First Nations. The “reserve” system and specialized programs — not to mention other policies put into practice over the generations — have served to segregate First Nations people from non-Indigenous people. That runs counter to Paul’s principle of unity and brotherhood among anyone who has put on Christ.

So we can wring our hands now and look back on the past 50-plus years and wonder why Dr King’s dream seems even farther away now than it did then. But I believe one of the reasons for the setback has been that the progress that has happened was achieved through legislation — forcing change down people’s throats in an attempt to find a quick fix. The changes have been cosmetic and did not address root causes — including bitterness on the part of those who felt they were the losers in the world’s zero-sum thinking where if one person wins, someone else has to lose. True change starts in the heart, and moves forward through prayer, unconditional love and PATIENCE.

That was, after all, the way Jesus came into the world; He started as a baby, whose birth had been prayed-for by devout, patient people (like Simeon and Anna at the Temple), growing into a man, eventually arriving at His time to appear to the world.

One wonders: what if people had opted to pray for integration and softening of hearts between the races, and then waited patiently for God to do His work? Instead, people got impatient and wanted change NOW. Did that change really happen?

What if people had determined to love and forgive others, no matter what they did to them? What if people had determined they would stand on God’s promise, because the “effectual, fervent prayer of the righteous [person] avails much”?

Is it too big a stretch to say that today, we could well be joining hands as brothers and sisters with “lives of black and white (and red, yellow and brown) entwining”? Is it too big a stretch to say that God would have come through faster and more decisively than we could ever have imagined?

Praise God, the Cross allows us to get back on track as soon as we make the decision to turn to Him. It’s a calling on each and every one of us, and it’s never too late to start.