September 15, 2014
The Greatest of Dreams
Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, delivered at the March on Washington, August 28, 1963, is one of the most important and well known speeches in history. Far less known, however, is that the actual speech he had before him on the podium that day had no mention of a dream whatsoever.
For years, Dr. King had been writing and speaking about his dream. He dreamed that, one day, racial oppression would no longer threaten the American creed of all of humanity being created equal. He spoke so often of having a dream, in fact, that his inner circle was afraid the phrase had become overused and trite. The night before the March on Washington, Dr. King and his closest advisors worked together to come up with an entirely new message. "I have a dream" did not appear in the manuscript at all.
The speech was titled "Normalcy—Never Again" and outlined the troublesome history of black men and women in America. But several minutes into this speech, King paused and turned the manuscript over. Then he launched into the words that were closest to his heart: "So I say to you today, my friends, that even though we must face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream."
Clarence Jones, one of the men who had helped with the new speech the night before, recalled the transition in King's speech and remembered bowing his head in defeat because of all the work they had put into preparing a new message. Little did he realize what would come from the four familiar words. "I have a dream" became the phrase that defined the civil rights movement itself and inspired the people of God to look again at the counter-cultural nature of God's kingdom among us.
Dr. King's decision to talk about the dream God had given him brings me to ask: How do I learn to live with such a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit that I could completely shift gears, against the advice of the experts, and before a crowd of 250,000 onlookers? But it also brings me to wonder at the God who is near us in the making of history, the God who makes all things new.
The Holy Spirit that guides us is the one Jesus promised his disciples on the night He went from beloved to despised. Jesus assured them that He would not leave them as orphans, and though it looked bleak from the view of Calvary, He kept His promise. The Spirit of God is near, making all things new and assuring us that in time our tears will be no more, and the old order of things will pass away. God is the keeper of this, the greatest of dreams, and of the dreamers themselves.
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