Jim Wares: We have a dream

We have a dream

Martin Luther King Jr.

I learned that when I was a boy my heroes were cowboys in white hats on white horses, six-guns slapped to their hips. They were superior to the town drunk staggering down the street, more noble than the train robbers, more cunning than the bad guy sneaking up behind them, they knew how to treat a lady, they fought injustice, they were bullet proof and right was their might. But they weren’t real.

There were no horse thieves or bank robbers to round up, no damsels tied to train tracks in need of saving. But we indeed were in need of a hero.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that at that time, when I was a boy, America had lost her soul. The era of ‘then’, when I was a boy, a time when children were separated at school, seats on a bus were for some and not others, jobs, hotels, voting booths, restaurants and homes were for some and not for others, was a time when America was yet struggling for her soul. And so it has been from the beginning when we first declared our soul … and the Heavens heard us say …“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Ever since we have struggled and continue to struggle to realize our soul. We fight to reconcile that which we say we are with that which we be.

Since the very first time he and his father were told to stand so others could sit, Martin Luther King ordered his life about the business of realizing our soul. For King, there was no ambiguity. Guided by his faith, he preached the world that could be…that should be,“When I see how we live our lives in selfishness and hate, again I say “man is not made for that” When I see how we often throw away the precious lives that God has given us in riotous living, again I find myself saying “Man is not made for that. My fiends man is made for the stars, created for eternity, born for the everlasting. Man is a child of the almighty God, born for his everlasting fellowship …” It was for this conviction, this struggle to realize our soul, that he was beaten, imprisoned thirty times and then killed.

Unlike the cowboys in the movies whose faces never bruise when hit with a saloon chair and recover from bullet wounds within hours, the business of being a hero is a hard and messy sort of thing. For King, apathy was not an option and he chose the hard and messy.

His unction was born of his faith. He would not allow his faith to be diminished by accepting the world as it was. He could not remain silent. “A time comes when silence is betrayal…And some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak.” For King, his faith was where the rubber met the road. “To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why…Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the One who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them?”

King’s faith did not lead him to a narrow view of civil rights. It wasn’t just about racism. Racism was the immediate. It was the model. Racism, poverty and war were connected. “We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem …I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor … Somehow this madness must cease.”

For King, the battles we fought at home and on the other side of the world were battles that could have been avoided … if only we could realize our soul …that they were a result of “… our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated.” He believed that to realize our soul as a nation we had to “… live out the true meaning of its creed …” and that “We must rapidly begin … we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.”

Last week a young woman confided in me that she didn’t understand why it is Martin Luther King is recognized with a national holiday. She said to me, “So he had a dream. We all have dreams.” My friend, it’s not that we dream. It’s what we dare to dream. He dreamed of the soul of America. He dreamed we could realize the essence of who we are, “…that these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Martin Luther King’s life, his dream, is yet relevant today as we search for the soul of America. I am heartened and “I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I’m happy, tonight.” This is all I have learned today.

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James Wares lives in Marshalltown and can be reached at whatjimhaslearnedtoday@yahoo.com