Dreams may be so vivid they come in color, provoke physical reaction, and rattle us for some time after we wake.
But dreams fade. With the dawning of day and the clatter of routine, the images of night recede. Indeed, it only takes moments for us to forget the dream that so enthralled or frightened us. How often have we dreamed the beginning of a perfect novel or the answer to a stubborn problem only to forget the entire beautiful episode before our feet touch the floor?
Dreams are fleeting things.
Even the dreams we dream while wide awake have a way of fading into the backgrounds of our lives. The static of daily living interrupts the signal of those visions and aspirations that inspire our highest hopes. Before long those dreams and visions feel to us like a distant nothing, a phantasm that haunts the memory without stirring the soul.
Here’s the thing: Dreams have to be dreamed over and over again if they are going to survive the monotony of our lives and pull us higher. They have to be passed on. They have to be spoken and repeated—over-communicated—sometimes as we talk to ourselves and sometimes as we try convincing others. With the watering of recasting and retelling, dreams grow up into capitalization. They become Dreams.
But without words and repetition Dreams die. Yes, Langston, a dream deferred dries up like a raisin in the sun.
That’s our problem with Dr. King’s Dream. It’s not heard enough. It’s not spoken enough. It gets tucked away in the file marked “history” until that one day when we only play clips of it. We rip it from its walking, sweaty, foot-hurting, fear-facing, jail-filling, dog-bitten, billy-club-ducking, still singing, often praying, God-hoping context. We shrink it to a sound bite, then shrink wrap it in a sanitized, made-for-public consumption platitude. We make memes of quotes while erasing any real villains from the tale, or pretending those villains in black-and-white photos faded away when we woke up. All the while we lose the urgent, passionate, irrepressible Dream that inspired people to wake up, stand up and bring injustice to its knees. All the while we are not really remembering but forgetting. Indeed, we become Forgetters.
It’s that constant forgetting that drains the dream of power. If we are Forgetters we leave ourselves vulnerable to returning to the state of things the Dream was meant to replace.
That’s the only way I can make sense of our President-Elect’s Twitter skirmish with Civil Rights pioneer Rep. John Lewis. The President-Elect must be a Forgetter…or a Know-Nothing…or Willfully Ignorant.
Lewis not only attended the March on Washington. As the president of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), he was the sixth speaker on the rostrum that day, just four speakers ahead of Dr. King. He stood on that rostrum because his work with SNCC opened the polling places and voting booths to African Americans across the south at great personal risk and cost. He was on the Edmund Pettus Bridge that “Bloody Sunday.” He suffered the blows that many others suffered, and he, by the grace of God, turned each blow into a resolve to make the country better for all. Rep. Lewis’ bona fides are sure.
President-Elect Trump’s comments reveal that the Dream does not live sufficiently in the heart of our incoming President—even though he lived his adult life during the very period when the Dream did the most to advance freedom and equality. He was in the grease but did not fry. What was he listening to? Where was his involvement? What were his dreams?
In the tweet accusing Rep. Lewis of doing nothing but talking, President-Elect Trump pointed to poverty without proffering solution. Had he known the Dream he would have recalled The Poor People’s Campaign and the Dream’s insistence on development and aid for poor Americans—Black and White. Instead, which happens so often among the Forgetters, poverty became a weapon used to indict those who are trying rather than a rallying call to those who could help. Mr. Trump’s last word was “sad.” The truly sad thing is having a President who doesn’t get it, who apparently doesn’t dream for all of us, and who, rather than lead the way in righteousness, attacks those who’ve dedicated their lives to a fuller experience of justice.
But here’s the rub: A great many of us are much more like Mr. Trump than we’d perhaps care to admit. I know; that feels personally insulting. But a great many have become Forgetters, failing to remember the John Lewises and Fannie Lou Hammers of the world who have sacrificed for our freedom. We have ceased speaking the Dream and, worse, stopped actively pushing the Dream forward. We have allowed the Dream to become little more than individual access to the American dream. We have allowed weak retelling and paraphrasing to edit out the dynamic faith that inspired and sustained the Dream. We have become practical atheists attempting to live a Dream and establish a Beloved Community that the original dreamer understood only God could produce. In our selective mutism and habitual forgetfulness, we have made it possible for many people to forget and in forgetting threaten the Dream itself.
As we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I am pressed to resist forgetting. I am pressed to actively remember and retell, to dream again with clarity, conviction and hope. I’m reminded—and I pray you are—that dreams keep twisting and growing, calling forth fresh imagination and energy. Last night’s dream won’t guarantee tonight’s sleep. We must work and dream each successive day if we would see the dream live. Let us dream together for our day.
We’ll be striving to remember MLK’s dream at our first conference: JUST Gospel (March 16-18 in Atlanta). Registration is now open!