A universal human ‘dream’, widely shared – beyond any one set of teachings – is captured in these Bible-sourced words: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” (Isaiah 11:16, New Intl, 1984)
Today I’m playing what is called Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Vietnam Speech”, delivered April 30, 1967, to the congregation at Riverside Church, New York. Recordings of the 23 minute sermon are widely available on line. The recording I’m hearing is found on YouTube.
I’m playing it continuously for a while. This brief sermon seems to never lose its power.
Word by word I am astonished at the near-perfection of this statement on behalf of Justice, Compassion, Consistent commitment to Honor, and commitment to human potential.
As a child, when I heard the ideal of a time of lions lying down with lambs, something in me sort of went ‘click’. “O.K., then,” I would have said, had I been a few years older, “that day is my orientation, my goal.”
The ‘lion with lamb’ dream is considered “beyond too idealistic”, it’s considered irrational, extreme – at best ‘childish’. If the lions with lambs dreamer is sincere, we judge the person as immature or confused. In our ‘sophistication’ we ‘intelligently’ hold steadfast to goals that are ‘possible’, ‘reasonable’. We feel good about our ‘maturity’ when we do this. Bringing a child-vision into adult lives can seem an embarrassment.
On the other hand, we approve some pretty big dreams. We laud the entrepreneur, the athlete, the careerist for “dreaming of distant achievement.” We often encourage children’s dreams that we believe “realistic”, (even those we think a bit far-fetched). Those of us in America like to say: “America is built on dreams.”
We like to say: “Dream Big!, “Go for it!” But not of the “lion with lambs” dream. This one single human dream – of humanity finding its way to truly humane social systems – we simply can’t fathom: “Impossible”, we say, “can never be”.
Why not? Do we not ‘believe’, or is it that we do we not want to believe – in a goal that would give us such great challenge, a goal of highest human potential only dreamed of? (What level of commitment would it take? What changes? Is this what we dread? Does dread feed our resistance?)
Dr. King touches on nearly all the ways that humanity ignores its own healing, it’s own promise. Not only is his message perfect for the time when it was first delivered, it is perfect for this very time in the United States, in the world.
I have participated, all too routinely, in much of humanity’s foolishness (and do still.) Wandering off a pathway lighted by the shining goal of an ideal, imagined, future – a future of highest human potential – is common human behavior.
Our wandering off-path does not diminish the light. It’s still ‘over there’. Over ‘here’, we’ve not forgotten. The goal remains, is spoken of, is dreamed of, ‘sort of nags’ at many of us. Do we let ourselves see it? Can we let ourselves believe in such ‘extreme’ idealism? Do we have what it takes to get back on a track we’ve judged as “childish”?
This is not meant to sound like a call to Christianity. Many teachings promote awareness of the same human potential, including Humanism. Many the world over, including atheists and agnostics, live as if some hint of this dream guides them. But all of us, including nearly all “Christians”, treat the dream as “too idealistic”, “childish”, and “fundamentally impossible”. The universal ‘wise’ suggestion regarding this dream is that we ‘continue to bungle along, as best we may, suffering and delivering collateral suffering as we go.’ Inconsistently, as we bungle, we encourage one another, in nearly all other respects, to “dream big!”
My familiarity just happens to be with stories from Christian teachings learned in childhood, the same well-source from which Dr. King draws. These teachings also offer “a little child shall lead you”. I have described elsewhere in these posts my first-hand teacher’s experience of witnessing astonishing generosity of spirit, quick forgiveness, and belief in justice found in young children – before they are taught “realistic attitudes” by the cultures in which they live. Maybe “a little child shall lead you” is a clue that the child’s heart is a good place to look in thinking about the best we can be. (Each of us still has a child’s heart, it’s just hidden behind our fear of being too idealistic. We have learned we must “get practical” and “be reasonable” so we can “be successful” in “grown up” life.)
Maybe we should let the child guide. I have said my commitment, to a day when the lion and the lamb lie down together, is the commitment of a (my) child’s heart. I’ve reminded that it’s from children we get spontaneous generosity, forgiveness, and recognition of justice. Maybe Dr. King hadn’t lost enough of his child-passion to “be reasonable”; maybe that’s why he couldn’t ‘go along with’ with ‘adult’ definitions of ‘the best humanity can be’ (usually measured in wealth, fame, and power).
Maybe Dr. King followed a blend of his adult and child self’s leadership. Maybe we call his vision ‘extreme’ because it breaks with ‘mature’ (read ‘grown up, beyond childish’) patterned-thinking.
It occurs to me, on any day, of any year: were I invited to give my “most relevant” words to any gathered group, I would say nothing – I’d just press ‘play’ on a recording of this sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
My Best!– MaggieAnn
(See also: Willie Dixon “Don’t Make Sense”; Human Journey; Power of Imagination; Torches Passed, and South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission at this blog.)
(See also:“Beyond Vietnam“ by Dr. King. In some respects the same talk, but 1 hr in length. Speaking on April 4, 1967, King addresses a different audience, gives more full discussion of points. His passion in the longer speech is offered in somewhat more ‘academic’ language but is none-the-less evident and powerful. Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” message spoke, and speaks still, to our relationship with all nations. In nearly 50 years time, though we claim to celebrate his wisdom, we may not yet have understood.)