Do you remember when you first heard the words, "I have a dream"? Like me, many of you probably heard them directly from the speech given in Washington, D.C., by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. King's dream was as modest as it was hopeful. Equality in a land built upon the ideal that all are created equal seems a given, yet our own history reveals the ugly truth. Racism still pervades our culture and undermines our national character.
I recently read an article about growing up in a very segregated environment. In his own words, the Rev. Rush Otey asks, "When was the first time you realized you were white? Chances are it was a time when the immoral society confronted your deepest morality." Some would say, "Well, that's just part of growing up." Others disagree.
What happens when our dream comes in conflict with our reality? Either we adjust the dream to conform to reality or we seek to change the reality. Jesus sought to change the reality. Like us, Jesus lived in a society that included distinctions of class and race that tended to determine a person's social and economic standing. Like us, he was offended at the status quo and encouraged real lasting change in the hearts and minds of those who would dare to listen. And it got him into a lot of trouble. Dreams are like that. When you dream of how things could be you are often caught short with how things really are.
As one deeply invested in Christ and in his vision of living described in the New Testament, I would like to believe that when it comes to issues like racism the church has done a better job than society. Yet for those who choose to attend Christian worship, it's important to remember that Sunday morning remains the most segregated hour of the week. I am not proud of that lingering reality, nor do I have a magic solution.
I've been told that if the church would do a better job, more would want to be involved with its work. In the same breath, if more were involved in the work of bringing souls together, perhaps the church would enjoy a better reputation.
Let's face it. St. Paul's words are our reality, "since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:23)
We are not perfect human beings. We are flawed by our needs, our egos and, yes, by our racism. Later in his letter Paul continues, "But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) That captures my heart and leads me to a desire to continue the dream.
To answer the Rev. Otey's question, I first realized I was white, middle class and privileged in the midst of three tragic events. I remember well the assassinations that shaped my growing up: John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy.
Dr. King and Sen. Kennedy both died in my 20th year. The violence of their deaths remains deep in my heart. What if they had lived? Where would the dream of true equality be today? Our reality includes the violent deaths of too many who sought deep change in the way we live together.
For me, Dr. King represents the lingering invitation from our Lord to do better than we have to keep the dream alive.
I pray that upon this weekend, set aside to remember his life and dream, we will ponder our own dreams for ourselves, our families and our world. I invite you to dream with me some Sunday morning, for I have a dream that God's church will lead the way to true equality for all.
n Pastor Pete Nelson of Carson Valley United Methodist Church is a member of Carson Valley Ministers' Association.