Thursday, January 18, 2007
Dreams and Covenant or What I learned from Al Sharpton
This week I had the opportunity to think a little more deeply about the "I Have a Dream" speech that sits on a poster at the entrance to my office. And that deeper thinking is thanks to Rev. Al Sharpton.
One of my favorite news shows is HARDBALL with Chris Matthews. On Monday, Chris was talking to Al Sharpton about many issues. He was especially talking about Barak Obama in the context of the MLK Day Holiday.
As Sharpton shared some of his thoughts on a wide range of issues, he made a little comment about the "I Have A Dream" speech. Sharpton said that most of us, regardless of ethnicity, rush too quickly to the "DREAM" part of the speech. He went on to say that we need to spend more time contemplating the first part of the "I Have A Dream" speech which talks about recieving a bad check, and the "promisory note" that freedom entails.
What Rev. Sharpton said intrigued me, so I watched a YOUTUBE video of the event. In the process I discovered Sharpton was a very insighful man, and that led me to think about several things in relation to this part of the speech.
I think it is interesting that the dream speech is grounded in covenant theology. We tend to run forward to the eschatology closing stanza, and forget the call to covenant that is in the first part of the speech.
This makes the speech so much deeper. Why? First of all, simply by calling for the renewal of covenant he is basing his whole argument on Biblical grounds and on the basic covenant of our life together as a nation. No other image of community in Scripture is more foundational than the concept of covenant.
Covenant theology is also important because it does not call for the kind of justice that separates us from one another once our agreement is set right. It compels us to believe that the destiny of all us tied together. Thus, the central vision of Martin Luther King Jr.'s theology that undergirds his civil rights is not establishing one groups rights over against one another. Instead, it is a vision that requires us to be reconciled with one another and be in right relationship with one another. It is not simply a call to a cessation of conflict and recognition of rights, it is a call to renewed friendship and brotherhood. In other words, much like the practice of non-violent protest, the "I Have a Dream" speech calls us to passionately love enemies as alienated friends that we need to get close to again.
I think too often we go straight to the inspiration, and forget the intellectual meat of the speech, which is really what makes it beautiful. Rev. Al Sharpton was right.