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Calling Out The Dream

We are celebrating the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. this weekend, and I must admit that this is the first time I don’t feel as called to speak about him. Martin called out the dreams of his day. This is a new day. This is our day, and we now call out the dreams of our day. Yes, we can dream.

A different young black man leads us now, one who was not quite two years old when Martin Luther King, Jr. made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. President-elect Barack Obama is preparing to take the oath of office in only two days, and he will lead this nation, defend our constitution, take over the reigns of the greatest military power in the world, and, let us hope, continue to announce and pursue the dreams of peace and justice for our day.

Obama has said many inspiring words to bring him to this remarkable point in history, including the following, which echoes the dreams of Martin Luther King: “We have a stake in one another … what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart, and … if enough people believe in the truth of that proposition and act on it, then we might not solve every problem, but we can get something meaningful done for the people with whom we share this Earth.”

President-elect Obama does not stand alone. His inspiration has sparked the hearts of young and old, black and white, here and around the world. We have hope. We dream new dreams more confidently. We dream old dreams with renewed strength.

I see the possibilities emerging like crocuses in the Spring—gentle blossoms, yet hardy against the cold, and such wonderful harbingers of rebirth. I envision purple crocuses, not just because I like the color purple, or because I like flowers, but because Barack Obama reminded us that we are not primarily red or blue, or red, white and blue, but purple –we are together in this rebirth of hope, of new possibilities emerging triumphantly like purple crocuses in the Spring.

We are called and we are calling for change. In the Fall, many from this congregation signed the petition from the National Religious Coalition Against Torture, asking that whoever was elected president remove this evil from being practiced and sanctioned by our government. We can now see that the appointments Obama has proposed, as well as the promises he has made, all point to this becoming a reality soon. The breeding ground of American torture, the prison at Guantanamo Bay, will be closed. We begin again, we proud Americans, to stand up as leaders in the struggle for human rights and justice.

We are called and we are calling for change. Recently this congregation signed a petition from UU Mass Action, calling upon our president-elect to keep the environmental concern of global warming as a top priority in his economic stimulus package. We can note that his proposals continue to give us hope in this area.

This president-elect enters into executive power at a dark time for our nation, when domestic and foreign issues are pressing down weightily upon us, when global concerns for the health of the planet are a true cause for alarm, and when we are coming to the end of a period in which we have undoubtedly never been more despised as a country by people from around the world.

This president-elect also enters into world leadership at a surprisingly hopeful time, when people here and afar are actually beginning to believe that we can work together to solve the enormous problems that threaten the wellbeing of everyone. In robust demonstrations of citizen participation, from huge voter turnout, to petitions such as the ones we have filed and more, to the emerging volunteer efforts everywhere, to the expectation of an extraordinary turnout to celebrate the inauguration in Washington, D.C., and in small and large venues around the nation and the world—in all of these ways—we are together. We are united in our diversity in wanting this administration, this Congress, this democracy, to succeed, to shine, to turn us around, to reach for the seemingly impossible dreams, and to really make a difference. We are, all of us, called out, to dream, and to call those dreams forward into precious reality.

We don’t have to wait any longer. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Let us face the urgency of now. There is such a thing as being too late.” We begin today; we begin tomorrow. To honor Rev. King, Jr. tomorrow, Michelle and Barack Obama are asking us to participate in a “Day of Service” in our communities, so as to “renew America together”. You can volunteer in any way, alone, or together, and many opportunities await, but do try to do something tomorrow, to find some way to serve. If you don’t think you have the time or the whatnot to volunteer, just remember that the Obamas will be volunteering in Washington, D.C. Yes, on their last day to prepare for the colossal change that is coming into their lives as the First Family, the Obamas will find the time and the whatnot to serve.

We have an example to follow with President-elect Obama, and not just because he is volunteering—all presidents seem to have been captured in photo-ops doing community service in recent years. Barack Obama is setting a different tone—we are being asked to do something as well. We are being called out. He has said, “The true test of the American ideal is whether we’re able to recognize our failings and then rise together to meet the challenges of our time. Whether we allow ourselves to be shaped by events and history, or whether we act to shape them.”

How marvelous that our presidential inauguration and King’s holiday come side by side this year. The Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday has always been a different kind of holiday for us. Not commemorating any political, national or religious event, it has instead called us to remember the prophetic, the inspirational, the hopeful words and deeds of this man and the many movements he helped lead in the causes of peace and justice. We are lifted up; we are invited to be our best selves. Upon accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Martin Luther King said, “I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘is-ness’ of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “ought-ness” that forever confronts him.”

We must remember that not everyone, as they go about their daily lives, gets a regular dose of inspiration, helping them to reach up for the eternal “ought-ness”. Not everyone has a religious or spiritual practice, or reads poetry or holy words. Not everyone can look to a person of hope in their personal lives. Quite the opposite. Many people “lead lives of quiet desperation”, hearing regularly the words of anger, fear, and divisiveness. But, once a year, we all have a national deluge of words of inspiration, of the Spirit, and we look to a person of hope in the figure of Martin Luther King, Jr. King said, “I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, other-centered men will build up.” The words of King are lifted up across the nation this long weekend, and we are better for it.

What I believe is changing in our nation is that we do, now, in our national lives, have a leader who is willing to deal in inspirational words, in words of the Spirit, and of hope, who is able to articulate dreams and call us forth to dream with him. Barack Obama has trumpeted hope, exclaiming, “Hope—Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope.” It’s marvelous to have another young man tell us it’s okay to have audacity when we are hoping for a better world. Barack Obama is setting a tone, speaking the truth, challenging us to the same belief in the possibility for change that Dr. King did.

We are not the only country who observes Dr. King’s holiday. Around the world this man and his dreams are remembered and honored. “We Shall Overcome” has been sung in many languages and for many causes. We are also not the only country to celebrate this new president. Around the world people are hoping that the dreams of President-elect Obama, his calls for action, and his agenda, will raise up the lives of all people.

Some have said that Obama walks in the footsteps of Robert F. Kennedy, a justice-seeking man of the people, assassinated so soon after Martin Luther King, Jr. Robert Kennedy said, “each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lots of others, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, these ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest wall of oppression and resistance.”

We need energy and daring, hope and ideals, acts and currents of change. We face these next four years with renewed vigor. We are calling out the dream. We are called to act upon the dreams of our days. And so we are building the beloved community that Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of so passionately. We are beginning today, and tomorrow, and the next day too. Happy Days of celebration! Blessings and peace to all. Amen.

About the Author

  • The Rev. Kathy Duhon was minister of the Unitarian Universalist Meeting of South Berkshire in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, before retiring in 2009.

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