However, as a ‘minority’ white kid, I sometimes became the face of the enemy. In 1977 I attended a brand new school named Martin Luther King Middle. The week that the miniseries “Roots” was aired on television, I was attacked five times by angry black kids who blamed me for American slavery. I also suffered at the hands of a few racist teachers in the days when it was legal to spank children who forgot to finish their homework. My spankings tended to be much worse. In fact, one beating was so severe that it left me with deep bruises on my legs and backside. My mother saw to it that the teacher resigned. Yet, somehow, in the midst of all of that drama, I avoided becoming a racist. I didn’t hate black people. Somehow I was able to see that the major differences in people were not determined by the color of their skin, as Dr. King so eloquently puts it in his “I Have a Dream” speech, but by the content of their character. In the world that I grew up in, there were mean and evil and broken black people, and there were mean and evil and broken white people.
Yet, at the same time, there existed remarkably loving people of color like my elementary school music teacher – Mr. Fleming – who discovered that I had a voice that could sing with the soul of black man (his words). He taught me to use my voice and he put me right up in the front of the Black Gospel Choir, singing the lead in “Going Up Yonder.” I also had great and loyal friends like L.D. Hull, Eddie James, David Fields, and another kid named David that we all called “Skee Ball”. We were determined not to allow the racism of our culture to shape how we felt about each other.
Sadly, as things go, my family moved from inner-city Atlanta at the end of my sophomore year and I lost touch with my childhood friends. But those days gave me a paradigm for seeing the world. People are not evil because of the color of their melanin. They are evil because of the darkness in their hearts. As a child, I memorized Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. It has stuck with me through the years and I have recently had the opportunity to analyze the speech and to think about its message. Ultimately, the speech really is a homily about heaven. It is a speech about the Church. It is a speech drawn from the truth of the Gospel and almost lifted from the pages of Isaiah. It is a speech that could only be written by someone who possessed a Christian view of the world.
Yet, with no disrespect to Dr. King, the speech does not go far enough. The heart of our collective Dream must rise above the struggles of the civil rights movement. It must speak to something deeper…something more. It must speak to something eternal. Because at the end of the day, our hope is not found in the human spirit to overcome. Our hope cannot rest in our ability to save ourselves. Our hope is not in Barak Obama or Martin Luther King or Bono or Mother Teresa or John Calvin. If we understand the Gospel rightly, we must admit that our one and only True Hope must rest in Jesus Christ, and in Jesus Christ alone. There is no one else who can change the content of our character. No one else can rescue us from the wretchedness of sin or the ugliness of hate. Only the Cross can save us. And only through Christ can we ever hope to be truly “free at last”.
With these thoughts in mind, as way to commemorate my respect for Dr. Martin Luther King, and with a desire to root Dr. King’s thought more clearly in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I have re-written the “I Have a Dream Speech”. Somehow, I don’t think Dr. King would mind.
I call this speech, “I Have a Gospel Dream.”
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