I’ve just watched Martin Luther King’s rightly famous ‘I have a dream’ speech. Even 40 plus years later it’s powerful, hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck raising stuff. The man was a gifted wordsmith and an extraordinary communicator, but he needed a dream. It was the dream that carried the day, it was the dream of freedom that people hungered for, but no one read the menu better than MLK.
Interestingly, it’s only after 12 minutes of a 17 minute speech does he get to the dream, but don’t think about skipping the first 12 minutes. He builds his case, the spring becomes a brook, the brook becomes a stream, the stream becomes a river and the dream pours out onto the ocean of a million people hungry for justice.
Yet, it was something he said near the beginning of his speech that stuck in my mind, he described the condition of the black community as being on ‘an island of poverty in an ocean of material prosperity.’ It was time they were rescued from that island, it was time that prosperity was shared out equally. Sadly, prosperity or even the opportunity for it, is still not shared out equally. The chances are that if you are born poor you will most likely die poor. Too many people are still waiting for freedom from poverty.
But today we have another problem, for many are drowning in the ocean of material prosperity. They’ve swum in it and the tide has carried them out into the ocean and there isn’t the strength to reach a safe shore. When so many are drowning in debt, drowning in self-indulgence, drowning in depression and anxiety, drowning in our own fat, drowning in greed there are too few voices that can be heard that say, ‘I have a dream.’
This year in the UK we will have an election, we will hear from those who aspire to govern us, but what I want to hear and what I fear I will not hear, is a dream. A dream of a society that turns its back on the god of the individual and seeks the solace of community, a society that ends its fruitless pursuit of self-interest and seeks the harvests of partnership, that rejects the sour dreams of happiness through acquisition and discovers the sweetness of generosity and sharing. A society more interested in the quality of life than the quantity of wealth.
I’ve few ideas on how that dream could be turned into the inevitably dull language of policy but I still want to know that a vision exists. The ocean of material prosperity needs to be opened to the starving millions in Africa, the oppressed in North Korea, the crushed in Haiti, the poor wherever they may be found.
But material prosperity is no guarantee of freedom from spiritual poverty and in Jesus we discover this truth that if our life does not consist in the abundance of my possessions and if I have enough to live then I can be satisfied, content and freed to share with the hungry from my loaves and fish.