‘I Have a Dream!’

Posted: January 12, 2021 in Uncategorized

John 1:43-51

‘I Have a Dream!’

About this time of the year many Americans celebrate a national holiday in honour of the black Baptist preacher and civil rights leader, Revd. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. Many will again remember his 1963 March on Washington, and the magnificent oratory of “I have a dream!” delivered on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on 28 August 1963…

Many will remember the recent political event on Capitol hill that killed a young woman protester that will sully the celebrations and highlight the destructive segregation that exists in our communities.


Kings words: “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood…  I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character… 

(MLKing).

While both the man and that moment merit celebration, it is obvious to many that there has been for several years now, a difference of opinion surrounding the celebrating and the remembering. There was a comment some years ago now, that said:
“Brother Martin spent a fair amount of time in jail, but his worst imprisonment may be how his own nation has frozen him in that moment in 1963.  Our national memory wants that triumphant, sun-drenched hero to stay right there, static, bound to the podium before the adoring crowds.  We want to be lulled into contentment by his beautiful words, his familiar cadences.  We want to keep him safely, unthreateningly, on a pedestal”

(Harding 2001)

And the American poet Carl Wendell Homes, Jr. who was only in his 20s when King was assassinated, articulated this domestication of King eloquently: “Now that he is safely dead Let us praise him build monuments to his glory sing hosannas to his name. “Dead men make such convenient heroes: They cannot rise to challenge the images we would fashion from their lives. “And besides, it is easier to build monuments than to make a better world.”

There is something of an indictment for us in those words “It is easier to build monuments than to make a better world…” So, what is a dream and how does it work? Well, I trolled the internet and found this;

dream is a succession of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations that usually occur involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep. The content and function of dreams are not fully understood, although they have been a topic of scientific, philosophical and religious interest throughout recorded history.

Another comment is that dreams seem to speak into and from and about  ‎’Cultural meaning’  · ‎’Neurobiology’ and ‘Function’.

And still another and one I think I prefer.

‘Dreams are drifts of the imagination, as if one imagines imaginary clouds in the sky. And Visions are scripted efforts to effect change. Dreams and Visions occur personally and organizationally’.

I think I like the third one because it encompasses the others and provides the spiritual connection with imagination, and allows the claim that love changes things. If that which we name God is the energy that sustains everything then dreams are involved at both a conscious level and a non- conscious level, or better still ‘they are a pathway at the interaction between the individual consciousness and the collective consciousness. Of course, I could be wrong and better minds than mine might say it differently.

It might seem a bit strange to the reader also but in thinking about the efficacy of dreams I began to think about what it means to be human and subsequently to the future of the human species.one aspect of which is called ‘transhumanism. I found David Galston’s, book entitled God’s Human Future’ helpful here. He explores, the theological concerns by suggesting that transhumanism might be a new posthumanism that takes the form of the Psalmist’s great question from centuries ago, “what are humans” (Psalm 8:4)? He reminds us that the Psalmist’s question is not about an individual but about the human family. It is a question about God’s creation as a whole and the human place in the whole. From antiquity the Psalmist poses a question about futurity. To what extent ought human beings manipulate the image of God, which is who they are? Like any person who faces this question, a theologian will hold hesitancy, be unsure, fear, but also hope. Is our collective posthuman future something to celebrate or something to worry about?

‘Galston’ suggests that the “image of God” as a metaphor offers some guidance. In traditional Christian philosophy, the “image” is the purpose (the aim of the form) of human creatures. Remember, a “form,” from Plato, is the perfect image of a material thing. Everything that exists in the world is imperfect, but everything that exists, that is seen, participates in its form, its unseen perfection. In Christian philosophy, traditionally stated, the image of God is the form God created for human beings. The image of God is what we are meant to be perfectly in our everyday imperfections.

In the Bible, of course, the philosophical understanding of the image is not present. For biblical writers, the image of God is more active than passive. It is the way God forms human beings. It is the life or breath that God gave human beings to make them human. All human beings are brothers and sisters because all alike are the image of God, the life of God’s creative act. All human beings, we could say, are divine soul-bearers or energy-bearers, according to the Bible.

The image of God, understood philosophically or biblically, is important to theology and to the question of transhumanism because it asks to what extent does the human experience with technology alter the image of God in human beings? There is no single answer to this question. Insofar as technology enhances life, then it enhances the “image of God,” which, biblically speaking, is the energy of life. But if technology destroys life, then it destroys the “image of God” in life. When we think of it this way, we are delivered back to the classical humanist value of autonomy: to what extent are human being responsible for their own future?

Theology places the “image of God” into the question of futurity Galston says. Theology says that the transhumanist effort to form a posthuman future must be a communal question because the “image of God” is a question about the value of the human family. It is not a question about the value of technology.

Bringing this back to dreams and dreaming it has to be said that dreams are ‘the stuff of life’  In their interwoven connection with imagination they are involved it life at its very core. They give life to, monitor and manage along with imagination what is and what is to be.

In 2011 I think it was, America was preparing to unveil a 30 foot granite statue of King
in the National Mall honouring African Americans, only to cancel the unveiling at the last minute
due to the approaching Hurricane Irene. (The 28 August 2011 marked the 48th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s historic speech).

About the monument one newspaper report said: “The MLK Monument is meant to encourage the visitor to move, literally, from despair toward hope.  The design is clearly based on the quote from King’s “I Have A Dream” speech that reads: “With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”   With this in mind, the visitor approaching the monument is forced to pass through the Mountain of Despair, which stands like two forbidding sentinels, or to my mind, two sides of the threatening Red Sea, parted by God as Moses led the Hebrew people out of bondage” (Huffington Post, 8/2011).

The making of a different and better world, verses the making of a national monument! King’s ‘dream’ was not a cosy, sweet, abstract idea. It grew out of and flowed back into the practical, active work and struggle for social inclusion and transformation.

Indeed, ‘dreaming’ helped inspire an African-American seamstress called Rosa Parks, to refuse to give up her seat to a white man on a bus that December day back in 1955… A courageous act which triggered a 381-day black boycott of the bus system and ignited the modern civil-rights movement led by King.

The nature of the dream is highlighted by the fact that 53 years later this same ‘dreaming’, it is claimed, helped elect America’s first black man Barak Obama to the US presidency and it  also helped the election of Donald Trump as well.

Our story today from the biblical text is the storyteller John with his story about a dreamer.  A bloke called Nathanael. And his dream of ascending and descending angels is reminiscent of another story – the story of Jacob’s ladder. So what’s this all about?

New Testament scholar William Loader has looked at this puzzling story and offered this comment: “Jesus doesn’t want the big crowds running after him… he wants to lead them, as he led Nathanael, beyond amazement at miracles… to wonder at what they symbolise, the life he offered and now made universally available… through the witness of the community of faith and its action”

(WLoader/Website 2009).

My experience at the Theological Hall when training for Ministry led me to be sceptical about Johns Gospel because of its heavy post Easter Jesus and its Roman and Greek influence on thinking. I have to say that subsequent reading has cast it in a different light. Like many Jack Spong’s book, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, has softened opposition somewhat. Upon reflection on this I suspect I have always felt more of a closeness to the ‘historical’ Jesus (when that is possible) in the Synoptics and Thomas, than to the 1st century symbolic and deep Christological – even Gnostic – theology of John. I have to admit that I have a new appreciation of the Gnostic material these days.

Theologian Walter Brueggermann’s, claim that John often reveals the “counter-imagination of Jesus”, certainly interests me. That I can relate to. The ‘counter-imagination’ of Jesus. The ‘counter-imagination’ of Barack Obama. The ‘counter-imagination’ of Rosa Parks. The ‘counter-imagination’ of Martin Luther King, Jr. makes sense. So it seems that there’s more to this ‘dreaming’ than meets the eye!

What is clear is that the collective conscious, is a fascinating filed of discovery. The question we ask is ‘what is it that haunts the minds of dreamers? I admit it is a big question and too big for this brief sermon.

A story and a poem Rex Hunt shared in a sermon some years back now might help ground that question in our common experiences. What is in the mind of dreamers?

First the story.

A neighbourhood church, well established, had been around for at least 40 years. Then a new congregation of the same denomination started about five klm away, in another suburb. Within five years, the new congregation had grown larger than the 40 year established congregation,
and had completed a building program, which they expanded just a few years later.

A major difference between the two congregations was the new congregation was a ‘progressive’ niche church, always pushing theological boundaries, and looking for the new and different things they could do as a congregation.

The older congregation, called an ‘established’ or ‘traditional’ church tended to look to the past and the good things they had done ‘back then’ as a congregation.

In her Report to the Synod office the Intentional Interim minister wrote about the traditional church: “It is hard to move them into the future when their ‘dreaming’ is always looking backwards”.

And now the poem

“Some day
when nobody
expects it,
when the world
is busy
doing worldly things
and not really watching
the edges of creation,
on some wonder day
shall
love be born
again.

“And on that
Beautiful Day
the promise
shall be fulfilled,
that now haunts
the minds
of
dreamers.”  

Bill Comeau/LP.

On that day the promise shall be fulfilled, that now haunts the minds of dreamers… On that day when the ‘counter-imagination’ of Jesus of Rosa of Martin, of Barack – shall be fulfilled.

When love, inclusiveness, community, are born again on the edges. Is that not what haunts all dreamers? And what of us.  Do we also dare to say… when the ‘counter-imagination’ of our faith community as a niche, progressive church, shall be fulfilled? If not, why not?  The time is ripe!

So, The invitation is to ponder and more importantly, ‘to dream”.

Notes:
Bill Comeau. “Some Beautiful Day. A Rock Celebration of the Life of a Dreamer named Jesus.” New York. Avant Garde Records

David Galston. +God’s Human Future The Struggle To Define Theology Today .Polebridge Press 2016

rexae74@gmail.com

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