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God's Politics

Yesterday was a beautiful sunny day in Washington, D.C., almost spring-like in the middle of January (there may be a global warming story here for another blog!). And, of course, it was the official annual celebration of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. To remember the day, and not just take a day off, our family went to the Lincoln Memorial, where King delivered his best known speech, “I Have a Dream.” The young Baptist minister was the closing speaker for the August 28, 1963 “March On Washington For Jobs And Freedom,” as the now famous event was then called (I have a framed original poster for the March on the wall of my home study – where it looks down at me now as I write).

We went to read the speech together, as a family, and I brought along four big-print copies of one of the most significant addresses in American history. As we looked down across the reflecting pool, we could see the image of the sleek white spire of the Washington Monument glistening on the surface of the water. I pointed to both sides of the pool, beyond the trees, and all the way to the Monument, showing my son Luke where the 300,000 people stood and sat who came that day for the biggest march and rally in the nation’s history up to that point in time.

With us was Luke’s godfather Karl Gaspar, from the Philippines, who has labored among the poorest of the poor in his country for many decades now, and a priest colleague of his from the U.K., Peter (who was thrilled to meet my British wife Joy, known all over England as the real “Vicar of Dibley” for serving as the script consultant and role model for one of the BBC’s most popular comedies).

We took turns reading a paragraph at a time, and thinking about the words as they were spoken almost 44 years ago. Luke is really into reading these days, and eagerly started us off. Jack, who is only 3 years old, also wanted a turn, so whenever we came around the circle to him, he just would say “I have a dream!” or “Let freedom ring!” The adults read in sequence, reminding us all of words we have often read before, but whose tones and nuances always take on new and deeper meaning every time they are spoken.

When we got near the end, to the “I have a dream today” refrains, Luke wanted to take over. This is his favorite part. And I confess to getting a little teary as my young son read the familiar lines with such enthusiasm: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will be not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Luke went on,” Let freedom ring;” and he read with passion, “from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire … from the mighty mountains of New York … from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania … from the snow-capped Rockies … from the curvaceous slopes of California … But not only that … from Stone Mountain in Georgia … from Lookout Mountain in Tennessee … from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.”

We were on a roll now, just like King was on that glorious day, and Luke concluded, “And when that happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: [we all joined in now] Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

When we finished, we got up from our little circle, climbed down the steps, took one more look at Mr. Lincoln, and headed onto the Mall to play a little football. I think we’ll do it again next year. And if you didn’t do it yesterday, take a moment to read the speech again – it will do you good.

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