Posted by: Laura Harbert Allen | January 19, 2009

Reflections on Martin Luther King, Jr.

Each year the nation celebrates the birthday of Martin Luther, King Jr. In some respects, it has been difficult to understand the life and teaching of a man who became somewhat of a legend during his own lifetime and who died the death of a martyr.

King disrupted the tranquility of the nation, paralyzed and confused power structures, advocated creative tension, practiced civil disobedience and left a trail of turmoil and chaos. He characterized himself as a drum major for justice.

Some people saw him as the dreamer, because of his now famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. The prophet Joel said: Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young shall see visions. [Joel 2:28]

In no uncertain terms, King assumed the respective roles of prophet, dreamer and visionary during the course of his ministry and civil rights leadership. Now that is a monumental challenge for the modern day pilgrim disciple. A prophet is one who speaks with divine authority and offers words that predict the future with assurance. On the other hand, a dreamer is one who probes/projects the future utilizing the resourcefulness of images, sounds and feelings.

It seems to me that the visionary is something of a prophet and a dreamer, because the visionary posture has to do with perception (what one sees with the mind’s eye) and spirituality. King dreamed of freedom in America and he longed for the day when all of God’s children—black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Catholics and Protestants—will be able to join hands and to sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, free at last; thank God Almighty, we are free at last.” [I Have a Dream, King]

It has been forty-one years since the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Over the years since then, although there have been difficult days and stony roads, we have torn down many barriers, and forged the foundation for greater freedom for all people. This new freedom is manifested in part by the election of the first African American president of the United States.

The election of President-elect Obama was a tremendous stride toward freedom. Now, imagine that.

What new freedoms will be the fruit of our prophesying, dreaming and imagining?

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