This week we celebrated our Dr. Martin Luther King/Civil Rights holiday. It’s so wonderful that we have a day in this country that celebrates civil rights, which we so often take for granted. In our country, we are at a critical time of celebrating and acknowledging our civil rights. One of the things this country has agreed upon is that civil rights apply to all people. This week we celebrate Dr. King’s vision: that all people are equal under the law.
The notion of “we the people” on which our nation was founded has greatly expanded over the last 240 years. When our forefathers formed this nation, “we” didn’t include everyone. Over the last 240 years that definition has continued to grow and expand with the idea that, as a country, we will not rest until “we” truly includes all of us.
One of Dr. King’s most profound ideas is his concept of the Beloved Community. King’s idea of a “Beloved Community” was a community that worked for all. He was committed to this idea that we could not stop – we could not rest – until we had created a society in which everyone was being equally blessed.
Reading from thekingcenter.org:
“Dr. King’s Beloved Community was not a lofty Utopian goal to be confused with the rapturous image of the Peaceable King, in which lions and lambs coexist in idyllic harmony. Rather, The Beloved Community was for him a realistic, achievable goal that could be attained by a critical mass of people committed to and trained in the philosophy and methods of nonviolence. Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision, in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood. In the Beloved Community, international disputes will be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation of adversaries, instead of military power. Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred. Peace with justice will prevail over war and military conflict.”
In a 1966 article in Christian Century magazine, King is recorded as saying, “I do not think that political power is an end. Neither do I believe that economic power is an end. They are ingredients in the objective that we seek in life. And I think in the end is the objective of a truly brotherly society: the creation of the Beloved Community.”
It has been exactly 50 years since King expressed that idea. So the question for us today is, how do you think we are doing? Fifty years is not a small amount of time … so, given that passage of time, how do you think we’re doing in creating a society/community that works for all? Are we on target? Or, at times, have we missed the mark?
Over the past 50 years, many things have changed. We have moved forward, and there are differences in our society that weren’t in place in 1966. But we’ve also grown asleep to the real challenges that we have in our society. We sometimes don’t want to acknowledge that we really do have control over what we become. We really do get to decide. We truly can create whatever reality we choose to live in.
King was a visionary leader. He had a dream. He saw a possibility of what could be, and he enrolled people into that possibility in a way that encouraged them to change their behavior so that dream could become a reality.
The truth is that all of us are being called to be visionary leaders, as well. We are not here just to go along with what is; we are here to really listen to what’s in our hearts and souls about WHAT COULD BE. We are here to ask ourselves what actions we can take today that would move our world forward in a way that works for all.
Some of us want to believe that’s not possible. Some of us want to object that we can’t truly get there, so we just need to make peace with what is. But in a lecture Dr. King gave at ASU in 1964 he said, “We are either going to learn to live as brothers or we are going to perish together as fools. And that’s true.
So the question placed before you today is, to what extent are you willing to be a visionary leader in your life? To what extent are you willing to have a vision of WHAT COULD BE in your life, your job, your family and your community? To what extent are you willing to be the voice of WHAT COULD BE?
There are really three ingredients to showing up as a visionary leader.
1) First, a visionary leader helps people see what is. Now you may think that’s easy, but it’s not, because we don’t all see the same reality. There are many things we want to ignore, and choose not to see. Have you ever seen a mess that you created, and then you just don’t want to deal with it or see it? Sometimes the messes that we create are just too painful, so we want to turn away.
A visionary leader helps others see what they don’t want to see, even when they are afraid their heart might break by looking at the reality of it. A visionary leader stands by others and gently points out what’s wrong. Because until we can see it, we can’t change it! There are things in all of our lives that we just don’t want to see anymore. There are situations, conditions and relationships in life that we want to pretend will just go away. A visionary leader points the light at those situations over and over and over again … because if we can’t see it – if we won’t see it – we can’t heal it.
2) Second, a visionary leader invites people to imagine what could be. A visionary leader paints a picture with words and images in such a way that we can see a possibility for our lives and world that is greater than we are currently living. Every soul comes into this world with a vision of WHAT COULD BE, and there’s a deep soul grief when the life we’re living doesn’t match what our souls came for. We often see this in our children, whose souls came into this world with the great vision that God gave them, a vision that is so much greater than what we’re living. And we see the heartache of those children when they see the difference between that vision and the world they encounter, and they question, “Why is the world this way?”
A visionary leader is willing to articulate a vision over and over and over again until people actually come to see it for themselves. Sometimes we get so engrained into the way life is that trying to believe there’s something better just seems like fantasy. But God placed that vision in our souls for a reason. God placed it in our hearts for a reason.
So what’s your greatest vision for life? For what did your soul come? What, in your heart of hearts, do you absolutely know that you came in to this life to do? Are you willing to lay hold of that vision again? Are you willing to take it on as your purpose?
3) Third, a visionary leader asks people to believe. This is where it actually gets very dangerous. Because it’s relatively easy to show people what is, and even invite them into another vision … but it can be very challenging when you actually invite people to step fully into that vision and truly believe in it.
It’s not enough just to have a vision of WHAT COULD BE if we don’t allow ourselves to truly believe that it’s possible. When we don’t have hope that our vision can become a reality, we can become angry, ugly and even violent. We get mad at the person who made us remember that vision, because we’ve lost touch with it and no longer believe that vision is possible.
So the number one thing a visionary leader has to do is help people believe that they can actually get there and achieve that dream. A visionary leader has to remind people that they wouldn’t have been given that vision by God if they weren’t also given the ability through God to make it a reality. Day after day after day a visionary leader has to help people believe … because without belief, there is no hope.
We see that in our society today. We see people who have a great vision of what their life and society could be, but their minds tell them it’s not possible. And the older we get, the more encrusted we can become in that belief system. The older we get, the more convinced we become of what is and is not possible … and we tend to become stuck in our own beliefs of what simply can not be.
A visionary leader is willing to help people see that their mental trap is just a story. And it takes great courage to lead people beyond what they have known, and beyond what they currently see.
In Scripture we see the Israelites who escaped Egypt to spend 40 years wandering in the desert. Forty years! In that time, 40 years was a lifetime! So by the time they actually entered the Promised Land, all the original people who had entered the wilderness were gone. The people who entered were at least second generation into the wilderness experience. That is the only life they had known; they hadn’t known slavery. They had been out wandering and didn’t yet know the Promised Land. They didn’t know what could be. It took a visionary leader to paint a picture of what the Promised Land could be so that they could believe in it enough to cross out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land.
That’s where we all are today. We have to decide – as a people, as a nation, as a world – whether we believe that our visions are possible. Because if we don’t believe they are possible, we will just draw a line and say we can’t move forward. If we don’t believe our visions are possible, we’ll just be stuck right here. We can’t get better, we can’t be more, we can’t cross into the Promised Land. All we will have is to just tell ourselves, “This is all there is, and we just need to deal with it.”
Do you believe that your vision is possible?
Where in your life are you being asked to be a visionary leader? It would be great if someone would come along and do the job for you. It would be great if somebody else would step up and save us from ourselves. But here’s the truth: it’s we the people. We are the people. This is our country. This is our world. Our reality is exactly what we make it. No more, no less. The limitations we sign off on are our limitations. The possibilities that we believe in and work for and make a reality are our possibilities. And that doesn’t happen until we believe. It doesn’t happen until we accept where we are, have a dream for where we can go, and believe that it’s possible to get there. Without that, we stay stuck.
We are closing this message with Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. When we hear these words that King spoke, we hear the three elements of a visionary leader. In this famous speech, he clearly shared the problem. He shared a possibility that was greater than most people believed when they heard his words. And he invited everyone in to believing them. He invited them into hope. Without hope, we never move forward.
These are words from that visionary speech:
“I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’
“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia sons of former slave and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
“I have a dream that my four little 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. I have a dream … I have a dream that one day in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
“I have a dream today … I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
“This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning, ‘My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountain side, let freedom ring.’ And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snow capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
“But not only that. Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi, from every mountain side. Let freedom ring!
“And when we allow freedom to ring – when we let it ring from every city 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, ‘Free at last, Free at last, Thank God almighty, We are free at last!'”
God bless you all!
“Living, Loving Spirit, I open my heart and soul to you today, that I may be inspired in my own way to be a greater visionary leader. That I may no longer sit on the sidelines waiting for somebody else, but be inspired in my own life, my own family, my own community, and my own church to be a visionary leader and share a vision of what could be. God, use me. Speak through me. Help me shine a light on what is. Help me hold a vision of what could be, and help give all of us the faith and hope to make it a reality. This morning I stand in your light, God, and I desire and visualize a world where all people – ALL people – get to live in a world that works. In the name and through the power of the Living Christ, I give thanks. And so it is. Amen.”