This sermon was preached for the commemoration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday, January 16 by Dr. Julián González. The texts for this sermon were Genesis 37:2-20, Psalm 77:11-20, Ephesians 6:10-20, and Luke 6:27-36.
What do Joseph, Martin Luther King, Jr. and undocumented youth in this country have in common?
When you google dreamer the first option defines it as a person who is unpractical and idealistic and its antonym is a person who is realist.
Sigmund Freud in his psychoanalytic theories argues that a dream is the unconscious way of expression. The opportunity of the unconscious to act out and express the hidden desires of the id. So according to Freud, the reason you struggle to remember your dreams is because the superego is at work. It is doing its job by protecting the conscious mind from the disturbing images and desires conjured by the unconscious.
So dreams are to be forgotten, to be erased once we wake up in order to keep us in the real world. By this Freudian definition, a dreamer is a weak person. Her superego would be frail, not capable to control and to suppress the unconscious. By google definition, she would be unpractical and idealistic, not living connected with this world.
Today you are celebrating the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. When we think of Dr. King most of us remember his “I have a dream” delivered during the March on Washington in 1963. His words of an ideal world of interracial society continues to linger and fuel the imagination of people who strive for a just and compassionate society. King dreamed of a day when racial justice and equality would be the rule of the land. So we remember today the dreamer and the dream. The dream will continue to propose and delineate an ideal world that compels and guides the actions of people who want to come as close as possible to the dream.
On the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. and at the beginning of a brand new year, our thoughts may be turned toward dreams, goals, aspirations, and resolutions. Freud was talking about dreams of the unconscious but there are dreams that are lived in the conscious mind, whose desires and images are not disturbing, but the reason why people are willing to face violence, to get up every time they are thrown down, willing to be thrown in jail for what they believe are unjust and immoral laws. People willing to stand up in civil disobedience for a dream.
We should all have a dream because they involve purposes for living. Without purposes our lives are plain and dull. Without a purpose for living we lose all hope for life. But as we ponder our dreams for today, remember the dreamers of our common stories and histories. Some of our dreams are frivolous and foolish. Some dreams lack reality and substance. Our dreams should not fail the test of reality.
King’s and the Dreamers’ dreams are fueled by desires of social progress and equality. Consider if you will, the story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis. Joseph was a dreamer unlike King and the undocumented youth in this country. Joseph was an arrogant youth, snitching on his brothers and spoiled by his father who did not know how to show love to all his children. Hated by his brothers for Joseph’s presumptuousness, they were willing to kill him because Joseph’s dreams were about his dominion over his brothers who in both dreams are depicted as bowing down to him. Joseph’s dreams were the tyrant’s dream to lord it over the people. The tyrant who wants all people to bow down before him.
But King’s dream was for the benefit of others. His constant use of symbols and images from the Bible, especially from the prophets, gave people the compass and plan of action to put those dreams in action. African Americans’ respect for the authority of the Christian Scriptures is surprising. It seems like a miracle itself. Their introduction to the Bible frequently came by way of sermons from Colossians 3:22-25, Ephesians 6:5-8, and 1 Peter 2:18-20, directed at ensuring their obedience to their masters. The God they met in these sermons was firmly on the side of their tormentors, opposing their freedom and reifying the status quo. The religion they were offered emphasized the subjugation of their wills as a divine duty to other humans who laid claim to their bodies. In other words, Reading scripture was not a spiritual experience but a hostile activity whereby the Holy Writ was used to pacify them.
In King’s sermons and speeches we see the other side of the African-American’s engagement with the Bible. “I have a dream” is a narrative of freedom that draws from Amos and Isaiah.” King was able to transform the Bible into an indispensable part of his community’ struggle for justice and equality. The same book that was used to justify their oppression also provided hope for their liberation. They found a means to argue for their full equality in terms adversaries would have to respect. After all, even their adversaries, steeped in the Christian faith and committed to arguments based on Scripture, would have to heed the Word of God or to be exposed to have failed hypocritically to adhere to the precepts of the ground of their faith.
King was drawing from a long critical tradition in which African Americans found that they could benefit from employing the Bible as it grounded subversive arguments against the type of Christianity practiced by southern slaveholders. In “I have a dream,” King was providing a mythic and powerful system that could explain their plight and symbolic world of a just and desegregated society.
Finally the Dreamers of our current broken immigration system. I should speak of Gaby Pacheco who was born in Ecuador and is one of the best known Dreamers. She and three others walked 1500 miles from Miami to Washington D.C., in 2010 to raise awareness of the plight of undocumented immigrants. As political director of United We Dream, she helped persuade president Obama to announce the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program. Along Gaby, Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez also participated in the 1500-mile walk dubbed the “Trail of Dreams” who is now board member of the gay-rights group GetEQUAL.
I should also mention Julieta Garlbay, born in Mexico, nicknamed Dream Elder. In 2010 when she turned 30 years old no longer met the age requirements of that year’s DREAM Act. Despite all this, she has not given up. As a leader with United We Dream, she is advocating for an immigration reform bill that would allow her to gain citizenship.
Mohammad Abdollahi, born in Iran, was one of the first Dreamers to participate in a civil disobedience action. In 2010, he and three others did sit-in at Sen. John McCain’s office in support of the DREAM Act. Since then, he has led similar civil disobedience actions,
Finally, Prerna Lal-Schublner who described herself as undocumented, unafraid and unapologetic. She is not afraid to speak her mind about president Obama’s record on immigration, which she once called “depressing and dismal.” Besides working to stop deportations, she also advocates for the rights of LGBTQ immigrant. She is co-founder of DreamActivist.org and currently serves as board member for Immigration Equality.
Like them there are thousands of Dreamers who are working to keeping the dream of justice and equality alive. Investing their lives to resist an unjust and immoral immigration system. In them we have an example of how the dream of King continue to fuel the lives of people and how the system in which we live continues to enslave, subjugate, and oppress fellow human beings.
Paraphrasing King’s speech we should continue to say: We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “for Citizens only,” No we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Dreamers as well as other relegated communities are resisting and will continue to resist a system that marginalize them yet use them. We still cannot say (pause) “free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last.”
Paraphrasing one of King’s late speeches, “where do we go from here?”…(pause) This is my hope for the future that in some not too distant tomorrow, we could say in past tense, “We have overcome, we have overcome”… (pause) we have engaged the different, the other… we have not only resisted the ideology of the oppressor but also the ideology of oppression… we have engaged the beloved community… This will give us the courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tire feet new strength as we continue striding forward to the city of love and togetherness.