According to my dad, he’s really not that smart. In all actuality, truth is smart. So, when we acknowledge truth, then we understand a true, smart idea. Therefore, some of these ideas of dad’s that we have discussed in the past are not smart because they came from Dad’s noggin, but it’s the truth within the idea that makes them smart!
All this to say, I think my dad’s pretty smart.
Now, as we sat down to record this week’s podcast, it was the Tuesday after Martin Luther King Jr. Day. And, for the last week or so, my wife and I discussed several of Dr. King’s speeches, the impact he made on our country and what he “dreamed of”. This all culminated in our asking our kids the question: How close are we to realizing Dr. King’s dream that he spoke of?
Now, my favorite part of his “I Have A Dream” speech, is where Dr. King said:
“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.”
This has always resonated with me since I was a little boy, with the message that, for all of us, it’s the content of our character that matters above everything else.
On a side note, my dad often wonders about the struggle that we face today regarding who now gets to judge a man’s character? It seems that by and large today, it is frowned upon to judge one another in any way. So, if we’re not allowed to judge each other’s actions, decisions (and therefore character), then is Dr. King’s dream still valid?
But, getting back to my family’s discussion about his dream: we were tucking the kids into bed, and I told them how proud of them I am that they honestly don’t recognize skin color as a component of which to judge someone by, fear someone for, nor honor someone for. The group of kids they play with consists of Caucasian kids, African-American kids, Hispanic kids, Jewish kids… our neighborhood looks like “It’s a Small World” on scooters!
Now, I know that my little cul-de-sac is a tiny microcosm of our society. But the truth is that we can only influence the people we interact with, starting with our families and neighborhoods, so on that small note, I’m pretty proud of my little guys and their friends.
Yet, as my boys were about to turn down, my oldest said to me:
“Dad, I think that we live in a time when Dr. King’s dream has come true, but I think that there are a lot of people who aren’t willing to realize that.”
This from the mouth of an 11-year-old middle schooler!
But, what really grabbed my attention was something I heard on a podcast later that evening by Dennis Prager. Dennis pretty much echoed exactly what my son had said that night. Dennis said that, especially compared to a mere two generations ago, we live in a culture where Dr. King’s dream has in fact largely been realized! However, there are a lot of people out there, especially the likes of Al Sharpton or Cornel West, who refuse to admit this truth. Because if America is not a racist country, then the black community doesn’t need rabble-rousers like Al Sharpton, since the argument for his and Dr. West’s world is: “All whites are racist, and it’s divided between those who know it and those who don’t”.
But what really struck me was hearing these words come from a wise “sage”, whom I tremendously respect (Dennis Prager), and hearing the same words come from my young son (who wasn’t quoting anyone, but describing his own observances of the world around him). In my mind, when I add up these two statements, it seems that there must be more than an ounce of validity to them.
To be the devil’s advocate, maybe Mr. Prager lives on a cul-de-sac just like mine. Perhaps his worldview is identical to that of my son’s: that all people are made in God’s image and therefore are due the dignity that comes with that. Maybe in his Hebrew school and throughout all his travels around the world, the way that he has come to see race relations in our country is identical to the way my middle-schooler sees them.
So, if we have Dennis Prager and my son on one side of the issue and Al Sharpton and Cornel West on the other side of the issue, and one side says that the other can never truly walk in their shoes because they are not African Americans in 21st century America, then who are we to disagree with them?
Well, according to my dad, if you go along with that logic, then Dr. King’s dream cannot ever be realized. While my dad agrees with the fact that we can’t truly understand something as complicated as race relations without truly walking in the shoes of a young black man, still the feelings and emotions tend to get in the way.
You see, if any of us are so emotionally charged up over something and we become so blinded by our feelings and emotions that it’s our way or the highway, then we become the ones in control. And no matter which side of this issue takes the reigns of control, if there is one side of the argument controlling the other, then the dream of our children living in a world where they are merely judged by the content of their character is an impossibility. And because we are all human, the possibility of our judgment and decision making process to be clouded by our emotions is always just under the surface, if not blatantly out in front.
But not so with God.
However, if we as a country, assume the position where we begin rejecting God because we don’t like the things He has to say, then we end up also rejecting the only person smart enough to make a quality statement or decision and therefore determination of TRUTH.
So, as our emotions and feelings get in our way when we try to determine or acknowledge what truth is, these perspectives get locked in our minds and almost hold us captive from changing what we think we know as truth and coming face-to-face with God’s actual truth.
One story my dad shares regarding all this came out of a discussion he recently had with a friend who was a retired fireman. Now, when my dad was younger, he wanted to be a fireman, and even worked for the US forestry department, jumping out of helicopters and fighting brushfires. As my dad was taking the tests and working through the processes of joining the fire department, he kept getting denied. One reason he was pushed to the back was in order for the department to make room for returning veterans from the Vietnam War. This seemed fair enough, given the service that they provided to protect democracy around the world. Secondly, there was a need in the department to hire minorities over Caucasians at the time. This caused a lot of whites who were in Dad’s position to grow very bitter toward the non-whites who they believed had cut in front of them and took the job that they deserved.
Now, my dad never did get the job at the fire department. That dream of his was never fulfilled. And this was partially due to the color of his skin. But, unlike so many others, Dad never grew bitter about this – not towards minorities nor towards Vietnam Vets or anyone else. Instead, he looked at his life and determined that he was willing to give up that dream of his so that the greater needs of the other people could be fulfilled.
This is where so many other people fall short. They aren’t able to give up their own frustrations, emotions or feelings toward something and see the greater good of fulfilling Dr. King’s dream. They refuse to discard their bitterness and instead continue to fight, even if there’s not an opponent to fight.
So, Ok… this is how it can work for individuals. But, how can we, as a culture move further to make Martin Luther King’s dream a reality? How can we arrive at a point where more than just Dennis Prager and my four sons can say, “Yes, we live in a nation where we will not be judged by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character”?
According to Dad, it comes down to each and every one of us making the selfless decision to give up at least a portion of our bitterness toward the other side in order to draw closer to one another. And both sides need to give. If only one side gives up, then there is no meeting in the middle. No collectively living together in harmonious compromise and understanding. Instead, there is one side oppressing its power over the other.
So, whether the opposing opinions come out sounding like: “We have been beaten down for so long, we want what is ours”; or “Shut up and deal with it, it’s been long enough”; or “All of you are going to pay for this…” No matter what ugly phrase the argument begins with, until people on both sides discard their bitterness toward one another, they won’t see Dr. King’s dream come to fruition.
Thankfully, the truth is that where my kids play, we have a King-dream-fulfilled neighborhood.
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