A transcript of my talk at Springfield’s Unity March in honor of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech:
It is an honor to be with you this evening as we celebrate this most important of moments in our nation’s history. It’s only proper that we celebrate such a dream as a community—for we are, as Dr. King reminds us, tied to a “single garment of destiny . . . Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly . . . We must all learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] or we will all perish together as fools.”
In religious discourse, there is often a distinction made between what is referred to as “orthodoxy,” on the one hand, and “orthopraxy,” on the other. Orthodoxy refers to having all of the right beliefs. Whereas orthopraxy refers to our actions: doing what is right, not just believing what is right.
This distinction between belief and action is essential, for it’s all too easy for us to treat Dr. King’s dream as a great ideal, as an expression of our best beliefs, as a dream that is beautiful to think about, inspiring to recall. We can hear it and say, “Yes, that’s what I believe! Yes, that’s what life should be about!” // We can have all of the right beliefs about Dr. King’s dream.
But there’s a subtle danger lurking here. If all of our right beliefs do not lead to concrete actions—in other words, if we hold Dr. King’s dream in our minds as a beautiful concept or a moving idea, yet we do not commit ourselves as individuals and as a community to doing the hard, sacrificial work of making his dream a reality, in the here and the now, in the life of our community, in the lives of our children, in the systems and structures that shape us—in our educational systems, our economic systems, our justice systems—if we do not follow up our beliefs with actions–well then, our remembrance of Dr. King’s dream will have very little substance, it will be dry as dust. Hollow, not hallowed. // Simply put, our veneration of Dr. King’s dream must be followed by a commitment not just to believe what is right but to do what is right, to make the truth happen . . .
And we are here this evening because we believe Dr. King’s dream can live.
We are here this evening because we wish to give Dr. King’s dream arms and legs, hands and feet.
We are here this evening because there is a call for justice that overcomes our lives and we believe that the long sweltering heat of injustice—in the United States of America, in Springfield, MO—even given our checkered past, // it does not have the final say.
We are here this evening because we want to write a new future for Springfield, a future that does not ignore the wounds of the past but is not bound to repeat the wounds of the past.
We are here this evening to honor Dr. King’s dream precisely by pledging our lives, putting it all on the line, to write a new future, a better future, and a more beautiful future for the people of Springfield—not just for some people but for all people—so that if someone like Dr. King was to be part of our fair city, he just might say “’Tis a privilege to live in the Ozarks.”
Thank you very much.