(re)Imagine Education

Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.” Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

—Jeremiah 1:4-10

 

This week’s iChapel reflection sits at a convergence, the convergence of vocation, occasion, and availability. 

 

Let me explain.

 

Jeremiah was a prophet.  Prophets, contrary to popular assumptions, are not understood in Jewish and Christian scripture to be future-predictors.  Rather prophets are those who speak truth to power.  Recall, for instance, Moses to Pharaoh, Samuel to Saul, or Nathan to David.  A prophet’s role is to recall the purpose of a people and to remind those in positions of authority to lead those people in that purposeful direction, especially when those leaders are deliberately doing the contrary. 

 

As a prophet in that tradition of speaking truth to power, Jeremiah was demanding that the leadership of Judah more radically redirect the course of the nation, a demand requiring courage, a demand with great risk, a demand reluctantly presented. 

 

In other words, Jeremiah, in addition to being a prophet, was human.  Like most of us, he was unhappy with injustice but even less pleased with the idea of doing something about it if doing something proved inconvenient or unsettling.  Jeremiah had to be coaxed into action, at just the right time he proved to have the skills necessary for the job. 

 

This week marks the 50 anniversary of the March of Washington, a march featuring a now famous speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.  King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, in many respects, serves as a culminating moment in a vocational life that was initially defined less by impassioned prophetic challenge than by contentment to convention and withdraw.  Similar to Jeremiah, King’s early life and vocational aspirations were not about confrontation but conformation.  It took some well positioned prodding, at just the right moment to match the skills of a potential prophet with the needs of a ready community.

 

In both cases, a reluctant prophet connected to the needs of a moment with a personal willingness to confront, confrontation done often against their better judgments.

 

This scripture reading and rhetorical anniversary fall near the start to another academic year for us at YHC, a year filled with possibility coupled to necessity.  At the risk of overstatement, this moment for us—like those experienced by Jeremiah and King—lies at a convergence, overlapping vocational opportunities, occasion’s realities, and personal availability.

 

Allow me a little latitude to explain.

 

A seminal function of a liberal arts institution of the church is to prepare the members of its community—faculty, staff, students, and administration—for the hard work of education.  Yet more than just education, we are charged with the task of educating with a purpose.  While education certainly involves depositing of data and the acquisition of new skills, education is, also, at its most basic, a calling out, a calling out from potentiality to actuality the possibilities lying deep inside each of us. 

 

These possibilities represent those fundamental qualities that define us, qualities distinct to each of us yet universally useful for the transformation of our world when deployed at just the right time, for just the right purpose.  Part of our task is identifying those skills and nurturing them.  Then, we must learn to listen for those distinct moments of necessary calling and to dispense the appropriate dosage of courage required to become our own timely prophets for change.  In this community, we are each preparing to be kinds of prophets, speaking truth to the powers of the world, especially speaking for those who have no voice or whose voices are not heard because they have been muted, ignored, or banished.

 

Like Jeremiah and King, the call of the prophet is neither easy nor generically general.  It requires courage and wisdom, (1) the courage to speak faithfully and boldly even when such speech seems imprudent and (2) the wisdom to identify those particular moments and places and people to whom our voices require lifting and in what ways each of our unique skills may be deployed. 

 

Such courage and wisdom are not easily found.  Yet, a community committed to these two virtues’ cultivation will only better the odds that both develop and deploy.

 

As we embark on a year during which we may strive to become better at listening for our unique skills, knowing the moments to speak, and engendering the courage to speak when needed, a little inspiration as to what might happen when vocation, occasion, and availability converge seems appropriate.

 

This year, one of our challenges is to (re)imagine our role as an institution to be more than simply a place of where knowledge is gained and are skills attained but to be a place where prophetic transformation is engendered and world alteration begins.

 

Enjoy the video, read King’s speech, and start listening for your own moment to spring from the margins into the middle of a world awaiting your voice.  I am looking forward to catching the vision of your transformative dream, too.

 

Have a great week.

 

“I have a Dream”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

August 28, 1963

Washington, DC

 

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation. Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon of hope to millions of slaves, who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

 

But one hundred years later, the colored America is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the colored American is still sadly crippled by the manacle of segregation and the chains of discrimination.  One hundred years later, the colored American lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the colored American is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.  So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.



 

In a sense we have come to our Nation’s Capital to cash a check. When the architects of our great republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.  This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed to the inalienable rights of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.



 

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given its colored people a bad check, a check that has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice.

We have also come to his hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is not time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.



 

Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy.

Now it the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.

Now it the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

Now is the time to make justice a reality to all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of its colored citizens.

 

This sweltering summer of the colored people’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end but a beginning. Those who hope that the colored Americans needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.

There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the colored citizen is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.



 

We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities.

We cannot be satisfied as long as the colored person’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one.

We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “for white only.”

We cannot be satisfied as long as a colored person in Mississippi cannot vote and a colored person in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.

No, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.



 

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of your trials and tribulations. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by storms of persecutions and staggered by the winds of police brutality.

You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.



 

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our modern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you, my friends, we have 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 and 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 out in the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners 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 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 their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; that one day right down 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 engulfed, every hill shall be exalted and every mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains 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 will 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 climb 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 father’s died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!”

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

 

So let freedom ring from the 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 every hill and molehill of Mississippi and every mountainside.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every tenement 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 spiritual, “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”



 

 

 

 

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