Dreams Too Big To Manage
On Friday night we checked into a hotel in Philadelphia. We had tickets to a play and decided to make a weekend of it. The next morning I opened the drapes. There, across the street, stood the Museum of the American Revolution. Let’s go! I said.
The exhibits, enlivened by Hollywood-quality videos, were dramatic and inspiring. The American revolution was unlike anything that had happened in Europe. We Americans, at least, see it as an exceptional quest for liberty and justice for all. I was feeling my chest filling with pride, and then I read this sign:
In 1776, when Congress declared that ‘all men are created equal,’ approximately 400,000 African Americans lived in slavery. Most colonies limited political office holding and voting to men who owned property. Women could not vote and typically could not own property.
The authors of the Declaration of Independence probably never imagined their words would inspire calls for equality from women, slaves, and the poor. But that is what happened.
The promise of the Declaration has been expanding ever since.
Isn’t that the way? The founders of this nation were roused by a sweeping new vision for humanity, but it was bigger than they could take in. Yet their ideal took on a life of its own, which often happens when we let loose even a little truth. It expands.
I stood there, feeling still a sense of pride, but also a sense of humility. Immediately I thought of the Bible and the church. How the Scriptures, written over centuries, hold out an astonishingly beautiful vision for the world—what Verna Dozier called “The Dream of God”—and yet how we have mostly been unable or unwilling to take it in. Still, God did not give up on us. Contemporary prophets rose up to call us back to that divine dream—of racial equity, reverence for the Earth, Jesus’ equal regard for women, the nonviolent struggle for peace, God’s preferential option for the poor, and the ongoing liberation of class after class of burdened people.
We don’t need a perfect nation, just an honest one; not a perfect church, just a humble one. After all, life is not a line dance, it’s a cha-cha: two steps forward, one step back.
P.S. Lent takes flight in just a few days—February 14th. This year I’ll be offering a short daily reflection, “Companions on the Way.” You’re invited to walk this pilgrimage.