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Keepers of the Dream

As they say, the only truly original idea was the first one, and some ideas are so good and cited so often that we lose the connection with their origin. Many of us think of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for example, when we hear the following, a statement of faith if ever there was one:

“The long arc of history bends toward justice.”

It turns out, though, that these words had an earlier origin, much earlier. In any event, in his sermon, “We Are Keepers of the Dream,” the Unitarian Universalist minister Matthew Tittle makes this observation:

The original quote was written by the Unitarian minister Theodore Parker in 1853 and stated: “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

Maybe it doesn’t matter so much who said it first and in what form it has come down to the present day as that we take to heart the message, for clearly the arc has run into some pretty substantial brick walls of late.

It’s tempting (and for good reason) to focus the blame in places like Washington and state capitals around the country and other seats of power throughout the world. After all, by definition, they have the power to bend the arc of history.

But as some point out now and again when jaded cynics look jaded and sound cynical, it was not all that long ago that the tobacco lobby reigned powerfully in seats of power. Today the idea of a “tobacco lobby” is an oxymoron. What made the difference? Not seats of power responding to the moral universe but everyday advocates for a moral universe taking hold of the arc of history and bending it in the direction of justice:  therein lies the secret to change.

These everyday advocates are hardly confined to the faith community and its many local congregations but those many local congregations are themselves centers of justice work, filled with justice workers who see themselves bending the arc as First Responders to a world in crisis and keeping alive the dream of a just world however long it takes.