When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truth which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.
Dr. Martin Luther King infused the spiritual into American politics as no one else has–at least since Lincoln. His “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on this date in 1963 was one of the great uplifting moments in American history. “With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope,” King told the assembled crowd.
Before he became widely known, Dr. King addressed a church congregation in my home town of Detroit, and explained how faith inspired his political vision.
“There is something wrong with our world, something fundamentally and basically wrong,” he told a Detroit congregation in 1954. “The great problem facing modern man,” he said, “is that . . . the means by which we live have outdistanced the spiritual ends for which we live. . . . The problem is with man himself and man’s soul.”
Those words illuminate our current political culture with a light that is sadly lacking in today’s discourse.
The spirit of liberty is the spirit that is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit that weighs their interests alongside its own without bias.
Judge Learned Hand, 1944
…and alas a spirit that is noticeably absent from the current
political and cultural landscape of the United States.
On this 4th of July, a few words on America’s real wealth, from Robert Kennedy in his 1968 presidential campaign:
Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.
The GNP measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.
And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.
“I knew, of course, that trees and plants had roots, stems, bark, branches
and foliage that reached up toward the light. But I was coming to realize that the real magician was light itself“.
In Michigan, we are welcoming the return of Spring and its special magic, dropping from Heaven, filtering through the treetops, and leaving gossamer strands of light below.