Walter Brueggemann is one of the world’s great teachers about the prophets who both anchor the Hebrew Bible and have transcended it across history. He translates their imagination from the chaos of ancient times to our own. He somehow also embodies this tradition’s fearless truth-telling together with fierce hope — and how it conveys ideas with disarming language. “The task is reframing,” he says, “so that we can re-experience the social realities that are right in front of us, from a different angle.”
Langston Hughes wrote about dreams at a time when racism meant that black people’s dreams were silenced
“I have a dream.”
You’ve heard the line. But what you may not know is that the poetry of Langston Hughes, born on this day in 1902, influenced King’s sermons on a fundamental level and helped give rise to the preacher’s most lasting line. Hughes, an accomplished poet, is remembered by many as one of the architects of the Harlem Renaissance and an important African American voice. He’s less remembered for his connection to the civil rights leader.
Hughes wrote a number of poems about dreams or dealing with the subject of dreams, but they weren’t really positive poems — they were truthful reflections of the struggle he and other black Americans faced in a time of institutionalized and mainstream cultural racism. What happens to a dream deferred, he asked: sometimes it just becomes a “heavy load.” Other times, it explodes.
But, Miller writes, King was also influenced by others whose work reached back to the poet. One of the biggest cultural milestones that had happened just before Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his first speech about dreams was the debut of A Raisin in the Sun.
The play took its name from a line of Hughes’s famous poem, “A Dream Deferred (Harlem),” writes Miller. The poem was printed in full on the playbill, according to Michael Hoffman for The Florida Times-Union. After it premiered, Hoffman writes, King wrote to Hughes: “I can no longer count the number of times and places… in which I have read your poems.”
The play began its run on March 19, just a few weeks before King delivered his first sermon about dreams, on April 5. “Because King was obligated to preach about Palm Sunday, and then Easter on successive weeks, April 5 literally marked the first possible opportunity after the play’s premier for him to create and deliver a new sermon,” Miller writes. “In his sermon, King used the poem’s imagery, repeated questions, theme and diction.”
These kind of details demonstrate that King’s preoccupation with dreams—which manifested itself in speeches particularly from 1960 onwards, according to one scholarly analysis—came from the literature of black oppression, Miller writes.
From this preoccupation came King’s most mainstream rallying cry, “I have a dream.” And it’s worth thinking about why King chose that word, rather than another. For instance, the April 5 sermon about dreams was actually titled “Unfulfilled Hopes” — if he’d kept running with that language, it’s possible his best-known line might have been “I have a hope.”
Ms. Tippett:He talked about how the prophets are always poets, and it’s with poetic language that they rise above the merely political and have something other than merely political impact. He says that the line we all remember of Martin Luther King is actually a line of poetry. “I have a dream” is actually a line of poetry.
Mr. Rampersad:Yes, a line of Langston Hughes’s poetry.
Ms. Tippett:Is it really? It’s a line of Langston Hughes’s poetry? I didn’t know that.
Mr. Rampersad:Well, I think Langston Hughes always believed that, because he had consistently invoked the motif of the dream in his poetry, in his civil rights poetry. So he always felt that Martin Luther King owed him one.
Ms. Tippett:I see.
Mr. Rampersad: Yeah. But that’s another story.
.. Ms. Alexander: Yes, I think of the Dr. Du Bois — that was always how he was referred to in my family. And I think that was very important because he was someone to be respected, that even though African Americans had attained higher education by the time I was a child, I know that I knew he was the first African American to get his PhD from Harvard University, that it was an extraordinary thing to have become educated in the way that he did, so that we ought to give him that title. And later on, I learned, there are a number of African-American elders of a generation for whom only the letters of their names are what we know. “W.E.B.” That was strategic, a way that he could not be called William or Bill, that someone would have to call him “boy” or call him Dr. Du Bois. It forced the issue of his stature. I think that that interested me a great deal. I remember learning that when I was probably a young teenager. I didn’t read The Souls of Black Folk until I was in college. I remember very much reading it for the first time, sophomore year with Professor Michael Cooke in a big survey course on African-American literature. It was a graduate course and, at that time, the only place that Du Bois was taught alongside Booker T. Washington and other greats of the tradition. I remember thinking, “Oh, not only is he a great man, he’s a beautiful writer” — and how that felt like such a gift that these important ideas came forward to us in language that was unforgettable.
Ms. Angelou: As one of the great thinkers. For a black man at that time, to teach and to learn and to study under those circumstances when people were being lynched, what Dr. Du Bois showed is that he had enormous courage. I would encourage young men and women, black and white and Asian and Spanish-speaking and all, to look at Dr. Du Bois and realize that courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can’t be consistently fair or kind or generous or forgiving — any of those — without courage.
In this episode, we talk to a 74-year-old woman who decides the only way to get over her husband’s death is to jump out of an airplane. And to a third generation beekeeper whose entire collection of hives has been stolen – he believes by Russian mobsters. After losing so much can they tell themselves new stories about themselves that allow them to function?
Special thanks to the following musicians:
In the Hebrew Scriptures, prior to the influence of the Platonic dualism that deemed body as bad and spirit as good, there is a much more integrated notion of the human being. The biblical writers believed that the divine breath, breathed into Adam and Eve, indwells the soul, mind, and body. Each of these are expressions of the divine Spirit.
The great example of this integration is the beautiful Song of Songs, which somehow was accepted into the officially recognized Scriptures. Over time, various Christian writers interpreted it as an allegory or a metaphor of God’s love for God’s people. It’s fine to read Song of Songs in this way, but the book is clearly, from beginning to end, unapologetic erotic poetry.
.. This is the Bible—talking about lips and navels, delighting in human sensuality! Why did God let us get so excited about one another’s bodies and beauty? Could God be playing a trick on us, saying, “I’m going to create sexual attraction and arousal in you, but don’t you dare think, feel, or act upon it!” Of course not! That can’t be what God intended when God said over and over about Creation: “It is good! It is very good!” (see Genesis 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). How much harm we’ve caused by repressing and shaming this good and natural part of our being.
Krista Tippett, host of award-winning NPR program “On Being“, and poet David Whyte discusses several of the life-sized concepts addressed in Tippet’s book, _Becoming Wise: an inquiry into the mystery and art of living._
In 2014, Tippett received the National Humanities Medal at the White House for ‘thoughtfully delving into the mysteries of human existence.’ Her radio program, On Being, “shines a light on the most extraordinary voices on the great questions of meaning for our time. Scientists in a variety of fields; theologians from an array of faiths; poets, activists, and many others have all opened themselves up to Tippett’s compassionate but searching conversation.” Whyte has been a guest on her show.
In _Becoming Wise_, Tippett distils the insights she has gleaned from years of luminous conversation into a coherent narrative journey, over time and from mind to mind, into what it means to be human. Critics say the book is “a master class in living, individually and collectively. Wisdom emerges through the raw materials of the every day.”
- Beauty is that in which when in the presence of, we feel more alive.
- Questions elicit answers in their likeness.
- Poetry is language for which we have no defense. (not facts)
- Humor is a virtue. It is a better way to live. A more joyful way to live.
- Have the courage to be vulnerable to those with whom we passionately disagree with.
- We have an illusion that we can build a fortress where we are invulnerable.
- Relationships (like marriage, children) inevitably involve heartbreak.
- This “Can do” American spirit, that we’ll just power through and duke it out, won’t work.
- Our education system encourages us to develop the quick premature answer, which robs us of our empathy
- We are wired for empathy, but not when we’re fearful.
- Virtues and Rituals are the spiritual technologies and muscle memory.
- Growth comes from weaknesses gracefully expressed
- You can’t really converse with anger.
- Anger is what pain and fear look like when they show themselves in public
- We don’t know how to dwell with human pain or fear.
- We get so titillated about our machines getting intelligent, when we should be pursuing knowledge and wisdom for ourselves.
- I would challenge the idea that we need to have common ground to have conversation (other than that we are human).
- You don’t have to like people to extend hospitality.
- Tolerance is too small a word. Tolerance is a baby step towards pluralism. Tenderness and Power, Fierceness can go together.
- We are a developing nation.
- 1950s it was revolutionary to elect a Catholic. We’ve only been at this for 60-70 years.
- Tolerance is about enduring difference.
- Kindness can feel wimpy, but kindness can be powerful and can make someone’s day. Kindness is instant gratification on both sides.
If there is any lyric that condenses his work it is, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
.. Petrified, he told his lawyer he couldn’t sing, but his friend shot back that “none of you guys can sing, if I wanna hear singing I’ll go to the Metropolitan Opera!”
.. “Hallelujah” had been released originally in 1984 on his Various Positions album, but with only lukewarm support from his record label, CBS. Years later, when Cohen accepted an award, he thanked CBS with trademark irony for “the modesty of their interest” in his work.
.. A Palestinian boycott group stated, “Ramallah will not receive Cohen as long as he is intent on whitewashing Israel’s colonial apartheid regime by performing in Israel.”
.. Given the spiritual and deep theological tenor of his work, it is perhaps surprising he became such a star, and had it not been for “Hallelujah” he may have remained an acquired taste.
.. His work was genuinely and deeply rooted in being a Jew and in the traditional Jewish texts, Psalms, mysticism, and practice, and he directly employed biblical texts. “Hallelujah” is a prime example, where his lyrics juxtapose the texts of 1 and 2 Samuel and Judges 16, while the refrain of Hallelujah rings out:
.. He became a vegetarian, but said he stopped because he decided he was getting too arrogant about it.
.. In his last public appearance Cohen explained he didn’t consider himself a religious person but made use of the frames of reference of his upbringing.
This echoed a New York Times interview in 1968, in which he said, “Our natural vocabulary is Judeo-Christian. That is our blood-myth. We have to rediscover law from inside our own heritage, and we have to rediscover the crucifixion. The crucifixion will again be understood as a universal symbol, not as an experiment in sadism or masochism or arrogance. It will have to be rediscovered because that’s where man is at. On the cross.” This was his credo.
.. in Isaiah 53, a chapter central to the Christian idea of Isaiah as the “fifth gospel,” attesting to the suffering servant.
.. In his final interview, Cohen said he was still hearing the voice of God, but now it was different. He said it was no longer the judging God of his youth, “that voice that says, ‘You’re fucking up.’” This was a compassionate God, giving a tremendous blessing. He said, “I’m ready to die, I hope it’s not uncomfortable,” and he spent his last days putting his house in order.
.. Cohen took years to write a song, Dylan often took just 15 minutes. The difference was that Dylan was a songwriter, while Cohen started as a poet and novelist—though in a 1961 interview Cohen contested the term “poet”; he said he was a writer, and the exalted term “poet” should only be applied at the end of a writer’s work, as a verdict on his life.