It’s an odd epithet. These days, it evokes this country’s immigration debate. But it also conjures up naivety and a lack of being rooted in reality. We hear it used in just such a pejorative way when we read the story of Joseph and his brothers from Genesis. They say to one another, “Here comes this dreamer,” just before they threaten to kill him and throw him into a pit.
Now at one level, this was literally true. The precocious youngest child of Jacob had a couple of dreams foretelling both his greatness and the future servitude of his older brothers. Sharing these visions didn’t sit well with his elder siblings, who already resented him for being their father’s favorite son.
But the world needs dreamers, visionaries who are able to see new possibilities. People not held back by convention or old patterns of thought and belief. Human beings often get stuck through the power of inertia and dreamers help us break through conventional wisdom to experience stunning, unexplored vistas of dynamic alternatives.
In a sense, Jesus was the ultimate dreamer. He laid out a vision of hope and peace and transformation. He envisioned a world where justice rolls down like water; where swords are beat into plough-shares; where barriers between people are shattered; where the kingdom of God is realized in our very midst. His words and actions ushered in the possibility of a new world order where the poor and downtrodden are lifted up and mighty oppressors are cast down from their thrones.
There have been some other dreamers in the news this week. Through passion and eloquence born of tragedy, the teen survivors of the Parkland School shooting have offered us a vision of what this country should be. They have shaken the forces of inertia and indecision and have helped all of us re-open our eyes to both the horror and the possibilities that lie ahead.
Many have pejoratively called these young people dreamers. The implication being that they are naïve and they’ll eventually grow up and realize they can’t actually make a difference in the world.
But I think they can.
And while many of the state legislators the students met with in Tallahassee essentially patted them on the head and sent them away with platitudes, I am confident they won’t be silenced. I heard a steely determination as I listened to their voices; a commitment to stay in this fight for the duration, along with an invitation to the rest of us to join them.
Yes, there will be pushback and setbacks and defeats. Gun violence and the forces that enable it are deeply ingrained in our country. Dreamers often cause resentment — whether that’s Joseph or Jesus or the young people standing up for an end to the killing. There will always be people who take the role of Joseph’s brothers or Jesus’ opponents or status quo politicians.
But we can’t lose the dream. We can’t stop looking to the dreamers. Wherever they arise and in whatever improbable form they take, we must help keep the dream alive. Because dreamers are some of the most important voices in any society. Those with ears to hear must listen.