This time four years ago, I was living and studying in Belfast. Some mates and I were planning a friend’s surprise birthday party, a house party. We were very lucky in that we had a great wee community built up together, everyone ran about together, incredibly lucky, so we always knew it would be a good night, plus you never actually knew who was going to turn up, could always be sure of a surprise. Anyway, I had a dream a few days before the party that I won the lottery. In the dream, I could see myself so clearly sitting there at the party, the people around me, with the television on. As I looked down at my ticket I could see the numbers so clearly and saw them come up on the screen. As the numbers were finished being called out, we all cheered, they congratulated me, and we laughed so much. I woke up. However, I don’t know about you, but when I have a really good dream I find it difficult to remember it when I get up again the next day. But this time when I woke up, I could remember every bit of the dream…including the numbers. I could even remember what I was wearing. So as soon as I got up I went down the street and got my lottery ticket…the day of the party rolled around. We gathered and I wore exactly what I had been wearing in the dream. It was so weird, so surreal. And the lottery program came on. We were all laughing about it, and having the craic, and the first number comes out…and I had it. Well as you can imagine I was shaken…genuinely believed, it was going to turn out that I had it all. As it happened that was the only number I got! So as the numbers ended I ripped up the ticket, and fell back laughing my head off, with all my mates. They cheered, congratulated me, and we fell about laughing. The result was the same, but the steps to get there had changed in the shift from dream to reality. I didn’t have millions of pounds, still don’t. But I had that moment, and still do. I cherish it.
What is this to do with anything? Well what I’m trying to get at is, don’t give up on your dreams. Dream big! Don’t be like the cynics who think it’s silly to have dreams, to have aspirations, to have desires and wants. Back in 1940, nothing was certain…people were so afraid and confused about what way things would end up. A people were persecuted because they did not fit with a madman’s view of a perfect world and so he tried to wipe them out. At this time many people were signing up the join the “war effort”. There was a filmmaker at the time called Charlie Chaplin who made silent pictures. He decided that it was time the world heard his voice, that he had something to say about War and it would be his contribution. The speech became quite famous as did the film and about 2 years ago, a man took the speech and added new film footage to it. Millions of people have watched this, have a look…there is so much in that speech that makes it just as relevant today as it was over 70 years ago!
There’s this view that today’s society is a bad one…that it’s an awful time to be alive, it’s a time of uncertainty once again, economic collapse and all that…but believe it or not…there is Peace on Earth. Maybe not collectively, maybe not as much in all parts of the world, but as long as there are people who are willing to stand up and say, I believe in goodness. I believe in the goodness and humanity of every human person. Look, every single human was created in the image and likeness of God. Even Adolf Hitler…even Saddam Hussein…even Joseph Stalin. We think of these men, and what do you think of? Evil, badness, killing, wrongdoing, etc. (Notice how it’s all men?) But these men all started out as cute babies…they were children who played games…they were young people like yourselves…they had dreams, but somewhere along the line, they went down a different path. Some people say, one of the things that spurred Hitler on was because someone laughed at his artwork…They began doing things that were not right. They hurt, and killed many people…so many people…but let’s look at this, Judas had his role to play in salvation…God had a dream for these men, none of us know what that dream was, but they decided to follow their own way, not God’s.
The last weekend past I attended a retreat of Youth 2000 in Newbridge County Kildare, and it was there on Saturday I first heard about the great tragedy that occured in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday. My prayers instantly turned towards all who had been affected by this great tragedy.
Automatically the questions began to be raised about what factors played a role in this shooting. Many of which we will never know the truth of. There is now much discussion on gun sales, mental health and much much more. The gunman Adam Lanza is now making headlines for all the reasons none of us would ever want to. He has joined the ranks of many others who actions have hurt and killed countless people.
So what is our response? How do we react to this? I personally like to remember the words of Bobby Kennedy the night Dr Martin Luther King was gunned down. Kennedy who would later be assassinated himself had the following to say:
“We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization — black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.”
Do we need restriction of gun sales? Personally I believe so. Why would we as civilians need to use these weapons? An intruder breaks into our home and we have a gun to hand, do we kill them? Do we have this power to make such a decision of who lives and dies?
The answer for me, is a shift in attitude in all societies. We need to move beyond one which says you strike me, and I will strike back harder. Every human being is (I believe) made in the image and likeness of God. We are each of us brothers and sisters. You do not hurt your brother. You do not hurt your sister.
Only when we recognize the inherent dignity of every human person will we discover the truth of what Jesus spoke when he said “the kingdom of God is among you!” in Luke’s Gospel. Can you imagine the look on the apostles faces? The kingdom of God is among you…he doesn’t say the kingdom is in you yet, it isn’t here, or there, but rather, among you. What I think he is saying is that the kingdom of God is found when you look for it. Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? Christ loves us with this unconditional love, everything is offered freely, so there are no limitations, simply: if you work for the Kingdom of God then you make the dream of the kingdom a reality.
Christ never stops loving us. Even young Adam Lanza who murdered his own mother, twenty beautiful young children, and six teachers of the school. God never stopped loving him. This is a monumentally hard truth to accept but as a Christian I believe it to be so. But Lanza made his own decision and murdered 27 people. The families are now the ones left behind to pick up the pieces and so I pray for them, that God has welcomed them each into his loving embrace for all eternity, and I also pray for Lanza’s soul.
Dream big. Love big. Teach your children to dream. Teach them love. Teach them that they are loved beyond measure. Teach them that the ways of violence are not the way forward in our world. Do this, and you will be working to make the dream of God’s kingdom a reality. Nothing will be lost in translation…you may take a few twists and turns along the way, but the answer will be found in the attempt.