“Then he told them many things in parables…” – Matthew 13:3a
“When there’s an authentic mystery, as opposed to just a question being asked, that’s what makes you lean forward.” – J.J. Abrams
Part 3 – I Have A Dream
Dr. King stood on the eighteenth step of the Lincoln Memorial and announced, “I have a dream…” and we all leaned in. We still do.
That’s what the good prophetic voices do. They speak the sometimes difficult truths (truths that have put more than a few prophets in personal peril including Dr. King) to the present and cast a vision for the future – and they use metaphor when they have to. “I have a dream.” Clearly, Dr. King understood the power of metaphor for speaking difficult truths and, in doing so, the power of metaphor to not only cause us to lean in but to change us.
Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek was my first geeky experience of this reality. The crew who assembled weekly on the deck of the NCC-1701 Starship Enterprise looked unlike anything I saw anywhere else in my childhood. It was comprised of people from various nations and ethnic lineage. Each of them were heads of their respective departments and they were on the bridge because of their abilities and because of what they could bring to the team. The Captain, Kirk, showed each of them respect without regard to anything outside of their performance.
This was a vision of the future that changed my perspective. This was a dream worthy of dreaming.
Maybe it was Roddenberry, not Kirk, that changed my life.Growing up near the city limits of a small town in the South in the late 70s, it shouldn’t be surprising to hear racism was alive and well during my childhood. What I saw of African-Americans on television only served to reinforce the image society was trying to teach me. All of the roles were stereotypical which is to say they were downright insulting. Star Trek was different. On the bridge sat Lieutenant Uhura. She was an integral part of the team, a person of great intelligence. She also happened to be female and black. That simply wasn’t done on television at the time.
This was very much prophetic and I knew it from the first moment I saw it. I wasn’t the only one.
It turns out that after the second season, Nichelle Nichols, the actress who played Uhura, was offered her own show on Broadway. It was the dream of a lifetime for her. There were also rumors Star Trek was going to be canceled and she made a decision to leave the show; she even turned in her letter of resignation.In a happy little circumstance, she ran into Dr. King shortly after turning her resignation letter in. As luck would have it, Dr. King was a Trekkie and one of her biggest fans. In their conversation he learned she had decided to leave the show. Dr. King’s response? “You can’t leave!”
He knew the importance of metaphor in telling difficult truths. Start Trek had cast a vision of what the world should look like and in placing it in metaphor the difficult truth not only felt safer but it even felt desirable and attainable. It made us lean forward into his dream. I imagine he would say it was not his dream but God’s.
Nichols went back to Roddenberry, who had already torn up her letter, and told him about her experience with Dr. King. With a tear in his eye, Roddenberry simply said, “Thank God someone understands what I’m trying to do.”