“Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try” sang my old hero John Lennon when he was telling us all to dream the world into something better. And I do find it easy John. Look. No heaven. There, I just did! Easy! But it doesn’t exactly transform anything or anybody.
Martin Luther King Jr on the other hand had a more difficult dream. With encouragement from the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson sitting behind him, he preached one of the most famous speeches in history, declaring, “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”
For me the dreaming of both these men is vital for change. Without dreams and imagination there can be no change. It is why I see art as so crucial. If we are going to dream dreams we need the muscle of our imagination to be fit to dream. There is though a difference in the dreams of Lennon and King. One has substance and the other doesn’t. John Lennon imagining there is no heaven leaves us with nothing concrete to dream about and so nothing to hang our transformation upon. Martin Luther King’s dream has the substance of Biblical hopefulness. It was a dream of heaven, not as a pie in the sky for the bye and bye but as a hopeful future that gives an alternative imagining to the here and now. It was how the African slaves of the plantations of the Deep South found the strength to hope and courage for change and it was on that rich seam that King built his peaceful Civil Rights movement.
Social and indeed personal transformation needs imagination. Before anything will happen we need to dream. With the right substance to our dreams I might just join John Lennon’s chorus, “You may say I’m a dreamer/but I’m not the only one/I hope someday you’ll join us/And the world will live as one.”