It seems to me there is a trend toward listening these days, because podcasts are a big deal.

My songwriting partner Gary and I had one about 25 years ago, when they were trending but not trendy. But with newer and better technology, podcasts are both easier to produce and access. It’s unlikely they’ll every replace blogs, though, which are even easier to produce.

Communicating audibly obviously predates any system of writing. The oldest writing discovered, estimated from around 35,000 BC, was on what might have been a coffee mug. No one is 100% sure, but scholars believe it translates to “World’s Best Dad.”

The great thing about that sentence, and about the written word in general, is that you can reread it and laugh (or groan) one more time.

But my goal here is not to pit the spoken word against the written word. I love writing, but the spoken word wins that battle if for no other reason than this famous (written) passage:

“And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3) In fact, according to Genesis, God spoke the whole world into existence.

To add to the gravitas and majesty and mystery of all this, John the Apostle wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…. All things were made through him.” The Word turns out to be Jesus, whose birth we celebrated a few weeks ago.

So yeah (as they say these days), the spoken word wins.

Speaking and writing are both powerful in their own way, but one thing I love is the written recording of spoken words. And I’m not talking about podcasts, I’m talking about speeches.

“I have a dream today.”

A few days after the publication of these written words, America will celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.

When it was decided that there should be a national holiday in his honor, I was initially a skeptic. I liked King just fine, but did he deserve a holiday like Washington and Lincoln?

No longer a skeptic, I’m glad we remember King the way we do. I just wish we remembered more of his speech than “I have a dream.” Perhaps we could remember, for instance, what the dream was about.

Just before writing this article, I read again the entire speech that King delivered that day. I noticed some things you might find interesting.

First, more than 250,000 people were there to hear the speech in person. Far more than I ever pictured. The speech was delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963.  This was the culmination of a civil rights march, and the location was no accident.

The Lincoln Memorial was the perfect setting. King knew that.

What also struck me as I reread the speech was the opening line: “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation.”

Did you catch that “Five score years ago” phrase? It is clearly a reference to Lincoln’s own Gettysburg Address, another speech that changed the world, which began “Four score and seven years ago….”

King’s entire speech is composed of simple words spoken with power and conviction. He drew two great pictures from the Bible. “Until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream” is from Amos.

(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…

is from Isaiah.

More than talk

In 1964, the year following his most famous speech, Martin Luther King Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his fight against racial inequality. The list of awards he received for his work is long, and will continue to grow.

He was not only eloquent, he was intelligent. He earned a PhD in Theology, he wrote, he led, and he influenced millions.

But many of us remember him for his powerful oratory, especially the “I have a dream” speech.

That speech can make your heart beat faster as you listen to him deliver it.

“I’ve seen the promised land” is a speech that will make your spine tingle — partly because of the words and partly because of the timing.

Delivered on April 3, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, King opened that speech with a story from 1960. He was in New York City autographing copies of his first book. As he was signing, he heard a woman ask if he was Martin Luther King.

While looking down he said he was, and “the next minute I felt something beating on my chest.”

The woman (he describes her as a “demented black woman”) had stabbed him. It was the first attempt on his life, and it came very close to succeeding — the tip of the blade was on the edge of his aorta. The New York Times reported that “if he had sneezed, he could have died.”

He said in this speech he was glad he didn’t sneeze, because in the past eight years a lot of progress had been made. Then he finished with this:

But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life… but I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

The very next morning, King was assassinated.

May his words and his work inspire us all to do good.

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