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Last night, less than an hour before Barack Obama delivered his stirring acceptance speech as the Democratic nominee for president, our son Samuel and I spent a few minutes reading his devotional thought for the night. The devotion recalled August 28 as the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s iconic “I have a dream” speech. It quoted several passages highlighting King’s vision of a just America where all people are respected for their character rather than their color.

As we finished, Samuel asked quietly, “Did his dream come true?”

I had to say “No, not yet,” explaining that we have made a lot of progress in the 45 years since that speech, but prejudice and inequality are still far too evident in our country. I expressed my personal belief to Samuel that if Obama should be elected, it would go a long way toward the fulfillment of King’s dream. Five years from now, on the 50th anniversay of King’s speech, if Obama is well into his second term, I suspect we’ll be further along.

Personally, I hope that happens, but I have a nagging fear that he may not survive that long. I’m fairly confident that Obama can be elected — there is a widespread recognition that the country needs a new direction and a visionary leader to get us out of the economic and foreign relations quagmire that the current administration has created. Though some will fall for the opposition’s tired scare tactics, negative campaign ads, and right-wing radio rhetoric, most Americans are intelligent enough to recognize desperation when they see it.

But it takes only one deranged person to pull a trigger. Sadly, America is well-stocked with triggers, and with trigger-happy ideologues.

There is much about Obama’s candidacy that reminds me of the 1960s, when the winds of change were stirring and hopes of a more just society were snapping in the breeze. But there were some who could not handle the prospect of a truly just society. By the end of the decade, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy were all shot to death. Those images, those memories, still linger.

So I worry about whether even the Secret Service can protect the new herald of a more progressive society. I worry when I read of a foiled plot to shoot Obama while delivering his acceptance speech. I worry when I read of laws discouraging handguns being struck down. I worry when I hear about a church that uses a shooting contest and gun give-away to attract youth. I worry when I note how many movies, TV shows, cartoons and video games glorify violence as a means of solving problems.

There are just enough mentally misguided and emotionally unstable people out there — with easy access to guns — to make this a very delicate and dangerous time. Obama has to know this, yet he pushes forward, not hiding within a bullet-proof candidate-mobile, but continuing to connect with the electorate. I admire his courage, while hoping he avoids assassination.

For this campaign, “hope” has many dimensions.

[Photo from flikr.]

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