Activism 2023

Last Sunday, March 12,  I had more activities that I would define as “action oriented” than I’ve had for awhile.

The one I choose to hi-lite this day came at 4 in the afternoon at Temple Israel in Minneapolis, sister, shall I say, parish of Basilica of St. Mary, my parish down the street.

There were about 100 of us in the meeting room, which apparently surprised the organizers.  Host Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman said they were expecting a low turnout, but ended up having to add tables, all of which were filled.

The event was first of three separate and distinct reports from a dozen downtown Minneapolis clergy on “The Pilgrimage: An Interfaith Civil Rights Journey” to Atlanta GA, Birmingham, Selma and Montgomery Alabama.  (more information below).

In my assorted lives, I’ve been to hundreds, perhaps thousands of such gatherings.  Culminating activity Sunday was table talk where the eight of us, all strangers, had a couple of minutes each to share.  I was second from last, and as I listened I wrote my impression on the pink index card provided for that purpose, using the too-hard pencil, also provided.  But you can make out the words I conveyed to my table mates (see also postnote 3):

If you can’t decipher what I wrote: “Evidence of Progress is Pushback”, I said to my bunch.  At least one person nodded affirmatively; we had no time for further discussion. (My entire card is here: Civil Rights Pilgrimage 2023 (2).)

We’re in what appears to be dismal times, again.  My thought was premised on history, generally.  The side that thinks it’s been in charge, and is losing, now throws everything in its arsenal against the other in a last desperate action to win, knowing deep down its on the losing side of history.   My notation of my own history: growing up in ND where the race of choice to discriminate against was “Indians”; being in South Carolina on Army maneuvers when MLK gave his “I have a dream” speech in August, 1963; my concern about the current efforts to “white wash” (my words) what kids can learn in public school….  The vicious assault on “woke“.

I look at this 2023 Pilgrimage group with perhaps a different lens than many.  I’ve been at Basilica for about 25 years, and the interfaith pastors idea was the brainchild, I think, of then-Pastor Michael O’Connell and his friend, Rabbi Joseph Edelheit at Temple Israel.  As it was described to us, the down-town bunch of pastors from different denominations began a tradition of breakfast once a month.  It evolved as time went on.  Years ago, their then members went together to Israel and had a similar and profound interfaith experience.  They got to know each other as friends.

If you look at the photo of this years Pilgrims, below, you’ll notice three women and three African-Americans.

In all, there were a dozen: two Imams, a Rabbi, two Priests and seven Protestant ministers of assorted denominations, as well as a videographer (a film is apparently in the works).  (One of the panel said, Sunday, that he grew up in the Deep South and was a little kid when the children were killed in the Birmingham bombing in 1963.  He said his Mom reassured him, then, not to worry because “you’re white” – reassuring to him, then, troubling now.)

I wasn’t paying any attention at the Interfaith group beginning in the 1990s, but I think the initial group might have had two African-Americans and no Women.  For some denominations then, perhaps even now, such an ecumenical group was a bridge too far.  There have been many changes in Pastors over the years for all the usual reasons, but the group endures.

Here’s the descriptor for the last program upcoming: Civil Rights Pilgrimage 2023.  This is the time for Activism. If you can, take the last one in.   You’ll be glad you went.   

POSTNOTE on Activism:  What I scrawled on the card “Evidence of Progress is Pushback” is, I think, generally accurate.  It works for people in power, too easily, too often.

At another workshop the same day at Basilica, a professor was talking about activism, and defined it as many things to many people.  There is no correct way to be an activist.  But you do need to act!

I’ve like to compare personal activism to a basketball game, and this is an appropriate occasion since “March Madness” dominates the television – you can hardly avoid seeing some basketball game on the tube.

Anyway, in a basketball game there first of all has to be a team.  Basketball is a team sport.  It requires practice and working together and following rules of engagement that give both sides a fair chance at victory.

Not everybody has to be on the team to participate.  The folks ‘in the stands’ are every bit as important as the players.  Fans bring energy to the arena or the auditorium.

Of course, most people don’t show up in the basketball example, and that is true in the arena of justice as well, for all sorts of reasons.  But if you don’t participate, especially when the “teams” represent starkly different attitudes about relationships that affect you and everyone on the planet, you’re part of the equation, and in effect part of problem, not of the solution, if  you opt out.


POSTNOTE 2: Overnight March 15, came Letters from an American, about Maine becoming a state, and so much more.  It is about citizen activism long ago.  Take the time to read it.  If our country survives as a democracy, it is up to us, one individual at a time.

POSTNOTE 3: Sunday March 19 was the second followup session for the Pilgrimage.  This session was at Westminster Presbyterian, Minneapolis, similar format, probably higher attendance than the previous Sunday.  It was another powerful afternoon, with 8 of the dozen clergy on the journey presenting their thoughts.

Those of us attending were again in tables of perhaps 8-10 people, and the last segment, as last week, was a brief conversation, this time with three starter questions, but basically open-ended. Most of my table group were from Westminster.

In my minute I made a very simple action suggestion: if each one of us in the room did “something” for a better future we would make a huge difference as opposed to simply the eight pastors on the stage doing our action.  One of the pastors at the end said he noted that their congregations in aggregate totaled about 30,000 members, simply amplifying what I had mentioned at my table.

We can all make a possible difference.  We simply have to get to work.

POSTNOTE 4: Sunday March 26 was the final followup session at Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Minneapolis.

This was a most fitting final event, introduced by an Imam, a Rabbi and a Minister on the occasion of the once in 37 year occurrence on our calendar: where Ramadan (Mar 22 – about Apr 20), Passover (Apr 5-13) and Easter (Apr 9) occur at about the same time.

It was obvious that the clergy from the assortment of denominations get along very well; there was again a large attendance. I was sitting in the second row, and had a good vantage point watching the choir as they listened attentively and affirmatively to the speakers.

I think good will come of this initiative if we all take the task seriously.  Sincere thanks to everyone who made this possible.

Choir at Missionary Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Mar. 26, 2023. Speaking is Tim Hart-Andersen, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian in Minneapolis.

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