About 200 Evanstonians participated in an interfaith service at Northwestern University's beautiful Alice Millar Chapel last Sunday to honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and recommit to working together to transform Evanston into beloved community.
The service was organized by Beth Emet The Free Synagogue's Rabbi Andrea Coustan London, Grace Lutheran Church's Pastor Daniel Ruen, and Second Baptist Evanston's Pastor Michael Nabors.
The highlight of the program came when Rabbi London played clips of a recording from a speech Dr. King gave at Beth Emet on January 13, 1958, just shy of his 29th birthday.
Participants sat in rapt silence as Dr. King's voice rang out in the sanctuary.
His speech, entitled, It's a Great Time to be Alive, was as eerily applicable today as it was 60 years ago.
“It’s a great time to be alive in the world," Dr. King said. "We stand today on the threshold of the most constructive period in our nation’s history … I am aware of the fact that there are those who would contend that we live in the most ghastly period of our nation’s history … The tragic reign of violence and terror, the presence of federal troops in Little Rock, Arkansas … the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan … are all indicative of the deep and tragic midnight which encompasses our national life.
"These persons would contend that we are going backwards instead of forwards and we are retrogressing instead of progressing. But far from representing retrogression and tragic meaninglessness, the present tensions represent the usual pains that accompany the birth of anything new. … so the tensions that we witness in our nation today are indicative of the fact that a new America is being born. Something new is coming into being and we are experiencing the usual pains that accompany the birth of anything new.”
In addition to clips of the recording, Pastor Ruen, Rabbi London, Pastor Nabors, and Rabbi Rachel Weiss of Evanston's Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation - JRC spoke. Second Baptist's choir sang, faith dancers performed, and attendees locked arms, held hands and sang "Lift Every Voice and Sing," and "We Shall Overcome."
Pastor Ruen, in his remarks, called on everyone to "save what you love," a quote he heard in the new Star Wars film, when young resistance fighter Rose Tico says to her beloved, Finn, 'This is how we win. Not by fighting what we hate. But by saving what we love.’
"That is the theological spirit of spiritual and organized non-violence that Dr. King believed fed the fire of lasting, loving, resistance," said Ruen. [I'm sharing the entirety of Pastor Ruen's remarks below because I didn't film his remarks, and it may be easier to read them than to hear them].
Referring to Dr. King's words at Beth Emet and their pertinence today, Rabbi London said, "Dr. King spoke that day about the victory in Montgomery and the support it had received from around the country. But he also spoke about what was happening in that moment in which vested interests in this country were feeling like some of their power might be taken away. Sound familiar?
"And he spoke that day about the resurgence of the KKK. Sound familiar?
"We are also living in a time when in some ways we’ve seen great hope: our first Black president who graced the Oval Office with such dignity and intelligence. But we also live in a time of increased white supremacy.
"When we gathered as a community last we were at Second Baptist last August after Charlottesville when we saw white supremacists marching with tiki torches, making anti-semitic, racist remarks, the LGBTQ community threatened. We live at a time in which the treatment of undocumented immigrants is deplorable, where people are afraid of being deported, where DACA has been rescinded. And what about the tax bill?
"But Dr. King saw all the good and bad of his period as a sign that something new was being born. That all of that tension, all of the reaction to what he was doing was because people were threatened, that vested interests might lose their power, threatened that all human beings might be treated as though they were created in God’s image. And that everyone would have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, not just some."
Toward the end of his Beth Emet remarks, Dr. King spoke about the concept of 'maladjustment.'
"There's a word in modern psychology, 'maladjustment,'" said Dr. King. "Many of us seek to live a well-adjusted life ... I want to say to you that there are certain things within our social system to which I'm proud to be maladjusted, and to which I call to you to be maladjusted. I don't intend to adjust myself to the evils of segregation and the crippling effects of discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to the viciousness of mob rule ... this evening I call upon you to be maladjusted ... for it may be that the salvation of our world lies in the maladjusted."
Rabbi London followed the recording and said, "We can't get used to the fact that someone can go into a 7-11 and deport an undocumented person. We can't get used to the fact that racism and sexism and homophobia are just normal parts of how we live. We need to be maladjusted to that. We need to become maladjusted to the current situation ... and to the racism we see in our own communities ... I hope we are. That's our charge today."
Pastor Nabors talked about the friendship and collegiality he, Pastor Ruen and Rabbi London have developed.
"In order for our nation to begin moving in the right direction, we're going to have to begin to tear down walls. Walls of division not that have been constructed by politicians in Washington, D.C., but walls of division that have been constructed by either the context of our own culture, of our own religion, of our own culture, of our own tradition.
You would not have been able to tell me, when I was a little boy, that I would have gone to Washington, D.C. with a white man and a white woman, spent a night in a house, and marched together for justice. That was not so very long ago.
I contend that there are those growing up in today's generation who have the same sentiment. That they are not able to see beyond their own culture ... and their own denomination, and one of the things that makes Evanston such a special place is that we have at least the capacity to teach our children very early that you can look beyond your own particularity without giving it up.
Particularity is meant to be a foundation by which you can travel with everyone in the universe. Your particularity is not meant to confine you ... not supposed to prevent you from reaching out and communicating with every body that is different from you."
The program ended with Rabbi Weiss' call to action.
"Many of us call this town we live in 'Heavanston,' for its wonderful richness, and yet .. we acknowledge the reality of the Evanston we actually live in," she said. "We acknowledge the fact that some PTAs in Evanston spend $200 per student per year and some spend $18. That it's based on geography and race and class, and that has to change.
"I went to my 20th reunion at Evanston Township High School (ETHS), and there was a slide show of all of those we had lost, and all but one was a Black man. We have to acknowledge this.
"And we have to acknowledge that as much as we bring our children together in classrooms that are diverse, that parents don't know each other. That has to change."
Rabbi Weiss referred to Dr. King's call to be dissatisfied '...until from every city hall justice will roll down like waters of righteousness like a mighty stream ... let us be dissatisfied until the day when nobody will shout white power, when nobody will shout black power but everyone will talk about God's power and human power.'
"The role of religion is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable," she concluded. "So let us continue to have gatherings in which we celebrate one another, in which we sing together, dance together, play music together and come together to raise our spirits so that we can walk out of these doors as dissatisfied as we need to be to take action and make real change. May we go out in peace and power."
Read Pastor Ruen's remarks: http://bit.ly/2DqmBS6
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