CHANGING THE CONVERSATION ABOUT CHANGE

“You on an adventure, Mr. Citizen. I bet you didn’t know that. It’s all adventure. You signed up for it and didn’t even know it.” – Aunt Ester, Gem of the Ocean by August Wilson

Point Betsie, Michigan

Point Betsie MI

It’s been a busy month since I posted my last blog. Fortunately it started with a vacation trip to western Michigan with sunsets, wineries and lighthouses.

September included a visit from my colleague Irvin Henderson, who is consulting with the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) on applying to have our Chicago landmarked building placed on the National Register of Historic Places for ICA’s social justice history. Knowing of Irv’s work with the Hill Community Development Corporation to restore the Granada Theatre in Pittsburgh, we went to see the Court Theatre’s awesome production of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean.

August Wilson at the Granada

August Wilson at the Granada

Set in 1904, this play begins Wilson’s ten-play 20th Century Cycle. Having seen most of them, I thoroughly enjoyed finally meeting Aunt Ester, the ancestor character that hovers throughout Wilson’s saga of African-Americans in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, where he was born and raised. Aunt Ester’s admonition to Mr. Citizen remains pertinent over a century later.

The week of September 21st was the Fall Sojourn for ICA’s Archives Team and the largest ever with over 40 volunteers working in three teams to “create the future of our past.” One team explored the Imaginal Education of ICA’s Training Inc. projects which graduated 25,582 individuals across 15 locations.

Paul Noah Charts ICA's History

Paul Noah charts ICA’s History

Another reflected on ICA’s roots as the Ecumenical Institute and the relevance of a New Religious Mode for the emergence of conversations on Faith & Sustainability. The third team combed the archives for materials on ICA’s Bicentennial Town Meetings in 5,000 US counties and Human Development projects in each of the world’s 24 time zones.

I had the opportunity to welcome our archivists and to hear their closing reports but I spent three days that week visiting community and sustainable development activists in Austin, Texas. I spent the plane ride down reading ICA’s history and founding as The Ecumenical Institute as compiled by Beret Griffith. I was joined on my visit by ICA board director Randy Williams, who shared with those we visited the story of how Rev. Joseph Wesley Mathews left the Christian Faith and Life Community at the University of Texas to become the Dean of The Ecumenical Institute in Evanston, IL.

“As arguably the most progressive city in Texas, Austin nonetheless has its challenges,” Randy reflects. “It is one of the most economically and racially segregated cities in the region. If local people, through neighborhood initiatives, could be connected, this would create significant synergy and momentum for addressing these challenges.”

Red Bench AustinInterfaith Action of Central Texas (iACT) believes that the work of “cultivating peace and respect” cannot be left to diplomats and dignitaries; the faithful, have to play a leading role. Red Bench is an ongoing dialogue program designed to address one of the most pressing needs of our time: improving interfaith understanding and civil discourse in our society. September’s Red Bench conversation was on Racial Intolerance.

Texas Impact, “People of Faith Working for Justice,” lobbies on issues of religious social concern. It is part of Interfaith Power and Light, a national movement with branches in 39 states, devoted to deepening the connection between ecology and faith, and encouraging a “religious response to global warming.” This past February, in conjunction with Austin’s Interfaith Environmental Network and iACT, they held their second-annual Preach-Off on Climate Change, for religious leaders to share their tradition’s wisdom with not just their own congregations, but with the entire community.

Evolve Austin Partners champions the Imagine Austin comprehensive plan, crafted by the people of Austin to create a more affordable, mobile, and sustainable city. By addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by Austin’s explosive growth with compact and connected strategies, they will be seeking to create better and more inclusive choices for living, working, and getting around Austin. Their mantra is that it’s time to “change the conversation about change” to achieve the best Austin imaginable, a city that offers opportunity, freedom, and fairness to all.

Of course this month’s most historic moment was Pope Francis’ address to Congress:

“In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to ‘redirect our steps’ and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a culture of care and an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.“

The New York Times reported Pope Francis omitted the sharpest phrase in his prepared text: “If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance.” A spokesman later said he lost his place and passed over it by accident.

Politics serving human needs is not a point to be passed over, Mr. Citizen. It’s time to embrace the adventure you’re on and get engaged in changing the conversation.

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