Reminder that, as I often do, I will try to type out notes directly. Any additional comments I make I will put in parenthesis (or try to distinguish from just straight notes). Quotes will be in quotation marks with attribution (if I managed to catch the name of source or it was available). If any other participants read this and wish to add or make corrections, etc., their comments are welcome. So are comments from anyone else (as long as you follow my usual rules of good behavior. I will not tolerate any form of bullying, intimidation, rudeness, etc. Such will simply be deleted). I will also add links from various sources as needed to expand on my notes or add further information that may not be clear from just my notes, or just for my own reference.
It is Sunday morning in Birmingham, Alabama. It is partly cloudy, but it may not rain just yet I hope. I am dressed nicely because later this morning they are taking us to church. After touring Ingram Park, we'll attend service at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. This is the second day of our Civil Rights Tour.
Thought: Every student we work with and helped to graduate is a drop in a pond that ripples in the community.
Note: Dr. Alicestyne Turley, our tour director, is Buddhist. Buddhists did have a role in the Civil Rights Movement (I will have to try to find out more about this later).
Now, I will also note that I am not religious. I do not identify as anything other than heathen when asked. However, if you must know, I was raised Roman Catholic (I am the product of Catholic schooling going between Lasallian Brothers and Benedictine monks. The Lasallians in particular are renowned for their pedagogy, and I got a pretty solid base for lifelong learning from them). Yet I can feel the power of church and religion in black culture and the Civil Rights Movement. (Though in retrospect, given how radical some Christian churches are today in the U.S., I do wonder if they could have had the same role in the movement if they had been as they are today. Thus I wonder what if anything has changed that so many Christians behave pretty much in a very not so Christian fashion, or were they always that way but the issues of the time big enough to put aside their bad behavior for the cause? Then again, Christians do come in different stripes, and I have seen this over time where some can be very liberal and oriented to good works and others use their religion to justify just about every form of oppression imaginable. Back then I suppose it was not that much different: black churches and some white ones fought for civil rights while many other white ones did their best to keep justifying racist oppression.)
- Our first stop today is at Kelly Ingram Park.
- The black civil rights movement was not monolithic. There were other movements and efforts such as the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam. For Dr. King, nonviolence was crucial, and to work with him, you had to prove your commitment to nonviolence. Churches like 16th Street Baptist provided nonviolence training.
- One of the events remembered in the park is what became known later as the Children's Crusade. At least 3,000 kids were arrested, jailed, attacked by police dogs, so on for protesting for freedom.
- Ms. Laquita Middleton was our host and guide at the park. Tara Walton, a city of Birmingham tourism official greeted us there as well.
- Worship service at 16th Street Baptist Church.
- The sermon topic is on being fruitful. Refer to John 15: 1-14.
- I note how the music reinforces the preacher's words, moving then into song and bringing many in the congregation to their feet. Warming up to the sermon.
- Every day is a day of Thanksgiving. Don't wait for dignitaries. (The church's anniversary is coming up) Praise is something you do, not something you manufacture.
- (Naturally, as the preacher comments he also provides motivation to contribute to the collection. No, I am not saying that to just be cynical. You hear it in the words and the rhetoric, which I do find interesting. There is a certain use of various rhetorical devices by the minister.)
- Ushers come by, and the collection plate is passed. Most people use the envelope provided for the donation. (And for the record, I did put a little something. I may be heathen, but I am also polite, and I am sure it will go to a good cause even if I don't agree with everything. Keep reading)
- Observation: they are using a PowerPoint set of slides to signal transitions and points in the worship. (A nod to modernity perhaps? A little something for those like us who, not being regulars, are not familiar with how the service is structured?)
- Observation: much of the singing does presume a prior knowledge. The congregation can pretty much sing on cue (I would not even know where to look in the hymnal that nobody seems to be using). There is enough repetition in the songs that you can pick some of it up to at least try to follow along if so moved.
- The sermon itself. The minister tells us to "always have a Bible. Don't just believe the preacher." Note there are also Bibles provided in the pews, although the more dedicated members do bring their own, well-worn copies.
- The topic: "What's all the fuss about fruit?"
- There is a disconnect from God; you get the sense of a lack of discipline and disruption. Wounds and the worldly pursuits can cause that disconnect.
- So, the question is, how to have a vital connection with Jesus?
- (He starts soft, then works up a rhythm in the sermon's oratory.)
- To have that vital relation, one must seek knowledge.
- The minister refers to previous sermons, where he looked at John 14.
- Jesus will show up to his appointments, but he does keep his own calendar (I have to admit, this was a good, interesting line, but I do wonder. As heathen, my initial reaction was, "oh really?"). Idea: Jesus is your life producer, so he breaks "into commercials" to teach truth, he "breaks into" your program in life.
- As a believer, Jesus is the true vine and source (and there is no room here for Buddha, Mohammed, so on. This is where we start to part ways in this sermon).
- Minister takes it back to the theme of bearing fruit, urging Christians (defined here as those who are "saved") to be fruitful. Believers must show fruit in their lives.
- The three reminders for the sermon (notice there is a structure overall, which blends between keeping it simple and really going a bit in depth in terms of metaphors).
- Vine is attached to the vine. See verses 1-3. The central vine is Jesus, and believers are branches of the vine. The branches are pruned as needed. This is a cut, which can be painful (think a purge). Image: word of God as pesticide to remove pests in the believer's life.
- The branch must abide in the vine. See verses 4-6. The fruitful branch produces for others, if connected to the vine.
- The branch must be available to the vine. See verses 7-11.
- (Since we are on a schedule, we did not stay for the complete service, but this overall gives you the gist of it)
- Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Lunch period. During our lunch, two Berea alums spoke to us about their experiences at Berea College.
- Ms. Mary Palmer, '72. She mentioned that she herself was not as inclusive of others at Berea, on not giving an opportunity to white students. This from a woman who struggled to integrate her high school before coming to Berea. The lesson: don't be quick to have a perception of someone. And why do we still talk of color in 2013? (magnificent question)
- Mr. Masey, '72. As a youth, he went to a "training school." He was then accepted at Berea.
- The alums raise a question: why hasn't the college had a black president yet? In our tour with us is Dr. Linda Strong-Leek is Associate Vice-President of Academic Affairs. The issue (if I am understanding correctly, and do keep in mind, I am still new to the college myself) is that aside from a couple other people in assistant administrative positions like Dr. Linda, there have been no black administrators at the college. (And this is certainly a question and conversation that rises up every so often)
- Visiting the Institute after lunch. I had visited before, years ago when I was in Birmingham for an academic conference. It does remain a moving experience. You still can't truly see it all in one visit, especially when you are on schedule. The institute does great work as an interpretive museum in bringing the Civil Rights era to life. It does offer a lot to take in about this city that was so central to the Civil Rights struggle locally and nationally.