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Origins of the term “URGENCY OF NOW”

Betsy Abramson, TBE Urgency of Now Coordinator

In 2017, the Union for Reform Judaism’s (URJ) social justice arm, the Religious Action Center (“the RAC”) unveiled the “Urgency of Now” Initiative. This Initiative focuses on building power and momentum by engaging Reform congregations in issue-specific social justice work that enables congregants to benefit and learn from one another. The RAC launched this initiative because developing a strong network of active and empowered congregations is imperative to the sacred work of tikkun olam (“repair of the world”). Temple Beth El is engaged in this work focusing on all three issues identified by the RAC: (1) Immigrant Rights; (2) Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System; and (3) Transgender Rights.

On Tuesday, February 13, 2018, the Temple Beth El Board of Trustees voted unanimously to approve the proposal of the Urgency of Now Steering Committee and Immigration Rights Action Team to join the Dane Sanctuary Coalition, https://wisconsinfaithvoicesforjustice.weebly.com/dane-sanctuary-coalition.html I know I speak for the entire UON Steering Committee in expressing how thrilled we are that at this critical time, Temple is stepping up to deepen our engagement and commitment to this extremely important issue. Listening to the discussion and witnessing the Board’s unanimous vote, I thought of the sermon given by Martin Luther King Jr., in April 1967, entitled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” in which he urged protest against the Vietnam War and first spoke of the “Fierce Urgency of Now.” I find his words just as relevant today as they were 51 years ago.

From Beyond Vietnam by Martin Luther King, Jr. (1967):

“These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression and out of the wombs of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” We in the West must support these revolutions. It is a sad fact that, because of comfort, complacency, a
morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries . . . Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.

With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores and thereby speed the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain.”

A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men . . . When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying
principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. …

Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate.

We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The “tide in the affairs of men” does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage,
but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on…” We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.

We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace . . . and justice throughout the developing world — a world that borders on our doors. If we do
not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter — but beautiful — struggle for a new world. … Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? … Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.”

Amen.

August 23, 2019 22 Av 5779