Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Ideas Trekking through Time

When most people consider travel, they think of a journey from place to place, from one physical location to another. Over the course of the semester, we’ve discussed a much broader definition, however: travel through time, through memory, through a book or within oneself. Every journey, regardless of its form, results in some sort of change to or growth of the traveler.  In its traditional form, the ability to travel is limited to people and things, tangible objects with the capacity to physically move. As we’ve seen, travel does not occur distinctly through space; similarly, it is not only people and things that are able to experience the development that accompanies a voyage.  Both King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and Kolvenbach’s “The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education,” demonstrate that theory. These works illustrate the evolution of an idea through time.
Although “confined […] in the Birmingham city jail,” King writes and explains the practice of nonviolent civil disobedience and its progress from the classic Greeks to the 1960s U.S. civil rights movement. He explains that Socrates promoted intellectual tension as a way to escape false knowledge in the same way that the protesters in the South create societal tension to force policy change (2). He directly traces the development of the sit-ins, negotiations, protests and direct action of his Birmingham campaign from the early Christians to the revolutionaries of the Boston Tea Party (5).  He points to many “creative extremists” (7) such as Jesus Christ, Amos, Saint Paul, Martin Luther, John Bunyan, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. All of these men represented examples of the commitment and determination needed in order for the U.S. black population to succeed in their demand for equal rights. King shows that his approach to social change is not new, but simply manipulated to fit the unique situation of the segregated South.
Just as King traces the lineage of his ideology, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach speaks about the growth of Jesuit higher education and its modern-day tenets, particularly Decree 4 which states “the service of faith and the promotion of justice” (25). He looks to the origins of the Society of Jesus in the 14th century and their growth through the Second Vatican Council and their 32nd General Congregation (23). He discusses the changing nature of “the whole person” from the “Counter-Reformation, the Industrial Revolution, [to] the 20th century” (34). He acknowledges that environment of the United States requires for the molding of Jesuit values; the “unprecedented prosperity,” global economic involvement, and the “thousands of immigrants” are factors which lead to “a remarkable cultural and class diversity” (31) in the United States. Jesuit practices and standards, as reflected in its universities’ students, faculty, and character, must be reactive and applicable to the world and its current needs according to Kolvenbach.  
 King writes that “time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively” (6).  Just a people are influenced by the passage of time, ideas also “travel” from one day or decade to the next. Both King and Kolvenbach seem to assert that time has been used constructively in respect to their beliefs. King is optimistic about his pursuit of a justice because of the “sacred heritage of [his] nation” (10) and the historical development of his direct action practices. The modification of those tools over time allows his campaign to be responsive and successful in the fight for black equality and civil rights. In the same way, Kolvenbach speaks about “the new century” (40) as one of progress, as one in which Degree 4 will be “an ideal to keep taking up and working at” (41). Our global and local communities, the whole of human society and individuals, continue to be affected by our history as well as our present reality. These texts allow us to recognize the same trend in our ideas, beliefs and practices; these abstract entities “travel” and change just as we do.   

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