Minnesota Orchestra ‘s “Celebrating Mandela at 100” Concert

As noted in a prior post, the Minnesota Orchestra in the summer of 2018 is producing a multifaceted celebration of the life of Nelson Mandela. It started with a July 20 concert entitled “Celebrating Mandela at 100” at its home, Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, which will be discussed in this post.[1] Below are photographs of the Hall’s exterior and interior.

 

 

 

 

The Concert’s First Half

The concert opened with African rhythms pounded on Djembe drums at the front of the stage by a dozen drummers (10 men, a young boy and a young girl) from the Heart and Soul Drum Academy, St. Paul, Minnesota. They accompanied six girls dancing down the aisles followed by 25 Mandela Washington Fellows[2] carrying the South African and other African flags to the stage to join the U.S. and Minnesota flags. The audience then stood for the Orchestra’s playing the two countries’ national anthems.

“Ruri” (Truly) by South African composer Michael Mosoeu Moerane (1902-1980) was performed by the Orchestra and a Mass Choir of 150 singers[3] to celebrate nature as evidence of divine benevolence.

Insingizi, a Zimbabwean male trio, then sang a selection of African songs.

Throughout the concert a large screen over the Orchestra and Mass Choir displayed English translations of the African lyrics to the vocal numbers and video clips of remembrances of Mandela by prominent people, including former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale and broadcaster Tom Brokaw. A live remembrance was provided by Anant Singh, South Africa’s pre-eminent film producer, who discussed his creation and production of the film, “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” which was based on the autobiography of the same title.

The first half of the concert was closed with the Orchestra’s playing the Finale from Igor Stravinsky’s “The Firebird.”

 The Concert’s Second Half

The Orchestra and Mass Choir again joined forces, this time to perform “Akhala Amaqhude Amabil”  by South African composer James Stephen Mzilikazi Khumalo (b. 1932), who also is a retired professor of African languages and linguistics at a university in Johannesburg. This piece combined two Zulu folk songs featuring the call of the Zulu cock-crow (“Kikilikigi”) that served as the communal morning wake-up calls for people with no time-pieces of any kind. The choir obviously enjoyed singing this amusing piece although the big screen’s English translation of the birds’ call as “cock a doodle doo” was a bit off-putting.

The Orchestra, Mass Choir and audience were blessed with the attendance of Mandela’s eldest daughter, Makaziwe Mandela, who holds a doctorate in anthropology from the University of Massachusetts and now is Chairman of the House of Mandela, a business she started with her daughter, Tukwini, who accompanied her to this concert. Makaziwe described the struggles Mandela and his family made in fighting to end apartheid and added, “Music became a weapon against apartheid” with songs telling her father’s story and educating young people about the struggle. Indeed, music offered him a vision of “a world in harmony, a world governed by empathy and compassion and love” and listening to Handel’s “Messiah” and Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 5” brought tears to his eyes. She also confessed, “I never thought five years after my father has passed away he would be celebrated thousands of miles away in Minnesota.”

The Orchestra and Mass Choir returned to perform “Bawa Thixo Somandla” (Father God Omnipotent) by South African composer, Archibald Arnold Mxolisi Matyila (1938-1985). Composed around 1973, it became a protest song in the 1980’s against the South African government and apartheid.

Next in the program was a video clip by Yo Yo Ma with his words about Mandela and ending with his playing of the Largo movement of  Dvorák’s New World Symphony (Symphony No. 9 in E minor). As Ma was finishing his playing, the Orchestra seamlessly commenced its playing of the movement.

The concert then ended with two more pieces by the Orchestra and Mass Choir.

“More Abundantly” by Sonya Whitmore, an African-American gospel songwriter (arranged by Ricky Dillard, an African-American gospel singer) is now a traditional Gospel song based on the New Testament’s John 10:10: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (NRSV).

The final piece on the concert was “Usilenthela Uxolo (Nelson Mandela).” This is a song derived from a popular hit song by South African jazz legend Stompie Mavi that was adapted for choir by Imilonji KaNtu Choral Society with new text to celebrate Mandela’s release from prison in 1990. Thereafter it has remained popular as an ongoing tribute to Mandela. Its performance at this concert in Minneapolis was a joyous, full-throated rendition by the swaying Mass Choir.

Conclusion

This was a thrilling concert. The African rhythms and lyrics were all new to me as were the lyrics. It made me proud that the Minnesota Orchestra was exploring music that was totally new to them while honoring Mandela, a remarkable, inspiring human being. Now they go to South Africa for five concerts to further explore that country’s music and to meet and practice with its young musicians.

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[1] Minnesota Orchestra, Program;: Sommerfest 2018 at 22-24, 39-41; Ross, Minnesota Orchestra previews South African tour: ‘Music became a weapon against apartheid,’  StarTribune at B1, B6 (July 22, 2018).

[2] The Mandela Washington Fellows are emerging and accomplished Sub-Saharan African leaders who are sponsored by the U.S. State Department and currently studying at the University of Minnesota.

[3] The Mass Choir was composed of members of the Minnesota Chorale, the Better Together Choir from the Minnesota State Baptist Convention Choir and the Bethlehem Baptist Church Choir; the Shiloh Temple International Ministries Choir of Minneapolis; 29:11, a vocal ensemble from Cape Flats in Cape Town, South Africa; and Insingizi, a vocal trio from Zimbabwe.

 

New Uses of New Spaces at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church   

The previous post covered the joyous celebration of the new addition at Westminster Presbyterian Church on Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday, January 14, 2018. Now we examine how that new space will be used after looking at these photographs of the new addition (the last two show a 21st century version of stained glass windows provided by a film application from 3M).

The Westminster Counseling Center— which the church has long supported with funding, office space and administrative support — has new offices on the second floor of the new expansion to provide counseling by licensed psychotherapists, welcoming people of all faiths or none at all to seek counseling and mental health services in an open and welcoming environment. Such services are provided on a sliding-fee scale to ensure  high-quality counseling to those who could not otherwise afford it, no matter their circumstances.

The expansion will also soon house the Harman Center for Child & Family Wellbeing, a new and innovative early intervention clinic of St. David’s Center–Child & Family Development.[1] The Harman Center will occupy approximately 8,000 square feet of space on the second floor, and will primarily serve children from birth to age five who have experienced relational trauma. Services will include an infant team to assess and treat families with children in out-of-home placement, children’s mental health services and pediatric rehabilitative therapies, a clinical training site for graduate students in mental health, and a new home for the Center’s day-treatment program for young Somali children diagnosed with autism. A private space for Islamic prayer will be provided.

The new Recreation Room and adjacent Youth Room offer open, youth-friendly places for Westminster’s young people as well as youth groups from all over the country who often need a place to connect and stay.

In partnership with Hennepin County Library, Westminster will host an onsite senior community center two days per week to respond to the needs of the downtown seniors dispersed by the recent closures of two senior centers in the area. The church also will be providing a safe space for homeless people to store their belongings.

Westminster is planning two new worship services for Westminster Hall: starting February 14, a 6:30 p.m. Wednesday contemplative service called “The Clearing,” and in September, a 5:00 p.m. Sunday service.

There also are these upcoming inaugural events.

January 28 (2:00 p.m.)  Bold Hope in the North. This free and open-to-the-public event is co-sponsored by Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness  and the Super Bowl Host Committee.  100% of the free-will donations at the event will go to the highly effective Emergency Rental Assistance Program (80% of families who received this assistance have remained housed after six months). The program will be emceed by Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey  and  joined by senior clergy from the downtown congregations (Christian, Jewish and Muslim) and two former NFL Vikings stars: punter Greg Coleman and defensive end Mark Mullaney. Music will be provided by J.D. and Fred Steele, Amwaaj Middle Eastern Ensemble, MacPhail Community Youth Choir, Mill City Singers, Spoken- word teen artist Kaaha Kaahiye and Klezmer Cabaret Orchestra. Following the program, attendees will enjoy delicious food from Holy Land Market and assemble dignity bags for people who are homeless (consisting of hygiene products, socks, hand warmers, food, etc.).

February 25 (4:00 p.m.) Annual Youth Coffeehouse Cabaret will be presented by the church’s youth to showcase their talents through individual and group performances and a skit comedy.

March 2 (7:30 p.m.)Cantus, a male chamber a cappella ensemble that has an office and practice space at Westminster, will present the inaugural concert in Westminster Hall, a photograph of which is below. Additional details to be announced.

March 3 (10:30 a.m.—12:30 p.m.). Community Open House and Justice Choir Sing-Along. Tesfa Wondemagegnehu, Westminster’s Director, Choral Ministries, will lead all in the sing-along.

April 17. Harman Center Grand Opening with two events: over the lunch hour will be dedicated to the downtown business community and in the afternoon the broader community will be involved. More details will be forthcoming on its website: https://www.stdavidscenter.org/.

May 5 (5:00 p.m.-8:30 p.m.). Celebration of Open Doors/Open Future Campaign. Worship in the sanctuary to recognize the generosity of the congregation and leaders in the Open Doors Open Futures project. Vice President Walter Mondale, a Westminster member, will be a speaker, as well as several youth and the campaign co-chairs. Afterwards games and activities on both Nicollet and Marquette Green and a  buffet dinner and light appetizers. Watch the Westminster website for updates.

May 17-19. Windows into Palestine: Encountering the Heart of a People through Art. This collaboration among Westminster; its partner congregation, Christmas Lutheran Church of Bethlehem, Palestine; Bright Stars of Bethlehem; and Bethlehem Lutheran Foundation will include an art exhibit, Choral and Instrumental Music, featuring the Georges Lammam Ensemble; Food Tastings and Cooking Demonstrations; Chef Showcase – featuring Chef Sameh Wadi of Minneapolis’ World Street Kitchen and Chef Bassem Hazboun from Bethlehem; and  Spice and Crafts Market. Most of these programs will be at Westminster. Check the festival’s website for more details: https://www.windowsintopalestine.org.

Conclusion

Welcome all to this beautiful new space and inspiring programs!

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[1] St. David’s Center at its Minnetonka campus offers an exceptional preschool, children’s mental health clinic and pediatric therapy clinic as well as day-treatment programs for children with autism and mental health diagnoses.

 

 

 

 

David Brooks Speaks on “The Role of Character in Creating an Excellent Life”

Westminster Presbyterian Church
Westminster Presbyterian Church
David Brooks @ Westminster
David Brooks @ Westminster

This was the title of David Brooks’ May 14th presentation at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Town Hall Forum. An appreciative audience of over 3,000 filled the Sanctuary and other rooms at the church to hear the talk and demonstrated why he called Westminster his “favorite venue.”[1]

Both the talk and his recent book, “The Road to Character,”[2] emphasize “modesty and humility” and assert that “human beings are blessed with many talents but are also burdened by sinfulness, ignorance and weakness” and that “character emerges from the internal struggles against one’s own limitations.” This at least is what the Syllabus for his “Humility” course at Yale University states. Or as he said in his talk, we are “splendidly endowed, but deeply broken.”

Brooks recalled with gratitude three personal uplifting moments. One was observing his then three young children playing on a beautiful day. Another was watching women in Maryland teaching English to immigrants. The last was sitting at a luncheon next to the Dali Lama and experiencing his inner joy and laughter. These moments produced David’s overwhelming sense of gratitude to have experienced these moments of higher joy, an enlargement of his own heart and an acknowledgement that these had happened to him by the grace of God.

Because issues of morals and character in western culture have been discussed by Christian theologians, his book uses their vocabulary. We need to recover and perhaps modernize that vocabulary, said Brooks, especially to recover the meaning and importance of the concept of sin.

He also mentioned that many contemporary U.S. politicians feel compelled to promote and advertise themselves and as a result start to believe their own propaganda. Exceptions of politicians of modesty and honesty are former Vice President Walter Mondale, a Westminster member who was in the audience; Minnesota’s former U.S. Senator David Durenberger; and current U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar.

His book provides biographical sketches of how 10 different people in different ways created disciplines that built character. He mentioned the following six of them in his talk.

Ida Stover by age 11 had lost both of her parents and then was an overworked indentured servant in another household, but at age 15 she left to be on her own, to get a job and an education. Later she married David Eisenhower, became Ida Eisenhower and raised five sons, one being Dwight D. Eisenhower. After Ike threw a temper tantrum at age 10, Ida paraphrased Proverbs 16:32 to him: “He that conquereth his own soul is greater that he who taketh a city.”[3] In other words, the central drama of your life is fighting against your own sinfulness and weaknesses. Many years later Ike said this was one of the most valuable moments of his life that helped him to recognize his temper as a weakness and to develop techniques to prevent it from interfering with his leading others.

Frances Perkins was a genteel graduate of Mount Holyoke College who found her vocation of improving worker safety by happening to be a witness to the Triangle Shirt Factory Fire in Manhattan, in which many workers lost their lives. She responded to what the world was demanding of her.

Augustine for many years resisted his mother’s efforts to become a Christian, but after he had done so, the two of them shared a beautiful moment in a garden just before she died when “all the clamors of the world slipped into silence” and were “hushed.”

Dorothy Day, a social activist, near the end of her life started to write her “life remembered,” but could not do so. Instead she “thought of our Lord [Jesus], and His visit to us all those centuries ago, and I said to myself that my great luck was to have had Him on my mind for so long in my life!” Day’s “The Long Loneliness” shows her intense self-criticism, her discovery of her vocation and her humility. It is one of Brooks’ favorite books and also of the students in his Yale course on humility.[4]

George Eliot (born Mary Anne Evans) obtained character through her love for George Lewes, and such love, according to Brooks, humbles a person, making you realize you are not in control of your own life; allows you to express tenderness and vulnerability; de-centers your self; and fuses two individuals together.

Brooks advised the high school students in the audience to make the following commitments by the time they were at least in their mid-30’s: adopting an existing faith or philosophy of life; choosing a vocation; getting married; and choosing a community in which to live. Although he did not say so, these commitments may change during your life.

With respect to the marriage commitment, Brooks quoted this beautiful excerpt from a beautiful wedding toast that was offered by his friend and noted American author, Leon Weiseltiere, to an unnamed couple:

  • “Brides and grooms are people who have discovered, by means of love, the local nature of happiness. Love is a revolution in scale, a revision of magnitudes; it is private and it is particular; its object is the specificity of this man and that woman, the distinctness of this spirit and that flesh. Love prefers deep to wide, and here to there; the grasp to the reach. It will not be accelerated, or made efficient: love’s pace is its pace, one of the fundamental temporalities of mortal existence, and it will not be rushed or retarded by even the most glittering pressures of service or success. Love is, or should be, indifferent to history, immune to it — a soft and sturdy haven from it: when the day is done, and the lights are out, and there is only this other heart, this other mind, this other face, to assist one in repelling one’s demons or in greeting one’s angels, it does not matter who the president is. When one consents to marry, one consents to be truly known, which is an ominous prospect; and so one bets on love to correct for the ordinariness of the impression, and to call forth the forgiveness that is invariably required by an accurate perception of oneself. Marriages are exposures. We may be heroes to our spouses, but we may not be idols.”

The unnamed couple who were thus toasted were (a) Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, the author of the award-winning book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, and a former Harvard Law School Professor and (b) Cass Sunstein, a Harvard Law School Professor, an acclaimed author and a former aide to President Obama.

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[1] The audio recording of the speech is available online and later the video of same will be added. . Brooks’ prior appearances at the Forum, also to overflow audiences, are also available online: “The Historic Election of Barack Obama” (Nov. 13, 2008) and “The Social Animal: Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement” (Mar. 31, 2011).

[2] The recent book was discussed in the following prior posts: The Important Moral Virtues in David Brooks’ “The Road to Character “ (May 1, 2015) and David Brooks’ Moral Exemplar (May 2, 2015). Brooks has created a website about the new book to foster readers’ comments about character.

[3] The Authorized King James Version of Proverbs 16:32 states: “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.”

[4] The Dorothy Day book is on the 2013 edition of the Syllabus for Brooks’ “Humility” seminar at Yale. The other books on the syllabus as well as the topics covered in the seminar make one wish to be a student again. In light of Brooks’ recent book’s not including biographical sketches of any Jewish people and his comments on that omission to a Jewish critic, it is noteworthy that the Syllabus describes one seminar session as being devoted to Moses, the “most humble man on earth;” the “Jewish formula of character building through obedience to the law;” the “way the rabbinic tradition has interpreted the struggle between internal goodness and the evil urge;” and the Book of Exodus as the reading. The Yale seminar has prompted comments by a student who was in the seminar, criticism of the Syllabus and Brooks’ defense of the seminar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Happens When Jesus Calls?

 

Westminster Sanctury
Westminster Sanctuary
Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen
Rev. Dr. Timothy   Hart-Andersen

The subject of vocation returned to Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church on February 9th. A prior post examined the service’s music on the subject while another set forth the Scriptures for the day: Psalm 27 and Matthew 4:12-23.[1]

The sermon that day was “What Happens When Jesus Calls?” by Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen, the Senior Pastor.Here are excerpts from that sermon.

“If the question is what happens when Jesus calls, the answer may be that when Jesus calls we take a good, long, hard, deep look at what we perceive to be the purpose of our lives. That may suggest a job change, or not; perhaps a shift in careers, or not; it may mean finally discovering our life’s vocation.

The fishermen on the Sea of Galilee have that kind of experience with Jesus when he comes calling. His goal is not that they abandon their chosen vocation arbitrarily, but, rather, to rethink it. He never asks them to stop fishing; he asks them to rethink how and why they are doing it. In fact, Jesus even says to them that they’ll continue in the same line of work – only now they’ll be ‘fishing for people.’ He wants them to ponder who they are and what their focus ought to be in life.

 When Jesus calls, it occasions an examination of our purpose in life, no matter what work we’re engaged in. In the story of Jesus calling the fishermen at least two things happen.

First, Jesus comes looking for them. The call is his idea, not theirs. They were minding their own business when he shows up and invites them to rethink their lives. We don’t have to take the first step toward Jesus; he comes for us, if we’re ready. This is what the psalmist refers to in writing, ‘Wait for the Lord. Be strong. Wait for the Lord.’

So often we think the business of faith depends on us; but it’s a gift from God, not an achievement we attain through hard work and hours of effort. Jesus comes looking for us.

Second, Jesus meets them right where they are. He looks for ordinary people who live ordinary lives. Those four fishermen had no apparent special gifts that made them uniquely attractive candidates to become disciples.

The Church will be built not of princes and priests and power brokers, but of common people who are just like anyone else. Those fishermen went from their boats to become the inner circle of Jesus and later to lead the early Church. Nothing about them suggested that they would be suited for this work. Jesus meets us right where we are.

The call Jesus extends to the fishermen changes them. We who want to follow Jesus without making much in the way of change in our lives, be it in how we conduct our business, or how we spend our time, or how we use our resources, are missing the whole point of Christianity. Faith transforms us. The old life is gone; a new life has begun.

Understanding what it means to be called, to have a vocation, is at the heart of the Presbyterian way of Christianity. Writing in the 16th century, John Calvin said.

  •  ‘The Lord bids each one of us in all life’s actions to look to his (or her) calling. For God knows with what great restlessness human nature flames, with what fickleness it is borne hither and thither, how its ambition longs to embrace various things at once.’

 Calvin may be giving us a peek inside his own personality and psychological make-up when he names the ‘great restlessness’ of human nature. But many of us know precisely what Calvin refers to when he laments the way we flit about from one scheme to another as we seek to find what we’re supposed to be doing in life. Especially today, it’s difficult to know what direction to pursue when our vocation in ten years – or even in one year – may not even exist right now.

‘Therefore,’ Calvin goes on to say, ‘Each individual has his (or her) own kind of living assigned to him (or her) by the Lord as a sort of sentry post so that he (or she) may not heedlessly wander throughout life.’ (John Calvin; Institutes, III.x.6.)

‘Our own kind of living assigned to us so that we might not heedlessly wander throughout life.’

These days the average person will hold between 10 and 15 jobs in a lifetime. I was heading in that direction myself until I finally gave into the nagging sense of call to serve the church. I started seminary at age 27; by that time I had made several exploratory attempts – at least three – to test one career or another, None of them was right. I was having a hard time finding the ‘kind of living assigned to me.’ I was wandering.

Finding my vocation, my calling, depended on my feeling at home in what I was doing. I resisted accepting the call to ministry as long as I could, but in each vocation I tested – teacher, academic scholar, social service worker– I felt as if I were a stranger, as if were not quite at home. Frankly, it also had to do with needing to be sure it was my call and not something I was doing to please someone else – my parents, in particular. [2]

When I was in my mid-20’s, some 15 years later, with my life in a time of upheaval, I began, finally, to consider what I had avoided all those years: whether or not I was called into ministry. I wrestled hard with the decision– for nine months, in a kind of gestating process, I prayed and listened.

And one September Saturday morning, as I was in the bath tub, it came to me that I needed to go to seminary. The water was making a deep connection, I realized later, between baptism and vocation.

Ordained ministry was the one possibility that didn’t leave me feeling as if I were a stranger. It felt like home.

I was finding my vocation, not what my parents wanted me to do, but what I felt called to do.

Think back on your own employment history; you may be surprised how many different jobs you’ve held or careers you’ve tried, but that may or may not have anything to do with the ‘heedless wandering’ Calvin was concerned about. Christian vocation is less about a particular job and more about how we approach that job, less about what career we choose and more about the underlying purpose we sense in our lives, and how that purpose manifests itself in whatever work we do.

Nothing more thrills a pastor than to see changes happening in the lives of parishioners. I’ve seen hard-charging business leaders switch to non-profit careers because they feel called to serve the community in a new way. I’ve seen teachers give themselves over utterly to their students because they sense a call to live like that. I’ve watched retired people discover new ways to serve and follow Jesus in their later years. I’ve seen young adults light up as they discover their vocation and pursue it with determination.

When Jesus calls we get up and go, stepping forward in the direction of the one calling us. Being a follower of Jesus is not a destination; that’s what those fishermen learned that day. Being called to follow Jesus is a way of life, a pilgrimage on which we embark together.

The occasion of a memorial service – any memorial service, not only that of a much-loved public figure [like Joan Mondale][3] – invites us to reflect not only on the life of the one who has died, but also on the life you and I lead.

Someday it will be we about whom they will be speaking. What will they say? What will be the summary of the highest priorities of our lives? What will they say was the central theme of our lives?

Thanks be to God.”


[1] The bulletin, a copy of the sermon and an audio and video recording of the service are available online as are the ones for the January 26th service about vocation. Prior posts have discussed that service’s (a) Prayer of Confession; (b) an anthem beginning with the words “God be in my head;” (c) passages from the Bible’s book of Acts and the sermon’s drawing on them for comments concerning the vocations of Tabitha, Peter, Lydia and Paul; (d) a passage from Paul’s epistle from a Roman prison and the sermon’s drawing on them for comments about the preacher’s and her people’s vocations; (e) a hymn, “How Clear Is Our Vocation, Lord;” (f) another hymn, “Give Thanks, O Christian People;” and (g) an anthem, “Forth in Thy Name, O Lord, I Go.” Clicking on “Westminster Presbyterian Church” in the Tag Cloud at the top right of the blog will give you all of the posts about the church in reverse chronological order of posting.

[2] Rev. Hart-Andersen’s father–Rev. Dr. Henry William Andersen–was an esteemed Presbyterian minister, who died last year.

[3] The prior day Rev. Dr. Hart-Andersen had presided at the memorial service at Westminster for long-time member and former Second Lady Joan Mondale, with remembrances from friends and acquaintances, including Vice President Joe Biden and former President Jimmy Carter. Included in the 1,000 people at the service were her husband and former Vice President Walter Mondale, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton (who is a Westminster member), two U.S. Senators, half the Minnesota congressional delegation, several mayors, brass and strings from the  Minnesota Orchestra, the Macalester College Choir and Pipe Band, gospel musicians, and a Japanese solo vocalist Another 5,000 people, including this blogger, attended via the live-stream video, which is available online.

Former U.S. Senator and Vice President, Walter Mondale, Supports Changing the Senate Filibuster Rule

 MondaleFormer U.S. Senator and Vice President Walter Mondale supports changing the Senate’s filibuster rule to make the body more accountable and responsive to the needs of the people.

He did so in testimony before the Senate’s Rules Committee on May 19, 2010.

Mondale reminded the Committee that a majority of the Senate “shall constitute a Quorum to do Business” under Article I, Section 5(1) of the U.S. Constitution, and that the Senate with such a quorum has the constitutional power and authority under Article I, Section 5(2) of the Constitution to “determine the Rules of its Proceedings.” (Emphasis added.) This necessarily means that the Senate may establish such rules by a simple majority vote.

Moreover, according to Mondale, the Framers of the Constitution were wary of requiring super-majorities in the Congress and made such a requirement express in only a few instances.

Mondale was in the Senate in 1975 when the filibuster rule was last amended. He testified that he was a leader of that reform effort and that on at least three separate occasions at that time the Senate voted by a simple majority vote to change the body’s rules. This procedural point was endorsed by Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who was generally regarded as the expert on Senate procedures. In short, the Senate actions in 1975 recognized that the previously mentioned constitutional provisions trumped any Senate precedents or practices.

Mondale also made the following specific suggestions on any reform of the filibuster rule:

  • First, the power of an individual Senator to put a “hold” on the Senate’s consideration of its providing its Advice and Consent to a presidential nomination needs to be weakened so that a motion to proceed on any such nomination could be adopted by a simple majority vote either without debate or debatable for a limited amount of time such as two hours.
  • Second, the vote necessary to invoke cloture and stop debate should be lowered from 60 to somewhere between 55 and 58.

This past week Mondale said he was worried that the current proposed rule changes, while of value, may not be sufficient to prevent the Senate’s paralysis if 60 votes will still be required to invoke cloture and end debate. The record of the Senate’s Republican minority in the current session of Congress and their current rhetorical resistance to any changes in the filibuster rule do not give one confidence that there will be a significant change in their behavior in the next session of Congress.

This blogger concurs in this pessimism about the sufficiency of the current reform proposals. We do not want a perpetuation of the tyranny of the minority.

Westminster Town Hall Forum

The Westminster Town Hall Forum engages the public in reflection and dialogue on the key issues of our day from an ethical perspective. The Forum is nonpartisan and nonsectarian.[1]

Westminster Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis

Forums are free and open to the public. They are held on select Thursdays from September through May from noon to 1:00 p.m. (CT) at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Nicollet Mall and 12th Street, in downtown Minneapolis. Each forum is preceded by music at 11:30 a.m. A public reception and small group discussion follow the forum from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. The Forum presentations also are broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio.

The Forum started over 30 years ago with its first speaker, Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox. Since then it has featured over 200 speakers, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the inspirational South African leader; Elie Wiesel, the author and Holocaust survivor; Arthur Schlesinger, American historian and presidential assistant; Ellen Goodman, newspaper columnist; Cornel West, Princeton University Professor; Gwen Ifill, television journalist; Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist; Robert Coles, author, child psychiatrist and Harvard University Professor; Walter Mondale, former U.S. Senator and Vice President; Salman Rushdie, novelist;  and Edward Albee, playwright.

David Brooks at Forum

David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, author and commentator, has appeared twice in recent years at the Forum, to audiences of over 3,000 each time.


[1] Westminster Town Hall Forum, http://westminsterforum.org/.