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Sunday at the Square: Freedom and responsibility

purple-state-of-mind.jpgCraig Detweiler writes about the need for the dueling worldviews of the 50’s and the 60’s to come together, to value the lessons of responsibility from the 50’s and the benefits of freedom from the 60’s. “A purple state of mind borrows from both, combining freedom and responsibility.”

From a secular perspective, this is a repetition of the Village Square lesson that we – as a society – are not really whole unless we can engage with people who don’t see it our way. Out of that engagement comes an understanding of our blindspots and hopefully – eventually – better ideas.

From a Christian perspective, he writes in his book Purple State of Mind: Finding Middle Ground in a Divided Culture:

Our desperate need for freedom and responsibility rests in the seemingly contradictory letters of the apostle Paul. He applied his godly advice in a unique way for the audience he was addressing. To Corinthian Christians navigating a libertine culture, he preached caution. Yet to the uptight church in Galatia, Paul preaches freedom. Is Paul contradicting himself? In each letter, he concludes with an appeal to love. He preaches freedom to Galatia and responsibility to Corinth because they each need to apply the message in a unique way.

Unfortunately, we often fail to identify our particular blind spots. Legalistic churches will often reiterate the call to purity given to the Corinthians. Lax churches will return to Paul’s letter to the Galatians to justify more license. Those who need freedom cling to responsibility. Christians who need to learn responsibility insist upon the freedom Paul grants to Galatia. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

Purple Epilogue: Atheists’ gift to the faithful

purple-state-of-mind.jpg To you, I’m an atheist. To God, I’m the loyal opposition.
–Woody Allen, Stardust Memories

From Craig Detweiler’s Purple State of Mind: Finding Middle Ground in a Divided Culture:

In listening to [John’s] hard questions, I am processing my own. German theologian Jurgen Moltmann asks the humbling question, “Is not every unbeliever who has a reason for his atheism and his decision not to believe a theologian too?”

Perhaps atheists offer Christians a great gift, some much-needed perspective. We can be strengthened and even encouraged by the loyal opposition…

Today’s atheists continue Nietzsche’s important idol-smashing work. They rightly expose toxic expressions of faith. They decry abuse of power and resistance to scientific progress, places where organized religion brought death rather than life. Just as ancient Israel needed correction, so the Christian community needs such critics. It is far too easy for us to get defensive.

Sunday at the Square: Civility on the Christian Right

The New York Times’ Peter Steinfels writes about a book by Jon A. Shields:

If you wanted a book title to speed the pulse of liberal academics, journalists and politicians, you couldn’t do much better than “The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right.” For many people that’s a title akin to “The Winning Ways of Serial Killers…”

“The vast majority of Christian-right leaders,” he writes, “have long labored to inculcate deliberative norms in their rank-and-file activists – especially the practice of civility and respect; the cultivation of dialogue by listening and asking questions; the rejection of appeals to theology; and the practice of careful moral reasoning.”

Mr. Shields, a 34-year-old assistant professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California, reached this conclusion after interviewing leaders of 30 Christian-right organizations, attending training seminars and surveying the materials used to instruct the rank and file.

Again and again he encountered the same injunctions: Remain civil. Engage others in conversation by inquiring into their viewpoints. Eschew arguments based on religion or the Bible in favor of facts and reasoning that might persuade people regardless of their religious convictions.

Read Steinfels’ piece in its entirety here.

A Bastille Day Special: Let them eat (purple) cake

LET-THEM-EAT-PURPLE-CAKESeldom have four words ever brought such disastrous consequence to the person who uttered them, or so goes the legend of Marie Antoinette, “Let them eat cake,” and that nasty business of her public beheading.

While a visit to modern day France finds Versailles proper positively dripping with the wretched excess history has assigned it, Domaine de Marie-Antoinette, the private residence of the French queen, tells a somewhat different story. Rather than the gilded surroundings the king’s riches would surely have afforded her, she built a likeness of a quaint Austrian village, complete with working vineyards and livestock.

Could Marie-Antoinette – symbol the world over of condescending wealth – be misunderstood? My trip to France last summer had me scratching my head and returning home to learn more about the queen we love to hate.

Turns out the words we’ve put in poor Marie-Antoinette’s mouth may have been spoken – if spoken at all – by the wife of a different King Louis decades earlier. And even if the doomed queen had said it, a familiarity with French law regulating the price of bread suggests she would have probably meant “let them eat expensive bread with less flour in it for the same price,” a rather generous and common sense suggestion during a flour shortage.

We do know that Marie-Antoinette said “it is quite certain that in seeing the people who treat us so well despite their own misfortune, we are more obliged than ever to work hard for their happiness.”


Apparently when vein-poppingly angry people pick up their pitchforks and roll out the guillotine, they’ve been known to get it wrong from time to time.

The Marie Antoniette Action Figure with Ejectable Head, will be given away as a door prize at a coming Village Square dinner!

The Marie Antoniette Action Figure with Ejectable Head, actual Village Square door prize!

As uber-partisanship and the culture war have opened a gulf between us, we have been toting our own pitchforks lately. We’ve created opposing custom-ordered villains a la Marie-Antoinette, complete with oft-repeated misquotes, half quotes, and an occasional story spun of whole cloth.

In Revolutionary France, misinformation about the queen was fueled by the libelles – venomous slander-filled booklets produced by political opponents. Besting the distribution of French libelles, America’s present day incarnation sends distortions by email clear across the universe tout de suite.

Even as Americans are called to other countries to handle the fallout of ideological hatred gone to seed, we have a homegrown and thankfully only verbal – version of what journalist John Marks calls “wars of absolute dichotomy” brewing, fueled in part by a lot that we’re getting plain wrong about each other.

John, assigned to cover Bosnia for U.S. News & World Report, has seen the danger of absolute dichotomy. He’s since teamed with college roommate filmmaker Craig Detweiler to make the film “Purple State of Mind,”a conversation between friends with different religious worldviews. John and Craig were our Village Square guests in Tallahassee in 2009 – see their program here.

John explains that shaking up partisan red and blue to make “purple” isn’t really about seeking homogenized agreement but “about taking ourselves and our concerns seriously enough to demand the utmost of ourselves and our political and cultural opponents, the utmost in moral and intellectual rigor, the utmost in compassion and decency.”

On the queen’s behalf, I’d add “the utmost in factual accuracy.”

If we’re going to bring the best of America to bear on the big problems ahead, we can ill afford the cartoon version of a civic dialog that neglects the real consequences of creating fictions rather than grasping facts. At another perilous time in our history, the Founding Fathers set a high bar for the debate because they couldn’t afford the luxury of getting it wrong.

Marie-Antoinette met her end at Place de la Concorde, Revolutionary France’s version of our televised public square, where her beheading earned the eighteenth century’s equivalent of high Nielsen ratings. Whether or not she had it coming, most of us would like to think our decision-making has grown to reflect a higher standard in the couple of centuries since, regardless of potential for market share.

As we begin writing the history of what happens next in America, perhaps we can start by at least getting the quotes right. To do that, we might occasionally put down our pitchforks long enough to break bread with someone who doesn’t see it our way. Or, maybe, in a hat tip to learning the lessons of history, we should eat cake instead.

Only this time, make it purple.


Liz Joyner is Executive Director of the Village Square

New rule: If you call names, you lose credibility

Has anyone else tired of the name-calling?

I thought so.

Why don’t we decide that from now on, if you have a hair-trigger “fascist” “socialist” “Hitler” “Antichrist” name-calling tick, we’re going to stop taking you seriously.

If you’re compelled to keep doing it anyway, you might want to stop to consider whether you’re doing your ideas good or harm. Plus you might need to save these terms for real radicals so the words still mean something.

And you might want to get out more.

There have been different ideas advanced by true patriots of different ideological persuasions from the very beginning of this country of ours.

Irony is dead.

Rush Limbaugh called Barack Obama “mean” today for his bad bowling joke.

Like how quickly the world owes him something he knew existed like ten seconds ago

“We live in an amazing, amazing world, and it’s wasted on the crappiest generation of spoiled idiots.”

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When America is in trouble, you invest in it

On the reopening of trading on Wall Street after 9/11:

“They lifted the New York Stock Exchange covered with ash-the monitors on the floor literally thick with ash, the trading floor badly damaged-and one week later, seven days, they were lined up ready to roar and ringing the bell. That day, for the first and only time in my life, I bought a stock-five thousand dollars worth, of J&J-and as I bought it on the Internet, I called my son over to watch me hit “Enter” so he would understand for the rest of his life that when America is in trouble you invest in it, you put what you’ve got right there.”

–Peggy Noonan in Patriotic Grace: What It Is and Why We Need It Now

Who’s the culprit in the financial meltdown?


“It’s like Murder on the Orient Express. At the end, every single person stuck a knife in the victim.”
Susie Welch, BusinessWeek

“There are 300 million villains here and they are the great American people who went on a shopping spree they couldn’t afford.”
— Conservative commentator George Will

From today’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos

The Governator on partisanship

“The horrible thing about politics is the more they attack each other, the more they try to derail each other, the worse it is for the people.” –California Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on This Week with George Stephanopoulos

Parker Palmer on holding tensions


From yesterday’s Bill Moyers Journal, Parker Palmer, founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal.

We want instant resolution. You give us a tension. We want it to get it over with in 15 minutes. We do it in everything from microcosmic situations to what happened in this country after September 11th, which is one of the great tragedies of our time, not only September 11th but our national response to it. We had an opportunity in the weeks following September 11th to really connect in new ways with the rest of the world, who were showing toward us compassion, which means suffering with.

They were saying today I, too, am an American, despite the fact that they knew more of this kind of suffering than we did. And we had caused some of theirs. Around the world people were saying, “Today I am an American.”

Well, if we had held the tension between that attack, that horrific criminal attack, and this possibility of connecting and deepening compassion, held it not through inaction but through what Bill Coffin called the justice strategy rather than the warfare strategy. If we had done that I think we would have opened a new possibility in American life. But we couldn’t. The 15 minutes elapsed and we had to hit back.

John Marks: Krill


One of our two April 21st Purple State of Mind speakers, former 60 Minutes producer, novelist, and journalist John Marks… on the state of the media today The Death of American News, and why it’s really our funeral:

… Honestly, how could I be quiet when so many others are cheering the demise of the great, hated Mainstream Media? And especially when the people who are cheering are the ones most likely to be undone by this death?

Given my background, it won’t surprise anyone to know that I see this downfall as tragic for Americans and disastrous for our common future. How shall I put it? If, as now seems likely, we do lose the best part of our once healthy and relatively independent press, if we dispense with a professional class that aspired to objectivity, however imperfectly, we will have put in place a necessary precondition to collective suicide…

In a democracy, for people to despise the sources of hard information, however impure, is a form of death wish. My hope is that it’s just a phase, but my experience in the Balkans tells me that such phases can lead to total eclipse. In a vaccuum of information, fanatics thrive, and death wishes come true.

Is the Internet the answer? Not yet. It’s too diffuse, too unreliable and not yet profitable, so no one will put enough resources into it to underwrite serious reporting. In short, our old press is dying before a new one can be born.

American journalism was never perfect. In ways small and large, it often failed to rise to its highest standards…

The mistakes should not obscure the glories of the profession at its best. How many citizens of this country appreciate the journalists we never hear about, the ones who go to endless school board meetings till midnight before going back to the office to write about it? Who cover city hall and the water board and god knows what else so the rest of us won’t have to attend?

The stories written by those reporters are like krill in the sea, fed on by the bigger fish, who, in turn, are nutrients for the giants of the profession, an ecosystem of information, filtering up from the city desks of small towns to the network evening news shows, now decimated by the financial equivalent of global warming. When the krill die, so does everything else.

With malice toward none


“The legitimate object of government is to do for the people what needs to be done but which they cannot by individual effort do it all or do so well by themselves.” — Abraham Lincoln

“You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.” —Abraham Lincoln

I cannot let this year’s President’s Day end, this 200th year after the birth of Abraham Lincoln, without a note on the strain of ideologies we’re experiencing in America today. During this past week, I heard the first of these Lincoln quotes repeated by President Obama, I saw the second on a bumper sticker on a car.

Both, most of us would agree, are true at some level. But the rub is that these two true statements, made by the same man, can conflict as well. If you push a little too forcefully on one premise, you can violate the other.

Here’s our premise: It’s the holding of both simultaneously, amidst the discomfort that inevitably creates, that is the greatness of this country. Sometimes that means one group of people push one side and a second group pushes another – and then the marketplace of great American ideas comes from all that pushing.

Although this dissension surely has its place in a healthy democracy, I’d argue we’re off course because too many of us fall in a “camp” and too few of us are willing to struggle with the conflicting ideas. Human nature wants to vilify and simplify. We want easy.

And I’d argue that real statesmanship in our leaders comes from the ability to hold dissonant ideas in tension.

Lincoln did that.

When we start hating, really hating, the other side of the argument in the great ongoing American argument, we kill the balance, we kill the tension that has to exist.

We’ve been doing a lot of hating lately.

With malice toward none…”

May the “work we are in,” sustain America another 200 years.