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My state of mind will always be Purple.

I was reminded by my friend (and political opposite) Lea that this week marks the 6th anniversary of the Purple State of Mind duo visiting Tallahassee – a visit that inspired so very much. To mark the occasion of our anniversary with John and Craig, today seemed to be a wonderful occasion to re-run our tribute to them. John and Craig, we love you.

There are some people who change your life forever from the minute they walk into it. Hard to believe it was just four years ago since it happened with the partners in Purple State of Mind, John Marks and Craig Detweiler.

Before the holidays, the Purple pair announced that they’re calling it a day for their Purple State of Mind website, being the busy guys that they are with many new things on the horizon.

In John’s Farewell to Arms he reflected:

Lacking in the appropriate humility, perhaps, we thought we might bring a tone of moderation, conviviality and openness to a dialogue with someone whose views of the world we did not share and by extension to the national discourse. It’s an open question whether we succeeded at the former. We failed with epic grandeur at the latter. Rhetoric that was mean-spirited and intolerant seven years ago has become embittered, ferocious and increasingly violent today.

John couldn’t be more correct in his assessment that despite efforts like Purple, the national dialogue has gotten worse. But I’d like to suggest to John that he’s looking around instead of down. Looking down shows an entirely different reality.

John and Craig, over these years, have traveled America planting little Purple seeds. Like they did in Tallahassee, they came in, made lifelong friends and changed hearts. They planted possibilities that in some cases – in our case – has grown to reality.

There are daunting, overwhelming forces that are creating the rancor our nation is currently laboring under. Here’s a partial list: The internet, search algorithms on the internet, email chain letters, the fiscal crisis, unemployment, highly targeted marketing techniques, demographic and sociological trends, 24-hour news, talk radio, and – the big elephant in the room – human nature.

The only way anything will ever change is that crazy people with big ideas about what can be different plant seeds.

In his goodbye post, John called The Village Square a “real world vision of where the Purple idea can go.” We humbly accept that less as a current reality and more as an aspiration for what we might become. “Purple State of Mind” is a category on our blog. There are five pages of Purple graphics in my WordPress image library. There are 2,258 hits when I search my computer for “Purple.” There are 34 pages of Google hits for a “Purple State of Mind” search.

Because of John and Craig, I will forever capitalize a color, I think that pretty much says it all about what it is they did in one little corner of this big angry world. (And they even did it with their shirts on, see below…)

Everything we ever do will be tinted Purple. And that is a start.

What Stephen Kiernan taught me about loving America (and getting back to Kansas)

A few realizations hit like a ton of bricks. Then try as you might, there’s no going back to before you understood.

Spending a couple days with Stephen Kiernan, award-winning journalist and author of Authentic Patriotism: Restoring America’s Founding Ideals through Selfless Action (paperback release was just last week) was both personally delightful and a little unsettling in its conscience-pricking moments.

Turns out America’s new favorite pastime of screaming obscenities at each other from our easy chairs isn’t exactly what our founders had in mind when they kicked around that audacious notion of self-governance. Read all »

Consider the lemon tree

Recently, as he promoted his “Restoring Courage” event in Jerusalem in August, Glenn Beck recalled the moving, meaningful and important movie Schindler’s List. His guests shared stories of courage in saving lives of Jews during WWII.

The safety and security of the Jewish people and the state of Israel is one near to American hearts for deeply human and compelling reasons, even if you sidestep the loaded topic of biblical history and prophecy that Beck is invoking.

Sandy Tolan’s The Lemon Tree tells part of the history of the Jewish people during the establishment of the State of Israel and the central conflict in the Middle East through the very personal history one home in Ramallah, built by an Arab family who was later forced by events to leave it.

It tells the story of a Bulgarian Jewish family who fled Europe after the war to Israel with nothing but the dream of returning to their ancient homeland after the horror they had endured. In the tumult of politics, people and their imperfection, Jewish families were allowed to claim homes that had been left by fleeing Palestinians.

It tells of the lemon tree planted in the backyard of this home by the Arab family who had to leave it.

The adult daughter of the Jewish immigrants who had claimed the home would consider two histories of the land many years later after having been visited by the son of the family who had built the home: "I had to acknowledge that this is my childhood home, my parents lived here until they died, my memories are all here, but that this house was built by another family, and their memories are here. I had to acknowledge absolutely all of it." The visit was the beginning of a difficult, challenging friendship between the two.

The son returned to be questioned by his family about his visit to the home they had not seen since being forced to leave:

Did the light still stream in through the south windows in the afternoon? Were the pillars on the gate still standing straight? Was the front gate still painted olive green? Was the paint chipping? If it still is, when you go back you can bring, a can of paint to make it new again; you can bring shears and cut the grass growing up along the stone lath. How is the lemon tree, does it look nice? Did you bring the fruit? Did you rub the leaves and smell them, did your fingers smell like fresh-cut lemons?

The tragedy of the Middle East is deep and wide. It has planted much hatred which has since gone to seed. The Jewish people and the Palestinian people know both the tragedy and the hatred. In time, the victim becomes the aggressor, and back again the victim in an endless spin of loss, heartache, blame, retribution, repeat.

We cannot afford to look at the situation from a comfortable vantage point – one that starts the story from the transgression that most favors “our side” and pretends that what came before doesn’t exist; ignoring facts along the way that don’t confirm our righteousness. This is not a comfortable story if you tell it truly. Telling comfortable stories only serve ultimately to accelerate tragedy.

In his presentation Beck warned, as he is prone to do, not to blur the line between good and evil. A world view that places all evil over there (whether “there” is across the street, across the aisle or across the Israeli West Bank barrier) while all goodness resides here is self-deceiving, self-serving, belies the teachings of faith and only serves to pour gasoline on what is already well beyond combustible.

And what connects us? The same thing that separates us. This land.

"Our enemy," the Jewish daughter said softly, "is the only partner we have."

This is usually true in epic, entrenched conflict… if you look closely enough to see the lemon tree.

Our Crossroads, Mr. Franklin

I spent last night into the wee hours editing the video of The Big Sort from our February visit from Bill Bishop. It could have been exhaustion from the tedious process of video editing but I ended the evening with an even more onerous feeling about the importance of where we turn from here in our life as a country. I was struck with the heavy realization that what Bill describes and documents in his must-read book may be the beginnings of our form of government gone to seed.

“A Republic, if you can keep it” were Franklin’s haunting words. If we are half the patriots we like to say we are, times a wasting for the actions required to do so.

A “government by and for the people”, by definition, requires that we engage in the conversation of governance. “Us” doesn’t have to mean you and me literally, but at the very least it means the people we elected to govern for us. In case you haven’t noticed, they aren’t. They’re only partly to blame though because when they hold their fingers in the political wind – as they are apt to do – they know that we don’t exactly want them to. Read all »

My Purple Post: The Village Square">My Purple Post: The Village Square

Why not hop on over to visit with our Purple State of Mind friends John & Craig to read this there. And while you’re there, check out the latest Purple Interview.

I had a wonderful meeting last week with a member of my board who parenthetically commented that he loved the name “The Village Square”. For him, it conjured up an experience from his travels to a small Italian village. At night, the people – from all walks of life, young and old – would find themselves congregating in the town square. They’d talk about their day, their life, their dreams. This struck me with particular force because in our meeting was the intern he had randomly assigned to help us who – through some lucky stroke of small world chance – happened to be a lovely young woman who was one of my daughter’s best friends as a child. It made the meeting and the image of his “Village Square” unusually hauntingly beautiful. I just couldn’t shake it as I went about the rest of my day that was distinctly lacking in another similar experience.

At the end of my day, I came home to my family in the suburbs. I was thinking about what it might be like if instead of gathering in the living room and pulling out our laptops, we ambled down to the local town square. There I would find my family and my neighbors families, completely unexpected conversations, a food vendor or two, a few kids kicking around soccer balls, pets following behind. The connections that naturally exist in the town square form a natural support for the civil society (including civic and political decisions) that must rest on it.

A town square at sunset becomes a melting pot, its humanity stirred into a swirl of colors and directions and ideas. In it is an implied compromise: I walk away just a bit from “me” to become “us.” Yet this is so vanilla compared to the bold individual colors we’ve become used to painting with in our lives. The uber-individualization of our times encourages us to boldly pick the direction of our own lives, down to an exact compass degree. Just to our left and our right in the spinning of our lives are other people existing just one degree off our path who we don’t necessarily feel compelled to make into an “us.”

With all of the wonderful individual muscles we flex in service of our own unique life goals, I think we know we have lost something profound, that we know in our very core that we need more people in our lives, even if they’re people infuriatingly unlike us.

My friend Lea just sent me a blog post that made this same point from a Christian perspective. But for my rhetorical purposes, I’ll borrow just a snip from author Donald Miller about the biology of our need for people:

What is most important to heart health, according to [extensive research performed by heart surgeon Dean] Ornish, is community. That’s right…other people. Patients who suffered from a heart attack were more likely to recover if they had a dog, and also if they were in a good marriage, and then also if they were part of a close-knit community. They could also take medicine, but the medicine helped about as much as the community, Ornish found.

As our human connection goes high tech and twitter, our loss may be incalculable.

I think conservatives understand this intuitively better than liberals do. And conservatives, particularly religious conservatives, have more “town squares” in their lives than a typical liberal. Maybe that’s part of what intuitively concerns conservative Americans – that the fabric is coming unraveled. And, as Jonathan Haidt astutely observes in his Ted.com lecture on the differences between liberals and conservatives, conservatives know that order is so much harder to build than it is to destroy.

It’s simply an unalterable fact that our new town square is partly online. We’ll strive to humanize it, we’ll probably even succeed now and again, like at Purple State of Mind. But unless we can find an occasional evening in our lives to venture out into the village square, we’ll be forever poorer for it – possibly in ways too profound to fully grasp.

(Photo credit: Paolo Margari)

Fire and Water in Florida

Fire came one sunny September morning to America nine years ago tomorrow. It was bright and blinding and so unexpected that even these many years later we can barely look directly at it.

Fire spreads.

When radical Islamists chose to set fire to America, the consequences – human nature being what it is – were probably to some extent predetermined: There would be more fire.

Former Catholic nun Karen Armstrong writes in The Battle for God that extremism of one ilk exists because extremism of the other does. Extreme action on one side provokes an equal and opposite extreme reaction on the other. And so it goes, with many flavors of homegrown extremism having taken center stage since the 9/11 attack. Tomorrow’s installment of extremism, straight from central casting, was to be a ceremonial Quran burning. (At this writing it’s been suspended but it is not yet clear if “suspended” really means canceled in what has inexplicably become a Muslim/Christian he said/he said. You can’t make this stuff up.)

Outside of burning California hillsides, fighting fire with fire doesn’t really work. Most people with a stake is seeing a fire put out use water instead.

In the days after 9/11, in one of the innumerable searching conversations happening in the American family, my brother (a military man well acquainted with “fire”) imagined how he wanted America’s reaction to play out: We’d capture Bin Laden alive, then bring him back to New York City, get him a good lawyer and put him on trial. Then, in the darkest and least civilized corners of the world, that America would ensure such a man a fair trial in our abiding commitment to the rule of law would shine a light so bright that the forces in the world that build would irrevocably trump the forces that destroy.

My brother was describing water.

That conversation – and more generally the tragedy of 9/11 – were no small part the genesis of what would eventually become our Tallahassee Florida go at dousing the fire with water by building The Village Square.

But fire is flammable and demands attention and 50 members of a congregation a couple hours south of us has been getting international news coverage by pouring gasoline on it (by using water, The Village Square is lucky if we get covered in local briefs). Fire is hot, fire sells newspapers.

When asked to speak about The Village Square, I’ve been known to lament that we’d be a national mass movement by now if our events involved statements of outrageous fury instead of thoughtful moderation. It’s simply the elemental difference between fire and water. This week Terry Jones and his Gainesville church have proven my theory as even the Vatican weighed in on their intemperance.

Other efforts at extinguishing fire with water get equally short shrift compared to the fire starters, such as this group of national religious leaders who got a big yawn from the media as they tried to advance moderation in the face of the planned event in Gainesville.

America is – at her best – the perfect solution to fire, both at home and elsewhere in the world. Our founders were students of human nature and prescribed an effective system to balance extremism. It’s tragic when we can’t rise to the call of our birthright because we’re stuck in an equal and opposite reaction to the horrible extremism of that day nine years ago. We may not quite know it, but we are in a unique position to shine that light my brother described all around the world in multitudes of ways that dampen the fires. Maybe welcoming a mosque near ground zero is just such a moment when a country with a really Big Idea shines a really big light?

My daughter is a junior at the University of Florida. She says there is a rumor going around campus that the football game being played tomorrow in Gainesville (91,000 people in “The Swamp”) is the target of a bomb threat. News yesterday was that the FBI says there are credible retaliatory threats. And so it goes: Extremism begets extremism.

General Petraeus knows fire and water and equal and opposite reactions. He said of the plan to burn Qurans: “We’re concerned that the images from the burning of a Quran would be used in the same way that extremists used images from Abu Ghraib that they would in a sense be indelible.”

Indelible is a good word for what people do with fire.

Please note that we are waiting for a statement of support for The Village Square from the Vatican.

Liz Joyner is the Executive Director and co-founder of The Village Square.

(Fire photo credit. Water photo credit: Raymond Larose)

Liz Joyner: The therapy bill will be high

us vs them laThese days journalism is in a bit of a death match with human nature… and journalism is losing.

Maybe it’s not quite a newsflash but journalists are imperfectly human and they do ere. Some are even biased. More than a few of us have found good sport in this, yammering on about bias in (check all that apply):

_______The New York Times
_______Fox News
_______Talk radio
_______”Mainstream” media or as Sarah Palin recently dubbed it the “Lamestream” media)

But then I’m not thinking human imperfection of journalists at all, I’m thinking much closer to home.

Amidst plenty of third-grade finger-wagging about just who the biased sources really are – You! No You! Nooo YOU!! – is way too little “if Johnny jumped off a cliff, would you” perspective, you know the kind that grown-ups usually provide on the playground.

Far from objective, turns out our perceptions of bias are actually a result of a complex, primordial and really quite fascinating stew of both psychology and sociology. To get schooled in the sociology, Bill Bishop’s “The Big Sort” is a one-stop-shop of ah hah moments. See Purple Interviews with Bishop here. On the psychology front, media bias is the ultimate inkblot test, and as a society, we’re in need of more than a few 50-minute-hours of couch time.

So here’s a primer on just three of the many, many ways we human beings fold, bend, spindle and mutilate factual reality (oh do tell me what the heck spindling is). Bad news for the smug: This means you too, not just the people you think have bad taste in t-shirt slogans, yard art and presidential candidates.

Confirmation bias: A phenomena well documented in research, we like the information that supports our view of things, facts be damned. We do all sorts of backflips to confirm what we think is true: We pick new info if we don’t like what we hear, we impugn the integrity of people who tell us what we don’t want to hear, and we even completely forget what we’d prefer to forget. Presto, chango, it’s gone-o…

Biased assimilation: Apparently when it comes to the human psyche, what’s good for the goose is distinctly not good for the gander. A 1979 study gave opponents and proponents of the death penalty contradictory studies on the effectiveness of capital punishment. Rather than creating agreement that the state of the information is inconclusive, each group uncritically accepted the information that supported their view while they subjected the study articulating the alternative view to a harsh critique.

The hostile media effect: A landmark 1984 study of the perception of media coverage of the 1982 Beirut massacre by pro-Arab and pro-Israeli observers demonstrated a strong tendency for partisans to perceive the very same news reports as biased against them – in exactly opposite directions – leading both sides to infer that the personal views of the journalists was opposite of their own.

“Partisans… are bound to believe that the preponderance of reliable, pertinent evidence favors their viewpoint. Accordingly, to the extent that the small sample of evidence and argument featured in a media presentation seems unrepresentative of this larger “population” of information, perceivers will charge bias in the presentation and will be likely to infer hostility and bias on the part of those responsible for it… In cases in which both groups believe that actual program content favored neither side, for example, both groups are apt to protest such “unwarranted” objectivity.”

The most fascinating part of the hostile media effect study is that it isn’t a phenomena created from lack of information or as political partisans would so charmingly characterize in each other as stupidity. Rather the people with the most knowledge perceived the most bias: “These people had the most basis for finding discrepancies in the coverage that was provided and the information that could have been provided.” Maybe it’s just normal that if you understand something in depth, you find the brief survey presented in a news article as inadequate. But biased? Maybe notsomuch.

Perhaps the next time you find yourself blathering on about media bias, you might want to briefly pause to look in the mirror. You’d be looking at someone who owns a part of the problem.

Good things can begin – and always have begun – there.

(Want more than three ways our thinking messes us up? Find a veritable cornucopia here.)


Liz Joyner is the Executive Director of the Village Square. You can reach her at liz@tothevillagesquare.org.

Liz Joyner: A Special Comment regarding amphibians (and human beings)

frog boiling

As promised, a companion piece to Why Glenn Beck is Stalking Me:

When Keith Olbermann hit the airwaves back in 2003, you could hear a collective sigh of relief among liberal-leaning America, long frustrated by their lack of voice in America’s media.

Conservatives who haven’t passed out reading my first paragraph should know that liberals sincerely believe that the media leans right. Limbaugh’s pinko “government-run media” is to a liberal the “corporate media” and comes with all the baggage and bias the name implies. (Parenthetically, the competing versions of media bias are explained in studies demonstrating a hostile media effect: The same story was simultaneously perceived as biased by both opposing camps, likely because they understood the subtleties of their own position and felt it inadequately represented… as subtleties usually are.)

As a center-left-leaner and a 2004 Howard Dean fan (a man with the nerve to tell us really early on that the Emperor of Iraq was buck naked, early enough to have avoided the whole affair were we listening I might add), I believe that in the years after 9-11 the American marketplace of ideas was pretty broken. Our collective trauma evolved into a very human need to march in lockstep with patriotic sounding bad decision-making.

So Olbermann was a breath of fresh air. I immediately bonded. My friends bonded. Veritable left-leaning lovefest ensues.

We were in. Keith Olbermann is chicken soup for the liberal soul. He was in our tribe.

I can only imagine that this is exactly how conservatives felt with the rise of talk radio inside of a culture that had moved dramatically leftward inside of a decade in the 60’s and mostly stayed there, likely leaving crew-cut heads spinning with culture shock. (University of Virginia professor Jonathan Haidt’s work tells us that conservatives are temperamentally more averse to change than liberals. That makes the 60’s quadruple crazy if you lean right, only double if you’re left.)

Trouble is that once in the Keith Olbermann (or talk radio) chicken soup for the liberal (or conservative) soul, we can barely notice the inevitable result of like-minded amen chorus groupiness. We were frogs in water brought gradually to a boil.

Ironically, Keith Olbermann is a frog too. And – while I’m having to force my fingers to type this measure of charity for a broadcaster I find hateful and factually wrong almost 4 times a sentence – maybe so was Rush Limbaugh? Could they both be victims of the sound of their own echo chambers?

Once in, the slight shifts toward unanimity are barely perceptible. Hyperbole forgiven. Insulting name-calling gets guilty snickers and knowing glances. Quirky family member forgiven. And then you look up a few years later and you can barely believe that someone you know and thought you liked – who might be a conservative “frog” to your liberal one – could see reality so differently than you do. And even if you were too polite to say it (which if you read blog comment threads, growing numbers of us are not), you might have thought that they’re dumb.

Lather, rinse, repeat… and you can see how we’re where we are now.

I admit that I still really like Keith Olbermann. He often makes a lot of sense to me. But my new Village Square center of gravity often leaves me uncomfortably having to forgive a bit more than I’d prefer. And it has me stretching to understand people who aren’t in my tribe. My message isn’t that Olbermann is bad/evil/at fault. It’s that he – like us – is human. As is everyone outside of my tribe for whom I have tended to not offer any forgiveness at all.

Keith Olbermann + a bunch of liberal viewers and liberal guests + 10 or 15 more years might just = right wing talk radio, the liberal edition. And if you think there is something about conservatives that makes them jump the shark when liberals can somehow magically avoid it, I’d like to suggest that you might want to hop out of the water.

I believe it’s getting hotter.


Liz Joyner is the Executive Director of the Village Square. You can email her compliments and critiques at liz@tothevillagesquare.org. Can’t be civil? Won’t be read.

(Photo credit.)

Liz Joyner: Glass house you live in, meet stone in your hand


The recent passage of the healthcare bill in the Senate brought with it some need-to-take-a-bath-right-now details on how the legislative “sausage” was made. Now dubbed the “Louisiana Purchase” and the “Cornhusker Kickback” by conservative commentators, two Democratic Senators (Landrieu and Nelson) seemed to have snatched possible electoral defeat from the jaws of what initially probably looked to them as consummate legislative dealmaking victories.

Whether you’re on the left or right side of the aisle, there are real signs of good news in the general public’s negative reaction to Nelson and Landrieu’s actions, most wonderfully in their home states – the people who were supposed to be delighted at the booty the Senators had brought home. Good for them.*

You would have a hard, hard time finding .5% of the population who support this sort of legislative ugliness. We should probably take a moment to revel in something that is finally bipartisan.

Moment over. Hope you enjoyed it though.

Right now “we the people” are acutely aware of the apparent failure in moral standing of our elected representatives. Half of them anyway.

We seem to be only capable of perceiving moral failure in those we disagree with. The exact behaviors that we rail on endlessly about in our political enemies get a big yawn – or even an ovation – when they’re practiced by our political allies, if we even ever perceive they’ve occurred. If we bother to see the inconsistency, we usually use an uber-rationalization for it, such as the old standby that “we” stand for goodness and light, “they” are out to get you.

So while the right is having strokes over the bad behavior of Democratic Senators, the left is having strokes over nearly identical bad behavior of Republican Senators:

Last week, after nine months, the Senate finally approved Martha Johnson to head the General Services Administration, which runs government buildings and purchases supplies. It’s an essentially nonpolitical position, and nobody questioned Ms. Johnson’s qualifications: she was approved by a vote of 94 to 2. But Senator Christopher Bond, Republican of Missouri, had put a “hold” on her appointment to pressure the government into approving a building project in Kansas City.

This dubious achievement may have inspired Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama. In any case, Mr. Shelby has now placed a hold on all outstanding Obama administration nominations – about 70 high-level government positions – until his state gets a tanker contract and a counterterrorism center.

We have become a nation of people who so love the warm bubble bath of only ever perceiving things that make us feel good. And apparently hate, finger-pointing and lobbing stones from our own glass houses is really yummy feeling right now.

The tragedy here is that if we could only momentarily throw off our blinders, we’d see that we could change what none of us like by holding everyone to the same high standards. Elected officials can only play their hypocritical childish games as long as our nation is a playground full of children with no adults in sight.

It should be perfectly clear by now that we can’t wait around for our leaders to grow up. So we’d better go ahead and do it ourselves.

If we don’t like legislators holding out for home state payoffs, we’ve got to be equally offended when our “side” does it. On the day that we wake up to that reality, when the politicians hold their finger up in the wind, it will have shifted.

So often we whine that we have no power. The irony is that we have all of it.


*On a side note, there is some reporting that the Republican Governor of Nebraska asked Senator Nelson to strike this deal, who is now – in an utterly ridiculous irony – the opposition candidate who Nelson’s action has put him 31 percentage points behind in the polls.


Liz Joyner is the Executive Director of the Village Square. You can reach her at liz@tothevillagesquare.org

(Photo credit)

Liz Joyner: Meeting a gentleman at the knife edge of democracy

According to the National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman Jim Leach: “Citizenship is hard. It takes a commitment to listen, watch, read, and think in ways that allow the imagination to put one person in the shoes of another.”

While he’d be too polite to agree with me, by his own measure Jim Leach is the quintessential citizen.

We had the distinct pleasure to spend a day last week learning a thing or two about citizenship from this man who’s had a lot of practice at it, 30 years in Congress and all. Taking a page from Paul Revere – although with a gentlemanly preference toward intentionally less fanfare in the ride, possibly more of a William Dawes (who I admittedly would know nothing about were it not for Lea Marshall and Malcolm Gladwell.… bless them both…) – Leach is setting out to visit every single one of these United States to tell us a thing or two about the high bar that citizenship demands.

While he will be characteristically gentle in the telling, it just could be that a test of citizenship is coming, a test of citizenship is coming.

Leach served at a time when tense work week Congressional fights were followed by weekend signs of friendship across the aisle and probably a bipartisan backyard bar-b-que or two and then, in turn as a democracy demands, another round of philosophical fighting. He served when relationships among legislators were what Bill Bishop, author of The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-minded Americans is Tearing Us Apart, refers to as “cross-cutting.” These public servants could be on one “side” here and another “side” there as they went about the business of building a country (which they understood to be their job)… leaving noticeably less room for the evil “they” that seems to have so effectively eclipsed the common “we” just about everywhere these days.

Except we isn’t common at all when it’s part of “We the People,” it is something we should treat with reverence and care. According to Leach, “[c]ertain frameworks of thought define rival ideas. Other frameworks describe enemies.”

It isn’t just anybody who can commit to our historical tradition of complex cross-cutting relationships to serve a greater end. It isn’t just any country that builds itself on such a challenging principle.

There are those who are bonded to our founders because our founders were angry, chafing at authoritarian British rule for freedom.

They were.

But the big audacious and nearly-insane-had-it-not-been-so-wildly-successful essence of our founders was so much more than angry. These were men of profound ideas who believed that, despite all of human history before them, “we, the (plain old average) people” could be the boss.

They were willing to sit uncomfortably at the crossroads of ideas, where the comfort of convictions stood regularly challenged and the luxury of entirely dismissing rival ideas probably edged you a wee bit closer to being hung by the king. They had to sit at a knife’s edge, weighing one idea against another in constant struggle for excellence and results. These men had to bring their “A” game to their revolution, and indeed they did. And by challenging ideas as they stayed connected to each other, they made something magnificent.

They made America the City on the Hill in the world no matter what anyone says (thank you very much).

And it is public servants like Jim Leach who carry on their tradition. Please listen to his speech. What is 20 minutes when a country you love may depend on it?

The bad news is that “We the People” cannot be the boss if we’re unwilling to do the hard work of citizenship. The good news is that we come by it naturally.

Like riding a bicycle I hope.
Liz Joyner is the Executive Director of the Village Square. You can reach her at liz@tothevillagesquare.org

Sunday at the Square: A lighthouse and a crossroads

notre-dameAmid the swirl of debate surrounding his visit, President Obama delivered his Notre Dame commencement speech today. He invoked Father Ted Hesburgh, President of University of Notre Dame for over 3 decades:

Father Hesburgh has long spoken of this institution as both a lighthouse and a crossroads. A lighthouse that stands apart, shining with the wisdom of the Catholic tradition, while the crossroads is where “differences of culture and religion and conviction can coexist with friendship, civility, hospitality, and especially love.”

Obama ended his speech recalling Father Hedsburgh and an inside story of the Civil Rights Commisison:

There were six members of this commission. It included five whites and one African American; Democrats and Republicans; two Southern governors, the dean of a Southern law school, a Midwestern university president, and your own Father Ted Hesburgh, President of Notre Dame. So they worked for two years, and at times, President Eisenhower had to intervene personally since no hotel or restaurant in the South would serve the black and white members of the commission together. And finally, when they reached an impasse in Louisiana, Father Ted flew them all to Notre Dame’s retreat in Land OLakes, Wisconsin — where they eventually overcame their differences and hammered out a final deal.

And years later, President Eisenhower asked Father Ted how on Earth he was able to broker an agreement between men of such different backgrounds and beliefs. And Father Ted simply said that during their first dinner in Wisconsin, they discovered they were all fishermen. And so he quickly readied a boat for a twilight trip out on the lake. They fished, and they talked, and they changed the course of history.

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.