“As we create a conversation, I hope it is filled with grace. I hope that there are people here who don’t share my faith and I hope we can talk well together and I think what we need to do in settings like this is we need to be able to really wrestle together and honor each other and listen to each other. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from liberals and conservatives is that you can think you have all the right answers and still be mean. And if you’re mean, no one really wants to listen to you anyway. And maybe one of the most powerful witnesses that we can have is our ability to disagree well and to have civil dialogue. I think it’s Martin Marty that said the new political camps are not just left and right, but they’re nice and mean. And I want to be with people that are marked by grace and love and can disagree well with people… I think one of the things that marks our community is that we know how to laugh together… And if we can’t laugh the enemy’s already won.” — Shane Claiborne, Harvard Veritas (Thanks to Lea Marshall as always)
Robert Putnam, of Bowling Alone fame, is out with a new book that’s of interest to Village Square-ish thinking. Co-authored with David Campbell, American Grace seems to make many of the arguments our organization has advanced about division in America: To the extent that we can have positive interactions with our neighbors – regardless of how different they might be on matters of faith – we seem able to put aside differences in favor of community. From the New York Times:
…the story told in this book, by the social scientists Robert D. Putnam of Harvard and David E. Campbell of Notre Dame, is urgently relevant to the recent surge in interfaith tension. Read all »
On this morning’s Meet the Press, Rick Warren of Saddleback Church (emphasis added):
MR. GREGORY: What is testing the faith of Americans, do you think, as we approach this holiday season?
MR. WARREN: Well, no doubt about it, the economy, the, the war in Afghanistan; but also I just think the political divisions are a big deal, that the, the coarsening of our society, that we’re, we’re demonizing differences. Those things need to be dealt with…
This is an important thing that I think even at this Thanksgiving, as we move into the holiday seasons, you don’t have to agree with everybody to work with them on something. I can work with Muslims and atheists and other religions and gays and straights and–I can work with any–if you want to save a life, that’s a human issue. And, and so you don’t have to water down your beliefs, but you, you can work for the common good…
I have friends who are Republicans and I have friends who are Democrats, and I’m for my friends. People ask me, “Are you left wing or right wing?” and it’s pretty well known I say, “I’m for the whole bird,” because I’m for America. And so I want the president to succeed, I want the Congress to succeed…
Anyone else out there about to have a stroke like I am observing the stunning hypocrisy demonstrated by partisans on both side of the aisle now that control of the government has flip-flopped? A few examples off the cuff:
1. Before they lost the White House, a good number of elected Republicans seemed to think our economic crisis had simply left us no choice but to spend more money than we’d like on bailing out failing financial institutions. Now, notsomuch.
2. Before Democrats took the White House, many seemed to think that “dissent is the highest form of patriotism” including if it’s voiced overseas. Now – ask Mike Huckabee – they seem to understand that dissing the boss when you’re in another country isn’t so cool.
3. The crowd over at Fox News was pretty quiet while a Republican administration cast much of their activity under a divine mission but when Obama speaks to ministers by phone and says there’s been a “bearing of false witness” on health care, separation of church and state has a fresh new glow.
4. Before the Democrats controlled Congress, they complained regularly that Republicans forced bills to a floor vote before they could read them. Now they suddenly care so much less.
I could go on, but I’d be risking my health.
Are we really going to keep this up, holding others to a standard we have absolutely zero interest in striving for ourselves? Is it possible that the thing that is most wrong with us right now is we’ve turned the Golden Rule on its head: “Become furious when someone doesn’t do unto you as you have zero intention of ever doing unto them.” And it’s amazing how clear the other guy’s hypocrisy is to us while we’ve got some serious scales on our own eyes.
Are we – the people – really going to go along with these yahoos on this?
From the book Abraham by Bruce Feiler, describing his conversation with an American who came to Jerusalem after winning fourteen thousand dollars on Wheel of Fortune:
He decided to come to Israel for a year. Fifteen years later he hadn’t left. He tells a story to answer why.
Two brothers live on either side of a hill. One is wealthy and has no family; the other has a large family but limited wealth. The rich brother decides one night that he is blessed with goods and, taking a sack of grain from his silo, carries it to the silo of his brother. The other brother decides that he is blessed with many children, and since his brother should at least have wealth, he takes a sack of grain from his silo and carries it to that of his brother. Each night they go through this process, and every morning each brother is astounded that he has the same amount of grain as the day before. Finally one night they meet at the top of the hill and realize what’s been happening. They embrace and kiss each other.
And at that moment a heavenly voice declares, “This is the place where I can build my house on earth.”
“That story is shared by all three religions,” David said. “And our tradition says that this is that hill, long before the Temple, long before Abraham. And the point of the story is that this degree of brotherly love is necessary before God can be manifest in the world.”
“This is not only the spot where it is possible to connect with God, it’s the spot where you can connect with God only if you understand what it means to connect with one another.
“The relationship between a person and another human being is what creates and allows for a relationship with God. If you’re not capable of living with each other and getting along with each other, then you’re not capable of having a relationship with God.” He gestured up at the Wall, the Dome, the churches.
Then he turned back to me. “So the question is not whether God can bring peace into the world. The question is: Can we?”
This morning, after the introduction of a church elder returning to visit, he was asked to say a word. Here it is:
“It’s better to be seen that viewed.”
Craig 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 Paulâ€™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.
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.