Friday, November 9, 2012

Healing, Chapters 5 and 6

Here are some observations about these chapters -- some ideas that I think are important.  See what you think!

Chapter Five – The Company of Strangers

A call for the renewal of the “public life” – as in a “pub” where hospitality is offered to all.   Palmer encourages “free spaces” “where ordinary citizens can act with dignity, independence, and vision.”  (p 96)

Palmer here lays the foundation for “democracy circles” that are central to his hope that the divisions of our society can, over time, be bridged.  The solution is not found in large-scale programs, but in grass-root circles of people talking to one another with respect.

The physical divisions of society – gated communities, with guards and entry codes being perhaps the most stark symbol thereof – need to be somehow reconnected.  He writes, 
“As I watch some of our elected leaders slam into each other and shove each other aside, escalating the verbal violence that helps makes our political life toxic, I wonder if walking to work every day might make them better leaders. As I watch some ordinary Americans behave in a similar style—often the most privileged Americans who need not mingle with the hoi polloi—I wonder if some long walks in the city might make better citizens of them.”  (p. 99)

It is not only the superrich who are isolated from people who have very little.  I as a “middle class” person have little direct contact with the poor.   And thus little understanding and empathy for their plight.

The “private” thus cut off from the “public” is not healthy for society as a whole.  He writes:  “We are so obsessed with our private lives that we are largely oblivious to our public diminishments.  (p. 102)

Chapter Six:  Classrooms and Congregations

In light the recent ascent of evangelical churches into the political realm, Palmer’s look at the role of congregations in the revival of public life is especially important.  He cites Tocqueville again in this regard:

“Tocqueville is one of many who have wondered whether religious communities can serve American democracy well. It is true that religious convictions have sometimes divided us. But divisiveness is far from the whole story of religion's role in human history. [Emphasis mine.] In light of the fact that religious communities have been our most prominent form of voluntary associational life from the Plymouth Colony to the present, congregations must rank high on any list of settings where Americans develop their habits of the heart.   (p 121)

On the connection of the classroom and the church Palmer notes, “ However, I am equally passionate about not wanting to violate the deepest needs of the human soul, which our educational system does with some regularity. An education that pretends to explore only the outer world is disingenuous and incomplete."   (p 123)

Another great quote, that includes another great quote:

“My core religious beliefs include this simple article of faith: the God who gave all of us life wants us to do the same for each other. When people or groups who claim religious motivation make their points by using violence in any form—spiritual, psychological, verbal, or physical—it seems clear to me that they are driven by fear rather than faith, committed to control instead of trust in God. The writer Anne Lamott says, “You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” (p 136)

A challenge to our own congregation:  what does “diversity” mean for us – and how open do we dare to be with one another?  On page 138:

“My response to the requests I get to help such congregations “diversify” is simple: “There is no such thing as a ‘homogenous white congregation.’ There are only groups of white people pretending that they have no critical differences among themselves for fear that their ‘community’ would crumble if they opened their real lives to one another. Why would anyone with a visible difference want to join a group of people who look like each other but cannot embrace their own invisible differences?”
Further – another good question for self-reflection:

“When a congregation is profoundly clergy-centered—when the pedagogy consists of a clergyperson (performer) downloading information and inspiration to parishioners (audience)—the game is rigged. The theological message may be one of community, but the lived experience is one of dependence on an authority. Under those conditions, not much can be done to build the communal trust that allows compassion to flower, no matter how benign the leader is.”

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