Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Common Ground

One of my strongest criticisms of politicians, political parties, and people in the church is that they will only work with people in their own tribe. I believe that one reason the Presbyterian Church is having so many problems is that too many people pay allegiance to their own tribe—and that allegiance takes precedence over sharing a powerful witness with the world.

Examples of tribalism are all around us. Today’s example is the inability of The Minnesota Legislature and the Governor to work out a budget agreement. Sure they have differences, but they weren’t able to work them out in legislation that will be signed into law.

My dream for the New Church Development of which I am the Organizing Pastor is to develop a group of people who are always looking for common ground. People will work together—not only because they understand the opinions of people with whom they differ—but because they are constantly looking, searching, and ultimately finding places of agreement. There’s tremendous power and energy in the land of common ground.

In this polarized age it takes a lot of effort sometimes to find that place. We can never give up on this effort the effort. As I shared in a previous blog, one of my personal core beliefs is “there is more that unites us than separates us.”

I didn’t follow too closely the controversy that was generated by President Obama’s recent speech at Notre Dame, though I was disappointed that some Catholic Bishops criticized the University for inviting him to speak. If giving commencement addresses depended on agreeing on the philosophy (religious or otherwise) of an educational institution, no commencement speeches would ever happen.

This morning I read both Obama’s speech and the introductory comments given by Father John Jenkins, the President of Notre Dame. I was impressed that both of them shared the importance of finding the place of common ground.

The link to Obama’s speech is here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/05/17/obama-notre-dame-speech-f_n_204387.html

The link to Jenkins’ introduction is here: http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles_of_faith/2009/05/rev_jenkinss_re.html

Words without action are hollow, so I’ll wait to see if Obama’s and Jenkins’ actions match their words. But our culture is so poisoned by division that I believe their call to find common ground is worth lifting up.

These are some excerpts from the two speeches that resonate with me:
From Jenkins:
“Differences must be acknowledged, and in some cases cherished. But too often differences lead to pride in self and contempt for others, until two sides – taking opposing views of the same difference -- demonize each other. Whether the difference is political, religious, racial, or national -- trust falls, anger rises, and cooperation ends … even for the sake of causes all sides care about. ...”

“When we face differences with fellow citizens, we will be tested: do we keep trying, with love and a generous spirit, to appeal to ethical principles that might be persuasive to others – or do we condemn those who differ with us for not seeing the truth that we see?

The first approach can lead to healing, the second to hostility. We know which approach we are called to as disciples of Christ.”

From Obama:
“Unfortunately, finding that common ground - recognizing that our fates are tied up, as Dr. King said, in a "single garment of destiny" - is not easy. Part of the problem, of course, lies in the imperfections of man - our selfishness, our pride, our stubbornness, our acquisitiveness, our insecurities, our egos; all the cruelties large and small that those of us in the Christian tradition understand to be rooted in original sin. We too often seek advantage over others. We cling to outworn prejudice and fear those who are unfamiliar. Too many of us view life only through the lens of immediate self-interest and crass materialism; in which the world is necessarily a zero-sum game. The strong too often dominate the weak, and too many of those with wealth and with power find all manner of justification for their own privilege in the face of poverty and injustice. And so, for all our technology and scientific advances, we see around the globe violence and want and strife that would seem sadly familiar to those in ancient times. ...”

“The soldier and the lawyer may both love this country with equal passion, and yet reach very different conclusions on the specific steps needed to protect us from harm. The gay activist and the evangelical pastor may both deplore the ravages of HIV/AIDS, but find themselves unable to bridge the cultural divide that might unite their efforts. Those who speak out against stem cell research may be rooted in admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son's or daughter's hardships can be relieved.

The question, then, is how do we work through these conflicts? Is it possible for us to join hands in common effort? As citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy, how do we engage in vigorous debate? How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?”

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