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The Heart of Democracy

Public Virtue

The Heart of Democracy
Tuesday, November 3, 2020
Election Day in the U.S.A.

Renewed contact with the Gospel of faith, of hope and of love invites us to assume a creative and renewed spirit. In this way, we will be able to transform the roots of our physical, spiritual and social infirmities and the destructive practices that separate us from each other, threatening the human family and our planet. —Pope Francis

I consider Quaker author and activist Parker Palmer a true elder. He has clearly “fallen upward”—humbly learning and growing over the years while also generously giving of himself to build a better future with the next generation. From that vantage point, Palmer writes:

For those of us who want to see democracy survive and thrive—and we are legion—the heart is where everything begins: that grounded place in each of us where we can overcome fear, rediscover that we are members of one another, and embrace the conflicts that threaten democracy as openings to new life for us and for our nation. . . .

Of all the tensions we must hold in personal and political life, perhaps the most fundamental and most challenging is standing and acting with hope in the “tragic gap.” On one side of that gap, we see the hard realities of the world, realities that can crush our spirits and defeat our hopes. On the other side of that gap, we see real-world possibilities, life as we know it could be because we have seen it that way. . . .

If we are to stand and act with hope in the tragic gap and do it for the long haul, we cannot settle for mere “effectiveness” as the ultimate measure of our failure or success. Yes, we want to be effective in pursuit of important goals. . . . [But] we must judge ourselves by a higher standard than effectiveness, the standard called faithfulness. Are we faithful to the community on which we depend, to doing what we can in response to its pressing needs? Are we faithful to the better angels of our nature and to what they call forth from us? Are we faithful to the eternal conversation of the human race, to speaking and listening in a way that takes us closer to truth? Are we faithful to the call of courage that summons us to witness to the common good, even against great odds? When faithfulness is our standard, we are more likely to sustain our engagement with tasks that will never end: doing justice, loving mercy, and calling the beloved community into being.

Parker Palmer’s understanding of the “tragic gap” recognizes that no matter what we do, we can never completely solve the problem. In all our actions, there is always a space left incomplete, imperfect, which God alone can fill. The search for “the perfect” often keeps us from “the good.” The demand for one single issue about which we can be totally right actually keeps us from reading the whole picture—often this is true in regard to voting.

References:
Parker J. Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit (Jossey-Bass: 2011), 10, 17–18, 191, 192–193.

Epigraph: Pope Francis, General Audience (August 5, 2020). http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2020/documents/papa-francesco_20200805_udienza-generale.html

Image credit:  Untitled (detail), Wassily Kandinsky, 1913, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: What if we recognize that our engagement in politics should be rooted in our participation in the Trinitarian flow of God’s love? Then everything changes. —Wes Granberg-Michaelson
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