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Public Virtue

Public Virtue

Saturday, November 7, 2020
Summary: Sunday, November 1—Friday, November 6, 2020

The mystery of the body of Christ turns the focus outward, to ask: how can I be good for the sake of my neighborhood, my city, my church, my community, and even the world? (Sunday)

Everywhere there are people who never lose hope that the values they learned in the best of times or the courage it takes to reclaim their world from the worst of times are worth the commitment of their lives. —Joan Chittister (Monday)

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 (Tuesday)

We must make “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34) the foundation of national respect, the standard of our national discernment, the bedrock of both our personal relationships and a civilized society. Joan Chittister (Wednesday)

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 (Thursday)

History is continually graced with people who have been transformed and somehow learned to act beyond and outside their self-interest for the good of the world, people who clearly operated by a power larger than their own. They are exemplars of public virtue. (Friday)

 

Practice: The Seventh Story

According to CAC faculty member Brian McLaren and our mutual friend Gareth Higgins, six narratives have been driving forces in human history:

  • The first was the story of patriarchal domination
  • Oppression provoked the emergence of a revolution story
  • Others simply withdrew, believing in the righteousness of their own group, called to an isolation story
  • In the purification story, all the troubles of a powerful group were blamed on a minority
  • Some people retreated into trying to possess as much as they could: living by an accumulation story
  • Some people began to define themselves by what they had suffered, developing a victimization story

However, Brian and his friend Gareth Higgins recommend a “Seventh Story.”

But in The Seventh Story, human beings are not the protagonists. Love is.

We are not [rulers] of “our” domain, but partners in the evolution of goodness. As René Girard wrote, “What Jesus invites us to imitate is his own desire, the spirit that directs him toward the goal on which his intention is fixed: to resemble [Love] as much as possible.” [1]

The Seventh Story invites us to be participants in a great play about the evolution of the story of love. To be friends, not enemies, no matter what anybody else is doing. Not us versus them. . . .

Many of us are so immersed in the six stories of separation, selfishness, and scapegoating that some decisive action is required. . . . We invite you to the following commitments:

1: Pay attention. Alongside considering the wider world, pay attention to your soul, your neighborhood, your local and regional stories, and find others who do the same. Nurture your personal well-being and that of your community, otherwise you will neither thrive in a challenging world, nor be useful to the service of the common good.

2: Don’t pay attention. Don’t fund the six stories of separation, selfishness, and scapegoating: withhold your attention and the money you steward from any media outlet or public figure that uses fear to build an audience. . . .

3: Seek mentors who will help you discern a personal sense of calling to the common good. Your gift is connected to your wound, and the world’s great need. Serving from the place where these three intersect is the best way to heal yourself, and offer healing to others.

4: Tell the truth. In a world of competing information sources, seek wisdom above propaganda. Enlarge your frame: see the whole world as your home. Learn the difference between headlines and trendlines.

5: Learn spiritual practices that heal and offer resilience: clearings, accountability, shadow work.

6: Open yourself to seeing things through “the eyes of the other.”  Seek a friendship with someone with whom you disagree politically. Look for things to praise in others, even when they vote differently. Learn about building equitable community in which everyone has a fair stake. Don’t contribute to polarization.

7: Join or help start a circle of friends committed to the Seventh Story. Don’t journey alone. Encourage others to do the same.

References:
[1] René Girard, I See Satan Fall like Lightning, trans. James G. Williams (Orbis Books: 2001), 13.

Adapted from Brian McLaren and Gareth Higgins, The Seventh Story: Us, Them & the End of Violence (Brian D. McLaren and Gareth Higgins: 2018), 124, 171‒173.

For Further Study:
Joan Chittister and Richard Rohr, Prophets Then, Prophets Now (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2006), MP3 audio.

Joan Chittister, The Time Is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage (Convergent: 2019).

Parker J. Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit (Jossey-Bass: 2011).

“Politics and Religion,” Oneing, vol. 5, no. 2 (CAC Publishing: 2017). This issue includes essays from Simone Campbell, Joan Chittister, John L. Esposito, Wes Granberg-Michaelson, and angel Kyodo williams.

Richard Rohr with John Feister, Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount (Franciscan Media: 1996).

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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Public Virtue

For the Good of the World
Friday, November 6, 2020

God is the ultimate nonviolent one, so we dare not accept any theory of salvation—much less socialization, economics, or politics—that is based on violence, exclusion, social pressure, or moral coercion. When we do, these are legitimated as a proper way of life. God saves by loving and including, not by excluding or punishing.

So what does it really mean to follow Jesus? I believe we are invited to gaze upon the image of the crucified Jesus to soften our hearts toward all suffering, to help us see how we ourselves have been “bitten” by hatred and violence, and to know that God’s heart has always been softened toward us. In turning our gaze to this divine truth, we gain compassion toward ourselves and all others who suffer. It largely happens on the psychic and unconscious level, but that is exactly where all of our hurts and our will to violence lie. A transformative religion must touch us at this primitive, brainstem level, or it is not transformative at all.

History is continually graced with people who have been transformed in this way and somehow learned to act beyond and outside their self-interest for the good of the world. They are exemplars of public virtue. We recall Nelson Mandela, Corazon Aquino, John Lewis, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Add to them Etty Hillesum, Corrie ten Boom, Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Óscar Romero, César Chávez, and many others. These inspiring figures gave us strong evidence that the mind of Christ still inhabits the world. Most of us are fortunate to have crossed paths with many lesser-known persons who exhibit the same presence.

Following Jesus is a vocation to share the fate of God for the life of the world.

To allow what God for some reason allows—and uses: the imperfect everything, including me!

And to suffer ever so slightly what God suffers eternally.

Often, this has little to do with believing the “right” things about God—beyond the fact that God is love itself.

Those who agree to carry and love what God loves—which is both the good and the bad—and to pay the price for its reconciliation within themselves, these are the followers of Jesus Christ. They are the leaven, the salt, the remnant, the mustard seed that God uses to transform the world.

To maintain this mind and heart over the long haul is true Gospel spirituality. I have no doubt that it takes many daily decisions and many surrenders. It is aided by seeking out like-minded people. Such grace and freedom are never lone achievements. Saints are those who wake up while in this world, instead of waiting for the next one. Francis of Assisi, William Wilberforce, Thérèse of Lisieux, and Harriet Tubman did not feel superior to anyone else; they just knew they had been let in on a big divine secret, and they wanted to do their part in revealing it to those who knew nothing about it.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 152–153, 154.

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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Public Virtue

Mysticism Precedes Politics
Thursday, November 5, 2020

The Reverend Wes Granberg-Michaelson, former head of the Reformed Church in America, reminds us that Jesus is the model of public virtue for all Christians. When deciding how we want to act in the public sphere, we are first called to begin with our personal experience of God’s overflowing love for all the world.

“Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics.” [1] So wrote Charles Péguy (1873–1914), a French poet and writer who lived in solidarity with workers and peasants and became deeply influenced by Catholic faith in the last years of his life. This provocative quote identifies the foundational starting point for how faith and politics should relate.

Usually, however, we get it backward. Our temptation is to begin with politics and then try to figure out how religion can fit in. We start with the accepted parameters of political debate and, whether we find ourselves on the left or the right, we use religion to justify and bolster our existing commitments. . . .

But what if we make the inward journey our starting point? 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. We are no longer guided or constrained by what we think is politically possible, but are compelled by what we know is most real. At the heart of all creation, the mutual love within the Trinity overflows to embrace all of life. We are invited to participate in the transforming power of this love. There we discover the ground of our being, centering all our life and action.

This was revealed most fully in Jesus, as God’s Son. His love for enemies, his non-violent response to evil, his embrace of the marginalized, his condemnation of self-serving religious hypocrites, his compassion for the poor, his disregard for boundaries of social exclusion, his advocacy for the economically oppressed, and his certainty that God’s reign was breaking into the world all flowed from his complete, mutual participation in the Father’s love. Jesus didn’t merely show the way; he lived completely in the presence and power of God’s redeeming, transforming life.

This didn’t fit any conventional political alternative in Palestine at the time. Jesus wasn’t a Zealot, seeking the violent overthrow of an oppressive empire, although he welcomed a Zealot as his disciple, resisted and undermined the authority of political rulers, and was crucified as “King of the Jews.” He refused to identify with religious authorities who were willing to compromise their spiritual convictions to foster their collusion with imperial political power. Yet, the “politics of Jesus” presented a clear agenda for radical social and economic transformation in his time, as in ours.

All of this was rooted, however, in the incarnate participation of Jesus in the love of the Trinity. His life embodied what God’s love intends for the world and demonstrated the Spirit’s power to transform, heal, and make whole what is broken. . . .  His mysticism preceded and then accompanied his politics.

References:
[1] Charles Péguy, Notre Jeunesse (Cahiers de la Quinzaine: 1910), 27. Original text: “Tout commence en mystique et finit en politique.”

Wes Granberg-Michaelson, “From Mysticism to Politics,” “Politics and Religion,” Oneing, vol. 5, no. 2 (CAC Publishing: 2017), 15, 16, 17.

Image credit:  Untitled (detail), Wassily Kandinsly, 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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Public Virtue

A Call to Be One
Wednesday, November 4, 2020

I return once again to the prophetic words of Sister Joan Chittister who calls us to make an unflinching commitment to act with integrity—out of the fullness of our being—not simply our pragmatic, comfortable, or fearful selves.

As a people, we are at a crossover moment. It is a call to all of us to be our best, our least superficial, our most serious about what it means to be a Christian as well as a citizen. . . .

Where in the midst of such polarization and national disunity is even the hope of oneing, of integrating the social with what we say are our spiritual selves? . . .

Even the ghost of an answer makes serious spiritual demands on us all: To heal such division means that we are obliged to search out and identify our own personal value system. It requires us to admit to ourselves what it is that really drives our individual social decisions, our votes, our political alliances. Is it the need to look powerful? The desire for personal control? . . . Do we have the courage to confront the debased with the ideal—even in the face of ridicule and recrimination—or is cowardice our secret spiritual sickness? In that case, our national health can only get worse.

A national cure also surely demands that we begin to see tradition as a call to return to the best of the past, not a burden to be overcome in order to secure the best of the present. It is the sense of a commonly held tradition of the common good—once a strong part of the American past—that we clearly lack in the present. . . .

[We must] make “Love one another as I have loved you” (see John 13:34) the foundation of national respect, the standard of our national discernment, the bedrock of both our personal relationships and a civilized society. . . .

To be one, we don’t need one party, one program, one set of policies. What could be duller, more stagnant, more destructive of the soulfulness it takes to create and preserve the best of the human enterprise than such a narrow-minded view of planetary life?  What we need is one heart for the world at large, a single-minded commitment to this “more perfect union,” and one national soul, large enough to listen to one another for the sake of the planet—for the sake of us all.

So where can we look for oneing in the political arena? Only within the confines of our own hearts. Politics—government—does not exist for itself and, if it does, that is precisely when it becomes at least death-dealing if not entirely evil. . . .

In the end, politics is nothing more than an instrument of social good and human development. It is meant to be the right arm of those whose souls have melted into God.

Reference:
Joan Chittister, “A Moment for Something More Soulful Than Politics,” “Politics and Religion,” Oneing, vol. 5, no. 2 (CAC Publishing: 2017), 30, 32, 33, 34.

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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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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Public Virtue

Obedience to God’s Will of Love
Monday, November 2, 2020

Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister is a theologian, author, and speaker, whose wisdom and approach to social justice I take very seriously. I offer you these encouraging words from her about what it means to work for the common good. Joan writes:

In all my years of traveling around the world, one thing has been present in every region, everywhere. One thing has stood out and convinced me of the certain triumph of the great human gamble on equality and justice.

Everywhere there are people who, despite finding themselves mired in periods of national [disruption] or personal marginalization refuse to give up the thought of a better future or give in to the allurements of a deteriorating present. They never lose hope that the values they learned in the best of times or the courage it takes to reclaim their world from the worst of times are worth the commitment of their lives. These people, the best of ourselves, are legion and they are everywhere.

It is the unwavering faith, the open hearts, and the piercing courage of people from every level of every society that carries us through every major social breakdown to the emergence again of the humanization of humanity. In every region, everywhere, they are the unsung but mighty voices of community, high-mindedness, and deep resolve. They are the prophets of each era who prod the rest of the world into seeing newly what it means to be fully alive, personally, nationally, and spiritually. . . .

It is that steadfast, unyielding, courageous commitment to the eternal Will of God for Creation—whatever the cost to themselves—that is the prophetic tradition. It sustains the eternal Word of God while the world spins around it, making God’s Word—Love—the center, the axle, the standard of everything the faithful do in the midst of the storm of change that engulfs us as we go. . . .

Our task is to be obedient all our lives to the Will of God [which is Love] for the world. And therein lies the difference between being good for nothing and good for something. Between religion for show and religion for real. Between personal spirituality that dedicates itself to achieving private sanctification and prophetic spirituality, the other half of the Christian dispensation.

Yes, the Christian ideal is personal goodness, of course, but personal goodness requires that we be more than pious, more than faithful to the system, more than mere card-carrying members of the Christian community. Christianity requires, as well, that we each be so much a prophetic presence that our corner of the world becomes a better place because we have been there. . . .

The quality of life we create around us as “followers of Jesus” is meant to seed new life, new hope, new dynamism, the very essence of a new world community.

Reference:
Joan Chittister, The Time Is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage (Convergent: 2019), 5, 18, 27, 38.

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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Public Virtue

Solidarity: A Public Virtue
Sunday, November 1, 2020

Citizens of the United States will finish voting this week. Many of us are feeling demoralized, and many others carry serious distrust of American political institutions. The most vulnerable in a society have already experienced the discouragement from which so many are suffering today. They know firsthand that the system has not worked, at least not for them, for a long time.

Two years ago, I wrote in Sojourners magazine that for me, personally, voting is a deeply moral act—a decisive statement of Christian faith that I matter, that justice matters, and that other people matter.

Sadly, for many religious people, the public forum has historically remained the most disconnected from our faith. Unlike its Jewish forebears, Christianity, in its first two thousand years, has kept its morality mostly private, interior, and heaven-bound, but with very few direct implications for what is now called our collective economic, social, or political life. I am not talking about partisan politics here, but simply the connecting of the inner world with the outer world.

This week our meditations will be focusing on what I call “public virtue.” The virtue in which I was trained in the seminary, I’m sorry to say, was “private” virtue that taught me how I could be virtuous in my interior life. As my novice master put it in a good 1961 fashion, “Try to make it as easy as possible for all others to love you.”

Perhaps I, myself, was good and could go to heaven. But such personal salvation does not come close to the mystery of the Body of Christ, which turns focus outward, to ask: how can I be good for the sake of my neighborhood, my city, my church, my community, and the world? It really is a different starting place. It’s not seeking my own ego enhancement, but the spiritual and physical well-being of others, as Jesus did.

There really is no such thing as being non-political. Everything we say or do either affirms or critiques the status quo. Even to say nothing is to say something. If we say nothing, we communicate that the status quo—even if it is massively unjust and deceitful—is apparently okay. This common “non-political” stance is an illusion, and the powerful have always been able to use it to manipulate people.

We must use the power of the Gospel to critique and affirm both the Left and the Right on most public positions, even while knowing that political or programmatic changes—of themselves—will never fully bring about the goodness, charity, or transformation that the Gospel offers the world.

What I mean by public virtue is primarily about solidarity with others, as opposed to an exclusive concern with “my inner life.”  As different parts of the Body of Christ, we each have strengths and gifts that are needed by the entire body. We are called by the Spirit to use these gifts in service and love for our hurting world and not just for our private sense of “holiness.”

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “A Deeply Moral Act: Voting Is a Decisive Statement of Christian Faith that I Matter, Justice Matters, and Others Matter,” Sojourners, vol. 47, no. 10 (November 2018), 19;

“Introduction,” “Politics and Religion,” Oneing, vol. 5, no. 2 (CAC Publishing: 2017), 11, 12;

Rebuilding from the Bottom Up, reflection (November 11, 2016); and https://cac.org/rebuilding-bottom-reflection-following-election/

“Universal Christ Values,” part 1, Another Name for Every Thing, season 3, episode 1 (February 15, 2020), audio podcast.

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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