One might say that with the situation of polarization among our nation’s leaders is an impasse. It is an impasse of political posturing. Over these past years I have been dumbfounded at the men and women who want to run for political office while berating the very institution to which their constituents elect them. They are so certain of their position and refuse even to consider that there might be other ways of moving forward. While protecting the wealthiest Americans from a fairer share of financial responsibility one of their primary objectives is to minimize the role of government in our lives. And they take every opportunity to move in that direction even at the risk of dismantling decades of social policy that provides a safety net for the elderly, children and the economically oppressed.
After writing that paragraph I was taken aback as I reflect that in some ways the impasse I experience with the official church could be seen in a similar way. Those in official positions within the church might see people like me-women religious in particular-as trying to dismantle the very institution we represent and wanting to move forward our understanding of the Gospel even if it dismantles centuries of church teaching and practice.
This juxtaposition causes me to pause. I don’t like thinking about people like myself in the same vein as the Tea Party activists. Of course, I want to draw distinctions that differentiate us and our cause but for this reflection I will let go of that impulse.
What might this parallel reveal to us about seeing through the impasse and engaging in deep change if all of us responded to the invitation to “take a long loving look at the real”? I want our political officials to stop and reflect deeply on the situation we face as a nation and as Earth community. Sound bites and the message of the day do not invite them to ponder the data that is generated or the analysis provided by reputable organizations and think tanks. The pressure to raise money for their next election blinds them to admitting that their positions are formed at the feet of the corporate lobbyists. Both sides having only a 2 or 6 year horizon based on their reelection cycles do not invest in possible solutions that demand a multi-year response with minimal success now. Too often, narrow self-interest constituencies trump the common good.
Within the ecclesial arena, too, I want us to “take a long loving look at the real.” I want us to reflect deeply on the spiritual crisis we are facing as a people. Sometimes our knee jerk response to ecclesial statements or from the other side to reform efforts prevent us from probing deeper to see what is really being asked and desired. From Rome’s perspective the horizon stretches back for centuries which can dismiss the legitimate claims and insights of today’s believers. Concern for financial stability for the institution or for congregations can blind leaders from seeing that their positions are shaped by the wealthier among us. Church orthodoxy too often trumps the spirit revealing new understandings about Jesus and the Gospel message. In turn, our evolving approach to reality and to our faith can too easily dismiss external authority and earlier manifestations of how we understand our faith.
How do we engage such impasses? I know I want our political servants to see themselves as that, servants of the common good. Both sides need to share what they believe and then let it go. I’m convinced with Albert Einstein that the problems facing us today cannot be resolved at the same level of consciousness that created them. There needs to be a safe place for our elected leaders to really probe what they are saying-to explore the underlying needs and fears-to have the time to allow something new to evolve from their deeply held beliefs not just positions motivated by one’s reelection bid. I don’t think this can be done well with 24-7 news commentary filling in the blanks if nothing is happening. Democracy to survive needs to find new structures to engage in political discourse across the multiple perspectives so as to learn from each other and articulate the common good.
I can say the same for within the ecclesial arena. We need to create safe spaces where all of us who are trying to live out of our faith can come together to share our needs and fears. Both hierarchy and laity need to gather in the ‘upper room’ once again without fanfare or in need of defending one’s positions. To gather as equals with distinct gifts to explore and probe how orthodoxy held on for its own sake destroys the spirit. And how a too easy dismissal of traditions and orthodoxy fails to acknowledge or address the needs of many. For the Gospel not just to survive but thrive in the 21st century we need to find new structures to engage in ecclesial discourse across the multiple, legitimate perspectives so as to learn from each other and allow us to manifest the spirit in ways that speak to the reality of our planetary community.
Of course for any of this to happen the individuals involved-politicians and church related folks-have to be doing their own inner work. We have to be figuring out ways to place our ego at the service of our truest self. I believe if we live out of our integrity we will not be threatened by those who are at a different place. We will be able to look at what we and others are saying and “take that long loving look” to see underneath and through the impasse to the insight, the wisdom that will emerge to move us forward in ways that are rooted in love, right relationship, and justice.
Written by Nancy Sylvester, IHM
© 2011-2012 Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue
Reprint with permission firstname.lastname@example.org