At the Mic: Excerpts from a Talk, 9/23

The following are excerpts from a talk given at Plymouth United Church of Christ today– Sunday, September 23rd, 2012.


‘We the Purple’: Becoming Both-And Communities of Faith
in an Either-Or, Red and Blue Society

“Are Americans really as intractably divided into red and blue political positions as the pundits would have us believe?  According to Bill Bishop’s, The Big Sort, the nation is, indeed, fractured deeply.  The journalist Bishop tracks the ten-year relocation of 100 million Americans, and notes that many of them settled in neighborhoods, counties and states that are more likely populated by like-minded people.  From the segregated, freely-chosen “hives” in which we live, says Bishop, we have our most passionate ideas about politics, truth, justice and culture reinforced and rarely challenged.

As religious sociologist David Kinnaman has noted in his book, You Lost Me, young people 16-29 are leaving the church and re-thinking their understanding of faith, while those in the same age group looking at churches from the outside see faith communities as empty moral and spiritual shells, filled with congregants engaged in behavior that is either unchristian, or a mere pawn of the political divisions of the society.  The upshot: many historic traditions of faith are losing the next generation, in large part because red-blue polarities seem as rabid inside as outside communities of faith.

If red and blue is truly descriptive of a major part of our political reality, it is not the only force in society.  Over the past 20 years, the Independent movement has attempted to find a pathway between the polarities of red and blue politics.  Independents now comprise a significant number of the electorate (although the media often misunderstand who they are and what they believe).  While this movement has not yielded a third-party alternative as some had hoped originally, it has offered a new perspective on the handling of differences of principle and opinion among Americans, and a different kind of strategy for building a common life in the United States.  Can “we the people,” find a new way in our politics by striving to become ‘we the purple?’

I would assert that we can discover this space between the anger and broken hearts generated by our red-blue world, and that faith communities may offer the best hope for achieving sustainable oases of purple.  But, this will require us to trade in the “machine brains” of the 19th and 20th century, an inheritance of the Enlightenment that took the dynamics of democratic republicanism for granted, and adopt “garden brains,” which see democracy as something we have to weed, feed, and water.  This talk will ’till’ the terrain of creating purple garden space in congregational life.”

At the Mic

At the Mic: Excerpts from a Talk, 9/16

The following are excerpts from a talk given at Plymouth United Church of Christ on Sunday, September 16th, 2012.

A House Divided:
Political Polarization as a Faith and Brain Problem
We Have to Overcome

 “Political scientists have taken note of the gradually increasing polarization in American politics over the past few decades.  Many Americans consider this divisiveness a destructive force for our democratic republic, one resulting in a political stalemate that inhibits us from solving our problems.  Ironically, a little more than 50 years ago, political scientists believed the U.S. was too homogenous in its politics and called for more distinctions between the two-party system.

While some political scientists believe today’s polarization has motivated more citizens to get involved in the political process, others think the increased passion in the electorate has come at too high a price, moving the nation in 50 years from a problem solving bi-partisanship to a deadlocked hyperpartisanship.  Clearly, the past few years have shown our elected officials are increasingly no longer able to solve the nation’s problems.  Unfortunately, the 2012 presidential election cycle is unlikely to lead to substantive change in the situation.  It is shaping up to become the mud-slinging dual of a generation, making solution-focused politics unlikely in the near future.  Meanwhile, some of our national problems have become ticking time bombs threatening the future of the nation, if not the world.  The direness of the situation is seen most clearly in the attitudes of many in the next generation who are becoming increasingly cynical about both their future and the future of the nation.

How did the U.S. make this this profound transition from bi-partisan to hyperpartisan? There is lots of blame to go around and for this reason it is important to explore some of those forces, including the complicity of religion in the deterioration process.  More specifically, from progressive “mainstream” Christianity to conservative evangelical Christianity, religion and religious leaders have played a role in this cultural shift, both intentionally and unintentionally.  But, the real culprit is the human brain and how it processes information, stores memories and builds worldviews that make room for others and their opinions – or, at our time in history, more likely does not.

As humans we are designed to build protective biases around our belief systems.  We have lots of tricks, conscious but mostly unconscious, for protecting the “sacred” turf of the principles we like to believe guide our lives.  This perceptual screen and self-deluding dimension of human consciousness is both our salvation and our curse.  In the past few decades, the United States has “sorted” itself increasingly into like-minded hives that has aided and abetted these tricks.  But, we can catch on to these tricks and transcend them.  This is essential to achieve spiritual wisdom, and true religious community.  It is also important to living in a democratic society.  The good news is that we can catch on to these biases, integrate divergent insights, and learn to see purple in a red and blue world.”

At the Mic