Sunday, December 28, 2008

Living the Dialog

Editors Note: I wrote this piece as a pulpit editorial for delivery today at First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque, where it was delivered for both first and second service. I'm posting it up here because I think it's worthy writing, but keep in mind that it is even more targeted at Unitarians than is usual.

Hello Congregation. I'm Kelsey Atherton, and earlier this fall I was the political advisor to Christine on her inspired if ill-fated presidential campaign.

I meant to write this pulpit editorial about my roommate and me- randomly assigned to live together in college housing, we disagree fundamentally on every political issue that has ever come up. And it was my intent to examine how before the election our interactions were all arguments, and how after the election it's become an oppressive silence. This pulpit editorial, as I envisioned it, was to be a parable of the dangers of partisan living, and a reminder of the strength of the divisions that persist in this nation.

The problem with that idea is that it doesn't really offer anything positive or useful, and I know that I for one don't come to church to feel powerless in the face of bad things. The other problem with that anecdote is that it is more or less the exact opposite of living the dialog - my roommate and I engaged in conversation when the stakes were high, and now that the election has concluded we sit around silently being contemptuous of each other. It's kind of a terrible example of how to live ones values.

There is, however, an essence of living the dialog in that. It's important to know where the dialog can be helpful, and where the dialog will amount to a lot of effort and frustration without any meaningful change. This isn't about "cutting ones losses" or "picking ones' battles" - this is about moving beyond war metaphors because this isn't, you know, war. And I think that's really what I learned from my experiences with my roommate - we treated this as a war, and now that the election is over, we're entrenched in a forced no-man's land, waiting for the next outbreak of hostilities.

That is no way to live. And while the situation with my roommate is looking irreparable, it's motivated me to find better ways to live the dialog with other people in my life. My conversations with friends about political issues are no longer winner-take-all debates, where personal attacks fly furiously, or where I discredit an issue because I doubt a given politicians' intelligence. Much as I'd like to say "your guy is an idiot, and you're an idiot for liking him", that's out of the picture. Talking like that is the exact opposite of productive. Every conversation, I strive to remove the petty from my politics. And yeah, I'm still met with the occasional "secret Muslim" comment. But it becomes rare, and it gets to be irrelevant.

More importantly than the lack of ad hominem attacks is the new found common ground - while I still argue tooth and nail for the right to choose, my pro-life friends and I come close to agreeing on "safe, legal, and rare." While I am sorely disappointed by the passage of proposition 8 in California, I can sympathize with the desire to settle the issue of marriage equality through voting and not judicial fiat. That is to say, in a way that respects "the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within...our society at large". And while I am dismayed at insensitive and intolerant remarks expressed by some religious leaders, I can share with them the common ground of good works and a desire to lead a purpose-driven life.

Christine, in her post election sermon about Living in Purple America, quoted this from my blog: "But that doesn’t entitle us to inflict any of the same scorn and contempt on the losers that we’ve had to suffer through. Because if we do that, then it was all for nothing.". I wrote it hours after an electoral success I'd waited 8 years for, and I wrote it not so much because I needed to know it then, but because I knew I'd need to be reminded of it now. In the coming weeks, as the Christmas spirit wanes and the inauguration looms closer and closer, it's important that we continue the work of living the dialog of Purple America. Without it, we exist as bitterly divided armed camps. With the dialog, and the conscious effort to engage people in serious and rational discussion, we can begin to do away with battles against each other. Because there isn't an enemy here - just fellow Americans. We have to appreciate and understand where they're coming from in order to join them in fellowship.

The piece ends there, but I'd be remiss if I didn't include the following image:
The image comes from the excellent from52to48withlove, which is the site that best informed this pulpit editorial, and my post-election sentiments. The above image I found particularly moving, and while I tried I was unable to include it in my speech before the church. Here it is for you, faithful readers.