Reflections - The Rev. Ellen Rowse Spero
Civility is a necessary practice in a democracy. By its very definition, the democratic process requires the sharing of ideas and values that can and often do compete and conflict. The goal is to present, discuss, and debate the different points of view of an issue or law or referendum before reaching a decision. Compromise is often necessary. It can be a long, messy process.
Civility is necessary to help us remain true to the practice and purpose of the democratic process, whether in our congregation, our town, or our nation. When we lose civility, we make differences of ideas and values the sources of personal attack and denigration. We shout each other down in town hall meetings and on talk shows, we call each other names and swap insults, we use hyperbole and fear as verbal violence against one another and truth itself. The goal is not merely win, but to destroy the voice and integrity of those with whom we disagree, along with the opposing viewpoints. We turn difference into enmity. We can forget that ultimately, we have a common goal as stated in our U.S. Constitution: "...(to) establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity..."
I do not know why Jared Loughner decided to shoot to kill at Representative Giffords' public appearance last week in Tuscon. I believe that his actions are much more personal and complicated than the growing lack of civility in our political landscape. That said, civility does provide boundaries which help us honor the truth of each other's humanity. When we lose civility, when we destroy these boundaries, we normalize interaction and discourse that dishonor and threaten our democratic process. Meanwhile, six people are dead, several others wounded, and many are traumatized.
As Dr. King reminds us: "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. There are some things in our social system to which all of us ought to be maladjusted. Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear, only love can do that." May we remain maladjusted to violence and fear, whatever its forms. May we risk the civility necessary for the sake of our democracy.
Let me begin by wishing everyone a Happy New Year! We have had some special services over the last three Sundays, as well as two on Christmas Eve. They were all wonderful, as they celebrated different aspects of the holiday season. We also took a break from some of the conversations we have been holding about worship and our building. Now it is time to return the "normal" routine. As much fun as the past couple of weeks have been, I am looking forward to preaching again!
You may have noticed, or will notice if you have missed the last couple of weeks, the two porticoes being built in front of the office and kitchen entrances. Many thanks to the Long Range Planning Committee, particularly Jeanne Thompson, Walter Cole, and Johan MacKenzie, for driving the process: getting the necessary permissions and permits from the Historic District Commission and the various other town boards, collecting bids, and hiring the contractor. Whenever I look at these two porticoes, I smile, because I think of Norm Osberg. Seven or eight years ago, either the first or second year in my ministry here, Norm came to a Standing Committee meeting to express his concerns about the two entrances, noting that both become very slippery and icy in the winter. He then presented his sketches of two porticoes, meticulously measured and drawn, that could be built in order to remedy this situation.
Sue Philips noted at our "Leading Congregations Through Change", church time moves in dog years. We are not structured, so to speak, to make changes in a timely manner unless there is a major crisis to fix. We have a classic example right at our doorstep.
Norm would ask me from time to time about his portico plans. I am sad that he did not live long enough to see us follow through with his idea. But knowing Norm, I imagine too that he forgives us and is just glad that we finally got it done! And I am glad to have this reminder of him every time I walk up to the building, as well as less slippery steps to negotiate. If faith is hope in things not yet seen, we have kept faith with Norm. May we continue to keep faith in what we hope to be and become.