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With chapter six under our belts, we’ve only got two more weeks of the presidential campaign left to endure. I confess to having moments of being way more disillusioned than I believed possible. But, I also believe in staying engaged with the tensions created in moments and seasons of chaos, upheaval, uncertainty, and deconstruction. The key, as I see it, is remaining engaged in ways that do not crush my soul.
In this chapter, Palmer carefully examines classrooms and congregations, inviting us to consider the important opportunities presented there:
In education as well as religion, we must find ways to help people conduct an inner search free of any predetermined outcome while providing them with the guidance and resources they need to conduct it well. As we do so, we will be shaping some of the habits of the heart that make democracy possible. (p. 124)
So, there are three important components at work when we intentionally engage the work of education and religion, outside of the political sphere:
- Helping people conduct an inner search. I wish I’d let my children ask more questions when they were growing up. I remember being fearful that their questions would lead them away from the life I hoped they’d live and so, I tried to order their inner lives for them. I was resistant to Rilke’s advice, on page 124, that we “[b]e patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart.” In our current political climate, I see a similar resistance. We don’t need to be afraid of the questions that remain unanswered in our souls, or in the souls of others. Asking questions that once seemed heretical can lead to moments of healing transformation in our hearts. In our classrooms and congregations, we offer others a gift when we create space for exploring the questions inside of us.
- Resist the desire to force predetermined outcomes on others, and on ourselves. We cannot be transformed if we insist that there is always and only one way to look at things. Part of the reason I was afraid to let my children ask questions is because I didn’t have answers for the questions which didn’t fit inside my neat little way of seeing the world. But also, I was afraid their questions would lead them to answers that weren’t the same as mine. Thankfully, my children continued to ask their questions. Their questioning did lead to conclusions that were different from mine and, as a result, I was faced with the reality of my own unresolved questions. Watching my children navigate their way through their own questioning gave me permission to explore the question in my very own heart and that, for me, has been the greatest gift of parenthood. It stretched my faith, and broadened my horizons.
- Provide guidance and resources to conduct the inner search well. This is the work of classrooms and congregations and yet, we’ve misconstrued the goal. We’ve determined we should tell our students and our congregants what to think, instead of providing opportunities in which they can learn how to think. So often, I’ve seen our approach to politics reflect this wrong approach. We disengage from the process and our disconnection leaves us going through the motions as uninformed citizens who toe the party line and allow our representatives to hold issues of morality, justice, and ethics hostage to political platforms. Our approach in the public square is reduced to either/or thinking and we squabble back and forth ridiculously and ineffectively, rather than listening well to the unresolved questions in each others’ hearts. The result, as Palmer explains, is quite disheartening:
“Within me is a power of darkness that may tempt to want to ‘kill you off’ when you threaten some concept of reality or morality that I cherish. I will not do it with a weapon but with a mental dismissal, some way of putting you into a category of people whose opinions mean nothing to me. Now I no longer need to be bothered by your otherness or by the tension it creates in me. That, it seems to me, is the spiritual equivalent of murder: I have rendered you utterly irrelevant to my life.” (p. 127)
Are your classrooms and congregations rendering people utterly irrelevant? If so, there is time to step back and reconsider. There is time to confess our missteps. There is time to begin again. These three components, when stewarded well by their practitioners, directly impact the workings of democracy and we have the unique opportunity to be leaders who “consistently [hold] safe space where everyone’s voice can be heard.”
Some questions for you: How do you feel about the unresolved questions in your soul? How haas your church and/or school provided the guidance and research for you to explore your inner life well? What kinds of questions scare you the most?