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Thursday, February 10, 2011

A More Perfect Union

This morning's New York Times had one of the most hopeful headlines I've read in a long time.

It read, 'House Republicans Battle Turmoil in Their Ranks', and began with these words, "
Under pressure to make deeper spending cuts and blindsided by embarrassing floor defeats, House Republican leaders are quickly discovering the limits of control over their ideologically driven and independent-minded new majority."
My immediate thought was, "Whew!"

Discovering the limits of any ideologically driven agenda - especially one that is so negative and heavily infused with testosterone - is a good thing.

The article goes on to note that "The infighting foreshadowed potential difficulties for Republicans in holding their troops together for clashes with the White House and the Democratically controlled Senate as well as their ability to corral reluctant Republicans to vote to increase the federal debt limit."

Granted, it's still very early in the game. There are 87 new Republicans in the House who are feeling empowered by what they believe is their election mandate to shake up Congress. One expects a few fumbles and fake passes as the team figures out the intricacies of their game strategy.

I loved what Speaker of the House, John A. Boehner, is quoted as saying in conceding that the fledgling majority was encountering turbulence. “We have been in the majority four weeks,” Mr. Boehner said. “We are not going to be perfect every day.”

As I walked around Memorial Drive this morning, I found myself giving thanks for the idea, first articulated in the Preamble of the Constitution, that "We the people" established the laws that govern this land "in order to form a more perfect union."

Not perfect.

More perfect.

To my mind, that means that, built into the system is the expectation that we will have different, indeed, conflicting ideologies.

This leads me to believe that conflict is necessary - perhaps even essential - in order for us to realize the ideal of a "more perfect union".

That takes a great deal of perseverance. And, patience. And, vigilance. And, oh, yes, maturity.

Boehner is fond of talking about the necessity of having "adult conversations" - by which I understand him to mean that, after all the 'blah, blah, blah', there needs to be some action taken.

Perhaps, when the members of the House read the entire of the Constitution on the first day of the new session of Congress, they might have paused a bit - as adults - to consider the phrase "a more perfect union" and reflect on what that might mean for the "adult conversations" they would be having amidst such sharply drawn ideological differences.

So, let me reproduce for you - right here, right now - that preamble and ask you to reflect on it for just a moment:
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
That's it. That's the governing ideology of this country which enshrine our guiding principles.
We the people.

A more perfect union.


Domestic tranquility.

Common defense.

General welfare.

Blessings of liberty.
That's what this country is supposed to be about. I fear we lose sight of that, even though we have recently had a "command performance" of the reading of the Constitution's Preamble. Indeed, I trust that the words still echo in the hallowed halls of our government.

The whole thing, you see, rests on the understanding of the 'blessings of liberty'. That's the secular term for it. In the church, we understand this as the divine gift of 'free will'.

It's hard not to see the parallels between what is happening in our government with the constitutional idea of a 'more perfect union' and what is happening with liberation promised in the Gospels with the Anglican Covenant.

I suspect the founders of this country, many (but certainly not all) of whom were, themselves, Anglicans - or at least influenced by Anglican Spirituality of the tolerance of the via media - would be aghast at the spirit of intolerance which seems to have taken over this country presently.

And, the Anglican Communion.

In our quest for unity, we must not sacrifice the gift of our free will on the altar of uniformity. Our goal is for a 'more perfect communion' - to struggle for more and more glimpses of the Realm of God on this side of Paradise.

With that glorious freedom comes a terrible responsibility - not only to guard our own freedom but to protect and defend "liberty and justice for all".

It seems, at times, an impossible vocation.

There is no greater defense of this freedom than the mature tolerance of difference of opinion and the free expression of those differences - even when one's views are the minority opinion.

Indeed, in a Democracy, it is incumbent upon those in the majority to work even harder to protect and defend the liberty and justice of all lest, when the tides turn, as they eventually will, they find a compromise of their own "certain inalienable rights."

One of my friends pointed out to me the limits and responsibilities of freedom with the following wonderful little analogy.

He said, "You have the absolute right to swing your arms as freely as you choose. That right," he added, "ends at the end of my nose."

You have absolute freedom to swing your ideology as wildly as you want. That freedom ends, however, when your ideology begins to hurt me, personally, or compromise my rights to swing my ideology.

It would be good for us all - Republicans and Democrats, one and all - to remember that. Being "driven by ideologies" is the fuel of our democratic system. I just hope we do not forget that the "rule of the majority" is still about "we the people."

One would hope that Anglicans would not need such a reminder.

I fear, however, that we are the ones who need it the most.

So, I'll leave you to consider what one Great Reformer of the Church had to say about becoming a "more perfect union" as the church.

Martin Luther wrote:
"This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified."
Democracy, like Anglicanism, is at its best when we understand that it is not the destination but the journey.

We have not arrived, but we're getting there.

We are not perfect - far from it! - but we will be made more a perfect union in the crucible of a mature tolerance and respect of our difference - especially in the service of justice, tranquility, the general welfare, and the blessings of liberty.

It begins, I think, when we begin to understand - as the Republicans (and the Democrats, and indeed, our very President) are just beginning to understand - the limits of our control.


Kemlynb said...

Maybe we would remember the rights of others better if the Bill of Rights were at the beginning of the Constitution instead of the end. It amazes me how those words are still a somewhat radical framework for human dignity within a nation.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

What an astute observation, Kemlynb.

MarkBrunson said...

Curiously, the de-centralizing ethic of this "new majority" (aka: Tea Partiers) is the same one that drove us to create the Constitution.

The loose confederation of "sovereign states" that Tea Partiers envision was what led the early U. S. to chaos and conflict; the unregulated landowners and merchants were what led to a Debtor's Rebellion that was successful and bloody enough to terrify us into centralizing the authority.

The Tea Partiers seem not to know - hardly surprising, given their anti-intellectualism - that, historically, we tried it that way . . . and came close to having to beg Britain to take us back before we destroyed ourselves.

It was centralization and regulation that saved us.

Anonymous said...

Spoken (and written) like a grown-up; how refreshing. There's still hope when it's evident how many people out there think and act as you do. Thank you!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks for your kind words. Next time, please consider leaving your name.