The mid-term election results are almost all in. The Democrats have a slight majority in the Senate, and it looks as though the Republicans will have a slim majority in the House. Some will say this represents a balance of power; other would argue that it is a stalemate.
I wonder if it is an opportunity.
The pundits may claim that the moderates won; that the only way forward, at least politically, is to move to the middle where democracy can be hashed out in debate, deal making, and horse trading. Engaging in compromise. Without that, it is said, we are left with a culture of abrasiveness and verbal violence that has defined our public life for too long. In our current climate, the prevailing desire is not just to win, but to vanquish the other side.
That won’t work. It creates wounds that are very difficult to heal.
Compromise is important and necessary. But so is finding common ground, which is qualitatively different. In the past few years there has been a proliferation of bridge building movements and organizations across the country. I have been deeply involved with Braver Angels, one of the largest of these initiatives. Braver Angels seeks to bring Red (politically conservative) and Blue (politically liberal) people together, not to pull one side to the other, but to seek common ground, and to build on that. Part of the appeal of Braver Angels for me is that it resonates with my particular religious tradition – the Episcopal Church, which was founded as the Church of England in the mid sixteenth century as the via media, the way in between Roman Catholicism and emerging Protestantism. The Anglican movement was created in tension – between Catholic and Protestant, in the confidence that by living faithfully into the tension a new way will arise. It needs to be said that there have been many times over the past five hundred years when the Anglican experiment seemed destined to fail, given that one side, in an effort to dissolve the tension, sought to dominate, if not destroy, the other side. But the tension has always seemed to re-emerge, a tension which generates creativity.
That is what I hope for – an intent to find common ground. For Congress and for each of us. A desire to live into the mandorla, an Italian word for almond, which is the shape that is created when two circles intersect (think Venn Diagram from sixth grade math). In medieval Christian art, the mandorla was the intersection between heaven and earth. In our current culture, I see it as the intersection between red and blue. It requires risk to enter the mandorla – not so much that one will abandon or lessen their convictions or positions; but that I or you might be changed by the interaction itself. In my ongoing work in gun violence prevention, I find that my positions on gun safety issues are as strong, if not stronger, than ever; but in the several podcasts I have done with gun rights advocates, I find myself searching harder to find common ground. Which can be a doorway to creativity. The tension between my positions and my desire to enter the mandorla is almost always there inside of me; and there are occasions when I don’t want to go. And I instead want to seek safety and solace in my silo.
Many people have challenged me on this posture of seeking common ground – of living into the mandorla, claiming that I am abandoning my principles and values. It is tempting to think that the prophetic voice – which to my mind is the voice that calls out injustice and inertia, requires the prophet to stay on message. And not to waver. But I am discovering that in our deeply polarized country, the so-called prophetic voices are speaking to the constituencies in their silos; into their echo chambers. I am discerning that the mandorla is the prophetic space; and that are voices and actions are needed to invite people into that place of risk. It is hard work. It is frustrating work.