Saturday, January 08, 2011

Civility Needs Communities Or Else It Dies...And People Too

Today, in Arizona with the shooting and deaths of public officials and citizens at a public event, we see many problems in our society being magnified in one horrible episode. Certainly, a disturbed individual, but also issues of the spread of weapons, and an attack on the First Amendment rights to gather peacefully and expression opinions. What underlies much of this, and where it happens when churches and mosques and synagogues and temples are attacked, when physicians performing abortions are attacked, etc, is that civility and the ability to disagree without being disagreeable, and to in fact encourage seeking out opposing viewpoints and learning from them, is under attack and has been virtually destroyed.

The prophet Isaiah asks us to come together and reason together, but instead our media age creates a climate where people get in echo chambers and ramp up their own rhetoric of us vs. them and objectification of persons without concern for others and how it will be received; we dehumanize; we label; we go for the quick soundbite cutting down of others; we use inflammatory imagery; we seek to gain someone's attention rather than their conscience and consciousness; we do it to create consumers and to turn even public discourse into something to sell and make a profit out of, and to be consumers of our own feelings rather than citizens who need one another in order to become our fullest selves; passionate expression replaces thought and fact seeking and concern for the greater common good and for community.

But, here is the rub. Civility will not become real in our world with rallies, with books, with speeches and sermons. This is because it is not a matter of the head or the heart. Also because those tend to be received only by others who are already in our own echo chambers. It can only become real through practice; through failure and feedback and forgiveness and grace and showing up again to live with those who are different from us. Words and events, as important as they are, come and go. But relationships and communities last and make impacts, even though they do not make the news cycle. What is needed now, is vital now for the survival of civil society, are relationships of persons seeking the deepest freedom in community, where they are reminded again and again that the good life means getting over the preoccupation with self, that life is not about me and my wants but about serving God through serving the least of these who struggle with needs not wants. We must create newer, and create better communities dedicated to the practices of civility, especially those which are planted in places where these relationships are most in need and where community is most vulnerable, and that includes not just geographic places, but places that reach out to those disturbed, those outcast. Communities that are missional and foster "third places" for the cultivating of common good out of differences are the very soil for growing the soul of the Common Good.

Whether it is assassinations in Arizona, or gang violence here in our locale where recent drive-bys have wounded children and left bullet holes in baby cribs, or bullying of gay and lesbian students leading to suicide, there is first created an environment in the community where everything is seen through the lens of enemies and of fear, or the drive to elevate the self in others eyes, a kind of celebrity culture come home to roost, and also out of a reactive concern for being shamed and dishonored. We have let those communication outlets become dominant that are based on creating fear and enemies of others and been surprised when such communication begets similar communities in which people get constant reinforcement of that perspective. The way to counter them is not just to put out a different communication; it is to create and embody the values of which we are speaking, and to do so requires committment to communities of civility, relationships rooted in radical stances of civility.

What are we each doing to seed and nurture and sustain and spread such community?
Go to for ideas drawn from how we are doing it; or for more presentations on the topic.

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