The Dialectic Loom of Democracy

What inner resources do we bring to the tumultuous table of our times, when fractious embitterment tends to disable our noble system of self-government? We can contribute to “Healing the Heart of Democracy,” as inspired by Parker Palmer’s latest book of that title.

By Rev. Jaco B. ten Hove, co-minister
Cedars Unitarian Universalist Church, Bainbridge Island & Greater Kitsap County, WA
 — September 16, 2012 —

Page references from Healing the Heart of Democracy
by Parker Palmer (2011, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco)

OPENING SONG — “Building Bridges,” #1023 in Singing the Journey:

Building bridges between our divisions, I reach out to you, will you reach out to me?
With all of our voices, and all of our visions, friends, we could make such sweet harmony.

Certainly one of the most momentous times of division in our land was the Civil War between the States, which began its four-year swath of ruin in April 1861. Any “sweet harmony” in the still formative and supposedly United States seemed swept away by voices of dissension and warmongering. Would the Union and its ambitious democracy even survive? It is perhaps hard for us today to imagine the anxiety and discord that swirled so dangerously at that time.

In early March of 1861, just weeks ahead of the opening attack on Fort Sumter, newly elected President Abraham Lincoln made his first inaugural address, as sabers rattled. The closing paragraph of his speech, offered in the face of such deep-seated division, has resonated across the chambers of time and speaks to us still during yet another extremely divisive election season that has many of us dispirited and worried. Listen to Lincoln’s message, spoken as Civil War was imminent:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature (27).

“(T)he chorus of the Union” will again be “touched…by the better angels of our nature.” This could seem like overly idealistic, unrealistic talk, given what was unfolding. But Lincoln was on to something important, and stayed true to his notions throughout the bitterly destructive war, despite public opinion often against him.

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