From the Minister
In Jay's column in the current issue of Voices,
he talks about the democratic process and how it relates inside the congregation's walls. An archive of these and other columns by the Ministers is maintained and is accessible on the left:
November 19, 2014
You may have seen the claim that Winston Churchill once judged democracy as “the worst form of Government except for all those other forms . . .”
In actuality, what Churchill said in a November 1947 session of the House of Commons was:
Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time; but there is the broad feeling in our country that the people should rule, continuously rule, and that public opinion, expressed by all constitutional means, should shape, guide, and control the actions of Ministers who are their servants and not their masters.
Far from calling the virtue of democracy into question, Churchill is offering a stirring defense of it. He does so while still acknowledging that democracy is neither “perfect nor all-wise.”
We’re now in the post-election blather period when commentators prattle on and on in their efforts to explain the results. Whatever else you’ve concluded, I am absolutely certain that, after this particular mid-term election, no one is inclined to think of our democracy as either perfect or all-wise. (When in our own record-breaking Senate race, supporters of the losing candidate—a woman who spent almost $40 million dollars trying to hang on to her seat—now declare that she was defeated by the interests of “big money,” we are approaching something bordering on utter absurdity.)
Not surprisingly, Bill Maher had a scathing commentary in response to the recent election. I’m not a big fan of the sneering derision that so often characterizes Maher and others of his ilk, but in this case, he makes some apt observations about democracy in general and voting in particular.
Maher mocks “I Voted” stickers by saying: “Let’s stop patting ourselves on the back for something we’re supposed to do anyway.”
He chastises the non-participants in our democratic process by announcing, “The fake excuses offend me.” Maher then proceeds to excoriate those who don’t show up because “politicians are all the same” or “it doesn’t matter who wins” or because there wasn’t a candidate who could “excite you and energize your base.”
Of regular participation in our democracy, Bill Maher declares, “it’s not a movie where you stay home if the trailer doesn’t grab you.” He ends by lowering the boom on all who say that because the process is just too tainted now, they don’t participate in order to remain above it all. “If your hands aren’t dirty,” says Maher, “it’s not because you’re pure, it’s because you aren’t helping.”
To be sure, democracy is messy business. The making of that sausage is not for the faint of stomach. When any group of humans is invited into the process of self-determination, the resulting activity is almost certainly not going to be simple, easy, comfortable or unsullied by competing interests.
There are those who expect that democracy in a religious setting will be, or at least should be, different. These seem to think that simply because a group organizes in the name of spiritual depth, participation should be straightforward, undemanding, and free from any conflict or competing visions. And, it should, somehow, always prove exciting and inspiring or, at the very least, personally interesting.
Aware that our own efforts at being a democratic congregation are also comprised by non-participation, by those who, proffering all sorts of excuses, opt simply to sit it out, I am grateful for so many of you who understand and act otherwise.
- There are teachers here in our CYRE program who show up on the Sundays they are excited to be here and on the other Sundays too.
- There are members expressing care and concern for those they know and to those they’ve never even met.
- There are members of our various program Teams who come to meetings when it fits their schedules and who adjust their schedules in order to keep their commitments.
- There are singers who trudge into this building on weary Wednesday evenings who probably don’t feel excited or inspired on that particular evening.
- There are those who use neither age nor years nor prior service as excuses for inaction but who keep showing up and pitching in and making a difference.
- There are leaders on our Stewardship Team who endure the dispiriting array of excuses they hear not just because they know we can’t exist without funding but because they actually see a connection between financial commitment and spiritual depth.
- There are those behind the scenes who never get acclaim but who do so many of the things that make who we are possible simply because they want to offer what they can.
- There are members who are here Sunday after Sunday and at other times as well, both when the topic or experience is of particular interest and when it may not be because they know that without engaged and informed participation on the part of our members, our claim to be a democratic congregation gets called into question.
Thank you to all here who accept with kindness the fact that this democratic congregation is not “perfect or all-wise.” Thank you to all who understand deeply how informed involvement matters here just as it does in our larger democratic society. Thanks for the ways you embody our stated affirmation to be a place that cultivates “lives of generosity and responsibility, sharing our personal abundance.” You make who we are trying to be possible; your hands are dirty with helping. I am grateful.