Aspirational Truths

by the other theo

This entry will be political.   With the passing of elections in the United States on Tuesday, it was a political week.  Politics can be a rather poisonous subject to express these days.   If you don’t want to read about politics, you may want to stop here.

My mother grew up in a Carpatho-Rusyn Orthodox Church.  There’s a history to what that term means, and I don’t know all of it.  I can recall visiting my grandparents and going to that Church.  Being raised Roman Catholic (my father’s faith) in a post Vatican II world, some of the forms were quite familiar (though with different accents) and others seemed utterly alien.  Communion in particular was something that baffled me.  Very few people went up to get it, and it was fed to the people who did out of a cup with a spoon.   Now, I understand that the pre-Vatican II way to get communion was not so different; the Church encouraged people to get Communion a minimum of once a year because you were supposed to fast and go to Confession before receiving it.  At that time, however, it just seemed odd.

I remember one occasion during my high school or early college years where we went to my grandparents’ church and the priest denied someone communion.   The person got in line for communion, got to where the priest was standing, and some words were spoken, with the net effect of that person turning around and sitting down.  This was discussed among my family later.  The person was a visitor, a relative from out of town.  But why did the priest deny it?  The priest did not know this person, and s/he could receive communion.  There was some shock that the priest would do this,  in so public a fashion.  I asked my mom about it later.  Being in my teens, I’d already studied enough European history to understand a little of the history of Orthodox Christianity.  I was surprised that they were surprised, I told her. To me, a faith that so explicitly honors the past and counts no new revelation since the 5th Century, it was wonder that rules should be obeyed.  She told me “they are surprised because everything that you hope and believe for the Church we go to, they hope for theirs.”

In sorting through the wreckage of what happened this week, I’ve been trying to listen more to what a few conservative friends and acquaintances are saying about what is happening.  It’s not easy at times because while we seem to use the same vocabulary and syntax, our language means completely different things.  Someone I respect a lot once said that “this President is the most divisive in our history” and this week lamented that divisiveness again, suggesting that “for those who follow history, Mr Clinton did his best work when he was faced with a Republican Congress.”

While I agree with that statement in general, I do not hold out much hope for rapprochement between the President and the incoming Congress.  The Speaker of the House speaking about immigration said this week that

“If the president acts on his own, he will poison the well,” Boehner told reporters at a Thursday press conference. “If you play with matches, you can risk burning yourself. The American people made it clear on Election Day: They want to get things done and they don’t want the president acting on a unilateral basis. “

This echoes language from the Senate Majority Leader-to-be from the day before:

“It’s like waving a red flag in front of a bull to say, ‘If you guys don’t do what I want, I’m going to do it on my own,'” McConnell said Wednesday in Louisville, declaring that if Obama follows though, “I think it poisons the well” for legislative action.

Translation: we, the leaders of the Congress, have the mandate from the people; you do not.  You must follow our lead, not the other way around.

This, I feel, is language of demonstration, not reconciliation or even diplomacy.  For some conservatives, this is a show of both the strength of their convictions and the integrity of their cause.  For some liberals, this is yet another example of Congressional Republicans acting like spoiled children who can’t behave but expect everyone else to be grown ups and forgive them.

Part of the problem seems to come from competing sets of truths that seem to brook little in terms of compromise.  The same person I respect said “I would not consider forcing through legislation that did little to increase insurance coverage and which a majority of the country oppose as a great accomplishment. A French or German model would have been more acceptable.” about the Affordable Care Act.  While I might attempt to point out that the root of the unpopularity of that Act appears to be politics more than much of its substance, to hear anyone on the other side of aisle prefer any system for mandatory national health insurance was refreshing.  I’d advocate for a fair French or German system of national coverage over what we have in a heartbeat.

It made me remember something like what my Mom told me those many years ago: conservatives and liberals can have many of the same aspirational goals.  We each can hope for the same things from our respective views of politics, culture, and government.   It is only our methods that differ…. and in some cases differ extremely.

There has to be something in those hopes that let us build a bridge.   Can we find the builders?