Morgan Park

 Baptist Church

Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor

11024 S. Bell Avenue 

Chicago, IL 60643


The Heart of Democracy
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth

Let me start this reflection with a quotation which begins Parker Palmer’s masterful
2011 book, Healing the Heart of Democracy: “The human heart is the first home of
democracy. It is where we embrace our questions. Can we be equitable? Can we be
generous? Can we listen with our whole beings, not just our minds, and offer our
attention rather than our opinions? And do we have enough resolve in our hearts to act
courageously, relentlessly, without giving up - ever - trusting our fellow citizens to join us
in our determined pursuit of a living democracy?” (Terry Tempest Williams)
   I’d like to offer some further quotations from Palmer’s book in light of what has
happened in our country in recent weeks. We had a well-attended discussion on
Palmer’s book some 6 years ago. But his thoughts are very pertinent - especially in light
of the current fracturing/fragmenting of our communal civil life.
   “The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, have both deepened America’s
appreciation of democracy and activated demons that threaten it, demons still at large
   “I have witnessed the rapid erosion of the middle class and the growing power of big
money, an oligarchy of wealth, to trump the will of the people.”
   “When will we learn that violence in the long run creates at least as many problems
as it solves? Why do we not value life, every life, no matter whose or where? Or
understand that the measure of national greatness is not only how successful the strong
can be but how well we support the weak?”
   “ … we share an abiding grief over some of modernity’s worst features: its mindless
relativism, corrosive cynicism, disdain for tradition and human dignity, indifference to
suffering and death.”
   “How shall we respond to the cultural trends that diminish all of us? On this question,
I, too, have a nonnegotiable conviction: violence can never be the answer. Instead, we
must protect people’s freedom to believe and behave as they will, within the rule of law;
assent to majority rule while dedicating ourselves to protecting minority rights; embrace
and act on our responsibility to care for one another; seek to educate ourselves about
our cultural differences; come together in dialogue toward mutual understanding; and
speak without fear against all that diminishes us, including the use of violence.”
   “The more you know about another person’s story, the less possible it is to see that
person as your enemy … Abortion is one of the many issues that generate what some
people have called the ‘politics of rage.’ And yet rage is simply one of the masks that
heartbreak wears. When we share the sources of our pain with each other instead of
hurling our convictions like rocks at ‘enemies,’ we have the chance to open our hearts
and connect across some of our great divides.”
   “Looking at politics through the eye of the heart can liberate us from seeing it as a
chess game of moves and countermoves or a shell game for seizing power or a blame
game of Whac-A-Mole. Rightly understood politics is no game at all. It is the ancient and
honorable human endeavor of creating a community in which the weak as well as the
strong can flourish, love and power can collaborate, and justice and mercy can have
their day. ‘We the People’ must build a political life rooted in the commonwealth of
compassion and creativity still found among us, becoming a civic community sufficiently

united to know our own will and hold those who govern accountable to it.”
   “If American democracy fails, the ultimate cause will not be a foreign invasion or the
power of big money or the greed and dishonesty of some elected officials or a military
coup or the internal communist/socialist/fascist takeover that keeps some Americans
awake at night. It will happen because we - you and I - became so fearful of each other,
of our differences and of the future, that we unraveled the civic community on which
democracy depends, losing our power to resist all that threatens it and call it back to its
highest form.”
   “Our differences may be deep: what breaks my heart about America may make your
heart sing, and vice versa. Protecting our right to disagree is one of democracy’s gifts,
and converting this inevitable tension into creative energy is part of democracy’s
   “Democracy gives us the right to disagree and is designed to use the energy of
creative conflict to drive positive social change. Partisanship is not a problem.
Demonizing the other side is.”
   “The truth is that Americans are suffering. We suffer from a widespread loss of jobs,
homes, savings, and citizen confidence in our economic and political systems. We
suffer from a fear of terrorism and the paranoia it produces. We suffer from a
fragmentation of community that leaves us isolated from one another. We suffer,
ironically, from our indifference to those among us who suffer. And we suffer as well
from a hopeless sense that our personal and collective destinies are no longer in our
   “What shall we do with our suffering? That is one of the most fateful questions
human beings must wrestle with. Sometimes suffering rises into anger that leads to
murder and war; at other times it descends into despair that leads to quick or slow self-
destruction. Violence is what we get when we do not know what else to do with our
suffering. But when the human heart is open and allowed to work its alchemy, suffering
can generate vitality instead of violence.”
Dear God, make it so!