“The incredible ripple effect of being at peace with our vulnerability in any situation is that it means that you have to develop compassion for yourself.”
Krista reflects on how vulnerability can bring us closer to ourselves and each other. The fourth installment of “Living the Questions” this summer. We’ll be back to answer more of your questions in the fall.
.. Somehow, that being real and honest about ourselves and our ragged edges is a form of that, is a virtue. And then, like any other virtue, we really have to practice it. Like any muscle, we have to flex it. This is a very withered muscle because we’ve been taught to hide this at all cost.
.. I think the incredible side effect or ripple effect of being at home, being at peace, with our vulnerability in any situation is that it means that you have to develop compassion for yourself. This just becomes basic spiritual growth, basic spiritual discipline and knowledge, that you start to understand that this doesn’t make you special; that everybody else is struggling with this too. You start to get curious and aware that what other people present as strength, or what feels like resistance or aggressiveness, is also a reflection of the struggle they’re having. It very organically allows you to start to take in the complexity of others — including what they’re not saying; including, maybe, when you can start to really imagine and understand, that what they’re expressing or how they’re behaving may even be the opposite of how they’re feeling. It opens up a lot of possibility between you and others.
.. So vulnerability can nurture a sense of empathy with other people.
.. Some people might say being able to choose or embrace vulnerability can be a privilege of those who are in circumstances safe enough to be able to do that. How do you think through that?
.. those of us walking through the world in any given situation, at any given time, for whom it is safer to be vulnerable, do that on behalf of others. That’s what I think bridge people, I always talk about the calling to be bridge people. I think this is one way to describe what it looks like and what’s happening when someone steps into that space.
Choosing between a focus on race or class is the wrong choice to begin with... There’s a lot of discussion about how far left the Democratic Party should go these days. Is it destroying its electoral chances when its members call for a single-payer health plan or abolishing ICE?
That’s an important question, but the most important question is what story is the Democratic Party telling?
.. As Alasdair MacIntyre argued many years ago, you can’t know what to do unless you know what story you are a part of. Story is more important than policies.
.. The story Donald Trump tells is that we good-hearted, decent people of Middle America have been betrayed by stupid elites who screw us and been threatened by foreigners who are out to get us.
.. Back in the 1980s, the Democrats told two different stories. One was the compassion story associated with Mario Cuomo and Ted Kennedy: Too many Americans are poor, marginalized and left behind. We must care for our brothers and sisters because we are all one family.
.. The other was the brainpower/meritocracy story associated with Gary Hart and later the New Democrats: Americans are masters at innovation. We must use our best minds to come up with innovative plans to solve our problems and head into a new technological century.
I don’t hear those two stories much anymore. The Democrats are emphasizing fighting grit these days, not compassion or technocratic expertise.
Today’s Democrats tell two other stories.
- The first is the traditional socialist story associated with Bernie Sanders: America is rived by the class conflict. The bankers and the oligarchs are exploiting the middles. We need a fighter who will go out and battle concentrated economic power.
- The second is the multicultural story: American history has been marked by systems of oppression. Those who have been oppressed — women, African-Americans, Latinos — need to stand together and fight for justice.
.. Racial justice socialism seems to be the story of the contemporary left. This story effectively paints Trump as the villain on all fronts, and Democrats do face the distinct problem of how to run against a bully like Trump. But is it good politics for the entire Democratic Party to embrace it?
.. no national Democrat has ever fully embraced this story successfully. In fact, Democrats like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama went to great lengths to assure people they were not embracing this story.
- .. They did because Americans trust business more than the state, so socialism has never played well.
- They did it because if you throw race into your economic arguments you end up turning off potential allies in swing states like Wisconsin, Iowa and Pennsylvania.
- They did it because if you throw economics into your race arguments you end up dividing your coalitions on those issues.
In brief, Democrats have stayed away from this narrative because the long hoped-for alliance between oppressed racial minorities and the oppressed white working class has never materialized, and it looks very far from materializing now.
.. for 100 years, Democrats have tended to win with youthful optimism and not anger and indignation.
.. The Democrats who have won nationally almost all ran on generational change — on tired old America versus the possibilities of new America:
- F.D.R.’s New Deal,
- J.F.K.’s New Frontier,
- Bill Clinton’s bridge to the 21st century and
- Obama’s hope and change.
If I had to advise on a Democratic narrative I’d start with three premises:
- First, by 2020 everybody will be exhausted by the climate of negativism and hostility.
- Second, the core long-term fear is American decline; are we losing our mojo?
- Third, communities and nations don’t come together when they talk about their problems; they come together when they do something on behalf of their children.
Maybe the right narrative could be rebuilding social mobility for the young: America is failing its future. We need to rally around each other to build the families, communities, schools, training systems and other structures to make sure the next generation surpasses this one. People are doing this at the local level, and we need a series of unifying projects to make national progress.
.. This story pushes people toward reconciliation. It is future-oriented.
Jesus’ most consistent social action was eating in new ways and with new people, encountering those who were oppressed or excluded from the system. A great number of Jesus’ healings and exorcisms take place while he’s entering or leaving a house for a meal. In the process he redefines power and the kingdom of God. Jesus shows us that spiritual power is primarily exercised outside the structure of temple and synagogue.
As Christianity developed, the Church moved from Jesus’ meal with open table fellowship to its continuance in the relatively safe ritual meal we call the Eucharist. Unfortunately, that ritual itself came to redefine social reality in a negative way, in terms of worthiness and unworthiness—the opposite of Jesus’ intention! Even if we deny that our intention is to define membership, it is clearly the practical message people hear today. It is strange and inconsistent that sins of marriage and sexuality seem to be the only ones that exclude people from the table when other sins like greed and hatefulness are more of a public scandal.
Notice how Jesus is accused by his contemporaries. By one side, he’s criticized for eating with tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 9:10-11, for example); by the other side, he’s judged for eating too much (Luke 7:34) or with the Pharisees and lawyers (Luke 7:36-50, 11: 37-54, 14:1). He ate with both sides. He ate with lepers (Mark 14:3), he received a woman with a bad reputation at a men’s dinner (Luke 7:36-37), and he even invited himself over to a “sinner’s” house (Luke 19:1-10). He didn’t please anybody, it seems, always breaking the rules and making a bigger table.
During Jesus’ time, religious law was being interpreted almost exclusively through the Book of Leviticus, particularly chapters 17-24, the Law of Holiness. Jesus critiques his own tradition. He refuses to interpret the Mosaic law in terms of inclusion/exclusion, the symbolic self-identification of Judaism as the righteous, pure, elite group. Jesus continually interprets the Law of Holiness in terms of the God whom he has met—and that God is always compassion and mercy.
We are living through perilous and polarizing times as a nation, with a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches. We believe the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith are now at stake.
[As Christians,] it is time to be followers of Jesus before anything else—nationality, political party, race, ethnicity, gender, geography—our identity in Christ precedes every other identity. . . . “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). 
Parker Palmer broadens this shared responsibility to those of other faiths:
All three traditions [Christianity, Judaism, and Islam] are misunderstood because some of their alleged adherents engage in hateful and violent behavior that distorts and defies the values they claim to represent. At their core, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and all of the major world religions are committed to compassion and hospitality. . . . In this fact lies the hope that we might reclaim their power to help reweave our tattered civic fabric. 
The Hebrew prophets, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammed first appear to be “nothing,” outside the system, and really of no consequence. But like leaven and yeast, their much deeper power rises, again and again, in every age, while kings, tyrants, and empires change and pass away.