Have a Minute? Thoughts from Pastor Matt…
“Good Patriots Have Lovers’ Quarrells”
Parker Palmer is a Quaker elder, an educator, an activist, the founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal, and the author of numerous books around topics of spirituality, education, and vocation. Across all these arenas of his work, has garnered great respect—especially in the education community and among people with an interest in progressive spirituality—for his depth, wisdom, and groundedness. Recently on the website of the public radio show On Being (with Krista Tippett), Palmer reflected on disciplines of the soul he thinks will be key in facing the current moment in which our country finds itself.
Admittedly, Palmer is not unbiased as regards the incoming Presidential administration (who isn’t these days?). And yet, even though political beliefs and preferences are diverse in our congregation, as a Christian covenant community—a people bound together by a professed desire and acknowledged calling to follow Jesus Christ—there are some basic standards of dignity and human community that unite us, basic standards that even those who may have supported Mr. Trump’s election cannot deny have been transgressed. In his article, Palmer puts it well: “the country I love will inaugurate a man who embodies many of our culture’s most soulless traits: adolescent impulsiveness, an unbridled drive for wealth and power, a taste for violence, nonstop narcissism, and massive arrogance. A man who has maligned women, Mexicans, Muslims, African Americans, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, and Mother Earth—a man who’d sooner deny the obvious than apologize for the outrageous—will become President of the United States.” Even if one agrees with Mr. Trump’s political and economic policies, as Christians we cannot and should not make light of these very troubling things—these “soulless” traits, to use Palmer’s term.
In the midst of such a situation, Palmer speaks of feeling called to renew his sense of being a “patriot,” not in the “God, Guns, Guts, and Glory” sense—the sort of patriot who is only ever an uncritical lover—but in the sense of a deep patriotism secure enough in itself to have an ongoing “lover’s quarrel” with country. He cites William Sloane Coffin, who wrote that “There are three kinds of patriots, two bad, one good. The bad ones are the uncritical lovers and the loveless critics. Good patriots carry on a lover’s quarrel with their country, a reflection of God’s lover’s quarrel with the world.”
Palmer then digs deeper, asking what such a lover’s quarrel, “animated by the fierce love my soul would affirm,” might involve. He offers four insights:
- “it must be a quarrel about what is and isn’t true”
- “we must engage in civil discourse across political divides, without compromising our convictions”
- “this lover’s quarrel needs to surface what’s not being said”
- “if it’s going to be a lover’s quarrel, we need to keep the love alive”
How do any of these strike you? I’d strongly encourage you to take a look at Palmer’s original article to hear his fleshing-out of each of these insights… it’s rich and deep and true. You can find it at:
What about you? What about us together as a congregation, a Christian covenant community? Even recognizing differences of perspective on matters of policy among us, how do we stay rooted in our souls in the midst of it all, connecting with and celebrating and advocating for the deepest moral and ethical truths around which we unite? I’m not sure I have many concrete answers at this point. But I do know it will demand of us our best selves. It will require from us our deepest and most faithful engagement with the things that make us who we are and that connect us to God, like prayer and scripture and the sacraments. And it will invite us to find our truest selves and our most authentic lives in our devotion to and discipleship of Jesus Christ.
In Germany in 1934, in the midst of an era when most Germans took the union of Christianity, nationalism, and militarism for granted, and patriotic sentiments were equated with Christian truth, a group of pastors and theologians—known as the Confessing Church—resisted. They issued the Theological Declaration of Barmen, believed to have been mostly composed by famous 20th century German Reformed theologian Karl Barth, and in one of the statements of that Declaration, they quote from 1st Corinthians 1:30—“Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption”—and then go on to make this confession:
As Jesus Christ is God’s assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so in the same way and with the same seriousness is he also God’s mighty claim upon our whole life. Through him befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to his creatures.
We reject the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords—areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.
Indeed, no matter what happens in the world or within any of us, the whole of our life belongs to Christ, and that confession-of-faith is both our hope and our call-to-action.
Yours in the journey,
 “The Theological Declaration of Barmen,” in Arthur C. Chochrane, The Church’s Confessions Under Hitler (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962), 237-242; reprinted in The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Part 1 – Book of Confessions (Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church [U.S.A.]), 281-284. The cited section is enumerated by Book of Confessions as 8.13-8.15, on page 283.
This article was origionally published in the Feburary 2017 issue of The Carillon, our monthly newsletter, appearing on pgs. 3-4.