I've been enjoying a summer of reading, writing and arithmetic the summer. In the last week I came across a speech delivered in 1962 by William F. Winter at Centre College in Kentucky. Winter later became the governor of Mississippi, and now continues his efforts in the area of racial reconciliation through a center he founded in Jackson, Mississippi. The speech is titled, "In Defense of the Practical Politician." It outlines an approach to politics that was challenging then, and even more so today. Winter suggests the great value in getting things done. My favorite lines from the speech:
"In many cases, perhaps in most, the willingness to compromise involves great courage, and the more sharply defined the issues and the more deeply divided the partisans, the greater the courage that is required. Some of the most courageous public officials I know have been the quietly dedicated people of reason who have worked under the most unrelenting pressures to gain acceptance of unpopular but neccessary agreements, while bombastic orators denounce them as traitors or worse."
In many ways Winter has captured for me a central theme of what it means to serve as a bishop. Winter had his convictions, as I have mine, but we both understand that in order to get things done there is a need to work with those with whom we do not agree.
Compromise is not in vogue these days - in politics, religion, education, culture or little league parents. If one mentions compromise, you are considered a whimp, or worse a shill for the opposition. One of the most distressing comments I heard while attending a lecture this summer on the work of reconciliation and mediation was by the executive director of a midsize city. "The process of mediation works. The problem is getting people who are willing to participate. Our biggest challenge is not the issues that divide us, it is the fact that people don't want to participate, they'd rather hold their positions. And this is true all along the spectrum."
In 2014, I participated in a program at Duke Divinity school for new denominational leaders. During the three days of learnings, we participated in a session on change theory. THe basic idea was that people tend to gravitate toward one of three camps when it comes to change - resistance, pragmatics, enthusiasts. In America, about 20% are resistors by nature, they just don't like change of any kind. Another 20% are enthusiasts, they want change on a daily basis, they love variety. But, 60% are pragmatists. These folks want to look at the options, discover the reasons and evaluate the pros and cons, all with an eye on "will it work.?"
These seemingly random paragraphs are verses in a hymn titled "In Defense of the Practical Bishop." While inwardly I am very much a mystic driven by intuitive expressions of God, I am outwardly a practical guy. I ask the questions of pragmatism, what can be accomplished and how can we do it together. On the inside I am all about the possibilities, On the outside I am all about the practicalities.
In another post, I'll have to write about the mystics, poets and prophets along with a few demons that inhabit my soul. But, that's for another day.