Archive for July, 2012

Faithful Followers: A Community Promise to its Leaders

Posted: 11 July 2012 in Uncategorized

Note: the following is one more attempt to define what it takes to create a socially sustainable community. I need to explore the issue of how public ritual can create a greater sense of commitment to the shared space that is our “nearby”. Comments and suggestions are welcome.

Those who were at the City Council meeting on Tuesday evening July 10, 2012 experienced a moment of genuine excitement and hope in the midst of the many serious challenges we face as a city. The excitement was, no doubt, a product of the fact that those in attendance were, for the most part, the supporters of one or more of the new Council members. However, even if one was not a backer of one or more of them, it was hard not to have a sense of pride at having participated in a process that delivered a new group of willing public servants ready to help us move forward as a community. With their smiling faces and friends and family at their sides, it was easy to clap and smile with them and wish them the best, even as the specter of the hard road ahead shadowed the room.

I suspect that part of the excitement was also due to the fact that we were participating in that all too rare (in our culture and time) event that one might call a public ritual. Besides graduations, civil union ceremonies or memorial services we seem to participate in relatively few public rituals. Far more rare are the ones that include our elected officials standing before us to make solemn vows—to take oaths and make promises to us as citizens. The seriousness of the moment should not escape any of us as we consider the importance of leaders making promises to us—those whom they will lead.

As I stood there that evening it struck me that in many traditions and places when one group makes a commitment to another—when a leader makes a promise to a community—the group to whom a promise is made reciprocates by making their own commitments, pledges or promises—taking their own oaths in turn to complete a circle of dedication designed to solidify the foundations of community.

But we did not do this on Tuesday evening. Those of us in attendance observed the promises, accepted them, but made no commitments in return. I would like to suggest that we should develop a further ritual to go along with our “swearing in” ceremonies to make it clear to our leaders that we are vested too in working towards the success and growth of our community. To that end I offer a first attempt at a public promise from the citizens to the members of our City Council. Would you join me in this promise and, if not, how would you change it?


We, the citizens, promise to you, our elected officials to be faithful followers.

We do not promise to be blind followers. We do not promise to follow you unquestioningly.

As faithful followers we commit, specifically to the following:

  • We commit to informing ourselves about the key decisions you must make so we can provide informed input into your deliberations.
  • We promise to argue fervently for what we feel is right. However
  • We accept that, quite frequently, our views are too narrow and that your task is to consider the bigger picture of the needs of our community as you make decisions. We commit to giving you the space to move beyond narrow interests to decide based on these larger considerations.
  • We promise to do conflict well—to season our arguments and words of disagreement with the salt that preserves our common bonds.
  • We promise to have the default conviction that your actions are based on the needs of the commonwealth, but we also commit to standing ready to challenge you publicly if we feel your decisions are based on your own personal interests.
  • We commit to holding you accountable to your own words and to the goals you set.
  • We promise to give you a chance to make right the things you get wrong and to not hold your corrected errors against you in the future.
  • We commit to listening first, to speaking honestly and without guile, to honoring the processes established for public input and to honoring differences of opinion.

As faithful followers we call upon you to lead transparently and faithfully.

Have we forgotten how to mourn? Have we forgotten how to articulate a true lament? It is true that we mourn at the loss of loved ones—but that is mostly a private, inward looking affair that is sanctioned by our society. That is not what I am asking about. I am referring to the very public, very verbal kind of lament that addresses God—in anger at times—to ask “what the hell is going on here and what are you going to do about it?” I don’t think our society looks too kindly on this kind of lamenting for two reasons: one, we don’t really believe in God anymore (even those of us who say we do—we are mostly functional atheists); and two, we don’t want to come across as whiners or to be seen as weak and without the psychological resources to deal with the distressing facts of our world.

I want to learn to lament. I don’t know how, but I do know I am distressed about a number of things and I want to tell someone.

So… I googled “how to write a lament” (seriously) and found some useful tools—call them some rules of thumb—for lament writing based on how the ancient psalm writers did it. Since I am not skilled in lamenting, and since, like everyone of my generation, I am enamored with “technique”, I will use these “rules” to try to lay out my very first lament. Bear with me (or stop reading here). (more…)