Michael Lerner takes his religion very seriously. He also takes his politics very seriously. And, yes, he intends to bring the two together. But, no, Lerner is not a member of the Religious Right. Instead, he preaches a progressive spirituality, the kind of vision that just might transform our bankrupt American politics.
Lerner is the publisher and editor of Tikkun, the Jewish first cousin to Sojourners. The back cover of each issue describes their religious calling: "Tikkun (te-kun)...to heal, repair, and transform the world. All the rest is commentary." I loved that formulation the first time I read it; and I felt a kindred spirit with Lerner even before we met. Since becoming friends, we've often found ourselves on the same platforms and radio shows, or in the same book reviews.
Lerner believes that public discourse in the United States must be radically changed. The old categories of liberal and conservative, Left and Right neither speak to the heart of our social crisis nor provide the imagination to lead us forward. Ideology, says Lerner, is failing us. The way to move beyond the paralysis that now impoverishes national politics is to have a fresh conversation about values-moral and spiritual values. But that doesn't take Lerner into the psychotherapies of New Age spirituality. His quest for a new politics of meaning has led him back to his own Jewish faith.
Michael Lerner's name has, indeed, been most associated with that phrase, "the politics of meaning." Hillary Clinton's use of Lerner's language in a speech put both he and the first lady in the national spotlight for an uncomfortable period of intense media scrutiny (most of it negative). The controversy demonstrated again how difficult it is for the media to talk about politics beyond the usual categories of power. Moral language is suspect of being either flaky or a code for religious sectarianism. The hype and caricature surrounding Lerner's phrase pre-empted