I'm beginning this column at about 30,000 feet, en route to Akron, Ohio. We're doing the Who Speaks for God? book tour and Call to Renewal town meetings-40 of them in all-which will take me from Harlem to Orange County in six weeks. This whirlwind tour, during the election campaign, is providing quite a view of the country's landscape-including its current political and spiritual terrain.
The crowds have been two to three times what the organizers in each place had hoped for, indicating a widespread hunger for a moral vision of politics beyond the old categories of Left and Right. I can feel the energy in the sanctuaries, auditoriums, and parish halls where people are gathering. Despite their lack of enthusiasm for politics as usual (and their choices again this year), there is clearly a hope for alternative possibilities.
"Tonight we are here to talk about politics!" declared Warren Braun in Milwaukee. The overflow audience actually cheered in response, because even though the sandwiches had long since run out they knew they were going to be fed by a discussion of "real politics"-instead of the poll results and attack ads of this election year.
We talked about the meaning of polis (from which we get the word "politics"), as in the people, the public square, and the search for the common good. It means a discourse about values, right and wrong, and the ways of sustaining or restoring the healthy social and moral fabric of a society.
It's about putting forth new ideas, solving problems, resolving conflicts, finding common ground, and, above all, making sure no one is left behind. It requires an informed and involved citizenry who believe that what they think and do can make a difference, and that their real political involvement has more to do with the time, energy, gifts, and resources they put into rebuilding their own local communities than with pulling a lever on the first Tuesday of November.