This morning, imagine the beauty of a world where Pope Francis I, President Hassan Rouhani and President Barack Obama all, within a matter of weeks, defy existing orthodoxies in their communities — and survive to see another day.
Each is encircled, at home and abroad, by challengers fearing loss of privilege and power. Each is a leader challenged by time, circumstance and opportunity to move his nation forward — away from entrenched interests and toward inclusion and diversity.
Each is struggling to break away from the black-and-white expectations of opponents who, defined by their own elitism and arrogance, profit through conflict.
Each, sensing a historic opportunity to move beyond existing paradigms and entrenched interests — to move beyond conventional ideas of wrongdoing and “rightdoing” — is searching for a new path that leads to fields of peace.
Who could have imagined that this morning Iran’s Hassan Rouhani would be perceived as more ideologically flexible than Ted Cruz of Texas?
This morning, imagine a world where the president of Iran tweets, “As the sun is about to set here in #Tehran I wish all Jews, especially Iranian Jews, a blessed Rosh Hashanah.”
This morning, imagine the beauty of a world where the pope of the Roman Catholic Church says, “This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.”
Imagine rejecting the nests that protect our mediocrities and be willing, instead, to embrace an inclusive global community. Imagine rejecting the faux-wisdoms of the William Kristols and Peggy Noonans and embracing instead the visions of Prophets and the Founding Fathers.
I believe it’s clear that Iran wants a deal with the United States on its nuclear program and that Rouhani has the authority to negotiate one. I think it’s extraordinary that rather than give peace a chance, however difficult it may initially appear to be, the naysayers started demeaning the initiative, describing Rouhani as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and, as the possibility of talks appeared imminent, hard-liners tried to impose new deal-breaking conditions on detente with Iran.
Just as a Jesuit, whom the pope described, must be, “A person whose thought is incomplete, in the sense of open-ended thinking … and to be searching, creative and generous,” so, too, is the mission of diplomacy. Fraught with complexity, which appears to some as contradiction, peace-making, so often nuanced, is not for the timid.
Refusing to talk to those with whom we differ isn’t a sign of strength; it’s a sign of fear and weakness. Having a conversation with an opponent doesn’t require agreeing with them — it means trying to find a common basis for not being in conflict.
Striving to respect the dignity all peoples, mutual security and social justice for all peoples is the baseline for negotiation.
Obama’s critics harp about American credibility: His refusal to bomb Georgia, bomb Syria, bomb Iran, bomb, bomb, bomb, they say, is a sign of weakness.
Not shaking hands at the United Nations is a snub?
Pay attention. Diplomacy is creative, messy, unpredictable. Red lines shift in the sand. Bombs, once released, cannot be retrieved; civilians, once dead, cannot be revived. True creativity comes from a spiritual place, and in that place peace may be found.
“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself.
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
— Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”
If Obama, Francis and Rouhani appear to occasionally contradict themselves so be it. No one is perfect. However, I prefer, as Whitman suggests, that what appears contradictory is a reflection of the complexity of the challenges these leaders face.
The search for truth and peace has never been clear, especially when the opposition is unrelenting, unyielding, unforgiving. Especially when the opposition’s objective is power, not peace.
Conspiring in darkness, theocons look to narrow interpretations of Scripture to contradict the pope, neonons look to literalist interpretation of law to justify their war-mongering, and distant, aged ayatollahs seek hegemony over doctrinal orthodoxy.
All fear the light of peace.
Those who today attack President Obama for negotiating with Rouhani once attacked President Ronald Reagan for compromising with Gorbachev, as when George Will accused Reagan of having “accelerated the moral disarmament of the West.”
Frankly, I believe that both President Rouhani and Pope Francis will have easier times negotiating with their own neocons than President Obama will have negotiating with his. Besides facing the usual cabal of delegitimizers and haters — who never give him credit for anything — Obama must confront opposition from neoconservative intellectuals and interventionists who harbor a near-pathological obsession with Iran.
Pope Francis I said, “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.”
“Do I contradict myself?”
Today, ask yourself, when you look at another, at the other, do you endorse their existence with love, or do you project your prejudices and fears, and reject and condemn without consideration.
Remember: It is you talking just as much as myself. I cannot survive without the We — together, we thrive in light amidst the multitudes.
“Do I contradict myself?”
Remember: When you meet the weary traveler on the road to Emmaus or Damascus, or en route to Tehran or Jerusalem, offer: “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.”
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.