What Monks Could Teach Washington’s Politicians

Henry G. Brinton, a pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church in Virginia, writes in USA Today that political leaders in Washington, D.C. could learn something from Sixth-century Irish monks in how they approach the debt ceiling debt. Brinton says that political leaders can be a “diplomat and a warrior, but the two roles must be held in creative tension.”

“House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who has been out front for the GOP, could learn from St. Kevin, who was so disciplined that he held out his arms for hours in prayer. One day, a blackbird laid an egg in Kevin’s hand, and he remained in that position until the baby bird hatched. While there is clearly some historical hyperbole in this story, it illustrates Kevin’s strong commitment to a position, which a politician such as Cantor would have to admire. But Kevin was equally committed to the welfare of his community and served as the abbot of a monastery and the bishop of a region outside Dublin, caring for the needs of young and old, rich and poor. He balanced extreme personal discipline with service to the larger community.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who is steering the Democrats in the House negotiations, should sit at the feet of St. Brigid, who founded two monastic institutions, one for men and one for women. St. Brigid was a strong leader, equally committed to contemplation and hospitality, and knew that some lessons are best learned from sitting down at a table with strangers, talking with them and being influenced by them. Pelosi should share a meal with some Tea Party Republicans, and see whether a dinner conversation can accomplish what political debate cannot.”

While interesting lessons can be gained from examining the lives of the monks, I find it a stretch to compare their religion beliefs with political ideology. More specifically, the monks balancing of their “strong positions with a commitment to hospitality and community life” is much different than a politician balancing their ideological position with a commitment to serve the country. If only because those strong positions held by the monks were about something greater than themselves, and politicians positions are often about serving their own political self interests.

However, Brinton makes an interesting comment that it’s “hard to believe that it was just a generation ago that icons such as Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill were able to take principled stands but also hammer out compromises.” You hear those names evoked by old school political observers, and they call to mind visions of party bosses sitting in back rooms sharing a glass of scotch and hammering out deals. While the back room deals and the good old boy politics may not be missed – the idea of the political compromise is something to be missed.

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