Review: Healing the Heart of Democracy – Parker Palmer

January 3, 2012


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As noted earlier, there is a deep spirituality undergirding this book, but for the most part this spirituality lies below the surface, becoming explicit largely in a later chapter where Palmer deals with the role of classrooms and congregations in forming the “habits of the heart” that enable democracy to flourish. At their best, congregations contribute to the development of two key characteristics necessary for democracy to thrive – compassion and trust. Although congregations have a less than stellar record at living out these characteristics, they are part of the ethos of faith. Therefore, while our congregations also need to experience healing, they can also provide spaces where we can experience compassion for the diversity present in our communities. To get there, Palmer suggests that we develop a theology of hospitality that speaks to our national illusion of self-sufficiency, and invites us to break open our hearts to the stranger.

There is a deep and disturbing cloud hanging over the United States. It is a malaise that is leading to cynicism and self-centeredness. The antidote is to be found in the healing of the heart of our democracy, so that we might emerge from this private focus to a public one, which recognizes our interdependence. I know of no better guide to discerning the problem and the solutions, than this book by Parker Palmer. It is a prophetic book, one that needs to be taken with all due seriousness, if we are to emerge from our malaise stronger and healthier than before.


Bob Cornwall is pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Troy, Michigan, and author of Ultimate Allegiance: The Subversive Nature of the Lord’s Prayer. He blogs at Ponderings on a Faith Journey.