Welcome to Week Five of this 144th Assembly. Whether you’re continuing your Chautauqua journey this week or visiting us anew, know we are glad you are here to join in our exploration of the United States Supreme Court and the question of whether it — and we — are at “a tipping point.”
I have been waiting in great anticipation for this week, as, in many ways, a discussion of the Court really is more broadly a discussion about the tug and pull we are experiencing around the broader debate of the future of our country. This is exactly the kind of week for which Chautauqua was founded.
We love to ask deep questions at Chautauqua, and we enjoy even more pursuing the answers. This week we will attempt to ask and answer the following:
• What impact have presidential appointments to the Court had on major Court decisions?
• What potential appointments are looming in the 45th president’s first term, and what impact can those appointments have on major cases before the Court?
• How has the balance of power among the three branches of government changed throughout the Court’s history?
These are but a few of the issues swirling around our week, and our companion Interfaith Lecture Series will look at the delicate dance that exists between the Court and our religious communities, and the role morality plays in the deeper issues with which the Justices will wrestle. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. observed that “The conscience of the country must be both the Supreme Court and the religious communities.” And the “and” in this case is complex in a nation that holds up, as a hallmark, “the separation of Church and State.”
I have been so moved by the ways in which our community has heeded the opening charge I offered in my first Three Taps address around the need for this community to practice a muscular civic dialogue. (I recognize that not all Chautauquans can be with us every week of the season. For those who missed the opening Three Taps of the Gavel, I asked if we could commit to a new muscular civic dialogue this season and beyond — you can find it chq.org/threetaps2017.) As we continue to explore that charge, I am excited to share two pieces of news that link to it:
First, our Abrahamic Program for Young Adults (APYA) is going to person a table from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Thursdays in front of the Bestor Plaza fountain, a program titled “Jew, Christian, Muslim … Ask Us Anything.” So much of the disconnect around civil dialogue happens when people fear that of which they have no experience or little knowledge. I’m grateful to these young leaders for providing a forum for Chautauquans to learn more about three of the world’s major faith traditions.
Second, we heard from you that you wanted and needed some tools to more actively exercise your civic dialogue skills. Very soon we will be announcing a community workshop on ways to engage in civil dialogue with a livestream or online engagement companion so those who cannot be present with us can participate. We are excited to bring this opportunity to fruition, to share some best practices and to accelerate our own conversation.
I’d like to wrap up my thoughts this week by thanking those Chautauquans who have shared with me how this place is much more than its programming and that, for many, it is the place they think of first and foremost as “home.” Coming here after so many years in Washington, D.C., certainly makes me acutely sensitive to how special the notion of home can be, and I want to assure you that I take seriously my responsibility for protecting and stewarding your home. I’m grateful for those stories and for the many ways that Chautauquans have shared their journeys with me.
In a nod to another place I consider home, I am so excited to welcome the Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli as our preacher of the week. Not only is Ginger from my hometown of D.C., she is also my pastor at Foundry United Methodist Church, where my partner Peter and I worship each Sunday I’m not at Chautauqua. What a blessing it is for Peter and me to share our Chautauqua home with her and her husband, Anthony, who is a Catholic theologian who serves the U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops as a director in its Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Office. They are an amazing couple making a difference in the world, and just really good people.
Week Five will see the premieres of theater and opera productions, more outstanding music by our student and professional ensembles, a gala celebrating the visual arts, another week of outstanding classes in our Special Studies program, great preaching and recreational opportunities … and the list goes on and on!
It’s hard to believe that this week marks the midpoint of our Chautauqua summer season and exploration of the best in human values. As I journey with you through my first year as Chautauqua’s 18th president, I’m struck that our time together goes incredibly quickly, and yet the richness of our time together makes moments almost stand still. That’s the magic of this sacred place. Thank you again for being the central ingredient in this magic!