Pope Francis, John Boehner, and Bill Ury Walk into a Bar…

Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP
Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP via USA Today

As I listen to the news, I’m often quick to connect events, as well as the way we talk about them with whatever I’m reading.  I’m currently re-reading William Ury’s book The Third Side. I will leave the artful discussion of this idea to Ury himself (definitely check out the book!) but this idea of the third site has really struck a chord with me.  With that in mind, I’ve been tickled with the flurry of excitement over Pope Francis’ visit to the United States.  As a student of conflict, I am continually amazed with Pope Francis’ willingness to dive into deeply into controversial topics. Be they questions of religion, morality, environment, or politics, this Pope seems willing to take all bulls by the horns.  Amazingly, while he ruffles some feathers all around (his speech to congress called for both welcoming undocumented immigrants, acting decisively against climate change, and protecting the traditional family and unborn children), he is also one of the most popular public figures of our time.  How is it that this Pope can challenge people’s beliefs SO deeply and so blatantly, and remain so beloved?  I suspect that Pope Francis’ inner third side, an internal space focused on empathetic listening and filled with compassion, may be a partial explanation.

Today, as I hear news of John Boehner stepping down, I’m incredibly curious about how the Pope and a subconscious third side played into this decision.  Recent political history has not embodied much “third side” perspective and the general public seems to be growing both increasingly frustrated with politics, and increasingly polarized.  Now, in the midst of the Pope’s visit, Speaker Boehner is stepping down.  I wonder if the Pope’s visit inspired hope for a different kind of path for the Speaker.  I wonder if he feels Washington is no longer the place for him to serve his country and his conscious.  I wonder if perhaps Speaker Boehner feels unable to play the role of the third side with increasingly divergent ideas from his fellow legislators.  It often feels like the fabric of American politics vacillates between unraveling completely and being so tied up in knots that it serves no purpose at all.  As Speaker of the House, Boehner has a tremendous responsibility for this fabric, but the mantle has to be incredibly heavy.

Perhaps Pope Francis’ visit had nothing to do with the Speaker’s decision.  Regardless, now that he has a little more free time, wouldn’t it be great if Pope Francis, Speaker Boehner, Bill Ury, and maybe a handful of others, could sit down in a quiet booth at a bar, order a round of drinks, and just talk?  Wouldn’t it be amazing to see what they could accomplish with a few hours dwelling in the third side.  I, for one, would love to be a fly on the wall for the conversation and I have no doubt that I would be both inspired, and challenged, by the results.

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