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As politics poison churches, a nonprofit teaches deep listening – The Washington Post



The topics were loaded: flags in the church sanctuary; separation of church and state.

Nine United Methodist pastors from South Carolina with differing political views met online with a facilitator recently to learn a set of techniques for talking about such polarizing political differences.

The sessions were meant to teach them how to actively listen and demonstrate understanding.

As each pastor spoke about his or her views on the topic, their peers took turns reflecting back on what they said in a practice meant to help the pastor feel understood.

It was harder than many in the group thought.

One pastor, trying to restate a colleague’s view, remembered a small detail not relevant to the larger point. Another did what many pastors do — she added her own homiletic gloss to the argument. Yet another pastor admitted he stopped listening to the details of his fellow pastor’s position because he was already trying to formulate his own response.

Polarization is dividing American society, not only politically but socially, geographically, ideologically and religiously. Distrust, contempt, even enmity are rising. United Methodists are splitting over the ordination and marriage of LGBTQ people. Jews are divided on their views of Israel. Evangelicals are torn about coronavirus restrictions, vaccines, critical race theory or whether the 2020 election was stolen.

Resetting the Table, a 8-year-old organization dedicated to creating meaningful dialogue across political divides, is trying to engage clergy and congregations — among other groups — in more productive discussions.

The group is under no illusions that it can resolve conflict or foster agreement. Its training sessions do not attempt to produce consensus or even find common ground. There’s no expectation that participants might walk away thinking differently about an issue.

Rather, the techniques they teach are meant to allow people with deep differences to see each other in all their humanity.

“Listening to those who disagree with us is part and parcel of what it means to listen for God’s voice,” said Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, founding co-director of Resetting the Table. “We need to investigate our differences courageously.”

The organization has so far trained some 43,000 people in a carefully structured process that allows participants to listen, speak and challenge each other respectfully. With funding from Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw’s Hearthland Foundation, it works not only with clergy and congregations but also with entertainment industry workers, journalists and care professionals. But its work among religious groups is especially critical because those communities are among the last places where people with differing worldviews gather together.

Weintraub has become an expert on disagreement. As she was finishing her rabbinical degree from Jewish Theological Seminary, she co-founded Encounter, a Jewish organization that takes U.S. Jews on trips to Bethlehem, East Jerusalem and Ramallah to meet with Palestinians and better understand the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Resetting the Table, her newest venture, does much of its work in Jewish settings. But with a staff of 11 and a network of facilitators, it has expanded its training to include clergy from other faith traditions, mostly Christian. (A short documentary about the group’s work in rural communities in Wisconsin and Iowa, shows how the process works.)

The Rev. Robin Dease, pastor of St. Andrew by the Sea in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and a former district superintendent in the state’s United Methodist Conference, said the tensions she sees in her own denomination led her to propose the two sessions among her clergy colleagues.

United Methodists are in the process of splintering, Dease said, and people aren’t engaging with one another.

“People leave abruptly without any conversation, without gathering to delve into the issue: theologically, spiritually, exegetically and socially. We’re not having the conversation,” Dease said.

Dease, who also serves on the denomination’s social justice arm, the General Board of Church and Society, had heard about Resetting the Table and participated in an interfaith training session for clergy from Southeastern states earlier this year. After it concluded, she picked a group of fellow pastors — some liberal, some conservative — from her own denomination to deepen the practice.

An initial session last month asked the participants to talk about formative life experiences. It then asked the clergy to complete a survey about their beliefs, which the facilitator used to assess broad areas of disagreement. During the next session, people of differing views were matched in smaller groups.

Resetting the Table techniques are modeled after a practice known as “transformative mediation.” Unlike traditional mediation, which aims to resolve disputes by arriving at mutually acceptable solutions, transformative mediation seeks to give people skills to see and understand the other person’s point of view so they are more willing to relate to one other respectfully.

The idea, said Eyal Rabinovitch, with Weintraub a founding co-executive director of Resetting the Table, is to disarm conflict’s destructive powers.

“One of the greatest insights from the world of trauma therapy is that people are their most receptive selves when they are seen as they wish to be seen,” Rabinovitch said. “We want people to say, ‘Yes, that’s exactly me.’ That makes all the difference in producing receptivity. Lots of changes can happen in those moments.”

When differences emerge, participants are asked to slow down the conversation, pause their own reactions and listen carefully. They are urged to look for “signposts of meaning,” words or expressions that convey particular passions. They are then asked to relate back what they heard the speaker say and to ask if their rephrasing is accurate.

The training was powerful for a Lynchburg, Va., evangelical church that signed up 15 members to participate in a set of trainings in April. Mosaic, a small church that meets in a shopping center, had experienced disagreement over pandemic closures. Some members left. Others nursed grudges for the church’s willingness to follow government-issued mandates they felt were an infringement on their liberties.

“I was fascinated to learn that it was very easy for me on some issues to take a very set view and not have a generous interpretation of what the other individual believes,” said Ron Miller, a Mosaic Church elder who works as the online dean for the School of Government at Liberty University. “The idea of looking at the other side of the issue and interpreting it more generously is a game changer if we apply that as a daily discipline.”

Miller is now working with Resetting the Table to convene a training for Lynchburg clergy this fall. He thinks the practices might also be helpful for Liberty University employees, too.

Rabinovitch acknowledged that clergy with big public platforms and a following that hinges on their extreme positions are unlikely to want to participate because doing so requires a degree of vulnerability. But they say most people yearn to communicate better.

Jeff Nitz, an elder at Mosaic Church, said the work may well save society from an escalating cycle of mutual distrust.

“It’s about getting closer to your neighbor,” he said. “We’re not caricatures. We’re real people. You can’t have that if you’re not listening to the other.”

Religion News Service

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Bill Blaikie, longtime Manitoba politician who served federally and provincially, dead at 71 –



Bill Blaikie, a longtime Manitoba New Democrat whose political career spanned more than three decades and included terms in both the House of Commons and Manitoba’s legislature, has died. He was 71.

Blaikie died on Saturday in Winnipeg, following a battle with metastatic kidney cancer, according to a Facebook post by his son, Daniel Blaikie.

Blaikie was first elected in 1979, as the member of Parliament for the riding of Winnipeg-Birds Hill. After that riding was dissolved in 1987, Blaikie won four elections in the new riding of Winnipeg-Transcona, and two more after it was renamed Elmwood-Transcona in 2004. He did not seek re-election in 2008.

The following year, he entered provincial politics, winning the Elmwood seat for the then-governing NDP in a 2009 byelection. He was appointed to premier Greg Selinger’s cabinet, serving as conservation minister and government House leader until 2011, when he retired from politics. 

During his time in Ottawa, Blaikie sought the leadership of the federal NDP, losing to Jack Layton in 2003

Daniel Blaikie, left, with his father, Bill Blaikie. Daniel Blaikie was elected in 2015 as the NDP MP for the Elmwood-Transcona riding his father previously represented. (Jim Still)

He was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2020 for his lifelong contributions to parliamentary service and for his steadfast commitment to progressive change and social activism.

“His legacy stands for itself — it’s a living legacy,” said Lloyd Axworthy, who was a longtime Liberal cabinet minister and later University of Winnipeg president.

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Bill Blaikie, longtime Manitoba politician who served federally and provincially, dead at 71

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Bill Blaikie, a longtime Manitoba New Democrat whose political career spanned more than three decades and included terms in the federal and provincial levels, has died.

Axworthy was first elected as an MP on the same day as Blaikie in 1979, and the two got to know each other well during their time in Parliament, even though they sat on different sides politically, he said.

“He was a strong believer in social democracy, he was an advocate of social gospel, but he also was a very good guy to get along with and a good person … just to get behind the curtains and just chat [with],” said Axworthy, who spoke to CBC on Friday, after Blaikie had shared a statement that he was entering palliative care.

Their paths crossed again when Blaikie started as an adjunct professor of theology and politics at the University of Winnipeg, where Axworthy served as president from 2004 to 2014.

“For students … with [a] big appetite to know, ‘How do things work?'” Blaikie could bring his practical experience into the classroom, said Axworthy.

“He understood politics and he could take that world of kind of pragmatism and practical accommodation, but always say, ‘But it has to be motivated and driven by some set of beliefs.”

Blaikie was “somebody who clearly all his life, every step he’s made, made a difference,” said Axworthy.

A woman in a blue blazer stands in the House of Commons, with three men standing behind her.
Blaikie, right, stands with New Democratic Party Leader Alexa McDonough as they voted against a pay raise for MPs in the House of Commons on June 7, 2001. (Tom Hanson/The Canadian Press)

James Christie, a former dean of theology and professor at the University of Winnipeg, said Blaikie “had tremendous political and religious insight.”

In an interview with CBC Friday, Christie said Blaikie’s ability to stand out during his time at the university came from his engaging personality. 

“Bill could tell a story that would lead to another story and another story, and we could sit up and just talk, and in my case, just mostly listen,” said Christie. “And he captivated his students the same way.” 

Christie, who worked with Blaikie at the University of Winnipeg for years, also noted his work as a politician, a United Church minister and religious leader, a musician and an author. Blaikie wrote a 2011 memoir titled The Blaikie Report: An Insider’s Look at Faith And Politics

“I looked up at Bill partly because he was much taller than I am … but he was also a man of big intellect and big heart, big dreams, big generosity,” said Christie.

“Just simply one of those people who was larger than life in both literal and figurative senses.”

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Quicksketch: A look at Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon



MONTREAL — Here’s a look at Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, Parti Québécois Leader and leader of the third opposition party at the National Assembly.

Born: Feb. 18, 1977, in Trois-Rivières, Que.

Education: A lawyer by training, holds a Bachelor’s degree in Civil and Common Law from McGill University, an MBA from Oxford University and a certificate in International Law from the Lund University in Sweden.

Before politics: St-Pierre-Plamondon worked in law in Bolivia and Belgium before returning to practise law in Montreal and Gatineau, Que. He co-founded  Génération d’idées, a working group that fostered dialogue between young and old over issues key to the future of Quebec. He has worked as a political commentator and writer and published a pair of books: “Les orphelins politiques” (Political orphans) in 2014 and “Rebâtir le camp du Oui” (Rebuilding The Yes Camp) in 2020.

Family: Married to Alexandra Tremblay, two children and a third on the way.

Political record: Leader of PQ since Oct. 9, 2020, but has never held a seat in the legislature. Previously ran for PQ leadership in 2016, finishing fourth. Was named special adviser to the leader by former PQ leader Jean-François Lisée. PQ candidate in the riding of Prévost in the 2018 provincial election, losing to Coalition Avenir Québec cabinet minister Marguerite Blais.

Riding: Camille-Laurin (formerly known as Bourget in eastend Montreal)

Quote: “As a leader, I want to send a message by running in Montreal. It is here that our struggle to reverse the decline of French takes place. I want to send a message of hope: we will fight this legitimate struggle until the decline of French is reversed.”- St-Pierre-Plamondon announcing the riding he’d chosen.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2022.


The Canadian Press

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Quebec election: Fiona briefly throws off Quebec election campaigns



MONTREAL — Post-tropical storm Fiona caused some disarray on the campaign trail Saturday as some parties cancelled planned events and Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault briefly suspended his campaign to manage response to the powerful gale that hit Atlantic Canada and parts of Quebec.

Legault, the incumbent premier, resumed his re-election bid on Saturday afternoon after meeting with public security officials in Quebec City and holding a briefing with reporters.

The CAQ campaign resumed with a planned meeting with Quebec City Mayor Bruno Marchand. However, a major partisan rally on Saturday night in Terrebonne, north of Montreal, was postponed, Legault said.

In Quebec, Fiona hit the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Gaspé and the province’s Lower North Shore, with the brunt of the impact expected from Saturday to Sunday morning. All party leaders expressed well wishes for Quebecers caught in the storm, which also played havoc with some of their schedules.

Québec solidaire co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois cancelled a press conference in Montreal, but would meet with party supporters in Rimouski, Que. later in the day.

Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade said she was closely monitoring the situation in the affected regions but continued with her campaign in western Quebec as planned in the Outaouais region.

Once a Liberal stronghold, the CAQ won three of the area’s five ridings during the 2018 election and the Liberals are at risk of losing the two they hold, according to poll-aggregating website

Anglade held a rally in the area on Friday and campaigned again on Saturday before heading back to Montreal at the end of the day.

“The Outaouais has been neglected in the last four years, the health and the economic results demonstrate it,” Anglade said.

With just over a week until voting day on Oct. 3, all five party leaders are scheduled to appear live on “Tout le monde en parle” on Sunday night, a popular prime time talk show on Radio-Canada.

Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon also suspended his own campaign on Friday because of flu-like symptoms. He has tested negative three times for COVID-19 using rapid tests, but said Saturday he would only return to the hustings after a PCR test confirmation.

“As a precaution, we will wait for the return of the PCR before formally resuming the campaign,” he told reporters during a scrum in Longueuil, Que. “As you can see, I’m doing better.”

Conservative Party of Quebec Leader Éric Duhaime campaigned in the Quebec City-area riding of Chauveau where he’s seeking to win a seat in the legislature.

He called on Conservative supporters to vote in large numbers to ensure the party elects members — particularly in the riding where he’s running — as two days of advanced voting begins on Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2022.


Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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