Voices of the Portland Plan
Rev. Brian Heron, Eastminster Presbyterian Church
Nikolai Berdyaev, the great Russian religious and political philosopher mused, “The question of bread for myself is a material question, but the question of bread for my neighbor is a spiritual question.” Therein lay the real reason as to why I have thrown myself into the thick of city planning in Portland. I serve as pastor of Eastminster Presbyterian Church in East Portland. As an extension of and as an expression of my spiritual commitments I also serve as the co-chair of the East Portland Action Plan, sit on the Gateway Green steering committee, and am active in the Community Involvement Committee of the Portland Plan.
It is interesting that I began studies in political science in college before favoring religious studies. The truth of the matter is I found very little difference in the two disciplines. The goals were often largely the same. The only difference was the starting point and lens by which we viewed life. Political philosophy is a study of the “polis,” that is, a study of the “city-state” and how it is ordered and organized. Religious theology is concerned with our connections to each other, to the natural world around us, and to the sacred Other. Both politics and religion are concerned with the ordering, the structure and the relationships inherent in society and between people in community.
Benjamin Franklin was famous for his line, “Only a virtuous people deserve democracy.” Underneath the skin of this line was his belief that the great American experiment would only be successful and survive if her citizens honored individual freedoms AND took responsibility for the common welfare of society. The Portland Plan relies heavily on Franklin’s philosophy in that there would be no plan without the participation, passion, and commitment of Portland’s people.
Portland is a rich, diverse community of people from many cultures, representing every generation, and with broad religious and philosophical perspectives. We may have a variety of reasons for why we commit to the common good. Some may be inspired by greater visions of what Portland can be as a “model city” like the Greek polis. Others may be driven by a fear of the alternative—a city with no common identity or shared ethos, a city of many individuals but not community. Some of us do it out of spiritual or religious commitments—that “the question of bread for my neighbor is a spiritual question.” Still others have a deep faith in human progress and our ability to advance our technological and social systems.
No matter our starting point we can all join around the table to ponder together what kind of community we want to live in. We can listen and share together as we ask the important questions, “What should be our relationship to the land on which we are presently camped? What is our responsibility to our neighbors? And how does our sense of community reflect the best of what it means to be human and humane?” These are social questions. These are political questions. These are spiritual questions.
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Rev. Brian Heron is an ordained Presbyterian minister serving Eastminster Presbyterian Church in East Portland. He currently serves on the Community Involvement Committee of the Portland Plan (including its Executive Sub-Committee), is a member of the Gateway Green Steering Committee, and co-chairs the East Portland Action Plan. Brian is an avid fair weather cyclist and fell in love with the Rose City when he saw his first “Keep Portland Weird” bumper sticker.
Voices of the Portland Plan is a forum for community leaders to share their unique perspectives on what the Portland Plan means for their own community. If you would like to share a submission, please send it to email@example.com, RE: Voices of the Portland Plan.