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Congressman Ellison’s Book, My Country, ’Tis of Thee

Bruce P. Corrie, PhD,

I enjoyed reading Congressman Ellison’s autobiography, My Country, ’Tis of Thee, in particular his articulation of the politics of generosity and inclusion. The book covers a lot of ground from his reflections on policy and history to the leaders who inspired him. The book offered me a good window into his personal journey.

The purpose that inspired him to run for public office derived from “many sources, including the Islamic perspective on social justice’ and his vision of the politics of generosity and inclusion developed from the writings of Rabbi Michael Lerner and the New Testament. The politics of generosity and inclusion was about “helping people in need and strengthening the weakest link in our chain” and had four components:

  1. “War should be the last resort…….not be used for economic interests or to rearrange the global map.”
  2. Prosperity for the working class
  3. Environmental sustainability
  4. Civil and human rights.

The late Senator Paul Wellstone, who was Ellison’s mentor, called him a “justice lawyer.” This was because of his passion for justice as an attorney who worked hard to protect the legal rights of the vulnerable.

Though Ellison grew up Catholic, as a college student he found in Islam a place to nurture and grow his passion for justice. He remembers quite vividly his first encounter with Islam worshipping with a simple community and being inspired after hearing verses from the Quran calling for justice, “for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the liberation of slaves.” Ellison, “came to see Islam as a religion that accepted all humanity without regard to tribe, race or ethnicity.”

While strong in his personal faith, Ellison defines himself not as a religious leader but, “I am, however, a secular leader.”

His passion and experience for justice developed during his life in Minnesota and Detroit. Minnesota became, “my kind of place” because he was “encouraged that people would listen and respond when we tried to solve a problem.” He also discovered that there were places in the country, “where people could work together and get things done.”

Reflecting on leaders who inspired him and possibly his personal journey Ellison states, “Leaders are complex people, with flaws and failings. But what makes a good leader is understanding that what he does is greater than who he is.”

Ellison’s connected the parable of loaves and fishes in the New Testament, (how Jesus fed thousands with just two fish and a few loaves of bread) to his vision of the politics of generosity and inclusion, “But what if Jesus actually prayed for the transformation of people’s hearts? What if he prayed for generosity?” Then the miracle happened.

We need that miracle again today.

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