DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Can I Really Change Anything?

Written by: on February 17, 2020

Ever since I read Hunter’s To Change the World last summer, I have been wrestling with the thoughts and implications presented.  What made this so relevant to me was being in the midst of the political turmoil and calls for freedom in Hong Kong.

Image result for hong kong protest

To summarize the recent Hong Kong political climate, the trouble began with the intended introduction of an extradition bill that would allow the Hong Kong government to extradite criminals to mainland China (the direct cause of this being the murder of a young woman by her boyfriend – both Hong Kongers – in Taiwan).  This launched a widespread outrage that Hong Kongers’ civil rights were in danger and that this was an act of Beijing tightening its grip on Hong Kong.  This led to a massive people led protest movement that has continued to this day.[1]  What has been so fascinating about watching the Hong Kong protests unfold has been the fact that there is no centralized leader of the movement (an effect of the 2014 Umbrella Revolution).  Uniting under the mantra of “Be water,”[2] the mentality of “they can’t arrest us all” has been a driving force for the Hong Kong people.

In the midst of everything, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What’s the point?”  Friends and I constantly discussed what good the protests were doing besides possibly inciting an incident from Beijing that would echo the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989.  But these thoughts came to a head following the November 2019 elections where there was a major restructuring of the Hong Kong district council; after months of protest, the Pro-Democracy Party came out on top of the election.[3]

While it’s yet to be seen what will happen in the coming months, years, and decades, the upset of the district council election has been seen as a sign of the power of the people.  Of course it must be noted that the tensions between Hong Kong and Beijing stretches far beyond the past year, the current situation is a valuable case study in how culture changes.

One of Hunter’s propositions is that “Cultures change from the top down, rarely if ever from the bottom up.”[4]  When I first read this, I thought, “No, that can’t be true.  People make things change!”  Perhaps it’s the mythos of figures such as Spartacus who led a slave rebellion against the Roman Empire that drives my imagination in this regard.  But as I reflected on Hunter’s proposition, I realized his observation is the way change is presented in the media we consume.  If one thinks about The Hunger Games, a no name girl from the lowest district ends up leading a rebellion against the totalitarian regime following her victory in The Hunger Games competition.  This in and of itself does not spark change, but her position of power after she wins is used a catalyst by the real people behind the rebellion to bring about the revolution they want.

To give another example, I recently finished the science fiction series Red Rising by Pierce Brown.  The situation is similar: A universal caste system where people are branded into slavery or wealth.  Those on top (Golds) are biologically engineered to be superior in every way to the other classes.  Reds (the lowest caste) are used as slaves.  The main character, Darrow, is a Red who, after his wife is killed, is used by the Sons of Ares (a group of freedom fighters) to infiltrate the Gold training academy.  They engineer Darrow into a Gold and send him into the academy, where he quickly rises through the ranks with the mission of “Become one of the elites and take them down from the inside.”

What this boils down to is that there needs to be someone within a position of power that sympathizes with the ensuing change for it to take effect.  Hunter writes, “Cultural change is most enduring when it penetrates the structure of our imagination, frameworks of knowledge and discussion, the perception of everyday reality. This rarely if ever happens through grassroots political mobilization though grassroots mobilization can be a manifestation of deeper cultural transformation.”[5]  This is not to diminish the importance that grassroots movements can have, but rather that the natural progression is for these movements to put someone in power who can institute change at a structural level.

This is what makes Hong Kong so interesting to observe in conjunction with this book.  A grassroots movement has put people in power.  Now it is up to the newly elected officials to move forward with that dream that put them there.

In our churches, something similar happens.  We all know that person of power in the congregation who “gets stuff done” simply because of who they are.  We may have ideas of how to change our churches, but unless we have the capital with the people to introduce these changes, is it likely that change will be instituted?   Perhaps we can act as a catalyst to get the ball rolling, but until the people with power see the need to change, will they?

Hunter’s eleventh proposition is, “Cultures change, but rarely if ever without a fight.”[6]  As Hong Kong prepares to move forward, one can see that this is just the beginning of an even longer road.  The past year has been one of sacrifice after sacrifice.  It hasn’t come easy by any means, but the wheels are in motion.  What wheels of change are in motion in our own sectors of life?  Our ministry contexts?

We have to keep in mind that change is a slow moving process and it requires patience.  Even when it doesn’t look like things are changing, when we take a step back we can see that we are rarely, if ever, where we started.

 

 

[1] For an in-depth timeline of the protests, this is a helpful site: https://www.hrichina.org/en/2019-hong-kong-protests-timeline

[2] This is taken from Bruce Lee’s popular saying, “Be water, my friend.”

[3]The following link provides a breakdown of the elections: https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3039311/hong-kong-elections-protesters-consider-how-keep-momentum

[4] James Davison Hunter, To Change the World, New York: Oxford University Press, 41.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 43.

About the Author

mm

Dylan Branson

Small town Kentuckian living and learning in the big city of Hong Kong.

8 responses to “Can I Really Change Anything?”

  1. mm Darcy Hansen says:

    Dylan,
    As I consider Jesus, I still find his life and way of doing ministry counter to the usual of top down or bottom up partnered with a sympathetic person in power who helps institute systemic change. Millions have followed him over the past two thousand years. I wonder if our problem is that we want to emulate Jesus without actually becoming like Jesus? As we mentioned in our zoom session, we really like the one time big experiences but loathe the process of transformation that follows. There’s nothing sexy in the process of transformation and change, and like you mentioned, sacrifice is required. I wonder what the Church would look like if our mantra was “Be (Living) Water”? What systems might be transformed if we collectively stood up and took to the streets rather than bicker amongst ourselves?

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      First off, I love the mantra “Be (Living) Water.” Honestly, I’m surprised I haven’t actually heard that coming from churches in the midst of the political climate.

      What I think is fascinating about the notion of change is that the actual IDEA is attractive to so many. We see a problem that we’re passionate about and we want it to change, but then that actually requires work, which, if we’re brutally honest, isn’t work we normally want to put in (with exceptions of course).

      I think the thing with Jesus is the reality that He did have power; He just didn’t use it to His advantage (Phil. 2). My question is what it would look like for Christians who are in positions of power to emulate Jesus in His humility. But at the same time, we all influence people in our own way, as there’s always SOMEONE watching (not to sound too Big Brothery). An interesting exercise could be to list out the various people/groups we influence/have influence over/have influenced us and reflect on how we/they have used that position.

  2. mm Greg Reich says:

    Dylan,
    When leadership is boiled down it is never about position its about influence. Change happens when people of influence exert their influence. I have often wondered who influences the influencers, It is often those in the background with power who influence the influencers. I may be a bit naive to believe God is still in charge of this celestial ball we call earth. The bible tells us the hearts of the king is like water in the hands of the LORD. When looking back at history one can’t help but wonder how God was moving behind the scenes. I am not responsible to influence influencers but I am called to an influence those around me so I focus on what I am responsible for an leave the rest up to God.

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      I would definitely agree with that. There’s a YouTube channel that my friends and I watch a lot called Good Mythical Morning. YouTube and social media tend to be great influencers these days, and the hosts of the show, Rhett and Link, have become pretty big over the last few years. Recently, they released a podcast breaking down their spiritual journey. Both served with Cru for quite a few years, but eventually left Christianity for various reasons.

      Going through the comments section of those videos were fascinating as people spoke out about how they resonated with what they said in their video. Their position isn’t anything special; they make fun videos where they eat some of the strangest concoctions and play games with celebrities. But they have influence and they have power.

      We may not have millions of people watching us on a daily basis, but you’re right: We’re influencing people around us in different ways. How do we use that influence in a way that reflects the humility of Christ?

  3. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    I like your added nuance. Grassroots movements can indeed “change the world” if/when it motivates a change from those in power. Without some sense of having efficacy to make changes, Stoic fatalism would win the day.

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      What starts as dissatisfaction among the masses can evolve into something more given the right environment and treatment. I think it would be foolish to say that movement from the bottom-up never changes anything, but I think Hunter is correct in that the majority of change ends up being top-down. That’s why it’s been interesting to watch the protests in Hong Kong evolve in the way they have over the last year.

  4. mm John McLarty says:

    The main problem with power is that once one gets a taste for it, they often discover they like it and want more (or at least not to lose it.) How many times has a hero risen up or infiltrated a system, managed to gain a seat, maybe even make meaningful change, then became a version of the very thing they had sought to destroy?

  5. mm Chris Pollock says:

    Dylan, appreciate the message and I wonder about impossibility of change without power and money, position and prestige. To rise up to be what this world deems an ‘elite’ is not an easy task. To make it through with intention to adjust the system from the inside, super-human resolve. There are some ‘success’ stories out there who ‘make it’; rags-to-riches stories, eh!

    That being said, I wonder what would happen if we stepped out of this system. This whole world of oppression. Even when the ones oppressed make it there, through the cracks to the ‘proverbial’ top or to mingle around and affect systemic change amidst the apathetic, self-centred snobbery, does the oppression then cease to be? No, new oppression rises up and perhaps the formerly ‘elite’ are targeted to be brought low and kept down.

    What about Jesus? What was his example. ‘Be water.’ Love this attitude. Becoming the immersion. Jesus, son of the Carpenter, was a big question mark for the controlling powers of his day? Now, he’s used, consumed like a commodity for the zealous to achieve power and control. What’s this all about?

    Perhaps in the protest, there’s metaphor? I don’t know. There’s more to it than what can be seen. Perhaps to start with something along the lines of, don’t be afraid. (John 16:33).

Leave a Reply to Dylan Branson Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *