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Sober Judgment

Written by: on April 16, 2015

Sober Judgment

I woke up this morning in the city of Chicago to the headline of a free weekly newspaper: “The people of Chicago (and $26 million) have spoken.”[1] The headline is for an article on Rahm Emanuel’s reelection as the Mayor of Chicago. The article describes the power amassed by Emanuel that allowed him to primarily buy the election. “The old Democratic machine had armies of patronage employees to deliver the vote. The new political system that controls City Hall is based on a network of wealth campaign donors.” The truth of Emanuel’s reelection was, “In the end, though, it was the well-to-do – investment bankers, hedge fund managers, and Hollywood moguls – who poured in the lion’s share of the money to help him (Emanuel) shape the public’s attitude.”[2]

Obviously this was a most appropriate article to read while thinking deeply about James Davison Hunter’s, To Change the World: the Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. The appropriateness comes in light of affirming Hunter’s primary thesis that everything we want to think and desire to have the capacity to change the world, doesn’t actually occur. Rather, only the tipping of the tables by the elites, who actually have control over the current of the river the masses are swimming in, ultimately effect culture to the degree we would love to think grassroots movements, the hearts of individuals, and uprisings of pure, simple minded revolutionists can.

Hunter summarizes this view in saying,

In this light, we can see that evangelism, politics, social reform, and the creation of artifacts – if effective – all bring about good ends: changed hearts, and minds, changed laws, changed social behaviors. But they don’t directly influence the moral fabric that makes these changes sustainable over the long term, sustainable precisely because they are implicit and as implicit, they form the presuppositional base of social life. Only indirectly do evangelism, politics, and social reform effect language, symbol, narrative, myth, and the institutions of formation that change the DNA of a civilization.[3]

To me, the real irony of the timing of reading Hunter’s book comes in light of the reason I am in Chicago is to be a part of a Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) 2015 Immersion. The CCDA has a vision statement about wholistically restoring communities with Christians fully engaged in the process of transformation. We have talked about relief work, betterment, empowerment, and system change. We have talked about the individual and society. We have talked about justice, Jesus and the power of God to transform our world. In short it would be easy to think we have been talking about changing the world or at least Chicago, but the reality is the CCDA does a very effective job of keeping perspective, which I ultimately think Hunter’s book is about. We can make a difference but we can’t change things. Or, we can change things, just not the world or the prevailing culture that ultimately tells a greater story about our daily lives and directions.

While Hunter’s thesis is terribly sobering, there is something very honest about it and I believe positions humanity in a healthier reality than to live delusionally thinking we can change the world. The posture Hunter and the CCDA Immersion are promoting I would summarize as a humble, authentic obedience to live a life Jesus calls us to live. It will be a life of, in CCDA terms, of relocation, reconciliation, redistribution, and empowerment. It will involve God’s mercy, his justice, and our humility. We can bring relief, betterment, empowerment, and we can affect systems at work.  Our part is to do, our part. But instead of it being done with great ambition to see our efforts lead to some great transformation, our hearts should be set on humble obedience, simple love, just living and see what God does through a life that he calls us to in loving him, our neighbor and the world.

I love the prayer that we will be closing our time in Chicago with as I believe it offers a similar perspective of our part balanced with the kind of hope we need to keep believing God’s redemptive work is unfolding in our world. It is entitled a Franciscan Blessing :

May God bless you with a restless discomfort

about easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,

so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger

at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,

so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears

to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish,

so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness

to believe that you really can make a difference in this world,

so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.[4]

[1] Ben Joravsky and Mick Dumke, “In Reelecting Rahm, the People – and $26 Million – Have Spoken,” Reader, April 9, 2015.

[2] Ibid., Joravsky and Dumke, 10.

[3] James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: the Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 45.

[4] “A Franciscan Blessing,” A Heart for Justice, October 7, 2010, accessed April 16, 2015, http://aheartforjustice.com/2010/10/07/a-franciscan-blessing-may-god-bless-you-with-discomfort-anger-tears-and-foolishness/.

About the Author

Phillip Struckmeyer

14 responses to “Sober Judgment”

  1. mm Brian Yost says:

    Phil,
    I’m shocked! I have never heard of anything even hinting at impropriety in Chicago elections. If you can’t have faith in Chicago’s political integrity, then what can you have. To be critical of the city of “vote early, vote often” is just too much.

    On a serious not, you’ve got some great one-liners that really capture the essence of Hunter:
    “We can make a difference but we can’t change things. “
    “Our part is to do, our part.”

    We may not be able to de everything we want to do or think we should do, but we can do what God calls us to do. Ultimately, if we do want God wants us to do, we do enough. If we do everything we think we should do to change the world but do not do want God wants us to do, we come up short.

  2. Jon Spellman says:

    “We can make a difference but we can’t change things. Or, we can change things, just not the world or the prevailing culture that ultimately tells a greater story about our daily lives and directions.” So, I’m wondering, how much effort will be put in by people if the stakes are so radically reduced? I mean, if I think I’m going to change the world or transform my culture, or even just my little town, I will sign up for that! I’ll pour tons of energy, money and credibility into that! But, just to see a person or two changed? Well….. I don’t know how much energy I’ll put into that.

    What about you?
    J

    • Phillip Struckmeyer says:

      Jon, I know, right? The difference I think is that there is something powerful, a different kind of power, in the honesty and authenticity of calling people to a humble obedience. I personally still bend towards through our faithful presence, God can change the world, but I think that is very different then calling people to change the world, which is what I think I tend to do for the hype, the feel, the oversell, the adrenaline rush I can create that is unfortunately just not very honest. I am a pretty extreme optimist and I do think there is a lot of compelling hope in the Hunter and CCDA approach that calls us to our part: to daily love the people right in front of us and contribute goodness everywhere we go there is a whole lot of purpose, meaning and fulfillment that can come from that kind of life, that in the end God just might use to do something to change. It might be personal, but to me this seems like a really big shift.

      • mm Nick Martineau says:

        Phil & Jon…Good questions and thoughts…Do you guys ever stop to think about the mom and dad of Billy Graham? or MLK? or CS Lewis ? or etc.? The faithful presence of those parents raised and nurtured some world changers. I think the adoption of my two boys has called me to think of that thought all the time…Maybe my calling isn’t to change my city but maybe by loving my two boys they will be gifted and called to change the world.

        • mm Jon Spellman says:

          Nick, agreed! But are we okay if our kids just live their lives, make a few disciples and DON’T change the world?
          J

          • mm Mary Pandiani says:

            And then think of the 12 disciples…only 12 that Jesus really invested in. Could it be that we got our numbers wrong when it comes to changing something?
            It’s so much more exciting to think in terms of big numbers – yet, at what level does change really happen?

      • mm Jon Spellman says:

        But I think one of the reasons we tend to stay in the hype of “let’s change the world, people!” is that we are afraid that people won’t really buy into a vision that says “just be present and make some disciples along the way…” So we HAVE to sell people on the idea of “you can change the world!” So we allow ourselves the benefit of a little bit of dishonesty in order to motivate people. We may know instinctively that we’re really NOT going to change the world but we have to keep that little secret to ourselves, right?

        • Phillip Struckmeyer says:

          I was just reading Philippians 2. Isn’t that what we are really calling people to? Doesn’t that really lead to crisis more than world success? I do think the flip side is that the life Jesus calls us into is incredible, we just have to have the faith and trust to do it his way vs. looking for the hype of big external evidences of “success.” I am speaking more as the “devil’s advocate” here . . . I tend to be guilty of “world change” mentality and am just trying to take an honest look at this other, maybe better, more honest approach. I do think I do what you are saying in a sense of talking out of both sides of my mouth . . . promoting world change, knowing life change is to goal . . . and if a life changes it does change “their” world. ???

  3. mm Dave Young says:

    Philip, Talk about irony, being at CCDA! I enjoyed your post especially the conclusion: “our hearts should be set on humble obedience, simple love, just living and see what God does through a life that he calls us to in loving him, our neighbor and the world.” You see Wednesday night I had a sobering conversation with my admin team, I was passionately presenting a post about leaning into the community, being more outwardly focused as a church, communicating that as a church we’d grown inward. They responded with – “I don’t think so”. Just love getting challenged in a meeting I’m trying to facilitate! But they went on to say all the ways they saw in their own lives how they were impacting others in the community with their love for God and others. As you wrote with ‘simple love, humble obedience, reflecting God to our neighbors’. I realized then that the Holy Spirit is doing more to change the world through the church then even we church leaders see.

    • Phillip Struckmeyer says:

      Dave, It was a good week of really being stretched. The timing, in Hunter’s words was tragic and ironic :). There seems like such a difference between micro and macro and which really matters more when it comes to change that makes a difference. There were some great resources that I look forward to reading more as the summer sets in. I would say the take home from the CCDA conference is, they would measure impact based on what our churches are doing in regards to the poor, marginalized and oppressed. But for now, I think we will be working on getting the rest of the course work down for the semester and worry about which way to change the world most effectively, if we can at all, after that. 🙂

      • mm Mary Pandiani says:

        Speaking of CCDA, when I was working for a non-profit, the most frustrating part about community development was how few churches actually worked together. They, out of most organizations in the city, were the most territorial. I wonder what kind of change would occur if churches actually started to work together. It wouldn’t change the world necessarily, but it would be a reflection of the famous song, “They will know we are Christians by our love.”

  4. mm Mary Pandiani says:

    From the Franciscan Blessing, I noticed your italics on “discomfort,” “anger,” “tears,” “foolishness” – all levels of human emotional investment. Perhaps there’s something to be said about the fact that we are changed in those most difficult places in order that we can enter into the world’s pain. Makes me think that it’s simply about showing up where we are most needed (Buechner’s famous quote: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”)

    • Phillip Struckmeyer says:

      Mary, I love the Buechner quote! If we could see the Church “be” like that . . . I do not think we would be worried about weather it changed the world or not because our eyes would be on something completely different. Great thoughts and what a challenge!

  5. mm Travis Biglow says:

    Phil,

    That is how a lot of things go down, the people with the money can buy their way into office already set up with an agenda for those who pour into their coffers. I am of the same opinion we can set standards right in our own community and churches. And true focus should be on how we are affective where we are and that is saying a lot.

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