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.” 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.”
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.
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.
 Ben Joravsky and Mick Dumke, “In Reelecting Rahm, the People – and $26 Million – Have Spoken,” Reader, April 9, 2015.
 Ibid., Joravsky and Dumke, 10.
 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.
 “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/.