Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How To Change the World, or not

What are we supposed to be doing as Christians? What is the point of our engagement with Culture? Often, we think or have been encouraged to think that we should be "changing" it for the better, to make it more Christian. We should be influencing the world's way of life so that it becomes more Christian. Our Christian leaders exhort us to "change the world in our generation". We are saddened to find out -often by the words of those same leaders - that our generation is having little or no impact on our culture. They then say we need to try harder or repent of our cultural accommodations so that we can affect the world more significantly. We think that that is the purpose of the Church in Culture. Recently, at least in the last 30 years, we have been taught to think of our impact mostly in political terms. We can change the world by voting in the right people. The right people with the right ideas can make a difference, a Christian difference. Usually that Christian difference has been red colored, Republican. This has been the political party of choice for conservative, evangelical Christians. But, lately, and especially in the past election, Christians of more liberal, evangelical persuasion have argued that the Democratic party has the best chance to change the world for the better or more Christianly. Of course, there has always been an Anabaptist alternative that says the best way to influence culture is to opt out it altogether. Any cultural engagement is ultimately corrupting so our best choice is to stay pure by staying out of it. Politics included.

James Davison Hunter takes on these issues in a new book entitled To Change The World which is an odd title for a book that says we can't do it. A sociologist at the University of Virginia he eloquently and forcefully demonstrates that Christians who talk about changing the world don't have a clue what they are talking about. He challenges the idea that ideas shape culture so that if you change the way people think you can change the way they act. Not so, Hunter says. Christians who talk like ideas coupled with individualistic, pietistic behavior are going to change much are simplistic and naive. Culture is too complex to penetrate and change by ideas. Changes in culture if they do occur take many generations and are the work of complicated networks of influential people and institutions. Cultures are highly resistant to change. That's why America even with so many Christians is becoming more and more secular. It is not because we are not trying hard enough but more likely that it is too hard to do. And it is because the Christian contribution to culture has been weak. Much of the Christian engagement with culture is negative. We tend to see engagement with culture as contaminating (even though we consume culture just as avidly as non-Christians do). So, we have created a parallel Christian culture with Christian music, films, books, schools, and trinkets. Usually, it is seen as lower in quality than the culture it imitates. The "social capital" of the culture at large is much greater than this parallel Christian culture (for ex., the NY Times front page is more influential than that of Christianity Today, or a degree from Harvard carries more weight than one from Wheaton, etc). Then, there is the Christian anti-culture bias. Christians, especially, conservative ones just do not place much value in the arts. We do not produce much good and beautiful art, music or literature. If we are going to "change the world" it is going to be through evangelism not creating works of art.

Hunter is not saying Christians cannot make a difference but he is saying we do not - for the most part- because we are so anti culture and we are so politicized. He says the hope conservative Christians place in politics is quite amazing. Politics is the art of getting things done; it will not produce any solutions to the problems we face. The political process is so angry today. Witness the tea party movement. It is a politics of resentment. People feel victimized and they are going to get revenge on those who have "hurt" or "misunderstood" them through the political process. Christians, Hunter asserts, waste a lot of time and energy on trying to witness to their values and ideas through the political process. Plus, they create a lot of ill will against them and reinforce the idea in non-Christians that Christians want to impose their values on others.

I think Hunter's analysis is convincing. If he is right, then where are we at? What is the answer to the questions this blog post began with? What is our purpose? What is the Church supposed to be doing? Well, not to change the world, that's for sure. That is an arrogant and grandiose goal anyway. How are we supposed to know how or what to change the world into? God has made a new creation in Christ that is coming to be but we don't know now what it will look like. We are new creations in Christ being formed as we follow Him. As we follow him together in the body of Christ, we are salt and light in the communities we live in. We need to think less of changing the world and more about what Christ is doing in our churches and communities. Less about changing the political system and more about changing a diaper if it will help out a stressed family or changing a tire if it will help out a single mom, or changing an afternoon for a kid who has nothing to do but several unhealthy options, or changing the way a non-Christian sees us by coming alongside of him or her as a friend instead of seeing them as an enemy. We can change lots of things in our little worlds even if we give up the idea of changing the world.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr is having a rough go of it this baseball season. He is back for a second year after his return to Seattle last year in a glorious renewal of the great early Griffey years as a Seattle superstar. The city clearly loves him. But, this year he is struggling to hit the ball and seems to have lost all his superpowers. He never plays the outfield. He can barely run and he doesn't have to very often because he only has two extra base hits and is hitting around .200. He looks out of shape and overweight; he looks like a middle aged man. And he is old in baseball years, about 40. He should have retired last year to the accolades of the Seattle crowds. But, he said he will know when he is ready to hang up his spikes and Seattle hoped his hanging on would only help a struggling ball club for one more year. It hasn't. Griffey is a shadow of his former self. The latest embarrassment was last week when the Mariners Manager Don Wakamatsu was looking for an eighth inning pinch hitter and Griffey was asleep in the clubhouse, or so the story in a local newspaper went. Apparently, two of the newer players on the team (Mike Sweeney has challenged them to a fight if they come out and say who they are) said they witnessed the sleeping allstar. Manager Wak denied he was looking for Griffey but admitted he did not know where he was earlier in the game. Griffey denied he was napping.

Whether Griffey should have retired or not is moot at this stage of the season. He did not and he is part of the team and you can't very well release a Hall of Famer who played a huge role in keeping baseball in Seattle when it had some very bad years. Some say Griffey built the new Safeco field. So, let's take another look at napping. Many 40 year olds and older do it. It is necessary to make it through the day. Call it a power nap, if you will. A ten or fifteen minute nap after lunch can make one's afternoon much more productive. Given the Mariners power outage this season (some sluggers on other teams already have more home runs than the entire Mariner team), it might be a good idea to give everyone an afternoon nap on a rotating basis. You have a DH in the American League so why not a DN for designated napper. Let each player catch some zzz's during a game and maybe they will catch fire at the plate. It's a long season, and they travel alot, and it's hard to sleep in a new bed every night. Some of those hotels are brutal. I say, Griffey may have another Hall of Fame idea here. Listen to your leader. Give your players permission to snooze. I know how the saying goes - you snooze you lose. But the Mariners are not snoozing and still losing. So,hey,what do they have to lose. It's time for the DN.

The President's Faith

Our President continues to have problems convincing people he is first of all, an American, and second of all, a Christian. I hear it all the time - do you know Obama is a Muslim? No, I did not know that. How come so many people, so many Christians apparently believe that. They believed Ronald Reagan was a Christian when he said it, even if most evangelicals had to overlook, and forgive, his divorce. They believed George Bush the seconds testimony of conversion and rescue from over drinking. They trusted his father's confession of a private Episcopalian faith. But, Obama who professes to be a Christian is not believed. Perhaps it was his pastor when he lived in Chicago. We heard about his sermons and were asked to consider how any Christian could sit through them. Well, do we believe every person in church always believes everything his or her pastor says, never says to herself, I don't agree with that! I hope we don't believe that a pastor speaks for all his or her church members. I hope we go to church for more than just what the pastor says. Maybe it is his family background. Obama's father was Muslim but now is an atheist. His mother was agnostic and his stepfather an unorthodox Muslim. Like many Christians he has a diverse religious background. Should we hold that against him or trust in God's grace working in his life, as well as ours. Perhaps it is his tepid support of a national day of prayer but he is not the first president to do so. Or, maybe it is his willingness to embrace all faiths as president of a pluralistic society. He attended both a Jewish Passover celebration this Easter season and a Ramadan dinner last fall. Yet, he spoke articulately and passionately about his faith at a post Easter breakfast with church leaders at the White House. At that breakfast he said: "As Christians we believe that redemption can be delivered by faith in Jesus Christ. And the possibility of redemption can make straight the crookedness of a character, make whole the incompleteness of a soul." On Easter Sunday the President and family attended services at an African Methodist Episcopal church in one of Washington's poorest and most violent neighborhoods.

One of his pastoral supporters, Kirbyjon Caldwell from Houston, has said: "Never in modern history has a president said I am a Christian and others said, No, you are not." "It is stupid and an insult to him", Caldwell said.

In a recent Harris poll 57% of those who called themselves Republicans also claimed Obama was a Muslim and 45% said he was not born in America.