The question: How to bring the concept of Christian mercy into the hard realities of the governance of our society as Christendom experiences meltdown?
Prime Movers, Facilitators/Change Agents, and Intermediaries
I recently came across the work of Ayn Rand and her book Atlas Shrugged. In the introduction I read a quote from her journal:
"I set out to show how desperately the world needs prime movers and how viciously it treats them."
This spoke to realities in my life-work!
This article spoke to my situation on many fronts as:
Former pastor (M.Div. Regent College; D. Min. Fuller Seminary)
Mayor of the Village of Strome
Director on Boards of Community Economic Development Associations and Alliances
Participant in the Gospel and Our Culture Network
With regard to the latter John Piper quoted Ayn Rand:
"The state of today's culture is so low that I do not care to spend my time watching and discussing it."
I seem to be spending a lot of time "watching and discussing" culture these days even as I sometimes agree with Ayn Rand. But of course I do and I am very much interested in today’s culture. I still believe that change is possible. In June of 2007 following an economic development conference on Thinking Regionally - Growing Globally I wrote:
"The challenge of change is real and we are living in a time of exponential change where paradigm shifts of epic proportion are beginning to take place. The stress of change is therefore real. How do we get change to happen? How do we change the image of the community? We need to risk. One presenter put it this way: “I have lots of scars working within the systems for change”. Getting people to change fundamental attitudes/values is difficult but essential - culture change is the real challenge however. To be involved in this time-space continuum as a facilitator or change agent one has to determine if one is up to the job. The job of facilitator/change agent was described by Ifor Ffowes-Williams when he asked the question: “Would you like a job that offers no formal authority; a high degree of uncertainty; no regular hours; and you will need to earn respect from sceptics; be proactive when the limelight fades; work with energy drainers; lead from behind - no ego tripping. The upside of the job is that you can break patterns; cross boundaries; build bridges across your community; be a hero finder uncovering talent; make things happen through others; influence people in and beyond the cluster; satisfy your hunger for Action; and make a dent in the universe?”
Discovering this definition was a great ‘ah ha’ moment for me – the story of my life of working for change within systems. Back in 1996 I wrote a lead article for the magazine Global Church Growth: Strategies for Today’s Leader titled “The Need for Change.”
More recently I discovered that research at Harvard is beginning to explain subtle agents of change in communities. Xavier de Souza Briggs calls these agents,intermediaries who are “people, organizations, and institutions that add value to the world by connecting and supporting and by enabling others to be more effective. The special power of intermediaries is that they make things happen without calling attention to themselves. They initiate, but then step back, so that others can own and take credit for what happens. As respected, honest brokers, intermediaries assume roles that others cannot easily perform. And because they are often ahead of the curve, intermediaries often develop the market for what they wish to provide… One of the crucial differences between stagnating and flourishing rural regions is the existence of engaged intermediaries.”
Ayn Rand seems to allude to this concept of 'engaged intermediaries' when she wrote in her journal:
"In learning we draw on abstraction from concrete objects and events. In creating we make our own concrete objects and events out of the abstraction; we bring the abstraction down and back to its specific meaning, to the concrete; but the abstraction has helped us to make the kind of concrete we want the concrete to be. It has helped us create - to re-shape the world as we wish it to be for our own purposes."
The article goes forward to deal with the lack of the concept of mercy in Ayn Rand "whereas Christianity has mercy at its heart." The struggle in all my activities these days seems to be exactly this - how to bring Christian mercy into the hard-realities of the governance of our society as Christendom experiences meltdown? Piper writes that the aim of mercy in the Christian sense is "to transform the values of the enemy into the values of Christ". He goes on to point out that for Ayn Rand this change would require "the rebuilding of the whole structure" and that this reconstruction is the job of a lifetime.
Back in 1978 I was privileged to spend three weeks at the Church of the Saviour in Washington DC and the Wellspring Retreat centre attached to it in Maryland. I remember vividly the "Gift Evoking" retreat workshop I attended during that time based on Elizabeth O'Connors work, Eighth Day of Creation. I still recall words written by one of the 18 participants - a poet. After describing in poetry attributes of all the participants she ended her poem with these words: "... and then there is Brian, challenging the systems while a whole new world a-waiting to see."
I guess I am still challenging the systems while a-waiting to see that whole new world :)
I resonate with the John Piper’s closing statement.
"May the Lord give us eyes to see the world with as much sharpness as Ayn Rand, and with far more fullness and truth."