Category Archives: Despair

Jim Wallis on Building Faith-based Social Movements

Jim Wallis speaks at 2006 CongressI’ve been going through some of the old recordings from the past plenary speakers at Congress on Urban Ministry.  As we approach these mid-term elections in a frenzy of political polarization, attack ads, and electioneering I was struck by the relevance of this plenary Jim Wallis did back in 2006.

Jim WallisJim Wallis is an author and the founder/editor of Sojourners.  He has been a crucial voice for American Christianity that crosses the normal, hard and fast, boundaries of left and right, liberal and conservative.

Listen here or below as Jim Wallis  speaks at the 2006 Congress about moving from partisan politics (and partisan religion) towards creating and nurturing a movement for social justice based on faith and hope.

One of the highlights for me is near the middle where, for a couple minutes, he hits upon this idea that the Beloved Community must be built up by moving from ministry to models to movement.  Wallis gives credit to ministries (saying at one point that if everyone in this room stopped their ministry there would be many cities that would literally stumble) but also pushes the Congress to move past ministry and even models that help extend ministry toward movements that bring ministry to bear upon systems and structures of injustice.

Jim Wallis at 2006 CongressI wish Jim would have pressed a bit harder on this as I think many socially mindful/active Christians (Jim Wallis included) are still searching for the way to build a movement.  The civil rights movement is an extraordinary exemplar but, times have changed and I would contend that the powers that benefit from the status quo have successfully developed methods to diffuse social movements created with familiar paradigms.  We must create a new paradigm of movement and then allow it to adapt.  I would contend that the best way to do this is by listening and being responsive to the Spirit.

If you are reading this from a Chicagoland location you might be interested to know that Jim Wallis will be participating in an informal debate out at Wheaton College on this coming Thursday.  He will engage Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, in an informal debate: “Does Capitalism Have a Soul?”.  Here are the details:

Thursday, October 28th – 2010
7pm at Edman Chapel
Debate to be moderated by Washington Post Columnist Michael Gerson.

More info here.


Unfortunately, Violence is not just a Chicago Problem

Chicago And Minneapolis skylines

I have really come to love Chicago, that endlessly bustling city next to an endlessly stretching lake, but I do have to admit more than the occasional pang of longing for the city I grew up in.  Minneapolis and St. Paul are like toddler cousins compared to Chicago but they do share some great commonalities with their diverse and expansive fields of art, cuisine, music, and a distinctly Midwestern urban beauty.  Unfortunately, these cities also share a struggle with violence that is becoming increasingly common in American cities of all sizes and localities.

Just this past weekend my parents passed on a letter to the editor from the laudable Minneapolis rag the Star Tribune.  I can’t help but feel that the experience of this European sums up a perspective that we Americans may be too close to see.  Something about our history and culture has tied us too closely with guns to really have an accurate perspective on their influence in our lives.  Perhaps it is time to lay aside some of our American self-confidence and give a patient ear to the perspective of countries that have very little problems with hand-gun homicides.  Are we really that afraid of what we’ll hear that we refuse to listen?

Here is a clipping of the letter to the editor from July 30th, Star Tribune:


Who Decides when Enough is Enough?

Cover article from a recent Chicago newspaper

Like many other large American cities, Chicago has been rocked by incidents of violence on such a regular basis that many residents simply seem to have tuned it out.  Sure, every now and then some report of recent violence will raise the collective eyebrows of the masses but, for the most part, most seem resigned to suffer the violence of this grand city or unmoved because this violence has yet to affect them or their community.

With the recent shooting of Michael Bailey, a well-loved police officer who was due to retire in a few weeks, many Chicago-ans are being reawakened to the crisis.  The reports say that many have simply had enough.

Many others, though, had enough months or years ago…  And even now, with the renewed interest and political power of a population that is half frightened and half outraged, it isn’t clear that a solution to the epidemic of violence is any nearer.

Eulogizing at the funeral services for Bailey last Friday, Father Michael Pfleger spoke passionately about the need for the transformational involvement of citizens rather than passive by-standing that stems from fear and indifference.  Pfleger, a friend of the Bailey family, combined a moving remembrance of the slain officer with inspiring and resolute words calling people to individual and communal action.  Not one to let the chance to make a point slip by, Father Pfleger also broadened the focus by citing public policy issues like the ease of handgun availability and a proposed law that would title handguns like states title automobiles.

Continuing a familiar theme that seems consistently to fall upon deaf ears, Pfleger restated his conviction that violence in America has reached epidemic levels: “People dying in the streets of urban America is a national emergency!”  (ABC currently has footage of the entire eulogy on their website)

What remains to be seen is if the lament and outrage of cities like Chicago, overwhelmed with violence and fed-up with things seeming only to get worse, will lead to the awareness and urgency that leaders like Pfleger are calling for.

Will the outrage over the recent shootings of three Chicago police officers (3 in 2 months) be strong enough to spark the transformation that the shootings of Chicago Public School students (508 shot in 16 months) couldn’t?


McDonald vs. Chicago – Supreme Court Decision pt. 1

The Chicago pseudo-newspaper/tabloid RedEye released graphics mapping Chicago’s 2010 homicides in today’s issue.  The statistics are disheartening enough when put in terms of numbers, 217 homicides in 6 months, but when you see it on a map it’s downright overwhelming.  You can visit RedEye’s interactive homicide map and even though the view is by month I will link, eventually, with the map for all of 2010 so far.

RedEye Homicide Map 2010 Through June

This perspective revealing the scope and embeddedness of violence in Chicago comes little more over a week after the United States Supreme Court ruling that effectively makes Chicago’s 28 year-old ban on handguns null and void.  While the city has countered by enacting various restrictions to help counter the rulings potentially disastrous outcome for Chicago an unavoidable feeling that there is less and less citizens and local governments can do in the face of this relentless American gun culture.

We can look to the proliferation of Conceal & Carry as evidence that guns are becoming more and more “available” around our nation:

“All but two states have legalized at least some form of concealed carry,
with most allowing any citizen who qualifies
(no felony criminal record, meets a certain age requirement,
and can qualify with a firearm) can get a permit.”
– conceal carry.org

Those who are not quick to believe that “more guns means more safety” are being backed up against a wall where the  foolishly simple solution of more guns is increasingly becoming gospel truth.  I use that word gospel quite seriously.  The brilliant Gary Laderman article “Hate the Sinner, Love the Gun” proposes that America’s love of their guns is more than even culture… it is religion… and “the gun is the religious object par excellence”.  While the article will probably provoke some readers by its boldness it does do the essential task of translating a stale, vapid, dumbed-down debate into a deep and rich new terrain.

This is the intention of the upcoming 2011 Congress on Urban Ministry, to engage with the violence in our culture in a multi-faceted, multi-leveled manner that doesn’t ignore the complexity of social realities.  We not only believe that the problems we face are complex but that the gospel of Jesus can challenge, heal, and redeem these complexities.  Even as we await with Eschatological hope the coming reign of the Prince of Peace we strive to reawaken and re-emphasis the peacemaking that is inherent in the Way of Jesus in every good day given to us.

Daley at the '68 Democratic National Convention

One good piece that has helped give depth and breadth to my wrestling with issues of handgun-control is the two WBEZ produced shorts on the history/evolution of Chicago’s handgun ban.  As well as being incredibly informative, the presentation is remarkably even-handed.  Wherever you stand on issues of handgun-control I am sure you will appreciate the complexity they engage because,  as I recently overheard at lunch in a busy restaurant, “Wherever there is a large complex problem there is a short simple solution… that is wrong”.

Oh, and seriously, read that Laderman article!


The Promise Of Despair

“If death had a Facebook profile its interests would not be only putting people in the

grave but killing their dreams, their loves, their peace, their dignity”

The Promise of Despair: The Way of the Cross as the Way of the Church

One of my favorite former professors has just released a brilliant little book called “The Promise of Despair: The Way of the Cross as the Way of the Church“.  Dr. Andrew Root is a practical theologian and professor of Youth & Family at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN.  Though Root is primarily an academic he draws extensively from his experience in L.A. working with an as urban youthworker and as a gang prevention counselor, in his insightful writing.

Dr. Andrew Root

Allow me to begin by being upfront: this book is not an urban ministry book.  If fact, if there is one critique I would hold up about this book is that it seems woefully unaware of much that is beyond white, suburban, middleclass concern.  What this book does espouse however, is a way of being church together which takes seriously context – the context of people within the community and served by the community – in an entirely different facet that neither race, nor locale, nor class can claim exclusively.

Root’s book supposes that, for the typical American church, the context most easily/often ignored is that of despair.  How many  churches have you been involved with which seemed to have a holy presence in our lives until misfortune reared its head and then suddenly, as if someone had hung a quarantine sign around our neck, the church was wholly distant?  There is a natural temptation in life (and churches are not exempt from this) to actively avoid pain – to go to great lengths to outrun the despair that stalks us like a predatorial beast.

In church language, one might call this orientation towards a non-existent deathless reality a “theology of glory”.  What Andrew Root does so brilliantly with this book is remind us that Christianity is a faith based around a crucified God: a savior hanging from a tree after being publicly executed.  Root’s book stares directly into the cold, beady eyes of death and makes the bold proclamation that: death blinks first.  To be true to this core of Christianity it to be involved in a “theology of the cross”.  Luther’s classic phrase reminds us that just as Systems and Empires constantly destroy our hopes, in an attempt to relegate us to permanent despair, God is the one who meets us in our despair.  In the midst of our suffering, the resurrection takes its hold.

We live in a culture which is involved in the endless task of creating despair within each of us.  The finest example of this despair creation can be found in advertising (which I would argue has become the cultural engine and religion of late-capitalism).  Advertising works by creating a rift between what you have and what you want, between who you are and who you want to be.  The more you can be convinced that your face is too wrinkly,  your belly too bulgy, and your wardrobe too square the more likely you are to spend money on a facial, a weight-loss system, and Calvin Klein jeans.  The brilliance of the constant bombardment of images, telling us to “despair” of ourselves, is that it creates an environment in which you are doomed to never be satisfied with yourself the way you are – the way you were, dare we say, created.

The connection here then is that talking about “the despairing church” and “the urban church” are both ways for the church to become church more fully.  They are both paths to becoming church in a way that authentically and urgently responds to the reality of the community.  We encounter God in the midst of God’s people, not on some holy ground but in the unaltered, unadulterated context of their authentic reality.  And you can bet your bottom dollar that if you are truly encountering people where they are at you are encountering a heavy helping of despair.

Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry

Relationships Unfiltered

Other books by Andrew Root:

+ Root’s BlogTalkRadio site.