To Change the World

I’m working through James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World.

I’ve been carrying it around in my bag for the last few weeks, in hopes of cracking it open. I finally did today. It’s quite interesting. Hunter is a Professor at the University of Virginia. The book is an analysis and critique of the ways in which Christians, left and right, have approached cultural change. Hunter argues that change in culture occurs largely by means of networked elites, i.e., top-down, rather than bottom-up. He points out that for all of their efforts in the second half of the twentieth century, Christians were unable to effect much cultural change at all. Take a hot-button issue like same-sex marriage. Recent polls suggest that in spite of all of the efforts against it, a majority of Americans now support it in some form.

I’m not all the way through, but it’s clear where Hunter is headed. He starts, not with Jesus’ teachings, but with creation: “In the Christian view, then, human beings are, by divine intent and their very nature, world-makers.” He argues against the politicization of Christianity, either by left and right, and seeks to place Christianity’s role in “faithful presence.” I will say more about this idea in a later post.

It’s interesting reading in the context of what is taking place in Madison right now. I have made the case that Grace Church, by its very presence on the square, is an actor in the current drama. Whatever we do or don’t do sends a message. Hunter, I’m sure, would agree, because of his perception that politics (power) has become all-pervasive in our culture. Yet what should I or Grace do?

We have opened our doors, welcoming in those who are protesting in the streets, offering hospitality, a place to warm up and rest. As we open our doors, we offer something else, too. Grace is a beautiful space. As I’ve said here before, people sense its beauty, experience it, and for many who enter, they have never experienced anything quite like it before.

This weekend we will be doing a couple of other things. First, we will make more room for prayer. I don’t know how many people will come in tomorrow, but we will offer our chapel as a place where those who seek silence and prayer can find it.

Serendipitously, we will also be offering two musical experiences that will also evoke the beautiful. The first is a concert Saturday night by Seraphic Fire. The second is a performance in the liturgy at 10:00 on Sunday morning of a missa brevis by Haydn. Each will be an opportunity to encounter beauty. Whatever else we might do this weekend, we can do that. We can invite people to encounter beauty, and through beauty, to encounter God.

I don’t mean this as a distraction from what’s taking place on the streets. Rather, it seems to me that beauty can put everything else into its proper perspective, and by helping us touch the divine, help to ground us when all around seems to be chaos.