Wednesday, September 28, 2011

How can you call for change, and not be called an elitist?

This was an interesting topic brought up by some friends of mine.  If you say something is broken, and needs to be fixed... if you believe you have learned some of the ways towards fixing it and are living it out, and talking about it... how are you not considered an elitist?

I go back and forth with this one, but based on my personality, in practice I generally fall to the side of, "not my responsibility what others think of me".  I say what I feel I am supposed to say, and often I say it as bluntly and perhaps even rudely as possible.  Jesus was not always nice, and in fact was often down right mean to those that stood in the way of change.  Jesus says that the pharisees not only wouldn't enter into the kingdom of God, but were actively keeping others from entering in as well.  And His words were not soft and comforting to those people.

Those that are in positions of stability and power in the modern structure have the most to lose by its dismantling.  I have empathy for them, I understand, and I will show love and concern and even provide a helping hand as they journey towards living out a new reality.  But those that dig their heels in and protect the bastardization of what Christ leaves as his present fleshly reality on this earth... well I don't have gentle words for them.

Does that mean I am lifted up with pride? am I hypocritical?  Am I an elitist?  Well, yes I am.  But I am trying to be less so.  I am trying to judge myself every step of the way.  I am also saying that I suffer from these issues to.  The difference is, I am not digging in my heels, being stiff necked and refusing to be moved.  I am on a journey, and am willing to consider myself brother or sister with all those that say the same.  But those that are already at their destination are as much the religious powers that be, as those the crucified Christ and I will not "be polite and humble" as they hurt God's people and his Way.

But what I do admit, is there are some things that help us to keep things in check:

Let your deeds speak louder than your words

Always realize your own sin, and your ability to deflect that upon others

Submit to the others in your community that see your failings as much as your success

Serve the least, the outcast, the marginalized, because there you find yourself



@IfIWasZen said...

I've been thinking about this from a secular point of view, as I'm currently challenging an organisation that I believe is not acting in the best interests of the people it is meant to be helping. One thing I keep telling myself is, "patience, you fool", we are not very good at playing the 'long game' in effecting change, or I'm not. We live in a 'microwave' culture and demand things/change now. This can be counter-productive. Sorry that point was a bit of a tangent.

The other thing I've been holding on to is the maxim from George Bernard Shaw: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man." The difficulty is differentiating between the 'unreasonableness' of your goals and not letting that spill over into unreasonable behaviour. I expect to attract criticism, and I'm not sure I'm going to be successful, however, I believe that I'm right.

Ultimately, I'd agree with you. Challenging the status quo will attract criticism. However, I'm content that the 'unreasonableness' of my goal for change is the right one, and I have set myself the aim of ensuring that, as far as possible, I cannot be criticised for my conduct. The rest is in the hands of the Fates.

Epictetus encouraged people to approach situations with two aims: one to resolve the situation ,and the other to remain calm whilst doing so. Good advice, I think. Your point about humility is also crucial. Another great philosopher, Lao Tzu said: "The skillful traveller leaves no traces...". Complete your task, and move on. If you achieve this, any 'conduct charges' will be minimised. But people will always seek to misrepresent what you are doing, especially when challenged.

Sorry, that was all a bit of a ramble reading it back...

David said...

"I am on a journey"

Translation: If things get too difficult, I'll move on to the next town.

"Let your deeds speak louder than your words"

Translation: Make sure you get your beliefs correct, otherwise you'll burn in Hell forever, baby.

john jensen said...

If you are talking about me I was actually not renewed for a visa David.

I don't believe in eternal hell either.

I think you keep arguing with someone who is not me. There are plenty of right wing, fundie jackasses to argue with on the internet why do you feel the need to antagonize me when I am none of these things? I work a full time job so as not to take money from the church, I regularly give to the poor from my own wallet, I eat with homeless people, I don't preach on the street corners, I advocate for non violence and I don't vote.


Anonymous said...

I liked this one...


David said...

You're not so much a "turn or burn" man, as a "turn or squirm" man.

john jensen said...

I guess you could say that, but I look at it like the entire creation is moving towards redemption, why not avoid the rush and start now.


Matt Morin said...

(pt 1 of 2)
john, even though it is not explicit, i can feel your pain in this post. i share it brother-- i'm going through a terrible ordeal right now with family members who have been brainwashed into thinking that "niceness" is the highest human virtue. now if they were not christians, this would be understandable and perhaps even forgivable given our contemporary culture of nihilism, and the type of bland, unimpassioned agent of consumption that it aims to produce. but anybody who spends thirty seconds reading one of the gospels--any synoptic account will do--can see that sometimes niceness is unfaithfulness, and that sometimes claiming to know the truth (let alone follow him into the most wretched places) will sound offensive. i have found it mystifying that the conservative churches i grew up in-- the same ones who spent every week harping about 'objective truth'-- are so quick to label somebody an 'elitist' who claims to be able to know truth.

to be honest though rev, i don't think you judge yourself-- well, at least you shouldn't! judging, no matter who it is done by, has the effect of trapping the person who is doing it in an infinite cycle of accusation and defense. again, in my church upbringing, there was a huge emphasis on 'searching your own heart.' bullshit. that is endless introspective narcissism, pure and simple. you don't need to search your heart, and if you were so sinful as the call to self-examination seems to imply, then it wouldn't matter if you did search your own heart anyways-- you would be too blinded by sin to recognize it. the spirit, through the words and lives of your brothers and sisters, will reveal your sins, and then jesus will make them vanish into thin air so that you can continue to follow him with quick and light footsteps.

that's why (as barth says) jesus came as the judge judged in our place. he took the endlessness of judgement upon himself and freed humanity forever from the burden of having to make judgements. all that is left for us to do is respond in faithfulness to our lord. few will do so; most will not-- that is what the scriptures teach. either believe it or don't.

i like the apostles words on this question: "This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me."
-1 Cor 4:1-4

paul says he is not innocent, but neither is he burdened. that is beautiful.

Matt Morin said...

(pt 2 of 2)
the main problem with calling someone an elitist is that this is not christian speech. as such it doesn't get us anywhere-- it is a weak claim. first of all, if the word has any meaning (which i am not sure that it does) then it refers to all of us. we are all elitists insofar as we are products of american exceptionalism-- so at the very least, the term is unhelpful. secondly, a more faithful christian (and therefore more helpful) vocabulary would use the terms "error" and "lie." If you are in error, then you need to be corrected; if you persist, then you are a liar. if someone is in error, the most loving thing you can do is correct them-- sometimes harshly and sometimes gently. again, making such corrections is not an act of judgement but of faithfulness. therefore it is done with a certain kind of ease-- not necessarily comfort, but ease.

contrasted with 'elitist,' calling someone a liar is a strong claim-- which makes it a helpful one. Christians have a common text that we can meet and reason over. we can discern truth from lie; and then we can move on with the gifts of our lives.

and speaking of christian vocabulary, we had the corner on the term "change" long before it was co-opted for use in a recent marketing campaign. "metanoia" is repentance-- real change, not merely a serious of measly niebuhrian compromises.

i disagree with WasZen's quote about resolution and remaining calm. epictetus was a stoic, and stoicism is miles from christianity-- both in thought and deed. fight like hell; we are christians not buddhists. preach in such a way that you create enemies, and then love them.

our lord's yoke is easy and his burden is light brother. you are being trained to follow jesus, and you are a trustworthy guide. don't let anyone weigh you down by placing their own yokes upon you. peace. (sorry this is so scattered!)