Category Archives: fatalism

The Way Forward, Part Five: Good People, Bad Systems: Steps to Liberation

In our contentious world, it is wise that we pause and examine some of the foundations of our current chaos. We are assailed with ideological inputs from all sides. The moment someone calls for personal responsibility for social ills they are labeled insensitive, racist, or worse. When another utters the words, “systemic injustice” they are branded a Marxist. Dialogues end in both cases and resolutions are far away.

This essay is not about ideological preferences or even specific public policies. My aim is unveiling a phenomenon that hinders human flourishing: we have many good people trapped in bad systems. For decades I have listened to thoughtful women and men offer innovative solutions in classrooms and over coffee, only to go back into their offices and organizations that stifle creativity and promote conformity.

These bad systems almost have a life of their own. They breed fantasies and fatalism – promising the world with just a bit more money or promoting a bureaucratic apathy of hopelessness that hopes next year’s budget includes them. These bad systems are in private and public agencies and recognizing the signs and refusing to submit to the inevitable are the first steps forward toward liberation.

There are three insights that will help us find freedom. First, we must recognize the phenomena of systemic captivity. These include losing sight of the mission, self-preserving activities, and forgetting that all systems are supposed to serve the mission, not become an end in themselves. Second, we must accept that real change is painful and includes many finding new employment or learning new skills. Effectiveness includes new efficiencies. Institutional systems must be nimble. Transitions can be compassionate, but they will not be easy. Third, advocates of systems change will be marginalized, even hated. The purest motives and the wisest pathways will still meet the inevitable resistance to change.

Here are two applications that can change history. The first is commitment to a balanced federal budget and more local administration of vital programs. We need the universal ethics of federal influence (to ensure fairness) and the efficiencies of local systems for many public programs. Of course, there will be many job changes if we get serious about this. A second application more fun: non-profit and for-profit partnerships that help further flourishing with each bringing the best of their ethos and systems to the particular causes they are working on together. Good ethics and best practices apply to both kinds of organizations.

Before we label or libel leaders, let’s pause and look at the systems in place and see if we can find common cause in reform that leads to better results.

Our Stories Are Not Finished Yet

The Lenten Season is a period of self-reflection and sacrifice as followers of Christ ponder the obedience of Jesus that led to a Cross and Resurrection, bringing hope and reconciling grace to our weary world. The story of Jesus includes his humble beginnings. It features family life in an artisan’s home. There is a Bar Mitzvah that astounded some learned religious leaders. And then there were quiet years running a business until his early 30s. If the narrative stopped here, it would have been one more story of an anonymous Jewish family in the early first century.

But the full story continues as Jesus begins his public ministry. For more than three years this Rabbi delivers and heals, forgives and reconciles, teaches and demonstrates the love, grace, and truth of God’s kingdom. For his trouble, Jesus is betrayed, arrested, subject to multiple (mis)trials, scourged, crucified, and buried in a borrowed tomb with a 24-hour Roman guard. If the story had ended here, Jesus would have been one more zealous Rabbi and wonder-worker and perhaps classified as a good teacher by some and a pernicious influence by others. (Oh wait…isn’t that how many still see him?)

But the story is only complete on Easter morning as the Lord is raised from the dead in a transformed body still bearing the scars of his atoning death while revealing the ultimate future of all who believe. Easter is not only a promise of eternity, it is a present reality as followers of Jesus receive the Holy Spirit and walk in his pathway of love and humility, offering the same deliverance and healing, forgiveness and reconciliation to all.

And Easter means that all of OUR stories are still being written. Starting right now, our future can be different as we listen more deeply to our Lord, align our hearts and minds with his commands, and join Jesus in his mission. Yes, we may bear the consequences and scars of previous traumas or our own sins. No, we cannot be “anything” we imagine – that is nonsense. But starting today, we can become the best version of the person God created us to be and start doing the good works he designed in advance for us to do. We were created to enjoy God’s presence and fulfill his purpose. As we worship and work, and allow the Lord to refine our character and define our charisms, a better future opens to us – and to the world.

Our stories are not finished until our mortal journeys have ended. And even then, they continue in a new creation. Be encouraged today! Jettison the fatalism and the fantasies, and embrace the Cross. In humility and service, we discover our purpose and find great strength.

A Prayer of Consecration

As we lament and repent, we are also called to a new hope, a new obedience rooted in love and the fear of the Lord. Here is a prayer for us to align ourselves with God’s reign. In the coming weeks I will be offering serious critiques of issues and policies from the new administration, as well as insights on geopolitical hot spots around the world. All of this must be rooted in prayer.

Holy and Loving Lord,

We offer these words of consecration with humility, trusting only in your mercy. We plead that you will empower us to put off all that enslaves and ensnares us, and put on a new heart, mind, and will that honor you and serve others well. Help us, O God:

  • To put off all idolatry. Forgive us for crafting a deity to our own liking, either reducing you to a feeling or capitulating to fatalism. We put on awe and reverence and submit to you on your terms. We put off using our perceptions of your guidance as an excuse for manipulation of power. We put boldness and courage that aims to serve. We put off the idols of ideology, cherry-picking Bible verses to suit our opinions and refusing to listen to the voices of others who also cry out to you. We put on engagement in the public square with prophetic distance, allowing us to confirm and critique from a pure heart. We put off the idolatry of self-fulfillment, choosing to follow in the pathway of Jesus, who, secure in his identity, became a servant, our sacrifice for sin, and now as the Risen Lord, a preview of our future.
  • To put off all immorality. Forgive us for excusing the sins of those we like and magnifying the mistakes of those we hate. Forgive us for replacing intimacy with you with unholy substitutes objectifying others and escaping from reality. We put on agape love, seeing everyone we meet as sister or brother made in your image. We put on delight in prayer, learning to listen to you as well as pour out our hearts. We put off the immorality of greed and lust for power and put on the virtues of diligence, generosity, and stewardship of your gifts and opportunities.
  • To put off all injustice. Forgive us for blindness to systems that keep too many from access, equity, and opportunity. Help us put on advocacy and actions so all can flourish. Forgive us for ceremonial gestures without substance and hospitality that is hollow, expecting others to conform to our expectations. We put on listening ears, and an open table where you are present. We put off avoiding uncomfortable contemporary and historical issues and our tendencies to choose narratives that conform to our preferences. We put on a fearless pursuit of the truth, knowing you are at work in and through all circumstances.

Gracious Lord, empower our repentance and resolve. Keep our hearts tender and our minds discerning.  We put off our self-deception that displaces your eternal principles with our human preferences. We put off naïve nationalism and visceral hatred of our country and put on humility for our deep flaws and hopefulness that our highest values may be realized. Have mercy on our land, and every land. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

A Prayer of Lamentation: January 7, 2020

Holy Lord, we weep today. Forgive our corruption in high places and the hidden places of our hearts. Forgive our anger that destroys pure affection and sullies our actions. Forgive our winking at evil, wherever it is found. Forgive our self-righteous selectivity concerning what is good, forgetting that your ways are eternal. Forgive our idolatry as we cozy up to power, regardless of party. Forgive our immorality as we defy your Word concerning the marginal and vulnerable, from conception to coronation, from every culture and country. Forgive our injustice as we have failed too often to make a way for all to flourish.

Lord, your kingdom is established through love and humility, peacemaking and reconciliation, hospitality and holiness. Too often we have taken your place as the arbiters of others’ souls and failed to let your Spirit do surgery in us and in the systems we live in.

We weep for the unprotected unborn, the forgotten aged, and the sisters and brothers deprived of access and equity. We weep for those ensnared in ideologies antithetical to true freedom. We weep over the passivity of so many while shrill voices dominate public discourse. Forgive us, merciful Lord.

Forgive our fatalism and hubris, our cynicism and hedonism. Our happiness is not your first concern, but a consequence of a life lived for your glory and the good of others. Forgive the privileged for abusing their opportunities to serve.

Lord, you raise up and bring down nations and empires, and our beautiful and broken land is not exempt from your scrutinizing sovereignty. Have mercy on our land. We do not deserve your mercies, but please hear the unseen prayers of the humble and extend your grace, offering a season for repentance and righteousness, renewal and reform.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Amen.