Friday, 1 August 2008

"You Are The Generation We Have Been Waiting For!"

Yesterday many of us had a good session with Tim Costello and Jim Wallis in the St John’s Chapel. Tim Costello is well known in Australia. Jim Wallis has been an extremely influential figure in the churches in USA, particularly in is work through Sojourners in bringing out the true justice orientation of the biblical faith. He is very good stuff. His early books and writing in Sojourners almost 30 years ago where very influential in my life. His main point was the need for us to continue to struggle to meet the world’s needs with God’s justice and compassion. He invoked the axiom we have all used at some point, both in reference to ourselves and now to younger generations: we can change the world! Foolishly, however, I asked a question during Q & A time. My question went something like this:

"It seems to me that while we can change some of the world, we don’t seem to be able to change the world. We win some battles but also the world seems to be the same in so many ways from generation to generation. The realization of this can come as a shock. Many people when they realize this become disenchanted, even cynical. How do we prevent this from happening? When disenchantment begins to set in do we hope people will be able to move from ‘we can change the world’ to hope in God, or should we perhaps modify our discourse to young people now, which would mean not being quite so optimistic about the extent of change. Utopia is not going to come through our action."

Which didn’t seem to go down that well. (I wish I hadn't used the word utopia; it seemed to exacerbate things.) Jim reiterated his point about working for those causes that are here with us now (a good point and quite right), and that things have changed. His new book uses as examples of the change: Desmond Tutu in his struggle against Apartheid and the anti-slavery movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,among others. I think he might even have interpreted me as saying that nothing changes so why bother! But anyway, I wouldn't mind an answer to my question. When we say to young people ‘You are the generation we have been waiting for”, at some point in the future most of them will realize that, although great victories might have been achieved through their work for justice, injustice just moves on to a new crisis. This crisis too can be overcome, but injustice has already moved on again! I know so many people who have lost the passion for justice and faith because they could not move from “We can change the world” to hope in the God who will bring the change in God's way and time. (This was one of the points Jim made in his talk - hope in God as essential.) Hoping in God is not a renunciation of responsibility, but relieves us of the need to carry the messiah complex cherished by secular, enlightenment society. We hope in God, and act as ambassadors for the God of justice, working for signs of God's kingdom now, and discovering the kingdom where many overlook it.

So, my question again: Do we continue to tell young people they can change the world, or do we change (perhaps only subtly) what we say to them in the first place? But even subtle changes, while I suspect more honest, are just not as inspiring as the refrain, "You are the generation we have been waiting for!"


  1. Go with the fib, it is more inspiring.

  2. I think we need to be honest, it isn't up to us to Change the World it is God's work not ours. Our work is to be participatory in the work of God in the Holy Spirit and to accept the work of Jesus through the Cross and Resurrection.

    If our theology is that we must change the world then we have failed. We are not the Creator and therefore the owner of this world. We are simply the Tenants. We can change only so much, we can mess it up more than we can improve it!

    What we need to remember is that we do not own the world and therefore to not mess it up and improve it where we can. That way God is able to use our improvements and correct where we've messed things up.

    N.T.Wright "We do not build the Kingdom, we build the building blocks out of which God builds the Kingdom."