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The Questionable Call to be World-Changers: Reflections on Urbana – Part 3

While naming the overwhelming positives of the Urbana gathering of students, I have also identified some negatives. In my previous post, I discussed the supernatural/natural divide in our metaphysical understanding of reality. Here, I want to discuss the problem in calling students to be “world-changers.”

Again, we must start by recognizing the strong positives in challenging young people to say “yes” to the high call of the Father, to be courageous and even risky, in following the radical path of the Messiah, and to being open to promptings of the Spirit that lead us outside comfort zones and against our cultural tides. Every young person is on a “heroic journey.” Yet, as Christians, the heroic journey goes through the cross and it is never taken alone but in communion with the church.

So, there are some fundamental problems with framing the vocational goal of being a “world-changer.” This was an obvious theme of the Urbana conference and mentioned by various plenary presentations and prayers. At the very least, the concept of “world-changer” needs a lot of caveats; at most, the social script needs to be rewritten. Here are some ways to (re)consider changing the world as Christians:

  • While every action (and inaction) may have a ripple effect that results in change, we do not want to put unrealistic expectations on the shoulders of anyone, especially young adults.
  • We need to differentiate change. For example, every conversion to Christ – whether it is the first yes or the daily turning to Christ – involves change, which may be cosmic in and of itself. Personal change is different from social, cultural, or ecological change (among others). Where are we looking for change?
  • We need a critique of power. Otherwise, our action, in the name of Jesus, may ride the wave of worldly power (that tends to compete and exclude) instead of the way of the cross (which uses power to lift up and care for others). The idea of “world-changer” assumes power. But, in the light of the cross, change may not look like success. How can we contribute to change through weakness or lack of power?
  • We need to avoid a messiah complex. Change is not the prerogative of young adults. While we participate in God’s mission and cooperate with God’s actions, change is ultimately initiated and achieved by God. This frees us from believing that change is our burden to carry.
  • We need to discuss theories of change so that they do not succumb to western assumptions and formulas (i.e., if I do this, then I will achieve that change…). Instead, our theories of change must all follow the way of the cross, trusting in God’s lifegiving change and the promise of resurrection.

Rather than calling students to be world-changers, can we better draw on biblical imagery:

  • Seekers of the kingdom of God;
  • Be witnesses of Christ, in imitation of Christ;
  • Moving in the presence of Christ to all creation and all peoples;
  • Make disciples;
  • Remember the poor;
  • Live as a holy, royal, priestly people giving an account for the good.

Rather than projecting our visions to change the world, this imagery speaks more to a faithful presence in the world, which is a high and beautiful vocation and one to which young students should be called.


About Fragments & Reflections

David Chronic


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