The Common Good

Cynicism, Hope, Discipleship, and Democracy

How do we live out God's call to prophetic witness in an apathetic and disempowered society? How can we learn from others who have remained faithful to Jesus' radical call in the midst of failure?

These don't sound like the questions you'd expect to be hearing from a van full of exhausted young adults on a 12-hour drive back from Washington, D.C.

But last March, that's exactly what happened to a group of us from Living Water Community and Reba Place Church in Chicago on our way back from the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq.

Our epiphany was not in National Cathedral or during the bone-numbing walk to the White House. Instead, it happened the following morning during a humble gathering of Mennonites in the basement of a Methodist church lit by fluorescent lights and filled with orange and red plastic chairs. We were eating bagels and juice and listening to Peter Dula, the Mennonite Central Committee coordinator for Iraq from 2004 to 2006.

Dula spoke simply and honestly about the caustic combination of guilt and disempowerment that attacks those of us living in the United States. We are complicit in horrific acts of destruction, but our leaders have largely abandoned the rusty apparatus of democracy -- a trend accelerated by Bush and company. Our protests begin to feel like empty rituals. Politicians have taken advantage of our culture's apathy and nihilism to shed the last vestiges of accountability. As Dula put it, "We are no longer enough of a democracy that the people feel empowered, but still enough of one that people feel responsible."

We left D.C immediately after Dula's talk and discovered that each of us had been electrified by what he had said. For those of us who have come of age in the Bush administration, there is the knowledge that something is deeply wrong with our country, but we remain caught beneath a crust of cynicism that permeates every corner of our mental and spiritual space.

On the van ride home to Chicago we talked about how important it is for our generation to talk honestly about our disillusionment and learn from our failure and that of those who have gone before us. As we discussed what to do next, a surprisingly concrete idea emerged. We wanted to invite Dula and others to Chicago to continue the conversation. We even came up with a title for our gathering - Cynicism and Hope: Reclaiming Discipleship in a Post-Democratic Society.

I've had epiphanies on protest road trips before, but never with so many people so committed to doing something about it. If you feel the same way, come join us in Chicago on November 2 and 3 (one year before the 2008 elections): http://www.cynicismandhope.org/


Tim Nafziger is a Web developer, activist, and writer. He helped found the Young Anabaptist Radicals blog, is a regular blogger for The Mennonite, and is a reservist with Christian Peacemaker Teams.

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