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Systems, Part 1: How to Understand the World

If this doesn't interest you, and you prefer my less academic writings on dating, avoid any posts with "systems" in the title...


I’ve decided to start running unpaid rants on my thoughts on systems of the world and how they dictate our lives, our thoughts, our pursuit of eudaimonia (Greek term for how we see the good life, or happiness and fulfillment) and especially our perceptions of God. If this doesn’t interest you, and you prefer my less academic writings on dating, avoid any posts with “systems” in the title, I just want to get these thoughts out more for me than for others! 😉  These are thoughts of mine trying to sort everything out in my mind, so they may not be 100% factual, but they’re how the world makes sense to me as I wade through a season of reasoning through them. -e

I can’t remember when exactly my obsession with systems began, but it was sometime in the past year, and is possibly related to many of the lyrics of Kendrick Lamar. I think it began with racism and a slow realization of what it means when people use terms like ‘systemic racism’ or ‘systemic oppression.’ In short, these terms describe things which are larger than just one person hating another for the color of their skin. For instance, I was raised to hate racism and love all people equally, so for the majority of my life, I thought that people of all skin colors were awesome. I thought that, because I am pro-people of all colors, I am doing the best I can to create equality in our culture.

I never understood how historically, there are systems which are at work and have roots in the beginnings of America and have yet to be overturned. If Charlottesville has shown us anything, it’s that racism is alive and well, which was a huge surprise to me, because I thought it was a very, very small percentage of the population which still felt that way, if any at all. However, I have stumbled across a question which has begun to haunt me and make me ask questions bigger than myself. Questions like, if all racism was suddenly erased from the hearts of all humans, would the black or hispanic population of America still be oppressed and underprivileged? Would places like the South Side of Chicago still be overrun with gangs and underserved by their local government?

This is where questions of systems begin to rise, because it is much deeper and more foundational than simply a white person being nice to a black person. For example, because of roots which run far deeper than one person’s actions or feelings, a black boy is born on the South Side of Chicago, and assuming he is the rule and not an exception, his life has a gigantic handicap already. Statistically, he is more likely to have a father who is absent, incarcerated, or dead, and will be raised by his mother or siblings. (I am basing these statistics on my own experience working in the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center leading Bible studies a few years ago, though I wouldn’t be surprised to find internet statistics to back all of this up.) As a result of a lack of leadership, as well as a responsibility to help provide for his family, he will get involved in gangs, weapons dealing, or drug dealing, ultimately landing him in prison.

My friend Dalton pointed out to me today that the family is the system to end all systems, and that barring a few miraculous examples, people born into a family system like this will almost definitely end up going down a small number of similar paths, none of which are overly hopeful. Generally speaking, no amount of church activities, after school programs, or Good Samaritans will replace a healthy family system or a safe neighborhood environment.

More shocking is the examination of how these families and neighborhoods go about changing in order to help young boys like our example. Historically, roughly until the time of Marx, help for these communities would have been doled out from the local church, as it was a member of the larger universal church working together to renew our world. Several hundred years ago, though, there was a shift in this responsibility and it was handed over to the State. We Americans live in a culture where there are two sides of the aisle, which can essentially be boiled down to small government versus big government.

While thinking through the divorce of the Church and State and the handling of power between these two, I suddenly realized why Republicans (typically the more ‘conservative Christian’ side of the aisle) generally lean toward a small government while Democrats lean toward a large government. Republicans come from a line of thought which argues that the church should be the entity to look after the poor, the hungry, the sick and the oppressed, and that the state should stick to its world of legislation and implementation of laws as they pertain to governmental responsibilities. Democrats, on the other hand, plea for a larger government to take control of providing for people in those states, and that the church is unnecessary. This, in my mind, helps me understand why more secular people and liberal-leaning Christians tend to vote Democratic while your typical evangelical, conservative Christian will lean Republican.

However, in the tension of the current world we live in, there is a war over who actually steps in to aid our example inner-city boy. Churches try to do their best kingdom work, inviting lower socio-economic communities into their doors or after school programs, while government workers are doing the same thing, just with the religious element removed. Thus, according to one of my professors at Moody Bible Institute, “The humanitarian secular machine will do more to help the poor and needy in the world than you ever will in your lifetime.” As we exit the era of Constantine’s Christendom and move into a universally more secular age, the system with the most power, money and resources is undeniably the State (the government). This is why Democrats (big government) call for more welfare, more healthcare, etc. from the State, because they won’t rely on the Church to provide those things the way it used to prior to the Enlightenment.

One of the most detrimental shifts of the Protestant Reformation is the splintering of the Christian Church, and therefore, the weakening of the aid it is able to give. Each church has its own budget, its own mission, its own creeds, and so on. Rather than being the united mammoth it once was when it was united as one catholic (universal) church, it is hundreds of thousands of smaller denominations which gather and believe, in relative isolation. This is why it is kind of a joke when a non-denominational church makes a daytrip downtown to hand out peanut butter and jellies to homeless people. Systems are the reason this is ultimately a waste of time. Why would they get excited about a PB&J when they could walk a few blocks and grab a warm meal and maybe a bed for the evening, paid for primarily by the State.

Shifting systems is the way to change people’s lives.

Doing the most good for the highest number of people involves understanding systems, not just having a good heart which ‘breaks for the poor and oppressed,’ but a heart attached to a mind which understands the way things really change in this world. I’m still trying to figure out the role of a Christian in a world which moves slowly like the turning of a cruise ship. It is a slow shift which comes about by people with power, or a large group of people with a loud enough voice, like the slow turning of large gears. I guess the question I catch myself asking is, What can one person with a very small platform do to shift the nature of the American system and help it operate in a more kingdom-oriented manner?

It’s huge, I know. These thoughts will continue with Part 2. Comin’ atcha soon.


Click here to read part 2!!

11 comments on “Systems, Part 1: How to Understand the World

  1. Pingback: Systems, Part 2: “I have faith in the system” – ethan renoe

  2. Mary Peter

    Hey have you read Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton? It’s a great book on community development and helping people to help themselves. Changing the church system of helping if you will. Discusses the damage that well meaning church groups can cause when they don’t have a long term development plan.

  3. Pingback: Systems, Part 3: You Can’t Win. – ethan renoe

  4. This is more interesting than dating!

  5. Pingback: Systems, Part 4: The Lord of the System – ethan renoe

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  11. Pingback: Systems, Part 12: Family > Self – ethan renoe

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