A YEAR-END REFLECTION FROM OUR EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Committing to the Wrestling Way
“There are some things in life—and they may be the most important things—that we cannot know by research or reflection, but only by committing ourselves. We must dare in order to know.”
So wrote one J.H. Oldham, a visionary Englishman whose gathering of thinkers and civic leaders in the run-up to World War II has been an inspiration to my attempts to revive a Christian humanist presence in our public square today. From 1938 to 1947, an eclectic diaspora of thinkers and doers met regularly—often through great logistical hardship—to ask ultimate questions of their hinge moment of history. Among the most regular “Moot” participants, as the group came to be called, were Reinhold Niebuhr and T.S. Eliot, John Baillie and Michael Polanyi, Paul Tillich and seminal German sociologist Karl Manheim, by then a Jewish refugee. These were men of wit and passion, of varying intellectual interests but no one party line, predominantly Christian but not exclusively so. The Moot published a newspaper lending readers spiritual succor as the war’s horrors proliferated. But theirs was less a project of immediate outcome than it was the nurture of a patient, thinker-doer seedbed whose honing of the fundamental questions facing human life and flourishing in their precipitous moment might invite eventual answers from innovators, institutional leaders, artists, and grassroots movements … possibly decades (if not generations) down the road.
This past January, compelled by their seriousness of purpose wrapped in humility before unknown ends, I searched out the archival transcripts from these meetings. The records fascinate, as much for their ambition to come to clarity on the underlying tectonics shaping the fate of nations in wartime, as for the ways in which the issues they were addressing are not so different from our own, though technology has advanced, and nations the world over have lost a sense of internal cohesion. The Moot interrogated the crisis of modernity as a disintegrating force, the dynamics introduced by new forms of nationalism and dignity-defying totalisms narrated by strongmen and fuelled by identity politics, how to understand Christianity’s role in a time of war and increasing secularization, and what the point of life was in a world marked by so much death. As Oldham was fond of saying, “Unless the deepest questions about the HUMAN in our particular time and place are constantly raised, society will lose any sense of a transcendent and will become criterionless and prey to either managerial control or, more sinisterly, the blandishments of ideologies which claim to have the answer to human purposes in terms that liberal societies are in danger of not addressing.”
I have found this observation to be working itself out in the whirlpools of today. And in an era of seductive ideological culs-de-sac, Comment is trying to carve out a space for a community to cohere around a more global set of goods: friendship and generosity, a recovery of structural pluralism and the restoration of the human. We are, specifically, seeking to strengthen a story about Christianity that is truer to its annunciation: one that begins with a “yes” and not a “no,” one that is on the geographic move, not sacralized in one subculture of human civilization, and one that understands the paradoxical power of the open wound—in Christ’s hands and feet, in our own stories—to generate new life.
This is going to require renewed commitment on our part to the way of the cross, and to welcoming the voices and communities who are especially intimate with that cross. It will require a renewed commitment to cultivating those patient spaces where bewilderment, grief, and hope might find their footing and yield a wiser way of leading. And it will require, I have decided, a more explicit rejection of the false narratives suffocating human hunger for communion: West-to-the-Rest narratives that manipulate Christianity into sponsoring racist, nationalist projects; anti-human narratives that hear “Christianity” only as a euphemism for colonialism, oppression, and hypocrisy; and technocratic narratives that worship scientific rationality at the expense of a transcendent telos.
Navigating these three false options and presenting a truer way is Comment’s charge. Will you help us? Our labours are multiplying: In addition to producing our beautiful magazine four times a year, I host a podcast called The Whole Person Revolution, which celebrates the practical wisdom of those institutional revolutionaries who are building new inches of common ground for a more inclusive common good. We continue to nourish the Moot-like seedbed that is Breaking Ground, a learning community of leaders that seeks to bridge the best of Christian thought with pioneering, often localized action. We are building a more accessible strategy for Comment Suppers, that toolkit for readers to gather around a meal and questions of shared longing in your neighbourhoods, workplaces, and churches. The Welcome Table has aspirations to grow into a multi-media, real-time experience of hospitality as it continues to surprise some of our society’s most profound moral fractures. And Zealots at the Gate, our newest podcast with Muslim political thinker Shadi Hamid and evangelical theologian Matthew Kaemingk, will only be getting feistier and more pointed as these two friends debate religion’s relationship to democracy.
It’s an exciting time to be a person of faith, but also a complex time. We need financial support and fellow travellers, feedback and encouragement. Thank you, as always, for being my friend along the way. You, in the light of God’s ever-surprising joy, sustain my hope.