It’s important for me to say that Butler Bass’ book resonates with me because I am interested and anxious about what a successful church and congregation looks like, since I’m not convinced I’ve ever seen one. Even in my visits to churches and temples I’m certain will still be going fifty years on, I wonder if what I’m looking at is a healthy group. I’m sure what these groups are doing is healthy for them, but I wonder if any Xian or any religious group in what it does is healthy. We are self-congratulatory of our successes, the number of people fed, clothed, housed, educated, of what Butler Bass calls our stitching of “new connections of heart and head, creating an entirely new pattern…[and losing] all…illusions of religious grandeur,” (193) but we seem to lose track of some grandiosity that ought to be the central question: if religion can meliorate these things, why are we still doing them millennia after the advent of congregations and covenants?
There’s the story of the babies in the river and the group dividing between those who want to keep pulling the babies out of the water and the group that wants to find the people throwing the babies in and make them stop. I waver between these camps myself. To pick particularly on Xianity, if it’s about making real the kingdom of god through justice, why hasn’t the kingdom of god been made real? I know, it’s all about god’s time, but surely there’ve been enough good, earnest, hard-working, justice-seeking souls in two thousand years to have eradicated at least hunger? We’ve had emphasis on racial and gender equality in the US for almost a century, those must be about solved. It took less than thirty years to make Wal-Mart the preferred place for Americans to shop: that can’t be easier than bringing women to full economic equity or ensuring there are at least as many African American men in college as in prison, especially since we all know those are the right things to do. While “Doing justice” may go “beyond fixing unfair and oppressive structures,” while we are “engaging the powers—transforming the ‘inner spirit’ of all systems of injustice, violence, and exclusion,” (161) what has stopped us from fixing those wrongs? In our quest to make people think, have we ignored making them do?