Virginia Municipal League Prayer Breakfast 24 October 2005 The Rev. B. P. Campbell Richmond Hill BCampbell@RichmondHillVa.org Pragmatism, Prophecy, and Prayer Pragmatism I Confess to a prejudice. I believe that Cities are the most important single unit of human society. They are to human beings what beehives are to bees. Human beings are fundamentally community beings. Every city in the world has certain similar characteristics and people -- the business leaders, the prostitutes, the politicians, the police, the musicians, the street people, the civic leaders, -- the classes, races, and ages. It is the best and the worst, the provincial and the cosmopolitan, the old and the new, the tawdry and the glorious all together. Every city is that way, throughout the world. Close your eyes and look. Jane Jacobs: nations come and go, but cities last forever. My second prejudice is this: A city is defined by what you see from the air, not by the Constitution of Virginia. It is a natural social and economic phenomenon. Mexico City is one of the world's largest cities. I do not know how many jurisdictions it has in its governing structure. City government. No other level of government has to face so directly the reality of how well we or poorly we work as a human community. We are bound together. The municipal leader knows it, and sees it. No matter who does what or says what at what level of government, - you will have the direct experience, and you will have to deal with it. So there is necessarily a certain humility, and a fundamental pragmatism, which goes with the business of governing our cities. You have to deal with the entire population, and with the realities outside all of our control -- whether weather or the decisions of a multi-national corporation. You alone are in a position to see the inter-relationship of all of us, through all the systems of the city: infant health - day care - social services - truancy - real estate tax rate - crime - employment - education - economic development - transportation. You must address every issue in one way or another. Or to put it another way, it will be happen and affect the community whether or not you do anything about it. I am continually astounded at the dedication of people who work for cities, towns, and urban counties. For nearly half my lifetime, the politicians of this nation have been running against government and running against taxes -- in one of the most sustained efforts of fantasy ever lived in by a people. The people of this metropolitan city are merciless in their criticism of the folks who keep the city together. No one seems to care, -- no one even seems to admit that there is such a thing as stewardship of the common wealth. And still, through it all, we have an astoundingly loyal bunch of public servants in locality after locality. Pragmatism is a virtue that anyone who works with local government must have in abundance. It is the opposite of ideology. It means you have to go with whatever you've got whenever you can. You work with what you have, and whom you have. That is why you are pragmatic. That is why you must be prophetic. And that is why you are inevitably driven to prayer. Prophecy Prophecy is nothing more or less than telling the truth. It is not rocket science. It is not spooky. It is not even exceptional, or it shouldn't be. It's just that telling the truth often seems very difficult, especially in a politicized context. The trouble is, if nobody ever tells the truth, things just get worse and worse. The castle of lies gets built more and more crazily, until it finally collapses. The Hebrew Scriptures, in one of the earliest stories in Genesis, tells about an early attempt at a city - a mixed use development called the Tower of Babel -- which collapsed when the people couldn't get along and the truth couldn't be told. There is truth to be told about Virginia's cities, towns, and urban counties, and it needs to be told clearly and honestly. We need to tell the truth about costs and funding. We need to tell the truth about transportation, including public transportation. We need to tell the truth about our children and about education. And we need to tell the truth about how state law has made it more and more difficult for cities and towns to operate. I know each of you has a specific local story, because cities are fundamentally local. The story of Richmond is that we now have a functioning city of about 1200 square miles and 1 million people with somewhere between 10 and 14 jurisdictions, depending on whom you count. If we were a bank, we would have consolidated 20 years ago -- and moved to Charlotte. There's a story like that in every municipality in Virginia. You carry the burden of the story. Tell it. Of course, good public officials don't spend a lot of time complaining about what they can't do. They just get on with it. This is healthy, and right, but it is also deceptive. No one is telling the story that needs to be told. Our political structures are becoming more and more antiquated, less and less effective, as new economic, physical shapes of cities are forming here in Virginia. You've got to get your story out there. Otherwise, who will be able to do anything about it? There's a second type of prophecy in which we must be willing to engage, and that is the business of calling our people together. It falls to public leaders to have a picture of the whole city, and to tell it over and over, so that our citizens know who they are. We are so individualized, we do not see ourselves as citizens of a common entity, and members of the same civic family, unless someone builds the picture for us in words. Your situation is all the more difficult because of the condition of American media today. Television -- because of its cost -- is primarily a national medium. And that is where people get their picture of the world. But life is primarily local. So we have this problem. The major issues that really shape people's lives are local, but the major information they have is nationally produced. It is a great challenge to get our people to take their own locality seriously -- and it falls on each municipal leader. Prophecy is a mixture of the truth, the facts, and idealism necessary to help us build a good city. Listen to the words of the prophet Isaiah talking about the city of Jerusalem in his own time: "If you take away from the midst of you the yoke, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your desire with good things, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in." Pragmatism, prophecy, and prayer. Prayer Let me just put it this way. If you're not being driven daily to prayer, you are not paying attention to your vocation as a municipal or governmental leader in Virginia in 2005. Nobody sees the needs of this society, or the difficulty of meeting them, any more clearly than folks who are responsible for them. They are driven to prayer. I am the Pastoral Director of Richmond Hill. Richmond Hill is an ecumenical Christian religious community in an old Monastery on Richmond's highest hill. We live there, and keep a retreat center and educational ministry, and we pray three times daily for the city of metropolitan Richmond. People have been praying on that hill for at least 139 years, since the Sisters of the Visitation came there the year after the Civil War to a city that was burned. On your table, you have copies of our prayer cycle. Join us in praying it. Come visit us any tine on Church Hill at 22nd and Grace Streets. Join us for prayer any day at 7 am, 12 noon, or 6 pm -- or just come and walk in the garden. On the wall of our chapel is an inscription from Psalm 127: Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman keeps vigil in vain. So we try to keep a full rotation of prayer for all the needs of the people of metropolitan Richmond going through the week, and thousands of folks in this metropolitan city are doing just that.. We pray for our public officials, our schools, our businesses. We pray without prescription. It is up to God to be the physician. The needs are great. There are great people and resources. We need the holy spirit to help us get ourselves together for justice and community. In a way, this kind of prayer is like rehearsing God's agenda. It states the big picture -- the one in which we live, but which we know is bigger than we are. That kind of prayer is basic, comprehensive, intercessory prayer. But for you and me, another kind of prayer is essential -- and that is taking time in quiet, just to calm ourselves and let ourselves be present with God for his healing. It is that personal reflection, that daily time of quiet, that fundamental self-care in God's name, which I pray for everyone who bears the responsibility of government in a municipality or county in Virginia. We cannot do this by ourselves. It is a holy calling, one of the most important of vocations. We need people praying for us, and we need to be willing to be still and let God give us strength, renew our hope, and give us direction one day at a time. General intercession, personal quiet, and then targeted prayer and work. If we do our own work in these forms of prayer, then God will help us to address the particular work which we have to do. It is hard enough, -- but we will be targeted, we will listen, we will be careful, and we will serve. I do not know how anyone can do this kind of work without prayer. The calling together of a city and administering it on behalf of its citizens is a holy and difficult vocation. A lot of the thanks you will receive will come in heaven -- they certainly don't come a lot down here. And if we didn't have a life of prayer when we began it, we will be driven to one before we finish. Pragmatism, Prophecy, and Prayer -- the essential tools of the Public official in Virginia's cities. Let me close with a prayer for all of you and for all our colleagues in the Virginia Municipal League, and the people who have hosted us here in the Marriott Hotel.
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