Prophecy by 770MUvo


									Virginia Municipal League
Prayer Breakfast
24 October 2005
The Rev. B. P. Campbell
Richmond Hill

                    Pragmatism, Prophecy, and Prayer
         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

       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 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.

        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.

To top