On Forming a More Perfect Union

How can we develop the character required for social change?

Daniel Lee Hill
Daniel Lee Hill is an assistant professor for Theological Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. Prior to arriving in Dallas, Daniel helped launch an urban, Christian classical school on the westside of Chicago, IL and served on staff at a church in Houston, TX. He received his B.A. from Hampton University, his Th.M. from Dallas Seminary, and a Ph.D. in biblical and theological studies from Wheaton College.

In the past year, as a tumult of civic unrest has waxed and waned, I’ve been reminded of the story of the Little Red Hen. In the story, the Hen begins a baking project. Throughout the day, she asks the other farm animals to help her gather the ingredients and participate in her baking project. Each time, they politely decline. Yet at the end of the day, when the aroma of warm, fresh-baked bread wafts past their hungry faces, they all gather to share in her hard work. Of course, the Hen is less than enthusiastic about sharing the fruit of her hard labour with those who would rather sit and watch her sweat. She reminds the farm animals that they turned down many opportunities to help her and respectfully rejects their offer to share in her feast.

Call me a cynic, but it seems that activism itself has become all too easy in the age of the internet. It is easy to post one’s outrage or expressions of solidarity on social media platforms to a smattering of followers who already agree with our basic premises. It is easy for many of us to drift back into life as usual, returning to the comforts of our segregated enclaves. We are quick to raise our voices in indignation when we see the heinous acts of others, but when it comes time to plant seeds, cut wheat, and grind flour, we’d rather not. In other words, we desire the goods of social change without the actual effort required to realize them.

Such activism only goes so far, and “so far” is not far enough. As Wendell Berry argues in The Hidden Wound, our communities are maimed and fragmented, they are in need of healing. But journeying toward this healing involves striving to become a new type of people. This healing begins with the cultivation of new virtues, new habits and qualities, and new ways of seeing and imagining our common life. In short, we need to begin cultivating a certain kind of character that will shape our communities around a pursuit of peace and the common good. But what habits and qualities do we need to cultivate, and how then do we go about that process? Four in particular come to mind: temperance, accountability, ingenuity, and hope.

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