Taking Risks


This week we continue Issue 007, A Creative Pursuit, and examine why we don't, but why we should, take more risk in American political culture. To continue telling the story of healing through freedom, we are currently running a fundraising campaign through October 31. By giving any amount, you can join our pursuit and become a LIBERATUS Founder

Our writer last week offered two ideas that, if implemented on Capitol Hill and in our political culture, would shift work culture away from that feeling of “machine stuck on auto-pilot” and move us towards creativity. But before taking another look at them next week, and their specific risks and rewards, we need to rethink our view of risk in American politics.

To do so, let’s go back to the Great Story, because it’s relevant to all of life. And disclaimer: while the book quoted below is geared towards men, I believe it applies to women too. If you’re not convinced, Queen Esther risked her life by challenging a King’s authoritative rule to set her people free, Deborah led men into battle, Rahab undertook a covert spy operation against her own government from her house, Jael straight up pounded a nail through a guy’s head, and Mary Magdalene was the first to see Jesus after the resurrection.

“The riskless environment creates boredom. While we shouldn’t negate the importance of nurturing and safety, we need churches that present men with God-sized visions that make their hearts sink like they were on the steepest roller coaster on the planet. Initiatives like church planting, pioneering missions, and missional engagement of men in the city inspire and challenge the intrinsic part of men who love to be challenged. Getting on mission with Jesus is quite the journey. What else would make twelve manly men drop their former lives and become fishers of men?” –Eric Mason, Manhood Restored: How the Gospel Makes Men Whole, p. 165.

Let’s be honest: the primary goal, broadly speaking, of congressional offices is for the Member to get re-elected. Re-election demands the safety of what’s been done before, of what worked the first time. The job of representing shifts towards keeping the peace, and we lose a deeper understanding of what it means to govern well with the time we’ve already been given. There aren’t many “steepest roller coaster on the planet” moments in Congress, at least not many of real consequence.

What I love about this quote from Eric Mason is that it seems he is describing both a stifling religious culture (of which I have often been a part) and a lifeless political culture (of which I have also been a part).

I don’t think there’s very much risk on Capitol Hill or in our political culture at large, and the result is a lot of boredom, which, by making our work feel pointless, quickly becomes burnout. The culture of burnout contributes to all of the dysfunction, because when our minds are taken out of the game, solutions become that much harder to find, and we lose what creativity we had, if any.

When you see this happen—and feel it internally—on Capitol Hill, it’s likely you will hit rock bottom and realize that you are largely unhappy—perhaps even angry—with everything going on around you that’s so risk averse and, well, boring. That is certainly my story.

The answer is to begin rethinking our work. When I was at one of my lower points on Capitol Hill, a friend told me to read Wild at Heart. To be very honest, much of life didn’t make sense until I read it. One of the key ideas in the book is that we were created for adventure—and adventure is the opposite of boredom; it requires risk. (Adventure can be frightening too, and cause anxiety; it’s not always a soft, dreamy experience. At times it frays all of your thoughts and emotions, as I am learning.)

But before the adventure really begins—or perhaps when it begins, we have to look at our own internal wounds, and re-examine our own motives (and wouldn’t this alone radically change American politics, if we questioned our own motives instead of the motives of others?).

When we see the dysfunction of our politics for what it is, and suddenly feel devoid of meaning or purpose, it can be easy to fall into, as John Eldredge notes on page 44, “a sullen anger that seems to have no reason.” But thankfully that isn’t the end of the story. To grow out of that place will require risk and adventure, and I believe it’s because of the lack of risk and adventure, and a lack of a strong identity, that we fell into a weird sullen anger in the first place.

Later in the book, on page 105 Eldredge writes that “The history of man’s relationship with God is the story of how God calls him out, takes him on a journey and gives him his true name. Most of us have thought it was the story of how God sits on his throne waiting to whack a man broadside when he steps out of line. Not so. He created Adam for adventure, battle, and beauty; he created us for a unique place in his story and he is committed to bringing us back to the original design.”

Before we get back to the two specific risks previously mentioned of collaboration and rest, there are two more ideas we need to think through, and both have to do with seeing risk in a new way. First, we have to assume we can no longer be pleased with the status quo, and be driven by a deeper sense of Love, of life abundantly. C.S. Lewis wrote about Love in the opening of The Weight of Glory.

If you asked twenty good men to-day what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

The truth is we have to truly want something more. The second point comes from The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which I am currently reading. And this point, quite frankly, only matters if you’ve decided to follow Jesus—but I offer it for consideration because I think the truest form of reality is following Jesus (even though paradoxically following is a journey of faith, and even though it is very real that we can reject him and the life he offers) and because if we see our work as a creative pursuit we will have to completely rethink our definitions of success. There are many successful people in Washington, DC—but what we’ve created stinks. It’s lifeless, partisan, and based on fear—and how exactly is any of that regarded as success? For far too long I lived that mindset myself, but the aim of LIBERATUS is to reconnect our work to the idea that we are desperately lost without Jesus but through him we can live and offer love to others, and by doing so find a deeper understanding of freedom, and by it bring healing to our political culture. In talking about Truth and Beauty, I feel like a miserable failure, but that is partly the point.

Peter had to leave the ship and risk his life on the sea, in order to learn both his own weakness and the almighty power of his Lord. If Peter had not taken the risk, he would never have learnt the meaning of faith. Before he can believe, the utterly impossible and ethically irresponsible situation on the waves of the sea must be displayed. The road to faith passes through obedience to the call of Jesus. Unless a definite step is demanded, the call vanishes into thin air, and if men imagine that they can follow Jesus without taking this step, they are deluding themselves like fanatics (p. 63).

In our politics, we talk loudly about our faith, but have we actually taken a risk to live it, bringing the Kingdom to our work?

If you’re not a follower of Jesus, and you’re tired of all the religious-political noise out there—I hear you, which is why I hope through LIBERATUS we can reconnect faith in Jesus with his promise of abundant life, because doing so would require risk and bring more Truth and Beauty and life-changing creativity into our political culture than we have ever seen, hopefully leaving us with a renewed sense of wonder, LIBERATUS—we are set free.