On a recent visit to Chicago, Melissa and I stumbled into an off-the-beaten-track tour of what’s referred to as the Pedway, an unplanned but completely ingenious underground ribbon of tangled corridors running throughout 40 blocks of downtown Chicago. Its route is illogical: these passages exist outside of known space, and its hidden entrances lead to mysterious destinations; an intricate non-system of pedestrian tunnels built to separate humans from the dangers and foul weather encountered on the street. (And man! Was it ever cold!) If you find yourself in the Windy City with 90 minutes to kill, you could do worse than walking this passageway with the standup comedienne guide. She was a kick.
Along the way, we heard quite a bit of Chicago lore and history, including the legacy of city planner and architect, Daniel Hudson Burnham. Few others have had more impact on the American city. He developed “a powerful vision of what a civilized American city could look like that provided a compelling framework for Americans to make sense of the world around them. He built some of the first skyscrapers in the world, directed construction of Chicago’s World Fair in 1893… and created urban plans for San Francisco, Washington, DC, Chicago, Cleveland and Manila all before the profession of urban planning existed. In fact, some say that he invented it” (via IMDb).
Here’s a Burnham quote our guide expounded: “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men`s blood!” It stuck with me; I looked it up once home again. Here’s the whole thing: “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us.” (And we would now quickly add, our daughters and granddaughters as well…)
By today’s standards, this sounds stilted, but I found it truly refreshing in our current cultural moment of chaotic disorder. All well and good to be a fan of disruption, but honestly, aren’t we ripe for some heroic commitment to a future imbued with hope? With a virtuous claim on the common good that draws out the very best of our human character?
Was it an illogical leap for me to then have this thought? –We really need spiritual heroes today. Not famous personalities, but people committed to reigniting a passionate intensity concerning the things that matter most, in the language of the Christian tradition, love of God and neighbors—all of them; people who might internalize a commitment to make no little plans, but to aim high in hope and work…
I thought that wasn’t a bad way to think about our life at Christ Church: a community bound together in love of God and neighbor aiming high in hope and work. Not only did that elevate my sight above current conditions, but actually stirred my blood.
We ought to be in the blood-stirring business. This is no time to stand back on the sidelines…