Posts Tagged ‘Jim Wallis’

If you have read other books by Jim Wallis, heard him speak, or followed Sojourners, this book will not be new to you. But Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus may be a tasty consomme, the best of Jim Wallis boiled down to essentials. And it written in what he and many others consider a crisis moment for culture, country and Christians.

Based on “The Reclaiming Declaration,” which is a collective statement by faith leaders, the book falls nicely into ten chapters. The nut of the book is an insistence that Christians in general and evangelical Christians in particular have lost track of the actual sayings, teachings and examples from Jesus himself. In this polarized political time the body politic has become unhinged from its moral bearings. And Christians have defined themselves by a few wedge issues while suspending or ignoring the preponderance of everything else Jesus taught and has been practiced by the Church for centuries.

After making the a theological case for the return to Jesus himself, Wallis devotes entire chapters to questions of who is the neighbor, how are we all created in the image of God, how does one rediscover truth, how is power understood and negotiated, in what ways does fear motivate us, how can must we make decisions about ultimate loyalties when it comes to God and Caesar, what does it take to become peacemakers, and how can we once again enlarge discipleship to actually following Jesus when it comes to life and life together.

All of these questions and suggested answers are relevant and telling, especially as regards the ways in which Wallis claims that Christians have made Faustian bargains with the current political powers and principalities and lost their spiritual bearings as a result.

Reclaiming a way forward requires an ancient project, one that is perfectly suited for today: Identify who we are based on an entirely different criteria than an amoral false Christianity that compromises itself in order to be close to the levers of power.

This is good stuff. Not new, but good. And harder to do than understand.

My guess is that unless Christians embrace this ancient-future wisdom all shall be lost, not only for historic Christian communities, but for a nation that is presently stumbling blindly through a moral and spiritual blackout.

I’m a Jim Wallis fan. I think he is prophetic in the best sense of the word, speaking truth to power based on a Biblical witness and frame of reference, and he is wise, setting his experience up against the ways in which we go about what we do. He’s done so in a recent column in Sojourners (December 2011) in which he addresses those involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

So the first thing is that I trust the instincts of Jim Wallis. The second thing is that I am sympathetic to the issues raised by the Occupy Wall Street movement, if not their strategies and tactics. I believe that they are addressing a fundamental issue of economic injustice in our society. Few of us are not concerned with the enormous gaps between great wealth and dire poverty, the corporations sporting executives making 400 times what the average worker is making … and laying them off. Few of us are not concerned that the very corporate entities responsible for much of the economic melt down, bailed out with tax payer money, are now padding their coffers in exorbitant ways, as though nothing ever happened. Well, there is something fundamentally wrong and we know it. Human nature being what it is, and greed being one of the deadliest sins, I don’t expect it to stop or alter course unless someone speaks loud and clear.

Lacking any other voice, a rag tag disorganized bunch of discontented souls have done so. What began as a protest mushroomed into some kind of self-organized movement. Unlike the Tea Party, which has been funded by huge big money behind the curtain, there are no resources to speak of in the Occupy movement, just people gathering and speaking out. Maybe that’s why it has a certain quaintness to it; the mosquito is trying to agitate the elephant.

So that’s why I have sympathies with the attempt. I’m not out there myself, but I appreciate that there is a sound in the streets.

Jim Wallis, on the other hand, is simply smarter and more savvy than I. After making some general statement of solidarity, he states some pretty clear suggestions that I find compelling.

First the general statement: “You have given voice to the unspoken feelings of countless others that something has gone terribly wrong in our society.”

But then the suggestions. He doesn’t mince words:

“Keep pressing the values questions, because they will move people more than a set of demands or policy suggestions.”

“Try not to demonize those you view as opponents, as good people can get trapped in bad systems.”

“Instead of simply attacking the establishment economists (you can come up with) new approaches for society’s investment and innovation.”

“Keep asking what a just economy should look like and whom it should be for.”

“Avoid utopian dreaming about things that will never happen. Look instead at how we could do things differently, more responsibly, more equitably, and yes, more democratically.”

“Keep driving both the moral and practical questions about the economics of our local and global households.”

“I know you believe that leaders on Wall Street and in Washington, D.C., have failed you. Indeed, they have failed us all. But don’t give up on leadership per se. We need innovative leadership now more than ever.”

“There is much to be angry about, but channeling that energy into creative, nonviolent action is the only way to prevent dangerous cynicism and nihilism. The anarchism of anger has never produced the change that the discipline and constructive program of nonviolent movements have done again and again.”

“Cultivate humility more than overconfidence or self-indulgence.”

“Do not let go of hope. Popular movements are the only forces that truly bring about change in society.”

“Change requires spiritual as well as political resources and any new economy will be accompanied by a new spirituality.”

So ends the lesson.