The Common Good

Recent Posts from Jim Wallis

I returned to Sojourners this week, after a three-month sabbatical. The time away was a deeply needed one, and did my soul good. It did my body good too, and I feel better than I have in years — much lighter and healthier than before.

Sunrise walks on the beach, yoga and prayer to the morning light, and then running along the waves put many things in perspective. Wonderful time with Joy and my boys — Luke and Jack — made me remember how blessed I am.

A main purpose of the sabbatical was to write a new book and, gratefully, I am now on the last chapter. It’s about “why Jesus came,” and the writing made me feel closer to him. Re-reading C.S. Lewis' Narnia chronicles, while on retreat at a monastery overlooking the Pacific Ocean at the beginning of my time away, set the tone for the sabbatical.

My favorite chapter in the new book is called “Aslan, Narnia, and the Living Teacher Who Walks Among Us.”

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Many of All-American Muslim's critics seem to be upset that the Muslim folks featured on the show are not spending their time making bombs, planning attacks on their neighbors, or just screaming their hatred of America. The show, they fear, could give Americans the wrong impression: Muslim families are much like other American families, not secret terrorist dens plotting to infiltrate America with Sharia Law or attack us from within.
 
The critics are actually angry because no jihads are discussed around these Muslim family dinner tables and demonstrates to the rest of us that our Muslim neighbors are a lot like us.

The families in the show don't conform to distorted Muslim stereotypes that its critics had apparently hoped to see on All-American Muslim.
 
Well, too bad for them.
 
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The war in Iraq was fundamentally a war of choice, and it was the wrong choice.

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It’s been a bad year, and the 2012 election year looks to be even worse.

Don’t get me wrong —  there were many good and even wonderful things about 2011. I can point to weddings, great things in our family lives, wonderful moments with our children, acts of courage in our local and our global communities, and heroic accomplishments by people of faith and others of good will.

But when it comes to politics and to the media, 2011 was an abysmal year.

Washington is a dysfunctional place where we make the most important decisions about how our public resources should be allocated amidst artificial deadlines set entirely by ideological politics instead of the common good. Rational, thoughtful ideas for reducing the national deficit (while at the same time protecting our vital social safety nets and producing needed jobs) have been replaced by the politics of blame and fear.

And winning — at seemingly any cost — has trumped governing. To disagree with the opposition isn’t enough. Now politicians and pundits feel compelled to destroy their opponents’ character, integrity, patriotism, and even attack their faith.

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I love the lights and the love, which somehow seems a little easier during this season. Most of all I love the message: God made flesh, becoming human, and dwelling among us.

Our giving and receiving of gifts is most of all a reminder of the good gifts that God has already given to us. There is an old Sunday School saying that goes, "You can’t out give God."

No matter how much we give to those around us, it can never match the Light of the World entering into the darkness to be with us. Emmanuel, God with us, is the gift that can’t be out given.

In all the hustle and bustle of Christmas, don’t forget that. And don’t forget the people that you are especially thankful for.

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Evangelicals run the political gamut from conservative and moderate to progressive and decidedly liberal. To suggest that most evangelicals reside on the far right is simply not true.

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The real Christmas announces the birth of Jesus to a world of poverty, pain, and sin, and offers the hope of salvation and justice.

The Fox News Christmas heralds the steady promotion of consumerism, the defense of wealth and power, the adulation of money and markets, and the regular belittling or attacking of efforts to overcome poverty.

The real Christmas offers the joyful promise of peace and the hope of reconciliation with God and between humankind.

The Fox News Christmas proffers the constant drumbeat of war, the reliance on military solutions to every conflict, the demonizing of our enemies, and the gospel of American dominance.

The real Christmas lifts up the Virgin Mary’s song of praise for her baby boy: “He has brought the mighty down from their thrones, and lifted the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich empty away.”

The Fox News Christmas would label Mary’s Magnificat as “class warfare.”

So if there is a war on Christmas it ‘s the one being waged by Fox News.

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From Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis' eulogy at Scott Kennedy's funeral last weekend:

"Oh Lord, Lord, Lord…. This is a hard one.

You know why we are all gathered here today—Because Scott Kennedy, your good and faithful servant, has always brought us together—to do good things in the world: Necessary things, visionary things, courageous things, and often hard things. But they were things that must have warmed your heart, because they were the things that make for peace.

Jesus told us. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.’ And Scott brought us together, time and time again, to be those peacemakers and thus, really, to be your children—by doing what we were supposed to do.

And now, Scott is with you….and has likely heard you say something like, ‘Well done good and faithful servant.’ But we miss him terribly, and we weren’t ready for this. We just thought we would always have him.

Scott never brought us together for himself; it was never about him, but always about being peacemakers for the sake of other people. But today we gather for Scott. He has brought us together once again, and what a crowd it is—both here and online all around the world. We are all Scott’s peacemakers...."

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I would never have been mistaken as a political supporter of President George W. Bush. But in his early days as president, I was invited to have conversations with him and his team about faith-based initiatives aimed at overcoming poverty, shoring up international aid and development for the most vulnerable, and supporting critical agendas such as international adoptions of marginalized children and the broken domestic foster care system.
 
My invitations to the Bush White House ended when I strongly and publicly opposed the Iraq War. But I continued to support the administration’s efforts to combat poverty and disease, especially Bush’s leadership in combating HIV/AIDs, malaria, and massive hunger in the poorest places in Africa.

That agenda was called “compassionate conservatism” and I was grateful for it. Back then, Republican leaders could be fiscally conservative, favor “small government,” and believe in the free market, for example, but also believe that government should and must partner with the private sector — especially non-profit and faith-based organizations — to help lift people out of poverty, both abroad in the developing world and here at home in the richest nation on the planet. Such a conviction requires two things: A genuine empathy and commitment to the poor, and a more balanced and positive view of government — neither of which were much evident in the GOP’s right-wing quarters, where the compassionate conservative agenda was opposed by party leaders such as Tom DeLay and Dick Armey.

I met people like Mike Gerson, who was then George Bush’s chief speech writer and a policy advisor, and is now a columnist for the Washington Post. I was told it was Gerson and the Bush himself who often were the ones to stand up for the compassionate conservative vision at Oval Office meetings.

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See video
is Rick Perry's latest campaign ad.

He needs to take it down. Now.

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Unfortunately, many people who go to church on Sunday are more influenced by what they see on cable TV than by the Bible. I hear that lament from pastors all the time. Too many of their congregant’s political priorities are determined by a party or ideology – not the Word of God. Their identities are shaped by marketing and media campaigns that manufacture a view of the world in order to maximize their own power and profit.

The antidote is simple. Christians need to read their Bibles more. It makes a difference.

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I’ve learned that it’s especially important for those who are always trying to change the world, to remember what they are thankful for in their world as it is!

First I am thankful to God for his or her patience with us. Thankful that despite how much we human beings (perhaps especially we religious believers), so often disappoint, embarrass, and even hurt God with the things we say and do — even in God’s name; that God still continues to love us, forgive us, and call us to act more like God’s children, who should live together like brothers and sisters.

I am thankful to Jesus, who seems to have survived all of us Christians who name his name. Thankful that he is still so popular all over the world, even when Christians are, well, are not so much. But I’m also thankful for when Christians or others actually do the things that Jesus said, love their neighbors and even their enemies, just as he taught us to do, and when we do treat “the least of these” in the same way that we would treat him. I’m always most thankfully surprised by the unexpected and simple acts of love, grace, kindness, welcome, and justice that make people want to believe in and follow Jesus again....

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LONDON — It looks like the stage of a West End theater. The tents are gathered around and almost up against the steps of the historic St. Paul’s Cathedral. Each night, a General Assembly is held on those steps, and the sermons on inequality have a biblical ring to them.

This is Occupy London and the Occupiers were having their discussions with each other and visitors in the protective shadow of the Dome of St. Paul’s — as they should be. What a picture of the Incarnation, I thought, marveling at the scene.

What makes Christian faith most unique among all the religions of the world is, indeed, the incarnation. In Jesus Christ, God hits the streets — that’s what Incarnation means.

So here is the church in the midst of the international conversation that is changing the world — right where we should be.

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Sixty percent of white evangelicals support raising taxes on those making more than a million a year and 58 percent oppose cutting federal programs that support low-income people.

The Republicans have been taken over by an extreme ideology that their political base doesn't even support. And the power of money has corrupted our political system.

What was lost with the supercommittee was a responsible and balanced way to reduce the deficit, while protecting both the poor and the common good. Very sad and alarming for the future.

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It’s time to invite the Occupy Movement to church!

And Thanksgiving is the perfect occasion. Have some of the young protesters — the “99ers” as they’re becoming known — from this rapidly growing movement over for a big holiday dinner!

Our faith communities and organizations should swing their doors wide and greet the Occupiers with open arms, offering them a feast to say “thank you” for having the courage to raise the very religious and biblical issue of growing inequality in our society.

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In Mathew 25, he allows no excuses, personal or institutional.

“As you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me,” Jesus says without qualification. Apply that text to this terrible exploitation at Penn State and it certainly speaks explicitly to the most vulnerable children who have been so horribly abused there.

As it was done to them, it was done to Christ himself, the very Son of God. This famous text is one of the few passages of judgment in the New Testament.

Judgment is now needed at Penn State and beyond about how we continue to allow wealth, power, institutional protections, and cultural complicity to aid, abet, and enable the evil abuse of our most vulnerable children.

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Governor Perry should have to stand up and have the three hour Lincoln-Douglas style debates about why he wants to cut the Departments of Education, Commerce, Energy, and perhaps even the Environmental Protection Agency, and all the other government work that he would like to forget.

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See video

I’m sure you’ve seen the clip that has now gone all over the world.

And Perry is taking a pounding from the pundits.

CNN's Jack Cafferty told Perry it was time for him to "just go away," saying: "This 'aw shucks,' grade-school stuff may play in Texas -— but I, sir, don't want you anywhere near the nuclear launch codes."

Hardball’s Chris Mathews labeled it a “brain freeze” on his show.

The Washington Post called it a "senior moment."

And the U.K.'s Globe and Mail eloquently dubbed it a "brain fart."

I call it “ideological idiocy.”

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President’s Obama’s delay in approving the Keystone XL Pipeline is a victory for the movement to stop it, for God’s earth, for the possibility of reversing climate change, and for saving the integrity of this administration. 

A “No” to pipeline approval wasn’t really politically likely, with the likelihood of attacks on Obama by the Republicans and the labor movement of sacrificing jobs during an election year — even though the pipeline offers temporary and bad jobs.

The environmental movement is part of the Democratic President’s base, but so is labor and they are both more numerous and more effectively organized to help in presidential races.

So this delay is a victory for the possible future of a clean energy economy, which would produce many more and better jobs, while making a cleaner and more sustainable economy possible. 

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I believe that there is a basic human dignity inherent in work. In fact, the Bible even makes special provisions to provide jobs for those who otherwise wouldn’t have one. But, when it comes to the messy legislative process, no one can claim God’s special favor on a particular bill. It is, however, appropriate to discuss what kind of moral principles legislation should try to promote.

In St. Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, he writes, “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat." Paul goes on to warn about those who are idle and the negative effect they can have on a community. It was essential that every person work for their own well-being and for the health of the entire community.

Hard work was praised by early Christians, but so was ensuring that every person was provided for. Acts 2 says “All the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.”

These passages could be pitted against one another. One side argues for strict capitalist principles in which the lazy starve. The other models a communal society that shares and redistributes private property. But understood properly, they actually work together.

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