change

Come Hell and High Water

IF IT WASN'T the year from hell for the North American continent, it was the year from a place with a very similar temperature.

It's hard to remember, but it began with that bizarre summer-in-March heat wave that meteorologists described as one of the most anomalous weather events in the country's history. Before long there were record blazes burning in Colorado and New Mexico, and then a stifling heat wave moved east, triggering a "derecho" storm that raced almost 1,000 miles from Indiana to the Atlantic and left 5 million without power. July was the hottest month ever recorded in the United States; it was also when drought descended full force on the Midwest, stunting corn and soybeans and driving the world price of grain up by 40 percent (and making sure our hellish year became traumatic for poor people the planet round). By August it was clear we were in for a record melt year in the Arctic; when the long polar night finally fell, it was clear we'd essentially broken one of the planet's biggest physical features. And all that was before Sandy piled into our greatest urban area, leaving behind an indelible image of the future.

So the question becomes, what's an appropriate response? What even begins to match the magnitude of the trouble we face? What doesn't seem like spitting in the wind?

My sense is that the time has come to take on the fossil fuel industry itself—not the members of Congress they buy in droves each election season, but the real powers. Ignoring the damage they've already caused, these people spend hundreds of millions of dollars each day looking for new fossil fuels. And they spend hundreds of millions each year making sure no government stops them. They're like the tobacco industry at this point, except that instead of going after your lungs they're going after the lungs of the planet.

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Post-Election: Our Hope for the Future

Allison Joyce/Getty Images
People react to election results in New York City's Time Square. Allison Joyce/Getty Images

Whether your guy won or whether your guy lost, do any of us believe that politicians or the political process can unite us or solve our nation's deepest troubles (the most serious of which are not economic)?

If you feel great or you feel lost, is your honest hope in a political messiah? Can our political leaders give us a vision of human flourishing that comes close to the personal and societal transformation available to us right now in the New Creation accomplished by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ?

These idols we fashion, these men and women we are tempted to worship or in which we place our ultimate confidence, cannot heal us or bind up the wounds of America.

The Ground is Shifting

OURS IS AN age of interaction, mobility, and change. Unlike most of our grandparents, many of us have moved several times in our lifetimes and have seen our neighbors move in and out. We are more intensely aware, even in our own neighborhoods, that our kind of faith is not the only kind. We see how others have been shaped by very different histories than our own. It becomes clear to us that we, too, have been shaped—and continue to be shaped—by our own history.

Fuller Theological Seminary, where I teach, is in California. Every now and then we feel the ground shifting. The chandelier in our dining room swings or the bed on which we are lying begins to rock. The whole world may not be experiencing little earthquakes as we are, but people are surely experiencing change and variety in faiths and ideologies. This change and diversity can rock a person’s faith. We ask, How do we validate the truth of what we perceive and what we believe? In our time of pluralistic encounter with multiple ideologies and religions and with rapid social, economic, and political change, people search for what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called solid ground to stand on.

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Walk On The Ocean: Rob Bell, Day 2

The author, watching the surf in Laguna Beach, Calif., on Wednesday. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

I was standing there on the shore, jeans rolled up, my ankles in the surf.

It was day two of the Rob Bell event and people were surfing.

Yes, surfing.

Rob brings in a couple of surfing instructors and, if you want to, you can rent a board and take a lesson. It's a good time. I watched a lot of people surf for the first time as I stood on the shore ...

                   watching ...

                                       waiting.

Behold, The Dreamer Cometh

A few weeks after the October 2002 plane crash that killed Sen. Paul Wellstone, his wife, Sheila, their daughter, Marcia, and five others, a Lutheran confirmation class visiting D.C. from Minnesota decided to stop by Wellstone’s office to pay their respects. As the group went through security at the Senate office building, one of the students—who had worked on the senator’s re-election campaign and was still wearing a Wellstone button—set off the metal detector. The officer took her to the side to wand her. As he was checking her, the guard said, “Not one other senator in this place knows my name; Paul Wellstone knew my kid’s name.” He and the student hugged each other, and both started weeping.

Paul Wellstone touched people’s lives in profound ways, mostly because he genuinely sought to live a life of integrity, in both public and personal matters. He once advised, “Never separate the life you live from the words you speak,” and those who knew him best said he honestly tried to follow that advice. (A Midwest political observer said the Right never knew what to do with Wellstone, because he lived “conservative values” at home while working for progressive change in the public sphere.)

Wellstone’s political career began when, as a political science professor at Minnesota’s Carleton College, he started working with farmers to block electric lines forcibly run through their farms—and he continued to organize and agitate on behalf of regular people for the rest of his days.

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What Can Churches Do?

JUST OVER A year ago, I attended a retreat sponsored by the Fund for Theological Education. During the retreat we were encouraged to look at our lives and to find a personal story that captured the essence of what led us to our particular ministries. That led me to reflect on my childhood: growing up in poverty, attending a different school every year, walking to school with cardboard in the bottom of my shoes because the soles were worn out, wondering how I was going to eat, lacking school supplies at times, and dealing with the stress of a single mother who was a substance abuser.

By reminding me of those things I endured and had to overcome as a child, that exercise helped me tap into my real passion. I wanted to find ways to help children growing up in similar circumstances. I wanted to inspire them to believe in themselves and know that they can make it.

At-risk youth and under-performing students need to be inspired, but equally important is their need for adults who are willing to do the work of helping them succeed academically. Education continues to be our most reliable tool for creating upward life trajectories and optimal opportunities. Churches are more than places where people come in search of a deeper relationship with God; they are also places where people come to find deeper connections with their communities and the possibility of using their gifts and talents to help those in need.

All these forces together compelled me to act on an idea I had more than a year ago: to call on friends from across the country to help create Faith for Change. Faith for Change builds a national network of churches and people of faith committed to implementing proven educational strategies for improving children’s lives.

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How to Change Politics

THIS SUMMER, in a historic development, nearly 150 evangelical leaders signed an “Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform.” Signers came from across the spectrum of evangelicalism, from leading Latino evangelical organizations to pastors Max Lucado, Bill Hybels, Joel Hunter, and Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family.

No, that isn’t a typo. Sojourners stood side by side with Focus on the Family to draw attention to the plight of millions who have been caught up in a broken system. It was exciting to see a unity across the traditional political spectrum that rarely happens in Washington.

Make no mistake: There are still big gaps in theology and politics among those in the group. But rather than politics, we focused on the things we agreed were fundamental moral issues and biblical imperatives. Instead of ideology, we came together because of morality and common sense.

Big things don’t change in Washington first; they change in the nation’s capital last. You’d think that with all the lobbyists on K Street and the billions of dollars being spent, Washington must be the country’s most important place. But this is the place where things don’t change, where politics maintains the status quo and the special interests maintain their own interests. Both Republicans and Democrats are more concerned with their political bases and getting re-elected than with the people and families whose lives are being crushed.

Things change when hearts and minds across the country change. Things change when people’s understandings change, when families rethink their values, when congregations examine their faith, when communities get mobilized, and when nations are moved by moral imperatives. Things change when people believe that more than politics is at stake, that human lives, human dignity, and even faith are at stake. And when moral values change, culture changes—and then change comes to Washington.

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Artist: Petna Ndaliko

Petna Ndaliko
Petna Ndaliko

 

“The practice of peace and reconciliation is one of the most vital and artistic of human actions.” — Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh

How do you combat violence, institutionalized rape, a corrupt government, and years of injustice? With more violence, better weapons, or more strategic strikes?

For Petna Ndaliko, you do it through art. In spite of attempts by the Congolese government and militia groups to silence them, Petna created a stage for local youth to express themselves. They sing about oppression, about corruption, and about the people’s ability to overcome.

Art heals. It unites a community. And it can ignite a spark for change. Film can inspire rape survivors to find their voices and tell their stories. From a grassroots level, music moves people to action.

Petna calls himself a small light from which a huge fire starts growing. For many Christians, this echoes Matthew 5:14, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.”

Petna’s hope is for the flame to spread through the youth of Congo, to carry the message of hope forward to future generations, finding creative ways to combat injustice.

Being Pushy Is OK When You’re Pushing Back

people pushing image via Accent  / Shutterstock
people pushing image via Accent / Shutterstock

Imagine the moral authority that church leaders could exercise if they turned their eyes outward to a needy world, rather than endlessly surveying the insider crowd for what they want and are willing to pay for.

Imagine if we allowed worship to change in order to make it more accessible to the world. Imagine devoting our resources to reaching younger adults and families seeking fresh purpose in a stale world. Imagine buildings being re-purposed for community needs. 

Imagine a church that was giving itself away to the "least of these." And when givers push back, imagine lay and clergy leaders saying boldly, "This church isn't for sale. We have a larger purpose than keeping you happy and comfortable. This church isn't about us. It is about God and the next people whom God is trying to reach."

We Need More Cannibals

Kodak camera. Image via http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/2992854214
Kodak camera. Image via http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/2992854214

Lately I’ve been thinking about why it’s important for an organization, be it religious or for-profit, to be more cannibalistic.

In the late 19th century, Kodak emerged as a trailblazing company that ultimately brought photography to the masses. An American-born business, the golden boxes of film became synonymous with family photos and even professional photography.

As a little guy, I had one of their Instamatic cameras, and I remember the eager anticipation of sending of the film and waiting the two weeks or so to get the results back.

Suffice it to say the landscape for film and imaging has changed radically in the meantime.

Now, practically every electronic device we carry has a still picture or video camera embedded in it. And for less than a thousand dollars, a photography enthusiast can buy a camera that not only shoots digital images that rival most professional film renderings; they also can shoot high definition movies and edit the videos on their laptop computers.

It may not surprise many that Kodak has suffered greatly at the hands of this digital revolution. The company has failed to post a profit in many years, and recently filed for bankruptcy.

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