On God's Side
Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of a day that changed America, changed the world, and changed my life forever. I was fourteen years old on Aug. 28, 1963, in my very white neighborhood, school, church, and world. But I was watching. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., became a founding father of this nation on that day, so clearly articulating how this union could become more perfect.
He didn’t say, “I have a complaint.” Instead, he proclaimed (and a proclamation it was in the prophetic biblical tradition), “I have a dream.” There was much to complain about for black Americans, and there is much to complain about today for many in this nation. But King taught us that day our complaints or critiques, or even our dissent will never be the foundation of social movements that change the world — but dreams always will. Just saying what is wrong will never be enough the change the world. You have to lift up a vision of what is right.
The dream was more than the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, which both followed in the years after the history-changing 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It finally was about King’s vision for “the beloved community,” drawn right from the heart of his Christian faith and a spiritual foundation for the ancient idea of the common good, which we today need so deeply to restore.
What do I love about America? I love the land, one of the most spectacularly beautiful countries in the world (and I’ve visited many of them). I love walking our long stretches of beaches, hiking our majestic mountains, seeing the desert skies, walking beside the rivers, sailing along the coasts, and visiting hundreds of lakes in my home state of Michigan, where I camped as a kid. I even love some of our big cities! “O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties, above the fruited plains.” I love our many diverse cultures, including their music, their food, their art, their sports, and their particular stories and histories.
I especially love our best national values: freedom, opportunity, community, justice, human rights, and equality under the law for all of our citizens of every race, creed, culture, and gender, not just for the rich and powerful. In particular, I love our tradition and history of democracy, its steady expansion here, and how it has inspired the same all over the world. We take legitimate pride in seeing how our founding documents have been the models for many new nations.
Skepticism is a good and healthy thing, I told every audience. Be skeptical and ask the hard, tough questions about our institutions — especially Washington and Wall Street. But cynicism is a spiritually dangerous thing because it is a buffer against personal commitment. Becoming so cynical that we don’t believe any change is possible allows us to step back, protect ourselves, grab for more security, and avoid taking any risks. If things can’t change, why should I be the one to show courage, take chances, and make strong personal commitments? I see people asking that question all the time.
But personal commitment is all that has ever changed the world, transformed human lives, and altered history. And if our cynicism prevents us from making courageous and committed personal choices and decisions, the hope for change will fade. Along the way, I got to thinking how the powers that be are the ones causing us to be so cynical. Maybe that is part of their plan — to actually cause and create more cynicism in order to prevent the kind of personal commitments that would threaten them with change.
And this is where faith comes in.
On Memorial Day weekend, our family of four participated in six baseball games! Having just returned from a six-week book tour, it was such a refreshing change from discussing our nation’s politics, which is all the media wants to talk about and is more and more well, disgusting.
A sign outside our home’s front door says, “This family has been interrupted by the baseball season.” Both of our boys play, I coach, and my wife Joy Carroll is the Little League Baseball Commissioner — cool job for a Church of England priest!
On Saturday, we played in the Northwest Little League All Star game, which I got to coach with my son Jack on one of the teams. Our team came out on top, and Joy made 100 hotdogs for a celebration after the game. Our last victory cheer was “1, 2, 3, HOTDOGS!” The picture here shows the enthusiasm of the 9- and 10-year-olds I get to coach every single week. It’s what keeps me grounded in real life — amid the politics of this dysfunctional capital city — and it’s what gives me joy. Coaching baseball has also kept me deeply connected to my two sons, as I write about in my new book.
We had just helped save an immigration reform bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee — advocating for 11 million undocumented people who Jesus calls the “strangers” against the special interest politics of both left and right — when I entered the field for our Little League Tigers game on Friday night. It was just what I needed.
Here is a great baseball story that explains why I love Little League Baseball.
Editor’s Note: Jim Wallis’ latest book On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Goodis sparking a national conversation of what it means to come together on issues that traditionally divide the nation. Bloggers Adam Ericksen and Tripp Hudgins are having that conversation here, on the God’s Politics blog. Follow along, and join the discussion in the comments section.
Benedict of Nursia is on my mind this morning as I ponder what it is that Jim Wallis is trying to accomplish with his new book, On God's Side. Adam Ericksen pondered the virtues of baseball, winning, and losing in his post from earlier this week. Adam questioned the metaphor. What do we do with our losers? How can we all win?
What would it mean if people of faith began transferring their human identities from class, racial, and national loyalties to a global identity in a new beloved community created by God?
~ Jim Wallis, On God's Side
Today I'm wondering about where Jim was when he started pulling all of this together. Jim shared that he went on retreat (a good practice, in my humble opinion) to gather his thoughts for this new book. He went to a monastery (also a good practice, in my humble opinion). He prayed the hours. He wandered the grounds. He spent some time in silence. He read the Narnia books and gave some serious thought of C.S. Lewis' Aslan. All of this led to a question, well, many questions, but this question I've pulled out is what caught my attention. What if, indeed, Jim. What if we were to do this thing ... the beloved community?
It is no surprise to me that this question would emerge while Jim was at a monastery. Of course it would. And that he riffs on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in a way is also wonderfully telling. "Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives," said Dr. King. Our souls must change. So too must our lives. Dr. King said much about the beloved community. So too did Benedict of Nursia.
There's so much to say here. I'm a little stumped. The beloved community is the Church, but it is exemplified by the monastery where people relinquish their individual control of their worldly goods. Monastics take vows to pray and work together. There's a shared rhythm of life. There is a shared mission. It's a challenging and difficult life, and not all Christians are called to it. Obedience, stability, conversion of life. If we want to be the beloved community, then the we must avow ourselves to such a Rule. Indeed, we must give up our personal or private identities to the service of all.
But how do we do this as a culture, a global church?