On God's Side

12-14-2015

The best gift in Santa’s pack or under the tree as far as I am concerned is a good book. Or several, even better.

This time of year, every publisher and book site on the Internet has its own “best of” list, including reviews to check out, excerpts to read and information on ordering it online.

For what it’s worth, here are some of my favorite books I read this year in case it might help you with your lists.

For fiction readers:

09-18-2014
I recently had the privilege of speaking with Jim Wallis, President and founder of Sojourners, a Christian organization committed to faith in action for social justice, Jim Wallis is also the author of "On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good,” a New York Times best seller. That book encourages Christians to love their neighbors and thereby serve the common good. Jim believes the good news of Jesus not only transforms our personal but also our public lives.
07-18-2014
“Jesus did not come just to save our souls,” wrote New York Times best-selling author Jim Wallis in his new book, “On God’s Side.” “Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom is much more than the ‘atonement-only gospel,’ a message that was mostly about how I could get to heaven and not about a new order that had come to change the world and me with it,” says Wallis.
04-07-2014
Select titles from the Religion Nonfiction finalists are: Boring by Michael Kelley (B&H Books); Consider the Birds by Debbie Blue (Abingdon Press);On God's Side by Jim Wallis (Brazos Press/Baker Publishing Group); Playing God by Andy Crouch (IVP Books); Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart by J.D. Greear (B&H Books); and The Good Funeral by Thomas G. Long and Thomas Lynch (Westminster John Knox Press).
03-03-2014
Jim Wallis’s On God’s Side comes in two parts. In the first, he argues that biblical Christianity involves not only the personal, individual standing of the Christian before God and the individual’s relationship with Christ, but also a deeply communal element that inspires genuine concern for one’s neighbors. In the second, he fleshes out how these sometimes-competing concerns ought to inf luence Christian political thought and engagement. Wallis’s inspiration for the title of the book is a quote from Abraham Lincoln—“My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side”—and he uses this second half of his book to explore exactly what being “on God’s side” would entail, tackling several prominent and hotly debated issues ranging from the structure of the American political system to specific policy issues.
02-19-2014
4) On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good by Jim Wallis $3.99
Jim Wallis 08-29-2013
Martin Luther King, Jr., photo: public domain. Illustration by Sandi Villarreal

Martin Luther King, Jr., photo: public domain. Illustration by Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

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.

Jim Wallis 07-03-2013
Margaret M Stewart / Shutterstock.com

Constitution with American flag and Statue of Liberty, Margaret M Stewart / Shutterstock.com

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.

Jim Wallis 06-20-2013
Woman with cynical and happy emotion, Fotovika / Shutterstock.com

Woman with cynical and happy emotion, Fotovika / Shutterstock.com

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.

Jim Wallis 05-30-2013
Jim Wallis with the Tigers Little League team. Photo courtesy Jim Wallis

Jim Wallis with the Tigers Little League team. Photo courtesy Jim Wallis

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.

Tripp Hudgins 05-03-2013
 Lissandra Melo / Shutterstock.com

Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial in Washington, D.C., Lissandra Melo / Shutterstock.com

Editor’s Note: Jim Wallis’ latest book On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good is 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 SideAdam 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?

Adam Ericksen 04-30-2013
Baseball runner's foot, Lauren Simmons / Shutterstock.com

Baseball runner's foot, Lauren Simmons / Shutterstock.com

Editor’s Note: Jim Wallis’ latest book On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good is 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.

In his post “Lattes for the Common Good,” Tripp states that working for the common good starts in mundane places, like a coffee shop. These are the places where we practice neighborliness. Here’s Tripp’s brilliant point:

I wonder if one of the things that we can think about in terms of the common good is learning to practice neighborliness in the inconsequential moments so that when we face the bigger political difficulties of our shared life — when we start talking about the common good in the larger sense around some of the other issues like violence, and fear, and money — that maybe if we've already built up habits we can have these larger conversations with greater ease.

Jim Wallis says something very similar in his book On God’s Side. When it comes to the common good, Wallis states, “I have never seen the real changes we need come from inside politics. Instead, they come from outside social movements” (295).

According to Wallis, for those social movements to make any real change in our politics they must be based on the biblical command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Indeed, On God’s Side begins with a reflection on the Golden Rule. And, as Tripp says, “learning to practice neighborliness” is learning to practice loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.

But there is a tension in Wallis’s book that, for me, is unresolved. That tension is clearly seen when Wallis talks about baseball.

Christian Piatt 04-29-2013
Homebrewed Culture Cast

Homebrewed Culture Cast

Not to get all braggy here, but this episode is pretty great.

First, we have our first return guest, and it’s one of our best: Jim Wallis. Christian moderated a discussion with Jim at Powell’s Books last week to talk about his new book about nurturing the common good, called On God’s Side.

I swear, Jim Wallis is incapable of saying uninteresting things. What an honor to have him back (even if Jordan didn’t get to be there).

We spend the second half of the show talking about bombings and explosions and ricin. I promise, it’s not as depressing as it sounds. Namely, we wanted to talk about racial profiling when it comes to terror suspects, the shifting tectonics of how we get news in America, how to talk about tragedy with children, and how much faith is to blame in religious extremism.

Seriously, even with horribly serious subject matter, this was a really fun show to do and talk about, and we use our senses of humor to cope. We hope you enjoy.

 

Tripp Hudgins 04-26-2013
Lattte, happydancing / Shutterstock.com

Lattte, happydancing / Shutterstock.com

Editor’s Note: Jim Wallis’ latest book On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good is 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.

"I'm hesitant to talk about the common good as if it's a discovery. This is not news. But maybe, maybe Jim's right in that we've forgotten how to practice it. So this is what I want to know, invoking the spirit of Fred Rogers as I do it: 'Who is your neighbor?' ... Because I wonder if one of the things that we can think about in terms of the common good is learning to practice neighborliness in the inconsequential moments so that when we face the bigger political difficulties of our shared life — when we start talking about the common good in the larger sense around some of the other issues like violence, and fear, and money — that maybe if we've already built up habits we can have these larger conversations with greater ease."

Jim Wallis 04-25-2013
Still from video on Fundsazurza in the Dominican Republic

Still from video on Fundsazurza in the Dominican Republic

Stories are what change the world, more than just ideas. And that’s what I am seeing and hearing on the road — stories that will change people for the common good. Nobody outside of Washington trusts Washington because there are no more human stories — just money and the calculations of power.

But even Washington can be affected by the stories outside of Washington — take immigration reform for example, which will happen despite the political paralysis. People of faith are telling their stories of conversion to what their Bibles say about “the stranger.” They are telling stories of new relationships with their “undocumented” brothers and sisters. And their stories are changing Washington.

So rather than just offer you more “ideas” about the common good, we are going to offer you some stories about how ordinary people are creating it. 

Some talented young filmmakers have created stories to inspire you. This first video tells in beautiful scenes, the story of how a group in the Dominican Republic is using a recycling program to fund senior services. It’s about community and about serving our neighbors. It is a real inspiration for working within our own spheres of influence for the good of all.

Watch. Listen. And then create your own story for the common good.

Rachael McNeal 04-24-2013
Interfaith religious symbols, Sana Design / Shutterstock.com

Interfaith religious symbols, Sana Design / Shutterstock.com

I agree with Rev. Wallis — focusing on the common good is a good step toward answering the question of how to be on God's side, and solving many of our nation's greatest points of division. In a country as diverse as ours, however, it can be challenging to know what the common good actually is. As individual participants in society, we all come to the table with different ideological structures for framing our understanding of what is commonly good. Those structures are often built around religion, philosophy, and our beliefs and understandings about existence, mortality, and the cosmos. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that we live in, arguably, the most religiously diverse nation of all time.

Yes, Jesus has called me to love my neighbor as myself, but what does that really mean when my neighbor is Mormon, Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, secular humanist, or Hindu?

Religion is often blamed for the world's greatest conflicts, and rightfully so. One doesn't have to look far to see conflict or violence that is linked to religious motivations or sentiments in some way (think the tragedy at the Boston Marathon or the Sikh man that was murdered shortly after 9/11 because he was wearing a turban). In a country that becomes more religiously diverse every day, it is easy to allow conflict to arise between different religious and non-religious groups. It is true, difference in religious and philosophical ideology can be a cause of great division. But what if I told you it doesn't have to be that way?

Jim Wallis 04-18-2013
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Young boy atop father's shoulders at vigil for Martin Richard, victim of Boston bombing. Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

I hear it over and over again both during my conversations on the road, and as I skim the headlines each day, that we are in a battle for the common good.

I learned about the Boston bombings as my plane landed in Portland, Ore., traveling for an 18-city book tour to spark a conversation on “the common good.” As I read and watched more about the tragedy, there unfolded such a stark and brutal contrast between the explicit intent to kill, hurt, and maim others, and the actions of those who rushed toward the blast, risking their own lives to help the wounded. One act of vicious violence was aimed to destroy the common good and create a society based on fear. The others displayed the highest commitment to redeem the common good and insist that we will not become a nation based on fear, but on mutual service and support.

When real or imagined grievances combine with rage, religious fundamentalism, political extremism, mental illness, or emotional instability, we lose the common good to dangerous violence, fear, and deep distrust in the social environment. But when grievances lead to civil discourse, moral engagement, and even love and forgiveness, different outcomes are possible.

Lisa Sharon Harper 04-15-2013
Abstract heart cardiogram, Petr Vaclavek / Shutterstock.com

Abstract heart cardiogram, Petr Vaclavek / Shutterstock.com

The common good is not only about politics. The common good is about life and how we live it. It is ultimately about how we are all connected. It is about how our love or lack of love affects our families, our neighbors, our communities, our cities, our nation, and our world.

The common good is about personal brokenness. Have we taken the time to let Jesus come in and heal the wounds that distort the image of God within of us — wounds that drive daughters and sons, mothers and fathers to self-destruction? Have we taken the time to let the Great Physician heal the personal wounds that break families and friendships, slicing the central fabric of society? We are all connected.

Jim Wallis 04-04-2013
Jim Wallis at the Lincoln Memorial. Photo by Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Jim Wallis at the Lincoln Memorial. Photo by Brandon Hook / Sojourners

I recently went back to the Lincoln Memorial to tell the story of how and why I wrote my new book, On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good. And I reflected on my favorite Lincoln quote, displayed on the book’s cover:

“My concern is not whether God is on our side: my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.”

I invite you to watch this short video, and to engage in the discussion as we move forward toward our common good. Blessings.

Onleilove Alston 04-03-2013
Social speech bubble,  Cienpies Design / Shutterstock.com

Social speech bubble, Cienpies Design / Shutterstock.com

Whenever I hear the term Common Good I think of Thomas Paine’s infamous pamphlet Common Sense,which challenged the British government and the royal monarchy, but did not challenge the institution of slavery. As an African-American woman I enter the Common Good conversation cautiously because I know that in our society we have a habit of taking what is good for Western hegemony and making it the standard for everyone else.

As we pursue the Common Good, let us remember what was once considered common and good during earlier points in American history: chattel slavery, indigenous genocide, and institutionalized sexism. To truly come to a Common Good, we need to honor a diversity of voices and challenge our assumptions about what is common and what is good. Our default is to take what is good for our culture, gender, or community and make it the common standard for all. I have experienced being invited into organizations that were aiming to do good in the world, but an expectation existed that I would be silent about my unique concerns as an African woman. I know that denying my reality can never be good for my spiritual, physical, or social well being.

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