THERE ARE FEW times in life when we experience absolute clarity.
Normally, with the unrelenting rush of time, we live more from a sense of accidental encounter than with a plan, our decisions prompted by necessity instead of resolve. When that pattern is interrupted by an unexpected revelation, we stop and take note.
Recently, I experienced such a moment, a searing flash of certainty that changed the direction of my life: Under no circumstances will I ever walk on a high wire.
This summer’s Folklife Festival in D.C. featured the Flying Wallendas, a family of circus performers with a 200-year-old legacy of defying death high above ground uncluttered by unsightly things, such as nets. They perform in massive arenas, including three-ring circuses (circi?), their legendary mental focus undisturbed by the elephants on their left or zany clown cars to their right.
The Folklife Festival, however, presented more of a challenge to their concentration since, at any given time, no fewer than eight different venues—each with its own blaring sound system—were competing for attention. While Wallenda family members walked across a high wire with no net, an amplified voice from a demonstration in the next tent spoke of culinary techniques for outdoor cooking. The contrast was disturbing.
A Red Flag?
Regarding the Episcopal church called “The Cathedral of the Confederacy” (“Robert E. Lee Worshipped Here,” by Betsy Shirley, April 2017): Token efforts of repentance such as the removal of the Confederate flag will not suffice; full biblical repentance requires massive restitution in order to repair the enormous oppression and damage done to African-American people over the centuries.
It’s always great to read about an entrepreneur who shows that justice can be good business (“Grocery Store Inequity,” by Courtney Hall Lee, April 2017). I was interested to read of Jeff Brown’s effort to introduce quality, convenient shopping to low-income areas of Philadelphia because I lived in the southwest Germantown part of that city for two years back in the mid-1980s. I quickly noticed, when visiting the suburbs, that perishable food was much more plentiful and varied and lasted longer than food I bought at the “supermarket” a mile away from my apartment. One can only suppose that low-income folk did not find expensive, quickly spoiled food appealing and, since they didn’t buy it, healthy, fresh food was harder and harder to get. People are too often blamed for their own poor health habits. Please keep informing about the barriers faced in the name of “just business.”
Spivey’s Still Got It
Regarding “The Trump Presidency, One Year Later,” by Ed Spivey (April 2017): I laughed so many times that my wife wanted to read it! I think humor may be one of the best antidotes for the toxicity of our times. Spivey’s humor is also self-deprecating, which is more effective than the self-righteousness I feel and express so often. Thank you, Ed, for making us laugh while reminding us that we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God.
Charles R. Crawley
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Don’t Discount Adam Smith
Several points from your interview with Chuck Collins (“Wealth and the Common Good,” March 2017) illustrate the compatibility of his ideas with the economic system of capitalism proposed by Adam Smith. Smith sharply criticized stark economic inequalities. He advocated good wages for workers, writing that efficiencies in the division of labor made it possible to spread wealth even to the lowest ranks of the people. He advocated progressive taxation. And he argued that people were the same—no “myths of deservedness” for Smith. Finally, while Smith did not say anything about campaign finance reform, his excoriating comments on the political power of the wealthy are potent. The clear inference is that the wealthy should not have disproportionate electoral power.
For too long, American political discourse has featured a false dichotomy between capitalism and socialism. This dichotomy has been based on a gross distortion of Smith’s system. It is time to change the conversation to what kind of capitalism would be best for the country and the world: the savage capitalism of recent decades, or the capitalism with justice and equal opportunity that Smith advocated.
John E. Hill
“But what about ...?” Write to email@example.com or Letters, Sojourners, 408 C Street NE, Washington, DC 20002. Include your name, city, and state. Letters may be edited.
WHAT A MESS. What is it about you modern burglars that insists on such lack of tidiness, such disrespect for the common courtesy of wiping one’s feet? Not to mention a callous disregard for a law of physics, the one that states that every action has a reaction. Drawers, to name one example, close as well as open. No need to drag them out onto the floor, scattering the contents under foot, when you simply could have pulled them out part way—reviewed the contents, made your selections—and then closed. I understand the need for haste. Burglars, as a rule, are on a tight schedule. But the window of opportunity was, in our case, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., give or take.
As you probably know, the iconic symbol of your occupation is an unshaven man with a sock cap and a crowbar, a jittery skulker no mother would be proud of. He enters a home in the dead of night while the residents sleep, their faces relaxed and undisturbed by the beam of a flashlight briefly flickering over them, then illuminating the dresser where most people keep their valuables. In our case, as you discovered, there were none, only old Trader Joe’s receipts and a couple tear-stained movie ticket stubs that I can’t yet toss. (Note to Disney: You can stop now. You’ll never make anything as good as Moana and ... darn it ... I promised myself I wasn’t going to cry again!)
GIVEN YOUR occupation’s nocturnal custom, we were surprised to return home and discover you had robbed us in broad daylight. Apparently, your new business model is to wait until your victims leave for work and then, at a convenient time, start your own work day. One envies this, of course, since you can sleep in most mornings, setting the alarm for 9-ish, and listen to NPR as you linger over a second cup of coffee. Then you can take some “me time” before heading off to work.
THE BRILLIANT white lights could mean only one thing. Okay, two things. Either I was in heaven, in the place where people wait nervously for their performance review with God, or I was in the recovery room after one of those Elderly Man Procedures and the nurses were keeping their humorous thoughts to themselves, something that would have been impossible for me had our positions been reversed. (“Hang on, I’ve got another one. What’s the difference between a colonoscopy and a ... shh ... he’s waking up! Darn it!”)
The tanks of oxygen around the room were another indication that this wasn’t heaven, although at that altitude they might come in handy. (Do you breathe when you get to heaven? I know you have to stop breathing to even be considered.)
I hesitate to recount another medical procedure to readers who have grown weary of the chronicles of my continuing decay. But I bring this up mainly for eschatological reasons. (Coincidentally, one gets a colonoscopy for scatological reasons. But I digress.)
At my age, if you’re undergoing any procedure that involves general anesthesia, you must be prepared for the possibility of not waking up. You need to have your affairs in order—such as writing down your passwords for surviving loved ones, skipping ahead to the last episode of the TV show you’ve been streaming at the office, and gassing up the car one last time (surviving loved ones should really learn to do that for themselves)—and make your peace with God.
And what better time to meet the Lord than when both society and technology are telling me I should step aside. This year’s election left me emotionally exhausted, I failed again to receive the MacArthur genius grant (how many more letters does my mom have to write?!), and I’m aging out of some features on my cellphone. I only use Facetime by mistake, inadvertently triggering the hideous apparition of some sickly relative of advanced years. And I’m afraid to open Yelp! because it sounds like it could hurt me.
Contact: Michael Mershon, Director of Advocacy and Communications
April 27, 2016
During its 100th anniversary celebration last week in St. Louis, the Associated Church Press honored Sojourners with 24 awards for work online and in print.
ONE OF OUR articles this month encourages us to more intentionally incorporate the lives and wonders of children into our worship, which is a great idea, because if all the kids are in the sanctuary you don’t have to volunteer for child care.
But seriously, tapping the natural energy of the young would create a more holistic experience and open the door to a greater connection with the divine, assuming the divine has a short attention span and a constant runny nose and tends to giggle during silent reflection. Not to mention drawing pictures on the collection envelopes in the backs of pews. (If they don’t want children’s graffiti on those envelopes, they shouldn’t put them right next to those little yellow pencils, which the child invariably drops and, with cat-like speed, goes after it before the parent can grab him. A short time later, pencil in hand, the young one looks around under the pew but sees no familiar legs or shoes. He is lost, not unlike the sheep the preacher is at that moment talking about, the difference being that the parent now pulling the child backward by his feet is less the Good Shepherd of the New Testament and more the Vengeful God of the Old Testament who doesn’t give a crap about sheep. But I digress.)
A child-centric church is something I experienced firsthand growing up in the warm embrace of the Southern Baptist church. For me, Sunday was the best day of the week. There was no school, so no gym class with humiliating taunts from peers questioning my athleticism, no condescending teachers refusing to give credit for my book report on TV Guide (so much to watch, so little time, what with homework and all that).
Church was a place of safety and support, a time for the social outcasts of weekdays to finally feel appreciated and valued, particularly by the adults, who gladly drew us into the heart of the church, just as soon as they finished their cigarettes. (In those days, all have smoked and fallen short of the glory of God, although I think God cut you some slack if it was menthol.)
IT’S THE START of the 2016 election year, and I know what you’re thinking: “No it’s not. It’s the middle of December, and I haven’t done any of my Christmas shopping!” Understood. But this is our January issue, and in our minds the ball has already dropped in Time Square, Ryan Seacrest’s New Year’s Eve was, once again, not rockin’, and we’ve got serious political work to do.
Although at Sojourners we have to be very careful. In the coming year, we can speak prophetic truth about the issues facing our world but can’t direct that same righteous fire at a candidate, because we’re a certain kind of nonprofit, a 501C-3PO, I think. Nonprofits follow rigid federal rules against partisanship, and most of them don’t make a profit. That part we’re really good at. We never have any money left over. (Although once we bought a ham for our Christmas party. I had three slices. Sometimes it’s okay to have a profit, as long as you eat it.)
Nonprofits are nothing like the political action committees that will be spending billions of dollars in the next election. PACs can raise unlimited money in support of any candidate, but they can’t coordinate with them. Which is why PACs have names such as “We Love Jeb Bush, Just Don’t Tell Him That” and “Supporting Ted Cruz, But We Want It to Be a Surprise.” It protects them from any appearance of collusion, which is unlawful and closely monitored by the Federal Election Commission, which would respond harshly by winking.
Unlike a PAC, Sojourners doesn’t have unlimited anything (there were no seconds on the ham), except our unlimited love for justice, the Risen Savior, and this one sweater I have my eye on for Christmas. (Come on, J.C. Penney gift card!) But we do have a lot of curiosity about the people wanting to be president, the second most powerful person in the country after Jeff Bezos, who invented Amazon because he dreams of a world where the only human contact is with UPS drivers.