Reflection

Poorer, Poorer. Slower, Slower. Smaller, Smaller.

Bob Sabath at Sojourners, 1976
Bob Sabath at Sojourners, 1976

"Be anything you want. Be madmen, drunks, and bastards of every shape and form. But at all costs avoid one thing: success."
 - Thomas Merton

As my extended family gathered around the Thanksgiving dinner table before the market crash in 2008, conversation with cousins flowed about friends making big money with technology start-ups: "more, more; faster, faster; bigger, bigger."

A hail of laughter greeted me when I quietly muttered that my ambition was, "poorer, poorer; slower, slower; smaller, smaller."

When Sojourners started in 1970, I was 23 years old. Seven young seminary students pooled $100 each and used an old typesetter that we rented for $25 a night above a noisy bar to print 20,000 copies of the first Post-American.

We took the bundles in our trucks and cars to student unions in college campuses across the country, and began collecting subscriptions in a shoebox kept in one of our rooms.

For more than a decade we lived with a common economic pot and allowed ourselves $5 a month for personal spending. The highest-paid staff person was a young woman from a neighborhood family who wanted an evening cleaning job.

Time to Go Deeper

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the national deficit (while at the same time protecting our vital social safety nets and producing needed jobs) have been replaced by the politics of blame and fear.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.

Moving South: Day Three at the Global Christian Forum in Indonesia

The atlas also documents other dramatic trends, including the fragmentation of Christianity. New denominations, often borne out of strife and division, multiply endlessly. In Korea, for instance, there are now 69 different Presbyterian denominations. At the rate we are going, by 2025 there will be 55,000 separate denominations in the world!

That is an utter mess fueled by rivalry and confusion that hampers the church's witness and makes a mockery of God's call to live as parts of one body.

The atlas also documents the dramatic rise of revival movements throughout the world, and charts the story of Pentecostalism's rise. From its beginning a century ago, Pentecostalism now comprises a quarter of all Christians in the world. This fundamental change in Christianity's global composition, along with its geographical transformation, has created a dramatically different Christian footprint in the world.

Yoga Sabbath: Shabbat Shal-OM.

800px-US_Navy_101108-N-8977L-001_Sara_Ukley,_a_morale,_welfare_and_recreation_fitness_instructor,_teaches_yoga_during_a_health_fair_and_aerobic-a-thonJust a few days after I returned from my respite in the mountains, Israeli forces killed eight Turkish nationals and one American on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla. Protests erupted all over Israel and Palestine.

In the midst of this tragic chaos I found myself visiting my yoga center more often than usual, hoping to find another glimpse of the peace I had tasted so vividly just a few days before. Perhaps these wise, centered people could offer a perspective that would look forward to a vision of understanding, or reconciliation -- a vision too often missed by politicians, military officials, media, and even activists.

Three bonus reflections

Seminaries offer theological education and prepare pastors and others for ministry. But what do they teach their students about social justice? In the September-October issue of Sojourners, eight recent and not-so-recent graduates to reflect on how their seminary education their work of social justice today. But wait, there are more seminarian insights than we could fit into the print magazine! Here are three bonus reflections.

Barn Raising by Rich Gorman

My wife Dori and I spent our seminary experience immersed in work with the urban poor in the Appalachian hills of East Tennessee. A majority of our time and energy was dedicated to reconciliation between the poor and their more materially affluent neighbors. About two years into the work, I was burned out and angry. The classroom became a refuge for me because I could freely vent about what I believed to be “the wicked ways of the wealthy.”

Over time, God made it clear that reconciliation must begin in my own mind and heart. My calling was not to mobilize the rich to engage with the poor, but to strive to understand and love both. God forced me to confront my own shameful attitudes and, as a result, he did some amazing things over the next two years.

As my heart began to be transformed, I started seeing the incredibly unhealthy attitudes of my classmates. They were reading the right books and believed the right things about social justice, but, like me, were driven by pride and arrogance. Our lives were marked more by elitism than grace. I am forever grateful for the wisdom and patience of the Emmanuel staff, who helped me to work through some vital issues in these areas.

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Remembering 9/11 Through Music and Literature

Ten years on, I'm remembering the literature I read and the music that kept me going in the days and months after 9/11. I had Rumi and Whitman on my bedside table, reading them back to back, alternating between selections of the Mathnawi and poems from Leaves of Grass, sometimes feeling like the two were one, the soul of America, and that the soul of Islam were intersecting at some point beyond where the eye could see:

Whoever you are!, motion and reflection are especially for you, The divine ship sails the divine sea for you. -- Walt Whitman

Come, come, whoever you are, Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving, Ours is not a caravan of despair. Even if you have broken your vows a thousand times It doesn't matter Come, come yet again, come. -- Rumi

Until then, the Quran for me was a book of personal spiritual guidance, a convening symbol for my religious community. But after 9/11, I viewed it as a balm for my country's pain, especially lines from Ayat al-Kursi: "His throne extends over the heavens and the earth, and He feels no fatigue in guarding and preserving them."

10 Years After 9/11: The Good and the Bad

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was at home in Washington, D.C. getting ready to go to Sojourners' office. I was upstairs listening to the news on NPR when I heard the first confusing report of a plane crashing into the south tower of the World Trade Center. I immediately called downstairs to Joy and asked her to turn on the television to see what was going on. Moments later, as we ate breakfast together with our three-year-old son Luke, we watched the second plane strike the north tower. I still remember my first response to Joy, "This is going to be bad, very bad," I said.

Of course, I meant more than just the damage to the Twin Towers and the lives lost, which became far greater than any of us imagined at first. Rather, my first and deepest concern was what something like this could do to our country and our nation's soul. I was afraid of how America would respond to a terrorist attack of this scope.

Liberate Eden: A Digital Meditation on the Contemporary Life of Faith

110902_liberateeden"The man who can articulate the movements of his inner life," the late Christian apologist and author Henri Nouwen said, "need no longer be a victim of himself, but is able slowly and consistently to remove the obstacles that prevent the spirit from entering."

Throughout the ages, how Christian believers have chosen to articulate their inner lives has had many manifestations in literature, music, architecture, and other artistic endeavors.

As a means of communicating and wrestling with his inner life -- his journey of faith -- Greg Fromholz, an American expatriate youth worker for the Church of Ireland in Dublin, wrote a book titled Liberate Eden, but traditional publishing houses found that his work was a bit too iconoclastic for their tastes.

"It is just too different to be Christian," one publisher pronounced.

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