The View from Africa

Photo courtesy Jim Wallis

Photo courtesy Jim Wallis

“There is nothing quite like the African bush to sooth and rejuvenate.” That experience was conveyed to me by a South African church leader who has been helping plan the speaking tour I just arrived for here in this beloved country.

My wife, Joy, and I decided to use this wonderful speaking invitation to South Africa as an opportunity to take our annual August family vacation here. We arrived for a week of rest before the tour began and spent a few beautiful days on the lovely beaches of the Indian Ocean, still warm even for this end-of-winter period. But then the last two days, our Washington, D.C.-based family did something we have never done before — visited the game park and wetland reserve to see some of God’s most extraordinary creatures. Of course we’ve seen these animals in zoos before, but we now had the opportunity to see them roam freely in their natural habitat. For a bunch of city kids like us, it was truly amazing.

In Hluhluwe Game Reserve, beautiful zebras slowly grazed with a South African sunset behind them over the mountains. There are no more graceful creatures than giraffes, elegantly tasting the leaves on the tallest trees as they wander together at peace. Buffalos with great horns shared the terrain with antelopes that showed us their speed when they decided to run. And hyenas really do laugh off in the distance.

What Congress Can Learn from a Town Dump

Image: Taking out the trash. Photo courtesy of Rissy Story via Shutterstock

I went to the town dump today, and I found it open, functioning, filled with people doing the right thing in the right way, giving useful advice to a novice, and able to drive in and out without mayhem, all under the watchful eye of a single employee.

Its no-nonsense efficiency reminded me of church suppers, where everything seems to work because people are helping, not managing. Imagine Congress being that capable.

I suppose we should be thankful that Congress scampered out of town for five weeks. If they’re going to do nothing, at least they should do nothing out where the constituents who elected them can take their measure.

I suppose we should also be thankful that July 2014 only had 31 days. Imagine a longer month for suicidal conflicts and epidemics.

We should be thankful, too, that the world’s three great religions — wealth, technology, and the Abrahamic faiths — are getting on people’s nerves. Irritation might lead us to expect better.

Advisers Urge Pope Francis to Slow Down for a Summer Break

Pope Francis during his general audience at the Vatican Dec. 4. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic New Service.

Pope Francis has been working nonstop since his election more than a year ago, and he has shown remarkable resilience for a 77-year-old confronted with an array of church crises. But he is also fatigued at times and his advisers are hoping that he will take a break this summer.

“We have been asking him to have holidays this year,” Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras told reporters during a visit to Washington this week. “Because last year he didn’t and sometimes he’s very tired.”

“So I think that during August he’s going to retire to rest,” said Maradiaga, who heads a kitchen cabinet of eight cardinals from around the world that Francis established as his top advisers.

Church No More: Part 5 — Far Too Little Sabbath in the Sabbath

R&R illustration, Sukpaiboonwat /

R&R illustration, Sukpaiboonwat /

Editor's Note: This is the fourth installment of Presbyterian pastor Mark Sandlin's blog series "Church No More," chronicling his three-month sabbatical from church-going. Follow the links below to read his previous installments, beginning in June.

A little over two months ago, I decided I'd spend my three-month sabbatical not going to church. Which might seem like a perfectly normal thing to do – except that I'm a minister. I've had some strange and wonderful experiences which I've written about, but possibly more strange and more wonderful than the experiences are the responses I've received.

From the very beginning the most frustrating response I get is not folks telling me I'll lose my faith if I leave church (and they have), or the ones telling me I can't begin to understand what it's like to be Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR) in three short months (lots of those were also disturbingly aggressively worded), but rather the ones that say, “Oh, 'sabbatical!' Thanks. Now I have a word to call what I do! I stopped going to church years ago.” 

“No!” I'd think while unsuccessfully trying to figure out how to reach through my laptop screen and shake some sense into them, “You are not on sabbatical! The sabbatical I'm taking about has to do with taking a rest, not leaving. It's rest and recuperation communion with God in a way that is restorative. It's not about leaving! Sheesh.”

More than two months into my sabbatical, I now have to say, “Boy was I wrong.” They are on sabbatical, more so than I am. 

Our Field of Dreams in Bristol, Connecticut

'baseball glove' photo (c) 2007, Sean Winters - license: you are a 12-year-old baseball player, it looks like a field of dreams. There are huge bleachers wrapped around home plate, and extending into left and right field. Behind home, there is a high official box where the game is announced, scores are kept, and reporters watch and write their stories. The field itself looks carefully tended with freshly cut green grass, and a flat-raked dirt infield without potholes, bumps, or ditches. And the beautiful grass of the outfield extends to actual fences, which each player hopes to reach as they gaze at the most perfect baseball diamond any of them have ever played on.