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There’s a story about a new, young preacher whose first sermon at his new parish was well received. The next week, he repeated the same sermon.

The people weren’t too worried. After all, he was young and probably nervous. They spoke among themselves, “We just need to encourage him,” which they did.

But when he repeated the same sermon on the third consecutive Sunday, the elders took him aside. “We understand that you’re young and new and inexperienced. What can we do to help you develop other sermons?”

The young preacher replied, “Oh, I have other sermons ready; and, as soon as I see evidence that you’ve heard this one, I’ll move on to the next one.”

Boy, Howdy! Have I been tempted to do the same thing!

There’s an issue before us as Americans and as citizens of the Earth, that needs to be addressed over and over and over. I’m not arrogant enough to believe I have the definitive Word on the subject, even though I have addressed it many times in this blog and in other venues.

This time I thought I’d broach the subject with a number of quotes from another, more influential source. Jim Wallis is founder of Sojourners, and edits and publishes Sojourners magazine. I abandoned a major writing project on the subject when I discovered Wallis’ writings, because he says exactly what I feel, and does so in a manner much less adversarial than my own efforts have been (ironically, my campaign against adversarial partisanism could not avoid adversarialism!)

Wallis’ passion, like my own, is for bipartisan collaboration for the common good. His presupposition, like my own, is that both the right and the left have important gifts to offer in the pursuit of the common good, and that the ideological warfare that has replaced civil debate is perhaps history’s greatest barrier to that common good.

The quotes that follow are from two of his books:

[Jim Wallis, On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group) 2013.]

[Jim Wallis, Conservatives, Liberals and the Fight for America’s Future (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group) 2013.] This little book contains excerpts from On God’s Side, listed above.

I use a Kindle, which gives “Locations” instead of page numbers.

“The day after the 2012 presidential election brought a great feeling of relief. Most of us, no matter whether our candidates won or lost, were so weary of what elections and politics have become that we were just glad the process was over. Many were disappointed with how dysfunctional and bitterly partisan politics in Washington, DC, had undermined their deep desires for hope and change. Politics has severely constrained those possibilities by focusing on blame instead of solutions, and winning (ideological confrontations) instead of governing [italics and parenthetical mine]. … But the election results produced neither the salvation nor the damnation of the country, as some of the pundits on both sides seemed to suggest. Instead, they called us to go deeper.” [Opening words of the Preface of On God’s Side, Location 165].

* * *

“Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” ~ Reinhold Niebuhr [from Conservatives, Liberals and the Fight for America’s Future, Location 39].

* * *

“I am a democrat [proponent of democracy] because I believe in the Fall of Man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government… The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows…. I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.” ~ C. S. Lewis [from Conservatives, Liberals and the Fight for America’s Future, Location 44].

* * *

“Perhaps the greatest loss is to the common good—because I believe that both conservative and liberal insights and commitments are necessary for it to exist. In short, I am convinced that the common good requires us to be both personally responsible and socially just (italics his). These are the two best big ideas of conservatism and liberalism respectively.” [from Conservatives, Liberals and the Fight for America’s Future, Location 52.]

* * *

“The 24/7 news coverage today… doesn’t really “cover” the news but rather fuels the audience’s already-held prejudices about what is happening. Almost all of it is biased, much of it is distorted, some of it is just plain lies, and too much of it is downright hateful. Unfortunately, we are losing genuinely important ideas that the other political side has, which are often critically needed to find more balanced answers to our complex social, political, and economic problems. We’ve lost our integrity in the public arena, substituting ideological warfare for genuine and rigorous political debate, replacing substance with sound bites…

“In such a polarized, paralyzed and increasingly poisonous political environment, it is very difficult to find or even discuss the common good. But I believe that both the conservative and liberal philosophies have critical contributions to make in solving our problems and that the best ideas from both are essential for reestablishing a serious public discourse about the common good.” [from Conservatives, Liberals and the Fight for America’s Future, Location 73.]

Most of my political exposure, other than the virtually universally biased media, is on Facebook, where some of my friends complain constantly about the “liberal press” or the “leftist media,” etc., with virtually no critical evaluation of the biases of their favored conservative sources. At the same time, other friends continuously point out the inconsistencies of the conservative media without critical analysis of their favored liberal sources.

I can think of only one Facebook friend who may share my own passion for trying to find balance and bipartisan collaboration.

I recommend—no, I implore my readers (both of you!) to read carefully the writings of Jim Wallis referenced in this blog, as well as his earlier book, God’s Politics: When the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It. I also recommend Parker Palmer’s Healing the Heart of Democracy as a call to healing, reconciling collaboration to replace the current state of ideological warfare.

Together in the Walk,

Jim

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One of my goals for 2014 is  to identify at least 365 obscure reasons to be joyful—some reason that might normally be overlooked or taken for granted. That’s one-a-day; and I started the list on the back of a pay envelop on January 1. I’ve decided to share that list with you and to invite you to join me in that enterprise. Starting today (January 13) I’ll start posting them on our church’s Facebook page.

 January 1—ran across a previously unknown (to me) phrase from Carl Bard, a 19th-century English poet, writer and theologian: “Although no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.” Great perspective!

January 2—the whirlpool hot tub after a brisk workout at the gym. Ahhhhhhh!

January 3—I work with such a pleasant, effective staff!

January 4—Music

January 5—online transfer of funds from one bank account to another—without leaving my easy chair!

January 6—became aware of the heater in my car. The Middle of the country is in the midst of a “Polar Vortex” and facing life-threatening temperatures and wind chills; but the heater feels as good at 57° as at -7°!

January 7—the smell of dinner cooking when I walk in the door!

January 8—I’m so grateful that the stress in my life is relatively low!

January 9—Ibuprofen

January 10—Friday: A movie and dinner (breakfast at Ihop) with my best friend.

January 11—Watching people who are good at what they do

January 12—Friends who lift my spirits

January 13—Quiet moments early in the morning

Our culture seems to relish negative, adversarial eruptions, and more and more I see Facebook posts that appear to be trying to mimic the over-the-top bashings of some television pundit. Even minor discomforts of life get embellished into stress-laden, catastrophic burdens.

I’m a confessed cynic; but, maybe my life will be better (although I have few complaints already) by this undertaking. I’ll be posting my daily “Joys” on Facebook–my page and my church’s page; and I invite you to add yours to mine. Maybe we can brighten a day here and there for somebody else!

Together in the Walk,

Jim

Residual comments and reminiscences continue to trickle in about the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy.

Today I read what surely is close to the worst information I’ve ever encountered. While, for obvious reasons, Continue Reading »

The Walls of Jerusalem were reduced to piles of rubble; the gates were but charred remains—even140years after Babylonian forces had destroyed everything, and 90 years after the first wave of Israelites had returned to the site that once had been Jerusalem. (NOTE: dates vary between biblical scholars; but the most widely accepted dates are 586 BCE for the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and 445-433 as the dates for the mission of Nehemiah.)

But Nehemiah had a vision of the people living safely behind the new city walls. He took his vision to the leaders of the community and they agreed. “Let’s start rebuilding!” they said.

It was hard work, made even more difficult by the surrounding Bedouin and Arab tribesmen that attacked, pillaged and generally harassed on a daily basis. The Israelites worked with their weapons close at hand, and with lookouts posted to warn of approaching danger.

It would have been understandable had they given up. But that vision of safety compelled them. Before the city walls were rebuilt, the walls of their faith had to be rebuilt.

Individuals and groups get discouraged easily when the going gets tough. Nehemiah knew that god’s promises never fail. He prayed, “Please remember the promise you made to Moses. You told him that if we were unfaithful, you would scatter us among foreign nations. But you also said that no matter how far away we were, we could turn to you and start obeying your laws. Then you would bring us back to the place where you have chosen to be worshiped” ~ Nehemiah 1:8-9 (CEV)

When I came here in April I found a discouraged people. I heard words of hurt and blame, and even scapegoating. The focus was on what had happened—what “we” had or hadn’t done—what “we” can or cannot do.

When we’re discouraged it’s not easy to remember that the Church is called into existence by God—the God who keeps promises! It is that call, and not our effort, that justifies the church’s existence and endows it with authority to advance the mission of Christ on earth. The future of the church is not a decision left to us; rather, it is decided by the head, who is Christ.

We either believe that or we don’t. Nehemiah’s prayer is built on the faith that God promises to bring back all who turn to God. Before we rebuild our walls of ministry and witness, we can rebuild our walls of faith in the God whose promises are sure.

Together in the Walk,

Pastor Jim

Blinders

I’m a liberal Democrat. I make no bones about it, and no apologies.

At a different level, I also consider myself a classic philosophical liberal in the tradition of 17th-century Philosopher John Locke. In brief, that means I consider myself open to differing points of view. I am not locked into any rigid world view, and always intend (although not always successfully) to consider all the evidence before I take a position. Even after I take a position on a topic, I hope I remain open to new evidence that may emerge, and am willing to adjust my position according to that new evidence.

When I look at the writings of Locke I am amazed at how closely the content of his philosophy is echoed in the political rhetoric of both Democrats and Republicans! So, why are the two major parties at such gridlock on virtually everything?

Christian journalist Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners, is among my favorite writers, and in a recent book entitled, Conservatives, Liberals and the Fight for America’s Future, he asks, “Why is our current political discourse so hostile to people we all personally know and love? Why does it speak so harshly about them, saying terrible things that we know are just not true?”[1]

He continues,

“The 24/7 news coverage today, especially on radio, cable,and the Internet blogosphere, doesn’t really ‘cover’ the news but rather fuels the audience’s already-held prejudices about what is happening. Almost all of it is biased, much of it is distorted, some of it is just plain lies, and too much of it is downright hateful. Unfortunately, we are losing genuinely important ideas that the other political side has, which are often critically needed to find more balanced answers to our complex social, political, and economic problems. We’ve lost our integrity (emphasis his) in the public arena, substituting ideological warfare for genuine and rigorous political debate, replacing substance with sound bites.”[2]

And he is equally critical of both sides of the political aisle. He goes on:

“In such a polarized, paralyzed, and increasingly poisonous political environment, it is very difficult to find or even discuss the common good. But I believe that both the conservative and liberal philosophies have critical contributions to make in solving our problems and that the best ideas from both are essential for reestablishing a serious public discourse about the common good.”[3]

The best conservative idea, Wallis says, is “personal responsibility.” The best liberal idea is “social responsibility.” I highly recommend his book and the way he develops each partisan idea. But it is his conclusion, stated from the opening pages, that motivates this writing today.

One of my best friends is an inspiring old codger from Portland, Oregon whose vast, vast capacity to read and remember material from a very broad spectrum of literature and thought has produced a world view that he sums up as “both/and” as opposed to “either/or.” I concur, and Jim Wallis’ book reflects that same balance.

Our culture is paralyzed by an “I’m right!” syndrome that functions as blinders, restricting our perspective and basically disallowing our nation the benefit of wonderfully freeing and enriching ideas. None of us—no human—has a lock on truth. Our vision is incomplete: “we see as if through a flawed pane of glass” (I Corinthians 13:12, Robinson paraphrase).

Limited as we are by the clay of which we are made, how can any of us be so arrogant as to purport that “I’m right; and anyone who disagrees with me is wrong?” We need each other. We need the stimulation of contending ideas that can lead to a part of the truth that is bigger than the sum of all ideas in contention. We need the mutually affirming courtesy of listening to each others’ ideas and debating with integrity and respect.

I am incomplete; I “fall short” of the image of God in which I am created (Romans 3:23). I need the correction of your perspective; and you need the correction of mine. Virtually all of us in this belligerently partisan environment would do well to look in the mirror before we start pointing fingers.

Together in the Walk,

Pastor Jim


[1] Jim Wallis, Conservatives, Liberals and the Fight for America’s Future Excerpted from On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2013) Ebook edition, Location 71.

[2] Ibid., Location 73.

[3] Ibid., Location 79.

I woke up this morning with Galatians 5:22 going through my head—not just the verse, but a specific application. Here’s the verse: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

As I awoke I was thinking about this verse as the doorway to peace. Even though peace is listed as one of the fruits of the Spirit, and even though I suppose the same application could be made of any one of the fruits listed here, my waking thought was that if we manifested all the other fruits of the Spirit, the result would be peace. Take a look:

Love—Jesus’ “new commandment” was that we love each other and he has loved us. But a summary of his life and teaching would suggest a much wider love: love for the unloved, the unlovely and even the unlovable. “If you love only each other (those who love you back), that puts you on equal footing with sinners and tax collectors. Even they love those who love them” (Matthew 5:46 Robinson paraphrase). Just remember: Love is a Decision, not a feeling. Feelings accompany love and even emerge out of love; but those feelings are not “the real thing.”

Joy—This may be the most uncommon human experience of all. We confuse it with happiness and with emotional and sensual gratification. Joy is an attitude that produces a way of living. We can live in Joy even the midst of the most unhappy of circumstances. Joy effects our expectations and makes a difference in the way we perceive and treat others.

Patience—I know: I done quit preachin’ and gone to meddlin’. It’s hard to soar with the Eagles when you work with Turkeys; and it’s hard to be patient when you have to face the Spaghetti Bowl and the Rainbow Curve* on the way to work every morning! If I’m not alert to own my own reactions, it can take several minutes for my blood pressure to return to normal after negotiating the Summerlin Parkway and the ‘95’ during the morning commute! No wonder peace seem to evade me/us! I don’t know about you, but I need to pray more about this one!

Kindness—This is a fundamental of faith: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Richard Hamm, former General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), observes that every faithful, growing church will exhibit these three qualities, which he re-phrases as “Deep Spirituality”, “True Community” and a “Passion for Justice.”

Goodness—A no-brainer! Robert Fulghum wrote a book entitled, “Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” It’s basic thesis is “be nice.” ‘nuff said.

Faithfulness—Consistency, integrity, living as if we truly believe what we say we believe!

Gentleness—Our competitive, adversarial culture is a major challenge to this one. It’s one of those “be-in-the-world-but-not-of-the-world” (John 17:11-16) things; and as Wordsworth wrote, “the world is too much with us!” But it’s also part of the pathway to peace.

Self-Control—Oh, my! Here we go again! Go back to “Patience;” do not pass “Go”; do not collect $200. Self-control gets easier as you get older—for me, it’s because I’m just too tired to get involved. I just wish my tongue were as tired as the rest of me! More prayer needed.

So, are you at peace in your life? These are the fruits born by the life of the Spirit. What are the fruits of your life? Could these qualities make a difference?

Together in the Walk,

Pastor Jim

*The Spaghetti Bowl and the Rainbow Curve are highway intersections in Las Vegas where major Interstate Highways converge, and are the sites of daily traffic accidents that back up traffic for miles, especially during the morning commute.

I rarely do this. In the first place I normally have something I think needs to be said; and in the second place, I’m not sure whether this is a case of plagiarizing the reviewer’s work (although I’m crediting him) or giving the book’s author free advertising.

Whatever the case, I saw this review on a Facebook post from Continue Reading »

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