Archive for July, 2011

The National Debt As A Moral Document?

July 24, 2011 - 9:47 am 114 Comments

Matthew 25 — Why We Went to the White House

by Jim

Today is another intense day of politics at the White House. The debt default  deadline is fast approaching. The stakes for the nation are high as politicians  can’t agree on how to resolve the ideological impasse on how to reduce the  deficit before the nation defaults on its financial obligations.

Yesterday, before congressional leaders were due at the White House for  critical negotiations, I, along with 11 other national faith leaders, met with  President Obama and senior White House staff for 40 minutes. We were  representing the Circle  of Protection, which formed in a commitment to defend the poor in the budget  debates. Sitting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, we opened in prayer,  grasping hands across the table, and read scripture together. We reminded  ourselves that people of faith must evaluate big decisions on issues like a  budget by how they impact the most vulnerable.

We urged the president to protect programs for low-income people in the  ongoing budget and deficit debate, and in any deal concerning the debt ceiling  and default crisis. In an engaging back and forth conversation, the president  and faith leaders discussed how we can get our fiscal house in order without  doing so on the backs of those who are most vulnerable. We shared the concern  that the deficit must be cut in a way that protects the safety net, and  struggling families and children, and maintains our national investments in the  future of all of us.

The meeting started with the recognition that the poor and vulnerable are at  great risk in this debate. But we told the president some good news about how a  Circle  of Protection has formed in response to this crisis. It is now the most  unified and broadest coalition of churches that any of us has ever seen — and is  endorsed by our brothers and sisters of other faiths and secular organizations  who also work for low-income people.

We made our simple principle clear: The most vulnerable should be protected  in any budget or deficit agreements — as a non-partisan commitment. The most  vulnerable need a special exemption from all spending cuts as they  usually have had in previous times of deficit reduction. We told President Obama  that this is what God requires of all of us.

We agreed that we need both fiscal responsibility and shared  sacrifice. Those already hurting should not be made to hurt more, and those  doing well should do their part in sacrificing. And whatever we decide should be  fair, balanced, and compassionate. President Obama agreed that the sacrifices  needed to reduce the deficit must not be borne by the “least of these.” It was
good to hear a reference to Matthew 25 and Jesus’ words, “As you have done to the least of  these, you have done to me,” in the White House. This verse motivated many of us  to be at the White House meeting yesterday, and it continues to serve as a
guiding principle for how we make critical decisions, including the one the  nation is about to make. (Below, watch my discussion of Matthew 25 on today’s Morning  Joe.)

The Christian leaders at yesterday’s meeting included representatives from  the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Council of Churches, the  United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bread for the World, Sojourners,  the Alliance to End Hunger, the Salvation Army, the National African American  Clergy Network, the National Baptist Convention of America, the Evangelical  Lutheran Church in America, and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership  Conference.

The Circle  of Protection statement has been signed by more than 60 heads of Christian  denominations and religious organizations, and is endorsed by 45 heads of  development agencies as well as leaders of other faiths. The Circle of
Protection movement has worked to uphold the bipartisan consensus that has long  prevailed in deficit-reduction agreements — that programs serving poor and  hungry people should be protected and exempted from any budget cuts.

Circle of Protection leaders have met with both Democratic and Republicans in  Congress, and they have requested meetings with House Speaker John Boehner  (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Our goal is simply this: Whenever a new budget or deficit reduction proposal  is put forth, somebody should ask how it will impact the poorest and most
vulnerable. This is a biblical question, a fair question, and a question of  justice.


Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral
, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at Follow Jim on

Excerpt from Spirit, Time and The Future

July 11, 2011 - 8:26 am 48 Comments

An inclusive, creative, and a Spirit filled approach towards the future centers us on this pneumatic and soulful truth: That we are prophetically called, and that we are mystically invited into the fullness of life.

We are prophetically called by our ethical concerns and our humane principles that encourage equality, dignity, and being a compassionate witness. We are mystically invited into greater spiritual participation by our courageous inner seeking aspirations to live more fully in the light of God.

Being prophetic or mystical requires our willingness to have faith in the face of uncertainty- for no one can know for sure how anything will turn out. … We live by faith, and it is often a faith that is against the odds and so it forces us to live near the margins of our understanding, close to the bone, when it comes to any sense of security. Only by possessing a compelling guiding vision and having a vital purpose that can be shared and celebrated, can any person, family, or community come through to the other side of any dilemma, risk, or life trial.

The value of a religious community or any spiritual gathering is to unify and repair all the broken and split parts of our humanity. Then its purpose becomes to gather together to listen attentively as the Spirit educates, inspires, and moves us.

At the very last, I believe that there is planted in every human soul, an urgency to live:

To build character, to forge, and to refine the quality of our relationships, to reach beyond previously held limits, and to face the asking years of our uncertainties with faith and courage. The importance of our future rests in the assurance that we have reached out, that we have been willing to risk, and when looking back, in all humility and self knowledge, to be able to say that we have done our best…



Closing Words and Benediction:


The Spirit is brooding over the world (Deuteronomy 32), and She is ready to hatch her offspring— the women and men of God who will fully recognize and embody her.


On the positive and transformative side, Spirit is manifest whenever the heart is warmed and whenever the will is informed. I believe that our lives can be activated to receive the spiritual impulses of grace and change, and then we can, as a result of that leavening, act to make those effects evident in our personal lives. Then as an outgrowth of our individual transformations, we can come together and apply its wisdom as a dynamic and gracious social force throughout our culture.

Jazz and The Spirit

July 11, 2011 - 8:23 am 41 Comments

UCC Jazz Vespers Service  7/10/11

Reflections on Jazz And The Spirit:

When I was first asked to do this Jazz Vespers, I was struck by how awkward it first appeared to me- yet the challenge was intriguing! I was asked to try to link my research into new inclusive definitions of The Spirit, and the need for a spiritual transformation of church and culture to… Jazz?

How could that be possible?

Well, after mulling it over in prayer and reflection, and after reading what noted jazz musicians have said about the core and vitality of jazz, I feel that there are certain valuable parallels that can be made…

To paraphrase the famous saxophonist Charlie Parker who defined music in these words: [“Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you do not live it, it won’t come out of your horn. [Society, and the rules of our culture] teach you that there are definite boundary lines to your music. But, man, there are no boundary lines to art [or the Spirit.]”

The unconventional, and controversial qualities of the Holy Spirit can be connected to and be descriptive of the fierce, dynamic flow of notes and feelings we can find in jazz. Both resist limitations of form, and the strictures of polite conformity.

 Ray Brown concurs when he defines jazz this way:

“Jazz, is to me, a complete lifestyle. Its bigger than a word. It’s a much bigger force than something that you can say.

It is something you have to feel. It is something you have to live.” And Charles Hayden puts it this way: “I want [people who listen to my music] to come away with an ability to discover the music that lives inside them. “

Jazz might well represent the dynamism of the Spirit in the work and art of life because it is transformative, and while it can appear intense or chaotic, it flows purposefully to its internal harmonics that seem to blend into the music of the universe itself.

Jazz and The Spirit can both be summarized here as being too prophetic to control, too mystical to be harnessed, and too transformative to lend any sense of safe security to the listeners or to those who can perceive the deeper resonance and rhythms of life that each represents. It is emotionally passionate and it is thoughtfully reflective… It is lively, and it is pensive… Jazz is one of the rare art forms that can embrace the many dimensions and facets of the human paradox, and allow its many expressions to have a resonant voice of its own…

 The depth psychologist who best understands these challenging metaphors and their potential meanings was Carl Jung, who gave us this observation:

“The action of the Holy Spirit does not meet us in the atmosphere of a normal bourgeois (or proletarian!) sheltered regular life, but only in the insecurity outside of the human economy, in the infinite spaces where one is alone with the providentia Dei. (Divine Providence) We must never forget that Christ was an innovator and a revolutionary, executed with criminals. The reformers and great religious geniuses were heretics. It is there that you find the footprints of the Holy Spirit, and no one asks for the Spirit to work in them or guide their life without having to pay a high price (Jung, 1975b, paragraph 1539).

It could be said, that our very origins at the time of the Creation were instilled with the harmony of the Spheres, and like the rhythms in jazz, possess a incessant melodic freedom that express relentless creativity and an abounding, abiding grace in that brings life into being…

Jazz is like the creative Spirit.  It is a musical style that gives birth to a flowing expression of human inspiration, one that is often intuitive, and containing just such a multifaceted harmonic structure that gives each note its vitality, expression, and purpose as a part of the gracious, flowing whole.

Like no other genre of music and composition, there is no one right way, and even missed notes can lend a human value and credence to the remarkable creative flow and its impressionistic force. It is a vital form of music- essentially creative and ultimately expressive of its own free and gracious forms. It will not be fenced or controlled by tradition, nor will it be limited by our personal expectations. Each time it can be brand new; each time the creative and gracious energies of sound can shape our hearing and our knowing in ways that open up our feelings, and broadcast our sentiments- placing them in a new frame of reference, for all to hear, for all to grasp and know intimately, and then to share universally.

From this and other such allied points of reasoning, I would boldly conclude that the Spirit, as the dynamis of God, is a constant, ever present, unfolding reality, [Playing the jazz of the universe and it is heard with our hearts as well as our ears…]

As such, it is the Spirit that has the capacity to assist humanity in shaping the understanding of its history, and it is Spirit that will positively prepare us for its future.

However, it is our participation that is needed. It is up to every person to pay attention! It is required of us to learn how to listen, and then how to reverently and responsibly act on Spirit’s behalf. Given our indispensable gift of free will, and the awesome ethical responsibility to use it for the greater good, it becomes our core task to take the Spirit’s message of wholeness, integrity, and salvation seriously. We are to learn how best to apply those gracious, challenging, and transformative experiences and insights in our lives.

Then it is up to us personally, reinforced by our churches and spiritual communities, to share it broadly among us and across our world culture. From this melodic impulses, we can move consciously together towards an inclusive, peaceful, and compassionate future.