Jim Wallis came to speak at St. John's Arena on March 28, 2006. I recorded the event and transcribed much of it over the course of three posts at my Faithful Ohio blog. Here I have gathered those three posts into a single web page.
Jim Wallis on "Faith-based initiatives"
I did make it to the Jim Wallis lecture/discussion last night--just barely, and I ended up sitting in the "nosebleed seats" at St. John's Arena at The Ohio State University in Columbus. It was a good event, and well attended. I was hoping to see some media coverage, but haven't so far--and one thing I'm really bad at is estimating crowd size. So, until I find the details somewhere, we'll just have to go with "big". I've realized at this point that I'm not going to have a full write-up ready to post tonight, so for now, I'll just share, closely paraphrased, one of the stories Jim told us last night...
I was asked to speak at Sing Sing prison in upstate New York. I asked, when do you want me to come, and the prisoners' representative said, "Well, we're free most nights! We're kind of a captive audience here!"
I was given a room in the bowels of Sing Sing, this infamous prison, and I was left in a room alone for 5 hours with 80 guys. One of the prisoners said, "You know, Jim, all of us at Sing Sing are from just about 4 or 5 neighborhoods in New York City. It's like a train you get on in my neighborhood when you're 9 or 10 years old, and the train ends up here, at Sing Sing.
But he had a spirtual conversion inside those walls. The New York Theological Seminary offers a Masters of Divinity program inside the walls of that prison. You become a preacher inside the joint--you graduate when your sentence is up. And he looked at me and said, "When I get out, I want to go back and stop that train!"
I was in New York a few years later, and guess who I saw, back home, leading a town meeting on poverty...trying to stop that train. That's what *I* mean by faith-based initiatives.
Jim Wallis on Faith and Hope
More from Jim Wallis' presentation on March 28 at St. John's Arena at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio...
Faith is for the really big things. The hard stuff. The things that seem impossible, where the odds are against us--that's why we call it faith. The Bible says that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move what? Response: Mountains! Well, tonight, let's admit we've got some mountains to move.
People in urban settings, starting in only certain zip codes, on their way to inevitable destinations--that's a mountain to move! Three billion people living on two dollars a day, that's a mountain to move. Thirty thousand children died today, and yesterday, and will tomorrow--why? Lack of clean drinking water, diseases none of our kids die of, and no food in their bellies.
To those people in Washington, I would ask, is it credible, in the face of that, that Jesus would stand in front of a committee in Washington and say that his only concerns are prayer in schools and gay marriage?
Faith is for these things, and a whole generation is ready--ready for us to lead. I was seeing college students everywhere I go, but then they started to look younger and I would ask, "What school?" "High school." "What year?" "Freshman!"
In Minneapolis I met this little girl at a book signing. I looked up at hear, and asked, "How old are you?" She said, "Well, I'm 11." "What did you get from tonights talk?" She said, "Well, I just think we're going to have to change the world." "Well, who's going to do it?" "I think people like me."
I told her story the next night in Tacoma, Washington, and looked up and saw this tiny little girl, and she grinned at me and said "Nine!" And later I told her story and there was the youngest, littlest one of all. I said sweetie, how old are you? She said, "Well, I'm the youngest. I'm 8 years old." I said, "What makes sense to you?" She said, "Well, you talked about that silent tsunami that's killing off the children, like me, every day. I was sitting there thinking to myself, "If I'm a Christian, I'd better do something about that." She's in the third grade, and she gets it.
I told my Harvard students the next week, if you want to lead this movement, you'd better be fast, because there's a whole generation coming up behind you that's going to push you right out of the way.
It's time for us to lead. I have a text. The text if from Isaiah Chapter 58...
"Is this not the fast that I choose? To break the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free. To share your bread with the hungry, to bring the homeless into your house. When you see them naked, cover them. Not to hide yourselves from your own flesh. Then will your light rise like--oh, I must have read that wrong. It must be, *their* light. And your healing--no, I must be reading it wrong. Isn't this for those who "have not", and we're those who "have"? We're all right, and we can fix them? No, it says, Then *your* light will rise like the dawn, and *your* healing will come quickly. You who have bread to share, you who have houses to welcome people into. *Your* healing.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer, "Here I am." If you remove the yoke from your midst, and listen Ohio, the pointing of the finger, ...the divisive talk. If you give yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in the darkness and your gloom will become like midday, and the Lord will guide you and satisfy your desire in parched places.
Got any parched places tonight? All my students, they're volunteering all over the place. When I ask them why, they say, "We're looking for meaning. We're looking for connection. Here's a newsflash: shopping doesn't satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart. And our best and our brightest are stumbling over the wisdom of Isaiah 58. "I will give strength to your bones, you'll be like a watered garden, whose waters never fail." This is a powerful image of healing, wholeness. Isaiah is not about *some* people helping other people, it's about a vision where we ALL GET HEALED.
We've got to make a choice though. It's a choice I call a big choice. It's a spiritual choice. It's the choice between hope and cynicism. That's the choice.
I like the cynics, in many ways, because they're realists. They don't see the world through rose-colored glasses. They see it the way it is, and they're against all the bad stuff. And maybe they tried to change things, but they got disappointed and disillusioned. And maybe they were out by themselves and they began to feel vulnerable, so they withdrew to a place called cynicism. Where you're still against all the bad stuff, but you don't think it could ever change. So you surround yourself with a bit more security, and cynicism becomes a buffer against commitment.
Hope, on the other hand, is not a feeling, a personality trait, or a state of mind. Hope is a choice, a decision we make, because of this thing called faith. Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, says the book of Hebrews. But my favorite explanation still is "Hope is believing in spite of the evidence, and then watching the evidence change."
Jim Wallis lecture continued
Jim Wallis describes being at a service at Duke Chapel...
The homily was by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He gave a mission to all of us. His mission was this: "Are you ready to join with God?"
People of faith have changed the big things before. Pulpits have changed nations before.
Wilberforce was converted by Wesley, and they ended the slave trade in Britain. It took thirty years, they failed twenty times. And finally they succeeded, and Wilberforce died three days after they won, because his work was done. For a shining decade, heirs of slaves taught democracy to America in the name of Jesus, Isaiah, Micah and Jeremiah. My friends, we have done this before--we can do it again.
It's time to no longer just lament the political facts. It's time for us to change the facts. It's time for us not to worry so much about the religious right--it's time for us to offer a better way. A newer way that can draw a whole generation to faith *and* action. That's what I believe in...I believe in the possibility of changing history again, now as people of faith, we are a generation that God is watching. The new to-be prime minister of Great Britain--he'll be in office in about a year--he said to me "You know, for the first time in history we have the resources, the information, the technology to end poverty as we know it, but we don't have the moral and political will. He said, 'That's your job, in the churches." He was right, it's our job.
I ask my students, "What's the big thing that you're going to do? Don't give your life to something small, give your life to something big enough to be worthy of your agenda, time, energy..." It's time for a new generation to teach this nation that pulpits and faith and hope are all we need to change the political facts.
My friends, it's time for a new revival. A revival of faith. Because what changes politics are social movements--always have, always will. And the best social movements, are the ones that have a spiritual foundation. Don't lament the facts...don't just complain about other people. Let's call for revival, join a movement...and turn history around because it's time for us to join with God. Thank you very much.