Jim Wallis "Christ in Crisis" | Episode Transcript
Karen Pascal: Hello, I’m Karen Pascal. I’m the Executive Director of the Henri Nouwen Society. Welcome to a new episode of Henri Nouwen, Now and Then. Our goal at the Henri Nouwen Society is to extend the rich spiritual legacy of Henri Nouwen to audiences around the world. Each week we endeavor to bring you a new interview with someone who’s been deeply influenced by the writings of Henri Nouwen or perhaps we might even hear a talk by Henri himself.
Today my special guest is Jim Wallis, the founder, president and editor in chief of Sojourner’s magazine. Jim has been on the front lines of social justice issues for decades. When Henri Nouwen was alive, they were friends who honed each other’s understanding of what it meant to bring God’s kingdom here on earth. Jim is also a New York Times bestselling author and a regular commentator on ethics and public life in media. Today we are going to discuss his latest book, Christ in Crisis. Believe me, there could not be a better book to dive into the crisis of a pandemic and the tremendous need for racial justice in the world.
Jim, I’m so glad to have you with us today. I want to start with your friendship with Henri Nouwen. How did you and Henri meet and how did you influence each other’s understanding of what it is to serve the poor?
Jim Wallis: Oh, oh my goodness. Well, we met – when you know somebody for so long, you can’t always remember when you actually met. So I think there was a combination of my going to speak in places where he was teaching and our finding and meeting each other and having conversations and then him coming down to visit Sojourners which he did often. We often had weekends and conversations. And in fact one great story about that is he was coming down for a weekend at the Sojourners community in our early days and we were going to spend the weekend, all of us, talking about the contemplative life and also faith and public life. So in the middle of that weekend, I got this call from a priest who was with Dom Helder Camara the Brazilian Archbishop, who happened to be speaking in Washington, DC that weekend unbeknownst to me. And the priest said “Dom Helder is really struggling with being at this hotel and speaking at this big conference and he wants to visit a base community. Would you mind if he came to visit you and see you for a while this weekend?”
Well, would we mind?! “No, please come. And by the way we have a friend with us this weekend as well who’s Henri Nouwen.” And the priest said, “Oh, that’s wonderful.” So I drive across town. We are in one of the poorest parts of DC – to the hotel, I remember as the Hilton hotel, where he was speaking and feeling quite uncomfortable. And I picked him up and I drove him over to our place and he could just see the neighborhoods changing and you could tell he knew exactly what was going on. And he crossed into our neighborhood and we got to the house and he said, “Could you just take me for a walk first?” So we walked around the neighborhood. He was this wonderful man, his picture is still on my wall here, as I’m talking. Dom Helder, little man, long flowing robes, walking around the neighborhood.
And he asked me questions about gentrification, which he knew backwards and forwards, the dynamics of real estate and how people of color get pushed out and white people come in as urban pioneers. So we’re walking around talking about gentrification of all things in our neighborhood. And we’re walking by this step and this older man who has a bag with some, looked like alcohol in the bag and he’s having a drink. And he, well looks up and sees this -must have been looking like God standing before him, and he quickly tried to hide the bag of whatever he was drinking. And Dom Helder said, no, no, no. And then Don Helder raised his fist and said,” I’m with you”. So then we came to the house and there’s Henri. So we had a whole day there. Henri was with us all weekend. We had a whole day with Henry Nouwen and Dom Helder Camara. First time they’d ever met and what a lovely conversation it was to be, to bless Sojourners with that conversation. So he would come and we would meet and talk and he’d come over. Or I would be speaking up at Yale or Harvard while he was teaching there. And he’d often have me speak in his class and then we’d always get together and spend time.
Karen: That’s lovely. It’s interesting because you are really a veteran of Christian activism and in a sense I’m sure you influenced Henri and I’m sure Henri influenced you. What did he bring to the table? I’m curious because I know he was drawn to the issues of racism. And I know that he marched with Martin Luther King to Montgomery. But tell me just a little bit, was there anything that he could bring into that that was a grounding that was a value that helped shape you? I’m curious.
Jim: Well, we were clearly trying to figure out the relationship between faith and public life, or you might say the courses I teach now at places like Harvard and Georgetown down here, faith and politics. And so I was raised in an evangelical tradition where personal faith was everything and it was the only thing and there wasn’t any relation to public life. And that’s what my vocation became from seminary onward. And yet Henri was deeply, deeply reflective about what a contemplative life would be and should be. And his own life, as you know so well was living that out, trying to live out that life. And so there was a real connection made because to me, personal faith was still very important, but it couldn’t be just social justice. It had to be deeply personal faith. And then how do you apply that deeply personal faith in the world? And my evangelical tradition that I grew up with was just personal only, this vertical relation to God and nothing about the world. And so I actually got kicked out of my little church at 15 for raising the questions of race in Detroit. So I lost my faith and moved into the movements of my time: the student movements around civil rights and anti-war and came back to faith because the text in Matthew 25 became my conversion text when Jesus said, “as you’ve done it to the least of these, you’ve done it to me.” And so Henri came out of that Catholic tradition which was much deeper in terms of what it meant to try and live as a follower of Christ in your own life, your whole life.
And I’d been reading Merton and I had met Dorothy Day and we had begun these connections with the Catholic church. And Henri was very deeply interested in engaging what the contemplative life meant in relation to the poor, in relation to racism. So that’s why he liked to hang around Sojourners And I think it was a time of really, the relationship was pushing us both to go deeper, which I think was really happening. He would sometimes come to big civil disobedience demonstrations we had in Washington DC. And I remember one time I asked him to preach to the whole group just before we got arrested and he did. And he gave this powerful thing. But then he came out to the streets and you could tell there was this, he was this contemplative Dutch priest trying to figure out his comfortability in the streets with police all around.
And it was a wonderful – he put himself in new and often uncomfortable positions. You could tell he was feeling that sort of tension. How do I do this and all? And I remember once I asked one of our interns, because we were about to get to the Capitol and I said now, okay you’ve always wanted to spend time with Henri Nouwen I guess, right? He said, “Oh yes.” I said, well, “I want you to hang out with him the whole time and make sure he is okay and doesn’t get lost or caught up in something. You follow him and run, take care of him all day. OK?” “Oh yeah, what a great job that is!”
So, you could tell, so the contemplative and contemplation and action. My friend Richard Rohr of course, has a Center it’s called The Center for Action and Contemplation. And he too came up in the contemplative tradition and our meeting a long time ago was in that relationship between the two. So it was, how do we not make a binary choice between personal faith and contemplative life and social justice? But one, as Thomas Merton and others have shown over the years, does lead to the other. And so if you just do the activism and the demonstrations and talk about social justice if you’re not going deeper into your own faith, activists will eventually burn themselves out. You know, they get weary, they’ll get tired, they’ll get into despair and even anger and rage. And I’ve seen people out of that despair even lose their faith. And yet, if we don’t act out of that deeply personal and contemplative faith, in the world then that can become, particularly in a consumer narcissistic culture which we live in as we all know, faith can become almost a commodity, almost a, something that we kinda add to our consumer list, the books we’ve read and retreats we’ve done and all that. So how do we live out of that sort of place of integral faith, where we are living the life of Christ more and more deeply, and then trying to take that faith as disciples of Christ into the world.
Karen: I must admit halfway through your book, I stopped and wrote down, this was the perfect book for me to read right now in the midst of a pandemic in the midst of this racial crisis that we are in. And I was so grateful. Christ in Crisis is the name of the book. And I want to know, in a sense, you wrote it I’m sure three years ago, but it’s there in our hands, fresh and ready and absolutely apt for the moment. Tell me, why did you write the book?
Jim: Well, that’s a great question. To be very, very blunt, after the election of Donald Trump in 2016 I received a legion of phone calls from so many people who just didn’t know what to do. And they thought I would. And I didn’t either. And so I was waking up every morning. I couldn’t sleep and would come downstairs to where I am right now in my little study and little retreat place. And I just, I was just struggling on what in the world to do when I had black pastors calling me who were afraid of their youth group kids being even more racially policed, when immigrants would call and or people who are pastoring them, say, people don’t know if they’ll be together for dinner that night because of the deportations. Catholic school presidents would call and say, I can’t get my Muslim students back to campus because there’s a Muslim ban. You know, it’s all kinds of things like that. And so I began looking at the Book of Acts, those first few chapters. And when you read scripture, even if you’ve read the scripture before but you’re coming at it with new questions, you always find new things. And so I found that here’s Peter and John and they’re coming out of the gate one day. And here’s this disabled person who is called a beggar and he asked for some help. And Peter says famously, “gold and silver have I none. But what I have I give to you. In the name of Jesus stand up,” and he did. And so everything they did, I noticed – teaching, healing, preaching was in the name of Jesus. That phrase kept coming up “in the name of Jesus.”
When they then got arrested by the authorities, these were just uneducated, ordinary men the text says, which they weren’t afraid of them, but it was this name they kept raising, it was causing all this trouble and stirring up the people and inspiring the people. And they brought them and finally they went off in a corner and said, okay, we’re going to let you go, but you can’t use this name anymore. You can go and do your thing. Maybe you should all start faith-based nonprofits and compete for funding or something. So in Jesus’ name Peter preached. He preached to 3000 who came to Christ in one day and 5,000 the next time. And so clearly it was the name of Jesus that was threatening to the authorities. And then they said, well, you can do what you want, but don’t use that name anymore. And Peter famously said, well whatever you say doesn’t matter. What you’re saying we cannot not speak of what we have seen, who we have seen and heard. We cannot not speak in Jesus’ name.
And so it struck me that part of why we’re in the situation we are in, or for us as Christian’s a big part of why, is we’re no longer speaking and living and acting in Jesus name. This isn’t just about an election and a politician. It reveals things about us, that we have stopped listening to Jesus.
And so Bishop Michael Curry and I got together one night for what – he wrote the intro of the book – he calls the soul food dinner in Washington, DC. We closed the restaurant down late at night and we decided to pull some elders together. Elders just meaning those of us who’ve gotten old doing this work for a long time, and did a declaration called Reclaiming Jesus, Reclaiming Jesus.
And we did that and did a video out of that with my young team here. And 5 million people responded, went to that Reclaiming Jesus website. So then I decided on the declaration to just take that every morning, come back down here at 4:00 and start to write. And what I found was the questions Jesus asked – either asked or prompted. There were eight. Each chapter is a question: like, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ That’s the most important question these days. Or, ‘What is truth?’ These are questions Jesus prompted and how he lived. And so there’s a power question. There’s a neighbor question. There’s a truth question. There’s a discipleship question. So all these questions are what the book is about. So let’s get back to the questions that Jesus asked or prompted. And that’s what the book is about. So, around the country we’re having these new conversations about Jesus. What does he say? What do we do? What did he mean? And what does that mean for us today? It’s been a remarkable time to have such conversations because these are the right questions we all have to ask if we say we’re followers of Jesus.
Karen: I found it so powerful. I was so grateful for it. You know, who will we love? Who will we hate is a question within this. And basically one of the points you make is the opposite of loving our neighbor is not always hate. It may just be indifference. I’m curious and I know that you mentioned that you came out of a white suburb of Detroit. When did you start asking these questions, Jim? How is it that it got hold of your life?
Jim: Well, actually Pope Francis used that phrase, “the global indifference to our neighbor,” which is such a powerful thing. For me this really kind of played out in my early life. I was raised in this midwest middle American Detroit white evangelical church. And my first conversion was when a Sunday night revival preacher came in and, as we would have said in the old days, all the unsafe kids had to sit in the front row because the closer you are to the sermon, the more impactful in your life. Right? My parents, they love me, but they’re a little nervous because I wasn’t saved yet. And I was getting up in years. I was six and in the front row. And he said, if Jesus came back tonight, your mommy and daddy would be taken to heaven and you would be left all by yourself.
Well, it got my attention and I realized at six I’d have a five-year-old sister to support. So I asked my mom how to fix this. She says, don’t worry about that. God loves you and has a plan for your life. So I thought that sounded good. And I signed up. But then I got to be 15, 16, and I had another conversion, which was deeper. And that was because I was looking around now, listening to my city, paying attention while hearing the news, reading the papers and something really big seemed really wrong in my city of Detroit, in my country. And nobody in my white world and church and school would talk about it. And when I began to ask questions, how come there’s white Detroit where we live, and black Detroit, which is not very far away I hear there are black churches and we’ve never been there and no one’s ever come to visit us. And I hear people are hungry. I don’t know people are hungry and don’t have jobs and people are getting arrested and going to jail. And I don’t know anything like that. So what’s going on here? And they told me I was too young to ask those questions. When I got older, I’d understand, or they didn’t know why things were that way either, but they’d always been that way. And the only honest answer I got was, “Son, if you keep asking these questions, you’re gonna get into trouble.” So that proved to be true, but I tell young people now, “trust your questions, follow them wherever they lead you.”
So my question took me into what we called back then the inner city. And I met the black churches who really took me in, this white kid asking obvious questions. And I still feel more at home than any place else in the black churches. They accepted this white kid. And then I took jobs alongside young men in Detroit, who were my age. I needed a job to make money for college they were working to support their families. But I made these new coworkers and friends and I realized that we both, we’d all been born in Detroit, but we’re living in different countries and let’s tie that into what’s happening right now. So one day I was a janitor at Detroit Edison and I liked the job and I particularly liked moving the heavy desks because I was young and strong and liked to do stuff like that. And my buddy became Butch and he was also like me, he liked to move heavy stuff around. So they would give us the big desk jobs. But then this is how old I am, back in those days we had elevator operators. You can imagine. So when the elevator operators are old, guys were on sick, or on vacation, Butch and I would be put on the elevators. And so when you are an elevator operator they have to give you a break in the morning and in the afternoon because your head begins to spin. So in my breaks I’d go into his elevator and ride up and down with him and we’d just talk and talk. On his breaks he came into mine and we’d just talk and talk. So our relationship grew and a friendship developed, and he took me home one night to meet his mom – his father had passed – his mom and his siblings.
And so I remember we got talking about the police in Detroit. Now you remember the big so-called riots in Detroit and Newark in 1967. And the report written about those. – It was always a police action that sparked all those alleged riots, always. And so we got talking about the police with his mom. Now she wasn’t militant or political at all. She’s like my mom, worried about her kids. But she said something that I’ll never forget. As I’m talking, telling you it’s as vivid as it was all those years ago. She said, so I tell my kids “if they’re ever lost and can’t find their way home and they see a policeman, they should duck under a stairwell, hide behind a building, wait till the police officer passes and then find their way home.” And when she said that my mother’s words echoed in my head to all her five kids. Whenever you’re lost, can’t find your way home, look for a policeman. Police are your friends. They’ll take you by hand and lead you home.
Now that was what you and I would call an epiphany for me, an awakening of things. And my relationship in the black community, working with coworkers and colleagues, the black churches, there was one epiphany after another, until I realized that we were living in different countries. And it’s interesting. It’s amazing. It’s so revealing that, again, it’s police incidents. When this white police officer in Minneapolis put his knee on the black neck of George Floyd, we were all shut down in the pandemic and so we were all watching. Yes. We were all watching. And every black parent I know in the country when they saw that video, those excruciating eight minutes and 46 seconds, watching the public murder of an unarmed black man, they saw their own sons and daughters under that same knee. And they saw themselves under that same knee and almost no white people did. And then we began to learn how the knee wasn’t just a knee, how the knee is a system and the culture and the habit and an idol and a sin – really America’s original sin. And that’s the book I wrote before this last one, it’s about, our original sin of racism. And now that book, America’s Original Sin, is selling more each week than it has this calendar year because we’re all going back to somehow – and this to me is a powerful thing to see – how eight minutes and 46 seconds have become, to use language that Henri and I would know and often use, a kairos moment. A kairos time where things are spiritually impacted and that’s led us to looking at 401 years that got us here.
So eight minutes, 46 seconds have opened up our watching now and listening to 401 years and how systemic racism is core to our life and our systems and our values. So it’s opened up a whole new world, this inflection point. And it’s a moment but I think it could have a momentum that could lead to some real change. That’s my hope and my prayer. And I see it happening with a new generation, including my own boys who are young men. And I think this world is changing, and that’s what moments of kairos do. And so if Henri were still with us, we’d be talking I know, all the time about this. And he would find his way out to the streets in those protests because somehow the COVID virus has laid bare and verified the unequal suffering of this pandemic, but also of everything in this society.
So I see an opening here, real possibility of change. And I think it takes us back to the question of Jesus. Like the one you mentioned, you know, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ You know, this lawyer comes up to Jesus and says, what must I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said, “Well, it’s kind of simple, you love God and love your neighbor.” He says, okay, so who is my neighbor? This is right before the Good Samaritan story. So this lawyer, I realized, when I was looking at that text again, the lawyer in this story was a Washington lawyer. Because I know that tone of voice. Okay, he wasn’t saying, “How can I open myself up to my neighbor?” He’s saying, exactly who is my neighbor, narrowing it down? And he tells the Good Samaritan story. And the power of that story is not just people pass by this man who was beaten and robbed and laying on the ground and one stopped to help him and took time and actually risked his own money. But the real story is the example of the good neighbor who was a Samaritan whom no Judeans would’ve thought to be like them, their neighbor, different race.
And he’s the one who stopped to help someone who was different than him. And the story is your neighbor is the one who’s different than you. And as Gustavo Gutierrez said a long time ago, you’ve got to go outside your circles, your neighborhood perhaps, to find your neighbor. And so that’s what we’re learning right now. So that question just changes everything about our political conversation. So I want to go back to Jesus’ questions and teachings and say, okay, did he mean it? If he did? What does it mean for us?
Karen: I love how you… it’s funny, because – by the way I was in Detroit at that time in ’67. I was going to University of Michigan and literally was in the city of Detroit at that time. It was quite interesting to be there. But let’s go to the now moment because the now moment, that word crisis, as you have pointed out, you know, it’s that shiny -holds those two things: it holds danger, but it also holds opportunity. Now I would agree with you we are at a moment of opportunity and we must not let it slip. We must not. But I’m so excited to see the young people that are bringing such leadership to this. And that does not mean that we are not part of it. We have to be more than ever part of it. Tell me a little bit about the Matthew 25 Movement because I thought that was brilliant, I thought it was so exciting. Tell me what that’s about.
Jim: Well as I said a few moments ago, I left my home church that was my second family and they were happy to see me go. They didn’t want me to keep asking these questions. So I went to Michigan State not too far from where you went to school at University of Michigan. And I had just given up on the church and the faith, my childhood faith. And I joined the movements of my time civil rights movements, anti-war in Vietnam, always about poverty. So I joined those movements and I, like a lot of young people, were organizing and those stories were very dramatic in those days. But I decided in that period that I wanted my vocation to be changing this world, making a difference. I’d be an activist, but I needed the foundation. I needed a base. I needed guidance and direction for what’s my foundation and basis for how I want to live? And I was reading at the time, like a lot of young people my age were: Ho Chi Minh, Karl Marx, and Che Guevara, but I didn’t find them satisfying. And so, probably because I had never quite got shed of Jesus, because I was raised in that world, I went back, on my own after the big student strike in 1970 where we took so many people to our state capitol and Washington, was part of all that, leading all that the student strike in 1970, after Cambodia was invaded and Kent State students were shot and killed. But I needed a bit so I went back to the New Testament on my own and I had now years of organizing and demonstrations and tear gas and being beat up by the police and all that stuff for all those years, now I’m looking again at the gospels and I find the Sermon on the Mount which totally turns the world upside down. Blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, blessed are the peacemakers.
I didn’t remember a sermon ever in my church on the Sermon on the Mount which was the basic catechism instruction to all new converts to Jesus. Then I found this Matthew 25 text and I just had never read anything like it in Ho Chi Minh, Karl Marx, or Che Guevara. I called it my ‘me text.’ So Jesus said I was hungry. It was me. I was the one working multiple jobs and still couldn’t feed my family. And then they cut nutrition programs for food stamps. You know, that was me. I was thirsty. You heard about those people up in Flint, those black folks that couldn’t get clean water because of lead. That was me too. I was naked. Everything was stripped away. I was in Guatemala and my family, all the climate change, we couldn’t grow any food anymore. And then these gangs and cartels wanting my boy to be a soldier and threatening to rape my girls. And so we picked up everything and left and came to the United States where we were told we could have asylum. And then we got here and they took my kids away from me and put ’em in cages. That was me. That was me. I was a stranger, the word stranger there in the text means immigrants, refugees. That’s what the word means. And how you treat them he says, Jesus, is how you treat me. I was sick, I didn’t have any healthcare so that’s why people got COVID and died. Six times to one are now dying of COVID in the U.S. if they’re black or brown. And I was in prison where drug use is exactly the same as whites and blacks but incarceration, 3% of the population in the world, 25% of incarceration, almost all black and brown. That was me too.
So all the stuff you see Jesus saying, that was me. That was me. And then they said, ‘Lord when did we see you hungry and thirsty and naked and sick and in prison, a stranger, we didn’t know it was you?’ He says well, as you’ve done it to the least of these, you’ve done it to me. So that turned me around. That was my conversion text. I later found out when I met Dorothy Day that was her conversion text as well. And the Matthew 25 Movement is always to say, okay, who are and where are those whom Jesus calls the least of these, they’re our final tests if you will, of our discipleship. We say we love him, how do we treat them? So for me, that was the text that prompted my conversion or my back to Christ and the beginning of Sojourners, which when I met Dorothy later, she says, oh you’re kind of like the Protestant Worker. I said, okay, we’ll take that.
I would just say this about that text. My worldview has changed most when I’ve been in places I was never supposed to be, or with people I was never supposed to know and become friends with — like my friend Butch in Detroit and his mom who talked to me about the police. So being in places ever since that I’m not supposed to be as a person with my color and my status and my American privilege, all of that – being in places where the people that Jesus talked about in that text are is what’s brought me to Christ again and again and again. So there’s a movement now. We won just last week on DACA — the dreamer kids — of the dream that has to go further. We’re now seeing people say Black Lives Matter that have never said that before, or never knew what it meant before. So I think we’re maybe if we pay attention trying to come back to and reclaim Jesus.
Karen: Jim, I am so excited that you have stuck to your calling. I could imagine at times that there would’ve been other things offered that you could go after, but I am so glad because you bring such leadership to this and you unite us. And this is a moment. This is an important moment and it must not pass. I would love to encourage people to certainly get this book Christ in Crisis. It’s a good book and it will inspire you and it will clarify things for you. But it also brings you back in a way, which I have always found about Henri’s writings; it’s Christocentric. It brings you right back to, ‘What did Jesus have to say? And how does that become important to us? And how do we live this out?’
One of the chapters was on — you use all these different parts that Jesus stressed — the challenge, not to fear, to fear not. But I couldn’t help asking because when you’ve been at the front lines of protest and activism, have you ever been afraid, have you feared for your life? Have you feared for your family? You’re sensitive to the fears that others are experiencing because they are so exposed. And that’s certainly what is being exposed right now in this moment, what’s happened to black young men and black women, and just really it’s terribly important. But tell me, I’m curious about you, have you faced that sense that your life was in danger?
Jim: Well, first to say that it’s connected to the issue of truth. When we hear political leaders say there is no truth, or it’s all fake news or the strong men of the world want to make up their own truth and want you only to believe them. Jesus says, ‘you’ll know the truth and the truth will set you free.’ So when we’re surrounded by untruth, it’s really, our freedom’s being taken away. And then it says, ‘perfect love casts out fear.’ Now Jesus said finally what casts out fear is that perfect love. And so fear is being used all the time. When people in this country who know nothing about what’s happening in Central America are told there are caravans of immigrants coming and they’re full of drug dealers and gangs and rapists and violence. None of that’s true, but when fear is appealed to we’re in trouble and so fear leads to hate which leads to violence.
And that’s what we’re in, a time now where we have fear and hate and violence. And so how do you reclaim Jesus who many, many times in the New Testament said, “Don’t be afraid”. “Don’t be afraid”. Now he wasn’t saying there was nothing to be afraid of. It’s back to the Timothy text about living in a spirit of fear. Our politicians now want us to live in a spirit of fear. And when I was a kid, I remember the story I was told about the disciples being in the boat and there was this big storm and here’s this figure out there. He is walking on the water, and he comes into the boat and the storm calms. And my Sunday school teacher said, “In a difficult time you want to always get Jesus in your boat.”
Amen. That’s still good. That’s still good. So how do we – it’s not that in fact we are built, human beings are built in terms of our instincts and biological and anthropological history. We’re built to be afraid of things. What, fire’s hot, hot stove. Don’t let your kids have the stove. It’s what you do with that fear and how perfect love can overcome that fear. And, yeah, have there been times when I’ve been afraid for my life? Yeah. but it’s really, it’s somehow, it’s a question of freedom and I don’t want that fear to control me or my faith or constrict my faith or take my faith away. In fact it’s what does it mean to grow to that love that Jesus talks about not only of your neighbor. He says love your enemy. That may be the toughest one of all, how do you love your enemies and not want to, you want to win them over instead of winning over them. King taught me that a long time ago. So sure, there are threats in this world that we all face, but the real, what we’re learning right now for every black parent I know is fear if they have a kid walking out of the door in the morning, white parents don’t feel that. No matter what door they walk out of they’re in more jeopardy, danger. And that fear, what do we do with that? What do we, – I, as you might or might not know, I was a Little League]coach for 22 seasons and a lot of years both my boys – and all of black players I coached, all of them at some point, had the talk with their parents about how to behave in the presence of a police officer, what to do and not to, and saying, not saying, keep your hands up and your eyes straight, because their parents are afraid of them being hurt.
And none of the white kids I ever coached, ever had the talk with their parents. So I would tell my white players about the talk that their…I tell my black players tell your teammates about the talk you have with your parents. And we’d have these conversations about the talk that some kids had and some kids didn’t have. That’s all coming out now coming. It’s an inflection point. It’s a loosening point. And my boys who are still athletes and have lots of teammates of a different color, they don’t want their teammates or classmates to have to live with that fear of police just because of the color of their skin. And they’re mad about that. And a new generation I think, is going to help change that. So I want to overcome that fear is used against us.
And even when we have circumstances where there’s risk and no one ever said this Christian faith would be without risk or without sacrifice. I mean, look at how Jesus won the world by a cross and a resurrection. That’s at the core of everything that we, this is how you do it. It’s why we have the Eucharist to remember, this is the way you do it, broken bread and poured out wine; poured out blood, broken body, poured out blood. This is how you change the world. And he wants to remind us of that. Everybody’ should do this, keep doing this. And remember me.
I always loved it when I would be up at Yale speaking and Henri was there or Harvard he would have this Eucharist. He’s a professor at Yale or Harvard, but once a week there was a Eucharist for students who want to come. And I would sometimes be there. I’d be speaking on the day sometimes deliberately when he would have his Eucharist. That could be part of that too. So I think this is really a matter of faith now. And so how do we- I often say, “don’t go left, don’t go right, go deeper”. This isn’t about left and right, about Republican, Democrat, about politics. Let’s go deeper. Let’s go deeper into what Jesus said. And ask what that means for us right now,
Karen: Jim, I couldn’t have wished for a better person to talk to on this topic right now. I’m blessed. I really am. Something that I saw toward the end of your book and which I will quote, or you can quote, it was Mary Glover’s motto, “Lord, we know you’re going to be coming through the line today. So Lord help us to treat you well.” And that was in a food line. And I just think that needs to be how we look at every single human being that we’re with – “You, Lord, are there and how can I treat you well? How can I recognize you no matter what color, no matter where you come from, how can I be the one that welcomes you and makes the place safe for you?”
Jim: Well, Mary Glover was my elder. So we moved into this very, very poor neighborhood in DC. And this text Matthew 25 had changed my life and turned me in this whole direction. And then I met this woman. She was an African American Pentecostal woman. And she was one of those people, the glue that holds neighborhoods together. And so we began a food line just 20 blocks from the White House because people needed food, groceries every week. And she was one of the volunteers and we were all volunteers, but every time before we had to get the food ready, every time we would stop and pray before people came in the door — 200 people waiting outside for groceries, just not far from the White House. And she would always pray because she was our best pray-er. She prayed like somebody who knew to whom she was talking. She said, you could tell she’s been doing this all the time. She said, “Thank you Lord for waking me up this morning. Thank you. The walls of my room were not the walls of my grave and my bed was not my cooling board. Thank you, Lord.” And she’d pray this prayer every time, she’d say, “Lord, we know that you’ll be coming through this line today. So Lord help us to treat you well.” She saw Jesus in a way I never had. Hers was the best commentary on Matthew 25 I’d ever read. And she became my elder and she knew she was my elder and she would often stop me and say, “Okay God, now let’s, let’s think about that.” And she didn’t have any formal education, but she knew where to look for Jesus. So I always tried to pay attention. She’s passed now, but Mary Glover always taught me where and how to look for Jesus: “Lord you’ll be coming through this line today. So Lord help us to treat you well.” So that’s a great- that’s how I ended the book and that’s always a good end to a conversation.
Karen: Well, the book is a delight. It’s a wonderful book. It’s an important book. And I want to encourage our listeners to get Christ in Crisis. And I’d also like to encourage them go to Sojourners, you want to stay on top up of what’s happening. They’re the best. They’ll give you ideas about how you can be involved. There’s great articles. It’s really worth signing up and being part of Sojourners. Jim, I thank you. This is many years after Henri died. It’s almost coming to 25 years, but your friendship shaped him and he shaped you. And I just value that so much. And I thank you for giving us your time today. Thank you so much for that.
Jim: Well, I love to hang out with Henri and his friends. So, sojo.net. I got a great young team and they do this great website called sojo.net. That’s the way to find our stuff and the Christ in Crisis book is coming out in paperback in the fall, but the America’s Original Sin book is coming back because of where we are now. And so I think we all have to go back and deal with — repent of, if you will — America’s original sin. And as you know, repent doesn’t mean feeling guilty or sorry, it means turning around and going in a whole new direction. So, I think we need a new conversation about America’s original sin, but I also think we’ve got to ask ourselves, ‘What does it mean to reclaim Jesus?’ That’s, I think, the future for us now.
Karen: I certainly want to encourage all our listeners to become part of the answer. Join the forces that are out there that are alive and are wanting change and be a part of it. Be part of it. It’s important. Thank you, Jim. Thank you for this conversation. Bless you are so gracious. Enjoy, always enjoy talking to you. Blessing, bye bye.
Thank you for listening to today’s podcast. I hope this interview with Jim Wallis inspired and encouraged you. We hope you take time to give us a thumbs up or a review, and we invite you to share these podcasts with your friends and family. Through them we can continue to reach our spiritually hungry world with Henri’s writings, his encouragement and of course, his reminder that each of us is a beloved child of God. Our podcasts are on iTunes, Spotify, SoundCloud, and even YouTube. You can follow us on Instagram and Twitter where we’ll give you regular updates on our podcasts. For more resources related to today’s podcast, click on the links on the podcast page of our website. You can find additional content, book suggestions, and other additional material, including a link to books to get you started in case you’re new to the writings of Henri Nouwen. Thanks for listening, until next time.
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