Jim Wallis

I came across this guy through Ched Myers’ association with the Sojourners community, of which Jim Wallis is a part. And I came across Ched Myers through Marcus Curnow, who I came across through the NMC group…anyway, there’s a degree of ‘meant to be’ about it all. I went and saw him (Jim) speak yesterday. In fact, it was funny – I decided to sit in the front row for once (hey, I figured I might as well sit somewhere I could see – I was there by myself and I went as far to one side as possible) and when I sat down, I looked across and about four seats away was Tim Costello; then I saw that next to him and three seats away was Jim Wallis, and next to him was Steve Bradbury, head of TEAR Australia and the Micah Challenge (who were organising the event). For a second there it looked like I was next to speak.

Jim didn’t speak about anything revolutionary for me (although it probably would’ve been five years ago) but it did resonate deeply. I suppose he’s a lot further down the same road I’m on, so it’s useful to have people like him to look at and see how they did it. But he did make a couple of comments that are worth noting – both of them pretty much throwaway lines.

The first is that “parenting is a counter-cultural activity”. He actually said that when he says this, he finds an enormous degree of resonance among parents – that they always nod vigorously in agreement, and I’d have to say I’m no exception. Almost everything about parenting makes you swim against the stream of society – challenging the idea that life is about me (it’s now an entirely unselfish exercise aimed at the best interests of your child), trying to combat the advertising aimed at your children; almost all the values thrust at us mitigate against good parenting. I don’t think I’d ever really thought about that before, but it hit me powerfully.

The second was a brief thing he said about activists (or everyone really, but it’s more acute for activists) – that there is a constant choice between hope and cynicism. Activism is full of people who know the reality of a world that is not as it should be, and in that sense are “good people”; yet they have lost the sense that it can be changed. Too often I fall on the cynicism side, I have to admit. It’s easy to get discouraged.

He told the story of an African American girl he knew who got her PhD, and decided that instead of going into industry she’d go back to the streets to help people there. She died not long after, at quite a young age, but he said she would always get angry when people said that the problem was too big, or there’s a lack of leadership – not just frustrated, but angry. She would say “Don’t you get it? We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for.” In other words, don’t wait for another Martin Luther King Jr. or whatever – be the new Martin Luther King Jr. Or just be you where you are.

I’m not sure that idealism is any more useful than cynicism, but I’m also pretty sure that hope isn’t the only difference between the two.

So keep up the good work, Jim…

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