Celtic Diva's Blue Oasis: One good thing comes out of Katrina: Poverty is once again a topic among people of faith

Thursday, September 08, 2005

One good thing comes out of Katrina: Poverty is once again a topic among people of faith

I've been wanting to do a post about Jim Wallis' book "God's Politics" since I'm reading it right now and there are moments when that man is speaking to my soul.

However, every time I tried to start one, it ended up too long and disjointed.

Thank you, Helen H. Thompson - you did it for me!

While other right-wing maniacs claim that Katrina was a punishment for "sin and debauchery" (i.e...gayness) I have a different theory - perhaps the real "message" of this tragedy was a terrible, horrific way to reveal the dire circumstances of the ever-increasing ranks of the poor in our very own country, not to mention the rest of the world? Perhaps this was a desperate, tragic way to demonstrate how some "alleged Christians" have increased the misery of the poor while lining their own pockets? (Can you say "Diamond Pat Robertson?)

Perhaps this was to show the "not-so-Christian-right" that they have been pointing out the speck in others' eyes while ignoring the plank in their own?

I highly, highly recommend that folks read this book. I believe Jim Wallis's theories can bring progressive, moderate and conservative people of faith together to take back the true meaning of "religion" from those who would twist it to their own power-hungry ends.

Can Jim Wallis save God from the Right?
by Helen H. Thompson

Philadelphia City Paper 9-08-2005

File under difficult projects I've undertaken: trying to track down a progressive spiritual leader when there is a crisis of Katrina's magnitude putting a visceral face on poverty, race relations and gross administrative negligence.

You see, when Pat Robertson was all over the news a couple of weeks ago, I was one of the Christians sitting up and railing against yet another example of how the religious right hijacks our faith. Which is why it's a good time to talk about Jim Wallis, author of this year's God's Politics: Why the Right Is Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It. Wallis will be the guest of honor at an upcoming Table Talk at the White Dog Cafe this Wednesday. In his book, Wallis explains that the problem with religion is that it's been subverted by right-wing ideology; the problem with progressive politics is that it's got no soul.

Readers of a certain vintage may remember yours truly as the gothpunk chick who used to quick-pick fetish shows for this pub. If you're wondering, "Is this the same Helen H. Thompson?" well, the answer is yes. And no. I had a spiritual crisis of sorts. You know the kind: Boyfriend tells you you have been sucking the life out of him for a couple of years, storms out with half the CD collection and the good Pyrex. After pissing off a number of friends by being, shall we say, extraordinarily needful, I found myself that Christmas Eve fidgeting nervously in the congregation of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Ardmore with my godmother. Thus I reignited my relationship with God, one that was really uncomfortable after 15 years of Buddhist-friendly atheism. What I discovered there was that the faith I'd rejected out of hand as a teenager was a wellspring of inspiration to change things: first on a personal level, and then, by helping others.

Which brings me back to Jim Wallis, who I finally caught up with this past Saturday. What was to be a 15-minute interview became an hour-long discussion on how people of faith are coming together to work toward common, nonpartisan goals.

"There's this very dramatic image for me of political leaders and congressmen walking around Capitol Hill sticking their wet fingers up in the air to check on the direction of the wind. I think we're stuck on this notion that replacing one wet-fingered politician with another changes the country," Wallis explains. "But all the practitioners of great social movements knew that you need to change the wind - that is, change the way people think, at a very deep level."

Which is what Wallis is attempting to do as editor in chief of Sojourners magazine and head of Call to Renewal, a national network of churches, faith-based organizations and individuals working to overcome poverty. Sojourners was originally a movement as well, one which Wallis cofounded in 1971. So why are many of us just hearing about it now? That infamous Gen-X disconnect may be part of it, not to mention the prevalence of "prosperity gospel" televangelists or the right wing's dominance of the values debate in the media.

"Dan Rather did a piece on Christian activists banning books in Iowa," remembers Wallis. "I'm a Christian activist, and that's not Christian - it's right-wing Christian activism. 'Right-wing' has become synonymous with Christianity and religiousness in general. Having a progressive faith option is a new idea to many people who didn't know you could be a Christian and care about poverty, or Social Security or the effects of war."

Wallis knows that people of faith come from many different walks of life. Faith is personal. God is personal. I asked him a question countless others have posed: When people find themselves wobbling back onto the path of faith to better engage progressive values, what's their first step?

"Find some kindred spirits, people you can talk to who are progressive in their faith. That might mean finding a church - some do and some don't - or finding a group of people - a few friends, a campus group or something you start yourself. But this is not meant to be a solitary journey: It's about the community."

These days he's less focused on his book and more interested in the Republican agenda, addressing the estate tax, Social Security reform and ongoing tax cuts. And even though he doesn't consider himself partisan - he's often as critical of Democrats as he is of Republicans - he delivers blistering condemnations of the current administration's direction in his town meetings.

"It doesn't make sense. America cuts taxes for the rich in the face of social problems, natural disasters, massive deficit escalation, war and budget cuts affecting the poorest of our families. Is that the kind of nation we want to be a part of?"

Amen to that.

3 Comments:

Anonymous taughnee said...

Amen, indeed.

9/09/2005 12:34 PM  
Blogger the Band Director said...

I'm so glad to hear you like his book. Wallis, and people like him are the reason I haven't abandoned my faith completely. While sometimes I admit to feeling lost myself, at least there are some people out there like Wallis that keep me encouraged that perhaps there is an appropriate place for someone like me who feels completely disenfranshised from the current evangelical right-wing movement in the US but still is looking for a faith community.

And see? I'm still reading your blog :p. I'm sorry I haven't posted more.

9/11/2005 5:36 PM  
Anonymous Helen Thompson said...

And bless you for reading. :)


~ Helen

11/10/2005 5:38 AM  

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