Thursday, September 29, 2011

Who is Jim Wallis?

I heard something that stunned me today and though the source was credible I initially refused to believe what I had heard. I went home and did some research (God bless Google) and found out that everything I heard was true. I am presenting this because I feel like there are a lot of people who don't know much about Jim Wallis and need to. Let me paint my perception of Jim Wallis with you so that you can experience my reaction when I came across this information....

I first heard of Jim Wallis because he is the editor of Sojourners, a magazine whose mission is "to articulate the biblical call to social justice, inspiring hope and building a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world." (Taken from their website) He is certainly interested in social justice and while I have never read any of his books, he is a regular contributor to Huffington Post. In his articles he always came across as a believer who was thinking aggressively about some issues where the modern day church was really struggling. I always felt he was a little vague at times but I found it refreshing to know that were believers of influence thinking about some of these issues. But I was also intrigued by his methods and demeanor. He certainly came across less preachy than many baby boomers, something which I noticed immediately.

I should mention that there were some red flags that went up. The first was was his style of writing which I earlier described as vague.....this is to say that more than once I felt he put many words on paper but failed to really say anything of substance. Soft is another word that comes to mind....
My second red flag was this: why is Huffington Post allowing him to write? (I personally believe that in order to best understand our nations politics you need to read news that is biased on both sides. Huffington Post has a liberal slant which nicely offsets the conservative one that is found on Drudge Report, my other main source of news and commentary. Out of curiosity if any of my readers disagree with me about those sites and their slants I would be interested in talking with you about that. Please contact me via this site, facebook, or my cell if you have it.)  Being that Huff Po is liberal it didn't to make much sense  that they would give him such good billing? Like a newspaper, news websites show what or who they deem important by where the story is placed in relation to other articles. Jim Wallis is esteemed by Huff Po and not only do his articles always appear near the top but they often stay there for a few days; though not as long as Arianna's! Trying to answer this question during the 08 election I googled him, found his site, and read about his background....

Jim Wallis was raised in an evangelical family in the Midwest. As a teenager, his questioning of the racial segregation in his church and community led him to the black churches and neighborhoods of inner-city Detroit. He spent his student years involved in the civil rights and antiwar movements. While at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois, Jim and several other students started a small magazine and community with a Christian commitment to social justice which has now grown into a national faith-based organization. In 1979, Time magazine named Jim Wallis one of the "50 Faces for America's Future."  Jim lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife, Joy Carroll, one of the first women ordained in the Church of England and author of Beneath the Cassock: The Real-life Vicar of Dibley, and their young sons, Luke and Jack. He is a Little League baseball coach.

I was initially drawn his questioning of racial segregation in his church, I always wonder what my response would have been in that time because it is difficult for me to to comprehend that time period. As a military kid my neighborhoods and schools were highly integrated, whites might have been the minority in my middle school.  I also noticed that he attended TEDS while doing his graduate work, which I must confess I found to be quite some relief. I know a number of people who have been there and think very highly of most of them. But reading about his wife's ordination I also understood why many liberal theologians felt comfortable around him. I later saw Obama name him to a faith board.....I got to the point where I was trying to decide if he had struck a good balance between faith and politics but I never really reached a conclusion, I just went on with my life.

Tonight I was watching a video called Agenda. There were some parts of it I was uncomfortable with, it was pretty much seeking to link Karl Marx with the founders of many liberal organizations and groups that hold significant influence today as well as that impact on President Obama. Some names were thrown out that did not shock me....John Dewey, Bill Ayers, Jim Wallis???????????????? They said his name and began talking about his fight for social justice, as well as what social justice means. They said a few things about his background and I immediately began googling to find the facts and knew immediately they were true. I stayed pretty silent during the brief discussion because I was processing this and went home to do more research about him...this is what I found.

-His thoughts on what it means to be born again...
The Great Awakening, p.60

-He attended Michigan State where he was president of a group called Students for a Democratic Society. This was a political activist group founded by Bill Ayers, the simplest definition for the group I found was that they were Anti Anti-Communism! This group later disintegrated and its most aggressive leaders formed a group called the weatherman, a terrorist group that claimed “The goal is the destruction of US imperialism and the achievement of a classless world: world communism.”

-Sojourners was not the original name of his magazine, it was actually called Post-American. It stated social justice was achieved through distribution of wealth and government-managed economies.

-In 1983, the organization, “Accuracy in Media” published a lengthy book on the far left policies of Wallis and his organization, documenting 53 political positions of Sojourners on such issues as Israel’s right to exist, terrorism, socialism, capitalism, human rights, etc – and compared their positions on these subjects with those of the Soviet Union. In all 53 position statements, it was found that Sojourners’ views were completely in line with the views of hard line Soviets.

-He was actually born Jim Wallace and later changed his name. Don't know why, just thought it was interesting. At least it isn't Metta World Peace.

-In July 2010 Marvin Olasky wrote in World Magazine that in 2004 Sojourners had received   $200,000 from billionaire George Soros, a financier of left-wing groups that push for abortion, atheism, bigger government, and other causes. Wallis denied it saying  “It’s not hyperbole or overstatement to say that Glenn Beck lies for a living. I’m sad to see Marvin Olasky doing the same thing. No, we don’t receive money from Soros.” He then insisted  “We don’t receive money from George Soros. Our books are totally open, always have been. Our money comes from Christians who support us and who read Sojourners. That’s where it comes from.”

When Olasky wrote that he already had a PDF copy of the gift which he acquired from the  website of the Open Society Institute, of which Soros is the founder, funder, and chairman. In addition there were gifts of $25,000 in 2006 and $100,000 in 2007. Also interesting were the reasons given for the donation as listed on the OSI website. In 2004 they listed  "To support the Messaging and Mobilization Project: Engaging Christians on the Importance of Civic Involvement." In 2007 it was  “to support the Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform campaign.”

So how did Wallis respond when confronted with the truth? "Sojourners communications manager Tim King has now acknowledged that Sojourners received funding from George Soros. King released a statement from Jim Wallis in which Jim says he “should have declined to comment” until he had checked the facts. Now that Jim has, he sees there were grants “from the Open Society Institute that made up the tiniest fraction of Sojourners’ funding during that decade—so small that I hadn’t remembered them.”

But........Olasky said that, according to documents World obtained, Sojourners had a $275,000 deficit in 2002 and a $57,000 deficit in 2003. In the audit, it says that Sojourners had "incurred a significant amount of net losses" and had "adopted a strategy to generate additional sources of revenue and to reduce expenditures."
"It looks like that grant came at a critical time in 2003–2004 and that seemed to be an economic turning point," Olasky told CT. "If you're in the red and someone comes up with $200,000, especially a billionaire, you tend not to forget that."

-I don't understand this obvious cover up because no crime was committed. I think Wallis understands that the target audience of his magazine would be uncomfortable when hearing that news. It is also interesting to note that those records disappeared from the OSI website very quickly.

Conclusions? Many people will be concerned and research his background and shady friends but I am more concerned about the present than the past. This is a man of significant spiritual influence in our modern culture and the question I have is: should this be? I am especially concerned because I believe he appeals most to younger believers interested in this concept of social justice yet who may be lacking in discernment. I would enjoy it immensely if this blog led to some dialogue about Wallis or Sojourners.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Governors and Unions

I find in many discussions that many people watch some news but never really understand what is happening or even why. Too many of us get our news from headlines and don't ever see the big picture. By now you have heard about what is going on in Wisconsin between the Governor and unions. I will focus a little on this battle but then look at what is going on behind the scenes. Let me give you an order of events.

1. Scott Walker was elected Governor in 2010 with the benefit of having a GOP controlled congress in Wisconsin. Less then two months into his term he put out an audacious bill which has a few parts. State workers must increase contributions to their pensions to 5.8 percent of salary, and double contributions to their health insurance premiums to 12.6 percent. This would result in a cut in take-home pay of about 8 percent.It would also limit collective bargaining to the issue of wages, and cap increases to the rate of inflation as well as prohibit employer collection of dues. There would also be a voter referendum for any future salary increase. It should be noted that the average teacher salary in Milwaukee Public Schools is $56,000 and total compensation is over $100,000. Police and Firemen are exempt from the collective bargaining changes. There would also be no more union dues....

2. A vote in the House requires that 20 people be there there in order for the vote to take place. Currently there are 19 Republicans and 14 Democrats, so to postpone the vote Democrats fled  to a hotel in Illinois and show no willingness to return for a vote.

3. Protests began in Madison outside the Capitol and have gotten bigger every day. Schools have been shut down as teachers have joined in the protests. In Madison, schools were cancelled Friday morning because 600 of the 5400 teachers called in sick, roughly 11%. I have seen estimates between 25 to 50 thousand at the protests and they have attracted national attention. All politicians have spoke out about the matter in no uncertain terms and I suspect many prominent Dems to be there this weekend.

The events I have listed above are well documented and if you pay attention to the news you have heard them. But there is a much bigger issue here that must be understood: the true ramifications of this bill do not involve a balanced state budget but a transformation in the political landscape.  Take a look at the big picture here............

Leading Union Political Campaign Contributors
American Fed. of State, County, & Municipal Employees$40,281,900$547,700
Intel Brotherhood of Electrical Workers29,705,600679,000
National Education Association27,679,3002,005,200
Service Employees International Union26,368,47098,700
Communication Workers of America26,305,500125,300
Service Employees International Union26,252,0001,086,200
Laborers Union25,734,0002,138,000
American Federation of Teachers25,682,800200,000
United Auto Workers25,082,200182,700
Teamsters Union24,926,4001,822,000
Carpenters and Joiners Union24,094,1002,658,000
Machinists & Aerospace Workers Union23,875,600226,300
United Food and Commercial Workers Union23,182,000334,200
Sheet Metal Workers Union16,347,200342,800
Plumbers & Pipefitters Union14,790,000818,500
Operating Engineers Union13,840,0002,309,500
Airline Pilots Association12,806,6002,398,300
International Association of Firefighters12,421,7002,685,400
United Transportation Workers11,807,0001,459,300
Ironworkers Union11,638,900936,000
American Postal Workers Union11,633,100544,300
Nat'l Active & Retired Fed. Employees Association8,135,4002,294,600
Seafarers International Union6,726,8001,281,300
Source: Center for Responsive Politics, Washington, D.C.

The numbers add up to roughly 486 million for Democrats and 29 million for the Republicans. But it is important to understand that unions do much more than raise money for candidates. They represent large numbers who will be voting regularly. Historically they have been very active during election cycles when it comes to assisting the local party. Politics is often about money and power, unions give both.This is the heart of the issue and it is why the debate is so heated. The who are protesting are really not concerned about that 8% pay decrease but rather the future role of unions in politics.  Governor Walker is attempting to balance the budget while scoring a large political victory. If politics were like boxing, Walker is going for the knockout in the first round. In addition many other states are watching to see what happens and would seek to make these same changes.

Personal Thoughts
It's hard to know if he will be successful but I think he could. National Republican leadership will not want him to back down because all they are risking is one Governor's seat while I cannot put into words their upside. In addition see how his opponents have operated since Wednesday. The House left the State and have not been seen. Teachers are in calling sick so they can go protest under union advisory while schools are cancelled. How long will these actions go on before the citizens of Wisconsin revolt? Will these actions or those of Governor Walker draw more scorn?

On the other hand every good negotiator starts by asking for more and then "negotiating down." If you don't believe me watch Pawn Shop and you will see negotiating in action! Is Walker just going to pass on the collective bargaining and ask for greater salary cuts? It will be interesting to see how Obama responds throughout the debate because this is a major part of his constituency that is still frustrated from when a pro-union bill failed to get through the Senate when Democrats had control. There is no point speculating in detail about how defeat in Wisconsin would affect him in 2012 but it could not be good.

I struggle sometimes to think about unions as good or bad. The truth is they are not wholly one or the other.There have been times in American history when they were needed and they played a role. For a nation born through unprecedented  change we certainly don't adapt very well. The struggle is to evaluate the role and place of unions in modern America. But that being said these teachers who march have a job which they know they cannot be fired from, assuming they are somewhat competent. That is not true for most Americans.In addition see this scary website....

I also believe that unions played a huge role in the financial meltdown of GM, due to what are known as legacy costs-the costs of providing health care and pensions to scores of retired workers. For every GM worker, there are about 10 dependants, which are defined as retired workers and their families. From every car GM sells, $2,000 goes to legacy costs-paying people who don't work for you anymore. That two grand must be built into the sticker price of any new GM car and truck. And that's money on top of developing, producing and marketing a car--costs that Honda, Toyota and others don't have.  GM's per-hour labor rate for car assembly is about $75 per hour, compared to $40 to $45 for other car companies. While this was a private union, the principle can still apply when understanding the idea of legacy costs.

This will be fascinating to see how it plays out. If anyone has some thoughts about anything I have said please post them. I would enjoy it greatly if this site was a place where thoughts could be expressed openly and respectfully regardless of what those thoughts actually are. Have a good weekend....

Sunday, February 6, 2011


I am restarting a workout program Insanity that I did last summer and am looking forward to it. While I am doing the program I am trying to eat better and drink less soda so I can drink more water. It is a 9 week program, my goal is to drink no soda on Monday-Saturdays and then not go overboard on Sunday. I did this last summer and after a month of no soda I felt so much better. I eventually wrote something about the difference between soda and water which I put on an old blog. Hope you enjoy......

On my diet I am avoiding soda and pretty much drinking water only which is not real easy for me. Drinking soda has become a habit and I thought nothing of stopping at QT or driving through Sonic for a Rt. 44 Vanilla Dr. Pepper. As much as I love that drink I don't crave it anymore. I am on the 12th day of my diet now I am averaging about 5 liters of water a day. I am not educating you when I say water is good and soda is bad because you already know that. The contrast between the two has got me thinking......
-When you are really thirsty soda does nothing for you. It will not meet your needs because it will not hydrate you. When you are thirsty you drink water because it refreshes you and fills you up.
-Sometimes water seems too bland but it tastes so good when you need a drink.
-Most of the time when I drink soda I am eating unhealthy along with it. The waitress rarely refills water glasses after dropping off the cheese fries or onion rings.
-I start a lot of sodas that I never finish. And that is never because it hit the spot. Most of the time I don't want more soda, but oddly enough I am still thirsty.
-Sometimes I get a look ordering water in a restaurant. On the other hand I do say"I'll just have water" like I owe them an apology.
-Drinking water and thinking about it has led me to this...........

John 4:10-11

"Jesus answered and said to her,"If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give me a drink', you would have asked Him, and He would have given it to you." She said to Him, "Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do you get that living water?"

I am always tempted to comment how foolish people in the Bible are and how they miss obvious lessons that are being taught. But like these same Bible characters I so often fail to understand immediately what God is trying to tell me or teach even though I have His word right in front of me. Jesus is trying to tell the woman that though she came thirsting for water she can have what she actually needs.

It is such a simple concept to think of Jesus as living water. He is everything we need and to drink of him is to never thirst again. I have studied this many times and I normally finish my study thankful to have found living water and wondering why I don't offer others a drink. But this time as I study I ask a different question:why do I sometimes pass by the living water Christ offers and instead drink the sodas of the world? Remember soda? It fills me up but never nourishes me. It leaves me still thirsty. It does not quench my thirst but instead numbs it. Nothing good or healthy follows it. It can be addictive but when you drink water again you wonder why you loved soda so much. And then you go refill your water.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Grad vs. Undergrad, Politics

It has been an interesting experience for me to attend grad school at the same place I did my undergrad work. I recently had a discussion with a prof about this and heard his experiences; since he teaches both undergrads and graduate students. One the biggest differences is just simply the maturity of the students. Grad students are further along in life, have more experiences, as well as a better appreciation for the money being spent to attend. The other big difference is that of the learning environment in the classroom. While in my third semester as a grad student I have yet to take an old fashioned test. Instead my biggest assignments are projects and papers. My profs are much more worried about my ability to process and interact with material than my ability to memorize and recall it. Concerned about understanding how the issue or topic fits into the big picture of life and faith. We also benefit from smaller classes which allow for better conversation and discussion.I find now that how much I learn or am personally challenged in a class is sometimes determined by my fellow students and their contributions. The two education styles are drastically different and I am enjoying my post grad work immensely.

\While shooting the breeze at a poker table this week the subject of conversation inevitably turned to politics. I rolled my eyes at the predictable statements about Obama from his fans and detractors. I interrupted the conversation and asked some follow up questions to all commentators. What has Obama done that was so great? How about so horrible?  What would you have done differently? Resounding silence.....shuffling of chips.......The subject was changed to the Super Bowl and sports betting, I really didn't think much about the conversation until later that night.  Then something occurred to me that has really stuck with me. When it comes to politics America is a nation of undergrad students. Too focused on memorizing and recalling information than analyzing or processing it. Not able to see the big picture of an issue but instead mindful only of what they are being told. America sits in silence and takes notes instead of engaging their peers in an intelligent conversation.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

57 and counting

I was at the hospital a few weeks ago(I work part-time as a Contract Chaplain) and found myself very introspective. I find this is often the case(one reason there are Chaplains at hospitals) but that night I thought hard for a long time, long enough to make me want to start this blog. I made an observation in my head and then spent the rest of the night trying to figure out why that was. The observation was simple: The time I spend serving in the hospital is when I am most at peace with my Epilepsy.

I had my first seizure at a movie theater during my first semester at college. My date went and got the the manager who called 911 (this was before everyone had a cell phone) and was nice enough to pause the movie while they came in and got me. I awoke hours later at a hospital totally clueless about what happened. During the next 7.5 years I had many seizures and they impacted my life in a way that I am still learning about. I'll share a few of those.

When I had seizures I lost memory. My junior year I went with  my sister Becky and friends to visit Sarah in Chicago. A fun road trip that I don't remember at all. I had a seizure the week after we got back and then had no recollection of the trip. This happens every time(its really nice before finals) and frustrates me because college and your early twenties is a great time to make memories, not lose them.

I was really depressed at times in college. My doctors were experimenting with meds to try and find a proper balance and never found it while I was in college. It seemed no matter how long I slept I woke up drowsy and some of the meds had side effects.

The state of Nebraska says that you should not drive for six months after a seizure. You do not know what freedom is until it is taken away. I also felt like people got tired of me using Epilepsy as an excuse and  I got tired of talking about it. So at some point I stopped telling people when I had them. I struggled one time at a job because after a week of training(which I needed) I forgot everything after my seizure Friday night. I did not want to tell anyone and then not be able to drive so I didn't. Came back Monday and tried to figure it all out again. If God forbid I have another one, everyone will know about it.

In April 2006 I had my last seizure. 57 months. The cause was diagnosed as sleep deprivation which explained why I never had a seizure until I got to college. For a few years I was just thankful they had stopped and did not think much about them beyond that context.  But upon starting chaplaincy I was forced to think more about them as I drew on those experiences. My first day I had an experience I will never forget. I was talking to a patient who asked me why I was there and I gave him what has become my standard opening for this situation. "Why am I here? When I was in college I had seizures and the doctors couldn't tell me why while they kept switching my medications. I would wake up hours later unsure of where I was or how I got there. I lost memory which affected my studies and wasn't able to drive. At one point after college I spent some time in a hospital when I didn't have insurance and picked up some debt. I won't pretend to know exactly what you are going through but I have laid in that bed before. I know what it's like to be frustrated because the doctors don't have answers or to wonder how you will pay for everything. I believe it is impossible to spend a night in a hospital and not reflect about your life. When I was in the hospital I never really had the chance to share that, or maybe I wasn't willing. If there is anything you're thinking about I'll be glad to help you process it or just  listen to what you have to say."

The words came so easy. We talked for a few hours and it was like talking to myself in the bed. It seemed everything they said made total sense to me, a few times I related a story explaining when I felt that way. Before I left the patient thanked me for coming and cried while we prayed. They told me how they felt for years no one had understood them and they were just glad to meet someone who did.

I wrote about Epilepsy so you could maybe know how this conversation impacted me. That night I went home and openly wept as I recalled the days events. But it was more about the past really than that one day. I had looked back at those 7.5 years with so many emotions. At times I was depressed, angry, frustrated, scared, and questioned repeatedly what God was doing. I looked back at those years and they just seemed a mystery. But that day the lights came on for me. As I talked with patients I kept sharing from my struggles and thinking about those times. I began to understand the purpose of those struggles and connected the past with the present. I got past the cognitive knowledge of "God is allowing this for a reason" and began to process and know these reasons for myself. There was a joy in helping people that day, and it came from those 7.5 years. I have learned that I am never at greater peace than after realizing in the present how God has been working in the past. It gives hope and  allows me to remember that God is working in the present for the future.