The Common Good

Walking With Jesus Through the Wilderness

Sojomail - February 22, 2007


"Listen to candidates talk about religion and they seem to be following two rules: 1) Profess that nothing is more important to you than your religion. 2) Be as vague as possible about your religion."

- Paul Waldman, author and senior fellow at Media Matters for America, in a recent op-ed. (Source: The Boston Globe)

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Joy Carroll Wallis: Walking With Jesus Through the Wilderness

On Friday, Jim and I are hoping to take Luke to see the new movie Amazing Grace, which tells the story of William Wilberforce, John Newton, and the overcoming of the slave trade in Britain. It seems that Lent is an appropriate time for its release because on Ash Wednesday we are called to humble repentance. We are asked to reflect on our inadequacies, our weaknesses, our temptations, the areas in which we fall short and fail – even historically. But ultimately, we are asked to do so in the light of God's grace ... amazing grace.

What can be very difficult in Lent is the wilderness. The wilderness within, or the wilderness we find ourselves in. We may be led quite involuntarily into the wilderness – and not just in Lent. What we call in spiritual speak "the time of testing" can actually feel like desperation, a loss of hope. We may cry out, "where is God?" in the face of random or meaningless suffering, immense stress, depression, illness, debilitating grief, war, and tragic death.

Reading about the temptations of Jesus, his "time of testing" in the wilderness, might offer some guidance. All of Jesus' replies to the devil come from Deuteronomy 6-8 and each temptation is a temptation to sin against the great commandment in Deuteronomy 6:5, to love God "with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might."

Firstly, we read that Jesus was tempted to turn stones into bread. There's a great humanity about this temptation. You have to remember now that he was hungry, he was exhausted; he hadn't eaten for 40 days! This was a temptation to security. Immediate gratification, the quick fix, the easy answer. My kids know all about that temptation! So do I. In my constant efforts to be efficient, I am always looking for the easy, instant solution. On a purely domestic level, it's so tempting to buy the ready-to-serve juice pouches, the individual applesauce pots ... but all that excess packaging!

Much of life is like that. We go to great lengths to have an easy life. It can be a daily temptation for us not to discipline ourselves in areas of greed, materialism, or even sensuality. Health and wealth – we want it now. We want God to speak to us now, to guide us now, to heal us now. And Jesus is saying: No, have patience. Be in the wilderness and discover how to rely on God. Simplify your lifestyle, reject the easy answers, and the wilderness journey will start to teach you something about trust in God and how to serve God with your heart, your soul, and your mind.

The second temptation was to power and wealth over and against loving God. Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and said, "I will give you their glory and all this authority." He's promised "all the kingdoms of the world" – if he will only bow down to the voice behind the principalities and powers. This is a particularly American temptation, the notion that America is indispensable, the one remaining superpower that is needed by the world. George Bush has given us plenty of reason to believe that he puts his hope in America rather than God and indeed can confuse the two. In his address delivered on the anniversary of September 11, he quoted from John's gospel, "And the light shines in the darkness. And the darkness has not overcome it." The trouble is that he was not referring to the light of the world, Jesus Christ. Rather, he was referring to America and its ideals of freedom and democracy as the light and hope of the world. It's easy to apply this to the administration and to George Bush, but we should also consider how it challenges us – this is especially true for the third temptation.

The third temptation was to the spectacular. Satan took Jesus to Jerusalem, placed him on the pinnacle of the temple and said, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down - the angels will bear you up." This is the temptation to fame, or to the spectacular. Almost four years ago to the day, as many of you were working very hard to stop the war in Iraq from happening, the official Pentagon language was that an attack would leave Iraq and the world in a state of "shock and awe." Three thousand bombs will be dropped in the first week. It doesn't matter about the weather, we'll amaze them with our technology ... And America did the spectacular. But it was the devil's temptation, and so much more evil abounds right now because the administration succumbed to that particular temptation.

God's way of transformation is not spectacle, but the patient enduring of the wilderness and the cross. As I said, this temptation can hit home personally too. We can all be tempted to seek God in the spectacular and not in the struggle and the suffering. It's also a challenge for Sojourners, particularly in the face of success, to remain humble.

In his Lenten reflection last year, Jim said,

Humility is difficult for people who think they are, or want to be, "radical Christians."

Humility is difficult when you're always calling other people – the church, the nation, and the world – to stop doing the things you think are wrong and start doing the things you think are right.

Humility is difficult for the bearers of radical messages.

When we're always calling other people to repent and change, it's not always easy to hear that message for ourselves.

I want to suggest that there is a real and very deep tension between humility and the prophetic vocation.

We can be tempted by the idols of materialism, power and spectacle, in the forms of war, wealth, prestige, and celebrity, just to name a few. But Jesus said, "Away with you Satan! For it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only God.'" Then the tempter left him, and will leave us, too, if we stand our ground passing with Jesus through the wilderness.

Joy Carroll Wallis was one of the first women priests ordained in the Church of England, and is the author of The Woman Behind the Collar, published by Crossroads. She is married to Jim Wallis and is the mother of their two young sons, Luke and Jack. This article is adapted from a message she delivered during the Sojourners staff Ash Wednesday chapel service.

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Ryan Beiler: After Mardi Gras, Make Your Gulf Coast Pilgrimage

Adam Taylor recently reflected on his "Pilgrimage to the Lower Ninth Ward," and I've been wanting to tell my own story since October, but the timing has never seemed quite right. Now, with Black History Month coming to a close, and much attention focused on the recovery progress of New Orleans because of Mardi Gras, it seems like a good moment to reflect on attitudes toward racial tensions and disparities at home and abroad, recently revealed by Hurricane Katrina.

Readers of SojoMail may remember that in July 2006 Sojourners/Call to Renewal sent a team of volunteers on a rebuilding mission to Biloxi, Mississippi. You can see images and stories from that trip in my Voices of Katrina presentation. I was able to take another trip the Gulf Coast in October, this time with a team from my church in support of an amazing ministry in New Orleans called Urban Impact. I've incorporated photos from that trip into a new presentation, Songs of Hope.

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+ See what's new on the blog of Jim Wallis and friends

Jim Wallis: Let's Clear the Air
Sojourners has been building bridges between religious and secular progressives long before there was a blogosphere, and I have never wanted to insult our secular progressive allies. My intention in responding to you, Kos, was the exact opposite – to continue to dialogue and help the process of healing between progressive religious and seculars along. If there were ways my wording failed to do that, I am genuinely sorry. And I certainly wasn't coming after you, as some of your readers thought who rose up in your defense. I suppose it all just shows how important this dialogue is.

Diana Butler Bass: Giving Up Lent for Lent
A few years ago, I stopped struggling with my bad attitude toward Lent. I gave up Lent for Lent. I skipped Ash Wednesday, made no promises to God, and instituted no rigorous prayer schedule. I wanted to enjoy one March with no onerous spiritual obligations. An odd thing happened, however, during my Lenten non-observance. I began to understand and experience Lent in new and deeper ways. When freed from expectations and requirements, sermons and scriptures spoke to my soul. By the end of Lent, I found myself willingly attending extra services, including two Good Friday liturgies. On Easter Sunday, the resurrection broke over me with unexpected power – with love joyfully overcoming the intense introspection that built during my non-Lenten weeks.

Tony Jones: Honest Questions for Mitt Romney
OK, I'll be honest. I'm ambivalent about Mormonism, and, be it Mitt Romney or any other Mormon, I'm ambivalent about the idea of voting for a Mormon. And I'll bet that a lot of Christians, if they're honest too, agree with me. My ambivalence stems, I suppose, from my ignorance. ... But listen, I get it. I know that much of orthodox Christianity is irrational, too: I eat flesh and drink blood every Sunday. As Andrew Sullivan has written compellingly in his recent debates with atheist Sam Harris, orthodox Christianity does require faith, but it does not neccessitate an abandonment of reason. So I'm walking a fine line between what I consider reasonable (orthodox Christianity) and what I consider unreasonable (orthodox Mormonism).

Jeff Carr: Welcome to Iran
We arrived in Tehran, Iran, at 1:30 a.m. on Monday morning, nearly 24 hours after we left Washington, D.C. In some ways, the long distance and the considerable time needed to get to Iran is symbolic of just how far apart our countries seem to be when it comes to our understanding of one another. One of the interesting things for the women in our delegation was that as we were descending into Tehran, the pilot came over the loudspeaker and announced, " ... by order of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, all women need to cover their heads for their own protection." It was a stark reminder, especially for the women in our group, that we were about to enter a country very different from our own.

Video: Jim Wallis on Tucker Carlson
Also, watch the panel discussion with Pat Buchanan and Peter Fenn that follows Jim's interview - he and his ideas are mentioned several times.

Becky Garrison: Re-evaluating the Rapture
As Dr. Rossing reminded us, while the sensationalist and "nutty" Left Behind books have grabbed the media spotlight and made the best-seller lists, their depiction of the bloody and violent end times differs from how scholars throughout history have interpreted this book. I found much food for thought in Rossing's reflections on how the Greek words for earth are used throughout the Bible. As she notes, many of the references to the word 'earth' in this final chapter of the Bible is translated from the word okumene, which means imperial violence. The other words for earth, which are translated as gaia (dirt) and cosmos (world) are used when the biblical authors reference God's creation. Using these translations of the word earth, Rossing illuminates how in Revelation Chapters 17 and 18, the imperial world will be destroyed when the Second Coming arrives. She adds that this critique of imperial violence includes violence against the world through our own neglect of God's creation.


Vigil in Your Community for Peace in Iraq

Will you host one of the many local Christian Peace Witnesses that are being organized across the U.S. and Canada? If you're unable to join us in Washington, D.C., please consider doing an event in your community. A vigil toolkit to help you plan your event is also available for download at this link.

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More than 1,500 people have already signed up to attend the March 16 service at the National Cathedral, observing the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Space is limited, so register soon! After the service, we'll march to the White House for a prayer vigil calling for a just peace in Iraq. Those who choose to do so may take part in further symbolic action and risk arrest through civil disobedience. Admission to the service is free, but if you want to join us for the service or participate in civil disobedience (which requires nonviolence training, provided) you need to register:

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