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Holistic Environment: SOUL IN POLITICS


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Every night Jim Wallis goes to bed to the sound of gunfire. He is not in Bosnia. He lives just 20 blocks from the White House, in the urban ghettos of Washington DC, where he heads a Christian community, Sojourners. 'Where I live,' says Wallis, 'poor kids kill each other for the latest design of basketball boots. Across town, rich kids kill themselves because they don't know what they are living for.

'Washington may be an extreme case, but it is far from unique. The world is not working,' says Wallis, and he has written a book, The Soul of Politics, focussing some of the issues we face. The New York Times calls it 'a passionate, heartfelt book... If it succeeds in awakening a nation's conscience, it will come as no surprise to Wallis. He is accustomed to hope.'

'The problem,' says Wallis, 'is that Mahatma Gandhi's seven social sins have become the accepted practice of modern nations: politics without principle, wealth without work, commerce without morality, pleasure without conscience, education without character, science without humanity and worship without sacrifice.' The results are tragic. He tells of the hundreds of elderly who died in the United States during last year's heatwave. Too scared of violence to open their doors and windows, they suffocated in their own homes.

But the situation can be turned around. Even members of the urban gangs who terrorise these old people can find new aims. In 1993 a national Gang Summit brought together 164 leaders, members and ex-members of some of America's most feared gangs. Many of them, instead of fighting each other, are now fighting drugs and other social agonies. It happened because Wallis and others cared enough to reach beyond the tough exterior of gang members and find the hurt person underneath, often a victim of childhood neglect and abuse.

Wallis understands their anger. He has been active in the American Civil Rights movement and in many social and peace actions. Visiting New Zealand recently, he urged young activists to keep protesting. But, he said, 'protest must be driven by a new vision for society'. He believes that society changes from the bottom up. 'New voices lead to new visions, which in turn lead to projects, networks and social movements. The collapse of communism does not vindicate capitalism; neither system serves the deep needs of people. Higher ground can be reached by working for change both in individuals and in the structures of society.' Reading The Soul of Politics is the easy part. It is well written, with plenty of examples of people who are looking beyond the old structures of society and working out entirely new ways. The harder part is to work out new examples in our own communities, starting with ourselves. That is Wallis' challenge to all who want to be agents of transformation.

Richard Davis, New Zealand

The Soul of Politics: A Practical and Prophetic Vision for Change, by Jim Wallis (HarperCollins, 1995)

Last update: 2000-02-12 17:20:20 (EEST).
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