“Words without deeds are empty, but deeds without words are dumb. It is stupid to set them against each other. It is, for example, stupid to say, ‘The one thing that matters is to go everywhere and preach the gospel; all other activities such as schools and hospitals and programs for social action are at best merely auxiliary and at worst irrelevant.’ Why should people believe our preaching that the kingdom of God has come near in Jesus if they see no sign that anything is happening as a result, if they can see no evidence that disease and ignorance and cruelty and injustice are being challenged and overcome? Why should they believe our words if there is nothing happening to authenticate them?”
This summer, Comment Magazine is hosting a series of symposia in which they ask friends of the magazine a fun question and then share the brief responses. They asked the first group what they’re reading these days. They asked the second group what rest looks like for them this summer. I was invited to participate in the third group, responding to the question: What gives you hope in your corner of the world? Here’s what I had to say:
This spring I spent a day at Fuller Seminary’s campus here in Phoenix, where N.T. Wright was speaking on the life and teaching of the Apostle Paul. During a wide-ranging Q&A time following one of the lectures, someone asked Wright how he managed to maintain a sense of hope while serving as Bishop of Durham, given the problems he inevitably encountered within his congregation, his diocese, and in the Church of England as a whole. Wright acknowledged that he dealt with his share of discouragement, but that being a bishop gave him a unique vantage point to continually see pockets of hope throughout the diocese—even when other challenges near and far would have prompted despair.
I’m not a pastor, nor am I a bishop, but I found myself resonating with his response as I reflected on my own work. Here in Phoenix, after all, we have good reason to be discouraged as well—and not just because it’s that time of year when temperatures hover well above the triple digit mark. Bad as that may be, even worse is the fact that our city and state have come to serve as punching bags. You may have seen the recent article, for instance, that declared in no uncertain terms that Phoenix is ”the worst place ever.”
But some of us genuinely enjoy living here, believe it or not. I happen to be one of those people. I love the big skies punctuated by desert outcroppings. I’m inspired by the can-do attitude I encounter among our city’s entrepreneurs, artists, and activists. I’m grateful for the abundance of flavorful Southwest cuisine like the carne adovada at Richardson’s. And the list goes on.
Phoenix has it’s share of challenges, to be sure, and complicity in this city’s brokenness is something we cannot ignore. But I believe there is good reason for hope, even here in “the world’s least sustainable city.” I sometimes find myself discouraged when I read the news, hear about the latest proposed boycott, or consider how few of my neighbors’ names I’ve actually gotten to know. But when I come across signs of life in otherwise hidden corners of our city, my imagination is stirred and my hope is renewed.
You can read the rest of the responses—which include goose droppings, pick-up basketball, and Thomas the Tank Engine—over at Comment‘s website.
If you’re not familiar with the magazine, I encourage you to check it out. Goofy symposia contributors like me aside, they publish a lot of thoughtful stuff under the rubric of “public theology for the common good.” And as I recently tweeted, the print magazine itself is a sensory delight to behold.