Last Thursday night at The Riverside Church on Manhattan’s upper west side, New York Faith and Justice sponsored an event, in collaboration with several other organizations, celebrating the launch of Jim Wallis’ new book Rediscovering Values On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street. As the event’s title suggested, however, this was “more than a book launch,” rather it was a conversation with Wallis and several other local leaders on the various subjects raised in the book.

The evening started out with a performance by Joy Ike, a Nigerian singer/songwriter from Pittsburgh. Her smooth jazz songs with thought-provoking lyrics were an unconventional but welcome way to begin the conversation.

After Ike’s performance, a spoken word piece and several introductions including that of Lisa Sharon Harper, co-founder of New York Faith and Justice and the evening’s panel moderator, Jim Wallis finally took to the podium. In his short remarks, which were to serve as the keynote and jumping off point for the conversation, he suggested that a moral recovery was needed in addition to an economic recovery in order for the nation to truly spring back from the global economic crisis. Picking up on a theme he outlined in his 2005 book, God’s Politics, Wallis made clear his belief that the economy is a moral issue and that a budget is a moral document.

With this book, however, Wallis goes further, insisting that a return to “old virtues” is necessary. He would have us ask not when the economic crisis will end, but rather how it will change us, adding that “if we go back to normal, all will have been in vain.”

Wallis’ emphasis on traditional values and a moral compass (there’s even a picture of a compass on the book’s cover above the subtitle, “A Moral Compass for the New Economy) fall squarely in line with a trend that I’ve observed in all aspects of American culture and have written about more extensively at our sister publication, The Curator. That is, a renewed emphasis on morality and its importance in contemporary society, particularly in contrast to the relativism that dominated the conversation in the 20th century.

But the values that Wallis talks about and the moral compass he is calling for to lead the way back are certainly more than the lip service that is often paid to morality by many politicians. In his address on Thursday, and in his book Wallis offers concrete suggestions for it looks like rediscover values, a process he refers to as “new habits of the heart.” These speak, specifically, to topics such as clean energy, the family and community service.

Wallis’ keynote, short as it was, had the tremendous effect of creating an excitement in the audience, made up primarily of Christians of all ages, reminding them, as he does best, that the task of creating change and igniting a movement back to morality and values should be their task. After hearing Wallis’ well thought-out and inspiring message, it is difficult not to feel empowered and emboldened.

Following his keynote, a panel discussion ensued where the guest panelists and Wallis himself had the chance to answer questions from Harper and the audience. The evening concluded with a book signing.

I was happy to be in attendance and am anxious to read Rediscovering Values and feel the inspiration and motivation that Jim Wallis offers in person, in writing. And we at Patrol are eager to watch and see as this movement back toward morality unfolds as we enter the second decade of the 21st century.

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Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

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