Soulful Citizenship, a talk by Rev. Jim Burklo


Rev. Jim Burklo is a friend, blogger, and former minister at both Stanford and my church in Palo Alto.  He’s now the Associate Dean for Religious Life at USC.  He visited and gave a talk last weekend entitled “Soulful Citizenship”.

Since he’s included a lengthy excerpt in his blog and you can get the audio for the talk, I’ll just add a few of my reflections.

Jim did a really nice job balancing the talk between the personal, the religious, and the political.  He was great at handling questions, letting people feel as though they’d been heard, but not get too derailed with tangents.  He had some really nice, quotable lines in the talk, too, and he didn’t even include all of them in the excerpt.  One of my favorites was in his description of the “Drop-in” center that served the unhoused of Palo Alto.  He said that by accepting people where they were, and demonstrating the center had “no agenda but love,” it could become a trusted support partner when the person decided he or she wanted to change.

Another one was “If you don’t vote, you vote Republican.” (followed up with a light-weight analysis that Republicans do better when turnout is low.)  “Make politics depressing, make voting more difficult, make people believe it’s all hopeless, and Republicans will have a better chance of winning.”

The story of talking to a 34-year-old who asserted “I won’t get social security” also hit home.  I’ve said that myself.  (Although I suspect some form of social security will exist 30 years from now, I believe it will be means-tested and, I hope I’ll have enough assets that put me above the cut-off…) Jim’s thought-provoking point was that “If you say that.  It’s true.  They’ve already won.”  In other words, of course the program will fail if the people who bear the brunt of the costs don’t expect to benefit from it in the future.  They’ll have no incentive to stand up for it, and the program will fail.  Self-fulfilling prophecy.

Jim closed his talk with a plea for greater voter engagement, encouraging us to step into the void left by our political parties, and create a vision for the future, a motivating vision, and then “take it viral” discussing it with our friends, sharing it electronically.  I’m taking the first step here–at least dipping my toe in the water.  I’ve thought a bit about how I’d craft my vision, some of the elements with freedoms and protections for individuals, the systems of law, regulation, and taxation to provide those freedoms, the common investments that we want to make to support us all, and the way that we act on the international stage to provide an example without needing to have an arsenal that can only be maintained by spending more than the rest of the world combined.


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