James M. Wall is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine. Jim launched this new personal blog April 24, 2008.
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He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person.
He and his wife, Mary Eleanor, are the parents of three sons, the grandparents of four grandchildren, and the great grandparents of one great granddaughter. They live in Elmhurst, Illinois.
Jim served for two years on active duty in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF (inactive) reserve. While serving with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant.
He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years, starting in 1972.
Time magazine wrote about the new editor, who arrived at the Christian Century determined to turn the magazine into a hard-hitting news publication.
Time concluded its essay with this summary of what the editor had planned for the future.
He sees the mainstream churches at least as often foolish as they are wise. He believes that the Century, and liberal Protestants generally, must shift from pious approval of their churches to a more realistic and vigorous appraisal. Concludes Wall: “What we have to say about the church and the world will be gutsy and robust.”
The inspiration for Wall Writings comes from that mindset and from many other sources that have influenced Jim’s writings over the years, including politics, cinema, media, American culture, and the political struggles in the Middle East.
He has made more than 20 trips to the Middle East as a journalist, during which he covered such events as Anwar Sadat’s 1977 trip to Jerusalem, the first and second Intifadas, and the 2006 Palestinian legislative election. He has interviewed, and written about, journalists, religious leaders, political leaders and private citizens in the region.
Wall Writings deals with all of these topics, and others, as they emerge, from within an understanding of the ambiguity of the human condition as perceived from a religious perspective.
Wall Writings was initially used by Jim in 1946 as the title of his column in the Georgia Tech Technique, when he served as sports editor of that publication.
Wall often finds inspiration from cinema and from music and lyrics from songs, like this one, “Sound of Silence”:
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon God they made.
And the sign flashed out its warning,
In the words that it was forming.
And the signs said, the words of the prophets
Are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls.
And whispered in the sounds of silence.
This song addressed the uneasy mood that permeated a rebellious period, the 1960s, a mood chronicled in Director Mike Nichols’ film, The Graduate.
“The words of the prophets” come to us from different places, like subway walls, tenement halls, poetry, movies, novels, and surprise gifts of grace that break through the mists of secular creativity.
Such a moment comes to us when first we encounter the deadpan expression of Dustin Hoffman, as Benjamin, a recent college graduate, who has returned to his stultifying suburban home. At a family party, the most important advice a friend of his father’s can give him is “plastics”. The only meaning Benjamin can expect in a godless universe is to be found in a successful career that gives him a home in the suburbs with a swimming pool out back.
Read the signs wherever you can find them, and then act upon them.
The Simon and Garfunkle video of Sound of Silence is from a performance at Monterey Pop Festival, in 1967.
The header at the top shows trees and the wall around Bethlehem. It was taken by Connie Baker.