The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

WATCH: The Gun Conversation We Need to Have

Yesterday a gunman opened fire in Ottawa and killed a soldier at a war memorial. It is a stark reminder of the kind of world we live in every time a life is taken through violence. My prayers are with the victim and his family and for the authorities leading the investigation in trying to understand the shooter’s motives.

Like Ebola and ISIS, the shooting is spreading fear around the world. It is not unnatural to experience fear as a reaction to danger. However, reacting out of fear instead of wisdom is the mistake we must stop making.

What happened in Ottawa is also a reminder for me that while we can’t remove all violence, we can take steps as a country to reduce it. In 2011, the last year complete numbers are available, 32,163 died in America due to gun related deaths. In Canada that same year the number was 781. While gun violence can happen anywhere, as Ottawa shows, it happens much more in the United States than any other developed country.

Why the discrepancy? The full answer is complicated, but one of the driving factors is not.

A Sandy Hook Father’s Plea from Sojourners on Vimeo.

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5 Ways D.C. Is Actually Great (For People 'Meh' on Monuments, Top Chefs, or K Street)

Lonely Planet just ranked Washington, D.C., as the #1 Best Place to Travel in the world(!). Coming on the heels of Forbes crowning D.C. the coolest city in America in August, the admittedly unexpected parade of accolades appears to just be starting for the place Sojourners has called home for the past few decades.

Of course, “coolness” is elusive by nature — if it was measurable, it wouldn’t be cool — and the metrics used by both outlets are questionably desirable, if technically true for a portion of the city. Lonely Planet points to a city “whose official religion is national politics,” while Forbes lists “higher influxes of new people” and “most college degrees per capita.”

This shows a problematic tendency to weight Washington the industry over D.C. the city (this post from DCistoutlines that nicely). It also largely misses what’s actually great about this place. I’ve found D.C. to be far beyond the House of Cards-meets-Cherry Blossom Festival sketch beloved by press and many residents alike. In my daily experience, D.C. is collaborative, generous, and deserving of accolades in ways that continually surprise. 

Based on my very unscientific metrics of personal observation and emotional investment, here are a few things that are uniquely great about D.C.

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Disquiet Time: How Revelation Ruined (and Saved) My Life

I was asked to contribute a chapter to a new book called “Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels.” The volume, an edited compilation put together by Cathleen Falsani and Jennifer Grant, takes on many of the weird texts in scripture that we either gloss over or completely ignore because they’re just too … well, weird.

Of course there are plenty of spiritual oddballs to choose from, but as soon as I got the invite, I knew I wanted to write about the book of Revelation (note that there is not “S” at the end; there is no such book as Revelationsssssssss in the Bible). Suffice it to say that my relationship with the last book in the bible is a little bit complicated. In fact, it ruined my potential career as a lifetime Baptist. A number of you may have heard bits or pieces of the story about how I got kicked out of church as a teenager, but may not know all the details.

Well kids, you can blame it all on one freaky Bible book, one intransigent teenager and a floppy-Bible-wielding youth minister. But although the experience pushed me out of church for a solid decade, it didn’t forever ruin my search for the divine. But this particular story isn’t about that. It’s about how I got one particular youth minister so red-faced and flustered that he cussed me out and almost hit me square in the noggin with the Good Book.

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Evangelical Institutions Lag Far Behind General Marketplace in Leadership Roles for Women

At an organization where 45 percent of U.S. senior leaders are women, Romanita Hairston’s gender is mostly a nonissue as she oversees children’s welfare programs at World Vision, the giant evangelical relief agency.

But in the larger evangelical universe, high-ranking women like Hairston remain a relative rarity.

“I think it’s kind of inappropriate at this time in history to be shocked, but I think there are places where I’m one of the few women in a position of authority or shaping theological perspective,” said Hairston, a World Vision vice president who serves on boards and teaches about gender inequity at Seattle Central Community College.

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5 Ways Churches Can Help Stop the Ebola Hysteria

Once the first person in America died from Ebola, the usual bigots and ideologues blamed it on President Obama, whom they loathe. Some suggested Obama deliberately allowed the virus into the U.S. for nefarious purposes.

“He wants us to be just like everybody else, and if Africa is suffering from Ebola, we ought to join the group and be suffering from it, too. That’s his attitude,” said Phyllis Schlafly, the matriarch of America’s religious right.

Every misstep will be laid at the president’s doorstep, as if he personally ordered a Dallas hospital to screw up.

Such nonsense plays well in an election year, at least with a certain portion of the electorate. But the question remains: How are we as a society to deal with a potential contagion that could impact our lives?

Our worst instincts, as always, will be to blame whatever we don’t like, to imagine barriers and travel bans that would protect us, and to turn against each other. Schlafly, for one, blames Obama personally for  “letting these diseased people into this country to infect our own people.”

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'Dear White People:' A Satire of Injustice

It might be tempting for some viewers to see Dear White People as over-the-top. To see some of its characters as caricatures, or the offensive party that makes up its climax — with white students dressed in blackface — as unrealistic. But it’s not. For evidence, you only need to look as far as the credits, which show photos from similar events at other schools across the country. And when the president of Winchester claims that “racism is over in America,” it doesn’t sound too different from Bill O’Reilly’s similar claim on The Daily Show just last week.

Dear White People is clever, loving, angry satire. It’s a multi-faceted exploration of race in a time when such portrayals are needed, like peroxide on a deep cut. The film sometimes falters in its process, but delivers the goods when it matters most. The fact that it comes so stingingly close to reality is stunning. It’s funny. It’s sad.

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Mark Driscoll Shares His Experiences After Resignation

Mark Driscoll is back. Kind of.

The controversial founder of Mars Hill Church who stepped down last week offered a brief address at the Gateway Conference on Oct. 20. Initially, he and conference organizers agreed that he would not give a formal address at the conference.

But Robert Morris, pastor of Gateway Church in Dallas, said Driscoll requested to come to the conference as an attendee. “That was big of him to just come and be ministered to,” Morris said.

“We could crucify him, but since someone’s already been crucified for him…” he trailed off. “It’s very sad that in the church, we’re the only army that shoots at our wounded. And I’d like you to stop it.”

Driscoll’s resignation came in the wake of accusations of plagiarism, bullying and an oversized ego that alienated some of his most devoted followers.

Conference attendees gave Driscoll a standing ovation as Morris handed him the microphone.

“What do you want me to do?” Driscoll asked Morris, teasing him about the dangers of giving “a microphone to a preacher who’s been gone for a while.”

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7 Lessons from the Vatican’s Wild and Crazy Synod on the Family

Pope Francis and senior Catholic leaders wrapped up their two-week Vatican summit on the challenges of modern family life on Oct. 19 without reaching a consensus on a number of hot-button topics. So where does that leave Francis’ papacy? And the church?

Here are seven takeaways:

1. Hard-liners won the battle

A midpoint status report on the debate among some 190 cardinals and bishops was described as a “pastoral earthquake” because of its unprecedented (for Catholic churchmen) language of welcome of and appreciation for gay people, as well as divorced-and-remarried Catholics and cohabiting couples.

The media tsunami over that apparent breakthrough panicked conservatives, who waged an intense public and private campaign to make sure none of that language — apparently favored by Francis himself — made it into the synod’s final report. They succeeded, and even the few watered-down paragraphs on gays and remarried Catholics did not reach the two-thirds threshold needed for formal passage.

Hard-liners claimed victory, and headlines spoke of Vatican “backtrack” and a “resounding defeat” for Francis that left his papacy “weakened.”

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My Cause Is Better than Your Cause

A while back, a blog post speaking into the pain of miscarriage was making its rounds on the Internet. Having never miscarried (that I know of), or grieved the death of any child, I asked my friend who lost her two-month-old son whether she felt highlighting the pain of miscarriage diminishes the story of her own tragedy. She replied:

“It is not very helpful to compare pain.”

But how often do we do just that? There is a phenomenon of what I call, “First-World-Problem-Shaming,” where we make people feel bad about their anxieties because somewhere in the world children are starving. I don’t know about you, but in general, I feel WORSE after being reminded of greater problems in the world in response to my petty issues, not better. We compare our pains, assigning degrees of severity attached to the problem, deem one pain more worthy of compassion than the other, and manage one another’s grief as if it can be contained by our metrics. Yet everything we know about grief is that it defies our expectations, bowling us over unsuspectingly or releasing us with surprising turns. Everyone grieves in their own way.

This dynamic carries over to the way we do justice.

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Protecting God’s Children: How Gun Violence Impacts America’s Youth

Michael Brown. Sandy Hook. Trayvon Martin. Aurora. Columbine. 

Within the last decade, the narrative of children and teenagers being killed by gun violence has become an all-too-familiar narrative in the American public sphere. In a recent report compiled by The Brady Campaign, statistics revealed that in 2011 alone, 19,403 children were shot and 2,703 children and teenagers lost their lives to guns.

That’s seven of America’s youth under the age of 20 killed every day.

In the book of Matthew, the disciples ask Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

Jesus calls a child to join the group.

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” he answers.

If as Christians, children represent God’s creation in its most pure and innocent form, why is it that as Americans, we continue to let children die preventable deaths from gun violence? Gun control policies are a difficult discourse for the American public. Yet one thing we can all agree on is that children should not be killed.

Of the 2,703 children killed in 2011, 61 percent were homicides, 32 percent were suicides and 5 percent were unintentional shooting. These statistics propel gun-related deaths to the number two leading cause of death for youth in America.  

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