The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

The Emptiness of Gun Violence

The empty shoes came in all shapes and sizes — cowboy boots and sneakers, children’s sparkly shoes and women’s dress shoes. They filled step after step going up toward the entrance of the Wisconsin State Capitol. 
The shoes — 467 pair of them — represented the death toll from guns in just one state: Wisconsin.  

"I want you to look at these empty shoes," Jeri Bonavia, told the crowd gathered on the Capitol steps on Monday. "I want you to bear witness. All across our state, families are aching with emptiness." 

Bonavia is the executive director of the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort, which is using this display of empty shoes in five cities around the state this week. 

In the nationwide scheme of things, Wisconsin has a lower death rate from guns than the nation as a whole. The annual average of 467 from murder, suicide and accidents is just a fraction of the approximately 30,000 gun deaths each year across the U.S.  

And yet the row upon row of empty shoes on the steps spoke to the heartache that comes with each death, whatever the toll in whatever state.  

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Episcopal Church’s Katharine Jefferts Schori Will Not Seek Re-Election

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first woman elected to head a national branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion, announced Sept. 23 that she will not seek a second nine-year term in office.

Her departure will likely set off debates over her legacy and the future of the 2 million-member denomination.

“I believe I can best serve this church by opening the door for other bishops to more freely discern their own vocation to this ministry,” Jefferts Schori, 60, said in a statement. “I will continue to engage us in becoming a more fully diverse church, spreading the gospel among all sorts and conditions of people, and wholeheartedly devoted to God’s vision of a healed and restored creation.”

Her 2006 election was celebrated as a breakthrough for women leadership in the church; delegates sported pink “It’s a Girl!” buttons after the vote. She remains the only female primate in the Anglican Communion, but last year the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America followed suit and elected its first female presiding bishop.

Jefferts Schori’s current term will end at the conclusion of the Episcopalians’ General Convention in Salt Lake City in June 2015. Church membership during her term has dropped by 12 percent, according to the most recent statistics available from the denomination.

Jefferts Schori’s time as presiding bishop has been lauded by theological liberals and bemoaned by conservatives, but both breakaway Anglicans and Jefferts Schori were instrumental to one another’s rise.

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5 Things You Should Know Before Becoming a Christian

Few things are presented more inaccurately than Christianity. Often marketed through evangelism as a joyful, peaceful, loving, easy way to overcome the hardships of this world, in reality practicing Christianity is far more grueling than many pastors, churches, theologians, and Christian institutions make it out to be.

Christianity isn’t meant to be a form of escapism, a safety net, or a crutch. Rather, following Jesus means bravely sacrificing yourself for the love of humanity, becoming nothing for the sake of others.

So instead of preparing people for failure, impossible expectations, disappointment, and false illusions, here are five things everyone should know before becoming a Christian.

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Churches Shun Mental Illness; Offer Little Help to Sufferers, Families

Protestant clergy rarely preach about mental illness to their congregations and only one quarter of congregations have a plan in place to assist members who have a mental health crisis, a new LifeWay Research survey found.

The findings, in a nation where one in four Americans have suffered with mental illness, demonstrate a need for greater communication, said Ed Stetzer, executive director of the evangelical research firm, a ministry of LifeWay Christian Resources, which is an agency of the Southern Baptist Convention.

When it comes to mental illness, researchers found:

  • 66 percent mention it rarely, once a year, or never
  • 26 percent speak about it several times a year
  • 4 percent mention it about once a month
  • 3 percent talk about it several times a month.

“When we look at what we know statistically — the prevalence of mental illness and the lack of preaching on the subject — I think that’s a disconnect,” said Stetzer.

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The Ice Bucket Competitor: Can the Quran Challenge Go Viral?

Move over Ice Bucket Challenge. Muslims have a new take on the viral social media phenomenon: the Quran Challenge.

The new campaign seeks to raise awareness and funds for Muslim “da’wah” — a call to propagate the faith — by reciting verses from the Quran on various online platforms.

Issam Bayan, a 26-year-old student and professional Islamic singer, came up with the idea as a way to awaken Muslim piety, just as the Ice Bucket Challenge raised awareness and well over $30 million for ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative condition also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease..

While the #QuranChallenge has no specific cause, Bayan, who lives in Germany, said he wanted to make it available to all Muslims regardless of their financial ability to make a contribution. In an email interview, he said the benefits for this challenge are the rewards that a Muslim receives for reciting the Quran.

Bayan posted his first video to Facebook and YouTube on August 30 with the words, “Let’s collect the rewards and challenge your friends by reciting some verses of the Holy Quran.”

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Tim Keller’s Redeemer Church and Reformed Theological Seminary to Launch NYC Campus

Redeemer Presbyterian Church, one of the most influential evangelical churches in the country led by author and speaker Tim Keller, has partnered with a Mississippi-based school to form a seminary campus in New York City in 2015.

The partnership between Redeemer and Reformed Theological Seminary fits in with the desire of evangelicals to plant their flag in large cities such as New York. It also reflects the influence of Reformed theology on evangelical thinking, as well as the impact of megachurches on theological education.

And while many seminaries are still suffering declining revenues since the economic crisis of 2008, the model of building campuses in major cities has proved successful for the Mississippi flagship seminary.

Students in the New York City campus will be trained to start churches by pursuing a two-year master’s of arts degree in biblical studies at $430-450 per credit hour before receiving another year of pastoral church planting education from Redeemer. The campus will likely launch in Redeemer’s offices near Herald Square in Manhattan.

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Religion Loses Clout: Why Many Say That’s a Bad Thing

More Americans today say religion’s influence is losing ground just when they want it to play a stronger role in public life and politics.

A new Pew Research Center survey finds 72 percent of Americans say religion’s influence is declining in society — the highest percentage since Pew began measuring the trend in 2001, when only 52 percent held that view.

“Most people (overwhelmingly Christians) view this as a bad thing,” said Greg Smith, associate director of Pew’s Religion & Public Life Project. “That unhappiness may be behind their desire for more religion and politics.”

Growing numbers want their politicians to pray in public and for their clergy to endorse candidates from the pulpit. And nearly half of Americans say business owners with religious objections to gay marriage should to be able to refuse wedding-related services to same-sex couples.

There are three ways to look at the findings, released Sept. 22:

 

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Singing the Same Song in Different Languages

Last month we went to Disney World — a perpetual feast for the senses. But. For someone like me who needs to get alone for a little daily contemplation, it can be a bit overwhelming. Except for one saving grace: It's a Small World.

I was 17, I think — and much less self-aware, I know — when I first climbed aboard the jolting, jostling little boat that would carry me to "distant shores" through the rooms filled with dolls all singing the same song. There were different languages and different clothing styles. The customs represented varied as greatly as the terrain upon which they were stationed. Some sang among mountain peaks, others on desert plains. Some bundled in parkas and earmuffs, others in grass skirts and leis.

And I don't know what it was — the change in pace from the exhilarating roller-coaster-kind-of-rides or the welcome blast of air conditioning — but there was something stilling about watching all these representatives of different peoples mouthing words to the same tune. There was a deeper message in it for that ponytailed teenager. Depths that it would take me years to plumb.

A small, small world. Indeed.

*******

Days after Maya Angelou's passing, I posted a few of her beautiful words on Facebook:

"If you must look back, do so forgivingly. If you must look forward, do so prayerfully. However, the wisest thing you can do is to be present in the present ... gratefully."

Pretty amazing words, right? What could possibly be the offense in them? Within minutes a comment popped up, the gist of which was to deny the beauty and wisdom of the words for the sake of Angelou's apparently deviant beliefs about abortion (specifically, deviant according to this commenter).

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Why I’m More Worried About Ebola Than ISIS

The headlines and talk shows are dominated by the response ISIS. To be clear, this group readily uses fanatical and brutal actions to achieve its radically exclusive vision. The images they skillfully project are like violent, X-rated video games made real. No wonder that many react to this horror with chills going down their spines. But there is something that worries me more: the ongoing Ebola crisis.

How did ISIS come about? Sure, there’s huge complexity. Yet, we know that ISIS never would have emerged without, first of all, the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the ensuing, devastating war that left that nation in physical, political, and psychological shambles. Second, the sectarian, Shia-dominated regime, which emerged as the final U.S. ground troops left, further radicalized Sunni extremists. These factors were the breeding grounds for black-clothed fanatics ready to cut down any who differ with their identity, even if the majority of its victims are Muslims.

ISIS’s greatest recruiting tool is continued and renewed U.S. and Western military intervention in the Middle East. That, of course, is what their brutal actions are attempting to provoke. The moral callousness of this strategy inspires the fear which they desire and welcome.

However, ISIS can and will be contained. The neighboring regimes in the region are all deeply threatened by ISIS. In the end, they will be compelled to combat and resist ISIS the more these fanatics move out of the desert and toward others’ homelands. It will be bloody, but eventually other nation states and threatened sectarian groups, representing for the most part more mainstream and globally dominant expressions of Islam, will contain and defeat ISIS. The necessity and means of outside military assistance from the West and elsewhere is highly debatable, and at the end of the day, I don’t believe this will be the decisive factor.

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Chicago Meets Its New Archbishop as the ‘Pope Francis Effect’ Sets In

When Spokane Bishop Blase Cupich got a call 10 days ago with the news that Pope Francis had chosen him to be the next archbishop of Chicago — the pontiff’s most important U.S. appointment to date — he was so taken aback that he couldn’t speak for a few moments.

“To say that I was surprised doesn’t come close to the word I would use,” Cupich said Sept. 20 at a news conference in Chicago introducing him as the successor to Cardinal Francis George, who is 77 and battling cancer.

Asked by reporters how long it took for the reality of his appointment to sink in, Cupich smiled and said, “It’s still sinking in.”

A lot of other Catholics are trying to absorb the news as well, just as surprised that Francis picked the 65-year-old Cupich, who had been considered a long shot by many Vatican handicappers. They were also pleased, or concerned, that the pope had evidently chosen a bishop who shared his own emphasis on listening to the flock and caring for the poor.

“I think that he” — Francis — “sent a pastor, not a message,” Cupich told reporters.

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