The Common Good

Culture Watch

Inequality Means More than Just Money

Robert Reich pulls up in his silver Mini Cooper, quipping that he and his car are in proportion to each other. Reich, former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, identifies himself with the underdog, the little man.

His new movie, Inequality for All, looks into the effects of wealth inequality in the United States. Throughout this semi-autobiographical documentary, Reich consistently leans on his self-deprecating sense of humor by poking fun at his own physical stature; he’s 4’10 ½’’ tall. The jokes, however, do lead back to the heavier issue at hand – the American worker is getting squeezed out of the middle class.

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Beyond One-Sided Either/Or Christianity

We live in a church context where so many embrace unbiblical either/or understandings of Christianity: Either evangelism or social action, either inward journey or outward journey. And on and on.

It is the widespread onesidedness that makes Rich Nathan’s new book so exciting.

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Beyoncé, Religion, and the Crowd: Desiring Mercy, Not Sacrifice

Maybe you are like me and you need a bit of good news this week, because it’s been a week of bad news. There was the tragic shooting at the Navy Yard, leaving 12 people killed. Then there were the racist comments about the new Miss America, Nina Davuluri. She is the first person of Indian descent to be crowned Miss America, yet the news of the event emphasized racist tweets. It was almost as if people were competing over who could be the most racist: Some referred to her as “the Arab,” and other tweets claimed, “this is America, not India,” and one even called her “Miss 7-11.” Not to mention the continuing escalation of tensions throughout the world involving Syria.

It was a depressing beginning to the week. I mimetically absorbed much of this violence, hatred, and racism. Misanthropy settled into my soul and I began to loathe myself and the entire freakin’ human race.

But then I saw this video of Beyoncé performing in Brazil, and my hope in humanity was restored.

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Love Has No Borders: How Faith Leaders Resisted Alabama’s Harsh Immigration Law

On April 27, 2011, 62 killer tornadoes ripped through Alabama, destroying homes, lives, and entire communities. Two weeks later, another disaster struck Alabama — HB56, the most draconian anti-immigrant law passed by any state in the nation. Instead of working to provide disaster relief for a stricken people, Alabama legislators fulfilled campaign promises to criminalize undocumented immigrants for simply setting foot in Alabama. Their intent was to make every aspect of immigrants’ lives so miserable that they would self-deport.

The politicians far underestimated the heart and spine of Alabama’s faith leaders. A new book published by Greater Birmingham Ministries, Love Has No Bordersis a testament to how faith leaders united with immigrants to challenge the nation’s most hostile anti-immigrant legislation. Our experience is critical to the current national debate on comprehensive immigration reform and challenges faith leaders anywhere to step up, speak up, and stand with immigrant communities in their struggle.

HB56 did everything its authors intended. It hurt undocumented immigrants where they lived, worked, worshiped, prayed, and went to school. HB56 created mass confusion and outright terror for people without papers in Alabama. Most immigrant families were faced with shattering decisions. Should they split their families up, leaving those who were citizens in Alabama and the rest fleeing to relative safety somewhere else? Or should they stay together in this place they call home, living in constant fear that a broken headlight or a roadblock would lead to detention and deportation?

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The Unsilenced Voice of Seamus Heaney

One of my favorite stories is about the interview I wanted most, but didn’t get.

It was 2005 and I had just signed a contract to write what would be my first book — a collection of profiles of mostly well-known people about their spiritual lives. Artists. Writers. Thinkers. Scientists. The odd rock star.

Sitting in my publisher’s office, she asked me to dream out loud: If I could interview anyone for the project, who was No. 1 on my wish list?

I answered without hesitation: Seamus Heaney.

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'I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You:' Album Review

It’s been twenty years since I rose and cleared my throat
It’s been ten years since stood outside the church
- Derek Webb, I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You

The first verse of the first song on the Derek Webb’s new album is a recap of his music career, from Caedman’s Call in the 90s to his solo career launched with She Must and Shall Go Free (2003). Since that first solo album, Webb has pushed all sorts of buttons in the church and the “Christian” music world. From albums Stockholm Syndrome (2009) to Sola Mi (2012) and Ctrl (2012), he’s pushed his own musical boundaries and themes, incorporating elements of hip-hop and electronica and veering away from his gospel-country-folk roots. 

I Was WrongI’m Sorry & I Love You releases today across the country. While you can buy the album online, it is also at a number of Christian retailers for only $4.99 (an unbelievable deal, I must say). It is a return to those gospel-country-folk roots while still embracing all he’s learned in the past 10 years of a solo career. The bright guitar sounds return alongside mellow synthesizers, and for some songs, a crowd-sourced chorus.

But more important than the sounds are the lyrics. They’re not snarky or sarcastic like earlier records Mockingbird and The Ringing Bell, but still raw and personal. 

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Catching Up and Catching Grace with Singer-Songwriter Sam Phillips

This world is so beautiful

For no reason at all

When life circles around

And you can’t see straight

– from “Can’t See Straight” by Sam Phillips

"Push Any Button,” the first new physical album in five years from singer-songwriter Sam Phillips, is a blithe, fetching exploration of life’s flip side — after the flush of youth, after the heartbreak, after the bottom falls out and the road bends and you head in a wholly unexpected direction that turns out to be exactly where you need to be.

“Push Any Button,” which dropped Aug. 13, looks to the future by examining the past, viewing both through a lens of stubborn (and optimistic) grace.

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Problems with Christian Contemporary Music: An Interview with Trey Pearson of 'Everyday Sunday'

Trey Pearson, front man and creative mind behind the band, Everyday Sunday, is in many ways the picture of a successful Contemporary Christian Music artist. He’s toured the world, played to thousands of fans at a time and sold hundreds of thousands of records. So I was intrigued when I sat down with him at the recent Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina to learn more about why this icon of Christian pop was going solo with his most recent record. 

How did you get started in the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) scene?

I was introduced to the scene as a teenager, finding out that people listened to "Christian music.” I started going to "Christian concerts,” and was inspired to write my own songs and have a band. I was already into performance art as a teenager from doing theater, musicals, acting, and modeling for commercials, print, and things of that nature. I grew up teaching myself piano, and was intrigued by the idea of playing songs for people. 

Given my background, I felt like I needed to do "Christian songs" to glorify God with my art. Long story short, after opening for several signed artists, I dropped out of college (after being on honor roll through my freshman year) to make an independent album and pursue a record deal. I went to Nashville, and knocked on doors until someone would listen. I signed a deal three months after I released my independent album.

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'You've Got Mail,' A Swedish Movie About Death, Kissing Dating Goodbye, and Finding Love Despite Pride and Prejudice

My husband and I basically fell in love via AOL instant message conversations that led to daily email missives and then to phone calls and then, you know, to actually hanging out in person.

We knew each other in ‘real’ life but I was so afraid of saying something stupid in front of him that I basically ignored him, which, as it happens, is not a great way to indicate that you actually really like someone. But IM-ing made me bold.

So, in a way, You’ve Got Mail feels like one of “our” movies since it parallels our story just a little.

“Our” real movie is Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, which is a 1957 Swedish movie about a knight returning from the crusades during the Black Death who is engaged throughout the movie in a chess match with Death, so, yeah, basically the opposite of You’ve Got Mail.

We were both at a “movie night” at one of our professor’s homes. I’d known he was going to be there and wrote in my meticulous, OCD handwriting in my journal:

I’m so nervous because Tim Stone is going to be there and I don’t want to find him attractive.

Heaven forbid I find him attractive, right? I had clearly been a little too good at "Kissing Dating Goodbye" (thanks, Josh Harris!) In those days when someone asked me out for coffee I usually responded with horror, like they’d just ask me to help dispose of a body.

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Steve Jobs: Prophet of a New Religion

The new movie about Steve Jobs is short on anything explicitly religious. Like its main character, however, it’s got a thread of transcendence running through it.

The truth about Jobs and religion may be that, in this arena as in others, he was ahead of the cutting edge.

The film isn’t making the purists happy, in part because it takes too many liberties with history. But it’s not a documentary. I’ll go against many of the reviews and say that Ashton Kutcher does a pretty good job at representing the personality found in Jobs’ speeches and in what has been written about Jobs — particularly in the massive authorized biography by Walter Isaacson.

One quote in that book, from one of Jobs’ old girlfriends, pretty much captures the character in the film: “He was an enlightened being who was cruel,” she told Isaacson. “That’s a strange combination.”

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