The Common Good

God's Politics

Gown of Grief: The Collection’s Songs of Mourning and Celebration

No abundant bright bloom of flowers on the CD cover or obscure Latin in the title or gentle dance of cursive font describing the song list, nothing can hide that this is not your light-and-breezy summer release of cruising-with-the-top-down jams, but rather, a full-blown concept album of folk hymns about the art of dying.

The Art of Dying (officially Ars Moriendi) represents a brave and risky move for the make-it or break-it breakout album of an up-and-coming band. The Collection’s courageous collection of orchestral pop hymns chart and curate the grieving heart of a gifted songwriter and the community of bandmates and fans that surround him.

At a time when the flame of the alternative folk explosion still burns bright despite much backlash, this North Carolina ensemble shows up as the son of Mumford and Sons, married to Edward Sharpe’s second cousin, with too many members to pack the tiny stages of clubs and bars, with a sound fit for mountaintop vistas, and songs as mystic visions that pierce the veil between life and death.

Despite the heavy earnestness of the entire package, it’s exactly the grief-support-group that my ears need, and I imagine a rendering of fragile faith and hope against hope that our world craves. The Collection manage to sing about Jesus and Thomas and the prodigal son without getting pushy, dancing on the fringe of explicit CCM, exploring sacred-meets-secular crossover paths and gritty crossroads that groups like Needtobreathe, Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, and Gungor have already traveled.

Death remains that earthly finality to render our denial mute — and our religious musings about whether it represents cosmic reunion, bodily resurrection, or eternal rest are powerless when we admit that the mysterious premonitions of the “heaven is real” crowd are but passing glimpses and not bulletproof facts. The Christians that remain relevant in our world have invested in the Kingdom here, now, and all around us, and they don’t shove tracts that guarantee afterlife fantasies in our faces on the same street corners where tramps and hobos sleep and sometimes starve.

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Deported: A View From the 'Other' Side

[Gilberto] shared about the man who had been deported at 51 years old after living in the U.S. for 50 years. Because this man’s parents came to the U.S. when he was 6 months old, he knew no other home than that of the U.S. When he landed in Tijuana, it not only felt like a foreign land, but he didn’t even know Spanish.

He shared about the U.S. military veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan but after serving his time in war zones, was deported to Mexico.

He shared about the man who had recently been deported and was now desperately trying to return to his wife and young children in the U.S.

With each story, the layers of isolation, dehumanization, and misunderstanding began to be peeled back. We had all heard the stories of deportation in the headlines, but none of us had come face to face with the humans behind the story.

Mesmerized by this sage who cast such a strong aroma of Jesus, we asked, “What would you encourage us to say to our congregations regarding the plight of the immigrant?”

He quickly responded with words I’ll never forget:

“Tell them to read their Bibles. Jesus told us to care for three types of people: the orphan, the widow, and the stranger. It’s been 2,000 years and we’re still doing a pretty bad job.”

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Have Corporations Become Modern-day Golems?

Corporations are not people — no matter what five Supreme Court justices and a failed presidential candidate may say.

I take that position on the basis of my religious faith, the very test that the justices applied in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

My tradition tells me to ask essential questions.

So here is where I start: May a golem be counted in a minyan? A minyan is a quorum required for certain Jewish prayers, and a golem is a mythological creature created from clay and animated by a sacred incantation.

The golem’s “sculptor” controls its actions; it has no real will of its own.

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Political and Religious Leaders Denounce European Anti-Jewish Outbursts Tied to Gaza

Amid mounting protests in Europe against the Gaza conflict, political and religious leaders in the region have sharply denounced anti-Semitism within their borders.

“Anti-Semitic rhetoric and hostility against Jews, attacks on people of Jewish belief and synagogues have no place in our societies,” the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Italy said in a statement Tuesday from Brussels.

Fears of escalating unrest are perhaps sharpest in France, home to Europe’s largest populations of Jews and Muslims. Many have roots in North Africa, and violence in the Middle East resonates strongly here. Thousands defied a government ban against Paris-area protests over the weekend, staging pro-Palestinian rallies that degenerated into violence.

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Harassing the Drones

“The final perversion is the reversal of who is the real victim here: the commander of a military base whose drones kill innocent people halfway around the world, or those innocent people themselves who are the real ones in need of protection from the terror of U.S. drone attacks?”

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Southern Baptist and Catholic Leaders Tour Texas Facilities for Migrant Children

Today leaders from the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention will join the Catholic Bishop of Brownsville in Texas to visit two facilities for migrant children. This is not the first time evangelical and Catholic leaders have worked together on this particular issue—the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops held a joint press call with the Evangelical Immigration Table earlier this year and then together met with members of Congress in March

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IRS Agrees to Monitor Churches for Electioneering

The Internal Revenue Service said it will monitor churches and other houses of worship for electioneering in a settlement reached with an atheist group.

The settlement was reached Friday in federal court in Madison, Wis., where the initial lawsuit was filed in 2012 by the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based atheist advocacy group that claims 20,000 members nationwide.

The suit alleged the IRS routinely ignored complaints by the FFRF and others about churches promoting political candidates, issues or proposed legislation. As part of their tax-exempt status, churches and other religious groups are prohibited from engaging in partisan political activity.

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Some Americans Still Monkeying Around on Science Education

Colloquially known as the “Monkey Trial,” the Tennessee v. John Scopes trial ended on July 21, 1925, but 89 years later, the American public is still debating on where it stands with religion and science education.

John Scopes, a public school teacher, was charged by the state for teaching evolution because one of its laws prohibited any public school curricula that contradicted creationism. The trial began on July 10, 1925, and Scopes pled not guilty. Along with other members of the community, Scopes had planned the curriculum as a publicity stunt.

Eighty-nine years ago today, Scopes was found guilty and sentenced to pay a $100 fine — an estimated $1,300, when adjusted for inflation.

 
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Did Obama Finally Thread the Needle on Gay Rights and Religious Freedom?

One of the toughest political calculations in Washington is balancing competing claims of gay rights with the traditional prerogatives of religious freedom. After a number of setbacks on that front, President Obama may have finally found a small patch of middle ground with Monday’s move to bar federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

Obama’s executive order shields gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees from discrimination by companies that do work for the federal government by adding sexual orientation and gender identity to long-standing protections from bias based on “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

Yet Monday’s action also leaves in place a 2002 order signed by President George W. Bush that gives religious groups with federal contracts some leeway by allowing them to use religious beliefs as a criterion in making hiring and firing decisions; as a candidate in 2008 Obama pledged to overturn that exemption.

At the same time, Obama did not expand the exemption to explicitly allow religious groups that receive federal funds to use sexual orientation as grounds for hiring and firing, as some demanded.

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Finding Faith in Irreverence

Faith: dealing with the meaning of life, the matter of eternal salvation — the bedrock upon which we build our families and society. This is serious stuff. Irreverence, by definition, is a lack of respect for that which is serious. It would seem that finding faith in the irreverent is impossible, like searching for the sun in the dark of the night. 

Irreverence permeates pop culture. From HBO shows filled with crude nudity and violence, to musicals such as The Book of Mormon (where explicit ratings are applied to almost every song), to late night comedies featuring popular hosts like Jon Stewart and Colbert, who play-act a persona speaking exclusively in snark.

The Church, by and large, keeps irreverence at arm’s length. Sure, some pastors like to open sermons with a couple of clean jokes, but that’s about the extent to which humor interacts with the Faithful. While I agree there’s a social maturity required in expressing irreverence through appropriate channels, the Church is missing out on a deep authenticity of the human experience if we continue to fear irreverence instead of finding beauty in it. 

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