The Common Good

God's Politics

Jean Vanier, Founder of L'Arche, Wins Templeton Prize

Jean Vanier, an advocate for people with developmental disabilities who helped create an international network of residential communities that champion the rights of their residents, has won the 2015 Templeton Prize.

A Roman Catholic layman and a lifelong student of philosophy and theology, Vanier is best known as the founder of L’Arche — French for "the Ark" — a global network of communities where those with and without disabilities live side by side as equals.

The network was begun in northern France in 1964 when Vanier invited two intellectually disabled men to live with him as friends. It has evolved into 147 L’Arche communities, in 35 countries. In addition, a support group for families of people with disabilities, known as Faith and Light, has spread to 82 countries.

“One can conceive of L’Arche and Faith and Light as living laboratories where Vanier essentially exposed his ideas to the most challenging test of all — real people, real problems and real life,” said John Swinton, a professor at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland Divinity School, in nominating Vanier for the award.

In a statement at a news conference in London, Vanier, 86, said those with intellectual disabilities offer spiritual lessons and gifts to a world too driven by success and power.

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When the Way of Jesus Doesn’t Work: Finding Peace with a Divided Self

It was a rough week at work. It got off to a bad start and didn’t improve much. Maybe you’ve had one of those weeks.

It all started when one of my supervisor decided to observe me talking with a client. In my view, the conversation went really great. In fact, in the middle of our discussion, I literally thought, “I’m so glad my supervisor is witnessing this! I’ve built great rapport with the client, I’ve elicited his story, and he’s talking about his emotions and his relationships!” I decided that the universe was clearly on my side, because as we left, the client said, “Thank you so much for this conversation. I feel much better. You really brightened my day.”

In other words, I nailed it.

Then my supervisor wanted to debrief and provide some “constructive criticism.” After asking what I thought was good about the conversation, he proceeded to “should on” me. Have you ever been “should on?” It’s no fun. He said things like, “You should have done this,” “You should have done that,” “You shouldn’t have pushed so much with this,” “You should have noticed when he said this.” He said nothing positive about the conversation. Except at the end when he claimed, “You’re doing fine.”

Then I started to get critical.

“I’m doing fine?!?” I thought. “What does ‘fine’ even mean? Is that some kind of backhanded compliment? Fine is bland. It’s neither good nor bad. It’s like the word ‘interesting.’ I hate that word. Tell me what you mean by ‘INTERESTING!’ Well, in the context of this “constructive criticism,” fine apparently means that I’m not good.

And that’s when the voices came. I’ve had them before. I’m sure you’ve had them, too. It’s the voice of doubt that says, “Do you really think that you can do this? Well, you can’t. You’re a joke. You’ve been studying this and practicing this for six months, and you’re still making rookie mistakes. Even when you think you are doing great, you fail.” Then comes the kicker, “You aren’t good enough and you will never be good enough.”

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Kenya’s Catholic Church to Fight Hunger by Farming Its Vast Land Reserves

Drying livestock carcasses and anguished faces of hungry women and children have become a common feature here as droughts increase due to climate change.

But now, in an effort to fight hunger, the Roman Catholic Church is making 3,000 acres of church-owned land available for commercial farming.

“We want to produce food, create employment, and improve quality of life for the people,” said the Rev. Celestino Bundi, Kenya’s national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies.

This is the first time the church has entered into large-scale farming, though it owns massive tracts of land across the country, most of which is idle and in the hands of dioceses, parishes, missionaries, and congregations.

“We have the will and the support of the community and government,” said Bundi. 

“I think time has come for Kenya to feed herself.”

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Q&A: Rachel Held Evans on the Ills of American Christianity and Leaving Evangelicalism

Rachel Held Evans has grown into a powerful voice in American Christianity, first as the author of Evolving in Monkey Town and later with the New York Times best-seller A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Those who follow her writings often note that her thinking has become increasingly progressive, especially on hot-button theological issues such as gender and sexuality. That shift culminated in her leaving evangelicalism for the Episcopal Church.

Next month, Evans will release Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church, a book that oscillates between stinging critiques of American Christianity and prescriptions for how she believes believers can more faithfully participate in church life. In an interview with Religion News Service, she talked about the key to revitalizing the church and defended her exit from evangelicalism. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: You say that the way to stop the exodus of millennials from churches isn’t cosmetic changes like better music, sleeker logos, and more relevant programming. Why are these methods ineffective?

A: These aren’t inherently bad strategies, and some churches would be wise to employ them. But many church leaders make the mistake of thinking millennials are shallow consumers who are leaving church because they aren’t being entertained. I think our reasons for leaving church are more complicated, more related to social changes and deep questions of faith than worship style or image.

If you try to woo us back with skinny jeans and coffee shops, it may actually backfire. Millennials have finely tuned B.S. meters that can detect when someone’s just trying to sell us something. We’re not looking for a hipper Christianity. We’re looking for a truer Christianity.

Q: If these aren’t the answer, what is?

 
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N.C. Sheriff Bans Sex Offenders from Church

A sheriff in one of North Carolina’s smallest counties told registered sex offenders they can’t go to church, citing a state law meant to keep them from day-care centers and schools.

Graham County Sheriff Danny Millsaps told sex offenders about his decision Feb. 17, according to a letter the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times obtained March 6. About 9,000 people live in Graham County, which abuts Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee line in western North Carolina.

“This is an effort to protect the citizens and children of the community of Graham (County),” he wrote.

“I cannot let one sex offender go to church and not let all registered sex offenders go to church.”

He invited them to attend services at the county jail.

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The Siege Mentality of Christian Radio Stations

On my recent 4,100-mile pilgrimage across the U.S., I occasionally used my radio’s “seek” function to find stations.

I often stopped on a “Christian radio” station, sometimes a national network such as American Family Radio, sometimes a local effort featuring preachers from area churches, always conservative.

I did so because I enjoy gospel music and I was curious what the radio preachers were saying.

They tended to be excellent speakers and well-prepared. But their message seemed frozen in time, as if nothing had changed in America since the 1950s except for the identities of enemies who are allegedly “attacking Christians,” "attacking Christian values” and “attacking the American way of life.”

This siege mentality seemed basic to every preacher I heard. I suppose it’s one way to rally the troops. Get them fearful, angry, and suspicious.

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I Think My Six-Year-Old Might Be Jesus

I’m not sure, but I think my daughter, Zoe, is Jesus. For a couple of reasons. But before I talk more about her, let’s talk about me. You know, since I’m not Jesus and I like talking about myself.

I hate failing. Really hate it, even when it’s partly out of my control. Just a few days I wrote about how, for My Jesus Project month in which I’m working on “Jesus the Ascetic,” I was fasting from solid foods, giving away half of my possessions, practicing a new spiritual discipline each week, and reading through the Gospel of Matthew with an ascetic perspective.

A couple of days later, my doctor and dietician pulled me off of my fast because seizure symptoms had re-emerged. I felt like I had failed, and it took me a day or two to muster the courage to even write about it. Yes, part of the practice was about listening to my body. Yes, another part was to learn to distinguish between my wants and needs. But I had pride at stake — as evidenced by the bruising of said pride when I had to change my diet.

So in a way, the pride at the root of my practice actually was the bigger shortfall. I’m still eating vegan all month, abstaining from alcohol and refined sugar, but I had set a goal and made a public statement about it, and I didn’t want to admit I couldn’t do it.

Further, my mentor for the month, Reba Riley, called me out — not so much for the shift in diet (well, a little bit), but mostly because of my motivations behind the overall My Jesus Project practice and my motivations. I was struggling, not just with the perceived failure and resulting embarrassment, but also with the fact that I was busting my ass in this practice — far more so than I’ve ever done for a previous book. Despite grandiose expectations (always the seeds of premeditated resentment), the traffic and overall public response has been pretty lukewarm.

“Why are you doing this?” she asked.

“It seems to me,” I said, “that we talk a lot about following Jesus, but most of us don’t put a lot of serious energy into figuring out what that really means, day to day, myself included. So I’m taking a year to try and figure it out. And I’m trying to do it in a way that invites other folks to figure it out along with me.”

“And you’re writing about it.”

“Yeah,” I said.

"Let me put it this way. If no one else was watching, if you were doing this only for yourself, would you still do it?” she said.

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Vatican Knew about Theft of Michelangelo Letters, Refused Ransom Demand

The Vatican on March 9 said it has received a ransom demand to recover letters signed by Michelangelo, stolen from the Holy See nearly 20 years ago.

Two letters signed by Michelangelo, one written in its entirety by the Renaissance artist, were stolen from the Vatican’s Fabbrica di San Pietro archive in 1997.

The thefts were kept secret until Sunday, when the Italian daily Il Messaggero revealed that the documents had been put up for ransom.

Responding to the news on Monday, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said a nun had long since reported the theft.

“More recently Cardinal Comastri, the actual president (of the archive), received a proposal to recover, at a certain price, such documents,” Lombardi told Vatican Radio.

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Boehner Should Learn from Lincoln on Immigration

Last week’s last minute funding for the Department of Homeland Security has reminded us of how desperately America needs a long-term solution in the area of immigration. The current approach has failed to control the border, has resulted in de facto amnesty for 11-12 million people (the rough equivalent to the population of Ohio), and isn’t meeting our needs in the area of economic development and national security.

A necessary first step is acknowledging that the deportation of 12 million residents would be logistically impossible, as well as morally reprehensible and economically disastrous. The vast majority of these residents have proven themselves to be valuable members of our communities. We can debate the morality of mass deportation, but its logistical impossibility is grounds for moving on to a serious discussion about how to fix the system we have inherited

A little known fact of Lincoln’s legacy is that he explored the option of deporting slaves until he concluded that mass deportation could not solve the problem of slavery. In the weeks preceding the emancipation proclamation, Lincoln was actively pursuing an effort to deport the African-American slaves to Haiti, Honduras, and other counties in Central and South America. Congress actually appropriated $600,000 to assist Lincoln in deporting slaves to these destinations. Lincoln abandoned these plans only when other countries refused to cooperate. He abandoned them out of logistical, not moral necessity. He concluded that it simply could not be done. Then he moved on to legislation that earned him his reputation as the “great emancipator.”

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Two Years In, Pope Francis Faces Headwinds in Reforming the Vatican. Here’s How He Can Prevail

One reason the cardinals gathered in the Sistine Chapel elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis two years ago on March 13 was a brief but powerful speech the Argentine cardinal made shortly before the conclave in which he denounced the “theological narcissism” of the Roman Catholic Church.

The church, Francis declared, was “sick” because it was closed in on itself and needed to go out “to the peripheries” and risk all by accompanying the shunned and marginalized.

In these past two years, Francis’ efforts to do just that have captivated the public’s imagination and inspired a wide swath of the Catholic spectrum with visions of a newly resurgent faith unshackled from years of scandal and stagnation.

But there was another big reason the cardinals voted for Bergoglio: They thought the Jesuit archbishop of Buenos Aires was the one man with the administrative chops to finally rein in the dysfunctional papal bureaucracy, known as the Roman Curia, that was often at the root of the Catholic crisis.

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