The Common Good

God's Politics

Who Cares About Guam? On American Patriotism and Veteran Mental Health

In ‘Island of Warriors,’ the second episode of the new PBS series America by the Numbers, Maria Hinajosa, executive producer and anchor of NPR’s Latino USA, examines the challenges faced by American veterans in Guam. While Guamanian residents serve in the military at three times the rate of the rest of the United States and territories, they receive the lowest per capita medical spending from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. This discrepancy in resources translates to only two full-time psychiatrists for an island of as many as 16,000 veterans — 3,000 of whom are actively requesting VA medical support for psychological disorders like PTSD.

How could this be possible?

Like Puerto Rico, Guam is a U.S. territory. While residents of these territories can, and do, enlist in the American military, they cannot vote for the president who sends them into battle. Similarly, they are represented on the floor of the House of Representatives only by delegates, who have no voting power.  Eddie Calvo, the Republican governor of Guam, spoke truthfully when he ventured to call Guam a “colony” of the United States.

This disenfranchised status means that residents of U.S. territories like Guam have no real standing in American democracy.  They must rely on others to advocate for them. When every state could use more resources to take care of the nearly 20 percent of veterans returning from Iraq with PTSD, who’s going to stand up for Guam?

As far as geopolitical power, Guam truly is the “least of these” in American democracy. While many Americans deplore Puerto Rico’s secondary status in American political discourse, Hinajosa recalled one Guamanian saying, “We just wish we were Puerto Rico. At least then people would know where we are.”

Think about it: Do you know where Guam is? I didn’t.

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U2's Songs of Transcendence

Sunday evening I did something I haven't done in close to 30 years: I went to an actual record store and bought a brand-new U2 album on vinyl, took it home, pulled out the turntable, put on my headphones, sat on the floor, and stayed up way too late reading the liner notes and listening to the songs over and over again.

Lord, how I've missed this particular ritual.

When I was a teenager, late Sunday nights were when I indulged my secret pleasure by listening in bed (clandestinely so as not to incur the wrath of my parents for being awake well past my bedtime) to the "King Biscuit Flower Hour" on WPLR, the classic rock station in New Haven that was one of two (the other being a horrendous pop-40 station) that came in clearly on the FM stereo in my upstairs bedroom.

I listened, religiously, every Sunday night for years, hoping to hear a song by one of the British New Wave bands of which I was fond, or, if I was particularly lucky, by my favorite band on the planet: U2.

Sometimes weeks would go by without hearing a U2 song on those late Sunday nights, my ear pressed to the transistor radio secreted next to the pillow on my twin bed. But then, like a bolt of lightning  I'd hear Bono's voice or Edge's guitar begin to keen. It was a wee bit magical, although in retrospect today I might call it sacred.

All the waiting and listening was worth it. Always.

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Israeli Institute Gets $2.2 Million to Help Christians Study Jewish Thought

A new institute in Jerusalem has been awarded $2.2 million to help Christians and Jews study Jewish texts, launching what’s being billed as a new kind of Jewish-Christian cooperation.

The Herzl Institute was awarded what’s being called the first ever multimillion-dollar grant in Jewish theology by the U.S-based Templeton Foundation, a philanthropic organization that has focused much of its giving on science-related projects. The Herzl Institute is a research institute that focuses on the development of Jewish ideas in fields like philosophy and history.

The institute is named for Theodor Herzl, considered the father of modern political Zionism, ideas that have found much support from conservative and evangelical Christians in the U.S.

Jewish and Christian collaboration has often been relegated to the political level, said Herzl President Yoram Hazony. The partnership reflects a new kind of engagement between Christians and Jews, he said.

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Vatican Shifts to Tone of Greater Openness Toward Gays and Lesbians

The world’s Catholic bishops on Oct. 13 signaled a move toward greater tolerance of gays and lesbians, an about-face so unexpected that leaders of the church’s right wing called it a “betrayal.”

Noting that gays and lesbians have “gifts and qualities” to offer the church, the mid-point assessment reflected the impact that Pope Francis seems to be having on the two-week Synod on the Family as he pushes for a more open, less doctrinaire approach.

“Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing them a fraternal space in our communities?” said the communique from the nearly 200 bishops and lay delegates. “Often they wish to encounter a church that offers them a welcoming home.

“Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”

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New Report Links Decreased Church Giving to Pastoral Education

Christian researchers tracking decades of decline in charitable giving say the trend will not be reversed until pastors challenge congregants to embrace Jesus’ teachings on the poor.

But that, says Sylvia Ronsvalle, one of the authors of the annual “Empty Tomb” reports on Christian giving, will take a different kind of pastor than the counselors and comforters that seminaries and divinity schools have trained for ministry.

Seminaries instead need to school future clergy on the affluence of American congregations, and remind church members of “God’s agenda to love a hurting world,” the report said.

“The State of Church Giving through 2012: What are Christian Seminaries and Intellectuals Thinking — or Are They?” was issued by Empty Tomb, an Illinois-based nonprofit that tracks the percentage of church members’ income that they give to their congregation.

“Pastors are not being prepared to effectively pastor their people within an age of affluence,” said Ronsvalle, who wrote the report with her husband, John L. Ronsvalle.

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Weekly Wrap 10.10.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

 1. A Fitting Nobel for Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi
“The Nobel committee has given an award to a seventeen-year-old, the youngest Peace Prize laureate ever. In one way, that is an act of faith about what and who Malala Yousafzai will become—not only about who she has been.”

2. Lecrae: 'Christians Have Prostituted Art to Give Answers'
"Christians have really used and almost in some senses prostituted art in order to give answers instead of telling great stories and raising great questions," says the wildly successful rapper.

3. WATCH: Columbus Day Under Attack
The Seattle City Council voted to replace Columbus Day with ''Indigenous Peoples Day." Leave it to Stephen Colbert to defend this "traditional holiday."

4. Islam and the Mother Lode of Bad Ideas: The Bill Maher, Sam Harris, and Ben Affleck Debate
Sam Harris says, "Islam is the mother lode of bad ideas." But isn''t saying this, in fact, scapegoating Islam and Muslims?

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Hearing Tamar: The Role of Guns in Domestic Violence

It is frightening to consider that within the context of violence against women, little has progressed since the time of the Old Testament. Currently, 1-in-3 U.S. women will experience intimate partner violence throughout her lifetime. Even more frightening is that every month, 46 women are killed by an intimate partner with a gun.

Americans across partisan, personal, and religious lines are divided on the role of the Second Amendment in the public square. Yet no matter ones’ stance on gun control procedures, one fact transcends opinion: women are at a higher risk for intimate partner gun violence than men.

From 2001 through 2012, 6,410 women were murdered in the United States by an intimate partner using a gun — more than the total number of U.S. troops killed in action during the entirety of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. The rate at which domestic violence turns to murder is a harsh reality — and when a domestic abuser has a gun, a victim is 12 times more likely to die than when the abuser doesn’t.

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Tending the Soil of the Soul to Keep the Weeds Away

After services as a boy growing up in Minnesota, I can still recall my father’s reflections as I sat uncomfortably in my powder-blue polyester suit in the back seat of our rusting family car. We were trying to escape the synagogue parking lot with all the other congregants rushing toward the exits.

Having just spent the morning reflecting, beating our chests, repenting, and listening to the rabbi talk about various themes of forgiveness, my father observed that we hadn’t even left the parking lot and people were honking at each other, shaking their fists angrily and cutting each other off.

“How quickly we forget,” he would say to no one in particular.

“We can’t even make it to the road and we are already treating each other poorly again. Where are these people going that they are in such a hurry? Selfishness and entitlement are such fast-growing weeds.”

I have come to realize my father was a bit of a blue-collar sage, and perhaps that’s why the words of the prophet Isaiah have always resonated so deeply for me.

 

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Conference Explores Whether the 'Shroud of Turin' Could Be the Burial Cloth of Jesus

A 14-foot-long stretch of cloth mysteriously imprinted with a faint, brownish image of a naked man and wounds that mirror those of a crucifixion has inspired decades of debate over whether it could be Jesus’ burial shroud.

This weekend, that debate will take center stage in St. Louis.

Forty experts, scientists and enthusiasts are introducing the latest research surrounding the so-called burial cloth of Jesus at an international four-day conference, opening Oct. 9.

Russ Breault, who first became interested in the Shroud of Turin when he wrote about it for his college paper, will deliver the opening talk that will focus on how the pattern of wounds seen on the shroud — markings consistent with a crown of thorns, a pierced wrist and what appear to be blood stains — correlate with what the Gospels say happened to Jesus.

For Breault, the question — “Could this be the burial cloth of Jesus?” — is one worthy of rigorous pursuit.

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Do Black Atheists Have Different Concerns Than White Atheists?

Absolutely, say organizers of a first-of-its-kind conference to be held by atheists of color in Los Angeles this weekend. And, they add, it’s about time those issues got some attention.

Called “Moving Social Justice,” the conference will tackle topics beyond the usual atheist conference fare of confronting religious believers and promoting science education. Instead, organizers hope to examine issues of special interest to nonwhite atheists, especially the ills rooted in economic and social inequality.

“Atheism is not a monolithic, monochromatic movement,” said Sikivu Hutchinson, an atheist activist, author and founder of Los Angeles’ Black Skeptics, one member of a coalition of black atheist and humanist groups staging the conference.

“By addressing issues that are culturally and politically relevant to communities of color, we are addressing a range of things that are not typically addressed within the mainstream atheist movement.”

The conference is unusual for an atheist gathering in another important way — its lineup of speakers includes members of the religious community. Hutchinson, often an outspoken critic of religion, described the conference as “effectively an interfaith conference.”

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