The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

Would-Be Papal Assassin Mehmet Ali Agca Expelled From Italy

Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish man who tried to assassinate St. John Paul II in 1981, was expelled from Italy on December 29 after paying a visit to the tomb of the Polish pontiff.

An Italian judge on Monday approved the expulsion of the former terrorist — he was scheduled to be sent back to Istanbul on a Turkish Airlines flight from Rome Monday night, police sources told the Italian news agency, ANSA.

Agca’s expulsion came two days after he placed flowers on the late pope’s tomb in St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturday.

Agca, 56, served 19 years for his crime in Italy, where John Paul famously visited him in prison. He was then deported to his native Turkey, where he served further time for the murder of left-wing journalist Abdi Ipekci, who was killed in 1979.

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Islamic Insurgency Isn’t Just a Mideast Problem — Look to Africa, Too

The rise of the so-called Islamic State dominated headlines in 2014, and trained the eyes of the world back on the Middle East.

Perhaps it should have looked at Africa as well.

In 2014, Africans suffered dozens of deadly terror attacks by groups either allied with Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi or using similarly bloody tactics.

Consider:

  • In Nigeria: Boko Haram Islamists swept through the states of Yobe, Borno and Adamawa, killing and kidnapping civilians both Christian and Muslim. The group abducted more than 200 girls from a school in Chibok in April. The girls are still in captivity and the abduction still continues to draw global outrage.
  • In Kenya: the Islamist militant group, Al-Shabab massacred 64 non-Muslims in Mandera County in November and December. The victims were separated from Muslims and shot on the head. In June, Al-Shabab killed 48 people — mainly Christians — in the Mpeketoni area in Lamu County.
  • In Egypt: Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis, the Sinai-based terror group, which recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, took responsibility for a deadly terror attack, which left 31 Egyptian soldiers dead.
  • In the Central African Republic: Former members of the Islamist coalition Seleka were accused of massacring 34 people in villages in northern CAR. In May, Seleka was accused of killing 11 people, in an attack at the Fatima Catholic Church in Bangui.
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The Top 10 Worst Attacks on Jews and Judaism in 2014

Hoping to draw more attention to the global problem of attacks against Jews and Judaism, the Simon Wiesenthal Center on December 29 released its list of the top 10 worst anti-Semitic and anti-Israel incidents of 2014.

The list can “bring focus to the fact that anti-Semitism has been increasingly manifest in the mainstream of society,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the center, which is named for the famed Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter.

“Anti-Semitism is not just a Jewish problem, and it certainly is not going to get solved without awakening the non-Jewish world to deal with it.”

Founded in 1977 to combat anti-Semitism and bigotry in general, the Los Angeles-based center started drawing up the annual list in 2010 to highlight prejudice against Jews, but also criticism of Israel that seeks to delegitimize or demonize the Jewish state.

Below are the three worst incidents on this year’s list.

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5 Ways I'm the Worst at Following Jesus

My biggest concern at the moment is that though a lot of us claim to “be Christians,” or even to follow Jesus, a lot of us don’t spend much intentional time trying to figure out what that means and what it looks like in daily life. We try not to be too crappy to other people, try not to kill, steal, adulterate (is that even a word?) or worship graven images. We try to love, and to accept love — though we still hurt each other. A lot. The world is messed up and so far from realizing the fully kingdom-inspired image of wholeness and reconciliation to which God invites us.

And at least in my theological world, that’s on us, not God. I believe, with all of my being, that the audacious vision of God’s kingdom, here and now, isn’t something we sit around and pray for God to make real for us. Like Jesus said, we can (and should) collectively do greater things than even he did. When people experienced healing in his presence, he never said, “Hey, I did that!” Rather, he always told them that it was their own faith that made them well.

That’s pretty amazing to consider. And inspiring. And terrifying.

So here I am, not so much trying to be Jesus, but trying to at least follow his life, teaching, and example better. And in taking my own personal inventory, I can see that I pretty much suck at it. That doesn’t mean I’m giving up, but it’s clear I have plenty of work to do. Here are five examples

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Every Christmas Carol A Protest Song

I need a word of hope.

In verse 1 of chapter 2 of Luke’s gospel we are introduced to a word of hope, a person who in the ancient Roman empire was referred to as “Divine, Son of God, God, God from God, Lord, Redeemer Liberator, and Savior of the World” and his name is…

No. Not Jesus.

Caesar Augustus.

All these terms are first used of Caesar Augustus. We use them in reference to Jesus because the gospel is a counterclaim against every other power. Every Christmas carol is a protest song. That is, every Christmas carol is a protest song if we realize Christmas isn’t about God’s ticket to escape the world and its pain. Christmas instead is the powerful way God shows up "in person" to transform the world and our pain.

Both imperial Rome and the early church claimed that their good news came from Heaven. Both announce a gospel of peace, here on earth. The Roman Empire believed it of Caesar Augustus — the early church believed it only of Jesus the Messiah.

For some, today’s Bible reading with its talk of empires is too political. For others its talk of angels too spiritual. But today’s gospel reading wants us to open our eyes to the empires and open our ears to the angels and their protest songs.

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The Year of Outrage

Optimism tends to accompany a new year. But we leave 2014 somewhat broken and disappointed. The online magazine Slate has christened 2014 “The Year of Outrage.” I bet the name sticks. Slate’s snappy multi-media calendar links the most outrageous news story for every day of the past year. What was so outrageous, and who found themselves offended?

January 29: “XOJane publishes an essay about a white person seeing a black person in yoga and feeling uncomfortable about it.” (Race provided a major source of outrage in 2014.)

According to Slate: ”Who was outraged: black women, nonracist yoga practitioners.”

November 6: “A mom finds mold in a Capri Sun juice pack.”

“Who was outraged: people who don’t think mold should be in juice.”

Slate pumped up the project with eleven essays on outrage. Topics ranged from “The Life Cycle of Outrage” to the twins “The Year in Liberal Outrage” and “The Year in Conservative Outrage.” I don’t know about you, but I think Slate basically named our collective mood as we enter 2015.

Outrage may emerge from petty things: “An Irish cafe bans loud Americans” (July 22). It seems to me, though, that we live in a society intensely marked by outrage. What is one to say in the face of ISIS and its blood lust? Outrage divides us. Do we find ourselves more inclined to outrage that in Ferguson, Missouri an unarmed black youth died from at least six gun — or do we find it more offensive that crowds would protest the death of a young man who may have attacked a police officer?

I know one thing: my social media feeds provide no help. They stream with the outrage of people I love, people I know, and newsmakers I follow.

Here’s the deal: our outrage grows from our most vulnerable places, our basic fear that things are not as they should be. Something is wrong with our world, and in a fundamental way we don’t know how to fix it. Faced with moral and social disorder, the deep evolutionary structure of our brains prepares us to fight: outrage! We may think we’re angry because we’re right — and someone else is so, so wrong. We’re really angry because we’re disappointed.

The opening verses of John’s Gospel confront us with a combination of things that ordinarily don’t belong together. Readers universally appreciate how this prologue applies to Jesus some of the Bible’s most high-flying, most spiritual language (1:1-18). But hints of discord also haunt this most exalted passage.

 
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The Subversive Peace of Christmas

Christmas is a time for celebration, joy, and family. But Christmas is much more than a sentimental holiday.

Christmas is subversive.

The Bible doesn’t tell us the specific date Jesus was born. Later Christians tradition gave us the date of December 25. It was chosen by Pope Julius around the year 350 and Christians have been celebrating Christ’s birth on that day ever since.

But Pope Julius didn’t just randomly pick December 25. He was deliberate. As Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan claim in their book The First Christmas, when Pope Julius declared December 25 as the date to celebrate Christ’s birth, he integrated “it with a Roman solstice festival celebrating the ‘Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.’ The Roman birthday of the sun became the Christian birthday of the Son.”

That last sentence isn’t just a cute turn of phrase. It symbolizes the subversive quality of Christmas.

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2014: A Year of Progress, But a Long Way to Go on Path to Equality

Over the past year, I have seen a tremendous amount of reformation and renewal taking place in the American Christian community around the topic of LGBTQ acceptance and equality. Like with many other justice issues in the past, entire new movements are calling God’s people forward, deeper into realizing the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven. And though there is still a lot of work left to do, the changes I have seen over the past year have been nothing short of inspiring.

Two years ago, the conversation around LGBTQ equality in evangelical circles was limited to a few “liberal” organizations, which were viewed by evangelicals as marginally Christian. But in 2014 we have seen literally dozens of evangelical leaders and organizations appear on the scene, taking momentous leaps forward as they advocate for their LGBTQ brothers and sisters around the world.

By God’s grace, I have been able to witness much of this transformation first hand. Last fall, I began writing about LGBTQ equality on my blog Revangelical. Soon after, a few posts turned into a clear calling from God to be a voice of reformation on this issue from within evangelical Christianity. I felt compelled to speak up with all of my fellow LGBTQ brothers and sisters who have faced so much discrimination and oppression at the hands of those who call themselves “people of Good News.”

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Campfires of Hope

Hope is not a feeling. It is a decision — a choice you make based on what we call faith or moral conscience, whatever most deeply motivates you.

I have said that for many years, but this Advent and Christmas season tests my words — even in my own heart.

This is not a time that many of us are feeling a great deal of hope. I hear that from many friends and allies as well.

In fact, many events this year feel like they have sucked the hope right out of us.

And yet, even in the midst of terrible events and stories, the possibilities of hope still exist depending on what we decide to do for reasons of faith and conscience. In fact, people of faith and conscience are already making a difference in the most difficult situations and places.

And that gives me hope. This season of Advent, in the Christian tradition, is a call to patient waiting.

Christmas is the celebration of God literally coming into the world in order to change it.

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How Adoption Has Forced Evangelicals to Grapple With Race Relations

Before she and her husband adopted a son and daughter from Ethiopia, popular evangelical blogger Jen Hatmaker said she had a different view about race in America.

“A couple years ago, I would’ve said we’re moving to a post-racial society because I was so under-exposed to people of color and the issues they deal with on a daily basis,” said the white Christian author, whose home renovation to make space for their growing family of seven was recently featured on HGTV.

As evangelicals have turned their attention toward adoption in the past decade, families like the Hatmakers are grappling with race relations in a profoundly personal way, especially as national news spotlights racial tension in New York, Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere.

And evangelicals aren’t alone: A new Gallup poll found that 13 percent of Americans believe racism is the country’s most important problem, the highest figure since the 1992 verdict in the Rodney King case sparked riots in Los Angeles.

And, as Gallup noted: “After barely registering with Americans as the top problem for two decades, race relations now matches the economy in Americans’ mentions of the country’s top problem, and is just slightly behind government (15 percent).”

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