The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

It’s Official: Pope Francis to Address Congress in September

Pope Francis will make an unprecedented address to Congress on Sept. 24 during his first visit to the United States.

House Speaker John Boehner announced Feb. 5 that the pontiff accepted the invitation Boehner extended last year.

“In a time of global upheaval, the Holy Father’s message of compassion and human dignity has moved people of all faiths and backgrounds,” Boehner said in a statement. “His teachings, prayers, and very example bring us back to the blessings of simple things and our obligations to one another.”

No pope or religious leader who serves as a head of state has ever addressed Congress, according to the U.S. House Historian’s Office.

In a brief statement, the Archdiocese of Washington said: “It is a great honor and tremendous joy to welcome our Holy Father, Pope Francis, to the Archdiocese of Washington during his proposed pastoral visit to the United States in September.

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'... A Fragile Sense of Self'

Some of you might be downright shocked to know that many clergy have to undergo a three-day battery of psych tests as part of the ordination process. If a significant issue is discovered, say, addiction or something else (perhaps the main reason these tests have become required), one's ordination process can be slowed down or halted all together. When I was going through the process, I too went through these evaluations.

The result? I have "a fragile sense of self."

What does this really mean? Well, I'm an alcoholic. It's true. I've spoken about it as part of my faith journey (read: testimony; yes, I have a testimony). I don't wave it around like some flag, but I'm not shy about telling people. And I have certainly told the congregations and other organizations I have served about my history with addiction.

Keeping this stuff secret, for me, is poisonous.

At any rate, there it was, "a fragile sense of self" on my evaluation. This caused everyone to pause. The ordination committee had a ton of questions for me. They did the obligatory background check (this is perfunctory; everyone gets one). They checked my references, etc. They did their due diligence to make sure, as best as anyone could, that I was not going to fall off the wagon.

Of course. No one can promise that. Not really.

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How to 'Defy the World:' An Interview with 'Wanted' Author Chris Hoke

Wanted: A Spiritual Pursuit Through Jail, Among Outlaws, and Across Borders is non-fiction, but I read it like it was one of the latest blockbuster novels, this time with gorgeous writing. I couldn’t put it down, and I didn’t want the journey to end, following Chris Hoke through jails and streams and farms of Washington’s Skagit Valley as he grew from a young man interested in faith outside the walls of the church to a pastor to the “homies” of the area, as they called themselves—men whose criminal past or undocumented status have caused them to be among the most marginalized in our society. This book is imbued with dignity, prayer, and an understanding that relationships require forgiveness, on both sides. Wanted is a beautiful reflection on what the life of faith looks like in action.

Hoke grew up in southern California but was drawn to the dimmer corners of the Christian faith. He made his way to northwest Washington state to work with Tierra Nueva, a ministry that “seeks to share the good news of God’s freedom in Jesus Christ with people on the margins (immigrant, inmates, ex-offenders, the homeless).” We recently chatted about his work with Tierra Nueva, the value of a good metaphor, and how reading the Scriptures in prison can make them new.

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Obama Condemns ‘Distorted’ Faith at National Prayer Breakfast

President Obama on Feb. 5 called for an emphasis on what is just about the world’s religions as a way to counter the ways faith has been distorted across the globe.

“We see faith driving us to do right,” he said to more than 3,500 people attending the annual National Prayer Breakfast. “But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge — or worse, sometimes used as a weapon.”

He urged believers of all faiths to practice humility, support church-state separation and adhere to the Golden Rule as ways to keep religion in its proper context.

“As people of faith, we are summoned to push back against those who try to distort our religion — any religion — for their own nihilistic ends,” Obama said.

“Here at home and around the world we will constantly reaffirm that fundamental freedom: freedom of religion, the right to practice our faith how we choose, to change our faith if we choose, to practice no faith at all if we choose, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination.”

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Day Two of Following Jesus: Are We Done Yet?

First, the good news: After four months of preparation, I have officially started my year-long quest to more seriously understand what it means to follow Jesus — AKA “My Jesus Project.”

And now the bad news: After today, I still have 363 days left of this. Turns out, Jesus stuff is hard.

It’s not even that I’ve done anything that’s hard, in particular. I mean, the 30-day fast from solid food isn’t until next month, and I still have time to figure out how I’m ever going to feed 5,000. I haven’t even been crucified or put in jail or anything. So far, my main tasks have been to set up my prayer shrine for my daily meditations, to study one of the gospels daily, and to be particularly mindful of my own body and of the humanity of others I come into contact with.

But just that is hard work.

Yesterday was day one, beginning my first month in which I’m exploring “Jesus the Radical,” with Christian Anarchist Mark Van Steenwyk as my mentor. He’s started off easy on me, recommending the mindfulness exercise, and to take more public transportation. Hey, one out of two ain’t bad; I’ve got 26 days left in the month to work on the public transport thing. But though I got my prayers and gospel study done, and I was successful in getting my kids to school without yelling at them even once … or at least no more than twice. But in addition to taking my car everywhere so far, I’m behind in my pledge to walk 1,000 miles in a year. Although that only works out to about 3 miles a day, I’m already just under four miles for two days.

Oh, and Mark has warned me that he has some much more challenging things in mind for me this month, and that he was just breaking me in, getting me used to the shallow end before tossing me in for the sharks, complete with chum underwear.

 
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Vaccines and Abortion? The Links Are Cloudy and Complicated

With measles outbreaks in 14 states and health authorities imploring parents to weigh the minimal risks of vaccines against the ravages of preventable disease, some Christians are raising an objection of a completely different sort: the abortion connection.

Abortion?

The Internet rumors that claim vaccinations mean having tiny pieces of aborted fetuses injected into your body are flat-out wrong, yet there is a grain of truth in the assertion that vaccinations and abortions are linked.

Many of the most common vaccines, for rubella and chicken pox for example, are grown in and then removed from cells descended from the cells of aborted fetuses. Pregnant women aborted them about 40 years ago by choice, and not with the intent of aiding vaccine production.

Yet for some religious believers, those facts do not lift what they see as a moral prohibition against vaccination.

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From Prison to the Pulpit: A Powerful Story of Hope

I want to introduce you to Rev. Darren Ferguson, a pastor who first found his faith while in prison for attempted murder. Rev. Ferguson spent 9 years in federal prison, first at Rikers Island and then at Sing Sing in New York, where Darren and I met. I had agreed to an invitation to discuss my book, The Soul of Politics, which the inmates had been reading. When I inquired about when the prisoners wanted me to come to Sing Sing, the answer came back from a young brother: “Well, we’re free most nights. We’re kind of a captive audience here.”
 
One night, I spent several hours with 50 of those men in a room deep inside the bowels of that tough prison. We had rigorous discussion about the book and how faith must be applied to the fundamental issues of injustice in our time. I will never forget the comment of one of those young inmates. “Reverend, almost all of us in this prison are from about four or five neighborhoods in New York City. It’s like a train that begins in your neighborhood. You get on when you are 9 or 10 years old, and the train ends up here — at Sing Sing.” I remember the testimony and promise of a young prisoner that night who then told me, “But I have been converted, and when I get out of here, I am going to go back to those neighborhoods and stop that train.”
 
Two years later, I was again in New York to speak at a big town meeting on overcoming poverty. And there, up front, was that same young man I had met on that unforgettable night at Sing Sing: Darren Ferguson. He was now back home trying to stop that train. Darren has become an ally, partner, brother, and dear friend. And I want you to hear his whole story. It’s one of mass incarceration and the broken criminal justice system, but it’s also a story of hope — and it has the power to inform and change.
 
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The World's 4 Most Popular (Non)Religions

For Christians, it’s sometimes hard to admit believing in the supernatural, the legitimacy of miracles, an afterlife, and following an ancient text written thousands of years ago by numerous authors that have been divinely inspired by an all-knowing, all-powerful, and omnipresent God.

At first glance, Christianity seems at odds with an increasingly “secular” culture that views spirituality as old-fashioned and irrelevant, but our society reveals that everything — and everyone — is spiritual on some level.

At first glance, Christianity seems at odds with an increasingly “secular” culture that views spirituality as old-fashioned and irrelevant, but our society reveals that everything — and everyone — is spiritual on some level.

 

1. The Religion of Sport

Few people pray more fervently, earnestly, and passionately than when their favorite sports teams — and athletes — are competing.

With arms outstretched, they wildly clap, cheer, chant, cry, and scream at the top of their lungs. Wearing costumes, jerseys, and following

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Sojourners Internship: 'What Are My Professional Opportunities?'

At Sojourners, our interns have the chance to meaningfully put their faith into action for social justice. Placed in entry-level positions throughout the office, interns are given significant responsibilities that range from writing for the blog to managing relationships with donors to collaborating on mobilizing initiatives.

These full-time jobs are combined with mentorships that help connect each intern’s professional development with their vocational discernment.

If you’re interested in what brought this year’s interns to Sojourners, click here. If you’d like to see their bios, click here.

And for complete information on the program and application, visit sojo.net/about-us/internships. Apply by March 1, 2015

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Executions Are Down and Abolition May Not Be Far Behind

It looks like the death penalty may be on life support.

January was set to be the deadliest month for U.S. executions in 2015, but nine of the 15 executions were stopped. In an unprecedented wave, three of the deadliest states stopped executions planned for last month — Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri. February has just begun, but nine of its 12 scheduled executions have been halted.

Last year was not a good year for the death penalty, either, as death sentences hit a 40-year low and executions were at a 20-year low.

There were botched executions such as that of Clayton Lockett, who writhed in pain for 43 minutes before dying of a heart attack, with the Oklahoma prison warden calling it “a bloody mess.”

Then there were the exonerations, such as that of Ricky Jackson in Ohio, who spent 39 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, convicted solely on the testimony of a 12-year-old boy who recanted.

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