The Common Good


Sojomail - May 18, 2001

                  ****S O J O   M A I L****

           Promoting values at the crossroads where
           spirituality, politics, and culture meet

                 Brought to you by SojoNet
              Publisher of Sojourners magazine

++++++++++++++++++++ 18-May-2001 +++++++++++++++++++++

 Q u o t e  o f  t h e  W e e k
     *Superstitions closer to home

 H e a r t s  &  M i n d s
     *Crime and punishment

 B u i l d i n g   a   M o v e m e n t
      *Make me a sunbeam...religious energy movement

 C u l t u r e   W a t c h
     *Australia: May the force be with you

 B a t t e r i e s   N o t   I n c l u d e d
     *Saying sorry can be so hard to do

 S o u l   W o r k s
     *Sweeping views of the world

 B o o m e r a n g
     *SojoMail readers hit reply

 S o m e   A s s e m b l y   R e q u i r e d
     *Getting to know you...

 P. O. V.
     *When our kids can't read

 H e a r i n g   t h e   C a l l
     *Public influence of black churches

 W e b  S c e n e
     *Homeless shelters directory
     *Bach out!
     *Cannes film festival
     *Brainy fun for young and old

Q u o t e  o f  t h e  W e e k

"Natives who beat drums to drive off evil spirits
are objects of scorn to smart Americans who blow
horns to break up traffic jams."

                   --Mary Ellen Kelly


SojoFest 2001:  A Celebration of Hope

And you're invited.

Join us this summer, July 26-29, near Chicago
to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Sojourners
magazine. We've been working hard and we're ready
to celebrate. Don't miss this chance to reconnect
with old friends and make new ones. Click here to
learn more about the festivities and speakers,
registration options, and facilities:


H e a r t s   &   M i n d s
Crime and Punishment

by Jim Wallis

There was Ruby Ridge, Waco, a security guard in Atlanta 
the FBI thought was a terrorist bomber, and a spy who 
worked inside the agency, undetected, for 15 years. And 
now this. It's the most highly publicized death penalty 
case in memory, and the FBI forgot to turn over 3,000 
pages of documents to Timothy McVeigh's counsel. Now 
everybody wonders what mistakes are routinely made 
with far less famous death row defendants.

I am against the death penalty in principle. We should 
not kill to show we are against killing. It's also easy 
to make a fatal mistake. The death penalty is biased 
against the poor, and is outrageously disproportionate 
along racial lines. And there is no real evidence that 
it deters murder; it just satisfies revenge.

But that's a human impulse easy to understand in the 
wake of a crime so heinous as the bombing in Oklahoma 
City, which killed 168 people, including 19 children. 
If anybody ever deserved the death penalty, it is 
McVeigh. Like many Americans, I am angry with him. 
I reacted like a father when he described the children 
in the daycare center he murdered as "collateral 
damage." He's not just remorseless and cold, as many 
have accused; he's proud of what he did. But I still 
don't think we should kill him.

In response to an earlier piece I wrote on McVeigh, 
some SojoMail letters criticized me as too harsh 
when I said he should be sentenced to a life of 
solitary confinement and hard labor, that he be 
allowed no public voice, that his life should end in 
obscurity instead of the celebrity he so craves. Maybe 
I was angry that day and thinking about my two-and-a-
half-year-old son who also attends a preschool two 
days a week. But I think it is incumbent upon 
opponents of the death penalty to offer alternatives 
commensurate with the crime.

Only God can ultimately judge a person's soul, but 
it is the right and the responsibility of society 
to punish crime, and not just rehabilitate the 
criminal - especially such horrible violent crime. 
When someone takes other lives so deliberately, 
they should be deprived of any normal life 
themselves. The only adequate alternative to the 
death penalty is life without parole. If a 
convicted murderer repents, as some have suggested 
McVeigh might some day, it would be an occasion to 
celebrate the grace of God, but not to free the 
killer. Their penance would then be to minister to 
other prisoners on the inside. Support for the 
death penalty in the United States is beginning to 
decline (though McVeigh is an exception), and moratoria 
on capital punishment are emerging in some states. 
That will only continue if death penalty opponents 
are willing to take "murder one" just as seriously 
as those who support capital punishment.


B u i l d i n g   a   M o v e m e n t
Make me a sunbeam...

Religious coalition pushes conservation in California

Responding to the state's energy crisis, a coalition
of religious groups has launched a campaign to promote
energy conservation and efficiency by targeting thousands
of congregation members this summer. California Interfaith
Power and Light (CIPL) plans to enlist the help of 1,000
of the state's 50,000 religious organizations, including
churches, mosques, and synagogues.

"As stewards of the Earth, we want to lead by example,"
said the Rev. Sally Bingham, co-founder of the new
coalition and pastor of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.
Nearly two dozen congregations have already pledged to
promote energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable
power. Plans include working with the state in a program
to give away fluorescent lights to seniors and low-income
communities, distributing a rebate resource guide, and
helping churches upgrade to efficient appliances.
"We are tapping into the power above, and here on
Earth, to bring change," said Scott Anderson, executive
director of the California Council of Churches. For
more info, go to:


C u l t u r e  W a t c h
Australia: May the force be with you

"Jedi" is not a religion in Australia, warns the Australian
Bureau of Statistics. The bureau has issued a second warning
to Star Wars fans, following a widely circulated e-mail
urging readers to show their religion as "Jedi" in the
country's August national census. "If there are enough people
in the country, about 10,000, who put down the same religion,
it becomes a fully recognized and legal religion," the e-mails
state - incorrectly.

ABS issued a first warning several weeks ago that anyone
incorrectly filling out the census form would face fines
of $1,000. The ABS sent out a reminder of what
constitutes a religion, repeating the penalties for false
information. "There are no strict numerical criteria for a
religion," said director of census field operations Paul

Their claims that only 10,000 people need put "Jedi" on
the form to make it a recognized religion are all wrong,
Williams said. "We are not without a sense of humor," he
added, "and we appreciate this joke, but we would like
to stress how important the census is. That information
is important for planning education, aged care, and
hospital services for the community." To
this story, go to:,,343615,00.htm


B a t t e r i e s   N o t   I n c l u d e d
Saying sorry can be so hard to do

by David Batstone

I'm in Melbourne, Australia, this week at the invitation
of the state government of Victoria. I've met with
political and academic leaders over several days. Let
me share two vivid images of forgiveness - or more
accurately, how hard it is to say sorry.

Image one: In a workshop with six high-level
administrators of RMIT University (the top
technical university of Victoria), each person was
asked to name the most urgent political action
needed to be taken in Australia. I was a bit
surprised when one of the participants said, "We
desperately need to apologize to the Aboriginal people."
Around the table heads nodded. A second man added,
"It's like an albatross hanging around our neck;
we will continue to be spiritually debilitated as
a nation until we make amends with our past."
The man who originally made the suggestion then
interjected that he feared it would be decades
before white Australians would be ready to take
that step. 

I returned to my hotel room and opened the newspaper.
Inside was a report: Though Aboriginal people
make up between 2 and 3 percent of the population,
they take up 40 percent of media attention. How can
that be? Obsessive behavior? Neurosis? Guilt?

Image two: I met with an old friend for coffee. He
caught me up on our mutual acquaintances, including
news about a man who is an outspoken public critic
of Australian's prime minister, John Howard;
often he has condemned Howard for refusing to ask the
Aboriginal people for forgiveness. The talk turns to
more personal matters. The public "prophet" is facing
a painful separation from his adult daughter. She
recently wrote him a letter detailing the traumatic
experiences she faced growing up in his home, and
how she still carries the scars. The "prophet" refuses
to acknowledge the letter, let alone say he is sorry.

We err often. We forgive occasionally. We apologize
rarely. Oh what needless pain we bear.


S o u l   W o r k s
Sweeping views of the world...
Janitors: The "invisible" workforce

by Kevin Merida

Next time you walk the halls, make eye contact
with the janitors and cleaners, or just say "Hi."
You might learn a thing or two. What one writer
learned when he joined the "invisible" workforce.
Go to:


B o o m e r a n g

Roger Nehring of Marion, Indiana, wrote:

Ah, Brother Batstone, the Ugly American is alive
and well and eating in Sushi joints. Some cultural
traits are indeed indelible.


Joe Bradford of Danville, Virginia, wrote:

Is there a way to get Mr. Wallis to elaborate on
why the estate tax affects charitable giving? I'm
not getting the connection and folks who are
against its abolishment aren't doing too much
explaining. I understand redistribution of wealth
BUT if the government gets its slice, how does that help
an organization like the Children's Defense Fund?

I must be missing something.

From the Editors: According to Independent Sector, 
"Repeal of the estate tax would eliminate a strong 
incentive to give through an individual's estate."
(Approximately $15 billion was contributed in 1999 
through charitable bequests.) Some researchers have 
concluded that charitable bequests could decline by 
between 10% and 33% if the estate tax is fully 

Estate taxes greatly encourage wealthy 
people to leave their estates to private 
foundations and other charities. Elimination of 
the estate tax would allow unlimited amounts of 
wealth to be transferred at death into dynasty 
trusts, enriching beneficiaries (instead of 

Check out the full statement from Independent Sector at: 

or that of the National Council of Nonprofit Associations at:


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of
views. Want to make your voice heard? Send
Boomerang e-mails to the editor:


************************NEW SOJOPOLL*******************

The case of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh has 
focused national attention on the death penalty. Which 
choice best describes your opinion on this issue? 

[] The death penalty should be abolished. 
[] I generally oppose the death penalty, but 
   McVeigh deserves it. 
[] The current system is flawed, but the death 
   penalty is just and is appropriate for McVeigh. 
[] I support the death penalty without reservation. 

Vote your conscience at:

S o m e   A s s e m b l y   R e q u i r e d
Getting to know you....

Aaron McCarroll Gallegos from Toronto, Canada, 
has a great idea...let's communicate with each
other via pics of our lives. Aaron gets
the ball rolling:

"Here is the Web site for the falcon nest on my
building at my work. They have fuzzy chicks that
just hatched this past weekend...three of the little
tykes, I think. Scroll down to check them out.
Both mom and dad falcon take turns sitting on them.
If you are lucky, you will catch 'em at feeding
time! (But beware, it's not a 'pretty' sight...
unless you really, really dislike pigeons)." Go to:


P. O. V.
When our kids can't read...

by Lewis Green

According to a recently released National Assessment
of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading study, only
32 percent of fourth graders, who are usually 9 to
10 years old, read at or above the level of
proficiency set by educators. Thirty-one percent of
the 8,000 students tested in the year 2000 had only basic
reading skills, while 37 percent read even below this
mark, the study found.

As a former fourth-grade teacher, I find this news
incredibly disturbing.... This is not a teacher or a
school problem. This is everybody's problem.
Teachers cannot be held responsible for the society's
ills in a culture where kids watch four to six hours
of TV daily, play countless hours of video games,
see violence in the media, at home, and in the news,
spend way too many hours without adult supervision,
and often grow up poor and desperate in ignored
American neighborhoods.... How can teachers expect
children to read and study their assignments? Academics
isn't even on most kids' radar screens.

Our culture needs to change. We need to get back to
basics, which means we need to care for each other
and our government needs to make decisions that
benefit all citizens, not just those who already
are powerful and wealthy. If we are parents, we need
to turn the TVs off and spend time with our kids;
if we are grandparents, we need to get involved in
our grandkids' lives; if we are neighbors, we need to
get to know the people next door and treat every
young person with respect and dignity; if we are
citizens, we need to get involved in politics and
take an active role in overseeing our kids' futures;
and if we are politicians, we need to do the right
thing and create legislation for the common good -
for all, not the few.

"Kids are our future" is not a cliché. It is a 

Lewis Green is a Seattle-based writer and social
justice activist who taught fourth and fifth grade in
Illinois and Wisconsin.

Thirty years of Faith, Politics, and Culture!
Celebrate the journey with a limited-edition 
Sojourners 30th Anniversary T-Shirt. 100% cotton, 
made in the USA. Click here to see this original design:


H e a r i n g   t h e   C a l l
Public influence of black churches

The Public Influences of African-American Churches
Project at Morehouse College is designed to facilitate
research and dialogue about the impact of African-
American churches on public policy and public
discourse. Its mission is to provide scholars and
teachers with research they can use for
publications and teachings related to the church's
evolving role in American society. For further
information, including research papers, newsletters,
and events, see:

The Project recently held a conference to review 
nearly three years of their research on black 
churches' involvement in public policy issues. 
See the news story at:



Call to Renewal, a faith-based movement to overcome
poverty, seeks an Executive Director. The successful
candidate must understand and be committed to the
strategic vision of Call to Renewal, have a fundamental
appreciation for and understanding of the relationship
between faith and politics, and be able to move with dignity
and competence in a variety of communities. The position
requires excellent managerial, communication, and development
skills, a commitment to follow through on relationships
and tasks, and an ability to build bridges among the
various traditions in the church (e.g., Catholic,
Mainline Protestant, pentecostal, evangelical, black
churches, and para-church ministries), as well as
with people working in the realm of media and politics.
A dynamic and energetic personality who is conducive to 
working with a wide diversity of people is highly desirable.

The Executive Director will be based in Washington, D.C.
and will function as the chief operating officer of the
Call to Renewal movement, working closely with the board
of directors and reporting directly to the convener and
president, Jim Wallis.

Salary commensurate with experience. Send resume to:

Peter Borgdorff
Christian Reformed Church
2850 Kalamazoo Ave. SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49560
fax (616) 224-5895


W e b  S c e n e

*Homeless shelters guide

Homeless Shelters and Programs at the
University of Colorado includes a state-by-
state listing of nearly 100 homeless and
help services across the country. Go to:


*Bach out!

Bach Central Station is the best starting point
for research about the music and times of one of
Western culture's most prolific composers, Johann
Sebastian Bach. Go to:


*Cannes Film Festival

The world's most famous showcase of films is
currently under way in France. Find out who's vying
for the prized Palme d'Or and other awards at the
official Cannes Film Festival site, which features
daily news updates, synopses of featured films,
and other festival details. Go to:



Maybe you've played games on the Web, but sodaplay
is something altogether different. The site features
virtual "toys" that you can build, animate, and
interact with using your mouse. You construct what
look like wire-frame models that behave according
to physical laws. It's brainy fun for young and
old alike. Get going at:


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