The Common Good

We are the ones we have been waiting for

Sojomail - June 16, 2004

Quote of the Week The beatitudes in every classroom
Hearts & Minds Jim Wallis: We are the ones we have been waiting for
P.O.V. Abu Ghraib: Is this America?
Sight and Sound The gospel according to Wendell Berry
Under the Wire Reagan Roundup: Perspectives you may have missed
On the Ground Iraq Journal: Saddam's victims and survivors
Forums The Religious Right and pro-life progressives
Web Sitings Somethin' for nothin' | Apocalyptic play-by-play | Apologizing for Abu Ghraib
Boomerang Readers write

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Preaching the Word is an online resource for preparing sermons and scripture reflections based on the Revised Common Lectionary for Sundays. We've done the work so you don't have to. Go to:


"For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that's Moses, not Jesus. I haven't heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the beatitudes, be posted anywhere."

- Kurt Vonnegut

Source: AlterNet

Building global justice: We are the ones we have been waiting for
by Jim Wallis

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The following is excerpted from the baccalaureate address Jim Wallis delivered at Stanford University on June 12. + Read complete text online

When I was growing up, it was continually repeated in my evangelical Christian world that the greatest battle and biggest choice of our time was between belief and secularism. But I now believe that the real battle, the big struggle of our times, is the fundamental choice between cynicism and hope. The choice between cynicism and hope is ultimately a spiritual choice, and one that has enormous political consequences.

More than just a moral issue, hope is a spiritual and even religious choice. Hope is not a feeling; it is a decision. And the decision for hope is based upon what you believe at the deepest levels - what your most basic convictions are about the world and what the future holds - all based upon your faith. You choose hope, not as a naive wish, but as a choice, with your eyes wide open to the reality of the world - just like the cynics who have not made the decision for hope.

And the realities of our world are these: Almost half the world, close to three billion people, live on less than $2 a day, and more than one billion live on less than $1 a day. And every day, 30,000 children die due to utterly preventable causes such as hunger, disease, and things like the lack of safe drinking water - things we could change if we ever decided to.

For the first time in history we have the information, knowledge, technology, and resources to bring the worst of global poverty virtually to an end. What we don't have is the moral and political will to do so. And it is becoming clear that it will take a new moral energy to create that political will.

Malcolm Gladwell in his best-selling book, The Tipping Point, talks of how an idea, product, or behavior moves from the edges of a society to broad acceptance, consumption, or practice. Along the way there is a "tipping point" that transforms a minority perception to a majority embrace. Today, a sizable and growing number of individuals and institutions have identified the deep chasm of global poverty as their central moral concern and have made significant commitments to overcome the global apathy that leads to massive suffering and death. But we have not yet reached the tipping point - when the world demands solutions. I believe the religious communities of the world could provide the "tipping point" in the struggle to eliminate the world's most extreme poverty.

So let's turn to you, the graduates. You are a bright, gifted, and committed group of students. There are probably many people who tell you about your potential, and they are right. You are people who could make a real contribution to a movement for global justice.

In that regard, I would encourage each of you to think about your vocation more than just your career. And there is a difference. From the outside, those two tracks may look very much alike, but asking the vocational question rather than just considering the career options will take you much deeper. The key is to ask why you might take one path instead of another-the real reasons you would do something more than just because you can. The key is to ask who you really are and want to become. It is to ask what you believe you are supposed to do.

Religious or not, I would invite you to consider your calling, more than just the many opportunities presented to graduates of Stanford University. That means connecting your best talents and skills to your best and deepest values, making sure your mind is in sync with your soul as you plot your next steps. Don't just go where you're directed or even invited, but rather where your own moral compass leads you. And don't accept others' notions of what is possible or realistic. Dare to dream things and don't be afraid to take risks.

You do have great potential, but that potential will be most fulfilled if you follow the leanings of conscience and the language of the heart more than just the dictates of the market, whether economic or political. They want smart people like you to just manage the systems of the world. But rather than managing or merely fitting into systems, ask how you can change them. You're both smart and talented enough to do that. That's your greatest potential. Ask where your gifts intersect with the groaning needs of the world.

The antidote to cynicism is not optimism but action. And action is finally born out of hope. Try to remember that.

One of the best street organizers I ever met was Lisa Sullivan - a young African-American woman from Washington, D.C., who went to Yale and earned a Ph.D. But Lisa felt called back to the streets and the forgotten children of color who had won her heart. She was in the process of creating a new network and infrastructure of support for the best youth organizing projects up and down the East Coast when, at the age of 40, she died suddenly of a rare heart ailment.

Lisa's legacy is continuing through countless young people she inspired, challenged, and mentored. But there is one thing she often said to them and to all of us that has stayed with me ever since Lisa died. When people would complain, as they often do, that we don't have any leaders today - or ask "where are the Martin Luther Kings now?" - Lisa would get angry. And she would declare these words: "We are the ones we have been waiting for!" Lisa was a person of faith. And hers was a powerful call to leadership and responsibility and a deep affirmation of hope.

Lisa's words are the commission I want to give to you. It's a commission learned by every person of faith and conscience who has been used to build movements of spiritual and social change. It's a commission that is quite consistent with the virtue of humility, because it is not about taking ourselves too seriously, but rather taking the commission seriously. It's a commission that can only be fulfilled by very human beings, but people who, because of faith and hope, believe that the world can be changed. And it is that very belief that only changes the world. And if not us, who will believe? If not you, who? After all, we are the ones that we have been waiting for.

Stanford graduates, you are the ones we have been waiting for.

Thank you and God bless you.

+ Read coverage of this speech in the Stanford Report

+ Read more commentary by Jim Wallis


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P.O.V. ^top
Abu Ghraib: Is this America?
by Larry Bellinger

Strangely enough, the abuse at Abu Ghraib was not the burning question that seared across the American psyche when news of the atrocities broke. No, what confused and distressed many of us were the photographs and videotapes that were made by our troops, the immediate perpetrators. Contrary to the bipartisan bleating of "This is not America!" - actually, it is. Photographing ourselves at our worst is as American as apple pie.

The photographs and videotapes of grinning soldiers making the "thumbs-up" sign in Abu Ghraib are eerily reminiscent of the lynching postcards [warning: this link contains graphic images of lynchings] of the Jim Crow era.

The fact that ordinary people would take part in the atrocities associated with lynching is a terrible reality made worse by the carnival atmosphere surrounding many of the documented incidents. That atmosphere was captured on film and those images were turned into postcards to be shared among friends and relatives. What did America tell blacks about their lot in this country by not only lynching them, but also by producing "Wish you were here" postcards of the evil? What do the images from Abu Ghraib tell the Arab world about their American "liberators?"

+ Read the full article


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The gospel according to Wendell Berry

New streaming media from Sojourners: Hear audio excerpts of Wendell Berry as he discusses jubilee economics, capitalism, and the radical implications of the gospel. Including such nuggets as:

"Christians conventionally think they've done enough when they've gone to the store and shopped - and that isn't an economic life, it isn't an economic practice. If you take seriously those passages in the scripture that say that we live by God's spirit and his breath, or that we live and move and have our being in God, the implications of that for the economy we have are just devastating. That seems to call for an entirely conscious, and generous, and careful economic life."

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+ Read the full, web-only version of the Wendell Berry interview


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Reagan Roundup: Perspectives you may have missed

Ronald Reagan: Still the Teflon President?
by Joe Strupp on AlterNet
"Maybe it's to be expected that the press, when covering a leader's death, will take a kinder, gentler approach. But in the interests of fair, accurate journalism - something that has become a leading issue in the media today - no former leader should be above a frank, complete, and balanced assessment." + Click to read more

Reagan, Race and Rememberance: Reflections on the American Divide
by Tim Wise on The Black Commentator
"Delusion is both the fuel that propels people like Ronald Reagan forward in political life, and then makes a rational assessment of his legacy impossible upon his death.... Reagan has been released from the lie, finally, and may his soul find peace among the millions of dearly departed victims of his policies around the world. Meanwhile, the rest of us must pull back the curtain on all phony heroes, Reagan among them, lest we create many millions more." + Click to read more

66 (Unflattering) Things About Ronald Reagan
by David Corn, on AlterNet
This list originally appeared in The Nation on March 2, 1998, after the renaming of Washington National Airport after Ronald Reagan, but, according to the author, remains relevant today as "a cheat sheet for those who dare to point out the Reagan presidency was not all that glorious." + Click to read more

The Reagan Legacy
by Dean Baker, Center for Economic and Policy Research
A list of articles followed by commentary evaluating the economic legacy of the Reagan years, which includes increasing inequality and decreasing real hourly wages for the typical worker. + Click to read more


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Iraq Journal: Saddam's victims and survivors
by Greg Rollins, Christian Peacemaker Teams

The stories about Saddam's regime are nothing new to the rest of the world. At times, the U.S. used them to support their reasons to attack. We have all heard how Saddam used chemical weapons to kill thousands of Kurds in the north. People often disappeared under Saddam's regime (including women his son found beautiful.) He waged a war against Iran for eight years that killed millions, and he mutilated or killed many Iraqis who refused to fight in that war. Almost every Iraqi has a grotesque personal story that needs to get out. However, Iraqis who hate Saddam speak in two different voices: that of the victim and that of the survivor.

I have noticed that when a victim speaks of Saddam's atrocities, his eyes grow intense. His brain locks so he does not hear anything anyone says to him. In his anger he yells his story, and for that time there is nothing else in the world but him and what Saddam did to him. 0The survivor tell her story a different way. Despite her painful memory, she is open and calm. Sometimes she will smile and laugh at what happened. She refuses to suffer Saddam any longer, but she still has her hurt.

+ Read the full article


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The Religious Right and pro-life progressives

Engage these issues in Sojourners' online forums:

The Relevance of the Religious Right
Marginalized by media but courted by candidates, are religious conservatives more influential than ever?
+ Join the conversation

Progressive and Pro-Life?
How do Christians with a "consistent life ethic" vote when neither party seems to affirm those values?
+ Join the conversation

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Somethin' for nothin'

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Apocalyptic play-by-play

Now up to page 48, this blog offers running commentary on the premillenialist pulp fiction Left Behind:

Apologizing for Abu Ghraib

Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation offers a petition of apology and repentance for Christians and/or Americans to express their contrition for "the torture and humiliation inflicted on Iraqi and other prisoners in the custody of our government."


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Readers write

Susan Latourette writes from Brookfield, Connecticut:

Thank you for your recent thoughts regarding what I have been thinking of as the blind "re-Reaganizing" of the U.S. ["The United States of Ronald Reagan," by Ed Spivey Jr., SojoMail 6/9/2004]. In our church on Sunday, so many people were asking us to remember Ronald Reagan in our prayers. Until I read your article, I could not help but wonder if I was missing something - I wasn't. I was working toward my degree in natural resource conservation during the smoggy regime of James Watt while Reagan was in office. So yes, I pray that our memories pay tribute to the man who served our country - and that our vision remains sharp and clear when looking at the past and planning for the future.


Robert G. Kyrka writes from Holliston, Massachusetts:

How very bitter and one-sided is Mr. Spivey's article, and how inappropriate (rather than "helpful," as it is introduced) it is to reprint this article while our former president lies in state. I say this not because Mr. Spivey is a Reagan detractor. All presidents and politicians have detractors as well as supporters. I say this because of the venomous vehemence of his words and the timing of its reprinting. Mocking people's tears at the time of someone's funeral is very low indeed.... Many liberals, Mr. Spivey apparently included, cannot stand the fact that Ronald Reagan was a president who was liked by many people, and whose accomplishments are viewed very positively by those people.


Keplin Schwick writes from Yreka, California:

I really enjoyed reading Ed Spivey Jr.'s commentary on the reality of the Reagan years. I lived through Reagan's years as governor of California. As a disabled person, I was on the lower end of his "trickle down" idea of Reaganomics. (NOT!) What he did to special education and other special programs during both his years as governor and then as president was pathetic and wrong. There were closings of many social programs due to lack of funding.... Although I respect the office of the president, I don't always like the person who holds said office. In these next few days, let us say our prayers for the president's family, and watch with respect as we say our final goodbyes to a man who had the privilege to hold the most powerful office of the best nation on earth.


Laszlo Korossy writes:

Ed Spivey's article on Reagan's "dubious disctinction" would have been deeply disturbing would it not have been laughably, ridiculously incorrect. Reagan brought the country out of the worst recession since the Great Depression and created the massive economic boom that was enjoyed during Clinton's tenure (the law of delayed economy; most actions taken on the American economy take eight to 10 years to create results). To say that Reagan did "fiscal damage" to the country could not be more wrong. The deficit created during his presidency, meanwhile, was the result of a hostile, Democrat-controlled Congress that vetoed the spending cuts that would have worked hand-in-hand with his increases and tax cuts. These increases likewise benefit the country today; the "Star Wars" missile defense program, contrary to the convenient fiction stated in the article, has undergone several successful tests, and a basic system is awaiting implementation on the west coast, providing protection from North Korea and China. Reagan's military increases, in addition to the creation of the missile defense program, were also the final push that brought the Soviet Union to its knees; the need to remain competitive with America in the arms race proved to be too much for the ailing socialist system. Gorbachev's role in the collapse of the U.S.S.R. was both reluctant and accidental; his policies of glasnost and perestroika were designed to hold his collapsing power structure together; when even those failed, he assumed the credit for "dismantling" the Soviet system.

Reagan truly was one of the greatest presidents America had the blessing to see in the 20th century. He had many triumphs in the international as well as domestic spheres, and he fully deserves all the praise he is currently receiving from both sides of the political spectrum. Your article is more faulty than what you make George Tenet's reports to be.


Robert Van Zetten writes from Geelong, Victoria, Australia:

I would appreciate some editorial comment on the recent quote you had from Philip Yancey about how things are improving for the poor in our world ["Philip Yancey debunks the doomsayers," SojoMail 5/26/2004].

I wasn't sure how to take his comments. It seemed like he was saying that those Christians who care about the terrible conditions in which many live in our world are too preoccupied with doom and gloom. It is good that some things are improving for the poor and destitute. But surely we cannot gloat about this while thousands still die of poverty daily, and millions live on less than $1 or $2 a day. I was disappointed with Yancey's attitude as I perceived it. But I would welcome your thoughts in response. Thank you for a wonderful publication and a tremendously important ministry.

[Editor's note: We cited Yancey's commentary in Christianity Today not to deny that we're faced with many critical problems in the world today, but that it's good to be reminded that - in spite of our usual steady diet of doom and gloom - there are also many stories of hope and abundant life to be told. It's often just harder to find those, and we appreciate his effort to do so.]


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views that do not necessarily represent those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Include your name, hometown, and state/province/country in a concise e-mail to: . We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.


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