The Common Good

One thousand dead U.S. soldiers: Take it personally

Sojomail - September 8, 2004

Quote of the Week Saying yes to life
Batteries Not Included David Batstone: One thousand dead U.S. soldiers: Take it personally
Sojourners in the News SojoMail readers spread the word
Politically Connect 'Responsible citizenship is a virtue'
Soul Works Iraq poem: Iron thickets
Good News Good News from Sudan?
Biz Ethics Low-wage nation
Web Sitings Election resource roundup
Boomerang Readers write
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52% of SojoMail readers recently voted to create a "God is Not a Republican...or a Democrat" sticker, and they're available now for only $2 (discounts apply for volume orders). >>Order today!


Saying yes to life

"Lest my way of life sounds puritanical or austere, I always emphasize that in the long run one can't satisfactorily say no to war, violence, and injustice unless one is simultaneously saying yes to life, love, and laughter."

- David Dellinger, peace activist and author.

Source: Yale class of 1936 50th reunion book. Found on the Daily Dig.


One thousand dead U.S. soldiers: Take it personally
by David Batstone

I write my column this week from a hospital room. In many respects, the events of the outside world pale in significance for me and my family as we focus on the health of my 11-year-old son. My wife and I spent the last four hours agonizing over whether we should give the surgeon a green light to perform an operation on him. While there is a chance that his condition could resolve itself without surgery, there is also a chance that it could spiral downward. Meanwhile, he experiences awful pain. Hence, we agonize over how to act in our son's best interests.

One piece of news did break through my self-imposed bubble this week. Maybe it's more honest to say that one piece of news filtered through precisely because I am attuned to how much a father feels the suffering of his son.

This week, the 1,000th U.S. soldier died in Iraq, according to the Pentagon's own accounting, going back in time since the first day of the invasion. My thoughts immediately went to the parents of those young (in most cases) men and women who lost their lives. I am sure that those parents feel proud for the sacrifice and bravery that their children demonstrated, putting themselves in harm's way in service for their country. I am equally sure that those parents feel unspeakable grief once the phone call came that their beloved one would not be returning home.

Grieving those 1,000 lives is made tragically difficult, since the public relations of war dictates that Americans should not see their soldiers come home in body bags. The Pentagon bans photographs of dead soldiers, let alone the coffins that hold them. The message is, let's not make the war personal. War is best fueled by ideologies, slogans, and fears. The faces of the victims throw off the tempo of the military parade.

It goes without saying that we Americans will not honor the lives of Iraqis who have been killed in this conflict either. We do not know their names, nor do we imagine the pain that the parents of those victims feel. The Pentagon even refuses to track (publicly) the number of their fatalities. They are not people to us. They are terrorists, Arabs, Muslims, aliens, enemies.

Modern warfare ceases to be war once it becomes personal. Have you ever stopped to think how ironic it is that of the men who are most responsible for unleashing a pre-emptive strike on Iraq - President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, the former chairman of the Defense Policy Board, Richard Perle, and White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove - not one has spent a single minute in military combat? Nor do any of their sons or daughters put their lives on the line out of patriotism. Surely there would be less swagger in their rhetoric if it was they who walked the front lines, or if it was their own children who would seek to occupy the streets of Fallujah.

As a father, the campaign trail leaves me cold. The presidential candidates trip over themselves to convince me that they are more warrior than the other. George W. Bush, who apparently could not even make time to check into his military base in Alabama, tells us that he will rattle the sword to usher in freedom to the Middle East. Not to be outdone, John Kerry greets us with a military salute and wants us to believe that his true legacy from Vietnam is as a war hero, not as a principled anti-war veteran.

For my part, I want to hear how the candidate will be a peacemaker. How will they contribute to a lasting peace in Israel and Palestine? How will they stop the violence in Sudan? How will they end the hostility that pushes us toward a clash of civilizations, Christian vs. Muslim? How will they build bridges that terrorists will not aim to blow up?

I take peace personally; I do not want to see my children grow up with the imminent fear of a terrorist attack. I wish the next president of the United States would take war - and peace - personally too.

U.S. death toll passes one thousand: Candlelight vigils Thursday night

I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. (Psalm 77:1-2)

As the U.S. death toll in Iraq surpasses 1,000, and with tens of thousands of Iraqis also dead and maimed, Sojourners joins with the Win Without War coalition to call upon people of faith to gather in prayers of mourning on the evening of Thursday, September 9.

We mourn those on both sides who have died, the many who have suffered debilitating injury, and the families who grieve for their loved ones. We pray for God's forgiveness for the destruction this war has caused and the hatreds it has aroused. We pray that our elected leaders of both parties will find the moral courage and political wisdom to seek an early end to this tragic war, as we continue to pray and work for peace and justice in Iraq and all the world.

+ Click here to find a vigil taking place in your area, or to organize one.

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God is Not a Republican. Or a Democrat.

If you have not already done so, please give a gift to the Sojourners Petition Fund. This donor-supported fund enables us to match contributions raised by local groups - dollar for dollar while funds last - to place the petition in local newspapers across America! >>Please give a gift of $10, $25, $50, $100, or more today!


SojoMail readers spread the word

Sojourners readers have been writing letters to the editor and calling talk radio shows to spread the word during this election that "God is not a Republican...or a Democrat." We want to affirm those efforts and encourage others to do the same. Here are some successful examples:

From Sarah Abernethy Hoyle's letter published in The Virginia Times Dispatch: "I will be voting for the Democratic ticket this fall. Many Christians will be voting for the Republican ticket. I respect their choice. All I ask is that my beliefs be respected also. Let's not argue about whose side God is on, but instead each of us should vote according to our knowledge of God's will."

From Rev. Chad Abbot's letter to The New Jersey Herald: "The truth is God does not fit any of our molds or boxes, especially those of Republican and Democrat. The aim of the Sojourners ad is directly on target and we ought to laud it as one avenue for getting back into the real issues that face people in this country.... Perhaps we can spend less time on Swift Boat ads, less time predicting divine blessing, less time taking up membership rolls, and more time taking up the poor, the lame, the blind, the outcast, and do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with God."

Steve Riggs reports: "I was interviewed on the Lexington, Kentucky, conservative talk radio show of Sue Wylie today for 45 minutes discussing the importance of signing the petition Getting the word out in Kentucky, a state of 4 million people and in the 'Bible belt,' is critical!"


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'Responsible citizenship is a virtue'

Searching for a more substantive discussion on the moral and political issues affecting Catholics during this critical election season? Responsible Citizenship seeks to give a home to such debates. Founded this spring by a group of young adult Catholic students and professionals, Responsible Citizenship has been working with university communities, public figures, and national organizations - including Sojourners - to generate thoughtful conversations about Catholic Social Teaching and current political issues, ranging from jobs to health care to national security. As the U.S. Catholic Bishops said in their recent document on Election 2004, "In the Catholic tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue; participation in the political process is a moral obligation."

We invite you to visit our Web site to see our members' work. We ask you to join us as we work to mobilize a new generation of Catholic civic leaders committed to social justice and the consistent ethic of life. For more information, contact Greg Mancini at or (610) 574-8030.


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Iraq poem: Iron thickets
by Greg Rollins

rebar begs

with concrete flowers

in a desert garden

tilled by rage

once dried by sanctions

such iron thickets

now bloom in bombed cities

where freedom has rained

sun soaked in dust

stubborn and bitter

the thickets will surrender

into brambles of rust

+ Read Greg Rollins' commentary on this poem


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#25 Starting February 2006 at Camp Sumatanga in Gallant, AL

The Academy for Spiritual Formation's two-year program offers an in-depth experience in spiritual formation for laity and clergy who are highly motivated in knowing the mind, heart, and way of Christ. The Academy cultivates spirituality with a balance of study and prayer; rest and exercise; solitude and relationships. Most importantly, the Academy offers time and space to discern direction, make covenants, and practice spiritual disciplines. A limited number of scholarships are available. Participants meet in residence for five days each calendar quarter. Contact us for more information: The Academy for Spiritual Formation, The Upper Room, P.O. Box 340004, Nashville, TN 37203-0004; Phone (615) 340-7232; Fax (615) 340-7257; E-mail:;


Good News from Sudan?
by Elizabeth Palmberg

While the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan continues, we offer a more hopeful witness from that country's southern region:

Awut Deng is passionate about the need for women to play an active role in guiding Sudan's future. She was one of six women delegates from the Sudan People's Liberation Movement in its negotiations with the northern government in 2002 - but later each of the six was taken off the official list, one by one, with no explanation. Deng herself was the last to go. As she describes female struggles to participate in the peace process - "a step forward, a step backward" - her face shows a patience that is anything but passive.

While they have often been excluded from the north-south negotiations, women, including Deng, have played a key role in a crucial peacemaking effort within southern Sudan: the "people-to-people peace process" that, over the last six years, has healed devastating conflicts between and within southern ethnic groups.

+ Read the full article

+ Learn more and take action on the conflict in Darfur


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Low-wage nation

Wal-mart is not alone, and together with other large service-sector employers is defining the new industrial landscape and the structure of the U.S. working class. Although the portion of large companies in the U.S. has remained relatively stable over the past decade, the industrial composition of the largest companies has continued to shift dramatically from relatively high-wage, unionized industrials to low-wage, non-union retailers.

The 10 largest U.S. employers represent 4.4 million workers. Five of the 10 are low-wage retailers. McDonalds, the nation's second largest employer, has almost half a million workers. Kmart employs more workers than United Technologies.

+ Read more from the Labor Research Association

+ Read about Wal-Mart in Sojourners


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Election resource roundup

Sojourners is offering its range of election-related resources in one convenient location, including extended information about our petition, discussion and organizing resources, seminar opportunities, and relevant articles.

+ Think, pray, vote!

Our Aussie sisters and brothers in the Evangelical Alliance have created a site on which they say, "We won't tell you how to vote, and we don't have a position on which party is 'best' but will help you understand, think, and evaluate various aspects of the political process."

+ Click here for fair dinkum commentary

Similarly, Protestants for the Common Good seeks to promote "social justice and the common good as essential to the Christian faith, educating and mobilizing people of faith to become effective participants in political democracy."

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If Christianity - without losing its soul - is yet to avoid losing touch with the world, it must constantly update itself by dialogue with all the intellectual currents of today. To this end, the author proposes a necessary two-way dialectic between theology and the world, an ongoing dialectic ultimately essential to both church and world. $25 hardcover. To order call (313) 624-9784. Dove Booksellers, 13904 Michigan Avenue, Dearborn, Michigan, 48126.


Readers write

Les Boyle writes from Springfield, Missouri:

Thanks for an honest, balanced, and insightful commentary ["Responding to President Bush's speech," SojoMail 9/3/2004]. Yes, I know where Bush stands, and I believe invading Iraq was the right thing to do - from a geopolitical/strategic perspective. From a Christian perspective? Who knows? I guess it depends, in part, on what you mean by Christian. What would Jesus do? Well, unfortunately, he appears to be away on other business at the moment (audibly speaking, anyway). I do know that he does not appear to have had a lot to say about the Roman occupation. But he did have a lot to say about loving your neighbor. To me, that means the warm bodies that I come into contact with each day whether I agree with them politically, morally, ethically, or personally. Who knows? If we all did that, maybe there would be no more need for war. Thanks for being real.


Laura Barnes writes from Cary, North Carolina:

Thank you for your dedication and thoughtfulness. Especially in a time where image and rhetoric have become more important than substance. I have a good friend who told me recently that he hates religion because he says more people have died for it than have been saved by it. I have to say that I agree with him. Thank you for showing me religion at its best. Not at war. Not condemning sinners. But thoughtful and welcoming to all - Republicans and Democrats.


David Bartkowski writes from Sauk Prairie, Wisconsin:

The 2004 presidential election will be a most extraordinary one, with most extraordinary consequences. And exceptional events demand exceptional actions. Please make a wise exception to your wise editorial policy of not officially endorsing political candidates. Please, wisely tell your readers why you feel compelled to make this one extraordinary exception to your standard rule, wisely tell your readers why you are endorsing one candidate - and then wisely endorse John Kerry for president.

If you cannot find it within your own minds and hearts and souls, as well as scripture, to make such an obvious, essential, and authentic exception to your own rule, then how could you - conducting yourselves, sadly, rather like latter-day (editorial) Pharisees - ever truly expect to continue to help others see beyond the ordinary rules of their religion(s), and ever realize the extraordinary reality of the Christos, within and without?


Rob Kastens writes from Joppa, Maryland:

I just received a copy of your petition, "God is Not a Republican...or a Democrat." At face value, I applaud the concept. I am often disturbed when the Religious Right implies that God has a political party affiliation. I definitely agree that Christians should evaluate candidates and policy based on scripture and vote accordingly.

However, I would have to say that the petition was written with a definite leftward slant to it. The statements and explanations are all Democrat-friendly and reflect Democratic attacks on Republican positions. I believe that statements could have been crafted that reflect a bipartisan, Christ-centered evaluation of candidates. While I'm sure that was your intent, your own political bias came screaming through. From that perspective, you position yourselves as a leftist version of Falwell and Robertson. While that may incite response among democratic ideologues, it probably will only create greater division with Christians with a Republican viewpoint who agree with your overall premise.


Rev. Lawrence Althouse writes from Dallas, Texas:

I want to commend Sojourners for its efforts in this campaign, which is really more about Christian values than politics. As a resident of Texas for 30-plus years, I have had the opportunity (actually, misfortune) to observe George W. Bush as governor. Despite early hopes, he did immeasurable damage to this state, especially in terms of ecology, education, and meeting the needs of citizens who cannot help themselves. I did not vote for him when he became president, but I have prayed for him virtually every day - not that he act like a Democrat, but that God will find ways to use him for his purposes. I was still hopeful that his Christian commitment would be more important than his neo-con convictions. Even these dubious or grudging hopes were shattered by the reality of his administration.

I will vote for John Kerry, not because I believe he is anywhere near the Messiah for our times (not even an American Cyrus), but because a vote for him is a vote to unseat George W. Bush. I wish Kerry had backed up his testimony about Vietnam with some hard questions or opposition to giving Bush the powers to attack Iraq. I truly regret that Christians in this country do not see the implications of the Iraq invasion for the earliest positions of the Christian churches on the subject of war. I am uncertain whether Kerry can stand up to the seductive steamroller power of lobbyists and their millions.


Liz O'Grady writes from Wadsworth, Ohio:

The link to your Web site was forwarded to me by my daughter for the purpose of having me view your animated clip demonstrating that God is not a Republican or a Democrat. That clip was funny and certainly made an important point, but more importantly it got me to your Web site. I am a liberal person who left the Catholic Church because I did not want to be a "cafeteria Catholic" (and simply skip over the sexism demonstrated by the Church's views on birth control and women in the priesthood) and am now a Lutheran (Catholic lite - all the liturgy, less guilt). Your Web site provides a forum for the belief that Christianity is about loving and caring for one another rather than judging and ostracizing people who don't believe what we think they should or who don't live their lives according to what we think is "moral." Although much of what is written is far more conservative than what I think, it is presented in a reasonable way without rancorous rhetoric. I will continue to visit and use this site to help keep me grounded on what is really important.


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.

Election Year Gear 2004 provides you with the tools you need to discuss important election issues from a faith perspective. Perfect for church organizing and small group discussions. >>Get yours today!

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