The Common Good

Communicating Religiously

Sojomail - September 15, 2004

Quote of the Week Flannery O'Connor: Trust, not certainty
Hearts & Minds Jim Wallis: Communicating religiously
Spiritual Practices Remembering 9-11
Building a Movement Coming to a town near you: Sojourners election seminars
Good News U.S. supports debt cancellation
Politically Connect Overseas voters
Culture Watch Freud and Lewis
Spirituality and Politics Faith versus death
Boomerang Readers write
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"When we get our spiritual house in order, we'll be dead. This goes on. You arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness. Don't expect faith to clear things up for you. It is trust, not certainty."

- Flannery O'Connor

Source: "Letter to Louise Abbott," by Flannery O'Connor. Found on Daily Dig.


Communicating religiously
by Jim Wallis

On Monday, Sept. 13, the Religion Communicators Council, an interfaith network of communicators in print and electronic communications, marketing, and public relations, honored the first two recipients of its Winston Taylor Religious Communicator of Faith award. David E. Anderson, retiring as editor of Religion News Service, received the "Religious Communicator of Values" award, and Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners and convener of Call to Renewal, received the "Religious Communicator of Faith" award. Both were recognized as "individuals or organizations that excel in communicating spiritual, religious, or ethical values to the public through leadership, innovation, or service." Following are Jim Wallis' remarks at the award luncheon.

Thank you for your very kind and encouraging words, and for this very encouraging award. I am especially honored to be receiving the award along with David Anderson - someone I have admired for so many years and have the blessing to know personally. David is an authentic religious journalist - one who has advanced the cause of "religious communication" as much as anybody ever has. From all of us - thank you, David.

Also, I want to thank my colleagues, my team at Sojourners and Call to Renewal, some of whom are kindly here today. Sojourners magazine commits the offense, in every single issue, of talking about the two questions you are not supposed to discuss in polite company - religion and politics - and worse, we put them together! You don't put out an award-winning magazine without an award-winning staff - and this group has won many awards. And you don't bring people together across the formidable divisions in the churches to unite in overcoming poverty, as Call to Renewal regularly does, without some extraordinary bridge-builders committed to both prophetic ministry and reconciliation. Being committed to both: Now that is a real task Call to Renewal and Sojourners share. My wonderful colleagues at Sojourners and Call to Renewal all share in this award.

Last night, I was out "religiously communicating" as I often do. This time it was in Denver, Colorado, where I spoke to a packed church (always a delight in times like these). I heard and felt the hunger for a fuller, deeper, and richer conversation about religion in public life, about faith and politics. It's a discussion that we don't always hear in America today. Sometimes the most strident and narrow voices are the loudest, and prophetic religion gets missed. But the good news is about how all that is changing - really changing.

Lincoln had it right. Our task should not be to invoke religion and the name of God by claiming God's blessing and endorsement for all our national policies and practices - saying, in effect, that God is on our side. Rather, we should worry earnestly whether we are on God's side.

Those are the two ways that religion has been brought into public life in American history. The first way - God on our side - leads inevitably to triumphalism, self-righteousness, bad theology, and, often, dangerous foreign policy. The second way - asking if we are on God's side - leads to much healthier things, namely, penitence and even repentance, humility, reflection, and even accountability. We need much more of all those, because these are often the missing values of politics.

Of course, Martin Luther King Jr. did it best. With his Bible in one hand and the Constitution in the other, King persuaded, not just pronounced. He reminded us all of God's purposes for justice, for peace, and for the "beloved community" where those always left out and behind get a front-row seat. And he did it - bringing religion into public life - in a way that was always welcoming, inclusive, and inviting to all who cared about moral, spiritual, or religious values. Nobody felt left out of the conversation. I try to do that too.

Last night, a young man was waiting patiently in a greeting line after my talk. Finally we shook hands and he told me that he was an agnostic - not religiously affiliated. But he said that he cared deeply about the moral issues at stake in his country. Then he told me he had been "spiritually inspired" by the evening. And he thanked me for making him feel included. "I just wanted to give you some feedback from outside the community," the sincere agnostic said. It was an encouraging word to me. And so is this very generous award - from friends "inside the community" of those who believe in the critical vocation of "religious communication." Thank you very much.

+ Read more commentary by Jim Wallis

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Remembering 9-11
by Becky Garrison

As the nation gathered to remember Sept. 11, the barriers surrounding the former site of the World Trade Center became an interim chapel as family members, survivors, rescue workers, friends, and visitors made a pilgrimage to a spot many consider sacred. They came to mourn, pray, and reflect, leaving behind candles, flowers, and teddy bears as they penned personalized notes on banners made by ArtAID, a grassroots organization devoted to creating healing art. On this day, firehouses, 9-11 memorials established throughout the city, and other sites also became sacred space with concerned citizens stopping to pay their respects at appointed services and throughout the day.

A variety of organizations have set about creating sacred space for victims and families, rescue workers, and community members. Still others are committed to interfaith dialogue and service, hosting conversations about peacemaking in religious communities, and determining physical ways to memorialize the victims of Sept. 11. See the following links for more information:

+ ArtAID

+ NCC Interfaith Relations: Christians and Neighbors of Other Religions in the U.S.A.

+ New York Disaster Interfaith Services (NYDIS)

+ Religions for USA: Religions Working for Peace and Justice

+ September's Mission

+ Living Memorial

+ September Space

+ The Interfaith Center of New York

+ World Trade Center Survivors' Network


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Coming to a town near you: Sojourners election seminars

The Sojourners election seminar schedule is finally here (and still in progress)! If you live in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin, Sojourners is bringing a free Election 2004 Seminar near you! Learn how to effectively express your passion for peace and justice between now and November 2.

>>See the seminar schedule

If you don't see a seminar close to your home listed, you can help organize one. We're adding seminars on a daily basis, so e-mail us at or call (800) 714-7474, x259. Seminars will be held in September and early October, so time is of the essence.

Don't live in any of these states? Check out Sojourners' Election 2004 Faith in Action Resource Center to see how you can take action in your community.


Clergy Leadership Institute Appreciative Inquiry Based Training
Our new 2004-2005 training schedule includes:

* Celtic Pilgrimage with Bishop Ed Leidel, author of: Awakening Grassroots Spirituality: A Celtic Guide for Nurturing and Maturing the Soul
* Caribbean and Alaskan Cruises with Appreciative Inquiry Training
* Appreciative Change Management: Uses 360-degree Exec. Leader Assessment
* Coach Training, Interim Ministry and Appreciative Soul Friending

For registration and information about all our training programs and locations, please visit us on the Web at: or phone (503) 647-2378.


U.S. supports debt cancellation

Some of the world's most desperately poor countries just got one step closer to serious debt relief - the U.S. Treasury is floating a proposal for the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to cancel the debts owed to them by around 30 nations. Sojourners welcomes this progress on an issue named in its election-year petition as an essential step to fighting global poverty, one that faith-based activists have been advocating for years. (Previous debt relief aimed only at partial cancellation - and has not met even its own meager targets.) Activists point out that, contrary to stories in the mainstream media, the IMF and World Bank can amply afford to cancel the debt - for example, by revaluing their undervalued gold reserves - without harming their programs in other countries. From now until October 1, the date of a key G7 meeting, it will be important to keep the heat on for full cancellation without harmful conditions. Find out how you can help, including info about upcoming protests on September 21 and October 1, from Jubilee USA.


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Overseas voters

Are you a U.S. citizen living abroad? If you're not registered to vote, there's just time to put your form in the mail (for arrival by Oct. 2)! Print out forms online, courtesy of the Overseas Voting Rights Project.

+ Register now

+U.S. residents can click here to register


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Esperanza Health Center (EHC), a Christian community health center, seeks an Executive Director. EHC offers primary care, infectious disease care, counseling, social services, and chaplaincy to underserved Latino North Philadelphia. The Executive Director leads and communicates the vision and mission of EHC to the staff, community, and supporters. Job functions include budgeting, fundraising, strategic planning, and general oversight of this Christ-centered ministry. E-mail resume to, or mail to EHC 1331 E. Wyoming Ave. Philadelphia PA, 19124, attn. Richard Rohrer, or call (215) 807-8616.


Freud and Lewis

Check your local listings for The Question of God, a four-part series examining the biographies and philosophies of Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis. Through interviews with experts and dramatic re-creations, the athiest Freud and apologist Lewis enter into a dialogue on the most profound questions of life, love, sex, suffering, and death - as well as the one of the most profound questions of all: Does God exist?

"It may be that Freud and Lewis represent conflicting parts of ourselves," says Dr. Armand Nicholi, upon whose Harvard course the series is based. "Part of us yearns for a relationship with the source of all joy, hope, and happiness, as described by Lewis, and yet, there is another part that raises its fist in defiance and says with Freud, 'I will not surrender.' Whatever part we choose to express will determine our purpose, our identity, and our whole philosophy of life."

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Faith versus death

Amnesty International USA's National Weekend of Faith in Action on the Death Penalty (NWFA) is an annual project in which communities and individuals of all faiths are invited to devote the weekend of October 22-24 to action and dialogue on the death penalty. The NWFA is not a national conference or event - it is a weekend of solidarity action organized locally by faith communities all over the country, seeking to bring together two important approaches to social justice: grassroots human rights activism and faith-based community action.

+ Learn more and take action


by Charles Dickinson

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

Craig Cleveland writes from Conneaut, Ohio:

I feel compelled to write and commend Mr. Batstone on an extremely well-written article at a time when he and his family were struggling through such a personal hardship ["One thousand dead U.S. soldiers: Take it personally," SojoMail 9/8/2004]. The article went to the heart of all my feelings about this stupid war and the inadequacies of both presidential contenders in coming forth with a plan to put an end to this waste of human lives. I would also like to express my heartfelt appreciation to the authors of this site for addressing the real issues pertaining to this war. I personally am a practicing Buddhist, Marine Corp Vietnam veteran, and father of two sons serving their country in the military. The eldest is scheduled to deploy with his company of Marine reservists to Iraq in January 2005.

I struggle daily with the pain of all those killed in this war. As a parent I cannot imagine how it must feel to lose a son or daughter on either side to this useless endeavor. I can only reconcile my son's upcoming involvement with the fact that his mission in this life seems to be to try and help people, as a paramedic, a police officer, and as a navy corpsman. I know as a corpsman in Iraq he may be able to make a difference on both sides. He will at least show the Iraqi people the caring side of Americans, as I know most of our troops try to do. I personally will vote for Mr. Kerry as the lesser of two evils. I will pray that his experience in Vietnam will help him be less likely to send America's sons and daughters into a war with people we don't understand on a premise we are, to say the least, unsure of.


Rich Avery writes from Grand Rapids, Michigan

I am sorry to hear of your son's illness and pray for God's guidance as you and your wife weigh the medical options. I know the feeling. One of my four kids was diagnosed with a brain tumor four years ago. He was 3 1/2 years old at the time. He was hospitalized for five weeks and endured two surgeries. Today he's good as new. We definitely went through a lot of pain and turmoil in the moment and were blessed to have so many people praying for us and concerned about us. I trust you're blessed by the same as well.

In response to your article about 1,000 dead U.S. soldiers, let me say that the reason 1,000 soldiers are dead is because more than 3,000 innocent Americans were killed by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001. Why do people keep forgetting that? Why don't people take that personally and put a face on that? Why don't we add up the numbers of all the people throughout the world who have been killed by terrorists. It would be staggering. Justice demands that we fight terrorism and terrorists. Peace is not the absence of war. We can't win peace against terrorists by appeasing them. Peace can be won by defeating those who seek to do us harm.


Kyle Matthews writes from Nashville, Tennessee:

As we cross the 1,000 mark in American casualties it is important to remember not only the countless thousands of Iraqi troops, civilians, and children who have died as a result of our war, but also the more than 7,000 U.S. troops who, thanks to Kevlar vests and state-of-the-art battlefield medical care, did not die, but who are coming home wounded, disfigured, disabled, and psychologically/emotionally scarred. Their story is not being told, their statistics are not being reported and, like the pictures of coffins, their pictures are not reaching the American public. The dead cannot speak to us and the grief-stricken are told that 1,000 is a "relatively small number by historical standards," but the wounded will help us accomplish what Batstone has suggested: taking it personally.


Rev. Dr. Don Mayne writes from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada:

I was moved by David Batstone's troubles with the sickness of his son, and his concern for the families of the first 1,000 Americans to die in Iraq. My fear is that there may be a second thousand, and even more. As a Canadian I feel deeply for all Americans who are caught by your government's actions and I pray that you may find a way to bring peace to Iraq and to our world. How your readers must worry about their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and friends who are risking their lives. And we feel so defenseless when it appears that your only way to stop the carnage is through the ballot boxes this November. More power to the vote!


Terri O'Neil writes from Doraville, Georgia:

Mr. Batsone makes an excellent, painful point when he mentions the warrior posturing of both W. and Mr. Kerry. Our current state of affairs depresses me to no end. Why does Mr. Kerry believe people want to vote Republican-lite? Why hasn't he highlighted his anti-war career and the undue horrors that young men and women faced in Vietnam for the enrichment of companies like Dupont, Northrop Grumman, etc. I would desperately like Mr. Bush out of office. But more and more I worry: Will Mr. Kerry really be an improvement? Frankly, my conscience tells me to vote for Dennis Kucinich. Only fear of "wasting my vote" prevents me from committing entirely to this course of action.


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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