The Common Good

Blow out the candles and lead

Sojomail - August 3, 2005

Quote of the Week » The Christian paradox in America
Faith in Action » Blow out the candles and lead
Global Vision » The London bombings: moving beyond the horror
By the Numbers » Got water?
Building a Movement » Examining 'morally responsible investment'
Culture Watch » Abu Ghraib and hyperrealism
Funny Business » The gospel according to duct tape
Politically Connect » Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Boomerang » Readers write
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7. Put other stakeholders (shareholders, customers, suppliers, etc.) equal to or above yourself.

8. Everyone must get advice before making a decision. If you don't seek advice, "you're fired."

Visit for the rest of the Top 10 and discover why everyone's reading Dennis Bakke's national bestseller JOY AT WORK.

For a limited time, purchase 10 copies of JOY AT WORK and receive five free Bible study companions - a $100 value. Give an extra copy to your boss or pastor!


"Three quarters of Americans believe the Bible teaches that 'God helps those who help themselves.' That is, three out of four Americans believe that this uber-American idea, a notion at the core of our current individualist politics and culture, which was in fact uttered by Ben Franklin, actually appears in Holy Scripture. The thing is, not only is Franklin's wisdom not biblical; it's counter-biblical. Few ideas could be further from the gospel message, with its radical summons to love of neighbor."

- Author Bill McKibben, in his Harper's magazine essay, "The Christian Paradox"

Source: Harper's Magazine


Blow out the candles and lead
by Yonce Shelton

Ask your political leaders, ask your religious leaders, ask your congregants and neighbors. Ask them to celebrate, listen and lead. Ask them to bring gifts of conviction and action to Social Security's 70th birthday party this month.

Before Congress left town for its August recess, over 10,000 people (in just 7 days!) signed our petition. You asked congressional leaders to listen and be open to the needs of the people (Isaiah 32:3). You asked them to help broaden the discussion about Social Security so that the "covenant for the common good" could be kept. But they aren't the only ones with power to shape the national discussion.

Social Security is about all of us. Those we see, those we don't; those we know, those who are strangers; those who 'have', those who 'have not.' When the fabric of our nation and communities is at stake, we must provide leadership. Decisions could be made about Social Security in Washington this September that will impact millions of our neighbors. You may not see the impact in every face you pass on Main Street, but the impact - for better or worse - will be evident to families in your community. Will they celebrate?

You have the ability to strengthen individuals, families, and community now and in the future by leading efforts to save Social Security. Speaking prophetically to Capitol Hill is one way to lead. Raising that voice and being a witness in your community is another. Your leadership can help those you see and don't see. Leaders know when to celebrate.

To "do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow" (Isaiah 1:17) includes educating - witnessing to - your friends and congregations about what is at stake for certain commitments we make as a society, and how your religious principles guide your commitments. But we also need to celebrate what we have.

On August 13 and 14 in towns and cities around the country, thousands of people will gather to celebrate the 70th birthday of Social Security.

+ Click here to find a party near you

Social Security has been our nation's greatest anti-poverty program. It has provided a safety net and assurance when life takes unexpected turns. Just as we celebrate family, church and community milestones, we should celebrate the 70 years of what Social Security has meant to our nation.

Take a break - a Sabbath - from the concerns and challenges that lie ahead for Social Security. Take time to ground yourself in your reasons for acting and speaking. Come out and show that you value what you are trying so hard to protect and strengthen. If people of faith can't take time to celebrate and be refreshed, how can we have the strength, vision, and focus to strengthen our social fabric over the next 70 years?

The challenges to Social Security are very real. But so is the need to celebrate with our communities. Strengthen those bonds around Social Security. Take your faith and conviction into the public square and magnify a voice for the common good. Help your congregation, organization, breakfast club, or community center realize the importance of Social Security. It takes leadership, communication, and education at all levels to inspire and equip people to join forces and make a difference.

Join the celebrations August 13-14. Tell your family and friends, publicize in church bulletins, post notices on your Main Street. Celebrate with your community, and keep leading the charge to protect the covenant for the common good.

This month, Social Security turns 70. Sign the petition and join 10,000 of our neighbors in saying that Social Security deserves another 70 years! Visit


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The London bombings: moving beyond the horror
by Vinoth Ramachandra

The world beyond Britain responded in grief and in solidarity with the victims' friends and families, just as it did immediately after Sept. 11. Some of us who have lived in the midst of suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism in our own political "backwater" for decades may have been envious of the excessive media coverage that attends such tragedies in Western cities, but none of us doubts that such terrible acts of carnage - wherever they happen - can never be morally defended.

Many in Britain, not least among the Muslim communities there, have been shocked to discover that these acts were home-grown, committed by alienated young British men of Pakistani and Jamaican ethnic origins. Two of them, we were informed, had made lengthy visits to madrasas (Islamic religious schools) in northwest Pakistan, the breeding ground of the Taliban in the 1980s. The British media, as is its custom, paraded a host of political spokespersons and well-paid academic "experts" on terrorism to air their speculations on these events. None of them could agree among themselves. They also grilled (perhaps less well-paid) Muslim theologians and community leaders, demanding to know which Quranic texts and interpretations drove such reasonably well-educated youth to self-immolation and barbarity on such a scale. I listened with incredulity to an Asian-American professor blaming the lack of social mobility among recent immigrants in Britain compared to the United States. Tony Blair repeatedly invoked "hatred of our Western ideas and values" - the typically obfuscating rhetoric that we have come to expect from both the U.S. and U.K. administrations since 9/11.

If my experience of the 25-year conflict in Sri Lanka has taught me anything, it is that what often begins as a legitimate struggle for political rights very quickly loses direction and implodes into an endless destructive spiral of face-saving violence, with vengeance on the enemy as the only goal. I suggest that the misguided young men responsible for the London bombings were motivated not by cultural or economic alienation (not only were they were not poor, but the world's poor don't tend to do such things), nor by "hatred of the West" (there are many non-Muslims who hate liberal institutions and values but don't kill innocent civilians), nor by the study of the Quran per se (millions of Muslims who study the Quran diligently do not become suicide bombers), but rather by the simple and ancient motivation of revenge in "shame cultures" - not for evils committed against them or their families, but against what they had been indoctrinated (probably in Pakistan) into seeing as evils committed against the Ummah, or household of Islam, by the United States and Britain. These are honor killings, and have no military objectives.

+ Read the full article

+ Join a discussion on this topic


Sojourners and Call to Renewal are seeking an experienced professional who has Web programming skills and experience to join our Web team. The Web Associate will work with our Web Editor (along with IT staff and our Web consultant) to update the content and maximize the effectiveness of the Web presence of both organizations.

+ Learn more about this and other Sojourners job openings


Got water?

$46 billion - Amount spent per year globally on bottled water

$1.7 billion - Amount needed per year beyond current spending to provide clean drinking water to everyone on earth

More than one billion - Number of people worldwide who lack reliable access to safe drinking water

80 - Percentage of world illnesses due to water-borne diseases

Source: The New York Times

Read about other water issues in Sojourners magazine:

+ Who Owns Your Water?

+ Who Controls the Spigot?


Go With Peace
By Kelly Guinan

Prevents violence
Encourages compassion
Advances responsibility
Cultivates integrity
Empowers wholeness

A wonderful new book! 172 pages of hands-on lessons which teach peacemaking skills. Essential for anyone longing for peace, justice, hope, and a new way of being.

Proceeds support a peace education, nonprofit organization.


Examining 'morally responsible investment'

A coalition of Church-related organizations and NGO's working for a just peace is presenting an international conference: "A Call for Morally Responsible Investment: A Nonviolent Response to the Israeli Occupation." Hosted by Canadian Friends of Sabeel October 26-29, 2005 Toronto, Canada, the event is primarily designed for organizational representatives - international, national, regional and local - working for a just peace in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict - especially those interested in exploration and dialogue about "morally responsible investment" as a nonviolent response to the Israeli occupation.

+ See a schedule and complete list of speakers

Many of the conference's speakers have been featured in Sojourners magazine, including:

Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, internationally recognized spokesperson for peace and Palestinian rights, professor at Birzeit University, first Commissioner General for the Independent Palestinian Commission for Citizens' Rights and former member of the Cabinet of the Palestinian Authority.

+ Read the article from February 2005

Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, director, Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.

+ Read the article from August 2005

Jeff Halper, coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), Jerusalem.

+ Read the article from August 2005


Can one person make a difference in the fight against hunger?


Especially when working together with other Christians.
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Abu Ghraib and hyperrealism

Colombian artist Fernando Botero, known for his fanciful political satire through a unique style of "corpulent hyperrealism," has turned his prodigious talent to the themes of war in Iraq and the detention center at Abu Ghraib. Botero has created a series of 50 oil paintings and sketches, which went on exhibit in Rome on June 16, graphically depicting the prisoner abuses at the Iraqi prison.

Be warned. These images are powerful and disturbing.

+ See the paintings

+ For more on Botero, see "The Artist Who 'Did Something'" in Sojourners (October 2004)


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The gospel according to duct tape

In Finland, they refer to duct tape as "Jesus Tape." That's according to "Tim, the Duct Tape Guy," who speculates that, "One can only assume that this is because it is the savior of all things broken." Hear a sermon by Reverend Mark A. Simone of the Federated Church (United Church of Christ) in Chagrin Falls, Ohio on the topic titled, "What I Like About Duct Tape."

+ Hear the sermon

For more duct tape fun, check out The Duct Tape Guys homepage including an enlightening history of "duck" vs. "duct".



Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki

God, Bush, and the bomb

"Thank God for the atom bomb," wrote William Manchester in a memoir recounting his service as a marine during World War II.

Sixty years ago, on August 6 and August 9, 1945, atom bombs killed 100,000 people and destroyed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Consequently, according to the widely held view echoed by Manchester, they forced Japan to surrender on August 14 and thereby obviated the need for an invasion that would have cost even more lives. The United States Strategic Bombing Survey, on the other hand, concluded that "even without the atomic bombing attacks, air supremacy over Japan could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring about unconditional surrender and obviate the need for invasion."

+ Read the full article

Hiroshima film cover-up exposed

In the weeks following the atomic attacks on Japan almost 60 years ago, and then for decades afterward, the United States engaged in airtight suppression of all film shot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bombings. This included footage shot by U.S. military crews and Japanese newsreel teams. In addition, for many years all but a handful of newspaper photographs were seized or prohibited. Some of the long-suppressed footage will be aired on television this Saturday.

+ Read the full article


Engage your congregation in the pursuit of social, political and economic justice, along with community faith-building, through congregation-based organizing. Christians Supporting Community Organizing.

Religious Left Gear. Visit us at to get bumper stickers, t-shirts, mugs, etc. This week's featured sticker: When Jesus said "Love your Enemies" I don't think he meant for us to kill them.


Readers write

Richard S. Wigton writes from Middletown, Pennsylvania:

I give kudos to Jim Wallis for his excellent article "Must All Religion be Right?" [SojoMail 7/27/2005]. I find it very aggravating to hear those on the Religious Right say that unless you follow a right-wing political agenda that you can not be a person of faith! Even Martin Luther King, when confronting the evil segregationist beliefs of whites in the south, never said that his opponents weren't Christians. (A charge that I would have been tempted to make.) So why do those on the Right seem to believe that it is okay to say that those who disagree with them politically are not "real" Christians? The Right likes to pretend that the Religious Left has no constituency and that they and they alone are the truly religious ones. We need to show them just how wrong they are.


Nathaniel Koven writes from Hiram, Ohio:

I think Jim Wallis may be taking too vindictive a tone about Joe Loconte and his Heritage Foundation. I think Jim is correct and Joe is wrong in this instance, but I would caution Jim about sounding too smug about it. Jim, simply repeating your own soundbites like, "The monologue of the Religious Right is now over, and a new dialogue has just begun," gets pretty tiring pretty quickly. Biblical soundbites, that would be something else. I know the Bible backs you up on this, so use it when you refute a religious conservative's PR.


Chaplain Randy Myers writes from MacMurray College:

A thought crossed through my mind while reading Jim Wallis' commentary on the move to make all religious expressions "Right." Jim quotes Joe Loconte as remarking that progressive religious types are "culturally out-of-step" with most Americans. Hey, I'll admit to that. In fact, I'll gladly plead guilty to being "culturally out-of-step." Since when is it my duty as a Christian to be culturally in step with American cultural consumerism and the capitalist system? Aren't we supposed to be just a little bit counter-cultural when it comes to any system, whether Left or Right?


Frances Kissling writes from Washington, D.C.:

I am starting to wonder why the feeling of rejection some people of faith have felt from the "left" or "secular" folks needs to result in trashing principled or purist secularists as "secular fundamentalist." The holier-than-thou tone of the true centrist in Wallis' words, setting up twin caricatures Right and Left, does not do progressive religious politics much good. Secularism - even a radical commitment to it - is not a bad thing, nor is it dismissive of religion. It holds very simply that the power and authority of the state derives from the will and consent of the governed, not from God or more usually, the king or president's understanding of God. When governments derived their authority from "God," the gravest violations of human rights occurred and there was no democracy. In this context, all people of faith should also be secular fundamentalists. But, mainly, Wallis' demonizing of secularists is not useful, accurate or compassionate


Rene Wadlow writes from Gravieres, France:

Bill Quigley's moving account of the beating and arrest of Fr Gerard Jean-Juste in Haiti at the funeral of the journalist Jacques Roche is an account of the tip of the iceberg of current violence in Haiti ["Haitian priest assaulted, then arrested for murder," SojoMail 7/27/2005]. Unfortunately, Haiti has fallen off the "front pages," but the poverty and violence goes on. The divisions within Haitian society are deep and real efforts are needed to build bridges. The Haitian community in the U.S. could play a positive role, though some are throwing oil on the fire. It is important to see how groups, especially faith-based, can play a positive role for mutual understanding and justice.


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.


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.

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