The Common Good

Magic 8-Ball Says: Outlook Not So Good

Sojomail - January 25, 2006

Quote of the Week : Wendell Berry on rats and roaches
Warning: Satire : Magic 8-Ball says: Outlook not so good
Faith in Action : Find a State of Our Values watch near you
In Memoriam : Remembering Ibrahim Rugova - Kosovo's Gandhi
Theologically Connect : The real tradition of women and church leadership
Culture Watch : Jesus, 'Daniel,' and 'Earl'
Sojourners in the News : This week's media roundup
Boomerang : Readers write
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"Rats and roaches live by competition under the laws of supply and demand; it is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of justice and mercy."

- Wendell Berry

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Magic 8-Ball says: Outlook not so good
by Matt Ching

For me, there's really no better time to bust out the old Magic 8-Ball than for the State of the Union. I'm sure most normal people in my demographic group would pick times like the Super Bowl, March Madness, or "the one where Jen and Brad got together," but not me. I eagerly wait in nervous anticipation for President Bush's daring and bold direction for our nation, for I am a nerd. I live inside the beltway. My morning alarm wakes me up to NPR. My subway ride to northern Virginia feels like a peaceful retreat to the country. The program I'm watching on C-SPAN is interesting.

What a night! The president gets to make wild claims about our prosperous economy and deliver bold admonitions toward evildoers. The Democrats get to respond and sound boring. And everyone's got their spin. Some groups have even written their own "pre-buttals" or prediction quizzes. I started to write my own State of the Union, but my speech kept getting interrupted with parenthetical line breaks for "thunderous standing ovation," "Hillary Clinton sits up and looks presidential," and "Trent Lott falls asleep." Moreover, Donald Rumsfeld didn't take me too seriously when I kept using the word nonviolent.

So it's prediction time. What will be said? The pundits have their opinions based on leaks from Karl Rove, poll numbers, and the Googling monkeys at The Note. I have a more reliable source, however, that will take out some of the guesswork... my trusty Magic 8-Ball. We'll take this topic by topic:


MC: Will President Bush's speech mention God more times than Governor Kaine's Democratic response?

M8B: Signs point to yes.

Expect at least one third of the Trinity to get some solid representation on Tuesday. During the Bush administration, God has averaged just one shout-out per State of the Union address (not counting "God bless Americas"). Perhaps even more interesting than the president's theological reflections, however, will be the godly references included in the Democratic response, given by newly-elected Virginia Governor Tim Kaine. Like Bush, Kaine is known to be a man of sincere faith, and Lord knows that the Democrats are trying to reclaim...well, the Lord. We'll see if Kaine is ready for prime time, and much will be riding on how the public responds to a values message from Democrats. As for who mentions God the most, my money's still on Bush. I'm putting the spread at minus two and a half.

Iraq and Terrorism

MC: Will we hear about a comprehensive exit strategy in Iraq from either party?

M8B: Outlook not so good.

With a new Zogby poll showing President Bush's approval ratings under 40% and good marks for handling Iraq down to 34%, coupled with another poll showing that 52% of Americans think Bush should be impeached if allegations about wiretaps are true, Bush will certainly have some explaining to do. Fortunately, the president has the best spin doctors in the business who will use the time-tested tactic of: "9/11," "hey, Saddam is in jail, right," "9/11," "listen to how tough I sound when I say al-Zarqawi," "9/11," "next topic please..." Will the Democrats have any response besides hating on Bush and saying "We told you so... even if half of us might have voted to authorize war?" Sadly, I can't give a definitive answer here, for my eight ball simply isn't equipped to deal with that kind of nuance.

The Homeland

MC: Can Democrats avoid smirking on camera when honest government is mentioned?

M8B: Concentrate and ask again.

On the home front, the following topics will take center stage: health care savings accounts, guest-worker programs, the unqualified success of No Child Left Behind, the rebuilding of New Orleans (no references to chocolate/vanilla swirls, please), spending cuts for non-defense discretionary spending, and tax breaks that don't affect anyone in my income bracket. But the real elephants in the room (so to speak) will be questions about the Abramoff scandal, and the extent to which the President is willing to call out his own party for a culture of corruption. Expect a large gap in the seating chart between Tom DeLay and Bob Ney. The Democrats should certainly have fun with this one for what should prove to be a slam dunk, but the proof in the pudding will be in the extent to which lobbying reform packages will have real teeth. McCain and Feingold will both be hoping for some sweet close-ups here.


MC: Last question: Will league MVP Shaun Alexander and the Seahawks have what it takes to beat Big Ben and the Steelers?

M8B: You may rely on it.

Sorry, I had to sneak in just one for my demographic group. Go Seahawks!

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    Find a State of Our Values watch near you

    Regardless of whether your Magic 8-Ball agrees with Matt's, no one should have to watch the State of the Union alone. Supporters of Sojourners have organized more than 125 State of Our Values watches around the country next Tuesday evening. People in Sycamore, Illinois; Alamosa, Colorado; and Hendersonville, North Carolina, and other towns in 32 states (so far) will gather in their homes, churches, and community centers to hear President Bush deliver his sixth State of the Union address. After his speech, we expect a lot of talk from pundits and policymakers about national priorities and values. But who will respond that represents your values? We will, and we're hoping you'll join us by hosting a State of our Values watch in your community or find an event near you.

    Imagine our prophetic voices providing a bold and rapid response to the speech that reflects the biblical call to social justice and peacemaking. As people of faith who believe that an America of strength and security must also be an America of justice and compassion, we will ensure that our moral vision is represented and our voices heard.

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    Protect our national parks!

    From the vast depths of the Grand Canyon, to the majestic peaks of the Grand Tetons, our national parks are among our nation's most sacred places. Unfortunately, the Bush administration is proposing to dramatically reduce protections for these treasured places. You can speak out against this plan that would leave our parks vulnerable to exploitation. Please help The Wilderness Society protect our national parks for future generations by submitting your comments today.

    Grand Canyon National Park. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

    IN MEMORIAM ^top

    Remembering Ibrahim Rugova - Kosovo's Gandhi
    by Rose Marie Berger

    Kosovar Albanian children celebrate Ibrahim Rugova's return from exile in 1999. (Photo by Rose Marie Berger)
    Kosovo's president Ibrahim Rugova died on Saturday from lung cancer. He was 61. I met him briefly in July 1999 when I was traveling in Kosovo. It was a hilarious encounter made possible by a series of minor miracles and by me flashing my Sojourners press pass (which identifies me as "poetry editor") to ease my way through the crowd of reporters from the BBC, Agence France-Presse, and other respected international media for a private interview with the Kosovar president.

    I wanted to meet the man called Kosovo's Gandhi by many. When Rugova was five weeks old, his father and grandfather were executed by Tito's Communist forces, who were trying to reestablish Yugoslavian rule on Kosovo. He had every reason in the world to seek revenge on Serbs and war criminal Slobodan Milosevic. But Rugova was a committed pacifist, a student and practitioner of nonviolence. His mentors were Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mother Teresa.

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    + Read an excerpt from Berger's travel diary

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    The real tradition of women and church leadership
    by Sandra Dufield

    In claiming church tradition doesn't allow women to be ordained priests, Vatican and Catholic officials would do well to consider the history of their tradition.

    According to Dorothy Irvin, a Catholic theologian and archaeologist, the traditional Christian church had women priests and the archaeological evidence of this is preserved for us to see today.

    In the Church of St. Praxedis in Rome there's a mosaic depicting four women leaders. One woman, Theodora (ca. 820 A.D.), has the title Episcopa above her head, which means a bishop who is a woman.

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    Jesus, 'Daniel,' and 'Earl'
    by Donovan Jacobs

    It's no surprise that a range of conservative Christian organizations and commentators criticized NBC's recent TV series The Book of Daniel, canceled this week by the network, which blamed low ratings around the country. Between the title character - a pill-popping Episcopal priest who regularly talks to a vision of Jesus - his gay son, pot-dealing daughter, and martini-swilling wife, the show featured enough hot-button topics to rile up virtually anyone on the Religious Right.

    What seems odd is that these cultural conservatives generated controversy - leading to the show's cancellation by NBC this week - over a program that, based on its deadly Friday night time slot and limited artistic merits, might have otherwise come and gone without a fuss.

    One mostly irrelevant objection to The Book of Daniel was the charge that the series mocked Christians by portraying pastor Daniel Webster (played by Aidan Quinn) and his family with so many alleged and real flaws. If anything, the show's greatest strength was the way the Websters squabbled about their differences but remained united by faith and love.

    A more significant problem involved how Daniel strove for a mix of relatively sophisticated comedy and drama, only to settle for uninspired sex jokes and soap opera.

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    Pursue Justice, Seek Peace! That is the call for the conference on Palestine/Israel to take place March 3 to 4, 2006, at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, 1313 NY Avenue NW, in Washington, D.C. The interfaith conference is sponsored by local friends of Sabeel, a Palestinian Christian organization based in Jerusalem that advocates ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem through nonviolent means and establishing a viable and democratic Palestinian state. There will be book signings, video showings, crafts, and other displays, as well as cultural performances. Registration fee ($85 by Feb. 14; $35 for students/limited income earners) includes a Middle Eastern dinner on Friday evening as well as Saturday lunch. Featured speakers include Rev. Naim Ateek of Sabeel Jerusalem; Jean Zaru, a Quaker peace activist from Ramallah; and Jeff Halper, Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. There will be many other speakers, including representatives of major faith denominations on how their churches have sought to pursue the above call. For registration and co-sponsorship information, visit, e-mail, or call (202) 258-0569.


    Top stories:

    Robertson Out Of The Club? CBS News
    "I think we have to be very careful about quoting Robertson, because I'm not sure who he represents anymore," said CBS news host Bob Schieffer. "His comments have gone beyond interesting and into bizarre." The "Evening News," he points out, has not covered Robertson's recent comments. So who does he think is a better representative of evangelicals? Jim Wallis, whom Schieffer calls "very compelling."

    Birth of the Red-Letter Christian Movement 1-14-2006
    Christianity has been hijacked. Christ himself has been hijacked and, in the words of theologian Jim Wallis, it is time to take Him back.

    More Sojourners in the news:

    Conference Brings Gospel Message into Public Arena Catholic Herald

    The Post salutes entertainment's best of 2005 The Post Online

    Capitol Prayers Focus on Poverty for King Holiday The Christian Post

    Waking up on MLK Day - And Response The Chattanoogan

    Progressive U.S. Christians to mount challenge to religious right Ekklesia

    At the Water's Edge Helena Independent Record

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    BOOMERANG ^top

    Readers write

    Ann Ramsey-Moor writes from Ellicott City, Maryland:

    David Batstone's piece touched some familiar chords - and sent shock waves through me as well ["Are Catholics and Evangelicals cut from the same cloth?" SojoMail 1/19/2006]. As a graduate of Wheaton College, married to someone with an MBA from the University of San Francisco, it is easy for me to compare the philosophies and missions of the two schools - both Christian, but poles apart in their understanding of what that means. One (Wheaton's) is firmly drawn and tightly scripted; the other (USF's) is more open and generous in its lineaments.

    I loved my time at Wheaton. The personal, intellectual, and spiritual growth I experienced there has everything to do with who I am today. But I feel increasingly disgusted with and distant from my alma mater as the years go by on account of its narrow sectarian perspective, and the equally narrow range of orthodoxies - political as well as theological - it tolerates. Further, Wheaton makes every critical decision with an eye on the constituency. Better - by this logic - to sack a gifted scholar and brother in Christ than to endure the brickbats of donors ready to withdraw financial support. Of course, that is a thoroughly worldly way to operate, but what of it? Wheaton is not likely to change its spots at this juncture - or to see the self-contradictions in which it has engaged.


    Peter Marshall writes from Barrington, Illinois:

    I graduated from Wheaton in May 2005 with a degree in political science and a minor in philosophy. I took two courses with Dr. Hochschild, including one last fall (in his final year at Wheaton). Dr. Hochschild is one of the best professors I have ever encountered. He is a man of utmost integrity and a passionate follower of Christ. It was very sad for me to see a man like Dr. Hochschild leave Wheaton College. Wheaton is undergoing an image change that is not limited to people like Dr. Hochschild. I cannot agree with you more that Wheaton's institutional narrow-mindedness is becoming very costly to its body of students and faculty.


    Kim Lewis writes from Watertown, Wisconsin:

    I am a Wheaton College grad from 1987 and, unfortunately, am not the least bit surprised. I love my school but they often give me reason to be ashamed. Several of my professors in the English department during my time there were active Episcopal priests and, while allowed to be so, there seemed a small undercurrent of suspicion since they might be "too close" to being Catholic. Some of their liturgical practices were viewed with suspicion because many were unfamiliar with them. We spent a lot of time at Wheaton studying and reading great Catholic thinkers and theologians who have shaped our own understanding of God - why can't we see that we are on the same side? Jesus prayed that "they all may be one." We've got a ways to go, I guess.


    Aileen Bramhall Itani writes from Copenhagen, Denmark:

    Deep, deep thanks to David Batstone for inviting us to mend the breach between evangelicals and Catholics. I remember with sadness the pain I felt at college when certain members of my Christian fellowship implied that, as a Catholic, I was not fully Christian. I was often astonished to discover various things I was accused of believing - which were either wholly fictional, significantly misunderstood, or had simply never been central to my personal faith.

    Let's really honor this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity - not with another potluck with the church down the street, but with a wholehearted celebration of each and every member of our large and varied family in Christ. There's plenty of work on earth for all our hands to do, and there will be plenty of kingdom to share when God's work here is through.


    Brooke Riggio writes from Seattle, Washington:

    Thanks for your recent reflections on the Wheaton firing. As a recent convert from evangelicalism to Catholism, I deeply appreciated your tone and the respect you had for the Catholics you have known and worked with. I'm grateful to see such a direct dealing with an issue that lies under the surface of much of what Sojourners does - working in both Catholic and Protestant circles. Much more discussion on this topic is needed! I myself had been very misinformed about what the Catholic Church does and does not teach; there is precious little effort in the Protestant world to seek out the truth of Catholic theology.


    Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views that do not necessarily represent those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Because of the volume of letters we receive, concise responses that include a name, hometown, and state/province/country are the most likely to be published. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity. E-mail:

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