The Common Good

Words Matter

Sojomail - September 24, 2009


The military never liked this stuff; they were willing to support it as long as the budget was increasing, as the president's pet rock. But as soon as the budget starts contracting, they're willing to throw this overboard.

- Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, commenting on the Obama administration's recent decision to make significant changes in missile defense strategy, including cancelling Reagan-era programs that Defense Secretary Gates described as "fatally flawed ... sinkholes for taxpayer dollars." (Source: The Washington Post)

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Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

Words Matter

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President Barack Obama delivered his first speech to the United Nations yesterday, speaking at the opening session of the General Assembly in New York.

He began by listing the policies of the U.S. government he has pursued in nine short months that have changed from the past. These include prohibiting the use of torture, ordering the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed, responsibly ending the war in Iraq, as well as advocating new efforts on nuclear weapons, Middle East peace, climate change, and the economic crisis. Obama made a special point of the U.S. having re-engaged the United Nations, but he also stressed that the problems we face require the “cooperative effort of the whole world.” He continued with an important point: “Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world’s problems alone.”

He then detailed four “pillars that I believe are fundamental to the future.”

First pillar: “We must stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and seek the goal of a world without them.” Citing the “fragile consensus” of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, he pledged that “America intends to keep our end of the bargain,” and called for a summit next April before the treaty review conference in May. This week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will become the first senior U.S. representative to attend the conference on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

This morning, Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to chair a meeting of the U.N. Security Council, only the fifth head-of-state summit in U.N. history. In his speech, he again spoke of his commitment to a world without nuclear weapons, and introduced a resolution that the Council passed unanimously. It includes a series of items designed to strengthen the non-proliferation treaty, and calls for ratification of the test ban treaty, along with efforts to prevent nuclear energy technology from ending up producing nuclear weapons.

Second pillar: The pursuit of peace, beginning with “an unshakeable determination that the murder of innocent men, women and children will never be tolerated.” He pledged continued support for peacekeeping efforts in areas such as Darfur, but devoted special attention to Israel-Palestine peace. Strongly emphasizing the goal of “two states living side by side in peace and security,” he went on to note the responsibility this places on both sides. On the one hand, “The United States does Israel no favors when we fail to couple an unwavering commitment to its security with an insistence that Israel respect the legitimate claims and rights of the Palestinians.” On the other hand, “nations within this body do the Palestinians no favors when they choose vitriolic attacks against Israel over constructive willingness to recognize Israel's legitimacy and its right to exist in peace and security.” Both statements were met with applause.

Third pillar: We must “take responsibility for the preservation of our planet.” Noting the conference on climate change the day before, he cautioned that “If we continue down our current course, every member of this Assembly will see irreversible changes within their borders.” He committed the U.S. to moving toward transforming our energy economy, and warned that “any effort that fails to help the poorest nations both adapt to the problems that climate change have already wrought and help them travel a path of clean development simply will not work.”

Fourth pillar: Finally, the world must have “a global economy that advances opportunity for all people.” He noted the G20 Summit, which begins tomorrow in Pittsburgh, and the importance of ensuring that while the world is still recovering from crisis, the world must “put an end to the greed and the excess and the abuse that led us into this disaster.” Most importantly, Obama said, “far too many people in far too many places live through the daily crises that challenge our humanity.” On behalf of the U.S., he pledged to “support the Millennium Development Goals, and approach next year's summit with a global plan to make them a reality. And we will set our sights on the eradication of extreme poverty in our time.”

To conclude, the president noted the problems of the U.N., but that “those imperfections are not a reason to walk away from this institution -- they are a calling to redouble our efforts ... We have reached a pivotal moment. The United States stands ready to begin a new chapter of international cooperation -- one that recognizes the rights and responsibilities of all nations.”

I was watching the president’s comments while he was chairing the Security Council; afterward, I heard the cable commentators say these were “just words” and not yet accomplishments. Fair enough, but words really do matter, and we haven’t heard any words like these from a U.S. president for a long time. As the domestic policy battles in Congress this week painfully reveal, accomplishments are much more difficult in a highly partisan environment where political leaders seem more interested in scoring points, keeping their biggest contributors happy, and beating the other side in the next election than in really solving problems. Nonetheless, words matter, and the ones we heard yesterday and today from the president were indeed hopeful words.

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World Vision’s Day of Prayer and Action

October 1 marks the beginning of the federal government’s fiscal year, and Sojourners partner World Vision is marking this beginning with a Day of Prayer and Action. Join us as we let our elected leaders know that we are praying for them.

On college campuses, and in churches and communities around the country, we will be engaging in prayer:

  • For children and families affected by global poverty, injustice, and human suffering
  • For wisdom and strength for lawmakers and their staff
  • For legislation that can positively impact the poor

For more information and to join us, click here.


Movie Premier: At the End of Slavery

For those of you in the Washington, D.C. area, come to the premier screening of At the End of Slavery on Sept. 30, starting at 7 p.m.

This new documentary, produced by International Justice Mission and featuring narration by Danny Glover and music by Johnny Cash and Moby, dives into the battle for justice and liberation for slaves around the world. The movie includes true stories from former slaves and undercover footage from police rescue operations.

Come to the exclusive Washington, D.C. premier of this fascinating look at the struggle to end slavery. Tickets ($10) are limited, so get them here now!


Repairers of the Breach

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), about 2 million Iraqis have left Iraq, mainly going to Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. These refugees have limited access to housing, food, education, work, and medical care. But through the Iraqi Student Project (ISP), some young Iraqis are still able to obtain a college education. Read about the program in this month’s issue of Sojourners magazine.


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Our National Loss of Civility
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Global Warming’s Six Americas
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How Women of Faith Fought a Dictator with Nonviolence
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This documentary tells a compelling story of how Christian and Muslim women of Liberia joined forces to combat the violent warlords and the corrupt Charles Taylor regime.... Armed with white t-shirts, the power of prayer, and their Bibles and Qurans, these women won a long-awaited peace that led to the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa's first elected female head of state and Liberia's first elected female president.
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President Alvaro Uribe and his political party pushed legislation through Congress allowing for a referendum on a constitutional change to permit Uribe to run for a third presidential term. The DAS official's statements suggest that the wiretapping is part of an all-out effort for reelection by President Uribe. Even the editorialists from Colombia´s elite, who typically toe a moderate line hardly challenging the status quo, are articulating deep concern for the state of Colombia's democracy.
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Flickers of Hope for Zimbabwe
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Colombia's Churches Cry Out for Accompaniment
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This week, hundreds of indigenous people marched in peaceful protest for their pastor, Justo Tunubalá, executed September 17, 2008 by the Colombian Army. The army does not deny shooting and killing the pastor and father of eight; they accuse him of being a guerrilla, a claim vehemently denied by the indigenous authorities and the Christian community.
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Zelaya Returns: But How Will Honduras Move Forward?
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Yesterday at my small church in a marginal neighborhood in Tegucigalpa, one of the church leaders, who is part of the resistance, said in his sermon: "We are stuck. We haven't moved forward, we haven't moved back." If Zelaya has returned it will be a big step. But what will follow?
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Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs: A Visual Feast with a Side of Social Commentary
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At the very least, I hoped it would be better than G-Force, that painful guinea pig action caper from Disney that I endured (for my kids' sake) earlier in the summer. But as the lights went down and the screen lit up, I was almost immediately transfixed by the zesty exuberance, frantic pace, and sheer ridiculousness of this loud and colorful film. The movie swings with wackiness, wonder, and truth. And, most of all, food.
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It should be no surprise that we strongly disagree with many of Glenn's views, but we too believe in a God far greater than all of us. So on this point, let's take Glenn at his word and pray for him to have wisdom as he speaks out on these issues. Join me in telling Glenn that we're praying for him -- that he'll choose hope over fear.
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Dad continued, "It's a good thing I was an educator in New Jersey where educators' pensions cover health insurance." If he had continued to teach in Pennsylvania where he launched his career, he would have had to purchase private insurance. There's a good chance that a private insurance company would have (or could have) dropped his coverage or rationed it. I asked him, "If we lived in Pennsylvania, you could have been bankrupted by your diagnosis?" "Yes," he replied.
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H. Freeman Associates: Fundraising and Organization Development Consultants. To learn more about Henri Nouwen's book The Spirituality of Fund-Raising and to see a six-minute video click here for details.

Managing Editor: Bread for the World is seeking someone to write, edit, and produce all online and print editorial products. For further details, visit our Web site or send cover letter and resume by October 9, 2009 to Human Resources.

What Would Jesus Buy? Find out in this feature-length DVD. Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping discover the meaning of the Shopocalypse -- the end of mankind from consumerism, over-consumption, and the fires of eternal debt.

Scared of being ‘left behind’? What does Revelation really teach us? Explore this question with Sojourners’ four-part study guide, Christians and the Apocalypse. Use it this Sunday with your small group -- available online. Click here.

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NEW CD -- CompassionArt: Martin Smith (Delirious?), Israel Houghton, Michael W. Smith, and many more collaborated on CompassionArt, a 14-song CD/DVD exploring music that inspires and challenges. Read the liner notes.

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