The Common Good

Justice

The Table is the Microcosm of a Practical Faith

My generation is a practical generation, and I am challenged by my faith to be a practical person. Don’t get me wrong: I love all verbal and theological things: story, theology, politics, and history, perhaps even inordinately.

But I believe in places. I believe that relationships, rooted in love, transform us. And it just so happens that most lasting human relationships are formed around the table....

The table is a place where we bypass rank and privilege and create a zone where you take what you need and bring what you are able. It is a commons where we are defined in new, equal relationships with one another, ensuring that all have enough and sharing. Believers in Acts took the idea of the common table even further and held all possessions in common, caring for the widows and dispossessed from the surplus, bypassing the inequality created by the currency stamped with the deified Caesar.

+Continue Reading

Walter Wink: Remembrance and Reflection

Walter Wink, 76, a world-class biblical scholar and non-violent practitioner, crossed over to God on May 10 at his home in Western Massachusetts. Following a slow decline, he had been in hospice for several weeks in the company of his beloved June and their family. (See "Confronting the Powers," Sojourners December 2010)

As a first year seminarian in New York City, more than 35  years ago, I was fortunate to have Walter as my New Testament instructor. In a seminar session on the "pearl of great price" in Matthew, I have a vivid memory of him breaking the discussion so we could go round the circle and each reply to the question: "For what would you be willing to die?" I don't so much recall my own halting answer, as the depth of the question he understood was put to us by the text. It's since become my conviction that no one should escape seminary (or baptismal preparation for that matter) without facing with that query.

Which is to say he was himself an engaged scholar, connecting the academy with the risk of the streets. While filling his first teaching post at Union Seminary in New York he was simultaneously serving on the national steering committee of Clergy and Laity Concerned about the War in Vietnam (1967-76).

He was notorious for foundation-shaking works. When I met him, Walter was a rising star in the biblical guild, on the fast track at Union. Then he published a little polemical book called The Bible in Human Transformation (1973) which made bold to declare, “Historical biblical criticism is bankrupt." It assailed the myth of scientific objectivity, the disembodied approach which kept the text at arms length and pre-empted commitment. In many respects it anticipated the contextualizing hermeneutics of feminist and liberation readings, but it didn't win him friends in the academic guild.

+Continue Reading

WATER: Clear Gold in the Desert

How much water have you used today?

You probably took a shower, used your toilet, brushed your teeth, maybe boiled some for a cup of tea of coffee, not to mention being well on the way to the 64 ounces of water that we’re told to drink every day.

Very quickly the amount of water you’ve used, without even thinking, adds up. Thankfully, water is not a luxury in America, or the developed world in general.

But a new video released by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) today paints a stark picture of just how precious and luxurious resource water is in many parts of the world.

+Continue Reading

Pastors and Congregants Wear Hoodies to Church

Christians and other people of good faith nationwide stood in solidarity with Trayvon Martin this weekend by wearing hooded sweartshirts — aka "hoodies"— to church.  

Monday marks the one-month anniversary of Trayvon's slaying in Sanford, Florida at the hands of neighborhood "watchman" Gregory Zimmerman, who shot and killed the 17-year-old African-American boy in “self defense” for “looking suspicious” while dressed in a hooded sweatshirt.

Trayvon was unarmed, carrying only a package of Skittles, an iced tea and his cell phone.

Last week, people across the nation began wearing hoodies to work, school, and community marches in response to Trayvon's slaying and the injustice of the kind of racial profiling that it would appear directly led to it. On Sunday, many churches took that vision a step further as pastors and congregants donned hoodies and wore them to church for what some congregations called "Hoodie Sunday."

+Continue Reading

Restoring Dignity

When police from the 115th Precinct raided a brothel a few blocks from Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, N.Y., in January 2011, one of the prostitutes leapt from a second-story window, breaking her leg.

The Korean-born woman, along with others in the apartment, was arrested on charges of prostitution. It was a heartbreaking story, even to JudgeToko Serita, who has heard many of them. “This is the saddest case I’ve seen,” she said.

This desperate act might seem to be an isolated, arbitrary event in the life of a single woman, a misfortune created by a series of bad choices she could have avoided.

But her situation wasn’t simply a result of individual choice; this woman was the product of expansive, organized networks of international crime that enslave women into a life of prostitution, robbing them of all dignity — physical, social, psychological, emotional, spiritual — and even their vocational sense of worth.

“She was so ashamed, she’d rather risk the jump than the public humiliation,” said Stella, the woman’s counselor from RestoreNYC — a four-year-old nonprofit that seeks to help sex-trafficked women in New York City escape and establish new lives. (In order to insure the safety of their clients, Restore staff are identified only by first name.)

+Continue Reading

We Take Requests: Bono's Address to the 2006 National Prayer Breakfast

 

Yes, it's odd, having a rock star here—but maybe it's odder for me than for you. You see, I avoided religious people most of my life. Maybe it had something to do with having a father who was Protestant and a mother who was Catholic in a country where the line between the two was, quite literally, a battle line. Where the line between church and state was… well, a little blurry, and hard to see.

I remember how my mother would bring us to chapel on Sundays… and my father used to wait outside. One of the things that I picked up from my father and my mother was the sense that religion often gets in the way of God.

For me, at least, it got in the way. Seeing what religious people, in the name of God, did to my native land… and in this country, seeing God's second-hand car salesmen on the cable TV channels, offering indulgences for cash… in fact, all over the world, seeing the self-righteousness roll down like a mighty stream from certain corners of the religious establishment…

I must confess, I changed the channel. I wanted my MTV.

Even though I was a believer.

Perhaps because I was a believer.

Bono of U2, in his 2006 National Prayer Breakfast keynote address

+Continue Reading

Fields of Denial

About every five years the Farm Bill addresses a broad set of food and agricultural policy issues. Commodity price supports, farm credit, trade, agricultural conservation, research, rural development, energy, and foreign and domestic food programs were just some of the issues included in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, as the last Farm Bill legislation was officially titled.

The Farm Bill is also known for the broad range of policy stakeholders who work on it, including state organizations, national farm groups, commodity associations, conservation advocates, rural development organizations, and faith-based groups.

But even with its inclusive set of policy issues and actors, the Farm Bill is notable for one issue policymakers and advocates doesn’t touch: People who work on farms.

+Continue Reading

"Honor Killings" is a Deadly Oxymoron

The recent conviction in Canada of Afghani-Canadian parents and son, in the highly-publicized legal case hinging on what has been described broadly as “honor killings,” has exposed the horrifically demented practice to public scrutiny. 

Though the three defendants — Mohammad Shafia, his wife and son — denied responsibility for the death of Shafia’s three daughters and first-wife, the Canadian court decided otherwise. 

Recordings presented during the trial included wiretaps in which Shafia called his dead daughters “treacherous” and “whores” because they dated boys and wore what Shafia considered to be suggestive clothing. When the verdict was announced, Ontario Superior Judge Robert Maranger determined that the murders of the four women —ages  13, 17, 19 and 52 — were, in fact, motivated by warped (some might say, rightly, “sociopathic”)ideology. As he ruled, Maranger said:

"It is difficult to conceive of a more despicable, more heinous crime. The apparent reason behind these cold-blooded, shameful murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your completely twisted concept of honor.”

Mohammed Shafia’s distorted concept of honor is one that is shared by far too many around the globe. It says that the murder of women and girls — those ones who don’t play by the family rules — restores the honor the family has been deprived of by virtue of its female members’ behavior.

+Continue Reading

Mitt Romney and Moral Imagination

In 1884, Romney’s great-grandfather, Miles Parker Romney, fled to Mexico from Utah. Miles Parker Romney was a practicing polygamist and he wanted to protect his family from persecution. Mitt Romney’s father was born in Mexico, his family returned to the United States and took up residence in Michigan.

While Romney wouldn’t agree with his ancestor’s practice of polygamy, I am sure he understands his great-grandfather’s desire to do what he thought best for his family. Luckily for Miles Parker Romney, there was a country that allowed his family to settle and try and find a better life.

What is unfortunate is that candidate Romney doesn't seem to have that same kind of empathy for families today who are also in difficult positions.

+Continue Reading

Christians and Climate Change: What Would MLK Do?

The legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the reality of climate change are both victims of western culture’s remarkable capacity to accommodate and neutralize that which is most critical of it.

Early in the civil rights movement, Bayard Rustin said to King, “I have a feeling that the Lord had laid his hand upon you. And that is a dangerous, dangerous thing.” Similarly, the FBI once described Martin King as the “most dangerous man in America” – and yet, as Martin Luther King Jr day rolls around again in the United States, we are often presented with a figure that seems more like a cheerleader for the status quo rather than a prophetic challenge to it. Somehow, it seems we have made this dangerous figure very safe.

For instance, in a speech at the Pentagon commemorating King’s legacy, the Defense Department’s general counsel Jeh C. Johnson remarked, “I believe that if Dr King were alive today, he would recognize that we live in a complicated world, and that our nation’s military should not and cannot lay down its arms and leave the American people vulnerable to terrorist attack.”

But to claim that Dr King would be pro-war today is as likely as him being pro-segregation. After all, this is the Dr King who said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defence than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” And this is the same Dr King who said in his speech on 4 April 1967 (a speech that turned three quarters of American public opinion against him), “To me the relationship of the ministry [of Jesus Christ] to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I’m speaking against the war.” And this is the same Dr King who said, the night before he was murdered on 4 April 1968, “It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.”

+Continue Reading