The Common Good

Blog Posts By Beau Underwood

Posted by Beau Underwood 19 weeks 6 days ago
The deep, dark secret of the church is that the beliefs and convictions of Christians are often shaped far more by the hymns we sing than the theological tomes gathering dust on our bookshelves. Songs are avenues for praising God, but they are also tools for imparting knowledge. Singing is a theological exercise, so the words printed in hymnbooks or flashed on screens deserve attention and reflection.“How Great Thou Art” has been sung in churches, automobiles, and probably the occasional shower since the late 19th century. Long used in traditional worship services, many contemporary artists are offering their own renditions of this classic and adapting it for more contemporary settings. Even Carrie Underwood (no relation) is getting into the act.This is an ode to God’s majesty and power. It testifies to the beauty created by God’s hand and witnesses to the connection between the love behind God’s creative acts and the love poured out by Christ on the cross.The famous opening line, “O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder, Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made” sets the stage. They also easily get stuck in your head playing on endless loop.Creation – stars, thunder, forest, birds, majestic mountains, gentle breezes, and everything else – indicates the greatness of God. It provokes wonder among us humans, forcing us to acknowledge the subordinate relationship between creature and Creator. We cannot do what God has done; our accomplishments will always pale in comparison.
Posted by Beau Underwood 21 weeks 4 days ago
I eat, sleep, and breathe faith and politics; it is my passion and calling. From 9-5 each weekday, I direct communications and advocacy for Sojourners, moving around Washington, D.C. for various meetings, engaging with reporters and the media, and planning advocacy strategies around pressing justice issues. Then I turn off my computer and walk out the door. But instead of going home, I’m usually off to another meeting that has little to do with politics and everything to do with faith.I’m a bi-vocational pastor, and I spend 15-20 additional hours working in a local congregation alongside several clergy colleagues, who themselves are a mix of full-time and part-time ministers. Serving in a church keeps me rooted. It provides perspective when the dysfunctions of Washington threaten to consume me. Helping people discover faith and integrate it into their lives renews and enlivens my soul.Part of me pretends that I’d be spending this much time worshiping on Sunday morning and hanging out with my fellow young adults anyway, so I might as well be polishing my ministerial skills. But when I’m honest, I know it isn’t close to the same thing. I am way more invested in people’s lives – their joys and concerns – and the life of a particular community than I otherwise would be as “just a member of the congregation.” It is a demanding role that can be emotional, mentally and spiritually draining at times, but I love every minute of it. This is what I was made to do. Being a pastor is my identity. This calling is fundamental to who I am and how I understand myself in the world.The number of bi-vocational ministers is increasing rapidly. Many pastors who work full-time jobs and serve in congregations part-time receive little or no pay for their church service. This trend has been described as “the future of the church” and extolled because the model is a return to “the original church” that will “enliven congregations.”
Posted by Beau Underwood 33 weeks 4 days ago
To the dying church,The ongoing decline of American Christianity is well documented. A quick Google search of “mainline decline” provides statistics, commentary, and variously tried and discarded solutions related to the struggles of liberal protestantism in the United States. More recently, these trends are showing up in conservative Christian circles as well. The attention of the media, religious scholars, and cultural warriors has been captured by the rise of the “nones,” the “spiritual but not religious,” humanists, and evangelistic atheists.It is clear who’s ascending and who’s falling. Organized religion is doomed. You, dying church, are in trouble.I have seen your sickness up close. The congregation where I was baptized — once full on Sunday mornings — now barely hangs on. The church where I preached in college has long since closed its doors. My pastor friends spend their days worrying about shrinking worship attendance and a lack of financial resources for carrying out their ministry. Denominations pause from fighting and splitting just long enough to make budget cuts and lay off staff.What can be done? What should be done? Is this a new reality that we simply must accept?
Posted by Beau Underwood 1 year 11 weeks ago
The world as we know it may end on Oct. 17.This statement seems hyperbolic. It sounds like another absurd prediction of the end times that garners far too much attention from the media. But this isn’t about the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Unless the Congress raises the debt ceiling, Oct.17 is the date that the United States government runs out of money to pay its bills.The consequences could be catastrophic.Defaulting on our financial obligations would shatter the global confidence in the U.S. dollar that has made it the worldwide reserve currency. U.S. Treasury bonds would no longer be perceived as safe investments, which means creditors would demand higher interest rates to purchase the bonds because of the increased investment risk. The rise in interest rates would make U.S. debt more expensive to finance, leading to more government spending and slower economic growth. The U.S. Treasury believes a default could cause another recession far worse than what we experienced in 2008.Of course, this pending crisis is completely manufactured and entirely avoidable.
Posted by Beau Underwood 1 year 19 weeks ago
In the New Testament book of James, we are cautioned about the power of our tongues. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth comes praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be” (3:9-10). This is a lesson that Iowa Congressman Steve King apparently needs to learn. On Sunday, Rep. King appeared on Meet the Press and stood by his outrageous assertion that:“For every [undocumented immigrant eligible for the DREAM act] who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”Given the absurd and offensive nature of his statements, strong criticism swiftly followed. The Washington Post’s fact checker awarded it “Four Pinocchios,” which is a rating that is only applied to “whoppers.” House Speaker John Boehner previously denounced the comments as “offensive” and out of line with our society’s values. Rep. King is known as an ardent opponent of immigration reform and has made controversial statements in the past, so his latest remarks are neither shocking nor a surprise.But they should be.
Posted by Beau Underwood 1 year 20 weeks ago
As a kid, the school day revolved around recess. The bell rang, the books closed, and we bolted out of the building and onto the playground. For a few brief minutes anything was possible. Imaginations ran wild, transporting us to far off lands and transforming us into superheroes and sports stars. We cemented friendships and started fights; we formed alliances and enemies. And while our teachers and parents assumed that math, science, reading, and social studies structured our day, in reality our lives were defined by what transpired during recess.  Congress is in recess during the month of August. While many assume they have taken an extended vacation, nothing could be further from the truth. Recess is just as important now as it was when we were kids, but the rules have changed. Here are five things you need to know about the next month.
Posted by Beau Underwood 1 year 28 weeks ago
If asked, “what is the most challenging Sunday to preach a sermon?” I suspect few pastors would say July 4th weekend. But as leaders providing spiritual guidance in a country that is often associated with strong nationalistic tendencies, offering a word that speaks to the messy relationship between “God and Country” is a task that American pastors cannot take lightly.This dilemma of competing loyalties is not new. In both Matthew and Mark, Jesus is approached by opponents who sought to trap him by asking whether they were obligated to pay Roman taxes (Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17). An affirmative response would have been a betrayal of faith but a negative answer would be perceived as an act of sedition. Faced with this paradox, Jesus wowed his inquisitors by telling them to give Caesar what was due to Caesar and God what was due to God. Yet, as Franklin Gamwell, notes in Politics as a Christian Vocation, this only raises the question of what belongs to each of the competing authorities. If Christians are called to love God with all our being, then how can anything not belong to God? How can any other authority make a claim of allegiance on our lives?
Posted by Ivone Guillen, Beau Underwood 1 year 34 weeks ago
If Congress passes immigration reform, much of the credit will be given to the broad and diverse voices that have lined up in support of fixing our nation’s broken immigration system. Both the labor and business community have been instrumental in moving legislation forward, while the evangelical community’s call to “welcome the stranger” has received significant attention by politicians and the media. The coalition of supporters continues to grow, as last week the Sierra Club, the oldest environmental organization in the country, announced its support for immigration reform.Why would an environmental organization get involved with immigration reform? What could they possibly have at stake?A lot.
Posted by Beau Underwood 1 year 36 weeks ago
Guns are dangerous idols. While mass shootings are happening at an alarming rate and an epidemic of gun violence plagues our nation’s cities, our society’s fanatical devotion to weapons prevents us from enacting solutions to curb the violence. The cost of worshipping these false idols continues to rise, as firearms kill more than 80 people a day. Since the Dec. 14 shooting in Newton, Conn., nearly 3,500 people have died because of a gun. Some of them were suicides. Some were gang-related gun deaths. Many use these facts to insinuate that the deaths somehow aren't equally tragic. But as Christians we know that all of them were children of God created in the Divine image.While the idolatry rages on, prophets are beginning to speak out.
Posted by Beau Underwood 1 year 37 weeks ago
While immigration and gun violence issues are capturing most of the week's headlines, the budget battles have re-emerged in Washington, D.C. Last month House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) released competing budget proposals. And today, President Barack Obama released his own plan, which aims to reduce the deficit through a combination of spending cuts and revenue increases. As The Washington Post's Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas note:Today’s budget is the White House’s effort to reach the bedrock of the fiscal debate. Half of its purpose is showing what they’re willing to do. They want a budget compromise, and this budget proves it. There are now liberals protesting on the White House lawn. But the other half is revealing what the GOP is — or, more to the point, isn’t — willing to do. Republicans don’t want a budget compromise, and this budget is likely to prove that, too.As the White House sees it, there are two possible outcomes to this budget. One is that it actually leads to a grand bargain, either now or in a couple of months. Another is that it proves to the press and the public that Republican intransigence is what’s standing in the way of a grand bargain.
Posted by Beau Underwood 2 years 2 weeks ago
In the church where I grew up, the first Sunday in Advent was dubbed the “hanging of the greens.” On that special Sunday, we sang carols in the decorated sanctuary, all culminating in the children’s live nativity scene. The service never changed from year to year. The only variables were how many kids needed roles and which young child would get stage fright, thus leaving part of the the story without visual representation. It always seemed like the doves were cursed. The doves rarely remained on stage for the entire performance. Over the years, I was a variety of animals — a wise man, a shepherd, and finally Joseph. I never got stage fright. I was never a dove. I can only imagine what my mother would’ve done if I had been that kid. It took me years to realize that there was a character missing from my congregation’s telling of the story. We always left out King Herod. This was a huge oversight, because Herod plays a major role in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth. 
Posted by Beau Underwood 2 years 3 weeks ago
“Faith is recognizing that if at Christmas Jesus became like us, it was so we might become more like him,” wrote the well-known preacher and activist William Sloan Coffin. He goes on to add, “We know what this means; watching Jesus heal the sick, empower the poor, and scorn the powerful, we see transparently the power of God at work.”*Christmas really is about seeing the power of God at work, but far too often pastors and churches fail to tell this story. Oh sure, we preach about Mary and Joseph, Jesus being born in a Bethlehem manger, and the Magi following a star to find him and offer gold, frankincense, and myrrh. My fear is that the story has grown familiar and routine. We have forgotten its power and no longer see its challenge. In Matthew’s Gospel, the Magi seek out Jesus after hearing of his birth. In order to find him they ask King Herod where they can find the new king. This, of course, is news to Herod who is surprised to learn that his title has been claimed by a baby. Herod consults his advisors and then reacts with the expected calmness of a leader anticipating a conflict, which is to say his response is not calm at all. This story is an announcement that Jesus has arrived to challenge the powerful. The Messiah was not born meek and mild.   
Posted by Beau Underwood 2 years 4 weeks ago
Now that the election is over, policymakers and the media have refocused their attention on the looming budget battles in Washington. In January, a variety of tax increases and spending cuts will go into effect unless Congress and President Barack Obama agree on a plan to avoid what has been deemed “the fiscal cliff.”As the country braces for another fiscal showdown in the nation’s capitol, here are five things you need to know on the issue likely to dominate the news over the next several months. 
Posted by Beau Underwood 2 years 13 weeks ago
Global tensions between Christians and Muslims are high as reactions to a stridently anti-Muslim film rage on in many countries. By now, most of us have heard about the video, followed the media coverage of the protests, and mourned those, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, who have died from the violence.In the midst of all this, an organization deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center has decided to run ads in New York City subway stations that imply Muslims are “savages.” Many faith groups have spoken out to denounce the offensive ads, but the horse is already out of the barn, as the ads already have been posted and will be seen each day by countless New York City commuters. 
Posted by Beau Underwood 2 years 18 weeks ago
Today, two Christian leaders in Arizona delivered a petition signed by thousands of Christians to Gov. Jan Brewer calling on her to retract her controversial executive order denying driver’s licenses and other benefits to undocumented young people who qualify for deferred action. The petition was signed by members of the Sojourners community and reads:We believe every person, regardless of immigration status, is created in God's image. Your recent executive order denying driver's licenses and other benefits to undocumented young people who qualify for deferred action is harsh and short-sighted. As people of faith, we urge you to reconsider your position and retract this executive order so that all God's children in Arizona can contribute to your state's economy and strengthen its communities.Pastor Yvette Lopez of the New Life Church of God in Tucson, Ariz., also helped deliver the petition.“I’m a conservative, but this is this was the last straw for me,” Lopez said.“This executive order is deplorable, and it must be rescinded; my faith and my politics demand this.”
Posted by Beau Underwood 2 years 18 weeks ago
President Barack Obama recently announced a policy change that would let young people living in the U.S. without immigration status pursue an education and find meaningful work without fear of deportation. As communities continue to suffer the effects of the country’s broken immigration system and families live in fear of their loved ones being deported, this was news to celebrate and an answer to prayer.Apparently Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona, had a different reaction to the compassion and progress embodied by this new policy. On the day it went into effect, Brewer issued an executive order denying driver’s licenses to young people in Arizona qualifying for the relief being offered by the federal government. 
Posted by Beau Underwood 2 years 22 weeks ago
Living in poverty has always been a struggle, but in Alabama being poor could land you in prison. According to a recent story in The New York Times, Alabama resident Gina Ray was locked up for over a month because she couldn’t pay fees and fines related to minor traffic offenses. Speeding while poor shouldn’t land someone in jail. This punishment doesn’t fit the crime.Why would such morally outrageous penalties be imposed for such minor violations? Because criminal justice has become big business. Private companies are making millions of dollars running prisons, administering probation systems, and providing health care to those living behind bars.
Posted by Beau Underwood 2 years 23 weeks ago
Independence Day in Joplin, Mo. saw fireworks of a different kind. On July 4, the Islamic Society of Joplin’s mosque was set on fire. While the mosque has only been open since 2007, it has already been targeted twice by arsonists. These hateful attacks must stop.The biblical call to love our neighbors as ourselves requires Christians to speak out against these attacks. By protecting the rights of American Muslims to worship in the United States, we provide a powerful witness to those countries where Christian minorities face attack and persecution, such as Nigeria, Egypt, Somalia, and Kenya. If we expect others to take our advocacy for global religious freedom seriously, then our efforts must begin in our own backyard.While the FBI is investigating the incident, the fact that a religious community was targeted means the attack should be investigated as a potential hate crime. Christians around the country are speaking out to ensure the Department of Justice gives this the necessary attention it deserves. Add your voice to the petition calling for a hate crimes investigation and show a little love to your Muslim neighbors in Joplin, Mo.
Posted by Beau Underwood 2 years 26 weeks ago
In a widely anticipated and extremely consequential decision, the Supreme Court ruled today in a 5-4 decision that President Barack Obama’s chief domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act, is constitutional.The main challenge to the law had focused on the “individual mandate,” which required people to purchase insurance or pay a fine. In its ruling, the Court upheld the mandate under the taxing power given to Congress in the Constitution.
Posted by Beau Underwood 2 years 26 weeks ago
Today the Supreme Court struck down three central provisions of Arizona’s controversial anti-immigrant law, SB 1070. Attempts by Arizona to force immigrants to carry identification, create legal penalties for undocumented workers seeking employment, or detain individuals solely based on suspicions about their immigration status were ruled to interfere with the federal government’s right and responsibility to set immigration policy.The Court let one section, known as 2(B), to stand, which allows law enforcement to check the immigration status of individuals apprehended for non-immigration offenses, if law enforcement has a “reasonable suspicion” that the person violated U.S. immigration laws in entering the country. (Read more on concerns about the racial profiling measure HERE.)
Posted by Beau Underwood 2 years 27 weeks ago
In June of 1998, three presumed white supremacists from Jasper, Texas severely beat and then murdered James Byrd, Jr. by tying him to a pick-up truck and dragging his body for miles.  This incident has made the town infamous and, unfortunately, the racial divide continues to linger. According to a report in The New York Times, the city’s first African-American police chief has been fired by a predominantly white city council, prompting the former chief to take legal action and the NAACP to seek a federal investigation.Even more shocking are the sentiments expressed by some of the town’s leaders. 
Posted by Beau Underwood 2 years 28 weeks ago
As Congress continues to wage a war of political ideology over budget cuts and entitlement programs, they need to remember that these abstract policy debates have real consequences for millions of Americans. Deciding between funding programs that feed the hungriest Americans versus giving tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans is not really a choice, at least not when it comes to the demands of the Gospel.
Posted by Beau Underwood 2 years 30 weeks ago
Recently, the Kansas’ legislature and governor enacted a law to ensure state courts and agencies do not consider foreign laws in legal decision-making.  While the language is broadly written, the law’s narrow intention is clearly understood. The Kansas legislature has irrationally concluded that Sharia law somehow threatens the state’s well-being and decisive action was needed.This, of course, is false.
Posted by Beau Underwood 2 years 30 weeks ago
The debate over immigration policy and border security often focuses on the border shared by the United States and Mexico. However, The New York Times recently offered a revealing and troublesome picture of efforts by the U.S. Border Patrol along the dividing line between the US and Canada.According to the report, the border agents “hover outside the warehouse where Mexican immigrants sell the salal they pick in the temperate rain forest. Sometimes they confront people whose primary offense, many argue, is skin tone.”