The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

'Punk Jews' Highlights Judaism's 'Myriad Flavors'

"Here's how you bring light into the world," says a scruffy-bearded man in shirtsleeves and a knit cap on a Brooklyn rooftop. "First, you get up in the morning and you scream!" His mischievous grin melts into something more ethereally content as he screams. At length.

He's had plenty of practice screaming — he does it for a living.

The man is Yishai Romanoff, lead singer of the hassidic punk band Moshiach Oi and one of the half-dozen artists, activists, and culture-makers profiled in the documentary Punk Jews.

The phrase can seem like an oxymoron: The essence of punk is to challenge inherited convention, yet adherence to rich traditions of convention is the common through-line of all of Judaism's myriad flavors.

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In and Out of the Zoo

One time I took a group of people in the drug rehab program to the local zoo. Most of our group had been to prison – some for years. Most were felons. Most of the women had been prostitutes as well as addicts. Most of them had been homeless, had lengthy criminal records and had, as a group, used virtually every drug — heroin, meth, crack cocaine — and had used every deception, scam, or theft to acquire their drugs. In short, they had been desperate in ways and to a degree most of us could never imagine. If you think a hungry man will commit extreme acts for food to keep from starving, an addict will commit acts a hundred times more extreme. There are few acts an addict will not do.

And yet, few of these former addicts had ever been to a zoo.

One of these people, a woman in her mid-40s, couldn’t contain her excitement as we walked into sight of the resident animals. She shrieked and ran from exhibit to exhibit — until she saw the elephants. We happened to catch the trainer as he was giving a little question-and-answer time. This woman had endless, little kid-type questions about how elephants ate, slept, how they lived, and where they came from.

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Into the Playhouse

My sister has one of those plastic playhouses in her backyard for her two boys. When she hosted a garage sale a few years ago, children accompanying their shopping parents would see the playhouse and join in.

I remember looking over at one point and seeing five children playing together. Different ages, different sexes, different races. All strangers. All playing together.

When they looked at each other, they saw a playmate.

In his autobiography, Nelson Mandela noted that children have an innate openness that tends to get closed off as they spend more time in the world.

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion,” Mandela wrote in his autobiography. “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

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Engaging a Generation for Justice

One of the most gaping absences in church community often is a point of entry or transition for young adults. We do great with kids, and of course most congregations pant after the coveted “parents with kids” demographic. But what about after high school? How do we serve young adults as they transition to independence for the first time? How do we help them navigate the complexities of adult life, while helping forge in them a sense of character and mission informed by the Christian faith?

One organization taking on these difficult challenges in real, transformative ways is Mission Year. I sat down with Shawn Casselberry, Executive Director of Mission Year, to find out more about how they empower young adults to live out their values in the context of church, community, and even daily life.

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United Methodist Pastor Frank Schaefer Reinstated on Appeal

In a surprising reversal, a Pennsylvania pastor who was defrocked last year for violating United Methodist law after he officiated at his son’s same-sex wedding has been reinstated.

The Rev. Frank Schaefer learned Tuesday his ministerial credentials will be restored after the church’s Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals voted 8-1 in his favor.

The committee, which held a hearing June 20 near Baltimore, found that “errors of Church law” had been used in imposing the penalty against Schaefer.

“I was wrongfully punished for standing with those who are discriminated against,” Schaefer said in a statement. “Today’s decision is a sign that the church is starting to listen.”

The decision comes as the world’s 12 million United Methodists appear headed toward a split over the denomination’s rules on ministering to gays and lesbians.

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Wild Goose Festival Puts Spotlight on Visual Arts

Words and music are the stock-in-trade at most Christian festivals, but the Wild Goose Festival is adding another component: the visual arts.

This year’s progressive Christian smorgasbord of culture, justice, and spiritual exchange June 26-29 in Hot Springs, N.C., near Asheville, will feature plenty of speakers. Keynoters include newsmakers such as the Rev. William Barber, leader of the state’s Moral Mondays campaign; Jim Wallis, poverty activist and founder of Sojourners magazine; and Frank Schaefer, the United Methodist minister who was defrocked in December for performing his son’s same-sex wedding.

Run River North and Jars of Clay will headline the musical offerings.

But as with last year, the festival is making an intentional shift to include more visual art; more than 13 artists and arts groups will present their work.

This year’s theme of “Living Liberation” will attempt to challenge conventional Christian art with liturgical painting, a collaborative mural project, experiential storytelling, and an exhibit called Faithmarks that explores spirituality and tattoos.

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Failing to See God's Love

You are a pastor. You work six days a week, sometimes seven. You are on call 24/7. Every detail of your life is out there for public consumption. People project their unresolved issues onto you, especially parental issues from their childhoods.

By church rules, you are entitled to a sabbatical, perhaps three months every seven years. But when you propose it, you hear what one pastor heard the other day: “Sabbaticals are for academics who are making a significant contribution to their field, not for clergy who want an extended vacation and can’t take working for a living.”

What do you say?

In that one dismissive sentence, someone you trust tells you your work is insignificant, you want a benefit that you don’t deserve, and you’re lazy. What do you do?

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Excommunicated Mormon Kate Kelly: 'I've Done Nothing Wrong and Have Nothing to Repent'

Women’s ordination advocate Kate Kelly said it’s unlikely she will seek rebaptism anytime soon into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which excommunicated her Monday.

“I’ve done nothing wrong and have nothing to repent,” Kelly said in an interview. “Once the church changes to be a more inclusive place and once women are ordained, that’s a place I’d feel welcome.”

The decision by a Mormon bishop’s council in Virginia to excommunicate her for “conduct contrary to the laws and order of the church” stunned Kelly, she said.

The word “apostasy” does not appear in the letter her Vienna Ward bishop, Mark Harrison, emailed to her, although it was the charge lodged against Kelly when he called for Sunday’s disciplinary council.

“I honestly thought until the very last minute that they would do the right thing,” the Ordain Women founder said Monday evening.

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Deep In My Heart

Saturday marked the 50th anniversary of the senseless slaughter and lynching of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner during Freedom Summer in Mississippi. They gave their lives to insure that every person in Mississippi would have the right to vote and be a full citizen of this nation. This interracial trio believed with all their hearts that it was worth it to put their bodies on the line for racial justice and dignity, and they paid the ultimate price.

We have come a long way in the last 50 years, but the recent deaths of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis in Florida remind us that much work remains, and that white supremacy may have taken different forms, but it is alive and well. And today, white supremacy operates most powerfully at the subconscious level. And it has to do with an innate feeling of superiority.

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University of Dayton, a Catholic University, Moves to Divest from Fossil Fuels

Another Christian school moves to divest – this time, a Catholic university
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