The Common Good

God's Politics

Sloth: When Working Isn’t Enough

As preoccupied as I get with working, I love the deadly sin of sloth.

Rather, I love to think that I’m above it. I value hard work and I work hard. I judge my days by my to-do lists and the number of items crossed off at the end of the day. It doesn’t matter if my lists are for work during the day, relaxing in the evenings, or even my time off.

On Saturdays I have a list of friends I need to email and get-togethers I want to plan for the coming week. Usually reading at least one chapter of a book makes the list. So do the normal chores of tidying my room and doing the week’s laundry. Not to mention the long list of news articles or theological blog posts I have constantly open on my computer for reading at any resting moment.

And that’s what my rest looks like.

Now that I’ve made myself look like an industrious and hardworking person, let me be the first to say these lists don’t get done. Note I didn’t say they sometimes don’t get finished. I never finish them.

+Continue Reading

7 Reasons God Just Might Be Psyched About the Millennial Generation

Millennials are the worst generation ever, a recent study by the Pew Research Center confirmed. The other generations already knew that, of course, but the study has given them new insights into what characterizes me and my fellow Millennials beyond “They freaking love Starbucks” and “They refuse to move out of my basement.”

The study’s revelations include that we’re not making all that much money, we have tons of debt, we’re racially diverse, and we use the Internet a lot (curiously absent was the fact that 97 percent of us do not like being broadly defined or labeled or otherwise demographed). We also tend to shun institutions, including religious ones, at rates far surpassing our parents and grandparents.

This last little detail has not escaped the notice of conservative media outlets, whose reactions have ranged from cautious reserved judgment to something bordering on full-blown alarm.

Like a true Millennial, I don’t think things are all that bad (heck, I wouldn’t know where the panic button is even if I wanted to press it). Actually, as a Christian, I think there is a lot to be excited about in the generation that’s poised to inherit the world … after we move out of our parents’ houses, that is.

+Continue Reading

Oil-Covered Birds, Andrew Bird, and a Chance for Redemption

Andrew Bird is one of my favorite musicians. I love the way he makes a one-man band, looping over his own violin playing, singing, whistling, and stomping to create beautiful songs. No two live performances are the same. And once, when I saw him in D.C., he played a new song that was still being written — one that had come from his heart, but he hadn’t yet finished and didn’t think it had an end.

He told us he wrote the song during the BP oil spill, often called “Deepwater Horizon,” that happened in the Gulf of Mexico. During that disaster, over 200 million gallons of crude oil spewed into the Gulf for days on end from a hole nobody could plug, and the whole country watched it happening live.

+Continue Reading

'Noah:' Deeply, Passionately Biblical

I’ll begin by cutting to the chase: Forget most of what you’ve read about Darren Aronofsky’s new film, Noah. It opens Friday. Go see it and decide for yourself.

Having said that, in my opinion Aronofksy’s Noah is a beautiful, powerful, difficult film worthy of the “epic” label. A vivid, visually spectacular reimagining of an ancient story held as sacred by all three Abrahamic religious traditions, it also is the most spiritually nuanced, exquisitely articulated exploration of the ideas of justice and mercy I’ve ever seen on a movie screen.

And despite what you may have heard elsewhere, Noah is deeply, passionately biblical.

+Continue Reading

Envy: Beware the Green-Eyed Monster

I think what lies at the heart of the mix-up between jealousy and envy is not only the result of many of us zoning out during English class, but may also be a consequence of the way our culture objectifies people. An easy example of cultural objectification is the way women are often portrayed in movies, TV shows, ads, and other forms of media. Women are often the passive recipients of a man’s sexual desire, a designer’s clothing, or a corporation’s product. The message communicated through these portrayals is that women are not people who have dignity, but are objects waiting, and wanting, to be used. Other examples of objectification are bountiful and are sadly all too common in our world.

The objectification of another human being runs directly counter to the Gospel message. By virtue of the fact that all people are created by God — and even made in God’s image, as we are told in Genesis 1:27 — all humans possess a God-given dignity that should not be overlooked. This dignity includes being seen as a unique person with whom a relationship can be nurtured, the ability to lead and contribute to a community, and just being valued and loved for the very fact that the person is God’s creation.

+Continue Reading

A More Just Minimum Wage

Last summer we marked the 75th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of the Fair Labor Standards Act – a landmark law that protected children, limited the number of hours in a workweek, and established the nation’s first minimum wage. The genesis of that law is often traced back to the story of one little girl who managed to get a poignant letter in the hands of the campaigning president. The note read:

“I wish you could do something to help us girls. We have been working in a sewing factory, and up to a few months ago we were getting our minimum pay of $11 a week. Today the 200 of us girls have been cut down to $4 and $5 and $6 a week.”

During this season of Lent, as we ponder the deep meaning of our faith, we also contemplate what that faith teaches us about the inherent dignity of every human being, how it compels us to better listen to one another, and why we must always strive to better serve one another.

+Continue Reading

What Caring Looks Like

I spent last Saturday walking around Anthem, Ariz. It’s a strip of outlet malls and a Wal-Mart 30 miles north of Phoenix in the desert, and it’s as bad as it sounds. It’s hot and boring, and I was walking around all day because my new truck was broken and the mechanic wasn’t going to get to it until Monday. And it was going to cost $1,600 … which I don’t have. So I walked around and felt miserable and it sucked in a Big Way.

Saturday night my friend drove 30 miles to come and pick me up. He let me eat dinner at his house, and his mom made steak and it was delicious. I got a ride back home with some other friends that night, and for the rest of the weekend, I was driven around by my girlfriend. In addition to this, my family lent me money. Some family gave me money. I was stranded in Anthem, Ariz., where I didn’t know anybody and didn’t have any money in my bank account and I was worried and bored and scared, and maybe I cried a little bit. But I talked to my family and my friends on the phone and they helped me. They cared for me. And they are still caring for me.

I don’t have a hard life and I’m grateful for that, but in this time of mini-crisis, the people who love me have gone out of their way to care of me. They’ve asked me exactly what I needed and given it to me without thinking twice. In some cases, they’ve seen that I’m too proud (or stupid) to ask for what I need and given it to me anyway. And it has punched me in the stomach. It is humbling and it is touching, and it makes me want to be a better person.

You see, Christian brothers and sisters, that’s what caring looks like.

+Continue Reading

The Joy of Forgiveness and the Seven Deadly Sins

I live in Washington D.C., a city in which mistakes are messaged and shortcomings are spun. True confession and true repentance do not occur — unless it is politically advantageous. Naturally, cynicism runs rampant.

In this environment, though we all know our own weaknesses, grace is rarely offered for failures.

Which is why Lent is such an important season on the Christian calendar. It is an opportunity to pause and reflect, to examine our hearts, and to acknowledge the ways in which we have fallen short. But we don’t confess our failures to a public waiting to crucify us. Instead, we confess our sins to one who loves us and was willing to be crucified in order to reconcile us once and for all.

Lent is rarely talked about as a celebration, but it is an opportunity to revel in the joy of forgiveness.

+Continue Reading

Rachel Held Evans: Saying the Things Pastors Can't

You can certainly get community outside of church, says bestselling author and blogger Rachel Held Evans, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth being part of a church community.

“Church forces us into relationship with those who are different than us,” Rachel told Sojourners. As a follower of Christ, she said, I have to be ready and willing to be in community with those who are different than me.

I recently caught up with Evans at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va. It was her ninth public appearance in the eight weeks as she bounced from Texas and the Midwest to the East Coast and back to Texas, with a foray to Michigan.

Rachel has made her career out of vocalizing what others are feeling, but can’t articulate quite as clearly.

+Continue Reading

The Fallacy of Good v. Evil: A Q&A with 'Noah' Writer Ari Handel

Last Sunday in Los Angeles, Cathleen Falsani sat down with Ari Handel, a screenwriter and frequent collaborator with Noah director Darren Aronofsky, with whom he co-wrote the film and the graphic novel, Noah, upon which it was based, to discuss some of the extra-biblical elements of the $150 million movie.

Longtime friends Handel and Aronofsky were suitemates at Harvard University. Before becoming a screenwriter and film producer, Handel was a neuroscientist. He holds a PhD in neurobiology from New York University. He was a producer on Aronofsky’s films Black Swan, The Wrestler, and The Fountain (which he co-wrote with Aronofsky), and had a small role as a Kabbalah scholar in the director’s debut film, 1998’s Pi.

Editor’s Note: The following Q&A contains some spoilers about the film. It has been edited for length.

+Continue Reading