The Common Good

God's Politics

Who Will Save the Guantanamo 92?

In today’s White House press conference, CBS News' Bill Plante raised the questions with President Barack Obama about the growing hunger strike among prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. “Is it any surprise, really,” asked Plante, “that they would prefer death rather than have no end in sight to their confinement?"

"Well, it is not a surprise to me, “ President Obama responded, “that we've got problems in Guantanamo.”

Last week, a military spokesperson confirmed that the total number of irregularly held prisoners at the U.S. Naval prison at Guantanamo Bay has risen to 92 out of the 166 still in detention.

The Guantanamo prisoners began hunger striking on Feb. 6 after guards confiscated their Korans to examine them for contraband.  The prisoners reported that their Korans had been desecrated by the guards, which a military spokesperson denies. Fueling the strike is the men’s loss of hope of ever leaving Guantanamo alive, most having been held more than 11 years without charge and Obama refusing to free even the 86 cleared for release.

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Modern Hymn Writers Revive a Lost Musical Art

Most songwriters in Nashville want to get their songs on the radio. Keith and Kristyn Getty hope their songs end up in dusty old hymnbooks.

The Gettys, originally from Belfast, Ireland, hope to revive the art of hymn writing at a time when the most popular new church songs are written for rock bands rather than choirs.

They’ve had surprising success.

One of the first songs that Keith co-wrote, called “In Christ Alone,” has been among the top 20 songs sung in newer churches in the United States for the past five years, according to Christian Copyright Licensing International. It is also a favorite in more traditional venues — including the recent enthronement service for Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

Hearing that hymn sung by a boys’ choir with a brass ensemble and thousands of worshippers was a thrill for Keith Getty, a self-described classical nerd.

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The Top 10 Stories of April 30, 2013

Quote of the day.
“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center, I’m black. And I’m gay. I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation.” Jason Collins, center for the Washington Wizards of the National Basketball Association, becoming the first active male athlete in a major U.S. professional sports league to come out of the closet.
(Washington Post)

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President Obama, Mourner in Chief

Five men who know what it means to be president of the United States shared a stage in University Park, Texas. Then the incumbent among them flew to Waco, to mourn 11 first-responders, killed in a fertilizer plant explosion in the small town of West, Texas.

All presidents try to rewrite history to burnish their brief place in it. And in his new presidential library, George W. Bush will have his turn.

Barack Obama’s legacy is still a work in progress, though even sympathetic commentators are seeing him now, in his fifth year, as too slow to act, too cerebral to brawl, and too little respected by his political enemies.

In one role, however, Obama has excelled: “Mourner in Chief” — not one of his constitutional duties but oddly important.

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USDA Expands SNAP Access at Farmers Markets

Today a $4 million plan was announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The plan will increase the use of federal food credits at farmers markets by allowing retailers to use wireless technology to connect sellers with the SNAP program.
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‘In a Time of Hunger:’ The New Archbishop's Social and Spiritual Challenges On The Road to Canterbury

“It is a commonplace that the job of Archbishop of Canterbury is one you wouldn't wish on [even] your most antagonistic blogger,” quips Samuel Wells, Vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London.

This sense of humor about the office extends to the new leader of the Church of England himself. “[O]nly 40 percent of churchgoers are convinced that the new Archbishop of Canterbury can resolve the problems of the Church of England. I do hope that means the other 60 percent thought the idea so barking mad that they did not answer the question,” said Justin Welby in his first Easter sermon last month.

But the question is a valid one. Welby certainly has his work cut out for him. The Anglican Church, splintered by years of division over questions of homosexuality, same-sex marriage and women’s leadership in the church, faces an uphill road to reconciliation.

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Apocalypse Now!?

What comes into your mind when you hear the word apocalypse? Most of us think of us think of the total destruction of the world, or at least life as we know it. Think zombies roaming the streets, feasting on brains. On the other hand, my sarcastic generation is doing a pretty good job of using apocalypse as a silly word. I remember a few years ago when we had a large winter storm here in Washington, D.C.; it was instantly dubbed Snowpocalypse!

The English word apocalypse derives from the ancient Greek apocalupsis, which is the original title for the infamous Book of Revelation. Revelation involves a lot of fire, smoke, battles, and things generally blowing up, so it’s understandable that today we would associate apocalypse with end-times battles. However, the word apocalypse contains a much deeper meaning. Far more profound than the long-awaited zombie hordes – or even the end-times prophecies of some churchgoers – this ancient, misunderstood word is an essential tool for comprehending the world we live in.

Apocalupsis is a term that means unveiling – as in setting aside a covering to discover what lies underneath. At the most basic level, the Book of Revelation is about removing the blindfold that the Powers have pulled over our eyes, allowing us to see the world as it really is. Revelation is about unveiling Empire, exposing the ways in which powerful interests destroy the earth and enslave other human beings to promote their own luxury and power. Despite its reputation, Revelation is not about a future-oriented, earth-hating vision of universal destruction. On the contrary, it is a vision of a new creation and universal restoration – the world finally set right and edenic harmony restored in the midst of the city.

OK – great, you may be saying. Nice to know, but how is this relevant to me?

Fair question. It’s true that the Book of Revelation was written almost 2,000 years ago. Those were the days of the Roman Empire – think Ben Hur and Spartacus. For sure, things have changed a lot since then.

Yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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What We Find On Higher Ground

Here in the Upper Midwest (I live in Minnesota), the importance of higher ground is not just metaphorical, as snowmelt-fed flood waters rise to envelope communities. People, quite literally, are forced to higher ground by floods.

It is interesting, too, what happens when that higher ground, the literal higher ground, is sought. Necessarily, there are more people in a smaller area; that’s the nature of it. Diverse groups are forced together. We know these images from the news:  the floating cars, and then the displaced people together in a school gym, talking.  The power of that second image is that it shows an unexpected, shared space. People have grabbed what they could and fled to this place, often by walking uphill, and now they find themselves together.   

When the metaphorical waters rise and destroy what we know or count on, people do the same thing, but that higher ground is a broad mutual faith that encompasses the belief that there is something greater than ourselves, that there must be a reason for these tragedies; we turn to God. Recently, we have seen this happen in Boston and in West, Texas. At the memorial for the victims of the explosion in West, held at Baylor University, President Barack Obama spoke openly about faith.  

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Keystone XL: People of Faith Say 'All Risk, No Reward'

A pipeline that will run from Canada, through the Midwest, and down to the Gulf Coast, the purpose of Keystone is to transport tar sands oil, which is more toxic than conventional oil, to ports where it can be processed and shipped overseas. In fact, the only oil that is guaranteed to stay in the U.S. is what will be spilled in communities and on farmlands. We saw this happen recently when a similar pipeline spilled in Arkansas. And, as for the promise of jobs, independent studies say fewer than 50 permanent jobs will be created by this project. Keystone is a deal in which America gets all the risk without any reward.

It's time for our leaders to take a stand and to stop supporting projects that only perpetuate our dependence on toxic, dirty sources of energy that contribute to climate change. But in the world of politics, it's not enough for something to be a moral imperative to get people to act. It is the nature of politics, and democracy, that our leaders respond when they feel the political pressure to do so. As people of faith, we have a powerful voice in our country. Keystone would not have been an issue in the Massachusetts Senate race if local religious communities had not made it clear that it is important.

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If Someone Hits You, Hit Them Back

Last year, 506 murders happened in the city of Chicago — the majority of them in black communities. Similar rates of violence swept through places like Philadelphia, Camden, N.J., New Orleans, and the list could go on and on. I have in my life begun to declare myself a pacifist. I have made this change because I think, as a black man, the only recourse for me is to try and stop violence that happens in so many black communities. Turning the other cheek, responding with a gentle answer, forgiving a misunderstanding: these are the paths to recovery in my neighborhood. 

The “if someone hits you, hit them back” mentality is destroying black men at an alarming rate. Dads, teach your boys to talk it over, look the other way, or keep walking when things begin to escalate. 

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