The Common Good

God's Politics

Army Chaplains Need Training to Help Suicidal Soldiers

Chaplains who are part of the Army’s first line of defense against suicide say they need more training in how to prevent soldiers from killing themselves, according to a Rand Corp. survey published online April 7.

Nearly all the chaplains and chaplain assistants surveyed said they have dealt with suicidal soldiers, and most said they encourage troubled soldiers to get help. Because of confidentiality, roughly half said they would be reluctant to alert someone in the chain of command about the soldier, and roughly a third said they would not call a crisis hotline for the GI.

In addition, the study found that chaplains and chaplain assistants hold some of the same negative views about therapy that often discourage soldiers from seeing a behavioral health specialist. Most in the survey agreed that service members who seek help for suicidal thoughts would be seen differently by their peers. About half said they would be embarrassed.

Researchers said they believe this may be why chaplains are reluctant to intervene when a soldier comes to them with signs of suicidal thinking. 

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Obama Backs Efforts to End Ex-Gay Therapy for LGBT Teens

President Obama is lending support to efforts to end “conversion therapy” that seeks to change the sexual orientation of gay, lesbian, and transgender youth.

Responding to a petition on the White House website calling for a ban on conversion therapy, Obama writes that “tonight, somewhere in America, a young person, let’s say a young man, will struggle to fall to sleep, wrestling alone with a secret he’s held as long as he can remember. Soon, perhaps, he will decide it’s time to let that secret out.”

Obama adds: “What happens next depends on him, his family, as well as his friends and his teachers and his community. But it also depends on us — on the kind of society we engender, the kind of future we build.”

The White House petition, which has more than 120,000 signatures, calls for enactment of “Leelah’s Law to Ban All LGBTQ+ Conversion Therapy.”

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Journalism and the Sacred Work of Disseminating Knowledge

There’s an old adage in journalism that if it bleeds, it leads. It sounds kind of savage and it’s often that principle people quip when complaining about excessive violence in the news. 

That criticism isn’t wrong. Just watch 10 minutes of nightly news, and you’ll probably see nothing but murders and robberies, as if that’s the only thing that happens on a daily basis.

But what I think we forget when criticizing the bleed/lead principle is the inherent value it places on human life. The way I learned it in journalism school, “if it bleeds, it leads” means that people matter. It means that the loss of human life should never be something we consider a banality and that if there’s bloodshed, we, as journalists, have an obligation to report it.

In a perfect world, that would work. (Well, actually, in a perfect world, there would be no bloodshed for journalists to report, but you know what I mean.) But the problem that Gareth Higgins identifies in “A Newsfeed of Fear” (Sojourners, May 2015) is not so much the excessive coverage of suffering, but the callous coverage of it.

Instead of promoting the sanctity of life as I think it was originally intended, media coverage of crime and violence has been twisted into a formulaic script that serves only to create the must-watch, must-read news that brings in advertising dollars. And it can be hard to stomach that much disingenuousness.

Yet the solution is not a positive-news only model. There are media outlets — largely Christian ones — trying this, but I don’t think this approach adequately addresses what’s wrong with the mainstream media. For one thing, it does nothing to fix the problem of formulaic, disingenuous stories. People can fake happiness, too, you know. Furthermore, there are times when we actually need more bad news — like, for example, when black women disappear or when migrant farmworkers are being abused.

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Update: Open Letter to Franklin Graham

We want to extend our sincere gratitude to all who signed the Open Letter to Franklin Graham in response to Graham’s original Facebook post on March 7. One month later, the open letter’s original team of writers, along with the Sojourners community, has been deeply encouraged by the broad support the letter has garnered. Thousands of faith leaders across the country have signed the letter with more joining in solidarity every day.

We thought you might be encouraged to see this updated list of principal signatories who have joined their voices to the thousands calling for repentance and reconciliation. Stay tuned for more ways to stay engaged in this conversation.

If you haven’t signed the letter yet, it’s not too late. Click here to sign the Open Letter to Franklin Graham.

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What I Learned From Praying at the White House

I got the call on the morning of Maundy Thursday: Would you be interested in giving the closing prayer at the White House Easter Prayer Breakfast?

Uh. Yes. Wow. Absolutely. I actually don’t even remember what my response was, but it was probably something like that.

My feeling upon hanging up the phone — and the underlying sense all through the emotion and significance and spiritual intensity of our Good Friday and Easter Sunday services at my church — was, Who, me? 

I felt the same way walking into the White House with a bunch of leaders whose names and faces I’d seen before on social media or the news but never yet in person.

The other presenters that day were Rev. Amy Butler from Riverside Church in New York City, Sister Donna Markham of Catholic Charities USA, Fr. Anthony Messeh of St. Timothy and St. Athanasius Coptic Orthodox Church, and Pastor Ann Lightner-Fuller of Mt. Calvary A.M.E. Church, and as we met and chatted in the Blue Room while we waited for the President and Vice President to greet us before the breakfast, we shared this common feeling. Who were we to be doing this? At one point, Fr. Anthony said, “I’m just waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder and tell me they made a mistake!”

Eight years ago, a 25-year-old, grad-school-student, fanboy-and-campaigner-in-chief Justin would have been unreservedly and unabashedly over-the-moon about an opportunity like this — and please don’t get me wrong, I was excited. There were a lot of things I thought about saying to the President — “Big fan, sir!” or “We’re praying for you!” or “Come visit The District Church — we’re just a couple miles up the road!” or “How about that Championship game last night?”

But all that came out was, “Great to meet you, Mr. President!” And then I had nothing.

The breakfast itself was a fun thing to be a part of, too. From Vice President Biden’s opening remarks to President Obama’s reflections (and jokes, the man’s got a great sense of humor!)to the song by Amy Grant (a childhood musical hero of mine) to the scriptures read from 1 Corinthians and Mark’s Gospel to the homily on having the courage to hope and keep moving forward, the event was a thoroughly Jesus-saturated. It felt like an extension of Easter Sunday.

And I guess that’s what God has impressed upon my heart this weekend and through the prayer breakfast: we all need the gospel and the gospel is for us all. Before the breakfast, I met Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus, and we both commented on how even famous people need Jesus, how even nice suits and dresses can’t hide the things that we all have to deal with.

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‘Grace Notes:' The Quiet Unshakable Faith of Hillary Clinton

Late on a Saturday night in 2012, I received word from my sister in Mississippi that my mamma had passed away. My home was silent as my wife and two boys slept upstairs. I was reading when the sad call came.

I woke my wife to tell her; we sat on the edge of the bed and hugged. In my sadness, around midnight, I started cleaning the kitchen, likely because my mamma was always cleaning something. I also reached out to two friends.

It was within minutes that I heard back from Hillary.

Secretary Clinton joined me in my heartbreak, reminding me that she could share the pain because of the fairly recent loss of her own mother. She also told me to get to Mississippi, be with my family, and take all the time I needed — because my work in Washington paled in comparison to remembering and mourning my mom and being with family.

My family and I drove home, deeper and deeper into my Southern motherland, to bury my mom. My siblings had asked me to speak for the family at the funeral, so I rode shotgun and wrote while my wife, Karen, drove.

Along the way, drafting what I consider the most important talk of my life, I again reached out to Secretary Clinton, who was engaged in one of the most grueling and intense schedules that any secretary of state had undertaken.

Even so, she found the time to offer suggestions and talk me through this most personal task.

 

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A Historic Chance to End Poverty

We have a vision.  

End extreme poverty by the year 2030. 

There has never been a time such as this. There has never been a time in human history where we have been more equipped to do more than just envision a world free of extreme poverty. The empirical evidence is there — extreme poverty can be ended within the next fifteen years. 

But first, we must commit. As a global community we must act guided by the best evidence of what works and what doesn’t, and to use our voices to compel and challenge others to join us in this urgent cause inspired by our deepest spiritual values.   

This is a historic opportunity. The goal to end extreme poverty by 2030 is now possible when it hasn’t really been before. But it will take all of us to accomplish it. 

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Boston Marathon Bomber Guilty on All 30 Counts

Seventeen of Tsarnaev's 30 counts are legally punishable by death.
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Grace Bats Last

A bunch of us writers were in Florida covering spring training a few years ago. Our sports editor took us out to dinner. During the conversation, she asked if we ever found ourselves pulling for a favorite player to do well — say, in the ninth inning of a dramatic comeback.

The response was unequivocal and unanimous. No! Never! Not in the ninth inning!

By the bottom of the ninth, the story is written. Ready to be sent out as soon as the game ends. A lot of hard work has gone into those sentences. The home team had eight entire innings to take the lead. Sorry. They had their chances. Now they should just lose quietly. Don’t mess up my story!

For the most part, sports writers hate dramatic comebacks. You have to hit the “delete” key on a lot of hard work. And then you frantically rewrite on deadline, which is the toughest type of writing.

Some time later, though — and this may not come until you’re driving home at 3 a.m. — you let your brain throttle back from hyper drive and say: Wow, that was pretty cool. Even though it drove my typing fingers crazy.

One of the best things about sports is that there’s always a chance for something grand at the end. Something that can take your prose away — and your breath away — in one unexpected moment.

Maybe that’s why fans — OK, and yeah, even sports writers — revel in those incredible finishes. They remind us of the sweetly unpredictable nature of our lives. And how in each of our lives, as Anne Lamott puts it: “Grace bats last.”

It’s true.

I’ve seen that ninth-inning comeback play out many times.

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Women Rabbis Are Forging a Path Outside Denominational Judaism

At a synagogue in Charleston, S.C., more than 20 years ago, teenager Rachel Nussbaum began wrapping tefillin — two black boxes attached to leather straps that Jewish men wear as they pray.

To the older Jewish men gathered for morning prayers, the sight of a woman decked out like a man at prayer was shocking. Many didn’t know what to make of Nussbaum’s brazen willingness to break with tradition.

Now 38, and a rabbi, Nussbaum leads The Kavana Cooperative, a growing Jewish prayer community in Seattle that has much in common with a synagogue but doesn’t call itself one.

Like the tefillin-wrapping teenage Nussbaum, Kavana prides itself on a reputation for doing Judaism its own way.

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