The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

The Nature of Joy

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:9-12

War is always ugly. The loss of innocent lives is never easy to swallow. And yet, as tanks open fire on the humble homes of the Gazan poor and rockets rain down on a terrified Israeli populace we are compelled to ask, “How do we keep coming back to this profane and violent place called war?” Why do we consistently and continually fail to understand the simple principles of our own faith and the faiths of those who profess a belief in God?

These simple faith principles speak of a command to love one another and to have a deep and abiding respect for all life – especially innocent life. Then, why do we fail to love justice, peace, and mercy as God commands and seem so determined to visit such violence and destruction on our world and on one another?

Similar questions arise for me in my work as a pastor who labors in organizing people of faith to contend with the tough issues that we face daily in our country. Issues like the mass incarceration of our young, the struggle for human dignity by the poor, the lack of employment opportunities for those who desire only to feed their children and raise their families, and the millions who yearn to step out from the shadows of unjust immigration laws and be recognized as cherished citizens of an open and welcoming nation. These are the tough issues that bring me and so many other clergy and people of faith from the confines of the church into the streets and homes of those whose lives are tethered closest to the pain of injustice. In each of these instances the moral challenges seems so clear but the outcomes are incongruent with the faith principles that are designed to guide our hearts and direct our actions.

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Civil Rights Groups to Feds: Purge Your Anti-Muslim Training Materials

Civil rights and religious groups say efforts to rid federal agencies of anti-Muslim bias have faltered and prejudice against Muslims persists, particularly in the training of anti-terrorism officers.

On Thursday, 75 groups—including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Auburn Seminary, and the NAACP—sent a letter to the White House urging an audit of federal law enforcement training material.

“The use of anti-Muslim trainers and materials is not only highly offensive, disparaging the faith of millions of Americans, but leads to biased policing that targets individuals and communities based on religion, not evidence of wrongdoing,” the letter reads.

A National Security Council representative said the letter will be reviewed and a response issued.

“As we said when these news reports first came to light, the use of racial or ethnic stereotypes, slurs or other similar language by employees is both unacceptable and inconsistent with the country’s core values,” said Caitlin Hayden, National Security Council spokeswoman.

The groups point to a reference to “Mohammed Raghead” in a memo and the claim by a former FBI official that the CIA’s director is a “closet Muslim.”

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After Ferguson Protests, Church Volunteers Pick Up the Pieces

On the fourth morning after Michael Brown’s death, residents from different parts of the region came together to pick up the pieces.

Some were young, some old. The majority arrived as part of the faithful. Others trickled in after spotting volunteers marching up and down West Florissant under the hot sun. Carrying brooms and large garbage bags, they collected whatever they could find: rubber bullets, broken glass, liquor bottles, tear gas grenades.

“I needed to come out today just to get some stability,” said Gary Park, 34, an auto mechanic who lives near the area in Ferguson where Brown was shot and protests erupted. Close by is the looted and burned QuikTrip that sits as a symbol of the severity of the unrest that resulted from an unnamed cop fatally shooting an unarmed 18-year-old.

“I wanted some encouragement,” Park said.

Park is a member of Passage Community Church in Florissant, which together with a few other local congregations, organized the Wednesday morning cleanup. Pastor Joe Costephens said that although the trash-collecting effort was a last-minute plan, more than 100 people joined the endeavor.

It was a simple act but not an insignificant one, especially since authorities reported two shootings only the night before. In fact, the continued violence has put future volunteer efforts on hold, Costephens said.

 
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From 30,000 Feet, Pope Francis Reaches Out to Beijing

At Beijing’s oldest Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday, Mary Zhang, 54, eagerly awaited the arrival of Pope Francis—at cruising altitude.

“I’m very excited. It’s the first time the pope has flown over China,” said Zhang, a regular worshipper at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception who volunteered to help clean the church.

“I really hope he can give a Mass in person in China one day. It’s a sign of a better relationship between the Vatican and Beijing, as flying over China was not allowed before.”

The pontiff, who landed in Seoul on Thursday for a five-day visit to South Korea, sent a telegram of greetings to Chinese President Xi Jinping as the papal plane flew over northeastern China, as Francis does with any country he flies over, in accordance with Vatican protocol.

The telegram, sent early Thursday, read, “Upon entering Chinese airspace, I extend best wishes to your excellency and your fellow citizens, and I invoke the divine blessings of peace and well-being upon the nation,” The Associated Press reported.

Popes have globe-trotted for decades, but none has visited China, a communist nation that crushed religion during Chairman Mao Zedong’s time. Today, China is more open but remains a “Country of Particular Concern,” according to the U.S. State Department’s latest International Religious Freedom Report, which last month described the continued harassment and detention of some Catholic clergy in China.

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Needed: An International Strategy in Iraq

The crisis in Iraq poses two challenges — a humanitarian effort to rescue persecuted minorities, and a security mission to suppress the extremist threat posed by the forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The U.S. is right to play a leading role in aiding the Yazidis, Christians, and other threatened minorities in Iraq. The immediate threat against the Yazidis has eased, but minority groups in the region remain endangered by violent extremism. The Obama administration should work through the United Nations to turn this into a genuine international rescue effort. The greater the degree of international participation and support for the aid mission, the more beneficial and legitimate it will be for the recipients.

The U.S. is also right to call attention to the threat posed by ISIS, but we need to do more to mobilize international pressure against the group. The Islamic State is in many respects more dangerous than al Qaeda. It has conquered Mosul and other major cities, taken control of dams and oil facilities, and is steadily expanding its sphere of influence in Syria and Iraq. It has formed a terrorist army with an estimated 10,000 fighters and is now armed with tanks and advanced U.S. weapons stolen from the Iraqi army. The group poses a significant threat to the security of the region and the world.

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Remember That Our Lives Matter

It feels awkward and even a bit inappropriate to be talking about ‘celebrity news’ when so much is going on around the world: Iraq, refugees in Syria, children stranded at borders, Michael Brown’s death and Ferguson, Ebola, Ukraine, and the list tragically goes on.

But then again, it feels appropriate because it’s another reminder of the fragility of our humanity.

As has saturated the news, Robin Williams passed away this week. His life ended way too short at the young age of 63 – apparently because of suicide. While this was news to me, Robin had been struggling with intense depression – especially as of late — and was recently diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease.

To be honest, I don’t get caught up too much on celebrity happenings mainly because there’s not much genuine connection. I don’t really know them personally. Make sense? Robin Williams’ death – on the other hand – just felt like a painful punch in the gut. Perhaps, it’s because Mork and Mindy (Nano Nano) was the first TV show I watched (along with Buck Rodgers) after immigrating to the United States. I deeply resonated with Mork – this ‘alien’ or ‘foreigner’ from another land trying to fit in. Perhaps, it’s because so many of the characters he played in countless movies influenced me on some level as it did so many others.

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Are You 'Good Enough'?

I don’t know about you, and the people you know, but most people I know who call themselves Christians are particularly proud of the certainty that they are ‘good enough’.

It’s an odd phrase when you think about it; in a world simmering with chaos, injustice and upheaval, oppression, poverty and human trafficking, in our cities filled with addiction and unrest, our prisons cramped and over-flowing, do any of us really believe that the best we can do is ‘good enough’?

Can many of us actually congratulate ourselves, or our faith communities for our impact on our neighborhoods, schools or cities?

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Millennials and the Myth of a Post-Racial Generation

A study came out recently saying that millennials (a category that I apparently fit into) consider ourselves the “post-racial” generation. By and large, young adults think they are the ones who have moved past racism.

Except, that’s not true. Racism is alive and well.

Here at Sojourners I’m privileged to be a part of enlightening conversations about diversity, racism, sexism, and a whole host of other injustices. This makes it all the more frustrating when I try and continue those conversations outside the Sojourners community, and I’m met with resistance. Most of my friends are extremely uncomfortable discussing race. And not just because it’s a taboo subject; this is D.C., after all, and politics are always fair game in friendly discussion. Instead, I’ve found that my friends are so unsettled by the subject that they either try and change it, or they tell me it’s not about race, it’s about income inequality. Those arguments, which I follow up with “where do you think the income inequality came from?,” are still met with resistance, and arguments that if we could just bring people out of poverty, the racial disparities would vanish.

Except they wouldn’t. 

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When Terror Wears a Badge

Over the past three weeks there have been four separate incidents that have led to the deaths of four unarmed black men at the hands of police. For many black people, myself included, the moments following these tragic events are filled with despair, sorrow, anger, and frustration. Each incident serves as a reminder that as a black man in America, my life holds little to no value in the eyes of the general public. To be young and black in the United States means to live under constant pressure, something most non-black American citizens know nothing about.

For the majority of black people, the police do not represent protection or safety, rather they are a menacing force that terrorize those they are supposed to serve. I have never felt safe in the presence of law enforcement. In fact, whenever police are in close proximity to me, I feel in danger. Whenever a cop drives behind me or beside me I feel anxious, not protected.

Is my paranoia justified?

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Are All Christians Really Hypocrites?

According to one of my favorite authors, Brennan Manning, "The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable." It is just a much more eloquent way of saying that the world thinks we’re a bunch of hypocrites. 

To be quite honest, most of the time, the claim is warranted. I have a friend who wants nothing to do with Jesus because his father, a very religious man, was active in the local church but was abusive behind closed doors. Another friend continues to distance herself from anyone associated with the church because of their judgmental glares about her lifestyle choices. 

Whatever their reasoning, I understand. I, too, have personally encountered the hypocrisy they see in our communities of faith. And if I'm at all honest, the number of times I have been the hypocrite who has turned others away are too numerous to count.

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