The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

Why Are Manger Scenes So Weird?

Figures in nativity scenes are pretty weird, aren't they? This is true of most manger scenes, whether we’re talking about the ceramic one under a tree or the statuesque one in a church or the plastic one on a lawn. First off, there’s Mary, always looking very fresh and calm and full of reflection — which is quite impressive considering that she just gave birth without any sedative. Then there’s Joseph, doing some kind of man-thing off to the side — holding a lantern or a large stick. He looks totally composed, too.

And there’s the baby Jesus with a full head of hair, wide-open eyes and arms outstretched like he’s ready to belt out a song.

Not to ruin anyone’s Christmas spirit here, but what the heck?

If our manger scenes were realistic, Mary would be recovering from a painful labor full of sweat and blood, with a look on her face that’s anything but serene. And Joseph — wouldn’t he be a nervous wreck, too? His hand too shaky to hold a lantern?

And about that newborn. Shouldn’t he be red-faced and screaming? Eyes clenched closed and wisps of hair stuck to the top of a head that‘s still odd-shaped from all the squeezing?

Instead, we’ve sanitized and romanticized it. We’ve removed all the blood and sweat and tears and pain and goo. It’s no longer something real. We’ve left out all the messy parts. The oh-my-God-what-now parts. The I’m-screaming-as-loud-as-I-can-because-it-really-hurts parts. The oh-no-I’ve-stepped-in-the-animal-droppings parts. 

The real parts.

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'Some Folks Just Woke Up:' Families of Victims of Police Brutality Join 'Justice for All' March in Washington, D.C.

“Excuse my ignorance, I thought I was a free black man.”

“I’m 11 [years old], I matter.”

 “You can choose to look away, but never again can you say you didn’t know.”

“How many times do we have to protest the same [s**t]?”

“White silence is white violence.”

 “We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

These signs, and many others, lined the horizon of Pennsylvania Avenue on Saturday in Washington, D.C. In a ‘Justice for All’ march organized by Al Sharpton and the National Action Network, thousands of protesters gathered to protest police actions that have resulted in the deaths of unarmed young black men across the United States.

After marching from Freedom Plaza to the U.S. Capitol, protesters listened to speakers from national racial justice organizations address some of these most recent acts of police brutality.

Al Sharpton sought to draw attention to the diversity present on the streets.

 “This is not a black march or a white march. This is an American march for American rights,” he said.

Indeed, the black community was not alone in speaking up against police brutality. One Latina activist encouraged her Latino brothers and sisters to “voice their pain” from police harassment and “come forth and unify with the African American community so we can be strong together.”

“¡Ya Basta!” she concluded. [“Enough is enough!”]

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Why Jews Skipped Hanukkah and Wrote the Most Beloved Christmas Songs

Christians don’t seem to mind that so many beloved Christmas songs were written by Jews — and Jews tend to reel off the list with pride.

"White Christmas." "Let It Snow." "Santa Baby." "I’ll Be Home for Christmas." "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire." "Silver Bells." "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

Those not mentioned here could fill an album.

But why didn’t the Jews write any similarly iconic songs for their holiday that falls around Christmastime — Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights?

“I Have a Little Dreidl"? Great song … if you’re 4.

There are reasons that Jews are good at Christmas songs and why so many of these songs became so popular. And there are reasons why Jews didn’t write similarly catchy tunes for Hanukkah — or any other Jewish holiday.

But first, a little music history.

 
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Weekly Wrap 12.12.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. Read the Torture Report
While its 525 pages — and disturbing subject matter — may cause you to opt for the news coverage and analysis, you can actually read the entire Torture Report yourself — even before Melville House Books ensures it’s on the shelves your local bookstore. Download now.

2. WATCH: John McCain’s Floor Speech on Torture
In case you do need some context on the importance of releasing this report, watch this floor statement by Arizona Sen. McCain, quite an authority on the matter. “I know the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights, which are protected by international conventions the U.S. not only joined, but for the most part authored.”

3. Two Years Since Newtown: WATCH This Father’s Story
Sunday marks the two-year anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in which 20 children and six faculty and staff were killed. Mark Barden, the father of Daniel, 7, who was killed in the tragedy, tells his powerful story in this video. 

4. What MSU Protesters Are Really Fighting For
With all of the “controversy” over the Rolling Stone UVA rape story, it might be tempting to think that college campus sexual assault — and the mishandling of cases by college administrators — is not quite on the epidemic scale the piece made it out to be. (Y’know, kind of like when it’s cold outside and people say, “So much for ‘global warming!’” *facepalm*) But it’s not just one person’s story, and it’s not just UVA. Check out this piece to see what’s happening on another college campus.  

 

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Pope Francis Is Naming New Cardinals. Will Any Be American?

The Vatican announced Dec. 11 that Pope Francis will name a new batch of cardinals in February, adding to the select group of churchmen who will someday gather to elect his successor.

Rome won’t reveal the names until next month, but could an American be among them?

There are a number of factors that will govern the choices, and thus the predictions:

First, there are 208 cardinals in the College of Cardinals, but at the age of 80 a cardinal is no longer allowed to vote in a conclave. That leaves 112 cardinals under the age of 80, as of now, though two more will age out in February and another two in March and April.

The customary ceiling on the number of electors today is 120 (it has changed many times over the centuries). That means that Francis could give a so-called red hat to 10 or 12 bishops.

The pope could also raise the ceiling, or ignore it, as Saint John Paul II often did during his long reign.

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Dalai Lama Says Pope Francis' Unwillingness to Meet 'Could Cause Problems'

The Dalai Lama said Dec. 11 that he would not meet Pope Francis while in Rome for a summit of Nobel Peace Prize winners.

“The Vatican administration says it is not possible because it could cause problems,” the Dalai Lama said, hinting that the Vatican may be unwilling to irk China, a country with which it wants to engage and perhaps re-establish diplomatic relations.

But the Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, declined to say whether the pope had personally turned down a request for a meeting with the spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhists.

“Pope Francis obviously holds the Dalai Lama in very high regard, but he will not be meeting any of the Nobel laureates,” Lombardi told journalists.

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Are We Missing the Prophetic Connection?

Could it be that the crescendo of dissention is divinely synched to yet again heighten disruptive unease among the status quo? Could it be that the promise of Emmanuel — "God is with us" — as proclaimed by the heavenly host, but feared by powerful elite, is unavoidably linked through the eternal truth — such that even the Church universal cannot celebrate one and avoid the other? Could it be that through Advent, we are called to acknowledge the humanity and parity of personhood, rather than rest in the laurels of privilege? The anger of youthful Ferguson protests was marginalized and dubbed as riots, but could it be that this Advent response manifested in expanded multiethnic solidarity is of divine intent to raise challenge to elitism and to demand respect for people of color as equals rather than as patronized subordinates? Could it be that whether or not the media chooses to ignore the connection, the Advent message for those with ears to hear is that perpetrators of brutality, the comfortable protectors of privilege, and the self-serving pundits of power that tried to nullify the everlasting promise were unsuccessful then and now? Could it be by divine design that unknown names, stolen lives, are now divinely lifted to eternal and global recognition as sacrificial symbols so that truth could come to light?

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New Report Reveals Poor Responses to Sexual Assault at Bob Jones University

An outside watchdog group hired to investigate sex abuse claims at Bob Jones University issued its 300-page report on Dec. 11, concluding that the conservative Christian school responded poorly to many students who were victims of sexual assault or abuse.

Bob Jones, with about 3,000 students at its campus in Greenville, S.C., tapped Lynchburg, Va.-based GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) in November 2012 to investigate claims about sexual assualt. During its two-year investigation, GRACE interviewed 50 individuals who self-identified as victims of sexual abuse.

Some of those students claimed they were victims on campus; others said they were dealing with child sexual abuse but received a poor reception from campus officials as they struggled with their past.

The school’s teachings on sin, forgiveness, discipline, and justice shaped how Bob Jones University responded to sexual assault, the report argues.

“As a result of the school’s poor responses, many of these students were deeply hurt and experienced further trauma,” a press release from GRACE states.

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Who Cares About The Cheerleaders?

The Buffalo Bills cheerleaders are advised by management on which type of feminine product they should use for their menstrual cycle. They are told that they cannot wear clips or tie backs in their hair. They have been asked to perform backflips on demand at an annual golf tournament where men placed bets on which Buffalo “Jill” would ride in his golf cart.

For all these imposed regulations and for hundreds of hours of work, members of the NFL Buffalo “Jills” Cheerleading Squad did not receive a penny of wages.  

In April, five former Jills cheerleaders filed a lawsuit in the New York Supreme Court against the NFL franchise for "exploiting the women by failing to pay them in accordance with New York State minimum wage laws."  

The worst part of this is: I don’t care.  

When I was growing up I never wanted to be a cheerleader. I barely had a Barbie doll. I raced my brother’s Big Wheel on foot. I never had the desire to stand on the sidelines and cheer for other people, namely men, that were considered more athletic than myself.  

So when I heard the news of the Jills’ unfair treatment, my personal sympathy level was somewhat low. They wanted to be cheerleaders, right? They signed up to wear short skirts and tight tops and dance in front of millions of people — they didn’t have to do that.  

One commentator on the Jills’ lawsuit said, “Nobody forced them to be cheerleaders. They weren't enslaved. Stop with the pity party.”  

And there lies the rub. What’s really at the root of these issues?  

 
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The Torture Report: A Historical Perspective

The release of a 600-page executive summary of the CIA torture report on Tuesday gave confirmation and imagery to many of our saddest suspicions and vague understandings of the CIA’s use of torture. The report, conducted by the Senate Intelligence Committee between 2009 and 2013, reveals that the U.S. carried out post-9/11 “enhanced interrogation techniques” in an ineffective and fear-fueled effort to prevent terrorism. In an attempt to protect our nation, we lost our values, and then tried to destroy the evidence. Still, many shameful specifics are now public knowledge:

Interrogators have exposed detainees to dark, cold isolation, forced rectal feedings, threats to family members, simulated drowning, 180 hours of sleep deprivation, and much more. The Justice Department still hasn’t pressed any federal charges.

This government transparency is new, but the sins are old. Sojourners has advocated for the end and exposure of U.S. torture techniques for years. Take a look at the Sojourners articles below to learn more about the effects of the program and the dreary history that precipitated the report.

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