The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

Does Megachurch ‘High’ Explain Their Success?

Maybe religion really is the opiate of the masses – just not the way Karl Marx imagined.

A University of Washington study posits that worship services at megachurches can trigger feelings of transcendence and changes in brain chemistry – a spiritual “high” that keeps congregants coming back for more.

“We see this experience of unalloyed joy over and over again in megachurches. That’s why we say it’s like a drug,” said James Wellman, an associate professor of American religion who co-authored the study.

The study, “‘God is like a drug’: Explaining Interaction Ritual Chains in American Megachurches” was presented on Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Denver.

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Mormon Women Seeking Middle Ground to Greater Equality

For some Mormon feminists, there can be only one goal on the road to gender equality: ordination to the all-male priesthood.

After all, every worthy male in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — starting at age 12 — is ordained in this priesthood. It is seen as a holy power, described as the authority to act in God’s name, yet given exclusively to men.

At the same time, lots of Mormon women are perfectly comfortable with the roles they believe God assigned to them, including motherhood and nurturing. They would not want, they say, to “hold the priesthood.”

Now comes a third and, some suggest, growing group of Mormon women somewhere between these two poles.

They are not pushing for ordination, but they crave a more engaged and visible role for women in the Mormon church. It is a role, they believe, that their Mormon foremothers played — and one that could fit easily into the institutional structure without distorting or dismantling doctrine.

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SNAP/ Food Stamp Challenge, Day 1: Broke vs. Poor

“So what are food stamps anyway?” my 8-year-old son, Mattias, asked as I drove him to his summer camp this morning. “Are they, like, stamps that you eat that taste like different foods?”

“Not exactly,” I said. 

My family was less than thrilled when I presented the idea of living on the equivalent of what a family of four would receive on food stamps for a week. Actually, the program is now called “SNAP,” which stands for “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” and involves government-issued vouchers or debit cards, rather than the antiquated stamp method. But the result is the same; we have a lot less to spend on food this week than usual.

“But I don’t want to be poor,” Mattias moaned as I explained the challenge to him.

“We’re not poor,” I said, “but it’s important for us to know what it’s like to struggle to feed our family.”

“Why?”

“Because,” I paused, trying to figure out a way to explain privilege and compassion to a third-grader who was quite content to have all he has, and then some, “Jesus tells us to have a heart for the poor, but how can we really do that if we don’t know anything about what it’s like to live with less?”

“Hmm,” he wrinkled his brow, “I guess we can do it for a few days.”

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Gov. Jan Brewer Tries to Stop the DREAM in Arizona

President Barack Obama recently announced a policy change that would let young people living in the U.S. without immigration status pursue an education and find meaningful work without fear of deportation. As communities continue to suffer the effects of the country’s broken immigration system and families live in fear of their loved ones being deported, this was news to celebrate and an answer to prayer.

Apparently Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona, had a different reaction to the compassion and progress embodied by this new policy. On the day it went into effect, Brewer issued an executive order denying driver’s licenses to young people in Arizona qualifying for the relief being offered by the federal government. 

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Group House Gives Women a Place to Discern Their Calling as Nuns

In what is being described as the first of its kind in the U.S., the Archdiocese of New Orleans has transformed a vacant church rectory into a group house where single women will live together while deciding whether to undertake lives as nuns.

The center, dedicated on Aug. 15, occupies the second and third floors of the St. Rita rectory. Within a few days, two women, then perhaps three more, will move into the spotless rectory, their collective lives to be superintended by two veteran nuns who will show the younger women the dynamics of shared community life.

“How we live in community. How to communicate. How to share,” said Sister Carmen Bertrand, for 48 years a member of the Sisters of the Holy Family.

Beyond orienting them to the rhythms of community life, Bertrand and her colleague, Sister Diane Roche, a Religious of the Sacred Heart, will teach the tenants various modes of prayer, organize occasional retreats, and bring in representatives of other religious orders to present themselves and their ways of life.

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The Wheel

I stepped down from the train,

Saw you there, old man, bent

Next to the Tudor station, smiling

And waving to me over the steering wheel.

Your aged blue eyes

Saw us through the maze of roads

 

Walled by high corn and close trees, roads

Which branch away from the train 

Station to the cottage, to your wife’s eyes

And worn wrinkled skin.  Her back bent

Over the low table.  You turn the wheel

And press the horn, she’s smiling,

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Transgender Killings Reflect Deeper Injustice

For the second time in Chicago this year, the life of a gender-variant young person of color was lost to violence.

Donta Gooden’s body was found in an abandoned building on the city’s West Side late in the evening of August 14th. Gooden, 19, who also went by the name “Tiffany,” was stabbed to death just three blocks from where Paige Clay, a 23 year-old transgender woman, was shot and killed in April, according to media reports. The police investigation is ongoing.

The tragedy of these senseless killings, still so raw and heartrending for the loved ones of Gooden and Clay, is beyond comprehension and deplorable on every level. But perhaps even more unsettling is how often violent crimes against LGBTQ people occur and how little social outrage they ignite.

For many, these two terrible tragedies may melt into the background in a year when Chicago is scrambling to stem a rising tide of murder across the city (year -to-date homicides are up 25 percent from August 2011 according to data compiled by the Redeye. However, they are part of an alarming trend of violence targeting LGBTQ people of color – and transgender and gender-variant people of color in particular – which directly intersects with the front lines of the HIV epidemic.

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Punk Protesters Sentenced to Two Years in Russian Jail

Perhaps I’ve missed something about Russian law, but it seems to me that it’s a conveniently trumped up charge to keep the women sequestered until (hopefully for the Putin Administration, at least) the attention blows over and the perpetually-distracted news cycle moves on. In short, I can’t imagine, at least from my cultural context, that such a sentence could be justified as anything less than government bullying.

As for the location of their “Punk Prayer” at the altar of a Russian Orthodox church, this state church has been in the pocket of the government for quite a long time, it turns out. In reading up a little more, the choice of such a church for their protest seems less shocking and more concertedly poignant, given the church’s complicity in promoting the agenda of the Powers that Be. Rather than standing up in the face of authority as an advocate for the poor and oppressed (arguably one of the principal responsibilities of a church), they have joined in the subjugation of human rights in Russia.

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In Defense of the Southern Poverty Law Center

When I was in junior high, I attended a private Christian school where my youth pastor used to show us videos of Christians in public schools being arrested for praying at the flagpole, as well as future Christians being executed because of “liberals who want to take away our right to worship.”

So I get it. When a guy walks up to a conservative Christian organization’s headquarters and starts shooting, it confirms what many people already believe: Evangelical Christians in America are a persecuted minority; and the people behind the persecution are groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that labels anyone who “takes a stand for Biblical righteousness” a hate group. The storyline would sound reasonable if it weren’t for one small problem: It’s completely ridiculous.

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What Catholics Can Learn From the Quran

This year during Ramadan — the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar when Muslims believe the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad —  I was in solidarity with my Muslim sisters and brothers throughout the world by reading the Quran. But here's the thing: I am a Roman Catholic.

My copy of the Quran, with more than 1,700 pages, has sat on the top shelf of my bedroom bookcase among other sacred texts for 14 years. Typically I would use it as a sporadic reference and resource to better understanding Islam, reading a few short passages at a time.

However, this Ramadan something at the core of my being was calling me to read the Quran in its entirety. And so my monthlong Ramadan journey began.

Each day and evening, the prayerful poetry in the Quran held me in a meditative mode of peace as I read without being aware of the passage of time.

When I finished reading a week before the end of the month, I felt as if the Quran was almost endless, reaching beyond the confines of my calendar days. I didn’t want to read the last page. I didn’t want to be finished.

The Quran inspired me, taught me and helped me to remember my essential holiness and how that holiness in the image of God should be reflected in the world.

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