The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

2011 Passings: Requiescat in pace

It’s good to start a new year by remembering those who passed in the just concluded year.  These aren’t the most famous (or infamous), and I didn’t know them personally (or, at best, had met several briefly), but their lives touched mine in three of my passions: American roots music, politics and public life, and baseball.

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Standing at the Gates: A Confession

Everybody needs forgiveness.

But it’s hard to face that. It feels threatening, like an accusation. So we tend to get defensive and start justifying ourselves, rather than seeing the one we’ve hurt. 

If we’re honest, though, we all know that we’ve done things that have hurt others. Probably lots of things.

One thing that still haunts me from my past happened when I was just eight years old. There was an autistic boy at the after school program I was in, and one day I got so frustrated with him that I beat him up.
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Christians Fighting Over Holy Places (Physically and Figuratively)

The disturbing footage of the monks fighting in Bethlehem’s Nativity Church has been seen around the world. This is not the first time such a fight has erupted. The natural reaction any Christians should have upon seeing this footage is shame. It is difficult to even describe in words what one feels when he sees Christian clerics involved in such violence and rage!

This incident reflects at least two major deficiencies within the Palestinian Christian community. The first is the status of the church and how it is still controlled by foreign powers. Palestine and the "holy sites" have always attracted Christians who want to control these places. Everyone wants a share of the place. This is the story of the church in Palestine in a nutshell. Though we have called this place home for centuries, we have never in reality governed ourselves, as a people or as a church. Wars have emerged over control of the sites, from the crusaders, through the Crimean War,  to our modern era, where a fragile "status quo" from the days of the Ottoman Empire governs the relationship between the different church families and who controls what in the holy sites.

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EPA’s New Mercury and Air Toxics Standards = Breath of Fresh Air

After years of opposition from coal industry lobbyists, the Environmental Protection Agency has issued the first national standards for mercury and air toxin pollution.

The standards will slash emissions of these dangerous pollutants by relying on widely available, proven pollution controls that are already in use at more than half of the nation’s coal-fired power plants.

The EPA estimates that the new safeguards will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks each year. The standards also will help America’s children grow up healthier — preventing 130,000 cases of childhood asthma and about 6,300 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children each year.

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Time to Go Deeper

It’s been a bad year, and the 2012 election year looks to be even worse.

Don’t get me wrong —  there were many good and even wonderful things about 2011. I can point to weddings, great things in our family lives, wonderful moments with our children, acts of courage in our local and our global communities, and heroic accomplishments by people of faith and others of good will.

But when it comes to politics and to the media, 2011 was an abysmal year.

Washington is a dysfunctional place where we make the most important decisions about how our public resources should be allocated amidst artificial deadlines set entirely by ideological politics instead of the common good. Rational, thoughtful ideas for reducing the national deficit (while at the same time protecting our vital social safety nets and producing needed jobs) have been replaced by the politics of blame and fear.

And winning — at seemingly any cost — has trumped governing. To disagree with the opposition isn’t enough. Now politicians and pundits feel compelled to destroy their opponents’ character, integrity, patriotism, and even attack their faith.

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The Gospel According to Charles Dickens: Exegeting Ebenezer Scrooge

“Marley was dead, to begin with.”

So begins the classic tale of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It is a story that has been told and re-told through various mediums since the novella was published December 19, 1843.

I sat down recently to watch the new Disney version of the tale. It features a CGI rendition of Scrooge with the voice of Jim Carrey.

After 15 minutes I shut it off.

It wasn’t that it was particularly bad. I didn’t give the movie enough of a chance even to figure whether it was worth watching. What I realized is that I wasn’t much interested in hearing the same story again from a secular perspective.

A Christmas Carol, I would argue, is not ultimately about Christmas, but conversion.

Christmas is the stage and the catalyst through which transformation occurs. It is a leading character to be sure. But, it is the radical change that occurs in Ebenezer Scrooge that most compels me.

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The Bait and Switch of Contemporary Christianity

To start, a story.

A few years ago a female student wanted to visit with me about some difficulties she was having, mainly with her family life. As is my practice, we walked around campus as we talked.

After talking for some time about her family situation we turned to other areas of her life. When she reached spiritual matters we had the following exchange:

"I need to spend more time working on my relationship with God."

I responded, "Why would you want to do that?"

Startled she says, "What do you mean?"

"Well, why would you want to spend any time at all on working on your relationship with God?"

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The Gospel According to Charles Dickens: Charity worth Laughing At

Scrooge repented, promised to “honor Christmas in his heart” all year long and to never forget the lessons of the three spirits.

He celebrated Christmas day with his nephew, sent the Cratchit family a prize Christmas turkey and then given Bob Cratchit a raise. He became a second father to Tiny Tim, was known as a good man in the city and was remembered for his ability to keep Christmas well.

But, as Dickens pointed out, this didn’t come without some laughter and derision.

Some people who knew Scrooge as a misanthrope before, now saw the old, mean man as a fool. The radical conversion Scrooge underwent  caused some to question whether this new Ebenezer was still of sound mind.

This is as it should be.

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A Christmas Reflection: Grace

At the center of the nativity picture is that baby in the manger.

That baby Jesus will be many more things as his life, death, resurrection and eternity continues but here in the straw, and central to everything he will do and be, he is a symbol of grace.

This is what Christianity boils down to. This is it at its most naked. Shed the tragedies of Christian history, the boredom of what you’ve experienced in Church (how was that possible!), the legalism that has oppressed your youth or whatever else has damaged your perspective of God and you are left with this amazing concept of grace.

Put most simply, grace is the “unmerited favor” of God.

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Hit the Hallelujah Button: With Clark W. Griswold et Famille

On this Christmas Eve, as you gather with "kith and kin" on the threshold of the Christ Child's birth, we give you a moment of familial rejoicing from the Clark W. Griswold family of Chicago's North Shore and the great Christmas light miracle of 1989.

JOY TO THE WORLD! (Drum roll, please...)

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