The Common Good

Sojourners

DRONE WATCH: Authorizing Drone Strikes

Congress asserts oversisght role in drone strikes.
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How Do You Love Your Neighbors When They're 'Bad' People?

How do you love your neighbor when your neighbors sell drugs and exploit young women? I’m serious — this is a legitimate question that I am asking myself a lot lately and I am not sure I have the answer.

Nine years ago my wife and I moved into East Oakland to become a part of a small church community called New Hope and to direct InterVarsity’s Urban Project in the Bay Area. We’ve weathered some challenging experiences: stolen cars, physical assault, hearing a lot of shootings, witnessing a shooting, breaking up domestic violence, seeing a friend’s family torn apart by domestic violence, and endless amounts of trash on the streets. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to love about our neighborhood and community, but in recent months I think I’ve reached my limit.

The family that recently moved in across the street is friendly. The folks hanging out on the porch and the kids playing tetherball off the street sign honestly do contribute to the vibrant life of the block. But when I saw a total of 12 drug deals go down in broad daylight in the span of three days, loving my neighbor became a lot harder.

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The Voices Project: Offering Perspective to Places of Power

To voice is to give utterance or expression to; declare; proclaim: to voice one's discontent.

There is a question that is usually on the hearts and minds of many if not most people who are living and working in missions or active for justice when they attend events. There is an elephant in the room, a funny feeling in our stomach. The question is, where are the people of color?

"Leroy, where are the black people?" 

My heart always sinks, as I know my friends who lead these events want nothing more than to see more diversity. I have had many conversations and even disagreements about what the answers may be to how to "diversify.” A few years ago I went to New York to visit my friend Gabe Lyons who I have known for quite a few years now. I went to Gabe because he is a friend, but also because he’s a person with experience in gathering people together. I had this desire in my heart to bring people of color together, specifically black folks. Gabe and I talked for an afternoon and I left there believing perhaps it was time for me to gather black leaders together.

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Anti-Shariah Movement Changes Tactics, Gains Success

When Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved a 2010 ballot measure that prohibits state courts from considering Islamic law, or Shariah, the Council of American-Islamic Relations filed a lawsuit within two days challenging the constitutionality of the measure, and won.

But when Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a similar measure, one that its sponsor said would forbid Shariah, on April 19 of this year, no legal challenges were mounted.

Why the change?

The biggest difference is that the older bill — and others like it — singled out Islam and Shariah, but also raised concerns that they could affect Catholic canon law or Jewish law. Many early anti-Shariah bills also made references to international or foreign law, which worried businesses that the new bills would undermine contracts and trade with foreign companies.

The new bills, however, are more vague and mention only foreign laws, with no references to Shariah or Islam. They also make specific exceptions for international trade. All of that makes them harder to challenge as a violation of religious freedom.

“These bills don’t have any real-world effect. Their only purpose is to allow people to vilify Islam,” said Corey Saylor, CAIR’s legislative affairs director, of the more recent bills.

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What If 'Sex Week' Came to First Baptist Church?

On April 5-12, the University of Tennessee hosted “Sex Week,” organized by the student organization Sexual Empowerment and Awareness in Tennessee. The week’s activities, ranging from discussions on virginity to workshops on oral sex and a search for a golden condom, sparked the concern of easily provoked and immensely quotable State Rep. Stacey Campfield (he of “Don’t Say Gay” bill fame).

With apologies to Campfield’s ever-vigilant protection of Christian sensibilities, the real problem here is not that mandatory student fees are being used to promote sexual education and awareness. The problem is that our tithes aren’t.

Imagine with me, if you will, what would happen if “Sex Week” came to First Baptist Church . . .

If local congregations joined together to dedicate a week to the promotion and exploration of Christian ethics expressed through sexuality, gender, and embodiment, what might the offerings look like? Perhaps these would be a good start.

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Celebrity, Identity, and Angelina Jolie's Medical Choice

When Angelina went public with her decision to have a mastectomy, what she called “My Medical Choice,” we couldn’t stop relating to her as a source of identity. Everyone is taking sides, as is our custom. Whether we applaud or condemn her decision, either way we are not seriously discussing the issue. Because when it comes to Angelina the celebrity, our major issue is always getting an identity boost from her. It was probably a bit naïve for her to think that we would react in any other way. She is not our friend, after all, not a “person” in any real sense. She is a “personage,” a distant but tantalizing figure who captures our imagination and invades our identities.

Many people are wondering if Angelina did the right thing. I’ve been asked it a few times in the last 24 hours and my family and friends know I don’t traffic in celebrity gossip very often! Yet they want to know what I think, and because I have not been either an Angelina fan or a hater, my reaction is subdued. I have nothing to win or lose by praising her or by trashing her, for that matter. I don’t feel scandalized or in a position to judge. She made a personal decision and because she’s a personage she went public with it; it’s as simple as that.

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Disney Princesses, Merida's Makeover, and Empowering Girls

Having a 3-year-old daughter opens your eyes to a world that you did not know existed, the world of princesses. Disney has cornered the princess market; there are currently 11 official Disney princesses, and if you are brave enough to travel to Disney World/Land or even a Disney store, you will soon find out that there is a plethora of accessories — dresses, placemats, and cups (just to name a few).

Disney has come under fire in the past for focusing only on Caucasian women — Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) and others. But over time, non-white princesses were introduced, like Mulan, Pocahontas, Jasmine, and Tiana.

Disney’s latest princess was Merida from the film Brave broke most of the Disney princess rules. She didn’t like pretty gowns, she liked to shoot bows and arrows, and her crowning glory was frizzy, wild red hair. Some people believed that Disney had finally broken the mold of the “damsel in distress” model of princesses that has been a dominant theme throughout many of the films. The trend actually started with Pocahontas and Mulan; maybe the theme of strong women role models would continue. Brave was a cute film with a wonderful message. Merida had a round face and was rough and tumble with her triplet brothers. She didn’t want fancy dresses or even want to be a princess; Merida just wanted to be Merida. She was the example of girls being girls, no matter how they look.

However, in a recent update, Disney decided to take the idea of Merida in Brave and throw it out the window. Merida, for her official induction into the Disney princess cohort, got a bit of a makeover. Merida 2.0 was taller, skinnier in the waist and had a slimmer face. Her famous bow-and-arrow set are missing, and her iconic wild hair has been tamed.

After the uproar that followed, Disney quietly pulled the newer version of Merida.

But my question for Disney stands: why? What was so wrong with Merida that it warranted the change?

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A Spiritual Glossary of Debt

Debt, multitudes think, is bad. It could be good, by helping more people manage the energy of money. The Lord’s Prayer helps the confusion along: some pray to be forgiven debts, others to be forgiven trespasses. Good debt does not trespass. Bad debt is most often done by banks, and trespasses inside people, insidiously, and shames them. Religious institutions help the shame along by mispraying the Lord’s Prayer.

Debt might be good. In his book on Debt: The First 5000 years, David Graeber opens with a story. The story is paradigmatic. A woman tells a man the story about a person who is “under water.”  “But, shouldn’t she have to pay her debt?”  Should. Have. Pay. Debt. Those four words go together. They mispray the Lord’s prayer. Instead we might pray, “forgive the banks their trespasses into our souls first and then our pocketbooks.”   

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Food Aid Reforms Could Save Millions of Lives

There might be big changes coming to the United States food aid program this year, and it could save millions of lives.

U.S. food aid, which began in the 1950s, spends an average of $2 billion a year* and has done much to prevent hunger and starvation across the globe. However, it has also been criticized for being inefficient, wasteful, and even self-serving.

Currently, up to 75 percent of the money we spend on food aid has to be used to pay for purchasing food from American farmers and shipping them overseas. This food saves lives, yes, but up to 16 percent of the money is spent on shipping. To make matters worse, American commodity crops are often significantly more expensive than food bought elsewhere.

Without such high requirements for American commodities, more money could go to buying food and saving lives. In fact, the United States is the only donor country to mandate by law that a certain amount of its donations must support its own economy.

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U.S. Unemployment Claims at Highest Level in 6 Weeks

A week after reaching a five year low, Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose by 32,000.
+Leave a Comment | Economic Justice