The Common Good

Sojourners

Is It Too Late For Us?

O Flower of Jesse’s stem,
you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples;
kings stand silent in your presence;
the nations bow down in worship before you.
Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

In 2012 more than one hundred young people were killed by gun violence in Chicago. More than a hundred. If you start adding up the numbers, there was a time there in the summer where Chicago was more dangerous than Afghanistan. Well, parts of it were. It's a big place, you know.

As tragic as the shooting was in Connecticut —and I am truly not interested in minimizing the grief or outrage — we have to wake up and realize that more children are killed every year in the U.S. and we seldom cry in outrage. Not as a nation. There were marches in protest by Chicago churches

The news media covered the march but not the murders. 

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Burn Your NRA Card

President Obama addressed the nation on Wednesday morning to establish a commission led by Vice President Biden on stronger gun safety laws. Gone was the passion of his address at the interfaith service in Newtown and in place we have back the above-the-fray politician.

However, one point was clear. “If we are going to change things,” he said, “it is going to take a wave of Americans … standing up and saying ‘enough’ on behalf of our kids.”

Will Obama’s address beat the National Rife Association’s messaging strategy?  

On Friday, Dec. 21, the NRA will hold its first a press conference after the Newtown, Conn., massacre—and America’s first reasonable conversation on stronger gun laws will come to an end.

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Unbelief Is Now the World’s Third-Largest ‘Religion’

A new report on global religious identity shows that while Christians and Muslims make up the two largest groups, those with no religious affiliation — including atheists and agnostics — are now the third-largest “religious” group in the world.

The study, released Tuesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, found that more than eight in 10 (84 percent) of the world’s 7 billion people adheres to some form of religion. Christians make up the largest group, with 2.2 billion adherents, or 23 percent worldwide, followed by Muslims, with 1.6 billion adherents, or 23 percent worldwide.

Close behind are the “nones” — those who say they have no religious affiliation or say they do not believe in God — at 1. 1 billion, or 16 percent. That means that about the same number of people who identify as Catholics worldwide say they have no religion.

“One out of six people does not have a religious identity,” said Conrad Hackett, a primary researcher and demographer on the study. “But it is also striking that that overwhelming majority of the world does have some type of religious identity. So I think people will be surprised by either way of looking at it.”

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Verse and Voice: December 21, 2012 - January 1, 2013

The Verse and Voice will not be available on the blog from December 21, 2012 through January 1, 2013. Please check your daily emails for the latest quotes, scripture passages, and prayers from Sojourners. 

If you don't have already have a Verse and Voice subscription, you can subscribe here.

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On Scripture: Can We Speak of God’s Activity, in Triumph or Tragedy?

Luke 1:39-55

Sometimes, the worse the tragedy, the more abhorrent the theology it elicits.

Still numb from the overwhelming evil perpetrated against helpless children and schoolteachers last Friday, now we have to read harsh words from James Dobson and others who declare the senseless carnage a sign of God’s judgment against America. His words are disgraceful. I find them exploitative and unchristian.

Certain Christians seem compelled to speak for God in disorienting moments like these, and the results are frequently terrible. The rest of the church has a responsibility to get angry and repudiate the statements.

In times like these, I find myself wanting to disavow anyone’s attempts to speak on God’s behalf.

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Newest Front in 'Christmas Wars:' Billboards

A billboard bearing a positive message about atheism has been vandalized — again.

A billboard posted in Chico, Calif., that originally read “Don’t believe in God? Join the club” was defaced on Dec. 12, less than a week after it appeared, with vandals removing the word “don’t.” 

The billboard was one of 12 purchased this month by a local chapter of the United Coalition of Reason (UnitedCoR),  a national organization that works to unite small, local groups of atheists and other freethinkers.

They are the latest in a long line of billboards erected by atheist groups to draw ire, both locally and nationally. Every national freethought organization that has purchased billboards or bus advertisements in the last five years has reported some form of vandalism or protest.

If the billboards attract negative attention, criticism, and vandalism, why do atheists — a group that polls repeatedly rank among the least-liked group in America — buy them? Are they worth the money and the ill will they cost the groups that buy them?

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Minister Ejected From Florida Supermarket for Support of Farmworker Justice

We have reached that point in the year when the images we are inundated with show off variations on a theme: the Norman Rockwell-esque holiday gathering. They are a testament to the ability of advertising to tug on our heartstrings as the large, joyful family sits down to a table lavishly set with the antique china, candles twinkling, and a feast spread as the Christmas meal in all its glory looms and the joy and generosity of the season is palpable.

Here in Florida, the grocery store chain Publix is as ubiquitous to holiday celebrations as pie. Publix has been a part of our Christmas celebrations for generations and yet this year impromptu runs to the family-owned grocer will simply not be an option for the Reverend Clay Thomas, or for those who stand with him. 

As it turns out, earlier this year Reverend Thomas was ejected and then banned from a Sarasota, Fla., Publix

His crime?

He supports the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW).

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VIDEO: Pray for A Budget Deal That Lifts Up the Poor

In three weeks, automatic tax hikes and spending cuts will take effect, potentially triggering a new recession ... unless Congress and the President Obama negotiate a new solution. Long story short, Washington politicians want to cut support for the struggling poor, but protect tax benefits for the wealthy.

President Obama and Speaker Boehner are negotiating behind closed doors, but the details that have leaked are scary. There's a lot at stake, especially for the most vulnerable members of our society.

Cutting programs for the poor, but protecting the wealthy? That's against the very spirit of Christmas.

Speaker Boehner has the power to protect poor and vulnerable people, and he needs to hear from people of faith, especially at Christmas time. Sojourners is calling on Congress and Speaker Boehner to consider the repercussions of their actions. Pray with us as we await this important budget deal. 

Right now, this commercial is airing in Speaker Boehner's Ohio district. But we want to spread that message further and ensure everyone in Washington is joining us in a chorus of prayer. Give your year-end gift to help Sojourners get this message out in Washington!

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A Call to Arms

In the wake of the recent school shooting tragedy in Connecticut, we will undoubtedly hear the lament, 'America is at the crossroads', as we struggle to contain an increasingly violent society. Sadly, this country left the crossroads some time ago. We have passed the tipping point, and are rapidly descending into the abyss of chaos when it comes to respect for human life. 

Well-meaning voices are sounding the alarm that things are different now — innocent children have died in great numbers in Connecticut. This is true, but people are dying every day in towns and cities throughout our nation due to acts of senseless violence. The deaths in Connecticut represent an unspeakable new low, but we have been steadily arriving here for decades.

We will rightly pray for and comfort the families and communities of the victims. We should do no less. There will also be calls for greater gun control. However, we can count on this: we cannot count on our governments to get this epidemic of violence under control. Nor can we retreat to the false comfort of innocuous statements such as, 'Guns don't kill people. People kill people.'  

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What Are You Singing: Away In A Manger

I’m sure most of us have played the scene in our heads one too many times: little baby Jesus, presumably Caucasian, lying in a tiny crib-esque manger comfortably padded with hay — even though the song specifically says “no crib for a bed” — while the animals, which are perfectly behaved, quietly and reverently look on. Cue the wise men, in their strange, exotic garb, and sprinkle a few angels in there — you know, the ones that look like babies with wings and white togas.

That was my impression of the nativity scene as a kid, and the popular children’s Christmas carol, “Away in a Manger” didn’t do anything to help. It seemed to perpetuate the picturesque nativity image of most of the figurine depictions in our living rooms.

But, if only for a few minutes, put aside the notions that the “manger” probably wasn’t as clean and cozy as we thought, that it probably wasn’t a silent night — have you met a baby that’s gone through its first 24 hours without crying? — or that Jesus probably wasn’t snug in a crib conveniently left in a manger.

Even though the song may seem like it only deserves a cursory glance, as it was originally published in theLittle Children's Book for Schools and Families in 1885, I purport there’s something more to the childhood classic.

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