The Common Good

Sojourners

Out of Control Partisanship

Former Senator Dick Lugar speaks of Washington partisanship.
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Call and Response: What the President Did This Week

There is a tradition in the black church named “call and response.” It’s simply the experience of the preacher “calling” and the congregation “responding.” I’ve always loved it. When you’re preaching in a black church, and the congregants begin to actively and vocally respond, your sermon can actually get better, stronger, deeper, and more powerful than it might have been if everyone just sat there. Sermons get interactive. Congregations can be inspired by the preacher — and the other way around. Ideas grow, get taken further, and even develop during and after the sermon. And it can make things change.

After his first year in office, I sent a letter to President Barack Obama humbly suggesting he needed “the political equivalent of the black church’s call and response.” Just talking to and in Washington was never going to get important things done. Washington just sits there and mostly makes sure that things don’t change — and that the special interests that buy, shape, and control this city usually have their way. (That private letter to the president will be published for the first time in my new book about the common good coming out in April.)

I recalled something Obama said right after the 2008 election — that he would need “the wind of a movement at my back” to get anything really important done. He would have to go over the heads of Washington, to speak directly to the people that had elected him and also those who didn’t. He would have to have public debates about the common good and not just debate in Washington. 

I saw him do that in this week’s State of the Union speech.

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Newtown ‘Debacle’ Reopens Old Wounds for Missouri Synod

ST. LOUIS — A decision by the leader of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod to censure a pastor for participating in a prayer service for victims of the Sandy Hook school massacre has reopened old wounds for an often politically divided denomination.

The Rev. Matthew Harrison asked the Rev. Rob Morris, pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Newtown, Conn., to apologize for participating in a public interfaith vigil with President Obama two days after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at the town’s elementary school.

Morris apologized and Harrison accepted, but the exchange sparked a media firestorm with charges that the 2.4 million-member denomination was intolerant, insensitive or both. On Sunday, Harrison said he made a bad situation even worse.

“As president of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, I take responsibility for this debacle,” he said. “I handled it poorly, multiplying the challenges. I increased the pain of a hurting community.”

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House Approves Disaster Relief to Religious Groups

The House Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a bill to allow places of worship to receive federal aid to repair their buildings damaged during Hurricane Sandy.

The bill, which garnered strong bipartisan support, is also expected to pass the Senate, and would address what its sponsors consider a discriminatory practice that keeps federal disaster money from religious groups.

Currently the Federal Emergency Management Agency excludes religious organizations but assists privately owned nonprofits. If the bill becomes law, it will make houses of worship eligible for relief on the same terms as other nonprofits.

“Today’s debate and vote is about those who are being unfairly left out and left behind,” Christopher Smith, R-N.J., one of the bill’s lead sponsors, told his House colleagues.

“It’s about those who helped feed, comfort, clothe, and shelter tens of thousands of victims now being told they are ineligible for a FEMA grant.”

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Worldwide Christians Fast for Peace in Syria

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to lose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” wrote the ancient prophet Isaiah (58:6). As Christians around the world enter the season of Lent, the challenge of the prophets is to not enter into empty rituals, but to recommit ourselves to fearless acts of justice.

This Lent Christians are standing in solidarity with Syrians by joining a rolling fast launched by Pax Christi International. The acute suffering of civilian communities in Syria has been made immeasurably worse by a shortage of bread, Syrian’s staple food, caused in part by the deliberate bombing of bakeries.

Open to anyone concerned about the anguish of local communities caught in Syria’s civil war, the campaign, called “Bread is Life – Fast for a Just Peace in Syria,” is a direct response to the fact that many Syrians feel abandoned by the rest of the world.

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House Passes Bill Requiring FEMA to Deliver Storm Aid to Houses of Worship

Following more than 200 houses of worship being denied FEMA aid following Superstorm Sandy, on Feb. 13, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 592 with a vote of 354-72, to clarify that houses of worship are “eligible for certain disaster relief and emergency assistance on terms equal to other eligible private nonprofit facilities, and for other purposes.”
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Resigning From the AARP

I’m a senior. And I’m mad. In fact, I am resigning from the AARP.

The America Association of Retired People has about 38 million members and is one of the biggest, most influential lobbies in Washington. It has done many good things for older Americans, but in some important ways it is just plain wrong — selfish and guilty of intergenerational injustice.

As Fareed Zakaria pointed out is a 2011 column in Time, the federal government spends about $4 on every senior over 65 and only $1 on every child under 18. “That is a statement about our priorities,” Zakaria rightly says, “favoring consumption over investment, the present over the future, ourselves over our children.” Partly as a result the poverty rate for children (22 percent) is much higher than that for seniors (9.7 percent). 

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An Ash Wednesday Question

 What do we do? How do we stop this?

“Motorists and walkers scattered in terror Monday night as a gunman fired two bursts of bullets at passing vehicles near an Oakdale grocery store, killing a 10-year-old boy and wounding two other people. Click HERE for the Star-Tribune story.

We can‘t stop it. America is an arsenal with an open door. And any attempt to close the door is “unconstitutional.” Liberty, one of three basic rights outlined by The Declaration of Independence, is killing the other two. “Liberty” trumps not only “the pursuit of happiness” but “life” itself.

“At least two vehicles struck by bullets sped into the parking lot of the nearby Rainbow Foods at 7053 10th St. N. seeking help.”

Responsible gun owners did not do this. An irresponsible gun owner did this. But it would have made not one ounce of difference if the passersby had been armed. They were sitting ducks, like the ducks in a carnival booth. There is no protection against irresponsible use of a firearm.

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Sawdust and Mistaken Identity

 I had a happy childhood, with few moments of true anguish. One that I will always remember, though, is when they cut down the tree on Euclid Street.

Throughout my early years, I would often take walks with my parents down this street, stopping to play on this tree’s bulging roots and hug its large trunk. On this particular weekday, my favorite tree had been replaced with a stump and some sawdust due to the risk of it falling over and taking out all the power lines its branches had engulfed. My four-year-old self was in shock.

I spent the afternoon wailing, to the dismay of my parents and the neighbor who came over for a play date. To this day, when I walk down Euclid Street and see pieces of the branches still hanging on to the power lines, I remember what it felt like to lose my first friend.

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40 Ways to Live Simply for 40 Days of Lent

Use this Lenten season as a time to grow closer to God and simplify your life. Try a new suggestion from this list each day and experience the stronger relationships and calmer pace of an (almost) Amish lifestyle!

1. Start a giveaway box and add at least three items of clothes you have not worn in the last year.

2. Is there a form of technology that is ruling you like a master rather than serving you like a tool?  Unplug for 24 hours and rediscover the peace that passes all understanding.

 
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