The Common Good

Sojourners

Solidarity and Sustaining the Beloved Community

"I expect and am willing to be persecuted, imprisoned, and bound for advocating African rights. And I should deserve to be a slave myself if I shrunk from that duty or danger." -William Lloyd Garrison, Abolitionist (1805 - 1879)

With Black History Month coming up in February, many of us will remember the civil rights struggles that have brought us to where we are today. I recently read a fascinating book about that movement focused on the role of women in those efforts called Freedom’s Daughters. It highlights past generations of women activists, both black and white. They led in the struggles for abolition, desegregation, civil rights, and women’s suffrage. These movements carry with them the roots of our contemporary work for justice.

As I considered the lessons from that book I found myself resonating with many challenges, failures, and victories these women experienced, much of which was based on the race and gender dynamics of the day.

As an educated white woman who began my foray into community organizing though a summer internship in my early 20s — like many of the young women in Freedom Summer coming down from the North — I had not yet delved into the complicated nature of race relations in the United States. I started my summer feeling competent, a person who could learn and adapt to changes as I had on many previous international mission experiences. I carried with me an overly simplified belief in the romantic “beloved community.” The beloved community would come about as we worked together, prayed, and marched. 

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U.S. Mosques Hit By Shortage of Imams

SPOKANE, Wash. — The Spokane Islamic Center wants something mosques all across the country are seeking and can’t seem to find: an educated, bilingual, experienced imam who understands American culture.

According to the report “The American Mosque 2011” by University of Kentucky professor Ihsan Bagby, half of all mosques in the U.S. have no full-time staff, and only 44 percent of imams work as paid, full-time leaders.

In Spokane, the Muslim community has been seeking a leader for 18 months and counting.

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What Do We Stand For?

On New Year’s Eve I wrote “The Top 10 things I’m thankful for in 2012” on my Facebook page. Number four was “Clarity of call and message.” A friend asked in a comment below the post: “How in your own life has this played out? I'm at a crossroads here and It's difficult for me to discern this right now … Feel like I'm just drifting.”

Many of the people sitting in pews across America understand what my friend is going through. “Drifting,” that’s how he put it. In fact, I think it’s a question many people are wrestling with in their daily lives. There are so many issues out there. There are so many hills to die on. There is such deep division in our politics and in the church. Wading through the sound bites gets tiring. How can one make sense of it all? It’s tempting to just give up and disengage like the many Christians did in the mid-20th century. 

But we cannot. 

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‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Tortures the Truth About Interrogations

Nothing was tortured more in the making of Kathryn Bigelow’s film Zero Dark Thirty than the truth about torture.

While it’s just a movie, it runs the risk of becoming the basis for a false view of reality for millions of moviegoers who have largely ignored a decade of debate about the efficacy of the United States sanctioning torture.

To dismiss the movie as simple entertainment ignores the impact seeing it has on our perception of reality, even when we understand we are watching actors in a — mostly — pretend setting.

The fact that Zero Dark Thirty was nominated this week for an Academy Award for Best Picture only underscores the importance of understanding what it gets wrong about torture.

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Hearing the New Questions

As the Christmas season draws to a close, I am reminded of the star that directed the three wise men away from their homeland and into the foreign but welcome presence of baby Jesus. Perhaps this reminds us all that the Divine is constantly moving us into new territory, as stars of all sorts continue to illuminate our path and reset our orientation. The New Year is a wonderful time to search the skies again and see where God is leading us – to check the progress of Church, society, and self, and also see when a new course needs charting. Such a pause allows us to live in our prophetic selves.

As you plan this year – and especially the month of February – remember that the role of a prophet is to, when necessary, provide faithful interruptions or disturbances to the fragile balance of our complex (and often incomplete) frameworks. (That is ONE role of the prophet, anyway). At any given point in the history of civilization we find each of our systems broken – by definition – because humans and not gods have created them.

And while these machinations and paradigms were created to solve society’s most pressing problems and questions, they often serve as coping mechanisms, “band-aids,” and gas canisters that fuel us only to our next checkpoint. You can think of many of these unfulfilled solutions, none of them mutually exclusive: they plague all the sectors of our common life. 

The month of February sheds light on one in particular. In the quest for racial justice, we have reached not the finish line but a checkpoint, and we need more prophets. 

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The Remarkable Power of Peace + Social Media

Last week, while most of Israel was focused on increasingly extreme rhetoric surrounding the upcoming elections and most Americans were listening to angry debates about guns and fiscal responsibility, a remarkable thing happened. A few dozen Palestinians captured the world’s attention quietly and peacefully.

Their methods were simple and witty. Following the example of Israeli settlers, they established “facts on the ground.” The group of Palestinians quietly hiked up a barren hillside in cold, wet weather and pitched tents, declaring themselves part of the new village of Bab al-Shams, or Gate of the Sun, a name taken from the novel by Lebanese writer Elias Khoury. 

Their village was established on private, Palestinian land and the landowner (who publicly displayed his Ottoman era deed) gave them permission to camp there. But that particular piece of land is also known on an Israeli development plan map as “E-1” and came to the attention of the world recently when Prime Minister Netanyahu announced plans to annex the land for Israeli settlements. Many believe that move, which would essentially bifurcate the West Bank, would be the deathblow to the “Two State Solution.”

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DRONE WATCH: What We Know … And What We Don’t Know

What we know and what we don’t know about drone strikes.
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The Obama Synthesis

A foreign policy of fewer troops on the ground, but more drones in the air.
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Afflictions of the Soul

Addressing "moral injury" among veterans.
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Fewer Americans View Homosexuality as a Sin

Americans’ acceptance of gays and lesbians is continuing to grow, with a new poll showing that just over a third of Americans view homosexuality as a sin, down from 44 percent a year earlier.

The finding from LifeWay Research, which was founded by the Southern Baptist Convention, was released just as the pastor who was to give the inaugural benediction for President Barack Obama withdrew from the program over an anti-gay sermon he gave 20 years ago.

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