The Common Good

Sojourners

Falling off the Fiscal Cliff: 5 Things You Need to Know

Now that the election is over, policymakers and the media have refocused their attention on the looming budget battles in Washington. In January, a variety of tax increases and spending cuts will go into effect unless Congress and President Barack Obama agree on a plan to avoid what has been deemed “the fiscal cliff.”

As the country braces for another fiscal showdown in the nation’s capitol, here are five things you need to know on the issue likely to dominate the news over the next several months. 

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    The Beautiful Stupidity of Writing (Part 1)

    I’ve been asked how I knew I was called to be a writer. For me, calling is fairly easy to recognize. If the thought of doing something fills you with equal parts joy and terror, it’s probably a calling. 

    There’s more to it than that, I suppose, since the idea of buying a new Tesla sports car fills me with both feelings too, mostly because my wife, Amy, would kill me. There are other elements, like the conviction that our calling should feel something of an identifiable need in the world, and that it should call on gifts we have in a way that is life-giving not just to others, but joyful and life-affirming for us as well.

    But the joy and terror thing is a pretty good sign you’re on the right track.

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    Starting the 'Christmas Tithe'

    Religion is far too judgmental. Surveys show that many people think that, especially a new generation of young people who — more than ever before — are checking the “none of the above” religious affiliation box. 

    I get it. But religious leaders tend to be judgmental about many of the wrong things; they are not making moral judgments on the important questions. So I am going to be judgmental, as a religious leader, about something I just read.

    A recent Harris International and World Vision poll showed that Americans plan to spend more this Christmas season on consumer gifts than they did last year, but give less to charities and ministries that help the poor. Many say they are less likely to give a charitable gift as a holiday present — a drop from 51 percent to 45 percent.

    So we will have more Christmas presents this year, but less help for the poor. While retailers, economists, and politicians may rejoice at the news about higher consumer spending this year, the lower levels of support for the ones Jesus called “the least of these” should legitimately bring some moral judgments from the faith community. 

    Indeed, the Matthew 25 scripture that this text is taken from is one of the few and most judgmental passages in all the New Testament. About some things, Jesus was judgmental. The Gospel clearly says that how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner, is how we treat Jesus. That’s is pretty judgmental, especially when you go on to read what will happen to those who ignore Jesus in this way. 

    But rather than just being judgmental, let’s do something about it. Let’s start “A Christmas Tithe.”

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    Helping Boys Become Readers

    Many boys at my school struggle with reading. Most are more interested in video games and outdoor activities than books. Our school is not an anomaly.

    Across the country adults have grappled with the lag in boys’ reading interest and skills. According to the 2010 Kids & Family Reading Report sponsored by Scholastic, fewer than 40 percent of boys said that reading outside the classroom is important.

    So when my school’s coordinator asked me to start a lunchtime reading group to get boys interested in reading, I was excited. The first fourth-grade literary lunch would be called BEREAders (Berea Readers).

    I am excited about reading.

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    Jim Wallis: Fight Against AIDS 'Starts With Me'

    Sojourners President and CEO Jim Wallis joined voices worldwide rallying in the fight against AIDS. The ONE Campaign — an international nonprofit focused on global health and poverty issues — today launched its "It Starts With Me" video campaign. 

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    Celebrating the Miraculous on World AIDS Day

    As people of faith, it is not uncommon to pray for miracles when faced with overwhelming obstacles. For many of us, AIDS has been one of those mind-boggling, heart-wrenching causes that has wreaked havoc on the world and been the subject of many prayers. 

    Since the early days of the disease, the focus has been on a cure. Researchers worked tirelessly for it and the faithful asked God to provide it. But the cure has never come.

    And yet, as we mark another AIDS Day this Saturday, Dec. 1, there is evidence of the miraculous. 

    After 24 years of commemorating this day with grim statistics and little hope, there is finally good news. 

    Millions of people are receiving treatment. Many fewer people are dying.

    The new infection rate has dropped by 50 percent or more in 25 countries since 2001. With access to treatment, being HIV-positive is now considered a chronic disease, not a fatal one.

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    ‘Two and a Half Men’ Star Becomes Christian, Blasts Show

    Another star of the CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men” has gone rogue — but in a decidedly different direction than notorious carouser Charlie Sheen.

    Actor Angus T. Jones — the “half” in the sitcom’s title — says in a new online testimony that he’s become a Seventh-day Adventist and loathes the “filth” produced by his raunchy show.

    “You cannot be a true God-fearing person and be on a television show like that,” says Jones, 19, in a video posted online by Forerunner Chronicles. “I know I can’t. I’m not OK with what I’m learning, what the Bible says, and being on that television show.”

    “Please stop watching it,” says Jones, who reportedly earns $350,000 per episode and has starred in the show since he was 10. “Please stop filling your head with filth.”

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    Church of England Faces Backlash Over Rejecting Women Bishops

    CANTERBURY, England — When the Church of England scuttled plans to allow women bishops on Nov. 20, incoming Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby called it “a very grim day for women and their supporters.”

    Now, that grim day is turning into a church-state nightmare for Britain's established church.

    On Monday, The Times of London quoted from a leaked memo to church leaders from William Fittall, secretary general of the General Synod, who called the public and political fallout "severe."

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    The Case for Fair Taxes

    Earlier this month, I went to vote at our local middle school in North Durham. It was one those winter-tease days, colder than usual, a glimpse of the coming months in North Carolina. As I walked into the school’s auditorium, I was met by poll monitors with visible breath and bundled-up like Ralphie’s brother from the movie A Christmas Story. For a Midwesterner, cold temperatures in North Carolina is a warm day in the fall, nonetheless, it was clear the monitors as well as voters were uncomfortable and frustrated with the conditions. While searching for my name in the voter list, I overheard one monitor pleading with an administrator to get the heat turned on, fearing the cold atmosphere might shoo voters away.

    When I left the facility, I couldn’t help but wonder at the irony of the situation. In a crucial election with many issues at stake, including tax fairness, our local voting facility struggled to provide reasonable and comfortable conditions for the voters. It might be unfair to assume that the lack of heat in the earlier morning hours is related to the school’s budget, and subsequently, tax revenue. Perhaps the custodian simply forgot to turn it on. But, as national, state, and local governments continue to cut back on budgets and programs due to the lingering recession’s effects on revenue, the public sector and often those in lower-income neighborhoods are taking the brunt of tax policies and restructuring.

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    Weaving a Hopeful Future

    When I think of weavers, what comes to my mind are the ladies in the back of the knitting store in my Southern California hometown, the ones who hang out on weekend afternoons with their handlooms – weaving cloth shawls, blankets, or the occasional modern tapestry.

    Here, weaving is, by and large, a pastime. Some would call it an art form. The ladies in the back of the knitting shop are craft weavers. We might consider them "artisans" and laud them for mastering the truly ancient craft.

    In the West, machines do most of the commercial weaving, not people. In Ethiopia, and elsewhere in the developing world, handloom weaving is most often an occupation for men and one that isn't usually heralded for its artistry. Weaving isn’t a prestigious job and, by and large, those who weave are the working poor.

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