The Common Good

Sojourners

Obama Speaks Out Against Modern Slavery

President Obama speaking to the Clinton Global Initiative on Tuesday:

I want to discuss an issue that relates to each of these challenges. It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity.  It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name — modern slavery.

Now, I do not use that word, "slavery" lightly.  It evokes obviously one of the most painful chapters in our nation’s history. But around the world, there’s no denying the awful reality. When a man, desperate for work, finds himself in a factory or on a fishing boat or in a field, working, toiling, for little or no pay, and beaten if he tries to escape — that is slavery. When a woman is locked in a sweatshop, or trapped in a home as a domestic servant, alone and abused and incapable of leaving — that’s slavery.

When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed — that’s slavery.  When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family — girls my daughters’ age — runs away from home, or is lured by the false promises of a better life, and then imprisoned in a brothel and tortured if she resists — that’s slavery. It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world.

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Sojourners Responds to Anti-Muslim Ads in NYC Subway

Global tensions between Christians and Muslims are high as reactions to a stridently anti-Muslim film rage on in many countries. By now, most of us have heard about the video, followed the media coverage of the protests, and mourned those, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, who have died from the violence.

In the midst of all this, an organization deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center has decided to run ads in New York City subway stations that imply Muslims are “savages.” Many faith groups have spoken out to denounce the offensive ads, but the horse is already out of the barn, as the ads already have been posted and will be seen each day by countless New York City commuters. 

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Raising Sons and Raising Men

This past Saturday, on a brilliant fall morning, my eight-year-old son came bounding downstairs for breakfast. I reached into the refrigerator, grabbed a cold Diet Mountain Dew from in between glass-bottled organic milk and tomato juice, and served it to him with farm-fresh eggs, feeling the part of a drug dealer.

We had a long day ahead, and I wanted to see what happened.

I smiled to myself, imagining some upcoming event, the mothers’ conversation all about peanut-free this and local that, when I’d pipe above the crowd to say, Hey sweetheart, how about your Mountain Dew?

The arrival of Diet Mountain Dew in my house is only the first in a cascade of little experiments we are now undertaking as a result of neuropsychological testing in August indicating that my son has a form of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Our house has never lacked order or discipline, and yet now we are thinking about how to structure everything more explicitly.

Diet Mountain Dew, with its massive amounts of caffeine, is our initial effort in our goal of avoiding, for now, giving him any stimulant medications: Did you know that caffeine actually calms down a hyperactive person, allowing them to focus? Maybe that’s why I’ve drunk eight cups of coffee every day since around 1985.

I tried the coffee with my son first, hoping I could cultivate a new bond with him over a shared habit. He detested the stuff. You could always give him Red Bull, one of my brothers said. I couldn’t bring myself to do that, hence the Diet Mountain Dew.

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What Shane Claiborne (and Mother Teresa) Got Wrong About the Body of Christ

Last spring, I heard a terrific talk from Shane Claiborne at the Festival of Faith & Writing. Claiborne, a prominent voice in progressive Christian circles, lives in Philadelphia’s inner city, where he and the other inhabitants of the Simple Way community practice a “new monasticism.”

They value hospitality and communal living, seek to build relationships with those living in their neighborhood, and are concerned with issues around poverty and wealth, power and violence. From the descriptions I’ve read, the Simple Way practices similar values to the Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C., where I worshiped for most of my 20s. The Church of the Saviour had the unusual distinction of taking both Jesus and social justice seriously. It was a community in which I was comfortable speaking like an evangelical, while voting and approaching social issues like an Episcopalian.

Listening to Claiborne speak back in April about justice and love and how our stories illuminate God’s kingdom, I felt at home. Here was the kind of guy I used to worship with in my earnest urban-dwelling days. His message, his words, and his stories felt intimate, familiar, and inspiring.

That is, except for this one story...

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Dropping the 'I' Word

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1 

I often wonder how frequently people think about the impact their words have on others, specifically, on the development of human perception. The conclusion I’ve sadly reached is that when a language norm is established by dominant cultural forces —such as the news media, in our day – the truth seldom matters. Once something is spoken and repeated enough times people consider it to be true regardless of the real facts or circumstances.

One recent debate clearly illustrating the power of words is around which terminology the media should use when referencing immigrants who are in this country without authorization to work. Those outlets that use the word “illegal” defend this practice by pointing to the Associated Press’ Stylebook, which designates “illegal” as the appropriate term. Those using the term “undocumented” have noted the changing circumstances within the culture and recognize that using such inflammatory terminology only adds fuel to the proverbial political fire around the issue of immigration

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Mumford & Sons Stick to Their Guns

“Are Mumford & Sons as big in America as they are here?” my English friend asked me a year ago over a pint at a pub on High Street in Oxford, England.

“Uh … yea,” I replied, astonished that their popularity was even in question. “They’re huge.”

Turns out that English friend is Marcus Mumford’s cousin, and he eventually got to see how big they are in the states, spending this past summer in Arizona and scurrying over to Colorado for their show at Red Rocks. (I know I’m jealous.)

But has that popularity and success translated into a decent sophomore album? Absolutely. One way to avoid the perilous “sophomore slump” that plagues many musicians and bands these days is to stick to your guns. And that’s exactly what English quartet Mumford & Sons did with their second album Babel.

 “The idea was always, ‘If it ain’t broke, why fix it?’” producer Markus Dravs told Rolling Stone.

And that’s almost exactly what audiences get on Babel. It’s as if Mumford took all the good things from their first record, Sigh No More, and channeled them into Babel.

Who blames ‘em? Their foot-stomping, banjo-plucking signature folk-rock sound has sent them to the far corners of the earth and back. It also shot Sigh No More up to platinum status, selling five million copies and nominating the band for two Grammys.

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Q&A on Tim Tebow’s Gridiron Faith

Can Tim Tebow do no wrong?

Michael Butterworth of Bowling Green State University has turned his attention to sports media coverage of Tebow, an evangelical Christian and New York Jets quarterback. The author of a forthcoming article in the journal of the National Communication Association, Butterworth talked about how Tebow coverage seldom treads beyond a “nice guy” image to delve into his faith.

Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

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Survey: Syrian Rebels Seek Islamic Democracy

Members of the Syrian opposition generally want a democratic government that protects the rights of minorities, though many also want a constitution based on Islam, according to a recent survey.

Their aspirations are important because the Obama administration has said it is refraining from arming the opposition, which has been pummeled by Syrian security forces for 18 months, in part out of fear of igniting sectarian violence. There's also fear that weapons would reach Islamist radicals who would threaten allies in the region.

The survey by the International Republican Institute, which trains democracy activists around the world, found high support for a government that "respectfully acknowledges religion" and treats all religions equally. The second-most popular model of choice was for a constitution "based on Islam."

"Most of the opposition is Sunni Muslims and they are democratically minded, but they want a government based on some kind of Islamic law or that follows Islamic guidelines," says Elizabeth O'Bagy, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War who helped the survey writers find contacts in the opposition movement.

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Why Our Presidential Candidates Need a Manicure

I was groomed in a Latino home where nail salons were viewed as rites of passage for becoming a senorita — growing young lady. Sometimes when I’m looking for some TLC, I head to my local nail salon in East Harlem. I could go to a more upscale salon, but here at Pretty Nail Salon, is where I want to be — connected to a neighborhood of ladies who have utilized storefront nail salons, beauty parlors, and hair-braiding places as makeshift therapeutic spaces where counsel and support is just as paramount to looking beautiful.

I have also discovered that nail salons are burgeoning places of policy concerns. Pretty Nail Salon has provided me with an informal education on how social policy affects the everyday day lives of working class folks. Our presidential candidates could also benefit from an appointment at Pretty Nail Salon, to listen to the local narratives and deepen their understanding of how social policy is affecting the lives of the urban poor and working class. 

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New “Hellbound?” Movie Explores, Challenges Christian Doctrine of Hell

I first heard about the movie “Hellbound?” (coming out this fall) at Wild Goose Festival. They were offering an advance screening of the movie, and although I was just passing by the tent at the time, the subject matter stopped me where I was. A thoughtful, well-researched, accessible discussion about the history, purpose, and prospects of hell in Christian theology?

I’m in!

The film opens with reflections on September 11th, including a 10-year anniversary memorial event at the site. And as would be expected, the infamous picketers from Westboro Baptist Church were there, complete with signs bearing slogans like “Thank God for 9/11 and, of course, “God Hates Fags.” The movie progresses to, let’s say, more educated points of view, focusing more on the front end on those who advocate for a real hell that is populated with innumerable souls experiencing eternal conscious torment.

But then the movie breaks off from the oft-quoted pro-hell camp and considers the social and historical backdrop for hell, as well as extensive screen time for the doubters and skeptics about the reality of such a place. Folks offering counters to the “traditional” evangelical view of hell include Brian McLaren, Frank Schaeffer, and an Eastern Orthodox priest, all offering fascinating tidbits meant to expand our understanding of where this modern-day understanding of hell even came from, let alone whether we claim a God who would send people there.

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