The Common Good

Sojourners

A Season of Hope

“For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” —Romans 8:24-25

We’ve had a tough year. The media has been full of stories about the raging Ebola epidemic, gridlock and partisanship in Congress, racial injustice in countless communities across our country, immigrant children stranded at the U.S./Mexico border, unrest in the Gaza Strip, and so much more. The Sojourners staff experienced our own personal heartbreak this year with the passing of Elizabeth “Zab” Palmberg, a beloved member of our editorial staff.

With all of this pain and heartache in the world, I often find myself asking, “Where is the hope?”

I realize I am not alone in asking this question. It’s one that many people seem to be asking themselves this year, in light of all that has happened and that continues to happen.

In the midst of my search for hope, I find comfort in these words from Romans, quoted above. As a Christian, I hope in the resurrection and for the full redemption of our broken world. This vision of a redeemed world keeps me going in the midst of my questioning, my doubt, my impatience and frustration with the current brokenness of the world. I hope for this unseen reality and eagerly await its arrival.

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Pope Francis Makes Overtures to Orthodox and Muslims

Never mind that Turkey is overwhelmingly Muslim. The most enduring image of Pope Francis’ three-day visit to Turkey was the moment when he bowed his head and asked for the blessing of the leader of Eastern Orthodoxy, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.

Since his election last year, Francis and Bartholomew have forged a strong alliance culminating in their joint pledge in Istanbul on Nov. 30 to work to bridge a 1,000-year divide between their churches.

The task takes on new urgency as Christians — Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox — face a wave of violent persecution in Syria and Iraq.

The 77-year-old Argentinian pope represents 1.2 billion Roman Catholics and the Turkish-born Bartholomew leads about 250 million Eastern Orthodox Christians.

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Voices Crying Out: Comfort and Transformation in an Age of Mass Incarceration

This reading of Isaiah 40 may make it more difficult for many of us to relate to the ancient historical setting of the text. There are many among us, however, who are refugees, forced to migrate to find economic opportunity or even because of poor decisions or systemic injustice that forces a disproportionate amount of our minority population into the prison system. Bereft of personal and economic freedom, our nation’s prison population might find both hope and justice in these words from the ancient prophetic text.

There is no doubt that many in our nation’s prison have committed crimes, just as the ancient people of Judah did according to Isaiah 1. There is also no doubt that we need a system of incarceration that separates dangerous criminals from potential victims. But the words concerning disproportionate judgment also call us to question the fairness of our current system in the United States, which boasts the largest prison population in the world at 2.2 million.

Moreover, just as God did not give up on the people of Judah, God has not given up on those in the prison system. What would happen if we as Christians partnered with God to help transform lives and offer hope to the women and men who fill our prisons?

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Noel Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow: 50 Years of Song in 'Love of Community'

The folk trio Peter, Paul, and Mary had almost 50 years together until Mary Travers’ death in 2009. Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey continue as musicians and activists, and have reflected on their experiences in a new a photo-filled book Peter, Paul and Mary: 50 Years in Life and Song (Imagine/Charlesbridge). A just-released album, DISCOVERED: Live in Concert, includes 12 live songs never before heard on their albums. And on Dec. 1 (check local listings), PBS will air 50 Years with Peter, Paul and Mary — a new documentary with rare and previously unseen television footage and many of the trio’s best performances and most popular songs.

I spoke with Yarrow and Stookey this week about music, movements, and the spiritual aspects of both. (Stookey had what he describes as a “deep reborn experience” as a Christian around 1969 or 1970; Yarrow doesn’t affiliate with a specific religious institution, but describes much of what motivates him in spiritual terms.)

Stookey describes how all three of them were drawn to carrying on the precedent of folk forebears such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger to make music “in the interest of, and love of, community.” Their appearance at the 1963 March on Washington was, he says, “the galvanizing moment” for their activism, the beginning of a trajectory that would engage them in the civil rights, peace, anti-nuclear, environment, and immigration movements, and “less media-covered causes and events — a rainbow of concerns that we were inevitably and naturally drawn into.”

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Thanksgiving and Ferguson: Lost in Translation

For me, Thanksgiving was always Christmas’ annoying little sister. Thanksgiving isn’t a festive season spanning three months that warrants its own albums; it’s a day when American gluttony reaches its zenith, and also the Cowboys play. It’s not a holy day of obligation — and in my worst moments, I complain to my preacher husband about the additional service “invading” our holy midweek day off work.

But this year Thanksgiving feels especially out of place — sandwiched between an early winter and the hopelessness of misunderstood lament. I want so badly to be thankful because I truly have so many reasons to fall on my knees in exaltation. But before I count my “blessings” — before the praise hits my lips, it’s strangled by the cry for others whose lots might only be described as cursed.

Adam Ericksen penned a great reflection this morning, saying, “God doesn’t force us to be thankful in times of grief and despair. Rather, God meets us in our honest and raw emotions.”

Bitterness seems all at once selfish and appropriate. I grieve the chasm that has been revealed between brothers and sisters. If there is anything I learned from my Monday night glued to television screens watching my former home of St. Louis in flames it’s that this “conversation” everyone keeps saying we need to have is happening in two different languages.

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The 10 Ferguson Stories You Need to See

Editor’s Note: On Monday night, it was announced that a grand jury in St. Louis County found no probable cause to indict Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson on any of five possible counts. Throughout the country, protests have erupted. For this week’s edition of the Weekly Wrap, we wanted to offer you the 10 most important things you should see, read, digest to understand the situation. We pray for peace.

1. Letter From Birmingham Jail
by Martin Luther King Jr. Far more relevant than it should be. Print it out. Write on it. Pray through it. "In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities."

2. PHOTOS: Scenes From Ferguson — and Beyond
Slate compiled these chilling shots from protests in Ferguson, New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and more.

3. A Sad Night for America
“It is time to right the unacceptable wrong of black lives being worth less than white lives in our criminal justice system." our criminal justice system."

 

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Release. Repair. Restore: Thoughts Beyond Ferguson Toward Racial Healing

We must engage in courageous conversations. We need to have them in and amongst our own people—our families and our children, our close friends and allies, and in our racial/ethnic groups. A caucus can be an important thing. Make space for the asking of deep questions and the sharing of even awkward sentiments. Why is this happening? What does it mean? How does it affect my soul? Aren’t we past race yet, and can I do anything about this? How does my faith in God relate to these issues? How can I be a healer?

And we must have these conversations across what might seem to be natural divides. We need to have cross-racial/cross ethnic conversations. In order to do this, we must have relationships. We can’t liberate each other while we are in silos. Multiracial/multiethnic congregations like Middle Collegiate Church are critical to the work of racial reconciliation. If your church is diverse, think of ways to encourage deeper relationships. In our context, we have an ongoing small group called Erasing Racism, in which we are having critical conversations about race. If your context is mono-cultural, find a partner with whom to relate. Create a joint worship celebration or prayer vigil during Advent and have conversation as you break bread. Use questions like: When was the first time I was othered due to my personhood? When have I othered someone else? How can these experiences plant seeds for empathy? How did I learn the story of race and what can I do to change it?

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Thanksgiving and a Theology of Despair

Are you feeling pressure to be thankful?

We are in the midst of the Thanksgiving season. I’m reminded everywhere I go to “Be thankful!”

Well, call me the Scrooge of Thanksgiving, but I’m just not feeling thankful. The more someone tells me to “Be thankful!” the more I feel a sense of despair.

Be thankful? In the midst of Ferguson, Mo.? Jim Wallis writes that, “Many black families woke up this morning knowing that the lives of their children are worth less than the lives of white children in America.” And what will white America do about it? Nothing new. One side will continue the status quo of racism by denying that it even exists and then they will blame the victims. I firmly stand in the other side that blames America’s deeply embedded structures of racism, economic injustice, and educational inequality. To make matters worse, America is sharply divided over the shooting in Ferguson. Each side of the division blames the other for tragic violence. Sunday’s heated debate on Meet the Press between former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Georgetown Professor Michael Eric Dyson is indicative of the deep racial tensions underlying not only Ferguson, but every city in the United States.

My Facebook news feed and the media are telling me how I’m supposed to feel about Ferguson. Outraged. Hurt. Anxious. Guilt. Anger. Bitter. But certainly not thankful.

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Why the 'Post-Racial' Label Only Perpetuates Racism

The shooting of Michael Brown and the failure of a grand jury to indict the shooter, Darren Wilson, are symptoms of a wider malaise.

It is part of a deep-seated illness that infects our body politic: racism.

The sad reality is that so many people believe we live in a post-racial society because we have a black president. We cannot address the issue, challenge ourselves and transform our societies without a prophetic voice. Ferguson is the space where I see that voice re-emerging into America’s consciousness.

Racism is not just about individual acts. It is about a system that allows unarmed black boys to be shot at a rate 20 times that of white boys; it allows a prosecutor to deliver a speech as a defense attorney for the accused after he fails to get an indictment. It is a system that has a black president telling people to calm down as the police, in military gear, attack them.

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Can a Nation So Wounded by Its Divisions Survive?

Every now and then something scars the “national memory,” and we encounter ourselves as a single people. We grieve as one or we celebrate as one.

Those moments are rare, and maybe they should be rare. It would be artificial for a people as divided as we are to pretend to a national consciousness. We don’t agree on the facts, we don’t agree on our own history, we don’t agree on meaning and ethics, we don’t like each other, and we certainly don’t trust each other.

Now, to echo President Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg 151 years ago, we are met on a great battlefield of the wars we wage against each other. It isn’t a field in central Pennsylvania. It is the nation itself.

Cities are set to explode over worsening racial injustice and police misconduct. Football players get a free pass on domestic violence. Colleges shrug off epidemics of rape and cheating.

Banks and a small moneyed set wage unrelenting war on their fellow Americans. Descendants of immigrants turn against new arrivals and call it patriotism. Large companies like General Motors sell defective products. Lobbyists control our legislators, and they in turn deny votes and basic rights to certain citizens.

The question, then, is the one President Lincoln posed: Can a nation so wounded by its divisions, hatreds and manipulated fears survive? Are we setting the stage for even more repressive surveillance, even worse predations by the government-owning few, even more weapons in unstable hands, even worse despair among the many?

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