The Common Good


Sojomail - December 22, 2000

                  ****S O J O   M A I L****

           Promoting values at the crossroads where
           spirituality, politics, and culture meet

                 Brought to you by SojoNet
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++++++++++++++++++++ 22-December-2000 +++++++++++++++++++++

            ****M E R R Y  C H R I S T M A S !****

 Q u o t e  o f  t h e  W e e k
     *Lily Tomlin: the origin of language

 H e a r t s  &  M i n d s
     *An unexpected meeting with Mr. Bush

 F u n n y   B u s i n e s s
     *Physics 101

 B u i l d i n g   a   M o v e m e n t
     *Stop torture fast

 S o u l   W o r k s
     *A Christmas prayer

 C u l t u r e   W a t c h
     *PC nativity scenes from the UK

 B o o m e r a n g
     *SojoMail readers hit reply

 T e c h   E t h i x
     *Hunger site

 F a i t h   a n d   P o l i t i c s
     *The Pope takes on bankers

 W e b  S c e n e
     *Football, soup, and the homeless
     *Peace in the Middle East


Q u o t e  o f  t h e  W e e k

Man invented language to satisfy his deep
need to complain.

                   - Lily Tomlin


This e-letter marks our final mailing for 2000.
We'll be back the first week of 2001!

We wish for peace and joy for all your loved
ones during the final days of Y2K. We highly
value your support.

The Editors
Sojourners and SojoNet


H E A R T S  &  M I N D S
An unexpected meeting with Mr. Bush

by Jim Wallis

When the call came from Austin last Friday, I was
very surprised. President-elect Bush was already
wanting to meet with religious leaders about
faith-based initiatives in solving the nation's
problems. And he was reaching well beyond his base
of conservative evangelicals. Would I come and suggest
others who should be invited?

Having both been arrested on the White House
sidewalk and had breakfast meetings with a president
on the inside, I've concluded that the latter is more
dangerous to prophetic integrity than the former.
Nevertheless, I do believe it is important to talk to
political leaders and do so on a regular basis. And
because many of us did that with President Clinton 
(until he cut off the relationship when we were 
critical of his welfare reform), I thought we should 
be willing to speak with the new Republican president 
as well. There could be both dangers and opportunities 

Sitting in a small circle in a Sunday School
classroom in Austin's First Baptist Church, seven
Call to Renewal leaders joined about 20 others
for a conversation with George W. Bush. The meeting
turned out to be more than a photo-op. Bush mostly
listened and asked questions for over an hour, then
stayed longer to mingle and talk to several of us
individually. He clearly believes in faith-based
organizations and the important role they can play
in solving social problems, and wants to make support
for such grassroots efforts is an important part of his
administration (there will be a new White House office
on faith-based initiatives).

The faith-based leaders in the room were both strong
and clear about their commitments and concerns. I
thanked him for being willing to meet with people who
didn't support his election, but said we would work
with him if he decided to do something real and
significant to overcome child poverty. Specifically,
we suggested he use his inaugural address to call
the nation to reduce the child poverty rate by half
in five years. Such a call could be for a nonpartisan
effort, carried out through new partnerships between
the government and many other sectors, including
faith-based organizations, and should be put forward
as a moral commitment, not just a political one. When
he asked how to speak to the nation's soul, I suggested
starting with the kids, who reveal our worst failures
as a society, but also embody our best hopes.

We also talked about focusing education reform on
our poorest children, and forging new partnerships
between congregations and schools. The importance of
Africa and the pandemic of AIDS there being on the
foreign policy agenda was also raised, and he responded
positively to all the recommendations. Bush asked
theological questions of the religious leaders, like
what is justice? It's a key question, especially amid
fears among some that an emphasis on faith-based
organizations will be used to substitute for crucial
governmental responsibilities.

George Bush was relaxed, informal, witty, and sincere;
"I don't want to be thought of as just a white Republican
guy." Afterwards he told me he didn't really have any
experience with poor neighborhoods like mine, so I told
him we were just 20 blocks away from his new house
and I would be happy to show him around when he gets
to town.

It was only a first meeting, and just an opening to
further discussion. But it was a good start. If the
new president is responsive to the concerns of religious
leaders, I believe we can find ways to work with a new
administration and Congress. If not, then our opposition
to the new administration will be based on having begun
with some personal contact and relationship. I think
that's a good thing.

Afterwards, I told the new president-elect, "I hope
you surprise us." To which he responded, "I better if
I hope to get reelected." Perhaps a Republican preaching
compassionate conservatism, working with Democrats who
want to fight for poor working families, and both
joined by faith-based organizations at work on the
streets could accomplish things that neither
Democrats and Republicans have been able to do. We'll
see. The ball is in both our courts.

For news coverage of Wednesday's meeting:

The New York Times


F u n n y   B u s i n e s s
Physics 101

The following concerns a question in a physics degree
exam at the University of Copenhagen:

"Describe how to determine the height of a skyscraper
a barometer."

One student replied:

"You tie a long piece of string to the neck of the
barometer, then lower the barometer from the roof of
the skyscraper to the ground. The length of the string
plus the length of the barometer will equal the height
of the building."

This highly original answer so incensed the examiner
that the student was failed. The student appealed on
the grounds that his answer was indisputably correct,
and the university appointed an independent arbiter to
decide the case. The arbiter judged that the answer
was indeed correct, but did not display any noticeable
knowledge of physics. To resolve the problem it was
decided to call the student in and allow him six
minutes in which to provide a verbal answer that
showed at least a minimal familiarity with the basic
principles of physics.

For five minutes the student sat in silence, forehead
creased in thought. The arbiter reminded him that time
was running out, to which the student replied that he
had several extremely relevant answers, but couldn't
make up his mind which to use.

On being advised to hurry up the student replied as

"Firstly, you could take the barometer up to the roof
of the skyscraper, drop it over the edge, and measure
the time it takes to reach the ground. The height of
the building can then be worked out from the formula
H = 0.5g x t squared. But bad luck on the barometer."

"Or if the sun is shining you could measure the height
of the barometer, then set it on end and measure the
length of its shadow. Then you measure the length of
the skyscraper's shadow, and thereafter it is a simple
matter of proportional arithmetic to work out the
height of the skyscraper."

"But if you wanted to be highly scientific about it,
you could tie a short piece of string to the barometer
and swing it like a pendulum, first at ground level and
then on the roof of the skyscraper. The height is
worked out by the difference in the gravitational
restoring force T = 2 pi sq root (l / g)."

"Or if the skyscraper has an outside emergency
staircase, it would be easier to walk up it and mark
off the height of the skyscraper in barometer lengths,
then add them up."

"If you merely wanted to be boring and orthodox about
it, of course, you could use the barometer to measure
the air pressure on the roof of the skyscraper and on
the ground, and convert the difference in millibars
into feet to give the height of the building."

"But since we are constantly being exhorted to exercise
independence of mind and apply scientific methods,
undoubtedly the best way would be to knock on the
janitor's door and say to him, 'If you would like a nice
new barometer, I will give you this one if you tell me
the height of this skyscraper'."

The student was Niels Bohr, the only person from
Denmark to win the Nobel Prize for Physics.


B u i l d i n g   a   M o v e m e n t
Stop torture FAST

Getting away with torture just got a little

Amnesty International has launched a new
online network - FAST (Fast Action Stops Torture) -
as part of its worldwide campaign to stop torture.
As soon as Amnesty International hears about an
imminent threat of torture, FAST will instantly
send out an alarm to its network of activists
around the globe. Cell phones will ring, pagers
buzz, and computers chime, instructing activists
by the thousands to sign electronic letters of
protest. Within hours, the threat of torture will
be exposed. Once exposed, it is nearly impossible
to carry out.  

When you sign up with FAST, you transform your
computer, cell phone, or handheld pager into an
instant action tool - a tool with the power to
save thousands of people from the horrors of
torture. You'll also become a part of a worldwide
community of activists determined to prove that
human rights violations can - and will - be stopped.


S p i r i t u a l   P r a c t i c e s
A Christmas prayer

In the face of Christmas let us ask God for
a good Christmas: 

...that no powerful nation should tax the poor
or uproot them;  

...that no unmarried mother should be put away
in disgrace; 

...that no door will be shut on those that need
to find it open;  

...that shepherds and sheep and all of nature
need not be afraid;

...that barbed wire and angry soldiers may not
be found in Bethlehem;

...that wise men and wise women might appear in
Romford, in East Timor, in Sierra Leone, in
Ireland, in Dagenham, in Iraq, in the YMCA;

...that children may be preserved from those
who would abuse them;
...that this Christmas, worship may become a
manger and the YMCA a stable, and the rumour
become a reality that Christ has come among us.


by Pip Wilson, Romford YMCA
Building community among the inner-city
poor in England



 The Utne Reader recently listed Sojourners as
 one of the most-cited magazines in its history.

 Why does the Utne Reader love Sojourners? Sign
 up for a FREE ISSUE and find out for yourself.

 Go now to:


C u l t u r e   W a t c h
PC nativity sets hit England

LONDON, Dec. 17 (UPI) - Manufacturers eager to
be politically correct are retelling the story
of Nativity to attract single-parent customers,
published surveys of shops decked out for Christmas
showed Sunday.

Gone are Joseph and dark-skinned kings from some
Nativity sets, while in other examples Joseph
appears as a rose-complexioned female.

The traditional Nativity set, used at homes
throughout the world as part of Christmas festivities,
depicts a baby Jesus with Mary and Joseph, her
carpenter fiancée in biblical accounts. The Times
newspaper said one London store it questioned
about the absence of Joseph from many Nativity
sets told its reporter: "Joseph has done a runner!"
A spokesman said, "We have a variety of Nativity
sets so people can choose what they like best."

Some other sets on sale presented Joseph as a figure
with rosy cheeks and curly hair, donning a headscarf
and cloak and carrying a crook - almost resembling
but not quite like the shepherds that have featured
in the scene through many years.

The shop surveys showed that modified Nativity sets
were designed to appeal to single parents or those
with "Sapphic (lesbian) inclinations."

The manufacturers also responded to customer needs
and have given buyers the option to choose the colour of
the three wise men, traditionally identified as
kings from Arabia, Persia, and India, and usually one
with darker skin than the two others. Some sets on
sale showed all three as pale-skinned.


B o o m e r a n g

Greg Key of Elizabethton, Tennessee, wrote:

I need some help. I live in a predominantly Republican
area. That isn't necessarily a problem since I generally
vote Republican. However, there are a few staunch
Democrats in the congregation where I attend. When I
have asked two of them why they voted for Gore they
both said because they didn't want to vote for Bush.
One said that Bush was a slimeball and the other was
afraid Bush would lower taxes. There have to be better
reasons than that.

I know that you can be a Christian and vote Democrat,
but I have a difficult time voting for a Democrat on
the national level. A good friend of the family and
fellow church member ran for Court Clerk on the
Democratic ticket. I had no problem voting for her.
I know her. I know her beliefs and her faith.

But at the national level I don't. All I know is
the party platform that accepts (encourages) abortion
and the homosexual lifestyle.

Can you tell me how I can close my eyes to the
Democrats' moral views and vote Democrat?


Susan Epp of Grover Beach, California, wrote:

I hope you all at Sojourners aren't REALLY expecting
Pres. Bush to follow through with his promise to be
bipartisan. He has already named Martinez as the head
of housing. This Martinez fellow is a known Castro
hater from Florida so I wouldn't look forward to a
more humane policy from the United States regarding
Cuba. I am involved with a group called Pastors for
Peace and intend to go with this group in July for a
three-week trip to Cuba on a peaceful protest against
U.S. policy towards Cuba. The joke going around is 
this: George Bush's aides tell him that the 
presidential votes counted are incomplete. Bush
replies, "What's so bad about an incomplete? Why that
was my highest grade in college and they still let
me graduate." Yeah, and they let him be president, too!

Are SojoMail letters available on the Internet back up
to about a year or so? There are some past issues I
would like to relook at.


Ed. note:  Yes, you can find all of SojoMail for
the year 2000 at Click on SojoMail.


David Byrum of Valparaiso, Indiana, wrote:

I love Jim Wallis' contributions. However, when he
suggested that the Electoral College should be
abolished so true democracy could reign, I gulped
hard. Those of us from Indiana and other areas less
densely populated appreciate the Electoral College,
which evens the playing field. The fact is, without
the Electoral College, New York, Chicago, and Los
Angeles together could carry the national election.
Remember your high school civics class - we don't
live in a democracy. This is a republic - a
representative democracy. If you want to open up
the old states' rights sores, then keep pushing
for a pure democracy and split our country again.

Fran Johnston of Magnolia, Arizona, wrote:

I strongly disagree with your opinion that the
Electoral College should be abolished. I think
our founding fathers showed remarkable foresight
when this was incorporated as the law of the land.
A look at a map of the United States will disclose
that the upper East coast, the West coast, Michigan
area, and southern Florida voted for Gore.  These
are populated areas, which accounted for the fact
that Gore won the popular vote. Are we in a less
populated area to be disenfranchised simply because
of where we live? I am 81 years of age, and I do
not remember a time when both presidential candidates
visited our state.  We have had vice presidential
candidates and other presidential representatives
give us 15 minutes of their time, but never two
presidential candidates laying out their plans as
they affected our area. The simple fact is that
without an Electoral College, there would be no need
for us to even vote. I do not know what you mean
when you advocate "reform." What could be changed
to make it more representative of all the areas in
the United States? 


Sheri Kling of Marietta, Georgia, wrote:

I'm a long-time member-reader of Sojourners, but
a recent fan on, and I really have enjoyed
the issues I've received. I take issue, though,
with your reader's comparison of Gloria Steinem
to David Duke. There are many Christians who support
a woman's right to choose, and to label Ms. Steinem
as "pro-abortion" smacks of a dismissive, self-
righteous mindset. I also resent this writer's
dismissal of the inclusion of a Buddhist perspective.
Wisdom can be found in all major faiths, and it's
just divisive and emotionally immature to dismiss
out of hand the wisdom and insights that could be
gained from people who walk another spiritual or
political path.

SojoMail reader Roger Nehring wrote:

How dare you include comments from Gloria Steinem and
poetry from non-Christian authors (a Buddhist nun, for
goodness' sake!!). Why, these are people who disagree
with me!  How dare you try to stretch my approach to
faith to include ideas outside my narrow ken? And
Jesus talking to tax collectors, Samaritans, and Roman
conquerors - I'm not at all pleased with Him on that
point either.


Rebecca D'Angelo of Washington, D.C., wrote:

I cannot believe this person's comments [on Gloria
Steinem and a Buddhist nun]. They lack compassion
and tolerance. Is that not one of the tenets of
"Christianity"? ...We must remember that everyone
has a right to an opinion, as long as it does not
cause someone harm.


Elizabeth Lempp of Denmark wrote:

I look forward each week to the pithy comments in
SojoMail. Particularly living abroad, I like hearing
what other Americans are thinking. I did miss this
week that no notice was taken of the march in New
York City to plead for a presidential act of clemency
to free Leonard Peltier. From what I have heard from
those who were there (via telephone), it was a deeply
spirit-filled action, leading up to speakers in front
of the United Nations (Alice Walker, Ramsey Clark, 
diplomatic persons from France and Switzerland, etc.) 
for a man persecuted by the FBI and held 24 years for 
a murder that he was no part of...(absolutely no evidence
proving his guilt) and a "worst case" as seen by Amnesty
International (see 
If the public, press, and you don't comment on such 
significant events, who will? Nevertheless, thanks for 
all your amazing efforts on many other subjects!


Meg Sabulsky of Souderton, Pennsylvania, wrote:

I would like to add another resource prompted by
the Web Scene from December 8 on "Bridging the
disability divide."  In the Anabaptist world,
another Web site exists to be a reference and
support for families, friends, and congregations
who are learning to live with and welcome people
with disabilities. The Della Landes Foundation
( seeks to support
and promote opportunities for the spiritual
nurturing of persons with mental retardation,
mental illness, and physical disability.
The site features personal stories through
their newsletters, in addition to two thorough
sections on resources for basic information,
accessibility concerns, and agencies that are
available for more assistance.


Kevin Hall of Dunedin, Florida, wrote:

Blessed are the nonviolent peacemakers.

Support at; and
'Spirit FM' Catholic Christian radio (90.5-FM,
Tampa, Fla. USA);
and Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear
Power in Space:


Want to make your voice heard? Send Boomerang
e-mails to the editor: ""


T e c h  E t h i x
The Hunger Site, Revisited

(Remember SojoMail's heated debate on the ethics of
click-to-donate sites? Well, the saga continues...)

It was so simple: Go to the computer, sign on to, click the "Donate Free Food"
button, and, with each click, every business
advertising on the site would donate a half-cent
to the United Nations World Food Program, enough
to buy a quarter-cup of grain for the world's poorest

Everyone was happy: The United Nations food program
got new income and new interest in its work. Sponsors
got a thousand pairs of eyes on their advertisements
for every $50 they paid, and a bolstered reputation
for social responsibility. And the site's visitors
had the pleasure of helping the poor.

But these days, the Hunger Site has hit rocky times.
In November, the United Nations World Food Program
suddenly ended its participation, concerned about
the finances of the organization that now runs the
Hunger Site and troubled that the donations were
being passed on more slowly. Though the Hunger Site
now supports two other food programs, it has fewer
visitors and fewer sponsors, in part because of the
new competition it spawned.

Just how much these sites will produce for charity -
or for the for-profit companies that run them - remains
an open question. While the United Nations Food Program
got more than $3 million from the Hunger Site in 18
months, no other site has produced anywhere near that
kind of money. And most of the sites are run by start-up
companies struggling to break even.[]

To get the full story, go to:


F a i t h   a n d   P o l i t i c s
Pope takes on bankers

John Paul II appealed to banks and financial
institutions to assist people in financial
difficulties in order to avoid the ever growing
presence of the "perverse" activity of usury.
The Holy Father pointed out, "If the banks
only seek their own benefit, they cease to be
instruments of development and become brakes
on society." 

The Pontiff spoke these words late in November to
an audience with 7,500 executives and employees
of the Banco di Roma, who were celebrating the
Jubilee. The papal address pointed out the
importance of the banking system and the
responsibility of its managers "to know how to
administer the resources entrusted to them."
"If at times money is represented as the blood
of an organism, credit enterprises can be compared
to the heart, which makes possible circulation
in the social body," the Pope said.[]
To read more, go to:


W e b  S c e n e

Here's an easy way to make a difference
this holiday season. Campbell's is donating
a can of soup to the needy for every person
who goes to their site and votes for their
favorite NFL team. It will only take a few 
minutes to fill some empty tummies with warm 
soup this winter.

Go to:


There is something God-awful about Christmas
being cancelled in Bethlehem and the Grinch
stealing Christmas in the United States. The
Grinch situation is easily dealt with. DON'T
see the movie. DO read the book. The
Palestinian/Israeli situation is a little more
difficult, but the "Shared Jerusalem" project
of the Churches for Middle East Peace gives
you a way for educating, activating, and
supporting peace in the Middle East. Check out
their Web site for information on a sustainable
long-term plan for peace with justice in the
Middle East. As Dr. Suess reminds us, it IS
possible for our too-small hearts to become
three sizes too large.... "But what is that
sound? It's not sobbing, but singing!"

Go to:


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