The Common Good


Sojomail - February 23, 2001

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

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

                 Brought to you by SojoNet
              Publisher of Sojourners magazine

++++++++++++++++++++ 23-February-2001 +++++++++++++++++++++

 Q u o t e  o f  t h e  W e e k
     *The Boss: living and believing

 H e a r t s  &  M i n d s
     *Reflections from Jerusalem

 F u n n y   B u s i n e s s
     *Cloning Jesus, and ushering in the Second Coming

 H e a r i n g   t h e   C a l l
     *Study shows welfare reform didn't work for many

 S o u l   W o r k s
     *Interview with Huston Smith

 B i z   E t h i x
     *Good to the last...mushroom?

 C u l t u r e   W a t c h
     *"West Wing" maps out a new world view

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

 P. O. V.
     *Same-sex marriage: rights and wrongs

 B u i l d i n g   a   M o v e m e n t
     *Some diamonds are nobody's best friend

 C o l o m b i a  J o u r n a l 
     *"I am 100% Christian and 100% feminist"

 W e b  S c e n e
     *Black History Month treasure chest
     *Exhaustive guide to denominational Web sites
     *The New Yorker goes online
     *NEAR space mission photos


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

"At the end of every hard-earned day
people find some reason to believe."
            - Bruce Springsteen


H e a r t s   &   M i n d s
Reflections from Jerusalem

by Jim Wallis

The sun was shining over the Holy City as I enjoyed 
a panoramic view from the top of the Mount of Olives. 
But one can imagine Jesus weeping over the city again, 
because of what is happening down below in the contested 
streets of conflict. Massive Jewish settlements ring 
the city like fortresses. Access roads cut the West 
Bank up into what are virtually Palestinian bantustans, 
like those I remember in apartheid South Africa. 

Military checkpoints are everywhere, and we were stopped 
at one yesterday for an hour and a half. That wasn't a 
great inconvenience for the 250 people who have come 
from 19 countries for a conference sponsored by the 
Sabeel Center here. We were just late for lunch in Ramallah. 
But it isn't so easy for the Palestinians who must endure 
this way of life every day, like the woman who gave birth 
in her car last week after being held up at successive 
checkpoints on the way to the hospital.

Such stories are legion and they are heartbreaking. 
The Israelis are the occupiers but they suffer, too, 
in this unending cycle of violence. New Prime 
Minister Sharon has officially ended the "peace 
process," but it had become so meaningless that 
most here welcome the chance for a fresh start.

Today we began to talk about moving from a peace 
"process," dominated by negotiations that didn't 
produce the promised results, to a peace "strategy" 
based on nonviolent resistance both here and 
internationally. I told the story of how that 
happened in South Africa. It was a refreshing 
conversation for many here, who have seen their 
hopes dashed time and time again. But hope is a 
fragile thing in this land, despite the abundance of 
holy sites. Yet there is something about seeing trees 
that were here when Jesus was alive that brings his 
presence to mind again. Tonight we held candles by the 
gate to the Old City to invoke his presence in the midst 
of a deep crisis in the Holy Land.

In the next few days we go into the areas of greatest 
conflict, to listen, learn, and dialogue with people's 
anger and fears. We will see more demolished houses, 
confiscated land, bullet holes and broken windows, and, 
of course, military checkpoints with Israeli young men 
who will later become haunted in sleepless nights (a 
Jewish therapist here says) by the things they are doing 
to Palestinian children. The violence needs healing, not 
fueling, but the political leaders seem incapable of 
that. So others must hear that call. In these days, 
many are.

                      New SojoNet Forum:

How I Changed My Mind
A conservative Republican makes the case for reparations to
African Americans.

Join the discussion at:


F u n n y   B u s i n e s s
Cloning Jesus

File this Web site under: Should I laugh or cry?

The Second Coming Project is devoted to bringing
about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, in time
for the 2,000th anniversary of his birth. The
group aims to clone Jesus, utilizing techniques
pioneered at the Roslin Institute (remember Dolly...
perhaps a metaphor for "the lamb who was slain"?)
in Scotland, by taking an incorrupt cell from one
of the many Holy Relics of Jesus' blood and body
that are preserved in churches throughout the world,
extracting its DNA, and inserting into an unfertilized
human egg (oocyte) through the biological process
called nuclear transfer. The fertilized egg, now
the zygote of Jesus Christ, will be implanted into
the womb of a young virginal woman (who has
volunteered of her own accord), who will then bring
the baby Jesus to term in a second Virgin Birth. If
all goes according to plan, the birth will take
place on December 25, 2001.

Statement of purpose from the Web site:
"No longer can we rely on hope and prayer,
waiting around futilely for Jesus to return.
We have the technology to bring him back right
now: there is no reason, moral, legal or Biblical,
not to take advantage of it." [ ]

To find out more, before it's too late, go to:


H e a r i n g   t h e   C a l l
Welfare reform not all it was cracked up to be

Last week the National Council of Churches released 
the results of a survey showing that more people 
are working as a result of the 1996 welfare
reform legislation -- but many of them are poorer than
before. The survey polled faith-based service
providers and advocates, who said they are seeing
more and more hungry people and that the fastest-
growing category of people in need is working families.
The NCC canvassed people from its 36 mainline Protestant
and Orthodox member denominations and from state
and local ecumenical and interfaith programs.
Responses came from 34 states; most respondents
were from community ministries and local religious
groups that provide social services.

The survey and consultation are part of the NCC's
broader, 10-year "Poverty Mobilization," 
launched in November 2000 to explore
initiatives in such areas as health care, children,
environment, education, and housing, all with the
aim of identifying achievable goals for combating
poverty in the United States.

To read more about the NCC's survey, go to:


*************************New SojoPoll************************

What do you think of President Bush's proposal for a $1.6 
trillion tax cut?

[] It's a risky scheme. We'll end up with exploding 
   deficits-just like the Reagan years.

[] It's fuzzy math. It mostly benefits the rich and will 
   come at the expense of important programs.

[] A tax cut is fine, but this administration should focus 
   on other priorities.

[] It's about time! Tax cuts will stimulate the economy 
and benefit everyone.

vote at


S o u l   W o r k s
An interview with Huston Smith

Huston Smith, one of the world's foremost scholars
of religion, issues a manifesto defending the religious
dimension of human life in his new book, "Why Religion
Matters." Drawing on a lifetime of reading and
experience, Smith tells why, as an
octogenarian, he felt the need to address the basic
issue named by the title of his book and discusses
the wisdom and weaknesses that come with age.


Question: Your book is particularly critical of the
contemporary tendency to view science as the royal
road to knowledge. You're careful to demonstrate that
your argument is not against science per se, but against
"scientism," your term for the prejudice that favors
science over other ways of knowing. Why do you think
that scientism is such a powerful and compelling 
way of thinking for so many people? Does scientism appeal
to some weakness that is inherent in human nature?

Smith: Two weaknesses, actually. First, people like
certainty, and science can provide that by weeding
out false hypotheses through laboratory experiments.
We could never have placed people on the moon without
knowledge of laws of nature that have been demonstrated
to be absolutely true. The trouble here is in thinking
that provable knowledge is more important than knowledge
that is only probable. None of the questions that
directly concern us - Shall I marry her? Shall we have
children? What shall I do with my life? - can be answered
with certainty for the sufficient reason that life is
itself uncertain. If we resent that, we should remember
that it is uncertainty that gives us our freedom. If
there were answer books for life's questions, we would
be reduced to robots. Automatons. The second weakness
that fuels scientism is our lust for things. Life is
impossible without some possessions, but to think that
happiness consists in the number of things we possess
is to exaggerate their importance and the importance
of the technologies that produce them.

Question: What if biology gives scientism more ammunition
against the traditional religious worldview? If science
makes further progress in studying the portion of the
brain that is associated with religious experience and
provides biological explanations for how these
experiences are triggered, how might religion be affected?

Smith: Every thought we think is underwritten by neuron
firings in our brains, but those firings are neutral
regarding the truth or falsity of the thoughts they
occasion. The same holds for the validity of our
experiences, religious and otherwise. The brain, like
all parts of the body, can break down and bring on
attendant disabilities, but neuroscientists are not
going to find some points in the brain that generate
true thoughts and others that generate bloopers. Nor
will they find different patterns of neuron firings for
authentic love, on the one hand, and mere infatuation
on the other. The same holds for mystical visions. [ ]

To read the full interview with Huston Smith, go to:

B i z  E t h i c s
Good to the last...mushroom?

by Lisa Jones 

According to Eli Wolcott, a college student and native 
of Paonia, Colorado, the status quo in coffee
production is an environmental and economic nightmare.
Coffee has become second only to oil as the most
commonly traded commodity on the planet. As a result,
tropical forests (read: critical habitat for birds
and other wildlife) have been cleared to make way for
coffee fields. Workers pick coffee fruit and take
it to local processing plants, where the bean is
removed from the fruit. A huge amount of water
is used in the separation process, then returned
to local streams loaded with nutrients, causing
fish-killing bacterial blooms. The fruit is then
discarded to rot, while farmers buy chemical
fertilizers to help keep their coffee monocultures

The coffee business is lucrative for the traders,
but the coffee pickers earn a pittance. This makes
it hard for them to buy food, so many subsist on what
they can grow themselves, and too often this results
in malnutrition. 

Enter the mushroom. "Its ecological role is to
break down waste!" says Eli. And it turns out that
the fungus takes particularly well to coffee waste.
Mushrooms, rich in vitamins, minerals, and protein,
can be grown on the waste and then consumed locally
or sold on the international market.

Eli developed an interest in raising mushrooms
years ago along with Johanes Colby, a childhood
friend. After contacting Bill Mollison, a noted
permaculture expert, the pair started toying with
the idea of raising mushrooms on coffee waste. A
series of activist groups pointed Eli to the tiny
town of Guzmantla in the forested foothills of Mt.
Orizaba, in the Mexican state of Vera Cruz. Growing
coffee is the main business in this town of about
1,000, and a nearby ecological institute was already
experimenting with growing mushrooms on coffee waste
in laboratory conditions. But Eli, who spent a month
there last fall, wanted to develop a more grassroots
approach - raising mushrooms on coffee waste heaped
on the ground. [ ]

Read the full story at:


C u l t u r e  W a t c h
"The West Wing" to feature Peters Projection map

On NBC-TV's popular political drama "The West Wing"
on Feb. 28, the Organization of Cartographers for
Social Equality (a fictionalized professional society)
pitches President Bartlet and staff to support
legislation mandating that every public school in 
America teach geography using the Peters Projection map.

The Peters Projection map was produced with the
support of the United Nations Development Program and
is distributed in North America by Friendship Press,
the publishing imprint of the National Council of the
Churches of Christ in the USA. Many faith-based and
social justice organizations, including Oxfam, the
National Council of Churches, and the Mennonite Central
Committee, support the Peters Projection as being more
accurate and, more important, fair to all peoples.

The Peters is in a class of map projections, equal-
area maps, that show all countries at true size and
true proportion. For example, the equator is dead
center in the middle of the map, rather than pushed
down below the 50 percent mark on the vertical axis,
as shown on most other projections.

On the familiar Mercator projection, Greenland
appears to be the same size as Africa. In reality
Africa (at 11.6 million square miles) is more
than 14 times larger than Greenland (at 0.8 million
square miles).

Maps are designed for specific purposes, and they
usually have agendas. Because the Earth is round,
any flat map can only show a part of the truth.
The Mercator was designed for navigation and is
still valuable for that purpose, but it gives a
wildly distorted sense of size and position. The
Peters shows how large, and where, each country is.

The Peters Projection map is available at local
book and map stores, or directly from Friendship
Press. To order, call toll free 1-800-889-5733.
or visit:


B o o m e r a n g

Kirk Hoiberg of Fullerton, California, wrote:

Jim Wallis' recent comments in his "Politics and
Morality" piece implicitly equate Bill Clinton's
political/moral missteps ("false" statements under
oath, pilfering the White House, pardon of Marc Rich,
etc.), Jesse Jackson's adulterous affair, and President
Bush's income tax cut proposal. It's irresponsible

Will the tax cut hinder key government efforts to
help the poor? Or (since the tax cut money won't be
stored in mattresses) will it stimulate economic
activity and private giving and assist the needy via
other avenues? Despite Jim's one-dimensional treatment,
reasonable people can disagree over these questions -
the issues are complex, empirical, and subtle.

It is difficult to find such ambiguities surrounding
Clinton's and Jackson's moral lapses. As Jim correctly
notes, their actions are straightforward to condemn.
However, by equating these mistakes to Bush's tax cut
proposal, Jim himself not only practices bad logic
but his message also conveys an uncharitable swipe
against Bush's character, undeserved in this matter....

Before it becomes law, the tax cut must still be
debated and approved by a majority of the nation's
elected legislators. Whether it is voted in or voted
down, this process will have been conducted in the
clear light of public view and according to the
structure of the nation's laws.

Given these facts, is the proposal really as
illegitimate as Clinton's or Jackson's immorality?
No, to compare Bush's tax cut proposal with Clinton's
or Jackson's immorality is uncharitable and unsound.


Alex Tsai of Cleveland, Ohio, wrote:

Tony Chernoff writes in the 2/16 Boomerang, "In
the view of Sojourners, do those guilty of unspeakable
crimes deserve to be saved, but the most innocent
of us deserve to be killed at the behest of the
mother or doctor?"

I have no desire to begin a debate on abortion,
but I would like to suggest for Mr. Chernoff to
be a little more consistent in his thinking. If his
bottom-line concern is truly about saving lives,
then he might think about the possibility that
killing through capital punishment is no better
than killing through abortion, [which is] is no 
better than killing through poverty via policies 
of neglect.

This is not an argument condoning abortion, and
there are certainly other factors to consider; I
just desire for Mr. Chernoff to be a little more
consistent in his thinking.


Joseph Bradford of Danville, Virginia, wrote:

Why doesn't the discussion surrounding abortion
ever talk about the choice whether to have
sexual relations or not? Yes, there is always
the case of rape and incest - but that is a very
small, albeit important, percentage of abortion cases.

Seems like both sides of the issue don't want
to hold anyone responsible for the "fun" portion
of the equation, as if having sex was the ONLY

If you are going to promote "Christianity," how
about a dose of righteousness mixed with sexual
restraint? If you can't afford a child, don't have
sex. It seems that simple to me. Those who can't
afford car insurance and gasoline don't run
out and buy a car do they?

Let's bring the sin out in the open and call it
what it is. Do away with the "fun" and abortions
are reduced. Or do we, in America, want [to have] 
our cake and eat it too?


Richard Clark of Salem, Indiana, wrote:

I would like to respond to those Christians who
would like to outlaw abortion. It would be great to
live in a society where abortion would not be
necessary. Unfortunately we don't. Being pro-choice
DOES NOT make one pro-abortion! It simply means this
very personal choice should be left to a woman, her
doctor, and her God. Why shouldn't American women
have the same freedom on this issue that most women in
Europe (including Roman Catholic Italy) have? Outlaw
abortion here, and the rich will simply travel to
Europe to have it done as in the past. Poor women
here will perish with coathangers in the back alleys.
I'm glad that many Christian denominations
(Disciples, Episcopalian, United Church of Christ)
have taken a pro-choice view on this issue in
recent years.


Annalouiza Armendariz de Klaasmeyer of Little Rock,
Arkansas, wrote:

I understand Mr. Huizenga's anger (2/16 Boomerang
letter) in being constantly harangued for being Right.
But I'd wager that many of the Right agree that
capital punishment is a must, that the environment
is an expendable resource, and the poor can raise
themselves by their bootstraps.

Yes, the Left scrutinizes and tires of religion that
gives one a list of "to do's" and "not to do's" and
then the leaders break every one of them. "People"
have contributed to the degradation of common decency
in society and, yes, saddest of all, we have marched
for women to have the right to decide whether they'll
bear a child or not.

Mr. Huizenga, I have never met a person who advocates
choice and wishes babies to die. On the contrary,
we all worry, and we pray that children born will be
loved, cared for, and kept. I, too, tire, Mr. Huizenga,
of the constant drivel of Right vs. Left and the
assumption that the other is an "evilmonger."


Wesley White of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, wrote:

I suspect there is very little thought given to
turning part of the work of common defense over to
faith-based militia groups. This lack of
consideration might well be based on knowing that
such groups, even though faith-based, would prevent
the government from living up to its
responsibilities. Faith-based militia have a history
of defending their own faith group before the common
defense needs of a diverse nation.

And there is some history of the government funding
specific welfare work through organizations that
have a track record of being able to more
efficiently provide a particular service (even if
the organization's base is a religious one). But 
we must raise the question as to whether the 
descriptive phrase "faith-based" is sufficient
reason for a government to give over its responsibility
of the general welfare of its citizens.

This "faith-based" buzzword has not helped us in
the discussion of the general welfare needs of the
country. I look forward to conversation beyond
such a code word.

Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of
views. Want to make your voice heard? Send
Boomerang e-mails to the editor:



P. O. V.
Same-sex marriage: rights and wrongs

by David Strand

It has become clear to me that to argue against
same-sex civil marriage rights on the basis of
religious belief is to argue that civil marriage
rights equal sacramental marriage. Certainly there
are those who are legally married who are not
sacramentally married in the eyes of the church.
There may be people who are legally married who do not
share a spiritual union in the eyes of God and also
those who are not legally married who have a spiritual
union in the eyes of God. If the equation of civil
marriage rights with sacramental marriage is fallacious,
then the issue of civil marriage rights for same-sex
couples must be critiqued differently than we might
approach the decision of a church or congregation
to recognize same-sex unions in some way.

I have come to the conclusion that denial of civil
marriage rights to same-sex couples or differently
gendered people is an act of violence against the
people involved, regardless of whether I believe the
relationship is condoned by my faith or in the eyes of
God. For example - to be denied the right to see your
intimate partner of 20 years when your partner is in
an accident and is in the hospital because you are not
considered legal kin - that is violence. If your
intimate partner of 50 years is denied sharing your
room with you in the nursing home - that is violence.
When you are denied equal access to the social
security survivor benefits when your life-long
intimate partner dies and you have spent your assets
for his or her medical treatment - that is violence.
When the child a couple has raised together is taken
away from the only individual they have known as their
parent when their birth parent is deceased or
separated - that is violence. When the people in
these relationships and the children who are raised
in these families do not have the right to equal
protection of the integrity of their chosen familial
bonds - that is violence. Regardless of my beliefs
concerning the morality of the relationship involved,
it is not my place to support violence against the
people involved.

If we truly believe in the sacramental-civil
marriage equation, we would have to argue for removal
of children, denial of benefits, etc. to all whose
relationships we find morally disagreeable or are not
sanctioned in the eyes of our faith. Who is ready to
say that the heterosexual monogamous relationships of
pagans, atheists, agnostics, etc. are not worthy of
civil marriage rights because they are not married
within our faith? Certainly such arguments would be
dismissed as a violation of human rights and acts of
violence against those of other beliefs. There was a
time in this country when it was illegal for people
of different faiths to marry in some states. It was
not so long ago that it was illegal for people of
different races to marry in a large number of states
across this country.

I therefore call on all who stand for justice,
peace, and nonviolence to speak up for the right of
same-sex couples and differently gendered people to be
assured equal access to the 1,047 federal rights that
come along with marriage, as well as those that the
individual states confer on married couples.


B u i l d i n g   A   M o v e m e n t
Stop exploitation in the diamond business

The diamond industry is pushing hard to get
you to buy diamonds. But its TV and magazine
ads don't tell the whole truth. Here's the
real story behind some of those diamonds.
Check out this flash movie and then send it to
everyone you know:

They are called conflict diamonds, and they pay for
weapons, terror, and violence in Africa, but the
U.S. Congress and the diamond industry haven't
done nearly enough to stop the trade in these
deadly gems.

Amnesty International is relying on you to pass
on this message. Tell Congress to act now to
end this bloody business. If you have any trouble
viewing the animation, you can directly take
action at:

The Colombia Journals
Sojourners assistant editor Rose Marie Berger
recently returned from a 10-day fact-finding
mission to Colombia with Witness for Peace
(a faith-based movement that has been in
Latin America since 1983.) This is the fourth
installment of her diary highlights in SojoMail.
Look for more on Colombia in upcoming issues
of Sojourners.

DAY FOUR: "I am 100% feminist and 100% Christian" -
a meeting with AfroColombian leaders.

There are approximately 11 million AfroColombians -
about 4 percent of the population. They make up a
disproportionately high percentage of the internally
displaced in Colombia. In December 2000, the Ochoa
region was overrun by paramilitary units and 7,000
people had to flee their homes. Seventy percent of
these were African Colombians. According to the
organizers we met with from this region, most of
these internal refugees are hiding in the mountains
and surviving on yuca and corn but not getting much
else. They are cut off from above by paramilitary
units and below by guerilla units. The Red Cross
and government agencies are trying to negotiate a
neutral roadway so that supplies can reach the
communities in the mountains.

Lydia Guerrera is the director of AMA (The
Association of Women in Action), which is based in
Cesar but has eight subgroups around the country.
She is a very impressive woman. The AMA works
primarily with women heads of households, youth,
and indigenous women. "We eat, drink, and sleep
peace," Lydia said. "I am 100% feminist and
100% Christian. These two must be considered
together because black women in this society
must work to regain the respect for all women
in this society, and we must do this in a way that
does not lose sight of the needs of families.
As a Christian, I have responsibilities to peace
with justice, to gaining respect and dignity for
all people, and for supporting families. Here
we focus our feminism on recapturing the
importance of women and strengthening her
spiritual base, even more than her psychological

"There is still open racism in Colombia," Lydia
said. "There is still racism that is supported
by the Colombian constitution. There are still
places in Colombia where blacks can't go, no
matter how much money they have. There are jobs
you can't get if you are black. You still never
include a photo of yourself with your job resume."

The struggling AfroColombian organizations are
in need of international support. See the
conference notes from the "Black Roots" cultural
association meeting at:

Support Witness for Peace's Colombia project at:

Next Week: Into the War Zone of Putumayo

W e b  S c e n e
* Guide to Black history

Observe Black History Month by exploring the contributions
African Americans have made to the cultural, political, and
scientific life of the United States. This
information-packed site features articles about notable
African Americans (accessible via the "articles a-z" link),
photos, a timeline going back to 1517, and a study guide for
students and teachers. Go to:


* Exhaustive guide to denominational Web sites
What the heck's a Swedenborgian? How about a Hutterite?
Or the Fire Baptized Holiness Church of God? Check out
the Church Mutual Web site for links to just about every
Christian denominational body that has a Web site:



Having just turned 76, the literary magazine "The New
Yorker" has stepped into the digital age with a new Web site
that presents material from the print edition of the
magazine - including arts reviews, fiction, and political
commentary - along with a few online-only offerings. Go to:


* NEAR Earth Asteroid Rendezvous Mission

The recent NEAR space mission produced the
highest-resolution photographs to date of an asteroid. 
At this site, you can view a collection of these photos, 
watch animation and video clips, and read background 
information about the historic mission. Go to:


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