The Common Good

You Are What You Owe

Sojomail - May 15, 2002


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+++++++++++++++++++++++ 15-May-2002 +++++++++++++++++++++++++
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 Q u o t e   o f   t h e   W e e k
     *A rose is a rose?

 B a t t e r i e s   N o t   I n c l u d e d
     *You are what you owe

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

 B y   t h e   N u m b e r s
     *The cost of vanity

 S o u l   W o r k s
     *Who says you're not creative?

 S o j o C i r c l e s
     *New SojoCircle in Beirut, Lebanon

 B i z   E t h i x
      *Cuppa Joe with a twist...

 C u l t u r e   W a t c h
     *Arundhati Roy: Novelist fights the temples of modern India

 B u i l d i n g   a   M o v e m e n t
     *Pasadena ministry challenges practices of corporate globalization

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

 W e b s c e n e
     *Allen Ginsberg
     *Break the chain of forwarded emails


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

"It is the time that you have wasted for your
rose that makes your rose so important."

                         - St. Exupery


B a t t e r i e s   N o t   I n c l u d e d
You are what you owe

by David Batstone

Want some free financial consultation? It won't take more than a few seconds, I promise. I won't need to review your bank statements, nor even glance at a balance sheet of your assets and liabilities. Yet for at least 90% of you my remedy will be the single most critical step you could take on the road to financial health.

Reduce - and if at all possible - eliminate your personal debt.

I'll be even more specific: If you have credit card debts, use every bit of your savings to pay down your principle. Unless you have investments that are earning you more than 18% return ­and doing that on a consistent basis (just shy of winning the lottery),­ then you are better off draining your bank account to pay off your loans. As Benjamin Franklin advised, "Rather to go to bed supperless than rise in debt."

Take up that challenge as a spiritual discipline. Very few forces in this world influence - dare I say limit - your choices than debt does. How many dreams for really meaningful activity have you set aside because you needed to pay the bills?

First off, it's important to realize that not all loans exact the same cost. A mortgage is clearly a form of debt, but generally of the most innocuous kind. At least you build equity, win a meaningful tax deduction, and save on paying rent. All the same, I am baffled as to why the American people have not risen up in revolt over mortgage rates during the last year. While the Federal Reserve Board repeatedly cut interest rates in an effort to stimulate the economy, financial institutions did not pass the savings on to the consumer. They kept interest rates at virtually the same level, and even had the audacity to raise their rates, thereby padding their own profit margins.

On the other end of the scale, the most insidious form of debt is a consumer loan. Though credit card companies speak words of freedom, borrower beware. Like clever drug lords, they offer us free trials and low rates until we're hooked. Enjoy it while it lasts, because it doesn't take long for compound interest to kick in.

One of my close friends has been struggling to remain solvent for some time. She easily qualified for bankruptcy, but she felt strongly about taking personal responsibility for the hole she had put herself in. Then one day she noted that the interest rates on her consumer loans were rising steadily - 18% rates inched up to 21%, then 27%. Frustrated by her inability to keep up, she called the credit company to complain. The comforting reply: "We know you're never going to pay the loan back anyway, so we're trying to cash in now before you go bankrupt." Such market logic puts even highly principled people into a double bind. My friend practically was forced to declare bankruptcy, but she was left with considerable guilt.

Debt not only puts your material livelihood in jeopardy, it makes you spiritually vulnerable. That's a truth you can take to the bank.

A longer version of this column appears in the May/ June 2002 issue of Sojourners to:



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

I am hereby officially tendering my resignation as an adult. I have decided I would like to accept the responsibilities of an 8-year-old again:

*I want to sail sticks across a fresh mudpuddle and make a sidewalk with rocks.

*I want to think M&M's are better than money because you can eat them.

*I want to lie under a big oak tree and run a lemonade stand with my friends on a hot summer's day.

*I want to return to a time when life was simple, when all you knew were multiplication tables and nursery rhymes, but that didn't bother you, because you didn't know what you didn't know and you didn't care.

*I want to think the world is fair. That everyone is honest and good.

*I want to believe that anything is possible. I want to be oblivious to the complexities of life and be overly excited by the little things again.

*I want to live simple again. I don't want my day to consist of computer crashes, mountains of paperwork, depressing news, how to survive more days in the month than there is money in the bank, doctor bills, gossip, illness, and loss of loved ones.

*I want to believe in the power of smiles, hugs, a kind word, truth, justice, peace, dreams, the imagination, humankind, and making angels in the snow.'s my checkbook and my car keys, my credit card bills and my 401K statements. I am officially resigning from adulthood. And if you want to discuss this further, you'll have to catch me first, cause...

Tag! You're it.



Sojourners magazine capped a sterling year, winning five press awards from the Evangelical Press Association. The EPA embraces 375 periodicals, organizations, and individual members. Its publications have a combined circulation of some 19 million readers, making it the largest body of religious publications.

First place for "general article or feature" went to Bill Wylie-Kellermann and David Batstone for "God Is My Palm Pilot," their dialog on the impact of technology on personal lives and social practice.

David Batstone also won first place for the best "standing column." Batstone's column "Macrowave" - timely commentary on culture, politics, and spirituality - appears in each issue of Sojourners magazine.

Ed Spivey Jr. also won two awards in the design area. He won second place in the "best publication design" category, and, along with photographer Lloyd Wolf, won second place for the photo feature "Going Forth From Egypt." Sojourners magazine underwent a major redesign in 2001, an effort led by Spivey.

Scott Cairns also took home a second place award for his poem "Possible Answers to Prayer." If you don't have a subscription to Sojourners magazine, see what you're missing out on! Subscribe today for the introductory price of $19.95! ************************************************************* B y t h e N u m b e r s +++++++++++++++++++++++++++ The cost of vanity

The U.S. national average costs of various "facial rejuvenations" procedures and how long they last:

Procedure           Surgeon's Fee       Est. Duration
_________           _____________       _____________

Facelift              $5007               5-12 years
Forehead lift         $2552                  7 years
Eyelid surgery        $2544                permanent
Dermabrasion          $1254                  5 years
Chemical peel          $516                   1 year
Botox injections       $388                 3-6 mos.
Collagen injection     $333                 3-6 mos.


S o u l   W o r k s
Who says you're not creative?

by Sarah Stockton

*Ed. note: In last week's SojoMail, we published a moving essay on war by Clancy McCartney, a seventh-grade student from San Francisco, California. This week his mother adds her voice to the remarkable story.


Last week my son, who is 12 and in the seventh grade, was assigned the task of writing a paragraph using a formula based on E.B. White's famous essay, "Democracy". He was to follow the sentence structure exactly, but he could choose whatever topic he wished. He shut himself up in my office and wrote the short essay: it took him about an hour. He told me later, "First, I stared at the screen. Then I banged my head on the desk, but I still couldn't think of anything. Then I thought about school and how hard it is, and I also thought about the stuff I've been watching on the history channel, about war. My feelings were at war too, I thought. So I spun around in the chair for a bit and waved my arms and made faces, and then I thought of what to write."

He went off to school the next day so proud of his essay that he volunteered to read it in front of the class. The teacher then dismantled it sentence by sentence, pointing out that he had not used enough metaphors. After each sentence he read she would say, "Is that a metaphor?" No, he would answer, or yes, but mostly no. He sat down, mortified, and later that evening when he told me about it, he said he hated school, didn't want to go back, and worst of all, he said that he couldn't write.

Teachers have so much power to shape the way we view ourselves. This is not a new observation, I know, but it continues to haunt me, because I have loved and hated my teachers over the years, feared and respected them, and now I see my children struggling with the same issues. How do we honor our teachers and yet mitigate their potentially harmful effects? If we rectify the inequities inherent in the teaching profession such as low pay and inadequate training, honor and love them, will our teachers transmit those values, in turn, to our vulnerable children?

I talked with my son about teachers and how they, too, have their limitations. I said that his essay was beautiful. We also talked about how she might have felt that he didn't follow the assignment correctly, but that she should have mixed her criticism with more compassion and praise. (What is this rush to be critical that we see in our teachers? Where is the compassionate response to our creative and heartfelt offerings? Are we so worried that if we are "soft" on our children, they will grow up stupid? Haven't we seen the reverse, that harshness breeds apathy?)

My 10-year-old daughter Claire tells her friends, when they say they can't draw, or paint, or sing, "Who says?" I am going to try this mantra myself the next time I want to draw, and my inner voices say that I can't. "Who says?" I will respond, and go on my creative way. I've lost so much time recovering from hurtful messages, from envy, criticism, and doubt. Yet I know that creating is hard, and honorable.


S o j o C i r c l e s
New SojoCircle in Beirut, Lebanon

Eugene Sensenig-Dabbous and his wife, Dima Dabbous-Sensenig, have offered to lead the first SojoCircle in Beirut. Eugene is a member of Akron Mennonite Church, originally from Lititz, Pennsylvania. Dima is a Sunni from Ras Beirut and a Lebanese-Canadian (Montreal). They both teach college in Beirut and vicinity and work with LibanLink - Centre for Multicultural and Interfaith Community Studies. Eugene writes: "One of the practical things that Dima and I have been doing over the last several years is reading the Bible and Koran together on a weekly basis. This has been a highly 'revealing' experience because we both see each other's holy book with very different eyes and notice things in it that the other hasn't."

If you wish to join Eugene and Dima in this newest SojoCircle (and you happen to be in Beirut), please contact them at For a complete listing of SojoCircles, check out our Web site at No SojoCircle in your community? Consider starting one of your own, as Eugene and Dima are doing. For more information, contact us at or call 800-714-7474.


B i z   E t h i x
Cuppa Joe with a twist...

Today in its third year of full operation, Pura Vida is a for-profit company that founder John Sage operates out of Seattle in a warehouse-style brick building that is located directly across the street from Starbucks' headquarters.

All of the company's post-tax net income goes to Pura Vida Partners, a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Pura Vida Partners provides services including a soup kitchen that serves more than 100 meals a day - more than 10,000 meals have been served so far - plus four computer centers (funded with a grant from Sage's former employer, Microsoft), and four community soccer teams.

To read the entire article as it appears in the May/ June issue of Sojourners magazine, link to:

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C u l t u r e   W a t c h
Arundhati Roy: Novelist fights the temples of modern India

by Jason Thompson

Novels about politics are not unusual. But literary figures who become politicians are rare birds. Vaclav Havel and Mario Varga Llosa are two of them. A third is Arundhati Roy. The Delhi-based novelist was up before the Supreme Court of India last week on a charge of contempt after waging a war of words against an environmentally catastrophic dam project on the Narmada River....

[Roy] began writing fierce political essays. She lambasted the Indian government's decision to test nuclear weapons. And then she began to investigate a dam project on the Narmada River, which flows 500 miles through three northern Indian states.

To read the entire feature, link to:

******************** New SojoForum **************************

Express your views on vital issues of the day in our online
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*The Sins of the Fathers
In the controversy surrounding pedophilia among Catholic
priests, the deepest guilt is the church's.
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Can just warriors and pacifists make a deal?


B u i l d i n g   a   M o v e m e n t
Pasadena ministry challenges practices of corporate globalization

by Teresa Watanabe

Marty E. Coleman, a longtime member of All Saints Church in Pasadena, now grows her own vegetables, shops at Vroman's independent bookstore instead of national chains, and recycles her clothes. The transformation of her personal consumer habits started with a book that, at first glance, seems to have nothing to do with religion.

But Coleman and a core group of friends have launched a new ministry called Sustainable World to bring these issues to a wider audience. They are part of a growing movement among people of faith to challenge corporate globalization, which some predict may eventually rival the impact of religious-based civil rights work more than three decades ago.

To read the entire feature, link to:
[Free registration required]



Call to Renewal's
"Pentecost 2002: Speaking the Truth About Poverty"
National Mobilization on Welfare Reform
May 20-22, 2002
Washington, D.C.

*Join your state delegation!
*Be part of the movement!
*Speak out to overcome poverty!

To register and for more details, go to


B o o m e r a n g

Jonathan Bartley, director of Ekklesia, writes from London, England:

I have just read Jim Wallis' "Making the possible...possible" in the latest edition of SojoMail.

Speaking as someone who has worked in the House of Commons for five years and ran a national Christian political movement for four years, I believe that Jim's visit was extremely welcome. He and the Sojourners community have a great deal to teach us all, both inside and outside the church.

However, by what he wrote in his article, I am afraid that Jim has perhaps become a victim of the rhetoric of the current British government. The Labour administration came to power in 1997 with the manifesto commitment to increase the proportion of our Gross Domestic Product spent on overseas aid. Five years on we have had a great deal of talk, but very little in the way of action. The percentage is still about 3.5% despite numerous opportunities to greatly increase it.

Shortly before the 2001 general election the government was running a £23 billion budget surplus on its annual spend of just under $400 billion. At the same time our entire annual overseas aid budget stood at just under £4 billion. But despite one of the strongest economic situations that the country has found itself in for decades, Chancellor Gordon Brown has repeatedly refused to substantially increase the overseas aid budget, choosing instead to pay off a few billion from our own national debt. It is clear that our own debts take priority over cancelling those of developing nations.

Whilst there has been a great deal of talk, the walk has been conspicuous by its absence. The quotes that Jim gives from Blair and Brown are very similar to ones that we have heard repeatedly from these leaders over the last five years. There is little reason to think that they will now be backed up with any more action than they have been before.


Argye Hillis writes from Waco, Texas:

The idea of our cooperating with other prosperous nations to launch a "new Marshall Plan" aimed at lifting the "developing nations" out of spiraling destitution is the best and most hopeful thing I have heard in a long time. Let's not let it wither on the vine.

I can just hear some people saying, "Yeah, and look at what the Marshall Plan did to Germany and Japan. Now they are so strong they are crushing us." My only reaction to that is "Does that mean you really *want* to keep them weak and downtrodden?"


Stewart Lane writes from Limbe, Malawi:

I wish I could match Jim Wallis' enthusiasm for a great flood of aid for poverty relief, but as an observer and victim of foreign aid for 37 years, I've learned that most aid is really designed to help the donors more than the recipients and that much of it is ineffective and/or destructive rather than helpful because even donors of good will have no in-depth understanding of the problems the Third World faces, let alone their solutions.

The fabric of our societies has been torn and corrupted, our own capacities to identify solutions damaged, and our poverty worsened by the aid industry in the last 50 years. More of the same will not help. Aid totally rethought and restructured might. But given the arrogance of the West, that's hardly likely.


Todd Wurtz writes from Phoenix, Arizona:

With regards to David Batstone's piece, "Soul-searching in the corporate world," [SojoMail 04-17-02] I would have to say that most employees can differentiate between right and wrong in making decisions that affect a company. It is easy to understand, however, the reasons why these same people do duplicitous acts.

We live in a world of indentured servitude. Not to the company store, but to banks. We put ourselves in a position of debt to keep up with the proverbial Joneses and thus relegate ourselves as slaves to our current employer. When that employer nudges us to do something unethical, we then evaluate our current mortgage, student loan, credit card, and automobile payments with respect to staying afloat for another two months. A judgment call must then be made: do we keep a roof over our family's head and maintain a steady income or do we accept a task that will not rock the boat with our boss?

My contention is that people are well-intentioned and without having the burden of personal debt or the carrot of higher or lower employment status waving in front of them, they would chose the ethical choice.


Scott Cooper writes from Spokane, Washington:

Libby van Buskirk cannot be faulted for her math in her message [5/8/02] on the USA's large GDP compared to other nations. Yes, because American GDP is larger, that means we necessarily give more dollars to foreign development aid than do other countries with smaller GDPs but higher percentages of aid. No argument there. Her remark that the U.S. can and should do better is encouraging. The point she misses is that the American percentage of giving to foreign aid is the smallest in the industrialized world. No matter how great our GDP and how many actual dollars we give, if we cannot prioritize foreign aid any higher than 0.1%, then we cannot truly say that foreign aid is important. It may be a cliché, but the phrase "budgets are value statements" has a lot of bearing on the U.S. percentage of foreign aid. Looking at the American budget, it is clear that we don't value foreign aid.


Julia Ruxton writes from London, England:

Libby van Buskirk, I rather expect that the rich people going into the temple when Jesus commended the widow for giving her mite would have agreed with you.


Greg M. Johnson writes from Poughkeepsie, New York:

Re. Michael Adeney's message in last week's SojoMail: "... in Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq...there is no outrage when Muslims do genocide against Muslims."

Nearly all "how come ya never hear..." arguments are bogus and based on lazy scholarship. Turn to Amnesty International's country index for information on human rights outrages:


Paul Whiteley writes from Louisville, Kentucky:

Thanks for Will Willimon's article, "Jesus Visits the Hamptons," in last week's SojoMail. Willimon says it falls to biblical Christians to prophetically critique our country's economics.  Walter Owensby, a former Public Policy Official of the Presbyterian Church (USA), wrote in his book, "Economics for Prophets": "We are obligated by faith to stand in judgment of capitalism and all economic orders, insisting always that they produce a society as nearly in accord with the biblical vision as possible. There is no Christian economics. But there is a Christian critique of all economics." Sadly, there are too few true prophets in America today who are critiquing capitalism.


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views. The views expressed are not necessarily those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Send Boomerang e-mails to the editor:



W e b s c e n e
This week's best of the Web

*Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg was not only the Beat movement's second-best-known luminary after Jack Kerouac, he was also its most assiduous visual chronicler. Ginsberg's black-and-white photographs - as well as handwritten manuscript pages of his poetry - audio clips, selected artwork, and video clips - are featured at this site:


*Break the chain of forwarded emails

If you or anyone you know forwards email messages in hopes of collecting money from Bill Gates or to warn about a supposed postal tax on email, this site has your wake-up call. Break the Chain is a repository of chain emails that have duped (and continue to dupe) unsuspecting Net users. Stop here before you hit that "Forward" button:


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