The Common Good

Speaking the Truth About Poverty

Sojomail - May 23, 2002


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 Q u o t e   o f   t h e   W e e k
     *Idle hands are the devil's bane...

 H e a r t s   &   M i n d s
     *Speaking the truth about poverty

 F u n n y   B u s i n e s s
     *The end is near

 B y   t h e   N u m b e r s
     *Use force against terrorism? SojoNet users disagree

 P. O. V.
     *Jimmy Carter: America can persuade Israel to make a just peace

 S o u l   W o r k s
     *Turning enemies into friends

 R e l i g i o n   M a t t e r s
     *Demand for religion on the rise in Canada

 C u l t u r e   W a t c h
     *Amy Grant, chastened, returns to Christian basics

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

 W e b s c e n e
     *The gospel according to Star Wars
     *Healthy computing


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

All human evil comes from this: a man's being
unable to sit still in a room.

                    -- Blaise Pascal


H e a r t s   &   M i n d s
Speaking the truth about poverty

by Jim Wallis

The best role for faith-based initiatives in 
America is not only in the provision of social 
services, but also in the shaping of public policy
to secure social justice. We learned that lesson 
this week in Washington, D.C.

Call to Renewal's Pentecost 2002 Mobilization was 
called "Speaking the Truth About Poverty." It drew 
more than 300 faith-based leaders from 42 states to
press their senators toward a compassionate and just 
reauthorization of welfare reform. Out of 84 
potential Senate visits, we had 83 - a remarkable
accomplishment in this town. Twenty national church 
and organizational leaders had a very positive 
dialogue with a bipartisan group of senators, and 
the key Senate staff members who are crafting a 
bipartisan welfare bill met with our whole group 
to discuss their progress and what the most
important issues ought to be.

Over and over again, our delegations heard this 
response from lawmakers: "We can't do this 
without you." They wanted to hear stories of what 
is working in local communities and on the street. 
They wanted our facts, research, and experience. 
And they were told about the human face of poverty. 

Those who came were pastors and lay people, 
executive directors of faith-based organizations 
and heads of denominations, community organizers
and service providers, and former welfare recipients 
who came with moving testimonies of how they have 
escaped poverty. They run shelters and food banks, 
do job training and economic development, provide 
health care and education, lead councils of churches 
and interfaith coalitions that address the most basic 
problems in their communities.

We said that the mostly single mothers trying to 
move from welfare to work needed and deserved the 
adequate child-care support that really enables
moms to take care of their kids, especially if 
work requirements are increased. We said that 
education and training should be generously counted
toward the definitions of "work" hours so that 
parents will get the jobs they need to support 
their families. We said that legal immigrants who 
work and pay taxes should be eligible for the 
assistance they need too. We said that successful 
programs to support healthy marriages and families 
will help overcome poverty, as long as we protect 
against domestic violence and adequately fund 
other programs - that we must stop making false 
choices between being pro-family or pro-funding. 
We testified how faith-based initiatives are 
finding real solutions to poverty, but that 
churches and congregations can't succeed without 
good public policy. And the Senate listened. 

Each night, in the tradition of Call to Renewal, 
we joined in worship with great choirs, preaching, 
and testimonies. One night we processed to the U.S. 
Capitol, where delegation members huddled around 
their state signs to pray for prophetic boldness 
and open ears. At a dramatic and inspiring prayer
breakfast, Congressman Tony Hall was given our 
first annual "Joseph Award," for a person in a 
position of influence who feeds the hungry and 
serves the poor. Tony told us how Christ and 
watching people die in Ethiopia had changed his 
life forever. Then Reverend Darren Ferguson 
received the "Amos Award," given to a person from 
humble beginnings who becomes a prophet of justice. 
The former Sing Sing inmate and now Harlem youth 
minister moved the entire audience to both tears 
and hope for a whole generation of urban youth
and offenders who are most often forgotten and 
invisible in official Washington.        

In my opening remarks I reminded the faith-based 
leaders that our vocation is not only to "pull 
people out of the river, but to go upstream to
find out what or who is pushing them in." This 
week, the faith-based providers came upstream. 
In the midst of a debate on historic social welfare
legislation and on the occasion of the church's 
season of Pentecost, the timing seemed right. 
The result of the coming of the Spirit in Jerusalem 
2000 years ago, says the book of Acts, was an 
economic sharing so transformational that 
"there was not a needy person among them." For 
another generation of Christian disciples in 
Washington, D.C., last week, that became not 
only a prayer, but a commitment. As the quiet 
voices of prayer were mingled on the west lawn 
of the Capitol on Monday night, a participant 
was heard to comment, "This is what Pentecost 
must have sounded like."



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F u n n y   B u s i n e s s
The end is near!

A local priest and rabbi were fishing on the side of
the road. They thoughtfully made a sign saying,
"The End is Near! Turn yourself around now before it's
too late!" and showed it to each passing car.

One driver that drove by didn't appreciate the sign and
shouted at them: "Leave us alone, you religious nuts!"

All of a sudden they heard a big splash. They looked at
each other and the priest said to the rabbi, "You think
we should just put up a sign that says 'Bridge Out'


B y   t h e   N u m b e r s
SojoNet users evenly split on use of force

The results of our most recent SojoNet online poll:

Which phrase best describes your belief concerning the use
of force to prevent terrorism?

   32% The use of force is never justified
   32% The state may wield the sword, but the church must
       call for peace
   28% Support selective force guided by a "just war" ethic
    8% Use any means necessary

       Total Votes: 1633


Vote in our new online poll today at

What do you feel is the main purpose of the "War on Terror"?

[] Punish terrorists and prevent future acts
[] Get revenge
[] Re-assertion and expansion of U.S. global dominance


Are you an environmentalist or are you beginning to explore 
environmental issues? This terrific study guide offers an 
exciting challenge to all of us who share creation. "Holy 
Ground" contains practical reflections and models for action 
through articles and study questions concerning issues of 
environmental racism, eco-feminism, and more. 

To order, click here:


P. O. V.
America can persuade Israel to make a just peace

by Jimmy Carter

In January 1996, with full support from Israel and responding
to the invitation of the Palestinian Liberation Organization,
the Carter Center helped to monitor a democratic election in
the West Bank and Gaza, which was well organized, open, and fair.
In that election, 88 members were elected to the Palestinian
National Authority, with Yasir Arafat as president. Legally
and practically, the Palestinian people were encouraged to
form their own government, with the expectation that they
would soon have full sovereignty as a state.

When the election was over, I made a strong effort to persuade
the leaders of Hamas to accept the election results, with Mr.
Arafat as their leader. I relayed a message offering them full
participation in the process of developing a permanent
constitutional framework for the new political entity, but
they refused to accept this proposal. Despite this rejection,
it was a time of peace and hope, and there was no threat of
violence or even peaceful demonstrations. The legal status of
the Palestinian people has not changed since then, but their
plight has grown desperate.

Ariel Sharon is a strong and forceful man and has never
equivocated in his public declarations nor deviated from his
ultimate purpose. His rejection of all peace agreements that
included Israeli withdrawal from Arab lands, his invasion of
Lebanon, his provocative visit to the Temple Mount, the
destruction of villages and homes, the arrests of thousands
of Palestinians, and his open defiance of President George W.
Bush's demand that he comply with international law have all
been orchestrated to accomplish his ultimate goals: to establish
Israeli settlements as widely as possible throughout occupied
territories and to deny Palestinians a cohesive political

There is adequate blame on the other side. Even when he
was free and enjoying the full trappings of political power,
Yasir Arafat never exerted control over Hamas and other radical
Palestinians who reject the concept of a peaceful Israeli
existence and adopt any means to accomplish their goal.
Mr. Arafat's all-too-rare denunciations of violence have been
spasmodic, often expressed only in English and likely insincere.
He may well see the suicide attacks as one of the few ways to
retaliate against his tormentors, to dramatize the suffering
of his people, or as a means for him, vicariously, to be a

[But] with the ready and potentially unanimous backing of the
international community, the United States government can bring
about a solution to the existing imbroglio. Demands on both
sides should be so patently fair and balanced that at least a
majority of citizens in the affected area will respond with
approval, and an international force can monitor compliance
with agreed peace terms, as was approved for the Sinai
region in 1979 following Israel's withdrawal from Egyptian

There are two existing factors that offer success to United
States persuasion. One is the legal requirement that American
weapons are to be used by Israel only for defensive purposes,
a premise certainly being violated in the recent destruction
of Jenin and other villages. Richard Nixon imposed this
requirement to stop Ariel Sharon and Israel's military
advance into Egypt in the 1973 war, and I used the same
demand to deter Israeli attacks on Lebanon in 1979. (A full
invasion was launched by Ariel Sharon after I left office).
The other persuasive factor is approximately $10 million daily
in American aid to Israel. President George Bush Sr.
threatened this assistance in 1992 to prevent the building of
Israeli settlements between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

I understand the extreme political sensitivity in America of
using persuasion on the Israelis, but it is important to
remember that none of the actions toward peace would involve
an encroachment on the sovereign territory of Israel. They all
involve lands of the Egyptians, Lebanese, and Palestinians, as
recognized by international law.

The existing situation is tragic and likely to get worse.
Normal diplomatic efforts have failed. It is time for the
United States, as the sole recognized intermediary, to consider
more forceful action for peace. The rest of the world will
welcome this leadership.

*Jimmy Carter, former U.S. president, is chairman of the
Carter Center, which works worldwide to advance peace
and human health.

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S o u l   W o r k s
Turning enemies into friends

by Eknath Easwaran

When we quarrel with someone, the worst thing
we can do is to avoid that person. We are trying
to avoid an image in our own mind, which cannot
be done. The mind takes some exaggerated impressions,
memories, hopes, and insecurities, draws a quick
caricature like one of those sidewalk cartoonists,
and then turns up its nose. The person in question
should retort, "That's not me; that's your caricature
of me. If you don't like it, you don't like your
own mind." 

To heal our relationships, we have to move closer
to people we do not like, learn to work with them
without friction. When we do this, we are remaking
the images in our mind - which means we are literally
remaking the world in which we live.


R e l i g i o n   M a t t e r s
Bucking previous trends, 'demand for religion' on
the rise in Canada

Flying in the face of previous surveys, a recent study
by Canada's foremost religion pollster suggests that
Canada is undergoing a period of spiritual renewal, both
inside and outside its churches. A survey of 3,500 Canadians
found that weekly church attendance was up, the core
membership of churches had stabilized, and the large number
of people who attended church only irregularly were not
"deserting the ship." The trend held true particularly
among mainline Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, United
Church of Canada, and Roman Catholic churches.


C u l t u r e   W a t c h
Amy Grant, chastened, returns to Christian basics

While many evangelicals hailed Ms. Grant as a
musical ambassador to mainstream culture, others
greeted her professional triumphs with complaints
that she was too worldly and too sexy....

A writer in..."Christianity Today" criticized Ms.
Grant's 1997 release, "Behind the Eyes," for its
"complete absence of explicitly Christian lyrical

[While making her new album covering Christian
hymns] Ms. Grant said she rediscovered the themes
of grace and redemption that lie at the heart of
the Christian story.
[Free registration required]


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B o o m e r a n g

Conor O'Reilly writes from Portsmouth, New Hampshire:

Re: "You Are What You Owe" in last week's SojoMail...

I believe that David Batstone is mistaken to conclude that
financial institutions pad their profit margins just because
there is a gap between lower Fed Funds rates and higher
mortgage rates.

Equating profits with the difference between these two sets
of interest rates is a common mistake, sometimes made by
financial institutions themselves. Savings and Loans in the
1970s funded long-term fixed rate mortgages with short-term
deposits, booking "profits" and hiding their own poor management.
When the Fed's inflation fighting drove short-term rates up
over 10%, the S & Ls found themselves carrying their old
mortgage loans at a loss and many went bankrupt. The
government had to bail out depositors. Needless to say
regulators try to limit the mismatch between loans and funding.

No one can tell what the profit margin is on a fixed-rate
mortgage loan until it has been repaid or unless it is
funding with a matching fixed-rate deposit. Does this mean
that there may be padded profits, or gouging? Unlikely in
the market for standard mortgages with large numbers of
institutions competing, and prices and risks visible to all
parties. Where there has been gouging is in lending to the
poor, where a small number of lenders can fix prices and
where the borrowers can be hoodwinked.


Miriam Johnson writes from Willow Springs, Missouri:

Re: David Batstone's column, "You Are What You Owe":

Whew! What a relief to declare bankruptcy, after getting
sucked in to the credit-card trap and paying over 50% of
our income just to maintain minimum payments. While it
may be true that the Almighty will forgive our debts,
it certainly is not true of Visa or Mastercard.


Sheri Kling writes from Marietta, Georgia:

Several Boomerang writers commented that most of the sexual
abuse cases being talked about in the news today and linked
with the Catholic Church happened long ago, suggesting that
there are less cases now. In general, it seems that most
sexual abuse victims only speak out about their abuse many
years after it happened, as they are afraid to do so while
it is happening, or they are convinced that their stories
won't be believed anyway by the adults around them. Cases
of abuse that are ongoing now will probably not come to
light for another 10 or 20 years, but I doubt the actual
number will have decreased.


Cynthia Perras writes from Newton, Massachusetts:

Re: "Resignation" in last week's SojoMail. The lovely,
bittersweet piece on wanting to be an 8-year-old again, to
live an uncomplicated life, was so touching. I would
wish to reassure the writer about this passage: never
stop believing in these things, they continue to be the
most powerful engines for achieving change, even when it
is one person at a time in very small ways. We must
believe in and always live these ideals - "smiles, hugs,
a kind word, truth, justice, peace, dreams, the
imagination, humankind, and making angels in the snow" -
to give one another sustenance and better odds on
survival. I don't want to be 8 again; I want to know that
those values are what's important, but be old enough to
fight for them and know it's worth spreading them.

Dennis Sadowski writes from Avon, Ohio:

Thank you so much for the piece called "Resignation."
The commentary touched my soul and immediately caused
me to think about my sons, David, 6, and Carl, 9, who
spend their days doing just what we all wish we could do.
It's sad how we have let our world become so complex that
we cannot enjoy the simple things - a game of cards,
opening the morning paper to the comics pages first,
nurturing the vegetable garden, looking up at the stars
at night and wondering if anyone is looking back at us,
marveling at the ants under an old log.

So tonight, I'm not going to rush through dinner so I
can mow the lawn or iron that never-ending pile of shirts.
The kids are calling. I'm joining them in a game of tag.


Victoria Fahlberg writes from Lowell, Massachusetts:

First, I love SojoMail - thank you.

In the last issue, when I read the essay written by the 12-
year-old young man, I was inspired. Today, to read what the
teacher did to him was horrible. A teacher did this to my
daughter one year as well, during her sophomore year of high
school - not once, but the entire year. Fortunately, her
teacher her junior year has recommended her for the class
writing award. Anyway, there was no e-mail for contacting
this young man, so if possible, could you please send to
him my thanks for his wonderful essay and to tell him that
narrow-minded teachers are not always good judges of talent.


Kathy Kapps writes from Liberty, South Carolina:

I read the letter from the mother of the seventh-grader
with more than a little pain. I am a sixth-grade teacher.
Teachers have a higher than average temptation to be God.
We have a power over children that can so easily be corrupted,
and I don't know the answer except for that of any temptation.
Be aware, and stop when you see it in yourself.

I hated school as a child, even though I loved to learn.
Ironic, huh? I stumbled into teaching and have loved every
minute of it. There is nothing about my students or my
class time that I don't like. But I stay in teaching in
spite of all the garbage that goes with it, most of which is
generated by politicians who haven't a clue what it's like to
be in a classroom of energetic, diverse individuals. I don't
know which category of teacher this young man experienced.
But I believe we are all responsible. Until we value those
"unmeasurables," how can we expect our teachers to? I will.
Many other teachers will, too. But to expect it, we must
value it.


Janet Newcomer writes from Farmington, Michigan:

Regarding the additional comments by Clancy's mom about
the response that Clancy received regarding his essay,
I laughed and cried when I read her words. I laughed
because I completely understand the frustration of trying
to write something, and wanting to bang my head, spin
around in my chair, wave my arms, and make faces.
Unfortunately, as an adult working in a corporate office,
this tactic is not usually condoned.

I cried because as a mother, I too see the huge influence
that my daughter's teachers have in her life. Some I
love and respect immensely while others I'm less than
thrilled with. What an excellent opportunity was missed
by this teacher to encourage a child that was excited
about something he'd created.


Margaret Driscoll writes from Hong Kong, China:

A thought based on John Osborne's poem "The Holy Land"
[SojoMail 05-01-02]:

We don't need "travel advisories" on our walk with God -
God is with us and in, you, and everything of
creation. God is not "out there" choosing to come to
earth occasionally, but resides right here among us.
The temples are holy because the worshippers bring God
with them, not because God resides there. The holiness
of God, Jesus, or Muhammed has not departed from the
land, but maybe hope and love have, which is maybe the
same thing.


Michaela Patel writes from Melbourne, Australia:

When you have the richest country in the world choosing
to give massive subsidies to a small number of its
inefficient farmers, in order that they can over-produce
food, which is then dumped onto the markets of
developing countries, well, you really have to wonder
where priorities lie.

Foreign aid has its place, but ultimately, each country
needs to be able to support itself. As long as the level
of the playing field is decided by a few wealthy countries,
the smaller players will never be able to compete their
way out of poverty, a strategy much advocated by these
same wealthy countries.


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

*The gospel according to Star Wars has debuted its Star Wars portal. In an
extensive collection of articles and commentaries, the portal
showcases the way in which people of faith from around
the world have responded to the spiritual meanings they
find in George Lucas' Star Wars films. Go to:


*Healthy computing

Sore wrists, back pain, and eye strain are a few of the
all-too-common maladies associated with computer use. This
site offers tips on ways you can reduce computer-related
discomfort, pain, and injury, covering everything from
positioning of computer equipment and furniture to proper
posture and exercises.


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