The Common Good

The Word made flesh

Sojomail - December 18, 2002


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+++++++++++++++++++++ 18-December-2002 ++++++++++++++++++++++
++++++++++++++++++++ The Word Made Flesh ++++++++++++++++++++

 Q u o t e   o f   t h e   W e e k
     *William Faulkner: Integrity
 H e a r t s   &   M i n d s
     *The Word made flesh

 F u n n y   B u s i n e s s
     *Humorous ad campaign puts Christ back into Xmas

 P o l i t i c a l l y   C o n n e c t
     *Join or host a global family potluck

 S o u l   W o r k s
     *All things by immortal power

 P. O. V.
     *O Broken Town of Bethlehem...

 B u i l d i n g   a   M o v e m e n t
     *Talking with friends and family about Iraq

 B y   t h e   N u m b e r s
     *The real costs of holiday shopping

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

 C u l t u r e   W a t c h
     *God and the Goo Goo Dolls

 W e b s c e n e
     *Support workers with your holiday shopping
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Q u o t e   o f   t h e   W e e k

"Some things you must always be unable to bear. Some things you must never stop refusing to bear. Injustice and outrage and dishonor and shame. No matter how young you are or how old you have got. Not for kudos and not for cash, your picture in the paper nor money in the bank neither. Just refuse to bear them."

- William Faulkner


H e a r t s   &   M i n d s
The Word made flesh

by Jim Wallis

(This is a portion of a reflection given at the Sojourners and Call to Renewal Christmas staff worship service.)

Incarnation. Christ in a manger. Emmanuel, God with us. These are unique truths of our Christian faith. We at Sojourners celebrate the words of peace at Christmas; other religions also speak of peace. We proclaim words of justice for the poor at Christmas; other religions also speak of social justice. Yet Christianity speaks uniquely of God coming into the world like this, entering into our circumstances, taking human form, being born as a baby. We respect other faiths and collaborate with interfaith brothers and sisters on a whole host of issues. But at Christmas, we celebrate the uniqueness of our Christian faith.

And what a story it is. The power is in the details. A poor couple from an oppressed race, living in an occupied country, are driven to the road and to homelessness by an imperial decree. With no room in the inn, they give birth to the hope of the world in an animal stall. Angels herald the child born in poverty, and humble shepherds are the first witnesses. Why this way? Why these choices? What was/is God trying to say? This is not the way Washington would do it - not nearly enough might and power. Nor is it a Hollywood script - not at all larger than life, but far too ordinary. And it would not play well in Middle America, where everything is to be done decently and in order.

What authority the details of the nativity provide, what clarity and confidence they bring to us. Now, we can say these are the choices God has made. The words of peace, the words of justice are no longer just ours, or of the great religious teachers. They are the Word of God. "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld its glory." So that a Christmas mantra like, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace," is not mere sentiment, but an instruction, a command, a promise. The words of Mary's Magnificat are virtually a prophecy to wealth and power: "The mighty have been put down from their thrones and the lowly exalted; the hungry have been filled with good things and the rich sent away empty." That is not simply faith-based charitable social service, but a prediction of social revolution.

The Word of God is made flesh at Christmas. And because of that Word, we can say no to war with Iraq and the logic of bombing to end terrorism. Because of that Word, we can say that the poor must come first, not last, in the nation's assessment of priorities and "homeland security." Because of that Word, we can believe and act with the confidence that, one day, justice and peace will prevail over poverty and war. And, we know that these are God's realities, not just our words.

We proclaim God's realities this Christmas, against the political realities of America and the world on December 25, 2002. Those are the realities that deny the truth of the incarnation, and they will simply not have the last word.

Because the Word of God has been made flesh and dwells among us, we can, at Christmas, boldly proclaim with Isaiah:

Unto us a child is born,
Unto us a son is given;
The government shall be upon his shoulders;
and he shall be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.



America's Second Harvest provides emergency food
assistance to more than 23 million hungry Americans
each year, many of whom make choices no one should
have to - between food and necessities like housing,
utilities, and medicine. Learn more about hunger in
America and how you can help at:


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

The Scottish Episcopal Church launches a humorous ad campaign to put Christ back in Christmas.


P o l i t i c a l l y   C o n n e c t
Join or host a Global Family Potluck

What we need, said some inner-city children 30 years ago, is a worldwide holiday of peace and sharing every year so we can get to know the rest of our human family and start learning to get along. Unrealistic or vital? In 2000 and 2001, the United States Congress and the United Nations passed resolutions strongly recommending that each year start with a day of peace and sharing for all faiths and cultures everywhere. The new holiday designed to unite us already exists. It's up to us to decide if we want to use it.

Hosted by Sen. Mary Landrieu and Rep. Mary Bono, chairs of OneDay2003, and Virginia E. Hayes Williams, a premiere OneDay Global Family Potluck will be held January 1 at noon at the University of the District of Columbia. Families representing all nations will gather in the gym with a flag of their country and a photo of their national leader. At noon they will share their countries' favorite foods, build a children's monument to peace, and pledge nonviolence toward one another in the new year. Though this event will last just one day, it can serve as the model for an annual worldwide celebration that can fundamentally improve the way we perceive and treat one another. OneDay2003 can make a difference -- it can become a pivot point to peace. Between now and January 1, take these three steps:

1. Sign up on to participate in OneDay2003. Then forward this message to everyone in your address book. Print it out and hand it out.

2. Tell your government you want the world's first shared universal celebration observed in your country by your leaders this year and every year.

3. Get a loaf of bread. Take it outdoors at noon on January 1 and break bread with someone new. Pledge nonviolence toward that person, then if you can, join together and give to stop hunger.


S o u l   W o r k s

All things by immortal power
Near or far,
To each other linked are,
That thou canst not stir a flower
Without troubling of a star.

- Francis Thompson



Join us in Washington, D.C., on Dr. Martin Luther King Day.

7:00 pm
Monday, January 20, 2003
National Cathedral

A Martin Luther King Day Prayer Service
for peace and justice that focuses on 
the connection between war and poverty.

Details to follow in early January.


P. O. V.
O Broken Town of Bethlehem

by Mitri Raheb, pastor
Christmas Lutheran Church, Bethlehem

Christmas Lutheran Church was surrounded by Israeli tanks. My wife, Najwa, my daughters, Tala and Dana, my mother, Wadia, and I were at the parsonage. Israeli soldiers went from house to house, searching for Palestinian gunmen. When would it be our turn?

We heard the soldiers breaking the doors at our neighbors. They had already killed an older neighbor woman and her 36-year-old son, a former pupil of our Lutheran school. At 1:45 p.m., the soldiers entered our compound and started by breaking the door to our youth room. I had to decide my next move: Should I stay inside until they reached our home, which probably would traumatize my family? Or should I go out and ask them to leave the church compound, which might risk my life? I decided to take the latter risk.

I went out, telling the soldiers that I am the pastor and would like to talk to the commander. When I reached my office, 15 soldiers pointed their guns at me. I started talking to them in Hebrew and then in English. At first, they thought I was a foreigner. Once I started talking in Arabic - on the phone with our bishop, to explain the situation - their attitude changed dramatically for the worse. One said, "Arabic is the most ugly language in the world." I replied: "Then Hebrew must be as ugly as Arabic since both are from the Aramaic roots. We are cousins! Don't you know?"

Another soldier said: "We will let you pay the price because you have sided with the Arabs." I knew he was ignorant of our existence, like so many people in the world who assume that Arabs are Muslims only. He was bewildered when I told him that I am not only a Palestinian Christian but also an Arab Lutheran pastor. Another soldier told me, while destroying a painting, "You have here a very beautiful facility." I said, "We love beauty. We have worked so very hard to make this a beautiful place." A soldier started making fun of me: "You sound like a very wise person," he said. I answered, "The real wise person is one who can transform his enemy into a neighbor, and not his neighbor into an enemy." The commander didn't like my answer. He shouted at me to shut up and ordered his soldiers not to talk to me.

This experience shows the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and our role as Christians in it. There always have been more than one people in the Holy Land. Now there are at least two: Palestinian and Israeli. It's impossible for either to have a monopoly over the whole land. It has to be shared between two peoples in two independent, yet interrelated states.

The vision for peace in the Holy Land can't be that of Babel - one people with one language. It has to be that of a shared Jerusalem at Pentecost: Jews and Arabs viewed as equals and enabled by the Spirit to communicate with and understand each other, living in a city open to the adherents of all three monotheistic religions, as well as guests of all nations.

It is now time to think of transforming the enemy into a neighbor. Palestinians and Israelis need to discover the humanity of the other. Reconciliation is the possibility to move beyond the concept of "winning the war" and into "winning the enemy" - that is, to transform each other into a potential neighbor. Our role as Christians is to restore justice by ending the Israeli occupation and to work for peaceful co-existence of two people and three religions in two states.

*Originally published in "The Lutheran":

For more stories and photos about the work of Rev. Mitri Raheb, visit:


B u i l d i n g   a   M o v e m e n t
Talking with friends and family about Iraq:
A "Holiday Gathering Guide"

Like people everywhere, most people in the U.S. think it's wrong to kill civilians as a means of pressuring their government. But for many, the link between this conviction and opposition to U.S. plans to attack Iraq is severed by fear, misinformation, and a desensitization to what war will really mean for ordinary Iraqis. This guide is intended to help combat the euphemisms ("collateral damage") and passive language ("bombs fell") that obscure the suffering that the Bush Administration's plans will cause. It is useful in navigating conversations about the war and encouraging family and friends to take a stand for peaceful alternatives.

By purchasing the "Holiday Gathering Guide," you will help the MADRE campaign to raise funds for an emergency shipment of children's medicines and milk for families in Iraq. It can be ordered at:



Do you know what you'll get everyone on your holiday
list this year? How about a gift that will be remembered
for years to come? Give a gift animal in honor of friends
and loved ones from Heifer International, and bring hope
and opportunity to a family in need.


B y   t h e   N u m b e r s
The cost of Christmas presents

*The average American household will budget an estimated $1,656 for holiday spending, of which $1,073 will be used to purchase gifts [Source: American Express Retail Index on holiday shopping].

*In the U.K., the average person spends 15 hours looking for Christmas gifts, makes five separate shopping trips, walks a total of 20 miles in the quest for gifts, and spends two hours in line to pay. Analysts predict that nearly a quarter of U.K. holiday purchases this year will be charged on credit cards, saddling consumers with nearly $3 billion in debt by the end of January and costing them $33 million in interest payments for that month alone [Source: The Guardian].

A recent study by Environmental Defense calculated that a whopping 3.6 million tons of paper were used to produce the roughly 59 catalogs mailed to every man, woman, and child in the United States last year. Only three of the 42 leading U.S. catalog companies surveyed reported using recycled paper in the body of their mailings, even though by switching to just 10 percent recycled content, the entire catalog industry would save enough wood to stretch a six-foot fence across the U.S. seven times. Link to:



A guide to socially responsible giving, "The Conscious
Consumer: Promoting Economic Justice Through Fair Trade,"
shows how lives can be improved through fair partnerships.
For $2.95 each, the guide is also an excellent gift that
expresses your values (bulk prices available). Order from: or (202) 302-0976.


B o o m e r a n g

Alex Araujo writes from Seattle, Washington:

Thanks to David Batstone for calling attention to the corporate practice of firing employees to make their balance sheet look better to investors. I think this is a major shift from an earlier historical practice that still had some heart in it, when the desire for more profit did not automatically take precedence over the people who helped make the profit.


Roger Barker writes from Kawhia, New Zealand:

I enjoyed Batstone's article. I have often wondered why the instruction to our managers is "make a profit making product X as efficiently as you can," thereby providing an incentive to shed staff. Why not change the directive to "make a profit by employing these employees as efficiently as you can," so that the incentive is to change methods or product types. That is called innovation. Isn't that better than unemployment - for everyone?


David Weinschrott writes from Indianapolis, Indiana:

I have been working for the last several months on understanding how best to reform the workforce development system in central Indiana. Indiana, like most of the rest of the nation, is facing a "skills" and "body" shortage over the next several decades. At the same time we face a growing income gap. What's wrong with this picture - it is variations on the theme of Batstone's column. Our school systems fail to prepare graduates (let alone non-graduates) to be "ready to work."

How is a "work first" policy even credible in a "knowledge- based" economy, especially when employers like Boeing pitch generations of employees into the streets when they upgrade their technology? If one always "works first" and employers don't invest in human capital the way they invest in physical capital, we will never achieve a workforce that keeps pace with new rounds of technology. Question for the accountants out there: Do firms have the same tax incentives to invest in human capital as they do in physical capital - i.e., can they write those expenses off over time the way they do for equipment? Is there some financial reason that employers invest in new technology and throw away their workforce?

There is growing evidence from projects supported by Annie E. Casey, C.S. Mott Foundation, and others, researched by the Aspen Institute, that training focused on employers' skill requirements does lead to higher starting wages, better retention, and faster wage growth. This same result can be seen in the best results of the National Evaluation of Welfare to Work Strategies supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (See and


Joe Morris writes from San Juan Bautista, California:

David Batstone wrote: "Firing large numbers of workers ought to be considered an admission of failure, a last resort, or perhaps a necessary evil in times of technological change or declining market conditions, not a badge of strong management."

I would suggest that the proper placement of the period should follow the word "failure," for the sentence would have to end right there in order to be true. A healthy human community would show far more creativity in its evolution than stealing from Peter to pay Paul or whomever is CEO or investor at the time. The Luddites understood the costs of sacrificing workers to pay for technological change, and they chose to damage the machines rather than their culture or their neighbors. Moreover, "declining market conditions" do not require sacrifice of but one part of the community. They either require sacrifice on all parts of the community - if they are only the trough between waves in a rising sea - or a more nimble and creative strategy to find another market that is not in decline. If the managers do not see the opportunity prior to the depths of the decline and their "last resort" of "necessary evil," they should relinquish the reins to more creative people, namely the workers who would be sacrificed. There is a huge source of untapped - even oppressed - creative energy in the workers of the world that managers would do well to tap before they cut off their nose in spite of their face. Predictably, corporations are not good at this sort of flexibility, for they are generally larger than a scale that is most effective in the use of human creativity, but then neither were the dinosaurs. Finally, I would say that when we begin to talk about "necessary evil" we have lost our compass: Our thinking has now become linear rather than holistic, which it must be if it is to accommodate itself to the complexity of our inherently organic and communal lives.


Stephanie Gehring writes from Lake Oswego, Oregon:

I found your posting in SojoMail urging readers not to buy Gap clothing inaccurate and misleading. I attended an in-depth anti-sweatshop program put on by the Living Wage Project, headed by two people who had spent time trying to live on sweatshop wages and talking to sweatshop workers in one of Nike's Indonesian factories. They have now given their lives to fighting for fair wages for workers all over the world. This team made a point of noting that ALL companies selling almost anything (from clothing to kitchen utensils) use international sweatshops, and that workers have pleaded desperately for consumers NOT to boycott, because this reduces wages even further. Instead, the team urged us to write to members of Congress and to cut tags out of clothing and mail them to companies with a letter stating, "I enjoy your product and would love to wear your logo with pride. Please pay your factory workers a living wage." I was moved by their presentation to believe that we cannot ignore sweatshops and claim to be devoted to social justice. However, misguided singling out of companies who are no less guilty than the rest of the retail world is ineffective and irresponsible.


Christopher Pallas writes from Edinburgh, U.K.:

I hesitate to attack Bob Burnett personally; however, his column in last week's SojoMail propogates some dangerous myths. He asks: "Has the United States abandoned its respect for international law enforcement procedure?" When has the U.S. ever respected international law enforcement? Our attack on Panama certainly wasn't "by-the-book." Was killing 2,000+ civilians to remove an embarrassing former ally (Noriega) common law-enforcement procedure? The U.S. barely even supports its own domestic laws when operating internationally. Last July the State Department sent a letter to a Washington judge asking him to consider the economic and political implications of his verdict before deciding on a case against ExxonMobil for human rights abuses committed in Indonesia. Anyone who understands the term "banana republic" should know that economics before human rights is standard U.S. operating procedure - it has been for decades.

As an American living overseas, I am continually embarrassed by the short-term memory of the American public. We think Bush is doing something new; the rest of the world thinks it's old hat. If we want anything to change, we have to address the underlying self-interest in the electorate that makes such a pattern of barbarism possible.


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:


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C u l t u r e   W a t c h
God and the Goo Goo Dolls

by Teresa Blythe

Sometimes all we need is a little spiritual boost. A flash of inspiration. Like the one I found not long ago while pursuing my guilty pleasure: VH1's "Behind the Music." I know it's no Frontline. That it's widely regarded as formulaic and cheesy. But the episode about songwriter Johnny Rzeznik's writer's block was...different.

The Goo Goo Dolls, a Buffalo rock band, went through a transition in the mid-1990s from slightly macho rock to a softer style - one that was working well for Rzeznik, the heartthrob lead singer. His ballads found a whole new audience ("girls!"), which upset some original fans (rocker dudes). Around the same time, Rzeznik became depressed and couldn't write. He questioned his life's calling, asking God, "what am I supposed to do with my life?" The answer came in a request to pen a song for the film "City of Angels."

To create the ballad "Iris," Rzeznik had to transcend his narrow world by entering someone else's story. He did so and not only did he find his creativity renewed, but the song became a career-defining hit for the Goo Goo Dolls in 1998. If only "Behind the Music" didn't fall so short in the social justice department. You see, if Rzeznik had not written that hit song, we might not have heard about his story. Poor or unsuccessful people are only depicted as examples of "before" or the occasional "after" in cases where celebrities self-destruct. "Behind the Music" cannot challenge the status quo in the music industry or society at large because, like most promotional devices, it must deify the American dream.

To be fair though, do any of us really know quite what to do with starving artists? Do we encourage them to keep going, quoting Mother Teresa who said God didn't call her to be successful, just faithful? Or do we gently urge them to find a more marketable skill? These questions are too complex for any television show, much less this one. They are, however, precisely the questions the Christian community needs to help artists answer when little flashes of VH1 inspiration will no longer do.


Teresa Blythe is a freelance writer in Tucson, Arizona. She is co-author of "Watching What We Watch: Prime-Time Television Through the Lens of Faith" and frequently contributes television reviews to Sojourners magazine.


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

Support workers with your shopping dollars. Below is a list of online union retail outlets. Buy this year and next year's list will be longer.

*Check out the new No Sweat line of 100% union-made casual apparel. Designing Ts, fashion athletic wear, sweats, hoodies, denim jackets, scarves, and boucle caps. A little something for every labor lover on your list.

*L.A.s first union cut-and-sew shop, SweatX, opened this year. They primarily sell wholesale but have a few retail items available online:

*Natchezss online storefront providing Matterhorn's legendary union-made hiking and hunting boots:

*Top quality denim jeans for men, women, and children. All cotton, all union:

*At Sheepskin & Leather you'll find beautiful, sturdy and stylish leather coats, jackets, vests and pants, reasonably priced and all union made:

*Looking for a little inspiration for the year to come? You'll find l2 months of it in the Bread and Roses 2003 Social Justice calendar. We took l2 great quotes, from the Prophet Amos to the novelist Toni Morrison, and asked some great contemporary artists to interpret them. Profits from the calendar go directly into arts programming for working people across the country:

Would this list be complete without the legendary independent bookstore Powells?

Contributed by Santa's little (union) helpers, Local 2004, International Brotherhood of Elves & Gnomes


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