The Common Good

The Impossible Will Take a Little While

Sojomail - December 15, 2004

Quote of the Week Life and death
Building a Movement Paul Loeb: The impossible will take a little while
Multimedia Streaming video: Ministry in a time of war
Values for Life Think outside the big box: Carolers kicked out of stores
Spiritual Practices We are a people of possibility
Soul Works Henri Nouwen on waiting for God
On the Ground Palestine journal: Red hats and green helmets
Biz Ethics Municipalities get wired and raise telecom ire
Good News States join trend to reform drug laws
Boomerang Readers write
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"Before [Burns] was killed, I thought we were here to kill the bad ones and save the good ones.... Now I think: 'Is he the one who shot Kyle?' It's a revenge thing. Every time I see an Iraqi, I could be face-to-face with the guy who killed my best friend."

- Lance Corporal Matt McClellan, serving in Iraq with Charlie Company of the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance battalion.

Source AlterNet


The impossible will take a little while
by Paul Rogat Loeb

How do we learn to keep on in this difficult political time, and keep on with courage and vision? A few years ago, I heard Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak at a Los Angeles benefit for a South African project. He'd been fighting prostate cancer, was tired that evening, and had taken a nap before his talk. But when Tutu addressed the audience he became animated, expressing amazement that his long-oppressed country had provided the world with an unforgettable lesson in reconciliation and hope. Afterward, a few other people spoke, and then a band from East L.A. took the stage and launched into an irresistibly rhythmic tune. People started dancing. Suddenly I noticed Tutu, boogying away in the middle of the crowd. I'd never seen a Nobel Peace Prize winner, still less one with a potentially fatal illness, move with such joy and abandonment. Tutu, I realized, knows how to have a good time. Indeed, it dawned on me that his ability to recognize and embrace life's pleasures helps him face its cruelties and disappointments, be they personal or political.

Few of us will match Tutu's achievements, but in a political time that's hard and likely to get harder, we'd do well to learn from someone who's spent years challenging abuses of human dignity from apartheid's brutal system to Bush's Iraq war, yet has remained light-hearted and free of bitterness. Because Tutu embodies a defiant, resilient, persistent hope, where we act no matter what the seeming odds, both to be true to our deepest moral values, and to open up new possibilities.

We do this by recognizing that hope is a way of looking at the world - in fact a way of life. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the stories of those who, like Tutu and Nelson Mandela, persist under the most dangerous conditions, when simply to imagine aloud the possibility of change is deemed a crime or viewed as a type of madness. We can also draw strength from the example of former Czech president Vaclav Havel, whose country's experience, he argues, proves that a series of small, seemingly futile moral actions can bring down an empire. When the Czech rock band Plastic People of the Universe was first outlawed and arrested because the authorities said their music was "morbid" and had a "negative social impact," Havel organized a defense committee. That in turn evolved into the Charter 77 organization, which set the stage for Czechoslovakia's broader democracy movement. As Havel wrote, three years before the Communist dictatorship fell, "Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart."

Even in a seemingly losing cause, one person may unknowingly inspire another, and that person yet a third, who could go on to change the world, or at least a small corner of it. Rosa Parks's husband Raymond convinced her to attend her first NAACP meeting, the initial step on a 12-year path that brought her to that fateful day on the bus in Montgomery. But who got Raymond Parks involved? And why did that person take the trouble to do so? What experiences shaped their outlook, forged their convictions? The links in any chain of influence are too numerous, too complex to trace. But it helps to know that such chains exist, that we can choose to join them, and that lasting change doesn't occur in their absence. A primary way to sustain hope, especially when our actions seem too insignificant to amount to anything, is to see ourselves as links on such a chain.

The unforeseen benefits of our actions mean that any effort may prove more consequential than it seems at first. In 1969, Henry Kissinger told the North Vietnamese that Richard Nixon would escalate the Vietnam War, and even use nuclear strikes. Nixon had military advisers prepare detailed plans including potential nuclear targets. But two weeks before his November 1 deadline, there was a nationwide day of protest, the Moratorium, when millions of Americans joined local demonstrations, vigils, church services, petition drives, and other forms of opposition. The next month, more than half-a-million people marched in Washington, D.C. An administration spokesperson announced that the demonstrations wouldn't affect his policies in the slightest. That fed the frustration of far too many in the peace movement and accelerated the descent of some, like the Weathermen, into violence. Yet as we now know from Nixon's memoirs, he decided the movement had, in his words, so "polarized" American opinion that he couldn't carry out his threat. Moratorium participants had no idea that their efforts may have been helping to stop a nuclear attack.

Although we may never know, I'd argue that America's recent movement against the war on Iraq similarly helped make further wars against countries like Iran and Syria less likely, and paved the way for more widespread questioning, even if not quite enough to turn the election. The protests of early 2003, the largest in decades, brought many into their first public stand, or their first in years. It wasn't easy to voice opposition when being called allies of terrorism. Yet people did, in every community in the country, joined by the largest global peace demonstrations in history. Many then continued through electoral involvement, raising further issues and building further alliances. They certainly marked the first steps for innumerable individuals who if they continue on will become a powerful force for justice, joining the ranks of the other unsung heroes who ultimately create all change.

Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear.


Which values and whose values?

Sojourners is in a unique position to shape discussion around "moral values." Help us change the conversation to include the environment, human rights, a moral response to terrorism, and a consistent ethic of human life. We need your help.

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Streaming video: Ministry in a time of war

Sojourners editor Jim Wallis, serving as visiting lecturer on religion and society at Harvard Divinity School, discusses the implications of the Iraq war for the work of religious leaders and scholars. The panel includes: Mary Luti, pastor of First Church, Cambridge (United Church of Christ); Ronne Friedman, senior rabbi of Temple Israel, Boston; and Talal Eid, imam of the Islamic Center of New England.

+ Watch the streaming video


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Think outside the big box: Carolers kicked out of stores
by Will Braun

Last Saturday I got kicked out of one mall and four big box stores - a Christmas shopping first for me. Twenty-five people and I, who probably go to church more often than the mall, were there to sing Christmas carols, evidently the kind that get people banished from the fluorescent premises of holiday madness.

Imagine standing in the checkout line at the local Super-Mega Deal-o-rama - in this case, in snowy Winnipeg, Canada - as a cheerful troupe of well-wishers march in the door singing "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" - or no, wait...those aren't the traditional lyrics:

Slow down ye frantic shoppers for there's something we must say
If you would spare a moment all the stores would go away
Big business has been telling us what Christmas means today
Now it's time we decided for ourselves, for ourselves
Yes, it's time we decided for ourselves...

Our record was three full songs before being escorted out (in that case, politely). The opposition to our commercial sacrilege, however, did not come from shoppers. We might have been a fringe group oddly immune to public embarrassment, but shoppers didn't treat us that way. Many were curious, some indifferent, and a few responded as though they'd met a long-lost friend.

+ Read the full article


By Paul Rogat Loeb

History Channel and American Book Association's #3 political book for fall 2004.

"Paul Loeb brings hope for a better world in a time when we so urgently need it." - Millard Fuller, founder, Habitat for Humanity

"Just what the doctor ordered for these depressing times: a massive infusion of hope, written in the clearest and most inspiring prose. Do your soul a favor and read this book." - Kevin Danaher, cofounder, Global Exchange

"A stirring collection of essays aimed at people who still want to believe that ordinary people can change the world." - Atlanta Journal Constitution


We are a people of possibility
by Andrew Hoeksema

Three weeks ago I sat in a small group of people conversing about our goals and expectations for the conference that was just beginning. The conference I was attending was called Tools For Peace? ( and took place in Soderkoping, Sweden, with attendees from all over the world. I shared that I was hoping to come away from the conference with increased hope fueled by stories of peace building and reconciliation from the various areas of conflict represented there. Across the table from me Isaaf, a Muslim woman from Amman, Jordan, responded with shock and maybe even sadness. "You come from a place that we all see as so wealthy and so capable of meeting all your needs. You are not even directly experiencing conflict in the United States. The killings and abuses are not happening in the streets in front of your house. Yet, you want us, those who see it every day, to provide you with visions of hope? I don't understand!"

I thought for a minute about what she said to me and tried to formulate my response carefully. "From my perspective in North America," I began, "all of these places of conflict and violence and extreme poverty can seem so ridiculously far away, yet those of us who are committed to working for peace and justice allow these things to impact us deeply in an almost intimate way. At the same time," I continued, "we do not have enough close-up stories of hope and the possibility of peace in the midst of those conflicts that we are allowing to affect us and burden us."

+ Read the full article


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Waiting for God

Waiting is not a very popular attitude. In fact, most people consider waiting a waste of time. Perhaps this is because the culture in which we live is basically saying, "Get going! Do something! Show you are able to make a difference! Don't just sit there and wait!" For many people, waiting is an awful desert between where they are and where they want to go. And people do not like such a place. They want to get out of it by doing something.

In our particular historical situation, waiting is even more difficult because we are so fearful. One of the most pervasive emotions in the atmosphere around us is fear. People are afraid - afraid of inner feelings, afraid of other people, and also afraid of the future. And fearful people have a hard time waiting.

- Henri Nouwen

Source: Daily Dig


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Palestine journal: Red hats and green helmets
by Bob Gross, Christian Peacemaker Teams

When I left the apartment this morning to walk up to the market for some groceries, I had not gone far when I realized that I was not wearing my red Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) hat. Knowing that it is an important identifying symbol for us and our work, I returned to get it before going on.

I'm glad I did. Walking out through the Beit Romano checkpoint, a place where CPTers have been harassed and arrested in the past, I noticed soldiers detaining three Palestinian men for an ID check, so I waited and watched for a few minutes to make sure they would be allowed to go on their way. I noticed the soldiers noticing me, which is part of their job, after all.

After buying bananas and potatoes, I started for home. As I approached the checkpoint one of the soldiers I'd watched earlier spoke to me, "Your hat is very beautiful! May I buy one?" I stopped to talk. When I said that the hat was only for persons in our organization, he said, "That is why I would like to have it. I think CPT is doing very good work."

+ Read the rest of the story

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Municipalities get wired and raise telecom ire

Municipalities across the country are seeking to boost economic growth, and reduce the rich-poor digital divide, by wiring their towns for low-cost city-run Internet services. But cable and telecom companies have gone on the lobbying offensive to try to outlaw the practice - and have recently won a victory in Pennsylvania. "It's almost like Verizon is Big Brother," says one local official.

+ Read more


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States join trend to reform drug laws

The Christian Science Monitor reports that more and more states are changing the way they handle nonviolent drug offenders. New York's recent move to roll back its mandatory sentencing laws - the nation's oldest, and perceived by critics as some of the most draconian - is emblematic of efforts by nearly half of U.S. state governments to reduce sentences, favor treatment over hard time, address racial disparities, and give more power to judges. The trend has as much to do with making the punishment fit the crime as it is a realistic response to prison overcrowding. Even conservatives who've tended to favor harsher penalties are being won over by pragmatic arguments. The Monitor quotes Paul Rosenzweig of the Heritage Foundation as saying, "I don't see people abandoning the deterrent, but trimming, assessing, and figuring out whether the marginal value of an additional three years in jail is worth it, or whether that money could be spent in more cost-effective ways."

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Readers write

Ami Ghazala writes from Staten Island, New York:

Your SojoMail is always inspiring to all faiths. I am an American Muslim and I love your email-zine. David Batstone says, "Maybe the toughest challenge of living in a democracy is to respect the freedom of other people to live according to values that are not your own. Real freedom, however, does not thrive in a moral vacuum (the ardent secularist) or a moral straightjacket (the ardent theocratic). What does my ideal of democracy look like? I can sum it up in a single sentence: A person arrives at faith freely, practices it openly, and uses dialogue with others about their own life path to deepen their understanding" ["Don't put a restraining order on God," SojoMail 12/8/2004]. Thank you for promoting tolerance.


Patti Batchelder writes:

David Batstone has made many good points in his column, but his statement, "Real freedom, however, does not thrive in a moral vacuum (the ardent secularist)..." is completely off the mark. Secularism does not imply a "moral vacuum" - it only means that one's morals are not derived from a religious organization. Most people who have thought about the human condition enough to decide that they are secular humanists have moral standards that they take very seriously, standards derived from their ideas about justice, compassion, and how people should treat each other in order to make the world a better place.


Randy Gabrielse writes from Ames, Iowa:

Throughout the run-up to the recent election I grew increasingly concerned with the stridency and implicit partisanship of Sojourners' attacks on the Bush administration, even though Sojourners was usually on the same side of the issues that I was. Since the election, though, I have been very pleased at David Batstone's pieces that emphasize, more than any other articles I have seen, that Christians need to be able to speak with each other across ideological and theological divides and ought to defend each others' opportunities to speak. Such open dialogue is absolutely necessary if Christians are to speak with any reasonably independent voices on the political issues that shape our nation and ourselves.


Cathy Lester writes from Grayling, Michigan:

I was disappointed that David Batstone has bought the propaganda over the banned material. Several people who have looked into the allegations have pointed out that the lawsuit Stevens brought said that the school had "Banned teaching the Declaration of Independence." Not so. The superintendent only told Stevens to refrain from the supplements he was handing out, which are of a fundamentalist, highly slanted nature. For a LOT more information on the background of this issue, and the Christian Parents organization that's organizing the lawsuit in order to grab media attention, look at


Sayrah Namaste writes from East Lansing, Michigan:

I learned of the controversy over the UCC ad through Sojourners. I went to their Web site to watch it. There is nothing offensive there. If you hadn't explained what the two parts seen as offensive are, I would have been really puzzled as to what was too racy to air.

As a mother, I shield my children from offensive commercials constantly - there are so many that demean women, or promote television programs that are about disturbing violent crimes, and so on. I would hope that the same companies who believe the UCC ad is controversial would pull all of the commercials about violent crime shows and beer commercials of half-naked women as well.


David Loar writes from Akron, Ohio:

I am a minister in the UCC. I have been an activist for social justice for 40 years and grew up in a UCC parsonage where my father and our family paid some price for my father's statements and actions on civil rights, peace, and civil liberities. My own ministry has been shaped in the same vein. In fact, it was due to that generation of UCC leadership of the '60s and early '70s that led me to the ministry.

However, the UCC ad does not speak for me. First, I know not all UCC local congregations are welcoming of the symbolic folks in the ad. Many are, but many are not - even though our national pronouncements and actions, our regional pronouncements and actions, and numerous local church pronouncements and actions are reflected in the ad. I fear some folks who see the ad will attend those churches that do not reflect those national, and to some degree, wider UCC values. They will legitimately question the message of the ad, which in its way negates our congregational polity.


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views that do not necessarily represent those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Include your name, hometown, and state/province/country in a concise e-mail to: We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.


by Charles Dickinson

If Christianity - without losing its soul - is yet to avoid losing touch with the world, it must constantly update itself by dialogue with all the intellectual currents of today. To this end, the author proposes a necessary two-way dialectic between theology and the world, an ongoing dialectic ultimately essential to both church and world. $25 hardcover. To order call (313) 624-9784. Dove Booksellers, 13904 Michigan Avenue, Dearborn, Michigan, 48126.

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