The Common Good

Still Bowling Alone?

Sojomail - September 14, 2005

SPECIAL ISSUE: Still Bowling Alone? 09.14.2005


»Click here to read and sign the Katrina Pledge today.

Thousands of you have taken the Katrina Pledge. Next week, we'll let Congress know of your commitment to go beyond immediate relief and address real social change. The pledge and information about our work to overcome poverty will accompany a letter from Jim Wallis to every senator and representative about what this time of disaster requires of political leaders. Your commitment and action is part of our message to Congress: "Sometimes it takes a natural disaster to reveal a social disaster. America needs you to stand up against budget cuts and tax cuts, commit to helping the victims, and to support the common good now and in the future."

The Katrina Pledge: A commitment to build a new America
Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute (Proverbs 31:8).

As a person of faith, I believe the poverty we have witnessed on the rooftops of New Orleans and the devastated communities of the Gulf Coast is morally unacceptable. Therefore, I join my fellow Americans across the barriers of race, religion, class, and politics in the following commitments:

1. I pledge to be personally involved in helping those whose lives have been affected by this natural disaster.

2. I pledge to work for sweeping change of our nation's priorities.

»Click here to read and sign the Katrina Pledge

»Tell a friend about the Katrina Pledge


Still bowling alone?
by Yonce Shelton

Today I am thinking about 9/11 in the context of Hurricane Katrina. Two different types of disasters, and, so far, two different types of responses from our nation's leadership. As always, the American public has stepped up with generosity. But our top leadership has struggled. So the tragedy presents the opportunity to reflect on us: as a nation, and as people of God.

In 2000, in his widely noted book Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam argued that civil society was breaking down as Americans became more disconnected from their families, neighbors, communities, and the republic itself. The organizations that gave life to democracy were fraying. Years ago, he wrote, thousands of people belonged to bowling leagues. Today, however, they're more likely to bowl alone.

This week, just after Hurricane Katrina, I was reminded of Putnam's thesis when The New Republic magazine arrived with a cover article titled "American Idle: Four Years after 9-11, We're Still Bowling Alone" (Sept. 12, 2005).

We have become so focused on the individual that we have forgotten the importance of community for the future of our country. It's a concern that cries out for spiritual and theological reflection. The negative impacts of individualism affect all of society - even though that fact may be lost on many. As people of faith who cherish the community of believers - as well as the greater common good - we are charged with wrestling with the decline of community, especially in times of national challenge.

The New Republic

article lifts up the pattern of civic vigor that was sustained during World War II and the Cold War, "conflicts that boosted everything from membership in voluntary associations to the fortunes of the civil rights movement." However, taking issue with a prevalent assumption about our post 9/11 unity, the article goes on to point out that "not only has everything not changed since September 11; nothing has.... [T]he post-September 11 mood that former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge dubbed 'the new normalcy' resembles nothing so much as the old normalcy."

+ Read the full sermon

Yonce Shelton is national coordinator and policy director of Call to Renewal.


What $100 billion will buy:

Federal assistance for Katrina victims*
One year's cost of repealing the estate tax**

*White House officials and congressional budget experts now assume that federal costs for the hurricane will exceed $100 billion, which itself is more than twice the entire annual federal budget for domestic security. Source: The New York Times

**The estimated cost of the GOP's proposed permanent repeal of the estate tax is $1 trillion over 10 years. Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities


In the Floods, Parties' Agendas Surface
by Jonathan Weisman and Amy Goldstein, The Washington Post

In Katrina's wake, church leaders urge Congress on federal budget, poverty concerns
Episcopal News Service

The Storm Next Time
by Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times

The great Katrina migration
by Peter Grier, The Christian Science Monitor

At Risk Before the Storm Struck
by January W. Payne, The Washington Post

Floodwaters Lift Poverty Debate Into Political Focus
by Ronald Brownstein, Los Angeles Times


As our nation grapples with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we offer these daily SojoMails with reflections on the deeper moral and spiritual issues, links to recommended news and commentaries, and on-the-ground stories of how people of faith are responding - and ways you can respond - to the immediate needs of survivors and to longer term issues of restoration and justice for the poor and marginalized communities that always suffer the most when tragedy strikes. We encourage you to share these messages with friends and family who share your concern for the well-being of our sisters and brothers in the Gulf Coast region.

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