The Common Good

Lenten Reflection: 'Humility is Difficult'

Sojomail - April 6, 2006

Quote of the Week : Should Christian Peacemaker Teams stay in Iraq?
Hearts & Minds : Lenten reflection: 'Humility is difficult'
Faith in Action : April 10 is the National Day of Action on Immigration Reform!
Iraq Journal : An ordinary man who listened
Building a Movement : National Week of Prayer and Action for Darfur
Culture Watch : 'Why We Fight'
Religion and Society : Child witches and the church
Sojourners in the News : This week's media roundup
Boomerang : Readers write
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Should Christian Peacemaker Teams stay in Iraq?

"I would feel bad if something happened to you, but I would be angry if you disappear. If you care for us just in the good times, I will forget you. If you take care of us in the bad times, I will remember you. You die when you do nothing, but live when you do something. Everyone dies, but not everyone lives."

- An Iraqi Christian leader responding to CPT's question as to whether members should leave because their presence might make it unsafe for other Christians.

Source: CPT

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Lenten reflection: 'Humility is difficult'
by Jim Wallis

We all know Lent is meant to be a time of reflection, deepening, and preparation for Easter. Lent is also a call to repentance and, especially, humility. With Lent's beginning on Ash Wednesday, we impose (I love that word) ashes as a very physical, visual, and tangible act of repentance and humility - a mark and act of commitment, not merely a rote ritual.

Some members of our staff have suggested to me that the events of recent weeks and months call us to humility. But humility is a difficult virtue for those who are called to a prophetic vocation - people like us.

Humility is difficult for people who think they are, or want to be, "radical Christians."

Humility is difficult when you're always calling other people - the church, the nation, and the world - to stop doing the things you think are wrong and start doing the things you think are right.

Humility is difficult for the bearers of radical messages.

When we're always calling other people to repent and change, it's not always easy to hear that message for ourselves.

I want to suggest that there is a real and very deep tension between humility and the prophetic vocation. And most prophetic Christians I have known - present company and preacher included - are really not very good at humility.

You see we are always making judgments of others - church leaders, political leaders, majority cultures - but are not often good at applying the judgment to ourselves. Even when the prophetic judgments we are making are necessary, they seldom lead us to humility. After all, we are the ones who know how other people are supposed to change. We are the ones with the answers. We are the ones who are doing it right.

How do we preach like Amos - "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty river!" - without becoming self-righteous ourselves? I think that is very difficult. Perhaps Micah had it right: "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"

And we are especially prone to turn our righteous judgments on each other, at those close at hand, even within our own community - and that can be especially destructive. When that happens, if the truth be told, radical Christian communities are not always pleasant places to be.

When the prophetic indignation we offer daily to the world is turned toward those who happen to be in judging, glaring, or shouting distance of us when we decide they too have fallen short of our ideals - look out!

And let me be human and honest enough to say that leaders in church, state, and certainly faith-inspired organizations should always be held accountable, but being a leader in a prophetic Christian community is often a very hard place to be. Just look at the qualities necessary for the prophetic vocation: The capacity to speak clearly, strongly, boldly, decisively, distinctively, and of course, visibly. I would say, from my experience, that none of those qualities lead directly to humility.

Likewise, the call to be and offer an alternative reality, community, vision, lifestyle, etc., requires an energy and confidence that, again, is not necessarily prone to humility.

So what can save us radical Christians? The same thing that saves everybody else: the grace of God.

I've found myself remembering an old article prompted by a time in the life of Sojourners when these issues were very much at play. It was an article I felt quite convicted to write as a correction to ourselves, to myself, to the prophetic vocation we had chosen. I remember I stayed home from a prophetic anti-nuclear action that many of us were undertaking because I felt the need to think and write instead. It's from May of 1979. It's pretty faded now, but I think it might be relevant to us today:

"Sojourners has written much and often about the abuse and cheapening of grace. In many ways, it is the place where we began. That concern still stands; cheap grace continues to be the greatest affliction of the churches.

"Radical Christians, however, face another problem. It is the tendency to seek justification in our lifestyle, our work, our protest, our causes, our movements, our actions, our prophetic identity, and our radical self-image. It becomes an easy temptation to place our security in the things we stand for and in the things we do, instead of in what God has done. It is a temptation to depend on things other than God's grace.

"'For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest [anyone] should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).' Grace is the logic of a loving God. There is nothing we can do to earn it, win it, or deserve it. Grace is simply a gift, not a reward. We can receive it only by faith, not through good works.

"Grace saves the prophetic vocation. The knowledge and experience of grace can ease the seriousness with which we tend to take ourselves. Grace can restore our humility, our sense of humor, and our ability to laugh at ourselves. All are regularly needed by prophets.

"To trust grace is to know that the world has already been saved by Jesus Christ. It is to know that we cannot save the world any more than we can save ourselves. All our work is done only in response to Christ's work. To receive the gift of grace is to let go of self-sufficiency and to act out of a spirit of gratitude.

"Radical Christians must pursue more than a successful strategy; we must seek a deeper faith. Only then will we have the assurance of salvation, not because of what we have accomplished, but because we have allowed God's grace and mercy to flow through our lives."

This article was adapted from Jim Wallis' reflections at Sojourners' Ash Wednesday service March 1, 2006.

+ Read the full text of "Idols Closer to Home" from the May 1979 issue of Sojourners.

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SERVING GOD IN THE WORKPLACE: People Making a Difference

Sojourners: Be equipped and inspired to take your Christian faith to work. Are you an employee, pastor, craftsperson, manager, entrepreneur, or professional Monday through Saturday? Do you seek to bring your ethics and spirituality into your work in the factory, boardroom, film studio, hospital, nonprofit, home, or school? Meet role models and colleagues seeking to do the same. Join us for the 14th annual International Consultation of the Coalition for Ministry in Daily Life (CMDL), April 21-23, 2006, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA. Register by April 13: $169 ($129 before 3/21/06).


April 10 is the National Day of Action on Immigration Reform!

Join us at 4 p.m. at the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., to support comprehensive immigration reform.

For more information on the D.C. rally, see these flyers, available in English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese, as well as these sites: and

+ Click here for a list of events across the country.

The event is being sponsored by the New American Opportunity Campaign, The Council of Latino Agencies, the National Capitol Immigration Coalition, and the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, a project of the Center for Community Change.

In a letter released by World Relief, more than 50 evangelical Christian leaders and organizations voiced their support for an immigration bill that would allow illegal immigrants to become U.S. citizens without returning to their native countries. "This is the watershed movement - it's the moment where either we really forge relationships with the white evangelical church that will last for decades, or there is a possibility of a definitive schism here," said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

+ See the text of the letter and list of signers.

Speak out for compassion, not criminalization, in immigration reform! Sojourners' action alert has been updated:

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The U.S. spent a staggering $783 billion in 2005 on the military.

As a result, 42 cents out of every dollar you're paying in taxes this year is going to the military. Find out more.

Write your members of Congress. Tell them that next year's budget should put more money into health care, diplomacy, and efforts to peacefully prevent deadly conflicts.

Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers) *


An ordinary man who listened
by Pearl Hoover

A lot has been said and written about Tom Fox these days - how exceptional he was, how he is the example of peacemaking for our time. Tom, as I have known him, would be the first to deny it. He was not exceptional; he was an ordinary man - setting out vegetables on grocery racks, playing the clarinet for a livelihood, walking on the rooftop in Iraq for exercise, proudly telling about his children's accomplishments.

What is exceptional is that he listened to God. When Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer," Tom listened. When Jesus said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," Tom took him seriously. This is nothing more than is asked of any of us when we gather for worship. It is no more exceptional than is true for any of us who claim Jesus as our Savior and Guide.

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Brian McLaren, one of TIME magazine's "25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America," is back. His latest work, The Secret Message of Jesus, leads readers on a journey as ground-shaking as it is life-changing. The quest: Find the essential message of Jesus' life - even if it overturns conventional ideas, priorities, and practices.

"Through the years, I have frequently had an uncomfortable feeling," writes McLaren, "that the portrait of Jesus I found in the New Testament didn't fit with the images of Jesus in the church." Out of that nagging discomfort arose McLaren's most revolutionary book to date.


National Week of Prayer and Action for Darfur

Our good friends at the Save Darfur Coalition ( are making a special appeal to the faith community throughout America this week, asking that houses of worship participate in the Week of Prayer and Action for Darfur. Since 2003, an estimated 400,000 people have died, 2.5 million have been displaced, and 3.5 million risk starvation. We must act now in order to protect lives and restore security. The Save Darfur Coalition asks that you lead your faith community in taking action between April 2 and 9, 2006. We encourage you to incorporate an education and action component into your regular worship service, prayers, or other spiritual gathering.

+ Click here to take action!

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For travelers on this path of faith in modern times, Road to Emmaus is a most worthy companion. An international journal of contemporary Orthodox Christianity, Road to Emmaus is a passport to a world of insight on topics of perennial interest - spirituality, art, family life, politics, monasticism, ethics, and history.

"Thoughtful, insightful, and interesting." - Frederica Mathewes-Green, author, Facing East

"What a splendid journal! A gift not only to Orthodoxy but to all who wish to return fully to true worship of and true belief in the living God." - Dr. H. Tristram Engelhardt Jr., author, Foundations of Christian Bioethics


Why We Fight
by Steve Carpenter

I traveled two hours from Harrisonburg, Virginia, to an artsy filmhouse in Washington, D.C., to see Why We Fight. It was well worth the drive. Written and directed by Eugene Jarecki, this documentary - rated PG-13 for graphic images of war and death - explores the complex reasons America uses military force. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2005 Sundance Film festival.

Unlike Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore's highly editorialized and inflammatory film, Why We Fight is "not about one president or one party," says Charles Lewis, founder of the Center for Public Integrity, in the film. It takes a balanced approach, questioning the use of military power by both present and past administrations. In the end the viewers are left to draw their own conclusions. Nonetheless, the message is clear that in recent years America has been driven to war by its business interests. The cry for war is less about freedom and more about free markets, less about extending democracy and more about expanding capitalism, less about liberating people and more about securing the free flow of oil.

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Earth Day, April 22

With issues such as global warming receiving increasing attention, Christians need to become educated and active on environmental issues more than ever. Consider using these popular Sojourners resources:

Holy Ground: A Resource on Faith and the Environment is a 68-page, four-session study guide exploring environmental racism, eco-feminism, and population explosion. $5 plus shipping and handling.

"Down to Earth Theology" is a special back issue of Sojourners that focuses on the environment, featuring several articles on faith and the environment. 52 pages; $2 plus shipping and handling.

Christians and the Environment is a four-session, 21-page discussion guide available electronically. Download it for $4.95!


Child witches and the church
by Luis Enrique Bazan

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is common to find people who believe that among children, disruptive behavior, changes during puberty, and epilepsy are signs of witchcraft. This belief is strengthened by revivalist churches who confirm or "discover" these signs of witchcraft.

Many consider revivalist church pastors to be experts at recognizing child witches. Therefore, a significant number of families turn to revivalist churches to resolve a witchcraft problem because historical churches - the Catholic Church, for example - do not recognize witchcraft. But many religious and magical movements, whether Catholic, Pentecostal, African, or fetishist, use this belief to profit financially, and nearly all of those practicing exorcism do so for the purposes of financial gain.

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This week's media roundup

Top stories:

Theologians who can span the divide Dallas Morning News
Jim Wallis: More than any other name, people mentioned the Rev. Jim Wallis as the next Niebuhr. The liberal evangelical's book, God's Politics, shows how the religious right doesn't own evangelical Protestantism, much less American Christianity.

Fault Lines Widen Between Evangelicals and the GOP The Seattle Times
The fractures between some leading evangelicals and the Republican Party occur in a context of reawakening of what some call the Religious Left. Mainline Protestants, liberal Catholics, Reform Jews, progressive Muslims and Unitarian Universalists came alive politically in opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and further mobilized in the 2004 electoral campaign. The best-selling books of Jim Wallis ("God's Politics") and Michael Lerner ("The Left Hand of God") show that religious progressive voices have a sizable, national following.

Other stories:

Religious Conservatives Gather to Discuss 'War Against Christians' ABC News

War, what is it good for?

Immigration Exposes Rifts For Evangelicals Wall Street Journal

Jim Wallis Speaks in Columbus Columbus Free Press

What’s Really Scary About The “New Religious Right” and Their Politics Columbus Free Press

Out of the wilderness The Albert Lea Tribune

Fighting An 'Unholy Alliance' Hartford Courant

Military expert says peacemakers didn’t imperil soldiers Ekklesia

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What Is Good Congregational Governance? Find out more about this upcoming Alban Institute seminar led by consultant Dan Hotchkiss on our Web site: You can also sign up for our Alban Weekly e-mail newsletter.

Follow Jesus: Teach service, peacemaking: Gather 'Round Sunday school curriculum nurtures children, youth, and parents in becoming followers of Jesus. The Talkabout and parent's guide help parents talk about faith with children at home.

Engage your congregation in the pursuit of social, political, and economic justice, along with community faith-building, through congregation-based organizing. Christians Supporting Community Organizing.

Online Lenten devotions. During this Lenten season, join Goshen College students, faculty, and staff for reflections, personal stories, poetry, and prayers. To access the weekday devotions online or sign up to receive them in your inbox, go to:

Sisters Online is a collaborative ministry of women religious committed to global kinship, a Web site focusing on spirituality and justice, seeking to be voices for right relationships, and agents of economic/social change.

Challenging. Provocative. Thoughtful. Your new source for studies about current events, Bible, theology, movies, literature, spirituality, and Christian living. The Thoughtful Christian: Faithful living in a complex world.


Readers write

David Carroll writes from Wilmington, North Carolina:

They say that satire is one of the most effective means of lampooning the absurdity of an opposing position. While laughing nearly to tears over Sojomail's April Fools mailing [SojokeMail 4/1/2006], I could not help but think how effectively you were able to portray the "Christian Right" while providing a self-effacing, charming poke at your own positions. I could not help but think how effectively this special edition provides a platform for such an endeavor, particularly to a younger audience. In an era where the younger generations get their "news" from such sources as The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Real Time with Bill Maher, a healthy dose of humor provides a most effective means of imparting healthy nuggets of real information cloaked in layers of lampoon.

As a non-Christian who strongly supports the work of Jim Wallis and Sojourners, I see an opportunity to bring your message to both a faithful and non-faithful young audience through a weekly "Onion" version of SojoMail. Nothing spreads quicker than Internet humor (I've cut and pasted the entire edition on my blog, which will spread like wildfire through friends and readers). What an effective means of spreading the message of Sojourners while likewise demonstrating your God-given sense of humor.


Chaplain Mary Dobbs writes from Boulder, Colorado:

I can understand your need for humor, but satire and sarcasm? Someone once said the definition of sarcasm was "tearing of the flesh." These articles sounded mean-spirited and passive aggressive. Are we showing our true colors? I don't remember Jesus using satire, just the opposite. It's important to have fun - but at someone else's expense?


Elaine Chan writes from Oakland, California:

Thanks to David Batstone for putting into words the mixed feelings my spouse and I had on the "Battle Cry" gathering ["Battle for a wholesome generation?" SojoMail 3/29/2006]. I'm glad that these young people were affirming an alternative to the lowest-common-denominator overly sexualized mass media content, and sad and frustrated that the message gets needlessly lost in the church's fixation on the gay marriage debate. If we were as concerned about cleaning up heterosexual sins maybe we'd have a bit more credibility. And besides, as a parent, I'd rather my daughters took their fashion cues from Melissa Etheridge over, say, Britney Spears.

I know lesbian parents who would agree that the mass media aims far too many unhealthy and inappropriate images of sexually suggestive clothing and entertainment toward an increasingly younger audience. Just imagine if evangelicals and gay/lesbian parents got together on this issue - I'm sure the media moguls would have to take notice.


Mark Douglass writes from Portland, Oregon:

Thank you for a good reflection on commercial culture and Battle Cry for a Generation. I just wanted to alert you to one secular organization that is taking on commercial values and seeking to raise a generation savvy to the siren song of advertising and pop culture. Commercial Alert ( has as its mission preventing commercial culture "from exploiting children and subverting the higher values of family, community, environmental integrity and democracy." They've been quietly going about their work for a number of years, helping to put a rein on commercial culture in the classroom, doctor's office, and other public institutions. Though they're not a Christian organization, they clearly represent values that lift up the ninth and 10th commandments, as well as Jesus' teaching not to cause one of these "little ones" to stumble. I commend them and their work to your readers.


Rev. Michael Redmond writes from Newcastle, Texas:

Mr. Thorne, [Boomerang 3/29/2006] as a pastor, I issue an altar call each Sunday to invite anyone attending church that Sunday to meet Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. But that is only part of the gospel. Jesus' own teachings said that everything else hangs on loving God and loving neighbor. Paul basically says that you show that you love God by loving your neighbor. Receiving the gracious gift of salvation in Jesus Christ is only the first step. After that we are commanded to follow Jesus by being willing to die to ourselves and live for others.

A key part of being a Christian is sacrificing what I have to give to those who are without - food, clothing, housing, etc. Mr. Wallis' "new altar call" does not in any way "belittle" the gospel ["The Religious Right is Losing Control," SojoMail 3/22/2006]. It speaks to those good works we are meant to do in Christ Jesus, as God's workmanship, that God has prepared for us in advance (Ephesians 2:10). This is hardly an "impotent" altar call. It is one empowered by the death and resurrection of Jesus.


Dave Hockman-Wert writes from Corvallis, Oregon:

Were the CPTers in Iraq "released" or "rescued"? Rev. Keizer finds the word "released" to be "political" and "not accurate" [Boomerang 3/29/2006]. But is the term "rescued" any less political or any more accurate? The accounts I have read indicated that no one except the CPTers were present when coalition troops arrived. Does this constitute a "rescue"? Using this term gives the impression that the military is still necessary to protect and save everyone, including peacemakers, from "evildoers." "Rescued" or "released"? In the end, it doesn't matter. I'm just glad they're free and safe now.


Want to make your voice heard? Click here to respond to SojoMail articles. Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views, though we reserve the right to edit published responses for length and clarity.

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