The Common Good

Finding Common Ground

Sojomail - July 19, 2006

Quote of the Week : Protecting innocent lives
Batteries Not Included : Finding common ground at family reunions
Culture Watch : Is this creep-show catastrophe biblical?
Eco News : Justice like a restored watershed
Sojourners in the News : This week's media round-up
Boomerang : Readers write
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Protecting innocent lives

Israel's right to self-defense "does not exempt it from respecting the norms of international law, especially as regards the protection of civilian populations."

- Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican Secretary of State, in a July 14 statement decrying terrorist attacks as well as retaliation against a sovereign nation.

Source: Catholic World News

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Changing the Face of Hunger

As a member of Congress, Tony Hall was reluctant to wear his faith on his sleeve. But if he was to be true to his faith, he had to find a way to bring God into his political world.

He found his answer in Ethiopia. After visiting, he realized he would travel among the hungry and bring their needs to the attention of Washington.

In Changing the Face of Hunger Tony shares his travels and the issue of hunger worldwide. From the dark corners of a political prison in Romania to barren, famine-stricken Africa, people are suffering and we can help.


Finding common ground at family reunions
by David Batstone

Over the summer months many extended families gather for camping trips, beach holidays, or similar get-aways. The reunion can be a time for bonding and renewal of connection. It also can turn into an emotional train wreck.

SojoMail readers tend to be passionate about religion and politics. Funny enough, those are the very topics that can generate adversarial divisions at family gatherings. So for the sake of future family harmony and enjoyable vacations, I throw out a few reflections on reunion behavior.

I am writing fresh from my own extended family reunion - 19 members of my clan gathered on the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. It went much better than a family reunion at this very spot 25 years ago. We have all grown a lot.

Back then, I had just returned from two years overseas - one year working with homeless kids in Melbourne, Australia, and the other in theological seminary. Those experiences had carried me to new places in my understanding of faith and public action.

The "new" me did not line up well with the family traditions. My letters home to various family members while I was overseas suggested how much I was changing. But the reunion turned out to be the first time that we could be together to appreciate the divergence. I take at least 75% of the blame. I was young - still in my early 20s - and in the midst of establishing my own identity. So I was not looking to build bridges as earnestly as I was tossing missiles. I honed in on those areas where I had moved away from family's beliefs. The reunion turned into an intellectually-alive event, but it was not without its pain and turmoil. As the years have passed, my family has learned to graciously accept the breadth of religious faith and political practice that we bring to a reunion. Mind you, we have not grown more homogenous; quite the contrary. But we now enjoy being together. That's due in large part to our revised expectations of what a family must be. To start, we no longer aim to argue each other into our own likeness. At the fated reunion 25 years ago, the family wanted to draw the drifting son back into the fold. I was not just wrong; I was at risk of losing my bearing. Resisting the effort, I aimed at "enlightening" them to my conclusions. Today we spend more time talking about areas of common ground. How we got into the war in Iraq is not one of those topics. So we acknowledge the disagreement and move on. The abolition of human slavery in the 21st century draws 100% support in the family, so much discussion about causes and strategies for social change takes place.

It also helps to deliberate on activities more than beliefs. For instance, describing your experiences at the refugee relief center at your church does not raise swords like a diatribe on immigrant rights. Sharing your experiences, or experiences of people who have touched your life, invites open conversation. It could very well be that a family member might try to dispute your experience with a political argument. At that stage, I find it helpful to say, "Well, that is not what my experience is teaching me."

The same goes for religious diversity. To use an example: Do not get sucked into arguments about whether Christians should do yoga. If yoga is your thing, share how your practice brings physical and spiritual benefits to your life. By and large, it is hard to dismiss a personal witness. Even if a family member does that, be secure in the fact that it is your experience.

Shifting gears, family gatherings also can turn nasty when individual members feel like they have no say in the agenda for group activities. The conflict could have as much to do with long-standing power dynamics as it does present day frustration. Instead of trying to convince everyone to, say, go fishing in the lake for the afternoon, it is far better to allow for clusters of group interests. Common meals and events have their purpose, but so does a flexible agenda for a range of interests.

Perhaps I should dive a bit deeper here. All families create relationship patterns, some healthy and some not so healthy. Once we leave the family and make our own path in life, we find greater freedom to change destructive behaviors or move out of roles that felt imposed. When we go back for a reunion, it can be troubling to find yourself slipping back to that condition you thought you left far behind.

If that keeps happening to you - and makes your family reunions miserable - think creatively about how you can avoid old patterns. Make intentional choices how you engage with the family, and frame conversations in a way that fits you. You do not have to feel out of control.

We live a real paradox. We have a free hand to write the story of our lives. But the truth is we do not start writing on page one, chapter one. We begin writing in chapter 13.

Perhaps you hate those first 12 chapters, and try to write your story afresh as if the early chapters didn't matter. But you eventually discover that the story does not make sense. Some people spend their whole lives confused because they don't know what to do with those early chapters.

Family is, for good and bad, an inheritance. Reunions can be a time to make better sense of the larger story.

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Is this creep-show catastrophe biblical?
by Elizabeth Palmberg

At press time, more than 60 million copies have been sold of a mediocre yet extremely popular fiction that, under the cover of an improbable adventure plot, peddles an ideologically driven, wildly unbiblical theology.

I'm talking, of course, about the Left Behind series of books. (Da Vinci what? Never read it). Actually, while The Da Vinci Code is also reported to have sold 60 million copies, for Left Behind the 60 million is an umbrella figure covering Left Behind, its 11 sequels and three prequels, another series of 40 kids' books, and several more series of novels, plus associated audiobooks, graphic novels, devotionals, and, of course, the upcoming video game. So, while its reach may not be as wide as Dan Brown's, its fans are invested deeply enough to buy book after book.

Here, I've chosen to focus on the third film, Left Behind: World at War, because it was released in churches (the first two films had tanked at the box office). A reported 3,000 congregations, including a number of megachurches, elected to screen the film last October, often billing it as an evangelistic opportunity. But it's not an entirely gospel message that this film gave its viewers, churched and unchurched - and it's not just a spiritual kind of warfare that it urges upon the faithful.

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Demand President Bush sign stem cell legislation

Despite fierce opposition from the Religious Right, the Senate has passed the bipartisan Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act.

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Justice like a restored watershed
from Grist magazine

While other minds work to transform conflicts in the Middle East, researchers at The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in southern Israel tackle environmental issues in the area, according to Grist magazine. Roey Angel, a graduate student at Arava, told Grist it is, "a rather unique place where Palestinians, Israelis, and Jordanians - as well as North Americans and Europeans - study the environment, live together, and do joint research." Working across ecological and personal boundaries, Angel is part of a Palestinian-Israeli team restoring watersheds. "I'm a great believer in practical cooperation between people as a lever for peace," he said "so I'm always excited about joint projects in the Middle East."

+ read an interactive interview with Angel in Grist magazine

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This week's media round-up

Top stories:

Old-time religion The Boston Globe
... The new face of American evangelicalism is not confined to the mega-churches. It is also appearing among younger evangelicals, like the ones attracted to Jim Wallis's Call to Renewal movement; in smaller, more traditional congregations; and among evangelical student groups on secular college campuses. It is especially evident on many Christian college campuses, like Calvin College, which handed Bush such a rude surprise last year. In April of this year the vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and other prominent evangelical leaders, joined with more theologically liberal church figures and with Jewish and Catholic leaders to issue a strong public condemnation of torture based on shared religious principles. Though not naming names, the statement was clearly critical of the current administration's policies.

More stories:

CBS News: Religion Taking A Left Turn? CBS News

Democrats attempt to close the faith-gap with the GOP The Hill

Pentecost of Big Government American Spectator

Obama's Epiphany On Faith In Politics The Ledger (Florida)

Obama Works to Win Evangelicals Back for Democrats NPR

Religious Right, Left Find Political Guide in Bible The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles

Author examines religious right's 'hijacking' of Jesus Tidings

God’s Politics: Playing Tug Of War With Jesus The Purple Pew

15,000 Lutheran Youths Called to 'Clear Up Confusion About Faith' Christian Post

"Sojourners in the news" articles are the most recent news clippings that mention Sojourners/Call to Rewewal in any way - whether favorably or unfavorably. Though we provide the text on our site for your convenience, we do not necessarily endorse the views of these articles or their source publications.

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A RETREAT with British writer Margaret Silf, author of Inner Compass and Sacred Spaces, will be held at Kordes Retreat Center in Ferdinand, Indiana, Sept. 21-28, 2006. This retreat has been planned with special consideration for those working for peace and justice. Full description available at E-mail for registration or questions.

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Readers write

Dr. Clive Perrett writes from Chelmsford, U.K.:

Jim Wallis is right to criticise the "hammer habit" method of trying to resolve disputes ["America's Hammer Habit," SojoMail 7/12/06]. Yet even he puts forward the view that there is a "reasonable concern" with regard to Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. Why should it be acceptable, then, for the U.S., the U.K, Israel, or Russia to have nuclear weapons? Why is that not also a matter for concern? Growing up in the 1950s we were sold the theory of nuclear deterrence, meaning that the possession of such weapons would deter wars. According to that logic, if every country had such weapons there would be no war. Nobody seems to believe in "deterrence" any more, so would not the better option, the Christian option, be to get rid of all such doomsday weapons and spend the billions and billions that are wasted in this way on the alleviation of global poverty? Cannot those with the "hammer habit" grow up and create a peaceful world in which all people are fed? Who benefits from the present-day chaos? The big corporations, the banks, the arms manufacturers, that's who. All those people love wars for the profits they make out of destruction and suffering. Some of them even have the nerve to call themselves Christian. It is time to end this insanity.

Rodger James Sillars writes from Cleveland Heights, Ohio:

As I read Jim Wallis' words, I was struck by a personal need to seek repentance. Over the years I've acquiesced to the good of a war on poverty, a war on drugs, and perhaps other wars that escape me now. Certainly ending poverty and releasing victims of dependency are worthy goals, but I fear the war model is totally out of place in each case. Evil is very real throughout the world and we need to overcome it not by destruction, but through redemption. It is not wrong to name evil, but destroying it (or attempting to) only leads to more evils behind the first one. Creating more evil in our world is scarcely a worthy approach. Only when we understand the evil and seek pathways for it change through salvation and redemption can we truly serve Christ. Seeking redemption for others requires us to look to ourselves not in self-righteousness, but in humbleness and full confession that we too must seek our own redemption and salvation. Overcoming injustice is a shared process of opening ourselves and building common ground. Common ground on the rock of mutuality, not the sand of some quick fix. Thanks for the insight.

Rick Nowlin writes from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania:

The op-ed articles by Brent Castillo in The Wichita Eagle and Star Parker in The Dallas Morning News linked to in a recent SojoMail ["This week's media round-up," SojoMail 7/12/06] should give progressive evangelicals cause to reconsider how much to reach out to conservatives, because the articles make it clear that many major conservative figures simply won't respect ideological differences no matter how much we try to build bridges. Their game is and always has been the securing and maintaining of cultural authority, which contradicts the gospel in fundamental ways but is very appealing to people who have been conditioned to feel besieged. Put another way, hate still sells, even when to comes to religion.

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Following Aslan - A Book of Devotions for Children

Following Aslan - A Book of Devotions for Children guides young readers through the fantastic world of Narnia, clearly illustrating the many ways lessons from Narnia can be applied to everyday life. Thoughtfully written, yet simple and easy to understand, the book is a wonderful way to initiate discussions with children about their own spiritual beliefs and values. We wholeheartedly recommend Following Aslan for use in Sunday School classes, Vacation Bible Schools, book discussion groups, young-teen groups, and of course, for the reading pleasure of Christian families in their homes.

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