The Common Good

A Thanksgiving Reflection

Sojomail - November 21, 2007


We should show the world that Iranians are peace-seekers and want to live in peace not war.

- Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, calling on her country to suspend nuclear activities and avoid "the drumbeat of war." (Source: Reuters)

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We Are All Blessed

What are you thankful for? It's a question often asked this Thanksgiving holiday season. Some think it's a little sappy, but I actually believe it's a very good question. And answering it is a good reminder of what's really important. Many of us are too often focused on what we'd like to change or be different, instead of remembering and being grateful for the blessings we already have in our lives.

So, what am I thankful for? I have been feeling very blessed these days. Joy and I are celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary this year and I can honestly say that these 10 years have been the very best of my life. To have a partner who really makes you better and who helps you keep your feet on the ground is a real blessing, as is a relationship where you can both love and admire the other while helping to keep each other very human all at the same time. And Joy is the kind of person who also makes sure that you have fun! For a serious activist type like me, that is a blessing indeed.

And then there are those two boys of ours. Luke is now nine and Jack is four. I was raised in a big and close family. But for many years, my own life was consumed with mission, community, and action. But along came Joy, and then a family that has become, literally, the anchor of my life. I used to say that my work was good, but now my life is good too.

I build my travel schedule now around Little League baseball, in which I get to coach 14 nine-year-olds, whom I've had for four years. My first coaching instructions back then were things like "throw it overhand," but our kids have become a good little team and just finished another undefeated season! Our "sports Saturdays" are the best day of the week for our family - starting with soccer in the morning, finishing with baseball in the afternoon. Our team goals are three: learn to love the game of baseball, learn how to be good teammates, and have fun. Luke just loves baseball (as does his English mom), and it was very special indeed when we got to share the experience of going to this fall's World Series opener at historic Fenway Park in Boston—a dad/son moment we'll remember for the rest of our lives. Jack, who also loves going to the games and running around with all his little friends, has already started soccer himself, and will be ready to start Little League T-ball next spring. He came up to me recently and asked, "Dad, are you going to coach my team too?" What could I say? I'll be coaching two teams next spring.

Both Luke and Jack love school, and we're very lucky to have found a great public school for them to go to. Luke has joined the school spelling bee and, unlike his dad, is also good at math. Jack is just itching to read, has quite an imagination, and is learning language and vocabulary at such a pace that makes both his parents smile as he puts words together in often very funny ways. Their ever-increasing activities fill our lives with all sorts of things that we otherwise might have never known, which we both know is an amazing (if sometimes exhausting!) blessing. There is the school safety patrol, piano lessons, a weekly drama workshop called the Shakespeare Club, along with baseball, soccer, basketball, and tennis. But most importantly, they are both very happy and healthy boys - and that is the best blessing of all.

Joy calls our collection of families from school, soccer, and baseball "the village" and, in many ways, she has become "the village priest" in her relationship to many of those people. She really enjoys being so involved in the boy's school, and even loves to run the school auction, shamelessly getting all our friends to donate stuff (the most recent example was getting Bono to autograph two school T-shirts when he was in town a few weeks ago). She did a wonderful commencement address this year at Goshen College in Indiana and inspired the eager young graduates to make their lives really count for something. I am very blessed to have a wife and partner with whom to share a common vision of faith and justice, and an even deeper understanding of the things that make life so rich, human, and good—an ongoing conversation that is usually shared over a glass of wine at night. And if my priest wife is ever to go back to pastoring a church again, it would likely have to be called "grace" church, because she has the deepest theology of grace of anybody I know—a gift that comes in very handy with a husband like me who regularly needs the blessing of grace.

For many years, we at Sojourners continued on with the vision and work that we had been given three decades ago. But in the last few years, it has all broken through in ways we hadn't imagined before, and that has brought many blessings too. It seems the time is right and ripe for the message that connects spiritual renewal and social change. But we now have a new term on the staff that we call "outrageous opportunities," used as an internal reminder not to be overwhelmed by all the wonderful invitations and open doors we are presented with almost every day. Those "blessings" could well burn us out unless we learn how to be good stewards of all the new opportunities coming our way. Those blessings are now an invitation to prayerfully discern our best vocation and role, which is far better than just succumbing to the temptation of just doing more and more important things.

But as Thomas Merton once said, "In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything." And for me, the greatest blessings are clearly to be "a family" with Joy, Luke, and Jack; to have some of the best friends and companions on this journey that anyone could be blessed to have; to enjoy an extended family of brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, who still are very conscious of the legacy of love that our now departed parents left us all (my dad passing this past year); and to regularly meet people on the road who, even if just meeting them for the first time, express such a deep solidarity and kindred spirit with us in this emerging movement that marries faith and justice—especially a new generation, which gives me such hope.

So as they say in the black churches, "I'm blessed." I would humbly suggest that that you make a list of your blessings this Thanksgiving weekend, or write a little reflection like this about the ways that you too are blessed. Take a breath, or a walk, or a moment or two, and say a prayer to the God of love and grace who wants to fill our lives and our world with such rich blessings. As Joy and I have talked recently about our many blessings, we are very aware that we, our family, and our friends may well face some tough issues and painful challenges in the years ahead. But even in the face of those human realities, it's always best to begin by first remembering all the ways that we are blessed. So Happy Thanksgiving, and let us all count our blessings.

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Thank the Lord and Pass the Patriotism? (by Obery Hendricks)

In many pulpits during this Thanksgiving season, love of our country and pride in our citizenship will be pronounced in the same breath - and often with the same intensity - as declarations of love for our God. But we must be careful, for patriotism can be destructive as well as constructive. Worse, it can become idolatrous.

I Got Mugged (by Ryan Rodrick Beiler)

Two months ago, for the first time in my eight years living in Washington, D.C., I was mugged. Two young men rolled up in a pickup truck while I was unloading groceries from my car in the alley next to my condo building. They made me lie on the ground, held a gun to my neck as they took my money, and then locked me in the trunk of my car as they made their getaway.

Video: SOA Protest Perspectives

Video production by Kaitlin Hasseler, Sojourners media assistant, and Matt Hildreth, Sojourners web assistant.

Testimonies of Terror (by Anna Almendrala)

While volunteering in a legal clinic in my sophomore year of college, interviewing people applying for political asylum in the U.S., I heard a lot of people describe how they had had to leave everything behind and flee into the jungle, carrying children on their backs. I interviewed lots of people and read the personal statements of cases already filed, and all the stories were sickeningly similar. The basic skeleton of their stories was this: one day, a group of "communist/insurgent/fill in the blank" guerillas passed by my village begging for food. A few weeks later, a military group from the national army stormed the community, accusing us of being part of a rebellion. After enduring the military's accusations/threats/rapes/beatings/murder attempts, we survivors melted into the surrounding mountains and jungles. We walked for weeks, living like fugitives in foreign countries until we finally collapsed within the border of California.

An SOA Protest Pilgrimage (by Allison Johnson)

In the spirit of tradition and solidarity, the Sojourners interns once again traveled to the annual SOA Watch protest and vigil this past weekend to close the U.S. Army School of the Americas. Officially named the "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation", the school provides combat training for Latin American soldiers at Ft. Benning in Columbus, Georgia. Graduates of the school have committed atrocities against their own people in countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, and others. This year, more than 25,000 people made the trek to the gates of the SOA/WHISC to call for the complete closure of the school and an end to the repressive policies it embodies.

Canned Compassion (by Jim Wallis)

Thanksgiving is the time of year when American generosity is clearly visible. We make donations to our local food banks and homeless shelters and volunteer in soup kitchens. But do we really believe that is the solution to hunger? Mark Winne, former director of Connecticut's Hartford Food System, answered the question in yesterday's Washington Post. In a piece titled "Canned Compassion," he describes how what was originally intended as a temporary way of dealing with emergencies has become a multi-billion dollar industry, and how that shows the limits of charity and the importance of justice.

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Here's the good news about Darfur: we know it is doable to force the regime in Khartoum to back away from its genocidal divide-and-conquer strategies. We know this because the U.S. helped do it once already: it led international pressure that forced Khartoum to a peace accord and power-sharing agreement with southern Sudan in 2005. If we want to preserve the peace in the south, stop the genocide in Darfur, and prevent Genocide Round Three from happening in Sudan's eastern Beja region, we need to remember the lessons of the last seven years.

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A reader asked about my post yesterday: "You say that your opposition is close to making Christian ministry illegal. Would you care to elaborate on this? What sorts of ministries are being made illegal? Where is this being done? What laws are being passed that would hinder ministry?" The best example is the law recently passed in Oklahoma which makes it a " felony for U.S. citizens to knowingly provide shelter, transportation, or employment to illegal immigrants." If a person comes to the door of a church-run homeless shelter, saying he is illegal and needs a place to sleep, it is a felony to offer him a bed. And churches in Oklahoma across the board have spoken against this new law.

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A recent post on CT's Liveblog reminded me of a thread I've been wanting to sound off on since Tony Campolo defended the concept of Red Letter Christians. Ted Olson describes how theologian J.P. Moreland challenged the Evangelical Theological Society with a session called: "How Evangelicals Became Over-Committed to the Bible and What Can Be Done About It." (Am I the only one that's surprised he wasn't burnt at the evangelical stake for the title alone?)


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