The Common Good

Faith is about Redemption: The Life of Ted Kennedy

Sojomail - September 3, 2009


These practices are not just morally reprehensible, but they’re bad for the economy. When unscrupulous employers break the law, they’re robbing families of money to put food on the table, they’re robbing communities of spending power, and they’re robbing governments of vital tax revenues.

- Annette Bernhardt, co-director of the National Employment Law Project and an author of a study showing that low-wage workers are routinely cheated out of overtime pay and workers' compensation, and are often paid less than the minimum wage. (Source: The New York Times)

+ Sign up to receive "Verse and Voice" - our daily quote and Bible verse e-mail

Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

Faith is about Redemption: The Life of Ted Kennedy

I have never really trusted those who are intolerant and condemning of other people’s shortcomings. It makes me suspect they are likely hiding their own. This weekend was full of the story of redemption for me, as the nation said its good-byes to Sen. Edward Kennedy.

I watched everything -- from the moving memorial service on Friday night to the amazing funeral Mass on Saturday, to the private burial that same evening, to much of the news coverage and comment on Sunday. The stories from Friday are worth listening to again, especially the touching tributes from Kennedy’s Republican adversaries who grew to respect and even love him, and the hilarious tales of sailing adventures. The Irish always say there should be lots of laughter at a good wake.

Get a free trial issue of Sojourners Get a free issue of Sojourners
But it was the funeral on Saturday morning that most moved me. I don’t know what I was expecting -- likely more speeches -- but not a traditional Catholic funeral liturgy, complete with the Holy Eucharist. Of course, what else should I have expected from such a Boston Catholic family? Here was the divine irony. At the funeral of the nation’s most liberal political leader of the last half-century, a watching nation was treated to a full Catholic Mass. And even more, the readings are what most struck me. When was the last time the whole country got to hear the 25th chapter of Matthew, with Jesus imploring us, “I was hungry ... I was thirsty ... I was a stranger ... I was naked ... I was sick ... I was in prison ... and you came to me.” And then the song of Mary: "He will put down the mighty from their thrones, exalt those of low degree, fill the hungry with good things, and send the rich empty away.” Ted and Vicki Kennedy carefully chose those readings for this solemn and special occasion, and the whole nation listened to them.

Then I watched the greatest collection of national political leaders in decades from both political parties -- 60 senators, countless congressional members, and four presidents -- hug each other in the passing of the peace. Then they came forward to receive the body and blood of Christ, as cellist Yo-Yo Ma accompanied Placido Domingo in Cesar Franck’s "Panis Angelicus." I started changing the channels then, just to see who was watching. CNN, MSNBC, FOX!, NBC, CBS, ABC, and FOX again! were all tuned in to the Mass. Who could have brought about such a thing -- a man with serious personal flaws who had experienced great pain in his life, who had been the greatest political lightning rod of his time, and who had, nonetheless, been the most successful senator both in forging a list of accomplishments like no other, and in bringing people together from both sides of the political aisle.

The Kennedy children's prayers followed for grandpa, Uncle Teddy, or just “Teddy” -- articulately summing up his life’s work and mission, and calling us to the same vision and values. As a father, the most emotional moment for me, and for many others, was when Ted Kennedy Jr. recounted a story about his dad helping him up a very icy hill with a sled, just after the 12-year-old's leg was amputated. “I know you can do it,” he tearfully recounted his father’s words. "There is nothing that you can't do. We're going to climb that hill together, even if it takes us all day.” I would ask each of you to read that very touching story right now, even before reading the rest of this piece.

Ted Kennedy’s now-grown son concluded, “He was not perfect; far from it. But my father believed in redemption and he never surrendered. Never stopped trying to right wrongs, be they the results of his own failings or of ours.” Doris Kearns Goodwin quoted Hemingway in saying “Everyone is broken by life. But afterward, many are strong in the broken places.” And she said of Ted Kennedy, “he had absorbed his broken places.” A letter was read at the private burial service at the end of the day, back at Arlington, that the dying Ted Kennedy had asked President Obama to give to Pope Benedict when the president visited the Holy Father earlier this spring. In the letter, Kennedy humbly asked the pope to pray for him as his health was declining and he was preparing for “the next passage of life.” It read, “I know that I have been an imperfect human being, but with the help of my faith I have tried to right my path.”

President Obama’s remarks at the funeral were almost pastoral in their tone, and one could feel the emotion he was feeling for himself and the whole country as he spoke of the loss we had suffered and the qualities of the senator, the father, the husband, the family rock, the colleague, and the friend that we would all now so sorely miss. He spoke both of the long list of public accomplishments that will likely gain Ted Kennedy recognition as the greatest senator in American history, but also, again, of the human weaknesses of the man, and how his beloved wife, Vicki, had likely “saved him,” something that everyone, including Ted Kennedy, seemed to agree with.

Obama was almost nostalgic for an earlier time in Washington, where adversaries still saw each other as patriots and political enemies still respected and even liked each other as friends. Sen. John Kerry remarked that although another Bostonian, former House Speaker Tip O’Neill, famously said that “all politics is local,” Ted Kennedy taught us that “all politics are personal.” Story after story came from people Kennedy had touched in just that way -- by doing so many countless things so very personally for them.

And from this weekend, I received a final insight: that the roles of being a prophetic advocate who stands passionately for social justice, and the vocation of being a bridge-builder and convener who brings diverse people together are not, perhaps, so mutually exclusive after all. Most people tell me they are, but feeling called to both, I have often struggled to reconcile them. But here was Ted Kennedy, the fiercest fighter for the poor and vulnerable in the U.S. Senate over the last half-century and yet when fellow senators on both sides of the aisle were asked whom they most wanted to work with, it was always him. Why? Because they liked him, he never let his sometimes profound disagreements keep him from caring personally about them. He was a man of his word, and he was lots of fun!

As many remarked over the course of this amazing weekend, Ted Kennedy was the classic American success story who, though sorely tested by adversity and plagued by his own moral shortcomings, found a way to overcome his personal flaws and pain to achieve extraordinary things. But Kennedy was even more than that. His life was also the classic Christian story of redemption, of being saved from sin by faith, grace, and love, and by being faithful to the commands of Christ: “As you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.” As the casket of Edward Moore Kennedy climbed up the hill toward his final resting place next to the eternal flame at Arlington National Cemetery, one could almost hear those words of Jesus, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, for I was hungry and you gave me food.” Rest in peace, ye flawed, faithful, and redeemed warrior for the kingdom of God.

+ E-mail this article to friends

+ Share this article on Facebook

+ Respond to this article on the God's Politics Blog


Free Webinar: What the New Census Data Tells Us about U.S. Poverty and What the Faith Community Can Do about It

Sept. 14 at 2 p.m. Eastern Time

Every day, faith organizations serve individuals in need within our communities. But our efforts to sustain our brothers and sisters living in poverty must be complemented with a serious plan of action from our political leaders to reduce the number of needy.

+Click here to sign up and learn more


+ See what's new on the blog of Jim Wallis and friends

Video: Jim Wallis Discusses Ted Kennedy's Legacy on MSNBC
by Jim Wallis

+Click to watch the video

Getting Beyond the Confession and Guilt Checklist
by Julie Clawson

The definition of confession I have always heard restricts it to admitting particular sins .... It makes confession all about us and an easy checklist of do's and don'ts instead of our relationship with God and others, and our call to participate in the kingdom of God.
+ Click to continue

Ted Kennedy Meets Jerry Falwell
by Brian McLaren

In this long, hot summer of overheated rhetoric, both the tone and content of the speech offer much to readers today, especially these comments on how we debate moral (and, I would add, theological) issues.
+ Click to continue

Shopping Green Without Spending in the Red
by Tracey Bianchi

Organic strawberries were $5.99 the other day at our local grocer. $5.99! Their more toxic twins, the non-organic variety, were on sale for $3. How am I supposed to cough up the cash for organic berries when we need reasonable staples like bread, pasta, and milk?
+ Click to continue

Lost in Translation? More Inclusive TNIV Dropped in Favor of Newer NIV
by Eugene Cho

I find it difficult for translations NOT to take into account appropriate gender neutrality and inclusivity, which is why I was very disappointed to read yesterday that the TNIV will be abandoned and cited as a "mistake" by its publishers.
+ Click to continue

Four Years after Katrina: Hope and Challenge on the Gulf Coast
by Jeffrey Buchanan

This administration has succeeded in clearing up bureaucratic squabbles stalling millions of dollars for projects .... Yet if they visited places such as East Biloxi or the Lower Ninth Ward and met with the region's most vulnerable, they would find that the federal government still has a long fight ahead to make good on promises to rebuild a stronger, safer, and more equitable Gulf Coast.
+ Click to continue

Science, Salvation, Slavery, and Equality: The Bible and Historic Reforms
by Mimi Haddad

These few examples help us see that throughout its earthly pilgrimage, the church continues to undergo renewal and reform through a vigorous engagement with God by way of scripture. In doing so, the Holy Spirit cleans house in each age, allowing the church to confront its indifference, ignorance, and moral failings.
+ Click to continue

Responding to Six Confusing Claims: A Doctor Makes Sense of the Health-Care Debate, Part 2
by Arthur Jones

Who stands to benefit the most from such a change in our health-care system? Clearly the 47 million medically uninsured Americans would. As health-care costs become curtailed under such a system, most of the rest of us would benefit as well. As a result, you will hear claims such as the following from those representing the interests of those who stand to lose from the creation of a public option.
+ Click to continue

A Doctor Makes Sense of the Health-Care Debate
by Arthur Jones

As the debate over health-care reform heats up, conflicting claims from both sides make it increasingly difficult to sort out the issues and choose a position for which to advocate. The temptation is to stay on the sidelines and let the "experts" and special interests decide our future course.
+ Click to continue

Two Cheers for Danforth on Health Care and Sudan
by Elizabeth Palmberg

Two great ideas from former Sen. John Danforth, an Episcopal priest and Republican from Missouri who served in the U.S. Senate for nearly two decades, are under fire. The first idea: offering patients a meaningful opportunity to make decisions about their end-of-life medical care. As you may have noticed, this bipartisan idea is now the subject of much brouhaha, including flat-out lies, in the health-care debate.
+ Click to continue

Republicans Want Health-Care Reform Too!
by Bob Lupton

I'm a registered Republican. I didn't vote for Obama. I believe in free-market enterprise. I like smaller government. There, I said it. It's out! That said, I think government plays essential roles in civilized (any) society. Defense, interstate highways, basic education to name a few. And there is one more role I would add to the list. Health care!
+ Click to continue

Zuma's Visit to Zimbabwe: Seeking 'Batho Pele'
by Nontando Hadebe

There is a Sotho expression, batho pele -- meaning "putting people first" -- that one wishes could inform politics in Zimbabwe.
+ Click to continue

Prepared to Die, but Not to Kill
by Logan Laituri

I recently received a reply or two on my last blog post, regarding Sgt. Travis Bishop and his refusal to deploy to Afghanistan based on his Christian conscience. One of the central questions such a story raises (among many) is how one may justify defying one's sworn duty in practicing a faith that seems concurrent with the foundations of our very country.
+ Click to continue

Sex Trafficking: Rescuing the Other Jaycee Dugards
by Julie Clawson

I, along with the rest of the nation, have watched in horror this past week as the details of the Jaycee Dugard captivity emerge. That said, I am a bit disturbed as to why this case has captured the media's (and my) attention and outrage. It is of course horrific, but it is hardly unique.
+ Click to continue

A Health Insurance Industry Whistle-Blower and a Call for Christian Accountability
by Aaron Taylor

Wendell Potter worked for 15 years as the head of public relations for CIGNA, one of the largest health insurance companies in the U.S. Wendell's job was to keep high-profile complaints from becoming major news stories. So when policyholders were denied care or were kicked out of the plan for getting sick, Wendell's job was to make sure that the fewer the people who knew about it, the better.
+ Click to continue

Video: Health-Care Hermeneutics with Jon Stewart
by Steve Holt

I need to find something to do until Sept. 13 or thereabouts. The Daily Show is on a three-week vacation until then. Jon Stewart's last show before his break, though, should get me by for a while. His guest was Betsy McCaughey, former lieutenant governor of New York, who has been a vocal opponent of the president's health-care plan. From her analysis, the term "death panels" was derived, becoming the latest in a series of arguments crafted to induce fear and steer Americans against "Obamacare."
+ Click to continue

Where Did Jesus Stand at the ELCA Assembly?
by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Those in support urged the church to be open and loving as Jesus had been. Those opposed urged the church to heed the Bible. Both sides were passionate and faithful, and I'm proud to say that throughout the debate the assembly paused every 20 minutes to pray together. I watched people say prayerful things, hurtful things, thoughtful things, and idiotic things on both sides of the aisle.
+ Click to continue

Remember 9/11, Lament Violence, Invest in Peace
by Shane Claiborne

CPT has been interrupting injustice and respectfully partnering with local nonviolent movements in some of the toughest corners on the planet for years. CPTers radiate the sort of courage and imagination we need if we are to expect folks to take our cross seriously in a world riddled with terror and smart bombs.
+ Click to continue

I'm Awake at 3 a.m. because My Ribs are Hurting
by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

For 25 years I have been a member of a private health insurance plan that seemed to be meeting my needs. My problems were routine, and so were their responses. No longer.
+ Click to continue

When it Comes to Biblical 'Authority,' Words Matter
by Mimi Haddad

Unlike the women in Ephesus whose leadership was characterized by domination, Phoebe's was noted by her hard work to which the terms prostatis and diakonos suggest. It was her character, evidenced by her service, that made her a leader.
+ Click to continue

More Health Scare Tactics: Debunking the 'Death Book'
by LaVonne Neff

These days wisdom seems in short supply in the health-care debate. To wit: the Aug. 18 Wall Street Journal article by Jim Towey, where he criticizes the Department of Veterans Affairs booklet, "Your Life, Your Choices," which he dubbed "The Death Book for Veterans."
+ Click to continue

46 Years and Counting: What Happened to the Dream?
by Ruth Hawley-Lowry

Perhaps the best way we can honor and remember the march on Washington for Jobs and Freedom is for us who are white to recognize and fight against all the ways that educational, financial, and medical apartheid continue to permeate our culture.
+ Click to continue

Judgement Day: Does Matthew 25 Apply to the Health-Care Debate?
by Valerie Elverton Dixon

Yesterday, I heard a Christian leader say that the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 25 is not a reason for Christians to support universal health care guaranteed by their government. His argument was that this text is Jesus' instruction to the Christian community for the Christian community. This sounded like an error of interpretation to me.
+ Click to continue


Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Want to work for peace and transform lives? RESPONSE 2010, the most comprehensive guide of faith-based service opportunities, is now available at Order your FREE copy from Catholic Network of Volunteer Service.

Vancouver School of Theology is forming tomorrow’s leaders and educating for today’s challenges. Come to an Open House November 19, 2009 / February 6, 2010. Feed your mind, body and soul.

Spiritual Enrollment and more. These enrollments carry your own personal wishes along with the prayers of the Maryknoll Sisters for those enrolled.

What the Waters Revealed: Christians and Hurricane Katrina. Explore the impact of Hurricane Katrina and the breaking of the levees in New Orleans in this four-part study guide from Sojourners. Available for immediate download.

Get a faithful perspective on the economic crisis. Explore with Sojourners’ new discussion guide: Faith and Finances: Christians and the Economic Crisis. Downloadable at the SojoStore.

Sunday looms! Have you finished your sermon yet? Sign up for Preaching the Word sermon prep and see what Becky Garrison and Brian McLaren have to say about the Revised Common Lectionary this week. Buy now!

God's Politics Blog facebook
MySpace YouTube

Click Here!

GIVE TO SOJOURNERS: Donate now to support this voice for justice and peace.

GET THE MAGAZINE: Subscribe today

CONTACT US: General inquiries: | Advertising: | About Us

PRIVACY NOTICE: Sojourners won't trade, sell, or give away your e-mail address. Read our privacy policy.