The Common Good

The Power of Questions

Sojomail - January 7, 2010


I’m trying to teach the kids that you don’t need to have expensive toys to have fun. You can make it fun, from anything.

- Igor Montoya, of Miami, on the growing trend to buy less and spend more time with family and friends, gardening, cooking, reading and other hobbies, along with volunteering for civic and religious activities. (Source: The New York Times)

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The Power of Questions

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Jim Wallis is right in his new book, Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street—A Moral Compass for the New Economy: the right question during this recession isn’t “When will it end?” but rather “What will we learn? How will we change?”

And Sojourners has been right in recent years when they’ve repeated the mantra, “Budgets are moral documents.” That’s true, it turns out -- not just for governments, but for families, churches, nonprofits, and yes, businesses too.

When Wall Street corporations write bonus checks to executives, those budgeting decisions are moral ones. When Main Street churches and nonprofits allocate limited funds, their decisions aren’t simply financial; they’re also moral. And on your street and my street, our simplest decisions reflect moral values: what kind of light bulbs we use and cars we drive, whether we recycle and compost, how much of our diet is meat-based, whether our coffee and tomatoes are produced in ways that properly respect the farmers and the land, and how much we give to churches, to other ministries, and especially to those in need.

I vacillate between disappointment, anger, relief, and then disappointment again when I observe how political and business leaders are missing the chance to ask the right questions during this recession. I’m a little more encouraged when I observe the faith community, although there’s plenty of entrenchment and obliviousness there too. Of course, then I look in the mirror, and wonder if I’m learning even half of what I should be at this important historical moment.

That’s why I’m hopeful that Jim’s new book will stimulate conversation on what is the point of convergence, I think, between deep economics, deep politics, and deep theology -- namely, What has value?

That question takes us to the heart of economics. How do we measure short- and long-term costs and benefits? What do our standards of measurement -- like GDP, for example -- devalue and render us blind to, by focusing our attention on other things?

It takes us to the heart of politics. How do we negotiate between competing values -- such as the value of freedom versus the value of safety, a struggle we see constantly in our headlines?

And it takes us to the heart of life, too. What shall it profit us to gain the whole world and lose our souls? What values have triumphed -- to the expense of other needed values -- to bring our society into this recession, and how can the values that have been pushed near the line of extinction be conserved? And are there new values -- values we didn’t need in the past, but desperately need now -- that need to be named and developed among us?

No book can answer those questions for all of us, and even if it could, it shouldn’t, because it’s in the struggle with the questions that we become the kinds of people who can actually live the answers.

But a good book can raise the questions, and so stimulate conversations among the people who can and must answer them. Namely, you. And me too. Everybody from our streets to Main Street to Wall Street to Pennsylvania Avenue. But we can’t wait for them. It’s got to start with us.

Brian McLaren is an author and speaker whose next book, A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith, releases Feb. 9, 2010.

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Diary of a Book Tour
by Jim Wallis

Because I wrote this book to help spark a national conversation on the "values crisis" underneath our economic crisis, and to suggest that we will need a moral recovery to accompany an economic one, I have decided to report on how that conversation is going on every day of the book tour.

Day One: Monday, January 4. Against all conventional wisdom, we decided to launch this book in what most publishers would regard as one of the worst "book cities" in America, because many people in this hard-hit city just don't have the money to buy books these days.
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Building a Better Future for Women and Girls

The Women’s Funding Network is convening the 1st Annual Conference of the Women, Faith and Poverty Interfaith Collaborative on January 26-27, 2010 at the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas, Texas.

The convening will include presentations by experts in the field; discourse among leaders in the faith community and women’s funds; and identification of specific strategies to address public policy change.

Sojourners constituents can register for the conference for $100 (regular rate is $175). To receive the discount, enter SOJO in the password box on the registration landing page.

+Click here to register or for more information.


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

Boomer Blues, Part 2: Have You Saved $1 Million Yet?
by LaVonne Neff

Here is how things are now: Pensions are extinct. Most of us have 401(k)s or 403(b)s, and most of these are seriously underfunded. Some of this is our own fault, for not putting away enough each month. Some of this is due to the market meltdown. Some is due to the flaws inherent in the whole concept.
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Boomer Blues: 'We don't learn from the past, and we don't plan for the future.'
by LaVonne Neff

Herbert lists his concerns: unemployment, worthless mortgages, a decade with no job creation (previous decades since 1940 have all had at least 20% job growth), declining earnings, food insecurity, a health-care plan that is "a bloated, Rube Goldberg legislative mess," not enough money for libraries and teachers, two wars ...
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Megachurches Make (Some) Progress on Crossing the Racial Divide
by Edward Gilbreath

Time religion reporter David Van Biema uses Willow Creek's journey, and senior pastor Bill Hybel's personal spiritual awakening on the issue of race in America, as a window to how the larger evangelical church is doing in this arena.
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The (Second) Worst Religious Idea of the Decade
by Cathleen Falsani

Earlier this month, the nice folks over at The Washington Post's Outlook section asked me to write an essay about what I thought the worst religious idea of the past decade was. I ended up giving them two essays, as I couldn't quite decide which I thought was "worse." They chose my essay on the so-called Prosperity Gospel. I thought I'd share my other essay with you in this space. My other vote for worst religious idea of the decade...?
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Gingrich Labels 'Irreconcilable Wing of Islam' but Ignores Irascible Christianity
by Melvin Bray

As a follower of God in the way of Jesus, I find it disingenuous and incendiary to speak of an "irreconcilable wing of Islam" without simultaneously confessing the irascible wing of a pro-West Christendom.
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From 'Strangers at Our Gates' to Brothers and Sisters
by Lynne Hybels

Some originally came to this country legally; some didn't; most came to escape extreme poverty; many suffer because of the separation of families; most work hard and long to become contributing members of their new American community. No, this doesn't erase the complexity of the immigration debate, but it does reframe the issue.
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The Nazareth Declaration
by Multiple Authors

Jesus' words and deeds in part confirm the Manhattan Declaration, and in part challenge it. In particular, Jesus' Nazareth Declaration concurs that Christians should not only preach the gospel, but should also engage social, economic, and political issues. At the same time, it refutes the attempt to narrow the focus to the proposed – or any other set of – three particular issues.
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An Indigenous Ecuadorian Christian Activist Takes on Big Oil
by Elizabeth Palmberg

Luis Yanza, who is featured in the documentary Crude, sat down with Sojourners assistant editor Elizabeth Palmberg to talk about what drives him to continue his work at the Amazon Defense Coalition, a group of indigenous and other communities in the Ecuadorian rainforest who are suing Texaco for polluting their land and water from 1964 through 1990.

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In Defense of Congregational Singing
by Nadia Bolz-Weber

I am not saying that the musical life of every Christian community should match ours. But singing is our birthright as human beings and since the advent of recorded music we have lost this essential part of what it means to be human. We have sadly left music to the professionals.
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Could Church Become a Playground for All?
by Joel Hartse

Malcolm Gladwell, in his popular book The Tipping Point, names three types of people who do the work of making social movements succeed: Connectors, who bring us together, Mavens, who connect us with new information, and Salespeople, whose charisma and personalities help to convince us to subscribe to ideas. It's not often that you meet somebody who is all three of these things, but Todd Fadel, the facilitator of the creative network Love is Concrete, is one of those people.
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An Activism that Loves its Enemies
by Jarrod McKenna

Sad news from Sydney as a headline for the ABC read, "Abusive letter suspect 'a peace activist'". The article went on to say the man was in court to face charges of harassment after sending "letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, accusing some of the soldiers of being criminals and murderers." As a peace activist, this deeply, deeply saddens me.
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Which Message Are You Listening to?
by Eugene Cho

Have you seen the two videos below produced by Dove? I showed one of them recently before a sermon and the second was a bit too risque to show with some younger folks in our midst. My sermon was part of a series of sermons on relationships (through April 2010) and the focus for this talk was on self identity.
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To Love God is to Love Our Immigrant Neighbors
by Multiple Authors

The Old Testament, through its declaration of God's heart for immigrants, laws concerning the treatment and inclusion of immigrants, and the description of Israel's history and identity as immigrants themselves, is clearly "pro-immigrant" in its instruction and example.
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'Human Wrongs' and the Next Generation of Christian Activists at Urbana
by Aaron Graham

Sojourners, World Vision, International Justice Mission hosted the Advocacy & Poverty Track where we challenged students to understand advocacy as mission. We did not want to just talk about advocacy but actually do it.
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'Irreconcilable Islam' and Irascible Christianity, Part 2
by Melvin Bray

Gingrich's language is incendiary, not just because it feeds the ought that religious radicals have with those who malign their creeds, but primarily because it gives oxygen to the unresolved prejudices in the U.S. that were shamed and driven underground by a King who laid them bare before the civilized world.
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Why N.T. Wright is Wrong About Social Media
by Julie Clawson

The Out of Ur blog recently posted a video of N.T. Wright going off on the dangers of social media. He warns that blogging and the like will stand in the way of real communication with others and he calls the popularity of social media "cultural masturbation."
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If They Are Too Big To Fail, Let's Make Them Smaller
by Jim Wallis

The article, and the book in much greater detail, outlines how many of the values and practices from our diverse faith traditions -- Christianity, Judaism, and Islam -- offer critical correctives to the ways we have gone wrong economically and spiritually, and help point the way forward.
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Calling All Drug Dealers
by Nate Van Duzer

Does this sound familiar? A poor, minority community experiences high levels of violence and drug dealing. A predominantly white police force sweeps in and arrests many offenders. New drug dealers and gang members almost immediately fill the void, leaving the level of crime intact and the community more hostile than ever to the police. Is there an alternative? There is.
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Top Stories:

A religious response to the financial crisis: We need a values recovery
The Washington Post
One cold morning the week before Christmas, I found myself huddled with a group of homeowners and religious leaders on Pennsylvania Avenue, in the shadow of the White House and the Treasury building. The homeowners, who had all worked hard to buy their first homes, and most of whom had put enough money down to qualify for fixed-rate mortgages only to be persuaded into more exotic mortgages, were facing imminent foreclosure. We had come to stand with them. +Click to continue

Searching for the Soul of Government
Fast Company
Jim Wallis, the founding editor of Sojourners magazine, has argued that "we can find common ground only by moving to higher ground." In other words, constituency-based politics, with its factional interests, will not lead us to this higher ground. +Click to continue

'Human Wrong' initiative challenges students to help abolish child slavery
Mission Network News

Thousands of Urbana Attendees Bring in New Year With Commitment to Missions
Charisma Magazine

"Sojourners in the news" articles are the most recent news clippings that mention Sojourners 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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