Beau Underwood formerly served as senior director of advocacy for Sojourners. A graduate of Eureka College and the University of Chicago, Beau is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) currently serving a church in Jefferson City, Mo.
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Rep. Steve King: It's Time to Tame the Tongue
In the New Testament book of James, we are cautioned about the power of our tongues. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth comes praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be” (3:9-10).
This is a lesson that Iowa Congressman Steve King apparently needs to learn. On Sunday, Rep. King appeared on Meet the Press and stood by his outrageous assertion that:
“For every [undocumented immigrant eligible for the DREAM act] who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
Given the absurd and offensive nature of his statements, strong criticism swiftly followed. The Washington Post’s fact checker awarded it “Four Pinocchios,” which is a rating that is only applied to “whoppers.” House Speaker John Boehner previously denounced the comments as “offensive” and out of line with our society’s values.
Rep. King is known as an ardent opponent of immigration reform and has made controversial statements in the past, so his latest remarks are neither shocking nor a surprise.
But they should be.
The 5 Rules of Recess
As a kid, the school day revolved around recess. The bell rang, the books closed, and we bolted out of the building and onto the playground. For a few brief minutes anything was possible. Imaginations ran wild, transporting us to far off lands and transforming us into superheroes and sports stars. We cemented friendships and started fights; we formed alliances and enemies. And while our teachers and parents assumed that math, science, reading, and social studies structured our day, in reality our lives were defined by what transpired during recess.
Congress is in recess during the month of August. While many assume they have taken an extended vacation, nothing could be further from the truth. Recess is just as important now as it was when we were kids, but the rules have changed. Here are five things you need to know about the next month.
In God We Trust
If asked, “what is the most challenging Sunday to preach a sermon?” I suspect few pastors would say July 4th weekend. But as leaders providing spiritual guidance in a country that is often associated with strong nationalistic tendencies, offering a word that speaks to the messy relationship between “God and Country” is a task that American pastors cannot take lightly.
This dilemma of competing loyalties is not new. In both Matthew and Mark, Jesus is approached by opponents who sought to trap him by asking whether they were obligated to pay Roman taxes (Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17). An affirmative response would have been a betrayal of faith but a negative answer would be perceived as an act of sedition. Faced with this paradox, Jesus wowed his inquisitors by telling them to give Caesar what was due to Caesar and God what was due to God. Yet, as Franklin Gamwell, notes in Politics as a Christian Vocation, this only raises the question of what belongs to each of the competing authorities. If Christians are called to love God with all our being, then how can anything not belong to God? How can any other authority make a claim of allegiance on our lives?
Sierra Club Endorses Immigration Reform
If Congress passes immigration reform, much of the credit will be given to the broad and diverse voices that have lined up in support of fixing our nation’s broken immigration system. Both the labor and business community have been instrumental in moving legislation forward, while the evangelical community’s call to “welcome the stranger” has received significant attention by politicians and the media. The coalition of supporters continues to grow, as last week the Sierra Club, the oldest environmental organization in the country, announced its support for immigration reform.
Why would an environmental organization get involved with immigration reform? What could they possibly have at stake?
Where Idolatry Rages, Prophets Speak Out
Guns are dangerous idols. While mass shootings are happening at an alarming rate and an epidemic of gun violence plagues our nation’s cities, our society’s fanatical devotion to weapons prevents us from enacting solutions to curb the violence. The cost of worshipping these false idols continues to rise, as firearms kill more than 80 people a day.
Since the Dec. 14 shooting in Newton, Conn., nearly 3,500 people have died because of a gun. Some of them were suicides. Some were gang-related gun deaths. Many use these facts to insinuate that the deaths somehow aren't equally tragic. But as Christians we know that all of them were children of God created in the Divine image.
While the idolatry rages on, prophets are beginning to speak out.
The Budget Battles are Back
While immigration and gun violence issues are capturing most of the week's headlines, the budget battles have re-emerged in Washington, D.C. Last month House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) released competing budget proposals. And today, President Barack Obama released his own plan, which aims to reduce the deficit through a combination of spending cuts and revenue increases.
As The Washington Post's Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas note:
Today’s budget is the White House’s effort to reach the bedrock of the fiscal debate. Half of its purpose is showing what they’re willing to do. They want a budget compromise, and this budget proves it. There are now liberals protesting on the White House lawn. But the other half is revealing what the GOP is — or, more to the point, isn’t — willing to do. Republicans don’t want a budget compromise, and this budget is likely to prove that, too.
As the White House sees it, there are two possible outcomes to this budget. One is that it actually leads to a grand bargain, either now or in a couple of months. Another is that it proves to the press and the public that Republican intransigence is what’s standing in the way of a grand bargain.
The Missing Figurine in Your Nativity Scene
In the church where I grew up, the first Sunday in Advent was dubbed the “hanging of the greens.” On that special Sunday, we sang carols in the decorated sanctuary, all culminating in the children’s live nativity scene. The service never changed from year to year. The only variables were how many kids needed roles and which young child would get stage fright, thus leaving part of the the story without visual representation.
It always seemed like the doves were cursed. The doves rarely remained on stage for the entire performance. Over the years, I was a variety of animals — a wise man, a shepherd, and finally Joseph. I never got stage fright. I was never a dove. I can only imagine what my mother would’ve done if I had been that kid.
It took me years to realize that there was a character missing from my congregation’s telling of the story. We always left out King Herod.
This was a huge oversight, because Herod plays a major role in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth.
The Power of Christmas
“Faith is recognizing that if at Christmas Jesus became like us, it was so we might become more like him,” wrote the well-known preacher and activist William Sloan Coffin. He goes on to add, “We know what this means; watching Jesus heal the sick, empower the poor, and scorn the powerful, we see transparently the power of God at work.”*
Christmas really is about seeing the power of God at work, but far too often pastors and churches fail to tell this story. Oh sure, we preach about Mary and Joseph, Jesus being born in a Bethlehem manger, and the Magi following a star to find him and offer gold, frankincense, and myrrh. My fear is that the story has grown familiar and routine. We have forgotten its power and no longer see its challenge.
In Matthew’s Gospel, the Magi seek out Jesus after hearing of his birth. In order to find him they ask King Herod where they can find the new king. This, of course, is news to Herod who is surprised to learn that his title has been claimed by a baby. Herod consults his advisors and then reacts with the expected calmness of a leader anticipating a conflict, which is to say his response is not calm at all.
This story is an announcement that Jesus has arrived to challenge the powerful. The Messiah was not born meek and mild.
Falling off the Fiscal Cliff: 5 Things You Need to Know
Now that the election is over, policymakers and the media have refocused their attention on the looming budget battles in Washington. In January, a variety of tax increases and spending cuts will go into effect unless Congress and President Barack Obama agree on a plan to avoid what has been deemed “the fiscal cliff.”
As the country braces for another fiscal showdown in the nation’s capitol, here are five things you need to know on the issue likely to dominate the news over the next several months.
Sojourners Responds to Anti-Muslim Ads in NYC Subway
Global tensions between Christians and Muslims are high as reactions to a stridently anti-Muslim film rage on in many countries. By now, most of us have heard about the video, followed the media coverage of the protests, and mourned those, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, who have died from the violence.
In the midst of all this, an organization deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center has decided to run ads in New York City subway stations that imply Muslims are “savages.” Many faith groups have spoken out to denounce the offensive ads, but the horse is already out of the barn, as the ads already have been posted and will be seen each day by countless New York City commuters.