The Hungry Spirit

Rabble Rousing

Rabble Rousing

Police horns blast out their first, second, and third warnings. Officers mounted on horses appear like giants out of the crowd pushing past the bright pink banner on which is written “Peace on Earth.” Radio and television reporters swarm on every side with heavy cameras and microphones, threatening to crush those of us kneeling in prayer on the sidewalk in front of the White House.

I’m in a very mixed crowd of protesters on the verge of being arrested. We are a teeming mass of pentecostals, pacifists, and pagans; Buddhist monks, Catholic priests, Jewish rabbis, and Katrina evacuees; anarchists, Gold Star moms, hip-hop preachers, and war vets. We are “rabble” in the ancient sense of the word—a “tumultuous crowd.” We are the “scraped together masses” of Numbers 11:4; the “mixed multitude” described in Exodus 12:38. And we are roused.

While our placards demand an immediate end to the Iraq war, I realize that the hunger present here is much deeper and wider than a simple political message. These are people straining toward liberation. In the midst of the chaos I keep thinking, “They are yearning to be free.”

BY THE END of that September day in 2005, I was one of 370 people arrested for not dispersing when our permit to demonstrate was revoked. Many of us spent about 10 hours handcuffed, waiting to be processed. Everyone was given the option of either a court appearance or a $75 fine. My arrest slip identified my “property” as a Bible, a set of keys, and shoelaces. All were returned to me intact.

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Sojourners Magazine December 2005
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The Work Ethic

I love my job.

I love my job. It’s good, creative, and challenging work. I am paid well above a living wage. (In 2000, more than 25 percent of U.S. jobs paid less than $8 an hour—the amount necessary to lift a family from poverty.) I have health insurance (45 million Americans don’t) and a four-week vacation package (most Americans get two weeks, if that). Additionally, every seven years I’m offered a sabbatical to be used for renewal, education, and rest.

In 35 years, Sojourners has lived out its Christian values toward the dignity of work and workers in a variety of ways. The 1981 Catholic encyclical "On Human Work" summarizes these values well: "Through work we not only transform the world, we are transformed ourselves, becoming ‘more a human being.’"

Sojourners, unfortunately, is an exception. Too many U.S. workers do not labor under conditions that encourage them to be "more a human being." The guiding ethos in many U.S. workplaces has shifted toward prioritizing stockholder and CEO wealth over worker health and well-being. (CEO pay increased by 12 percent between 2003 and 2004, while rank-and-file compensation increased only 2.2 percent.) The systematic dismantling of labor unions by special interests and the inability of labor unions to retool themselves to meet the needs of a post-manufacturing job market have allowed worker conditions and management accountability to decline. The impact of corporate scandals such as the Enron and WorldCom bankruptcies, which left thousands of workers without their 401(k) savings, might have been lessened if those companies were unionized or had cultures that promoted worker dignity.

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2005
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The Virtuous Circle

Ryan Wiedmaier has created a humorous photo project on the Web called "

Ryan Wiedmaier has created a humorous photo project on the Web called "The Seven Gummie Sins." Using tiny corn-syrup bears, he demonstrates the ancient vices of pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. You can imagine the contorted positions into which those little bears are forced.

It’s easy to convert the seven deadly sins to pop art - but what about the four cardinal virtues outlined in the Book of Wisdom? "If one loves justice, the fruits of Wisdom’s works are virtues for she teaches moderation and prudence, justice and fortitude, and nothing in life is more useful than these" (8:7).

Moderation or temperance means living a balanced life that allows one to grow in holiness and love. Symptoms of a lack of moderation include taking more than one needs for a moderate life (the United States, for example, lives way beyond its ecological means), overwork (do I need to name names?), and doing things specifically to avoid reality (pre-emptive war and pornography are cases in point, along with overindulging in drugs, alcohol, video games, iPods, TV, and the Internet). Moderation allows pleasures to be sweet and whets our appetite for goodness.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2005
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Men Only?

I arrived at the Islamic Center of Washington,

I arrived at the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., half an hour before Friday prayer. In the open courtyard, men were distributing free lunches to the homeless. A man offered me a head scarf. I stood waiting - uncertainly - for the women I was there to join. In a moment I heard a commotion at the front gate. Asra Nomani - the "Muslim Sojourner Truth" - entered the courtyard with her friend Rahat Khan. Their mission? To pray in the main hall of the mosque - an area, by custom, reserved for men only - rather than in the "women’s section" located in the basement near the men’s bathroom.

This former Wall Street Journal reporter began by praying in her hometown mosque in Morgantown, West Virginia. I was intrigued by a Muslim woman, born into an Indian Muslim family and raised in the United States, not only returning to the heart of her religion but doing it in a way that produced the kind of radical call to freedom true faith engenders. I was intrigued by her connection with Sojourner Truth, the ex-slave who adamantly defended the rights of women in the church and in the society.

Not only is Nomani integrating the mosque, she "nailed" (taped, actually) her "99 Precepts for Opening Hearts, Minds, and Doors in the Muslim World" and an Islamic Bill of Rights for Women on the Morgantown mosque door. She stands firmly in the tradition of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses pounded into the church door in Wittenberg and Martin Luther King Jr. posting the demands of the open-housing campaign on then-Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s office door in 1966. Nomani’s reformation, however, is for the heart and soul of Islam.

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Sojourners Magazine June 2005
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When the Gospel Gets Under Your Skin

Saints are made by how they live,

Saints are made by how they live, not how they die. In March and April, the people’s church remembers two saints: El Salvador’s Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero and Germany’s Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. While their deaths were "spectacular" - Romero gunned down while saying Mass and Bonhoeffer hanged in a Nazi concentration camp - it is their lives, not their deaths, that teach us about Christian faith.

This year, the date of Romero’s assassination falls on Holy Thursday. As Jesus knelt to wash the feet of his disciples in an act of revolutionary humility, I imagine the many times Romero knelt. Praying as a teenager for his vocation, which prompted him to leave the carpenter shop and go to seminary. Prostrating himself before a bishop at his ordination in Rome on April 4, 1942. Romero’s doctoral degree was in ascetical theology. He wanted to be holy. I imagine him kneeling before a statue of the Virgin with a rosary in his hand.

Romero knelt on February 22, 1977, when he was made archbishop of San Salvador - the church and ruling class were relieved that a politically and theologically conservative priest was at the helm. Two weeks later, Romero was kneeling over the bullet-riddled bodies of his friend and fellow priest Rutilio Grande and the old man and boy Grande had been traveling with. The people say something changed in Romero that day. He cancelled all the Masses in the archdiocese except for Grande’s memorial service. He demanded that the military investigate the murders. The quiet, humble priest to the status quo stood up straight, raised his voice to the thousands of Salvadorans gathered in the plaza and listening by radio, and said: "Whoever touches one of my priests has to deal with me!"

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Sojourners Magazine April 2005
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Kids in the Crosshairs

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I’m sitting on my brother’s back porch north of Seattle. Inside, I hear my 14-month-old nephew testing his consonants— "b, b, b, ball!" The dogs have found a spot in the sun and are collapsed on top of each other. It’s family. I’m grateful for it—because it could have been otherwise.

Not long before the visit to my brother’s house, I attended a presentation, called "A Reality Tour of Youth Violence in Washington, D.C.," sponsored by teenage organizers in my neighborhood. They were also talking about family, violence, and a culture of neglect.

The Youth Action Research Group (YARG) interviewed black and Latino youth all over D.C. to get their perspectives on youth violence and youth-based solutions. At least 22 young people died as a result of gun violence in D.C. in 2004, reported YARG. Four kids were killed in gang-related violence within blocks of the YARG office.

"[S]ome people are in a gang because it is like a family for them," one teenager reported to 16-year-old YARG researcher Denisse. "They don’t have no family, they don’t have no support—so they get that support from the street...and they join a gang. Because you’re in a gang, you shouldn’t just get locked up—they just need help. They need love."

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Sojourners Magazine February 2005
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The Sense of Touch

Elias Canetti opens his powerful collection Crowds and Power with these lines:

Elias Canetti opens his powerful collection Crowds and Power with these lines: "There is nothing that man fears more than the touch of the unknown. He wants to see what is reaching towards him, and to be able to recognize or at least classify it."

At Christmas, we encounter the terror of touch. God runs a finger tenderly along the face of the world. Human flesh flashes with the fire of the Divine. It burns. It is ecstatic. For a moment we are fully human, not just hominid.

In 1971, Ashley Montagu published Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin and returned touch to cultural consciousness. We have learned that cuddling infants is crucial to their emotional well-being. Breast-feeding, more than just a mechanism for milk, is a primal experience of bonding. In the developing human, it establishes a sense of safety in the world.

"The first article on touch, so far as I know, was my own published in 1950," Montagu said in a 1994 interview with Michael Mendizze. "It is strange that we should have waited till the middle of the 20th century to pick up on the importance of this tremendously complex organ, the largest organ in the body, which most of us thought was just a covering to prevent us from falling apart! The skin…is derived from exactly the same embryological layer as is the internal brain and spinal cord."

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Sojourners Magazine January 2005
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Nonviolence in Najaf?

The BBC headline caught my eye:

The BBC headline caught my eye: "Iraqi cleric in Najaf peace march." It’s the kind of story that gets buried in mid-August, especially between the Democratic and Republican national conventions. But I was intrigued.

We rarely hear news about Islamic nonviolence. A few might remember 1930s Pakistani pacifist Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who led the Servants of God organization in nonviolent resistance against the British. But, in the West, Islam and nonviolence don’t generally go together.

Is a new page opening in Islam’s contribution to nonviolence? Iraq’s leading Shia cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, did what the U.S. military, the Iraqi troops, and the armed supporters of militant cleric Moqtada al-Sadr could not. He ended the three-week standoff in Najaf in which hundreds of people had been killed.

Ten thousand Shia Iraqis gathered peacefully in Najaf to support Sistani’s peace plan to end the violence and reclaim the shrine of Imam Ali. "Sistani did not issue a fatwa (a religious order)," cleric Abdullah Mehdi told Baghdad-based Christian Peacemaker Team member David Milne, "but an invitation."

"I regard this action by Sistani and his followers as quite significant," Milne told me. "Iraq has such a violent history that a nonviolent action marks a significant beginning, especially when it had such strong support. The action appears to have achieved its goals quickly when other attempts - including repeated assaults on the shrine and other attempts to negotiate an agreement - failed."

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Sojourners Magazine November 2004
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The Sabbath Sweet Spot

In the Northern hemisphere our summer is drawing to a close.

In the Northern hemisphere our summer is drawing to a close. We move into an autumn ruled by the pitch and yaw of the ship of state. All hands will be needed on deck to navigate the American experiment through the dangers that threaten it. But for a moment, we rest in that sweet spot between the summer solstice and the fall equinox.

Have you had moments of solitude this summer? Were there short periods when time stood still—when time flowed like a mountain rather than a stream? Was there a human face framed in golden light?

In Flannery O’Connor’s story The Violent Bear It Away, a character says, "Love cuts us like a cold wind, and the will of God is plain as winter. Where is the summer will of God? Where are the green seasons of God’s will? Where is the spring and summer of God’s will?" The solitude and sabbath that summer sometimes affords allows for a "green season" in our souls.

So much of the year is spent at top speed, with barely a human moment. At those points when we turn inward, too often it is for soul churning, self-judgment, desperation, or exhaustion. We bundle ourselves against the cold wind of God. When we stop to unwrap our outer garments "love cuts us." But in the summer of God’s will, we can rest, relax, be at ease. We can even be playful. Don’t "whistle while you work"; just whistle because it makes you happy.

IN AN INTERVIEW, pollster-to-the-political-stars Frank Luntz said that the most important issue for working women in a recent election season was time. Time for themselves. Time to do their jobs well. Time for their families and friends. Luntz sells his extensive research to politicians who want to tailor their message to the swing votes. But time has always been a religious issue.

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Sojourners Magazine September 2004
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