America

New & Noteworthy

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Lawless
For Cartel Land, filmmaker Matthew Heineman embedded himself with two vigilante groups battling Mexico’s drug cartels on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. The vigilantes believe that they are stepping in for their countries’ failed institutions, but must try not to “become the criminals [they’re] fighting against.” The Documentary Group

She Who Believes
The new Women in Religions series from New York University Press offers accessible primers on ways women have shaped and been influenced by various religious traditions. The first three volumes published include Women in New Religions, by Laura Vance, and Women in Christian Traditions, by Rebecca Moore. NYU Press

No Easy Way
In Pre-Post-Racial America: Spiritual Stories from the Front Lines, Sandhya Rani Jha, a pastor, activist, and anti-racism trainer explores our complicated racial landscape through several people’s stories, illuminating the difficult but vital path to the hope of the Beloved Community. Chalice Press

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The Revolutionary 'We'

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Let’s talk about we.

You know: The first word in the constitution. The one that puts everything that follows it inside a framework of a collective effort and combined responsibility. "We the people." All of us. Together. Part of something bigger than any one of us individually. Yeah, that word.

Have you noticed that we don’t discuss that idea very much? I wonder why. A lot of Fourth of July posts this year went on lavishly about individual rights and personal freedom. And yes, those are important. But they’re only part of the equation, and they’re not even the starting point. It starts not with me, but with we — a pronoun that is radical and revolutionary.

Making Jesus a Patriot

IN A RECENT interview, Wendell Berry reiterated how perplexed he was that many Christians who are guided by a deep love for God can participate so willingly in an economy that is rapidly devastating God’s creation. In his new book One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, Princeton historian Kevin Kruse offers a narrative that sheds light on how our churches got into the mess that Berry bemoans. As the book’s subtitle indicates, the primary story that Kruse traces is that of the genesis of “Christian America,” which unfolded not in the era of the Founding Fathers, as David Barton and other conservative Christians contend, but rather in the mid-20th century with industrialists who rallied churches to oppose FDR’s New Deal.

Kruse’s story began in the 1930s with the decision of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) to invest in “spreading the gospel of free enterprise” and its alliance with an organization called Spiritual Mobilization, which carried NAM’s message of libertarian politics and free enterprise to churches across the United States. These efforts to promote the synergy of Christian faith and big business picked up steam in the 1940s and blossomed in the 1950s, finding an ally in the White House in Dwight Eisenhower. Symbolic of this movement’s successes were the inclusion of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance (1954) and the adoption of “In God We Trust” as the official motto of the U.S. (1956), both during the Eisenhower presidency.

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Were You There?

THE GRAINY, STUTTERING surveillance footage shows police milling about, offering no medical assistance to the 12-year-old boy, Tamir Rice, one of them has just shot. They only spring into action when the boy’s older sister runs into the frame toward her brother. An officer tackles the girl, knocking her back in the snow, then cuffs her and puts her in the patrol car, only a few feet from her dead or dying brother.

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INFOGRAPHIC: Guns in America

In Dawn Cherie Araujo’s article, “Grace-Filled Moments” (Sojourners, January 2015), she explores the rising gun violence in Indianapolis and the ways local churches have taken stands to support families and rise up against the prevalence of grief in their communities.

What are groups like the Church Federation of Greater Indianapolis facing as they combat gun trafficking and violence? Check out the interactive infographic below and learn about the United States’ tumultuous relationship with guns. What are your state’s gun laws?

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Full-Body Repentance

THE CRY OF the church to the world should be “Forgive us.”

At a time when the American church struggles with finding its place in the world and struggles with asserting its identity, could the church be known as the community that models confession, repentance, and the seeking of forgiveness? At this moment in history, the American church is often ridiculed or portrayed as unforgiving and ungracious. Could the church offer a counter-narrative, not of defensiveness or derision but of an authentic confession and genuine reconciliation? By examining seven different areas where the church has committed sin, we ask the church to consider the spiritual power and the theological integrity of a church that seeks forgiveness for those sins.

Our scriptures testify to the necessity of confession. Confession is central to the Christian faith. The importance of confession arises from the Christian view of sin. Sin is a reality and must be taken seriously. Evangelicals consistently begin our gospel presentation with the centrality of sin to the human experience. American evangelicals often assert that the beginning of the work of God’s forgiveness is the recognition of our need for God because of human sinfulness.

It is antithetical to the gospel when we do not confess all forms of sin—both individual and corporate. The reason evangelicals can claim to be followers of Jesus is because there has been an acknowledgement of sin and the seeking of God’s grace through Jesus Christ that leads to the forgiveness of sin.

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Exporting Democracy...

Illustration by Ken Davis

FOR MORE THAN two centuries, the United States has been the proudest example of democracy in the world. Maybe not the best, but definitely the proudest. Oh sure, we’ve hit some rough patches over the decades, mainly in dealing with our native peoples and other ethnic minorities. Also with women, the poor, the falsely accused, the unemployed, and people who aren’t bankers. But let’s just call those growing pains.

For the most part, America has been that shining city on a hill, and by America, of course, I don’t mean Canada or Mexico, or the other countries whose names I forget, most of which don’t have many good hills to shine from anyway.

But I’m not talking about geography, I’m talking about pride. The pride that comes from being number one in democracy, despite being number 55th in infant mortality and 35th in math. Okay, so we don’t test well. But we’re proud anyway. And we’re still number one in Bible science! [High five!]

But lately, because of continued dysfunction on Capitol Hill, people are starting to whisper that democracy in the United States may have lost some of its shine, like we’re “hiding it under a bushel,” as it says in the old Christian campfire song of my youth. (We also sang “With Jesus in My Boat I Can Ride Out the Current Economic Downturn,” and “Children, Go Where I Text Thee.”)

But if America’s “little light” is no longer shining, at least a few other nations are providing good examples of self-government.

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Surprising Insights on Ukraine in the New York Times

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The U.S. and Russia may be at odds, but they also might not be so different in attempts for power. Aquir/Shutterstock.com

The news coverage of international conflicts can be very disappointing from a mimetic perspective. When conflicts escalate into violence as in Syria or the Ukraine, news outlets rush to cover the hostilities. They give us the facts on the ground, or rumors thereof, accompanied by an almost mindless report of what each side is saying by way of self-justification. However, if you listen to their rhetoric with mimetically tuned ears, which happens after spending time here at Raven, you realize that their rhetoric is all sound and fury signifying nothing. Unfortunately, it is this “nothing” that usually makes the headlines.

Major outlets like the New York Times rarely give as good an analysis as my colleague Adam Ericksen did last week. Speaking of the crisis in Ukraine, Adam said that we often think conflict is the result of differences. But the truth is that rivals resemble each other in often surprising ways. They are in conflict because they share the same desires and so are locked in a competition for something that they cannot or will not share. In the case of the conflict over Crimea, the “thing” is not the region but power and prestige. Adam explains:

Russia’s desire for power is mimetic, or imitative, and modeled on its rival for power, the United States. Russia wants what the United States has — the prestige of being a global super power — and Russia is willing to use the same methods that the United States has used to gain and sustain that prestige — violence.

States of Being

The 10 best U.S. films of 2013.

Gareth Higgins is a writer and broadcaster from Belfast, Northern Ireland, who has worked as an academic and activist. He is the author of Cinematic States: America in 50 Movies and How Movies Helped Save My Soul: Finding Spiritual Fingerprints in Culturally Significant Films. He blogs at www.godisnotelsewhere.wordpress.com and co-presents “The Film Talk” podcast with Jett Loe at www.thefilmtalk.com. He is also a Sojourners contributing editor. Originally from Northern Ireland, he lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

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