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The Cuban Journal

Cuba, Dec. 8, 2008. Image via Wylio: http://bit.ly/tQNsK3
Cuba, Dec. 8, 2008. Image via Wylio: http://bit.ly/tQNsK3

Earlier this month, Sojourners board member and former General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America, Wes Granberg-Michaelson, journeyed to Cuba with a delegation of religious leaders from the National Council of Churches.

Their visit culminated in a joint declaration celebrating signs of unity between the U.S. and Cuban churches. Sixteen representatives of U.S. National Council of Churches member communions were in Cuba November 28 through December 2 meeting with Cuban church and political leaders, including President Raúl Castro.

The delegation, which Cuban church leaders said was the highest ranking U.S. church group to visit the island in their memory, was led by the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, NCC general secretary. The joint statement by the churches declared that normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba would be in the best interest of both nations, and the leaders called for the resolution of three humanitarian issues “which cause unjustifiable human misunderstanding and suffering.” Foremost among the issues is the 53-year-old U.S. economic embargo of Cuba that dates back to the administration of President John F. Kennedy.

Read a series of dispatches from Granberg-Michaelson inside God's Politics.

 

A Few Good Men

George Clooney is a rare star—as good-looking as Cary Grant, as committed to social activism as Michael Moore. He’s willing to use his cultural power for something more than the lucrative repetition of a blockbuster bloody alien invasion artistic travesty every other summer. Instead, Clooney’s films are often meaty explorations of truth-telling and the common good. Good Night, and Good Luck is an indictment of media distortion; Solaris reflects the meaning of love and grief and the spaces in between; and his TV version of Fail Safe (aired in 2000) warns against the consequences of backing up international relations with the threat of nuclear attack.

Clooney’s new movie, The Ides of March, serves as a thoughtful and entertaining mirror for next year’s presidential election. Like Robert Redford’s Lions for Lambs, it presents policies we could believe in (Clooney’s candidate offers realistic ways to reverse climate change and reduce the threat of terrorism—and is wise enough to realize that these may actually be two sides of a coin). Ides also seeks to transcend partisanship by avoiding a rose-tinted vision of secular liberalism, and it challenges the mythological hypocrisy that goads the public to permit almost any bad behavior from a president (war, execution, economic degradation) as long as he at least pretends to maintain moral Puritanism in private life.

The Ides of March is a smart, disturbing film, and an invitation to ask if we have reached rock bottom in our politics—which may be the best place from which to work for change.

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American Spring?

“THIS IS THE American Spring,” roared Eric Seligson, 65 and a veteran of Students for a Democratic Society, “and I am a born-again revolutionary!”

The man in charge of the Occupy Wall Street library said he’d been waiting years for this day, and that describes the spirit of many of the older people who came to Zuccotti Park in New York City to volunteer by day and be part of the General Assembly meetings at night.

I was one of them. Together, Seligson and I watched the young people spreading out on their sleeping bags, holding up their signs (“Defend Public Health Not Corporate Wealth”), sweeping the grounds. Together, we silently contemplated the mystery of wonder. Was the awakening of America’s progressive slumber really happening? Or were we both dreaming the way two old men dream, filling our minds with wistful collages of unfinished business?

I was told that the heroes of Tahrir Square twittered their embrace to the youths of Occupy Wall Street who, on Sept.17, made the financial district their unexpected home after staging a protest against Wall Street greed.

I was struck by how many of the protesters, like their counterparts in Tahrir Square, were unemployed students, first-timers at saying no to their country’s power-holders. If nothing else, Occupy Wall Street is a living illustration of one way the First World/Third World dichotomy has narrowed in recent years. Because of the unhappy globalization of joblessness, some in these two worlds are finding themselves on common ground.

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From Jim Wallis to Billy Graham, on His 93rd Birthday: "Thank you!"

Billy Graham has always been a life-long learner, passionate about preaching the gospel but always ready to understand more about what that gospel means in the world. It was never surprising to me that this southern born and raised American evangelist decided early on to insist on preaching only to racially integrated coliseums and crusades, when many others just went along with their culture. Later, as a result of falling in love with the new congregations we was preaching too in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, had a "change of heart" on the nuclear arms race-which we featured in a cover interview with the evangelist in Sojourners magazine. Billy Graham has also been willing to admit his mistakes and grew from them, which is something all of us as "leaders" need to constantly learn from. And while a conservative evangelical all his life, Graham was never drawn to the hard edged and politicized fundamentalism of the "Religious Right" but instead often winced at them.

You Make Me Almost Want To Be a Christian

A demonstrator at Sunday's anti-Keystone XL pipeline rally in Washington, D.C. P
A demonstrator at Sunday's anti-Keystone XL pipeline rally in Washington, D.C. Photo for Sojourners by Joan Bisset.

I always notice something when speaking to a mostly secular audience. Many people have been so hurt or rejected by the bad religion in which they were raised or have encountered elsewhere over the course of their lives, and, quite understandably, they are skeptical and wary of the faith community. But when someone looks like a faith leader (this is where the ecclesial robe helps ) and says things that are different from what they expect or are used to, their response is one of gratitude and the moment becomes an opportunity for healing.

After I spoke Sunday and joined the circle around the White House, person after person came up to me to express their thanks or simply to talk.

My favorite comment of the day came from a woman who quietly whispered in my ear, "You make me almost want to be a Christian."

The "Atonement-Only" Gospel

If justice is only an implication, it can easily become optional and, especially in privileged churches, non-existent. In the New Testament, conversion happens in two movements: Repentance and following. Belief and obedience. Salvation and justice. Faith and discipleship.

Atonement-only theology and its churches are in most serious jeopardy of missing the vision of justice at the heart of the kingdom of God. The atonement-only gospel is simply too small, too narrow, too bifurcated, and ultimately too private.

#OccupyWallStreet: Playing with Fire and Corraling the Golden Calf

As Christians we have a decision to make. In times of hopelessness and long periods of waiting for things to get better, will we let ourselves be cast into the all-consuming fires of idolatry?

Or, will we stand up against the false gods and catch the flame of the Spirit in our hearts and minds?

Our nation may very well be on the threshold of a crucial change. Who will you be standing with?

As we waste time fanning capitalism's raging inferno, the best parts of ourselves remain frozen.

So, about those "Evangelicals..."

In his column last week, Sojourners chief Jim Wallis talked about his frustration with the perennial misuse of the word "evangelical" by various media to describe folks and ideas that, in his view, and that of many of us who self-describe as evangelicals, don't bear any resemblance to what we understand that term to actually mean.

Below is a compilation of recent media reports where the word "evangelical" is invoked. When you read these, evangelical brothers and sisters, do you recognize yourself in how the word is used and defined? Or does it ring false to you and your understanding of what "evangelical" really and truly means?

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