Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Riches Country on Earth is a gripping account traversing family, poverty, geography, history, and public policy. It’s already been longlisted for a National Book Award and is a Kirkus Prize finalist. Smarsh captures the experience of poverty in the deftest of prose: “I knew how to compare prices on tags before I knew how to read words.”
In the midst of a raging discussion about what it means to be American, it is worthwhile to reflect on the profound ambivalence of American civil religion — perhaps the most powerful force for creating a shared national identity.
In 1967, Robert N. Bellah’s seminal essay, “Civil Religion in America,” created a template for how both the right and the left defined civil religion to cultivate a sense of belonging, particularly in an era of turbulence. During this period of increasing polarization, Bellah’s words are more relevant than ever.
Let us not forget the impact that D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation had on America when it was released in 1915. An adaptation of the novel The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan, there’s little doubt in my mind that the film’s racist depictions of African Americans and affirming depictions of Klansmen formed and hardened the discriminatory beliefs of many white people in the U.S., making them further believe that black people were undeserving of fairness, respect, and freedom. The Birth of a Nation is a prime example of why we need new stories, told from the perspective of identities that are generally ignored and denigrated.
I fear now, as I have feared for months, the impact of his presidency on vulnerable people — including the white and working-class voters in places like my home state of Ohio who lent him their support.
Christians always have disagreements about policy proposals or party platforms during election seasons. But this year, I wonder how white Christians who read the same Scriptures and hold many of the same beliefs that I do could support a man who in word and deed has flaunted the core teachings of our faith.
Does Jesus love African-American males? Then why aren’t we telling them so?!
I recently held a Town Hall Meeting at my church in my hometown of Madison, Wis., regarding the blaring racial disparity between whites and African Americans. This gathering attracted about 650 people who wanted to hear my thoughts after reading my "Justified Anger ” cover essay in a local newspaper. It appears that when one considers the economic, academic, arrest and incarceration disparities between African Americans and whites in Madison (and surrounding Dane County), there is no bleaker place for African Americans to be in the entire country than Madison. Although Madison — with its great university, beautiful lakes, bike paths, and educated residents — typically receives high marks as being among the best mid-sized American cities in which to live, it is now developing a different reputation about life here. Sadly, our community has been nationally deemed as ground zero for the disintegration of African-American males!
It took us a solid hour to travel six miles down New York Avenue, then another thirty minutes to get through the 3rd Street tunnel. The children were thirsty. More than once I considered turning around and heading home, though by that point it would have taken just as long to get home as to get where we were going.
And all along the way I rehearsed to myself the arguments of the Free Range Kids / Last Child in the Woods crowd. My husband and I like to think we have a mellow style of child rearing, more focused on moral development and kindness than in developing the "Super People" described in James Atlas' essay in the October 2 New York Times.
I was becoming the stereotype I decried -- schlepping children to lessons at the great cost of time and calm. Couldn't they just run around outside the house?
Where is the compassion in our economy and our politics? It says much of the economic system that Sojourners even needs to campaign for a "moral budget." How do we, as Christians, challenge structures that allow billions of dollars to be wasted via tax loopholes while 1 in 6 Americans live in poverty?
Will we, as Sachs hopes,
#OccupyWallStreet (the New York-based protest against social and economic inequality, corporate greed, and the influence of corporate money and lobbyists on government) has moved to a new location, a street where the air is far sweeter than on Wall Street.
Won't you tell me how to get, how to get ... there?
That's right, folks, the occupation has taken over Sesame Street.
This Friday, October 7, 2011, marks 10 years since the United States invaded Afghanistan in the name of the "War on Terror." Sadly, this summer President Obama announced he'll continue our military presence in the country until 2014, and Congress has agreed to follow his lead.
Where do we go from here?
Scripture constantly should be challenging our assumptions about our lives and in every aspect of society. Transformation is needed on a personal and also a political level. Scriptural priorities shouldn't be glossed over in order to protect political ideologies and comfort zones.
If we believe that what Jesus taught remains just as relevant today as it did when he physically walked among us, then it should still be a comfort to those on the margins of society and offensive to the wealthy and powerful. That doesn't mean that the wealthy and powerful can't be good and faithful followers of Christ, but Jesus did warn them that their walk will be a hard one. Wealth and power bring unique and difficult temptations ... If you never feel uncomfortable when you read the Gospels then you aren't paying attention.
Today (Oct. 4) Christians around the world celebrate the life of St. Francis of Assisi, one of the bright lights of the church and one of the most venerated religious figures in history.
The life and witness of Francis is as relevant to the world we live in today as it was 900 years ago. He was one of the first critics of capitalism, one of the earliest Christian environmentalists, a sassy reformer of the church, and one of the classic conscientious objectors to war.
"Continuing a cycle of violence through state-sanctioned actions does not bring justice but only creates a culture of death and retribution. As a pro-life Christian, I believe the execution of Troy Davis shows a failure of moral leadership by both our country and the state of Georgia. The doubt surrounding the case of Troy Davis has served as a wake-up call to many in this country that our justice system is flawed and should not hold the power of life and death over any person. Justice should restore and heal, not destroy." -- Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis statement today, Friday Sept. 23
When President Barack Obama laid out his deficit plan Monday, he wasn't just trying to sell a policy. When he pressed for tax hikes on the rich and announced, "This is not class warfare," he was trying to exorcise a demon that has bedeviled the Democratic Party for decades and in the process deprive the Republicans of one of their trustiest weapons. The reaction from the right was swift and sure: "Class warfare!"
Not every Christian who shares my concern for the poor has the same view on policy or politics. But, here is a prejudice I am not going to back away from.
To be a follower of Christ is to be biased for the poor.
In life, we all have our biases. Some of them are natural tendencies or inclinations and others are habituated. Our culture tells us to be biased -- in a deferential sense -- towards those who can pay us back or who can look out for us in return. Society tells us to get in with the strong and the powerful because they will give us strength and power in return.
Jesus teaches something very different.
Hidden Battles is a 65-minute documentary which follows a female Sandinista rebel, an Israeli officer, a Palestinian freedom fighter, and two American soldiers as they come to terms with their combat experiences. The film offers unique insight and hope into the internal conflicts that human beings around the world continue to face long after they have left the battlefield.
The documentary listens to the stories of these former soldiers as they reconcile what it means to have killed another human. A Vietnam veteran recalls that when he first killed, he was gripped by the feeling that he "did something -- literally against God." Watch this film and see how these veterans have fought to overcome. Each soldier deals with killing in his or her own unique way. Hidden Battles shows five ways in which this act is integrated into five different lives. Ultimately these stories testify to the resilience of the human spirit and hopefulness for the future.