Common good

Life, Dignity, and the Tragedy in Bangladesh

THE APRIL 24 collapse of a garment factory near Dhaka, Bangladesh, killed more than 1,125 people. That tragedy followed a fire that killed 112 last November at a factory making goods for companies including Walmart. According to the International Labor Rights Forum, at least 1,800 garment workers in Bangladesh have died in fires or other factory disasters since 2005. The collapse near Dhaka is the largest disaster in that time and the one that has gotten global attention.

As a Dominican Catholic sister and member of Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice, I approach reflection on such a disaster from the foundation of Catholic social teaching. Each of the social principles below relates to the situation in Bangladesh and challenges us to reflect on our own regard for those who provide our clothing.

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We Interrupt This Family for Baseball Season

Jim Wallis with the Tigers Little League team. Photo courtesy Jim Wallis
Jim Wallis with the Tigers Little League team. Photo courtesy Jim Wallis

On Memorial Day weekend, our family of four participated in six baseball games! Having just returned from a six-week book tour, it was such a refreshing change from discussing our nation’s politics, which is all the media wants to talk about and is more and more well, disgusting.  

A sign outside our home’s front door says, “This family has been interrupted by the baseball season.” Both of our boys play, I coach, and my wife Joy Carroll is the Little League Baseball Commissioner — cool job for a Church of England priest!

On Saturday, we played in the Northwest Little League All Star game, which I got to coach with my son Jack on one of the teams. Our team came out on top, and Joy made 100 hotdogs for a celebration after the game. Our last victory cheer was “1, 2, 3, HOTDOGS!” The picture here shows the enthusiasm of the 9- and 10-year-olds I get to coach every single week. It’s what keeps me grounded in real life — amid the politics of this dysfunctional capital city — and it’s what gives me joy. Coaching baseball has also kept me deeply connected to my two sons, as I write about in my new book.

We had just helped save an immigration reform bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee — advocating for 11 million undocumented people who Jesus calls the “strangers” against the special interest politics of both left and right — when I entered the field for our Little League Tigers game on Friday night. It was just what I needed.

Here is a great baseball story that explains why I love Little League Baseball.

Christian leaders seek to overcome polarization

Twenty-five religious leaders gathered to commit themselves to civil discourse. The meeting brought together conservative and liberal leaders. They agreed to "move politicians, congregants and Americans in general to understand that mean-spirited debate makes it all the harder to solve the nation’s problems." The Washington Post reports:

“You need some voice to say,’OK, we get that it can win elections, but maybe that’s not the best course of action.’ Typically, we think of religious leaders as voices of conscience, calling people to a better way. So therein is the hope,” said Ed Stetzer, vice president of research and ministry development at LifeWay Christian Resources.

Read more here.

Public Education for the Common Good

Occupy DOE says public education is central to teaching children about the common good. Photo courtesy Apollofoto/shutterstock

America is at a crossroads: We live in a society that promotes working for our own ends, but if we are to survive and flourish it is time to start sacrificing for the common good by working together.

In early April, advocates for public education traveled to Washington D.C. for Occupy the Department of Education (Occupy the DOE). Students, parents, educators, and community members came together to protest a current system that is designed to segregate our society, while demanding a public education system that devotes itself to the common good through sacrifice of self for the love of the whole.

 

The Common Good Amid Individualism

Two churches,  Silva Vikmane / Shutterstock.com
Two churches, Silva Vikmane / Shutterstock.com

As Americans, we live in a culture that is hyper-individuated, fragmented, and dehumanizing as it pushes a mantra of success based on material accumulation and power. Being in community with others is the countercultural answer to this. Doing so with others unlike ourselves is an important part of this. At the end of the day, above the polarization and partisanship, there is much we can do to promote the common good together. As Maddie put it at a meeting that brought Christians of opposing social interpretations together, "We may never agree on some issues, but that is not why we're here; we're good people, you're good people, let's do good together."

Submission: Freedom and Community

Freedom has always been important to Americans, but a short-sighted definition of freedom has played havoc with the common good recently. Communities, essential to our survival and well-being, are suffering.

All communities have rules. In my faith community, there are two great commandments:  Love God and neighbor (even enemies). It’s a difficult balance, but when I manage it, I experience freedom from fear, a major reason that I joined the church in the first place. Those two basic rules have held up well, especially as my neighborhood has expanded to include the whole world.

Relearning to Read

DREAMS CAN serve a powerful purpose. Jacob dreamed a ladder and was renamed Israel. Joseph dreamed the sun and moon and stars and was sold into slavery. The magi dreamed a warning and returned home by way of another road.

Years ago I had a dream. I sat, a child, on a dirt floor. Around me paced a horse, saddled, ready. In front stood an immense door, cathedral-tall and brooding. And though open, the space within was dark. I was holding a light. And in the dream, I knew we were to bring light into that darkness. And the darkness—the darkness was the church.

In Truth Speaks to Power: The Countercultural Nature of Scripture, Walter Brueggemann, professor emeritus of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, bears light to the exegetical (seminary lingo for interpretive) work and examination of the interplay between truth and power found in both familiar and less familiar narratives of Old Testament scripture. Rigorous in content, the read is nevertheless accessible to scholar and novice alike.

Brueggemann's concern with the interplay of truth and power rests on the observation that far too often truth, even biblical truth, is found colluding with and legitimizing the self-serving and self-preserving agenda of totalistic and monopolizing authorities. To use biblical imagery, truth sides with the Pharaohs and the Solomons of the world and not with those on its margins and periphery.

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A Global Call for a New Social Covenant

IN THE PAST 20 years, the world has witnessed the death of social contracts. We have seen a significant breakdown in trust between citizens, their economies, and their governments. In our own country, we can point to years of data painting a bleak picture of the confidence Americans have in any of our traditional institutions.

Former assumptions and shared notions about fairness, agreements, reciprocity, social values, and expected futures have all but disappeared. The collapse of financial structures and the economic crisis that followed not only caused instability, insecurity, and human pain; they have also produced a growing doubt and basic distrust in the way the system functions and how decisions are made.

This year, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, we looked to the future and asked, "what now?" At a key session—"The Moral Economy: From Social Contract to Social Covenant"—a document was announced that kicks off a year-long global conversation about a new "social covenant" between citizens, governments, and businesses.

It is really a call for worldwide discussion about what values are needed to address the many difficult challenges the world is now facing. Inequality, austerity, retrenchment, maldistribution, conflicts over resources, and extreme poverty all raise questions about our values.

The introduction to the covenant says: "The choices made about each issue are determined by the values we hold—the values applied by government, business, civil society, and individuals. Those choices need to be self-conscious—not based merely upon the inertia of accumulated interests. This is not merely a philosophical enterprise; it is an urgent matter that requires moral courage. The stakes are high."

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Stars Align on South Africa Human Rights Day

Photo by A. Warmback
Children lead the sermon on 5th Sunday of Lent at St. John Baptist. Photo by A. Warmback

Having achieved our freedom we can fall into the trap of washing our hands of difficulties that others face. We would be less human if we do so…we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.

       - President Nelson Mandela- December 1997

There is visceral identification by South Africans with the suffering of the Palestinians.

Newspapers and speakers at South Africa Human Rights Day/U.N. International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination focused on the liberation of the oppressed and the importance of a mobilized civil society to stand with the marginalized. The events commemorate the nonviolent protest against the racial passbooks, March 21, 1960. The day ended tragically with the Sharpeville massacre, which left 69 people dead and 180 injured. Nelson Mandela burned his discriminatory passbook a week later and the long march for freedom and dignity began in earnest. Even when it is still a journey in progress of real equality and democracy for all, there is an intentionality expressed best by Mandela.

Reclaiming the Commons

Soho Square, London, pablo / Shutterstock.com
Soho Square, London, pablo / Shutterstock.com

The commons was the name for the public space shared by all in New England towns. It is the root of commonwealth, a nice term for an entire civic entity, like a state, in which every citizen is viewed as a stake-holder. Its values are the opposite of those decried in the lament “private wealth and public squalor.” The commons are the opposite of gated communities. 

Today, there are two crises of the commons — one on the right and one on the left. One is indifference to the commons, even starving the commons. This means the demise of “social capital” (the sum total of all social networks and human investments in a community or polity) and civic values shared by all, and their surrender to utilitarian individualism and the dominance of the market. The other is the argument over what discourse style is appropriate to the commons — what language should be spoken and what subjects allowed in public life. Hint: lucid rationality is in, religion is out.

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