Faith and Politics
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.
President Barack Obama will decide as early as September whether to light a fuse to the largest carbon bomb in North America. That bomb is the massive tar sands field in Canada's Alberta province. And the fuse is the 1,700-mile long Keystone XL Pipeline that would transport this dirtiest of petroleum fuels all the way to Texas refineries.
The Keystone XL Pipeline is a climate and pollution horror beyond description. From August 20 to September 3, thousands of Americans -- including Bill McKibben, Danny Glover, NASA's Dr. James Hansen, and thousands more -- will be at the White House, day after day, demanding Obama reject this tar sands pipeline.
I'm going to be there, and I hope you will join me -- we need your voice.
I prefer my revolutions to be simple: A corrupt dictator/tyrant, an oppressed population, inspired reformers who risk their lives, calls for democracy, waves of marchers in the streets, background music from Les Misérables. The stories from Tunis and Cairo were epochal. The Arab spring was in full bloom as calls for participatory government could be heard from every corner of the Middle East.
Then there was Syria. The Assad government has been infamous in its intolerance to dissent. It is a military regime whose 30-year leadership under Hafez al-Assad (1930-2000) established it as one of the most severe in the region. In 2,000, after the death of Hafez, the world was intrigued to see his second son -- Bashar al-Assad -- ascend the throne. Bashar was an ophthalmologist who had studied in London, but because of his older brother's death in a car accident in 1994, he was called to follow his father. Bashar speaks English and French fluently and has been as critical of the U.S. as he has been of Israel.
Late last night it was announced that the president and congressional leadership reached a deal that should ensure that our country does not default on its debts. Now Congress is in the midst of making their decision on the plan. Already the media is trying to hash out who won and who lost, who is up and who is down, and what kind of effect the events of July 2011 will have on how the country votes in November 2012.
Similar to many of my Western counterparts, my first thoughts when I first heard about the attacks in Norway went to extreme Islamic terrorism. I had heard about the growing tensions in Scandinavia because of the increasing Muslim population and cultural shifts arising as a result. Thus, when I heard through a friend that a Norwegian school had been attacked, I assumed the attack to be a response from a Muslim terrorist group. I asked if it was al Qaeda or such other organization. My friend responded, "Probably." Thus, you can imagine my surprise when I saw the picture of the suspect who appeared very Scandinavian with fair skin and complexion.
According to the New York Times, the attacks in Oslo killed at least 92 people and the orchestrator left behind "a detailed manifesto outlining preparations and calling for Christian war to defend Europe against the threat of Muslim domination." If I had read that statement out of context, I would think one was talking about the Christian Crusades of the 12th century.
The other day the mail brought an advertisement for something I desperately need (or so the ad suggested). If I ordered it right now, the ad said, I would save a hefty percentage off the usual price. In vain I searched the flyer for the price. None was listed -- not the total, not my monthly payment. I was apparently supposed to place my faith in the kindly marketers and order it anyway.
I guess I should be used to this sort of marketing. After all, that's how our federal government does business. Shall we a. fight a war in Iraq? b. add a war in Afghanistan? c. subsidize medical care for seniors and the poor? d. rescue failed financial institutions? e. subsidize growers of corn and soybeans? or f. fund interstate highways?
In the wake of the tragic bombing in Norway this past weekend, we are left with an unsettling picture of the state of anti-Islamic sentiments in the United States. There were broad attempts to blame the bombings on Islamic terrorism before all of the facts of the attack were out, and even after the attacker became known as Anders Behring Breivik, a self-proclaimed Christian extremist, the discussion focused on Breivik's statement that he was responding to the threat Muslims pose in Europe.
In response to Sojourners' radio ads about the budget debates, the Family Research Council's political action committee has launched radio ads in Kentucky and Ohio arguing that deficit reduction should cut programs that serve poor and vulnerable people. The ads assert that it is the private individual, not government, who has a responsibility to the poor. The ads say, "Jesus didn't instruct the government of his day to take the rich young ruler's property and redistribute it to the poor. He asked the ruler to sell his possessions and help the poor. Charity is an individual choice, not a government mandate."
This could put the speaker of the House, a Catholic, in a difficult position. Catholic social teaching instructs that the government does have a direct responsibility to the poor and that private charity is only one of the ways that Christians express concern for "the least of these." This ad sets itself in direct opposition to that teaching and the values that it comes from. The speaker was already in a tough spot when the Catholic bishops came out with a strong critique of the House plan, but now he has a powerful political organization calling for him to ignore Catholic social teaching all together.
[Editors' note: Rev. John Stott, one of the world's most influential evangelical figures over the past half-century, died this Wednesday at age 90. Rev. Stott served as a contributing editor for Sojourners magazine, when we were known as The Post American, and wrote this article for the November/December, 1973 issue of the magazine. We will always remember Rev. Stott for his profound contributions to our community and the Church.]
It seems to be a characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon mind to enjoy inhabiting the "polar regions" of truth. If we could straddle both poles simultaneously, we would exhibit a healthy balance. Instead, we tend to "polarize". We push some of our brothers to one pole, while keeping the other as our own preserve.
What I am thinking of now is not so much questions of theology as questions of temperament, and in particular the tension between the "conservative" and the "radical."
The markets are watching, the Republicans are watching, the Democrats are watching, the media are watching, the pollsters and pundits are watching. The public is watching and is disgusted with Washington, D.C.
When it comes to the bitter and ultra-partisan battles over the budget, the deficit, and the fast-approaching deadline for America defaulting on its financial commitments, the whole nation and even the world is watching.
But God is watching too.
"God is Watching," reads the headline for a full page ad Sojourners ran in this morning's Politico. It is the latest in a series of radio, print, and online ads we have put out on the budget debate and default crisis. On Tuesday, we launched radio ads in Kentucky, Nevada, and Ohio that were recorded by local pastors who lifted up the moral issues at stake in the debate.
Furthermore, our work in the past few weeks and the Circle of Protection meeting with the president has been covered by the Washington Post (and here), CNN (and here), MSNBC, Politico, Roll Call, and many local outlets from across the country. Behind all the ads and the press is the muscle -- and that muscle is you.
Where has all the sanity gone?
I, for one, never expected in my wildest dreams to pine for the days of Ronald Reagan. But I'm there.
And for everyone who is blaming "everyone" on this debt ceiling debacle, you're just dead wrong. The Democratically controlled House and Senate in the 80s did not hold President Reagan hostage when he had to raise the debt ceiling. And that is exactly what is happening. And the problem is that this is a train wreck that has been months in the coming. The only thing that we don't know is how bad the carnage will be.
We have come to an impasse in the negotiations to raise the debt ceiling because of several conceptual errors in our public discourse. These errors were most glaring in the remarks recently delivered by Speaker of the House John Boehner in his response to President Obama. The largest conceptual error is the idea that the government of a constitutional representative democracy is different from the people. Boehner said, "You know I've always believed the bigger the government, the smaller the people."
What does this mean? The government is composed of the people, and if people are paying attention and voting according to their own interests, the government ought to work toward the happiness of the people. The problem is that too many Americans have bought into this conceptual error that the government is some kind of leviathan, a monster that exists to take away their liberties. This is nonsense. A correction of another conceptual error in Boehner's presentation makes my point.
This creative writing club in Gugulethu, a township 10 miles outside Cape Town, South Africa, drew together nearly two dozen expressive girls, ages 13 through 20, each week for a year. With the help of a prompt -- a phrase or a short piece of writing to get started -- together the girls and I wrote. Like athletes in training, we built up from an initial three minutes of writing to, eventually, 20 minutes and sometimes longer when they asked for more time. Then we would go around the circle where we sat and read aloud what each of us wrote.
One week, the girls collectively wrote their manifesto (below), and staged a reading when the Flip camera came out. Then Sharon added her own contribution, "Proudly South African" (to hear her read, click here). She's now enrolled in her first year studying psychology at the University of Cape Town. I'm secretly hoping she switches to journalism.
If you live in Kentucky, Nevada, or Ohio and listen to Christian or country radio, you'll be hearing some of Sojourners' new radio ads calling for legislators to remember the least of these during this default crisis. For those of you who haven't completed your migration over to Google+, you might also start to see some ads popping up on your Facebook page in the next few days asking you to speak out on behalf of those in need. The reason we are running these ads is simple: The rich have lobbyists while those in need don't, and that's why Christians need to speak out and form a "Circle of Protection." If you don't live in one of these areas (or aren't listening to Christian or country radio) you can listen to the ads here.
Walmart has launched a charm offensive as part of its new urban strategy to impose smaller versions of its big box in inner cities across the country. It has proposed four stores for Washington, D.C. -- all in predominantly minority, and most in low-income, neighborhoods.
The debate over building Walmart stores in D.C. is engaging intense public sentiment, and for good reason. While Walmart promises new jobs in a community, in reality it displaces other local businesses, leaving in question whether there is a net jobs gain; one study showed that for every retail job Walmart brought, communities lost 1.4 other jobs. In addition, Walmart passes on the cost of its low wages to taxpayers when associates and their families rely on publicly funded health care and other assistance programs.
Anthony Shadid of the New York Times reports that a song, "Come on Bashar, Leave," is spreading across Syria, boldly calling on President Bashar al-Assad to step down. (Bryan Farrell also wrote about it at the Waging Nonviolence blog.) The article suggests that a young cement layer who chanted it in demonstrations was pulled from the Orontes River this month, his throat having been cut, and, according to residents of the city of Hama, his vocal chords torn out. Hama is where, in 1982, then-president Hafez al-Assad, father of the current president named in the song, gave orders to the army to massacre more than 10,000 in putting down an Islamist upheaval. Today, boys 6-years-old and older vocalize their own rendition of the original warbler's song instead. As the song has sped across Syria, demonstrators have adopted it for themselves.
I'm getting arrested on Aug. 29 at the White House. It's time to put my body where my soul is -- defending God's creation.
A interreligious contingent has chosen Aug. 29 as our arrest day. Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others will train together on Aug. 28 and then worship and risk arrest together on Aug. 29.
This is part of a two-week campaign (Aug. 20-Sept. 3) in which leading environmentalists including Wendell Berry, Naomi Klein, and Bill McKibben will join a peaceful campaign of civil disobedience to block the approval of a dirty oil pipeline that will cross the United States. As one Canadian wrote, "This [pipeline] will make the Great Wall of China look like Tom Sawyer's picket fence." Bill McKibben explained further in an earlier blog on God's Politics: