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.
"Jesus' spirituality was magnetic. Wherever he went, people gathered. His love, understanding and compassion toward humanity was overflowing and people traveled from afar to find solace in his teachings and to breathe life into their spiritual lives. His message of inclusiveness was seen as a threat by the religious leaders of his time -- whose very existence relied on a system of exclusivity."
I say a ceasefire can and also ought to mean that we will hold our peace, hold our tongues, intentionally muzzle ourselves, become mute in a discussion that can much too easily descend into verbal warfare. Often, when we are quiet in the face of verbal attack, the argument does not escalate into something that all parties involved will regret.
My daughter attended her first day of kindergarten today. A poignant milestone dressed up in an exceptionally cute plaid jumper.
My wife and I thought we were pretty cool with it. Our daughter had attended preschool, after all, so this wasn't a major logistical change. She was excited as we dropped her off, said goodbye with a smile over her shoulder, then back to drawing in her new notebook.
We still thought we were cool with it after we signed up for PTA at the courtyard table. We ran into the local rabbi. My wife is pastor at a Lutheran church in town and they cross paths regularly. The rabbi's third child was starting kindergarten. He's an old hand at this.
Here's the prayer we prayed at a nearby Publix grocery in the produce section on Friday:
A Prayer for Publix
Living God, you are the Creator of this beautiful and fertile world. You made sun, rain, soil, air, seed, and seasons. We praise you for the green of lettuce, the yellow of lemon, the orange of a tangerine, and especially for the bright red of a tomato. They are beautiful to our eyes, delicious to our taste buds, and nourishing to our bodies. We pray to the Lord, Lord, hear our prayer.
About two years ago, Minhee and I made one of the hardest decisions we've made thus far in our marriage and in our calling as parents.
In our hope to honor a conviction of the Holy Spirit to give up a year's salary, we had begun the two-year process of saving, selling, and simplifying in 2007. Our goal was to come up with our then year's wages of $68,000 -- in order to launch One Day's Wages. With only a few months left to come up with the total sum, we were a bit short and decided to sublet our home for couple months and asked some friends if we could stay with them on their couches or their guest room.
Needless to say, it was a very humbling time.
Our instruction for ourselves and our children were very simple: Each person gets one carry-on bag for their belongings.
If you are a 12-year-old baseball player, it looks like a field of dreams. There are huge bleachers wrapped around home plate, and extending into left and right field. Behind home, there is a high official box where the game is announced, scores are kept, and reporters watch and write their stories. The field itself looks carefully tended with freshly cut green grass, and a flat-raked dirt infield without potholes, bumps, or ditches. And the beautiful grass of the outfield extends to actual fences, which each player hopes to reach as they gaze at the most perfect baseball diamond any of them have ever played on.
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.
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: As part of Sojourners' campaign to end the war in Afghanistan, we will run a weekly blog about issues in Afghanistan to educate our readers about the latest news and developments related to the war, the U.S. military's strategy, and the people impacted by our decisions. Read more about our campaign at www.sojo.net/afghanistan.]
The United States government has quietly terminated a popular exchange program for high school students from Afghanistan after numerous participants fled to Canada as refugees rather than return home.
The program, the State Department's Youth and Exchange Study (YES), was established in 2002 to provide scholarships to students from countries with significant Muslim populations, and "allows participants to spend up to one academic year in the U.S. while they live with host families, attend high school and learn about American society and values." In 2007, YES Abroad was established to provide a similar experience for U.S students in selected YES countries.
Since early this spring, Sojourners, with your invaluable help, has strongly advocated with the president and Congress, asking for a responsible plan to reduce our nation's deficit -- a plan that protects the poorest and most vulnerable. We have asked, "What Would Jesus Cut?" We have prayed and fasted, and now thousands of you have signed on to the Circle of Protection: a statement on why we need to protect programs for the poor.
"I will call them my people, who were not my people. And her beloved, who was not beloved." (Romans 9:25 referencing Hosea 2:23)
Estranged, alienated, and removed; anyone living in an industrialized modern society in the 21st century would be able to define, or at least identify the sentiments of these words. Our time is one of mass communication and instantaneous access to knowledge. And yet our lives are too compartmentalized, increasingly divided, and our society reflects this. Indeed the existential writers of yesteryear were correct in diagnosing the iron cage that would befall us, ultimately leading to an eclipse of reason.
After months of good-faith reforms and patience, the drama is back in Egypt's Tahrir Square as protesters are preparing for a potential showdown with the state's military rule. The movement, among other things, is demanding an end to military rule -- a more radical call that reflects both the frustration with the status quo and the hope for a better way.
Two weeks ago, at the "Day of Persistence," Egypt saw its largest resurgence of public protest since former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February. The nation-wide protests show Egyptians camping out in Cairo's Tahrir Square, staging sit-ins and blocking traffic in Alexandria, and threatening to shut down Suez's tunnel access to Sinai. So why are the people confronting -- albeit nonviolently -- an interim government that has promised elections and a new constitution? A glance at the collective demands drafted in Tahrir Square make clear that the movement's demands -- both political and economic -- have not progressed much under the military rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
photo © 2007 Laura Askelin | more info (via: Wylio)Though I like a rousing round of ave maria's as much as the next person, the past few centuries of church prayer trends have eschewed Latin in favor of the vernacular -- that is, the language of the people. And to the tune of 450 million copies in more than 70 translations (and counting), it's clear that people the world around speak the language of Harry Potter. Or rather, the story of Harry Potter speaks to them.
So as I watched the final Hogwarts Express depart from Platform 9¾ in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II this past weekend (slightly teary-eyed, I confess), I started to wonder: What might it sound like to pray in the language of Harry Potter -- language that clearly resonates with folks around the world? Would it be cheesy? Probably. Profane? Perhaps. But I figured the God who relied on earthly parables about wineskins and fig trees to explain the Kingdom would understand.
photo © 2004 Phil Whitehouse | more info (via: Wylio)Even I can't help admitting that there is a bunch of stuff in the Bible that's hard to relate to. A lot has changed in the last 2,000 to 4,000 years, and I have no form of reference for shepherds and agrarian life, and I don't know what it's like to have a king or a Caesar, and I don't know a single fisherman, much less a centurion, and I guess I can't speak for all of you but personally I've never felt I might need to sacrifice a goat for my sins. That's the thing about our sacred text being so dang old -- it can sometimes be difficult to relate to. Things have changed a bit over the millennia.
But one thing has not changed even a little bit is the human condition. Parts of the Bible can feel hard to relate to until you get to a thing like this reading from Romans 7, in which Paul says, "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do."
Finally. Something I can relate to. This I know about. I too do not understand my own actions. I too can't manage to consistently do what I know is right. Paul's simple description of the human condition is perhaps a most elegantly put definition of what we now call addiction.
It's no secret that I am a recovering alcoholic. By the grace of God I have been clean and sober for more than 19 years. But, boy, do I remember that feeling of powerlessness that comes from not being able to control your drinking. I'd wake up each morning and have a little talk with myself: "OK Nadia, get it together. Today is going to be different. You just need a little will power." Then, inevitably, later that day I'd say, "Well, just one drink would be OK," or, "I'll only drink wine and not vodka," or, "I'll drink a glass of water between drinks so that I won't get drunk." And sometimes it worked, but mostly it didn't. In the end, my will was just never "strong enough" Like Paul, I did the thing I hated. But that's addiction for you. It's ugly. Yet on some level I feel like we recovering alcoholics and drug addicts have it easy. I mean, our addictions are so obvious. The emotional, spiritual, and physical wreckage caused by alcoholism and drug addiction has a certain conspicuousness to it.