H'rumphs

And a Little Child Shall Annoy Them

Alena Kozlova / Shutterstock
Alena Kozlova / Shutterstock

ONE OF OUR articles this month encourages us to more intentionally incorporate the lives and wonders of children into our worship, which is a great idea, because if all the kids are in the sanctuary you don’t have to volunteer for child care.

But seriously, tapping the natural energy of the young would create a more holistic experience and open the door to a greater connection with the divine, assuming the divine has a short attention span and a constant runny nose and tends to giggle during silent reflection. Not to mention drawing pictures on the collection envelopes in the backs of pews. (If they don’t want children’s graffiti on those envelopes, they shouldn’t put them right next to those little yellow pencils, which the child invariably drops and, with cat-like speed, goes after it before the parent can grab him. A short time later, pencil in hand, the young one looks around under the pew but sees no familiar legs or shoes. He is lost, not unlike the sheep the preacher is at that moment talking about, the difference being that the parent now pulling the child backward by his feet is less the Good Shepherd of the New Testament and more the Vengeful God of the Old Testament who doesn’t give a crap about sheep. But I digress.)

A child-centric church is something I experienced firsthand growing up in the warm embrace of the Southern Baptist church. For me, Sunday was the best day of the week. There was no school, so no gym class with humiliating taunts from peers questioning my athleticism, no condescending teachers refusing to give credit for my book report on TV Guide (so much to watch, so little time, what with homework and all that).

Church was a place of safety and support, a time for the social outcasts of weekdays to finally feel appreciated and valued, particularly by the adults, who gladly drew us into the heart of the church, just as soon as they finished their cigarettes. (In those days, all have smoked and fallen short of the glory of God, although I think God cut you some slack if it was menthol.)

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The Jokers Are On Us

aarisham / Shutterstock
aarisham / Shutterstock

IT’S THE START of the 2016 election year, and I know what you’re thinking: “No it’s not. It’s the middle of December, and I haven’t done any of my Christmas shopping!” Understood. But this is our January issue, and in our minds the ball has already dropped in Time Square, Ryan Seacrest’s New Year’s Eve was, once again, not rockin’, and we’ve got serious political work to do.

Although at Sojourners we have to be very careful. In the coming year, we can speak prophetic truth about the issues facing our world but can’t direct that same righteous fire at a candidate, because we’re a certain kind of nonprofit, a 501C-3PO, I think. Nonprofits follow rigid federal rules against partisanship, and most of them don’t make a profit. That part we’re really good at. We never have any money left over. (Although once we bought a ham for our Christmas party. I had three slices. Sometimes it’s okay to have a profit, as long as you eat it.)

Nonprofits are nothing like the political action committees that will be spending billions of dollars in the next election. PACs can raise unlimited money in support of any candidate, but they can’t coordinate with them. Which is why PACs have names such as “We Love Jeb Bush, Just Don’t Tell Him That” and “Supporting Ted Cruz, But We Want It to Be a Surprise.” It protects them from any appearance of collusion, which is unlawful and closely monitored by the Federal Election Commission, which would respond harshly by winking.

Unlike a PAC, Sojourners doesn’t have unlimited anything (there were no seconds on the ham), except our unlimited love for justice, the Risen Savior, and this one sweater I have my eye on for Christmas. (Come on, J.C. Penney gift card!) But we do have a lot of curiosity about the people wanting to be president, the second most powerful person in the country after Jeff Bezos, who invented Amazon because he dreams of a world where the only human contact is with UPS drivers.

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This is Frank Luntz. No it's Not.

Frank Luntz sees things differently than the rest of us. As the Talking Points King for the Right, truth is always inconvenient for Frank, which is why he simply ignores it and manufactures his own version. Luntz is the strategist who puts words into the mouths of conservatives on Capitol Hill. (Although, in his defense, there might be other things in the mouth of perennially unsmiling Sen. Mitch McConnell [R-Grumpyland], who appears to be sucking on lemons. No problem. Luntz will turn them into lemonade.)

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Sojourners Magazine June 2010
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Inventor. Handyman. Genius.

As summer approaches, I look forward to the day, sometime in late July, when all the snow will finally be gone from Washington, D.C. But right now I’m writing from the confines of my home, trapped under three feet of snow and occupying my time by worrying about the porch roof collapsing.

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Sojourners Magazine May 2010
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Supreme Court Earns Free Air Miles

The recent Supreme Court decision expanding corporate “personhood” in elections has opened up a new world of possibility, and not just that the Roberts majority can ride in Halliburton’s Gulfstream anytime it wants. It also changes who I could have dated in high school. Had I known that personhood would one day be constitutionally attributed to businesses, I might not have been so disappointed when the head cheerleader reluctantly declined to be my prom date.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2010
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An Urgent Visit to the White House

It was a very special day, and I chose my necktie accordingly, a selection made easier by the fact that I only have two. One is covered with a photograph of brightly-colored fruit, a design that expressed my bold fashion sense during the roughly five minutes that photographic ties were in style. But these are more somber times than the summer of 1981, so I instead chose the beige tie with small blue medallions, a full decade newer, and the perfect understatement for meeting the president of the United States.

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Sojourners Magazine March 2010
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What Would Jesus Prescribe?

This being December, many of you are starting to go through closets finding raiment suitable for the children to wear in the upcoming church Christmas pageant. Note that adult after-shower wear may not be suitable for a child posing as a shepherd who, during the performance, may break the monotony of standing perfectly still for an hour by rummaging through a pocket and submitting to public view whatever object lies within. Hopefully, it won’t be the hidden pack of cigarettes you don’t have any more because you quit, and are only keeping for a friend because he’s just so weak.

I mention smoking—even though Sojourners readers are too smart for cigarettes, or at least they would hide them in a better place, maybe in that old Jerusalem Bible that seemed such a good purchase before they actually tried to lug it to church on a regular basis—because smoking is the number one health concern in this country, followed closely by obesity, diabetes, and political intransigence. Unfortunately, the latter cannot be treated with diet and exercise, although screaming loudly at town-hall meetings is considered good cardio.

Scientists report that this uniquely American condition of intransigence comes from the one gene we share with the mule, an animal best known for stubbornly refusing to budge during legislative mark-ups. Sorry. I meant when plowing fields, a more productive exercise than the current attempts at reforming health care. At least with plowing fields you get food, which then you can eat too much of and eventually become a huge burden on our health system.

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Sojourners Magazine December 2009
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Trouble in the Garden of Liberty

While purchasing a slingshot recently, I began to wonder what message this might be sending to my credit card company, a business that pays special attention to my spending habits out of what I used to think was a deep sense of affection, or possibly love.

But it turns out they routinely monitor purchases to determine demographic tendencies for repayment. (Who knew? I thought they were just figuring out what I’d like for my birthday.)

This practice is known by many names: profiling, market segmentation, and Being Even Bigger Jerks Than We Thought.

Apparently, if you’re careful with your money or seek value in discounted merchandise, you’re not to be trusted. If you shop at Target or Wal-Mart instead of blowing your paycheck at an upscale jewelry store, the credit card company assumes you’ll probably lose your job, miss a payment, or get into such a deep financial hole that the only fair remedy is doubling your interest charges. It’s probably in the Bible someplace.

Credit card computers also note purchases associated with lower-income demographics, such as used motorcycle parts and generic soda, products I now only buy through a third party to mask my frugality. I figure if it works for Mexican drug cartels buying their guns in the U.S., it could work for me and my Econo-taste Cola. (Actually, if drug cartels bought their guns from Nordstrom, they could get a lower rate on their credit cards, not to mention air miles to use for smuggling. With the new charges for baggage these days, it’s good to know that the kilo of cocaine in your underpants won’t trigger extra fees, although it may itch a bit.)

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Sojourners Magazine November 2009
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Was it Torture, or Value-Added Questioning?

With all the mixed signals we’ve been getting these days about the use of torture, it’s hard to know what to believe. I’ve always felt that torture was wrong, and that we shouldn’t do it except under extreme circumstances, such as to force producers of the Fox TV show 24 to stop glorifying it. (We could make them watch episodes of The Partridge Family over and over until they promise that Jack Bauer will use more acceptable interrogation methods, like maybe tickling.) But I’m starting to wonder if I’ve rushed to judgment.

Former—and for that, we are grateful—Vice President Dick Cheney insists that torture has saved countless American lives. (But then he’s the guy who said we’d be greeted as libertarians in Iraq—or was it librarians?—and he was wrong about that.)

When discussing torture, Cheney prefers to use the term “enhanced interrogation,” which sounds like a beneficial thing. “Interrogation Plus” might be another term, or “Value-Added Questioning,” and then afterward you get free air miles, or cash back. (“You’ve been very cooperative, possible terrorist. Now here’s a coupon for Ruby Tuesday.”)

So I’m left with the question: Is it a human rights issue or just a marketing challenge?

One man bravely attempting to provide an answer is Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-Dixie), who recently said in a hearing, “Let’s have both sides of the story here. I mean, one of the reasons these techniques have survived for about 500 years is apparently they work.”

It’s hard to argue with that. After all, during the Spanish Inquisition, the Catholic Church got lots of useful confessions using Enhanced Stretching on the rack. Early American Protestants successfully rid their parishes of witches with an early form of waterboarding that they called “Baptism Plus.”

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Sojourners Magazine August 2009
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