Letters

Beyond Apologies

In “It’s a Start” (June 2008), Donald Shriver Jr. rightly addresses the issue of slavery and the need to go beyond apologies. He refers to the “scandalously high number—about 38 percent” of prisoners who are African American. But he does not address the reality of slavery in that setting.

A simple Google search of “private prisons” will point out the huge profits, per head, that private prisons can and do make as they “hold” the overflows from government prisons. As a correctional health nurse, I was very troubled by the totally disproportionate numbers, based on the demographics of our city, of African Americans being “processed” in the screening area in which I worked. Many of these will then become a source of income for organizations that operate private prisons. Slavery? Undoubtedly. Who can and will address this aspect of going beyond apologies?

Jonathan Beachy

San Antonio, Texas

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Sojourners Magazine August 2008
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Sound Giving

The May 2008 issue on “Putting Your Money Where Your Heart Is” suggests many fine ways of doing just that. However, investing in tax-free municipal bonds was not mentioned. Our latest purchase was to help finance a school in Lewiston, Maine, where there is a burgeoning community of refugees from Somalia.

Growing weary of “praying for peace and paying for war,” we quit our jobs in the Philadelphia area and moved to northern Maine in 1982. A fellow Quaker showed us the ropes about investing in life-enhancing municipal projects that help Ameri­cans. The interest on these bonds is not taxable by the federal government.

Instead of paying federal taxes—which most years we do not owe or, if so, owe very little—we have our own foreign and domestic giving programs. High on our list are local food banks, the Salvation Army fuel fund, Viet­n­amese humanitarian aid projects, and peace and justice organizations. Meanwhile, for more than 20 years we have had time to be active volunteers in our community at long-term elderly and child care centers. We sleep better at night, too.

Harrison and Marilyn Roper

Houlton, Maine

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Sojourners Magazine August 2008
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Redefining Church

It is encouraging to hear how the new generation is approaching religion (“Making Their Mark,” June 2008). They seem to want authentic religious experience and service. They also seem to distrust traditional churches and their rituals and practices and have found their own way.

I only hope they do not thoroughly disregard the centuries of faith and meaning people have found in the various churches. We, the older generation, need young people. We do not ask them to follow what has been meaningful to us, but that they help us refind and remake our own faith. We can only pray and support what a new generation will bring to our churches.

Lucy Fuchs

Brandon, Florida

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Sojourners Magazine August 2008
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Timely Giving

[Regarding “Being There,” by Jim Rice, March 2008], I met Brother Andrew when I was a recent “Jesus Freak” convert in 1971. I have seldom been impressed by a popular Christian author as I was by him. He was a normal person with a sense of humor. A few years later my wife and I sent him some money for his ministry. We were shocked when he sent back a personal note thanking us. He explained that our donation came on the same day he had met an Eastern Bloc couple who needed money. We have never experienced such a thing in our giving to well-known Christian figures.

Chris Anderson
York, Pennsylvania

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Sojourners Magazine June 2008
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Real Change

Real Change

Jim Wallis’ “The Politics of Change” (March 2008) so effectively probed the possibility of real political change given the “vast array of powerful forces that will do everything possible to prevent real change.”

This analysis stood in contrast to E.J. Dionne Jr.’s article in the same issue, which asked, “Is It Still a Won­derful Life?” His seemingly sanguine conclusion is that Americans are at heart so noble (like George Bailey) that if we come together around a “new democratic solidarity” and embrace George Bailey’s politics, we would transform the nation. Dionne offers oppressed Poland as an example of how a coalition weakened the grip of Soviet domination. That illustration is irrelevant in that in Poland everyone knew who the enemy was. In our case, a “vast array of powerful forces” pose as protectors and providers who assure us that we have never had it so good and that with them we are secure, yet all the while they resist meaningful change.

Wallis is right when he says that “the change must go deeper than politics” and that “unless change goes deeper, politics won’t really change.” Every one of the presidential candidates is offering to do the same old thing, only better. Deep and real change is not on their agenda.

Wayne North
Harrisonburg, Virginia

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Sojourners Magazine June 2008
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Defense Strategies

Defense Strategies

Jim Wallis’ article “A Call to Repentance” (January 2008) speaks directly and powerfully to an issue that is incredibly important for American Christ­ians to come to terms with. I would also like to add a concrete example of the fact that “generous leadership to combat poverty and disease, for example, might be a more effective way to make friends in the world.”

Several years ago our church sponsored a mission trip to Costa Rica. Eighteen people went to a small village to teach children and paint buildings. We slept on a concrete floor and visited the sick. These people were clearly moved that Caucasians from the richest country in the world would come to their impoverished village and do this work. We made many friends and certainly helped all of us to be more secure in the world.

This trip wasn’t unusual as mission trips go, but what we often forget to look at are the economics of these ventures. This trip cost us $14,000. What if we used our current average defense budget to sponsor such service trips? $450 billion pays for 32 million trips. This is enough for millions of Americans to visit every country on earth thousands of times every year.

Imagine what such an outpouring of service, compassion, and mutual understanding would do for our world. This would buy security for all.

Daniel Wolpert
Crookston, Minnesota

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Sojourners Magazine June 2008
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No Safety

It is highly misleading to say anyone can subscribe to Sojourners “risk-free” [as it says on subscription materials]. After many years of reading Sojour­ners, I now am compelled to visit the far reaches of the globe to try to bring about the kingdom of God through child survival projects and other efforts. I have run the risk of being kidnapped, and I have been mugged and publicly ridiculed for my faith. It has been anything but risk-free. Next time I suggest you publish a full disclosure concerning the risk of reading your highly edifying, highly motivating, but incredibly risky magazine.

Tom Davis
Lewisville, North Carolina

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Sojourners Magazine April 2008
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Playing in Public

I just read Ed Spivey Jr.’s piece about his first public recital (“Seriously, Is This What Hell is Like? December 2007), and I have to say it was inspired. I haven’t laughed so much in a very long time, as there isn’t much to laugh about in this world, but he described his hellish ordeal so well I think he had to be moved spiritually to write it.

For one thing, I never saw “Tchyeah” spelled out, and it should become part of any new publication of American slang dictionaries. For another, when he approached the podium and described it this way—“I’m pretty sure I heard someone whisper ‘dead man walking’ as I passed by”—I actually laughed out loud, and I haven’t done that much lately.

So, what I plan to do is try to find Concerto No. 5 by Friedrich Seitz, the demented German composer, and if there are any CDs out there, to buy and play it so I know what trying to play it on the violin is like. And I’d like Ed to know that I suffered a similar fate in my first piano recital, when I had to play some piece from Madam Butterfly, I think, because it’s all a blur. I have rarely touched the keyboard since, but I would like to, probably for the same reason Ed would like to play the violin. I love music.

Edward R. Schreiber

Saugerties, New York

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Sojourners Magazine February 2008
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Renewable Stories

To your rich November 2007 special issue, “Tel­ling Stories,” on books and theater, I’d like to add a brief but, to me, significant emendation. In “Dra­matic Faith,” James Martin, SJ, writes that “the whole of the liturgical year … can be seen as a kind of extended drama.” Yes, but he also says that the liturgical year ends with Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection. This leaves out those important times of Pentecost and Kingdomtide. The former is traditionally understood as the beginning of the church and the latter is that long time that we have to live out the Christian life. The liturgical year never ends, but is an ever-renewable cycle without a break. It is a frame for creating and telling our stories.

Charles Courtney

Madison, New Jersey

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Sojourners Magazine February 2008
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Keep Asking Questions

Your magazine just brought me to tears. I was standing in front of the magazine display in the library of Montrose, Colorado, when I happened to see your latest issue. I didn’t even know you existed. The article “The Stories We Tell Ourselves” (by Brian McLaren, November 2007) is so right on. To me it is incomprehensible and enraging that anyone calling themselves Christian can be so blind as to support imperialistic, militaristic endeavors again and again, always turning the blind eye. My assumption is that Jesus would be, and perhaps is, outraged.

Your position is that there is hope. Personally, I am not so sure there is hope for humanity, which seems always to construct governing systems that extract wealth from the many and transfer it to the few, most often using religion to obscure and distract and to placate the people with concepts that they are “doing good works.” Soup kitchens are great, building orphanages is great, etc., but the real question should/must be: How is it that there are so many poor? How is it that there are so many imprisoned? How is it that things are so screwed up?

David Anderson

Montrose, Colorado

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Sojourners Magazine February 2008
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