[caption id="attachment_34028" align="alignleft" width="214" caption="Detail of a sculpture at the site of a former slave market, Christ Church, Zanzibar. By Cathleen Falsani."][/caption]
Don't believe most of what you'll hear about Kevin Smith's new movie, Red State.
It is not an angry tirade against religion, nor is it an attack on Christianity guised as a horror flick laden with gratuitous violence.
Smith has described Red State as a horror film, and it is that, but not in the conventional Nightmare on Elm Street iteration. There is violence for sure, but nothing approaching the unrelenting bloodbath of, say, The Passion of the Christ.
Some clever folks have created a magnificent "mash-up" of Sesame Street's resident pastry enthusiast, Cookie Monster, and the iconoclastic performer Tom Waits' song "God's Away on Business" from his 2002 album, "Blood Money." (Waits' song also appeared in the 2005 film, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.)
At Europe Through the Back Door, our tour program just sold its 11,782nd seat for our 2011 season -- topping our best tour sales year ever (2007). Despite our antsy stock market and doom-and-gloom news stories, it seems that our economy is gaining some confidence. And yet, at the same time, our local symphony and arts center are in financial crisis.
As a way to celebrate, to give back to my beautiful hometown of Edmonds, and to spark a little conversation about why a society as affluent as the USA is cutting education, neglecting our environment, and defunding the arts while our wealthy class is doing better than ever, I've decided to make a donation of $1 million (in $100,000-a-year payments over the next decade) to our local symphony and arts center. This sum represents the money I've gained in the 10 years since the Bush tax cuts for the richest Americans (those of us earning over $250,000 a year) took effect.
When I first visited Ethiopia at the height of the 1984 famine, I watched as twenty-four people died of starvation in less than fifteen minutes, right in front of my eyes. Barely five years into my career as a Congressman, nothing my staff told me beforehand could have prepared me for what I saw on that trip.
Gasping at awful photographs of unspeakable human suffering is one thing; bearing firsthand witness to human suffering is another thing entirely. Glancing at a picture of a starving child in the newspaper, you can always turn away, but when you're staring into the eyes of a mother who has just lost that child, it's a completely different story. There's no looking the other way.
That's why I often describe those first Ethiopia experiences as my "converting ground" on issues of global hunger. What happened in Ethiopia changed me, and changed how an entire generation looks at hunger.
It's also why I'm currently back on the Horn of Africa, reporting on the ground from the Dadaab refugee camp in eastern Kenya, less than fifty miles from the Somali border. And I am appealing to my affluent brothers and sisters in the United Stated and around the world not to look away. We need your help.
The Olympics is the greatest representation of national athletic pride. Somehow every couple of years, patriotism is met with a degree of innocence and acceptance that is too often forgotten in conflict and negotiation.
Five years ago, Afghanistan re-entered international basketball when the county's Olympic committee decided to draft a team for the 2006 Asian Games. A year later, the committee hired Mamo Rafiq, who was the first Afghan immigrant to play in the NCAA first for Idaho State and then UC Davis.
The debate we have just witnessed has shown Washington, D.C. not just to be broken, but corrupt. The American people are disgusted watching politicians play political chicken with the nation's economy and future. In such a bitter and unprincipled atmosphere, whoever has the political clout to enforce their self-interest and retain their privileges wins the battles. But there are two casualties in such political warfare: the common good and the most vulnerable.
So how will vulnerable people fair under this deal? "The Circle of Protection," a diverse nonpartisan movement of Christian leaders, has been deeply engaged in the budget debate to uphold the principle that low-income people should be protected. But it is hard to evaluate a deal that averts a crisis when the crisis wasn't necessary in the first place. Over the past few weeks, our economy has indeed been held hostage as politicians negotiated the price of the release. Ultimately, I think most of us wish that no hostages had been taken in the first place, and this was no way to run a government or make important budget decisions.
"And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children." --Matthew 14:13-21
Immediately before the story of the feeding of the 5,000 is a description of a very different sort of meal: John the Baptizer's head on a platter. And just as women and children are included among the multitude fed on the beach (a detail unique to Matthew's version of the story), the female sex is also represented in the account of John's demise: Herodias, sister-in-law of Herod, asks for the head of the Baptist; her nameless daughter, with no detectable squeamishness, delivers the request to the king and serves up the plated head to her mother. (That women in all of their moral complexity are present throughout Matthew's gospel - recall also the women who appear in the genealogy of Jesus in chapter one -- is an observation worthy of closer scrutiny. See, for instance, Jane Kopas's 1990 essay in Theology Today).
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.
As the time shortens for Congress and President Obama to agree to the contours of legislation to raise the nation's debt ceiling, I am reminded of the story of King Solomon and his judgment regarding two women who both claimed to be the mother of a child (I Kings 3: 16-28). Solomon ordered that the living child be cut in two and half a dead child be given to both women. The woman who was the true mother insisted that the living child be given to the false mother. She was willing to give up her righteous claim to save the child's life.