priorities

A Shift in Priorities?

IN MINDANAO, Philippines, a cheer went up: Mayron tayong cardinal! (“We have a cardinal!”) In January, Orlando B. Quevedo, archbishop of Cotabato, was one of 19 new cardinals named by Pope Francis.

Cardinal Quevedo rose from newsboy to archbishop. He’s renowned for his interreligious work and cofounding a Catholic-Muslim peace community in the southern Philippines where there is violent ethnic conflict. Quevedo is a leader in the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, a body representing more than 100 million Catholics that has courageously pushed forward the values of Vatican II amid traditionalist backlash.

During a papal conclave, when a new pope is chosen, much of the world, Catholic and otherwise, pays close attention to the news ticker from the Vatican. For the selection of new cardinals, not so much. But with Francis, everything bears watching.

Historically, cardinals were called “the princes of the church” because of the power they wielded. Functionally, they serve in the College of Cardinals, which meets with the pope to deal with questions of major importance and elects new popes. Sadly, scoring a red hat has been for some the acme of clerical ambition. The season of cardinal picking can devolve into extravagant indulgence.

But, there’s a new sheriff in town: Pope Francis wants deputies, not darlings.

“The cardinalship does not imply promotion,” the pope wrote in a personal letter to his fresh picks; “it is neither an honor nor a decoration; it is simply a service that requires you to broaden your gaze and open your hearts.”

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Seeking Clarity

Close-up of a man's face, Tudor Catalin Gheorghe / Shutterstock.com
Close-up of a man's face, Tudor Catalin Gheorghe / Shutterstock.com

NEW YORK — The "October trifecta" that touched my life — my father's death, surgery the next day, and the unprecedented destruction of Hurricane Sandy around New York — did what traumatic events often do.

They left me emotionally fatigued and ready for some fresh clarity, fresh perspective, and fresh prioritizing.

When life seems fragile, it's clear some things matter more than others. It reminds us that attention must be paid to family, friends, and the differences we make in our work and our faith. Lesser concerns — like the tablet computer I have been angling to acquire — quickly fall away.

What Are Our Foundations of Morality?

“There can be no high civility without a deep morality" ~ R.W. Emerson

“Why can’t we all just get along?” ~ Rodney King

Some of the most heated conversations I have ever participated have been with other people of faith whom I sincerely believe want the same things I want, worship the same God that I worship, and labor as hard as I do to promote human flourishing.

During this election time, we have come to expect the rhetoric to replace reason and civility is a term that has no place in our discourses. Our disagreements are often not cognitive disagreements, but differences in morality and decency. This is why they take a personal tone that is easily offended and strongly defended.

It is interesting that modern psychologists have demonstrated that our understanding of morality is actually not as easy as “right or wrong,” but rather based on five different axes or foundations. According to Psychologists Jonathan Haidt and Jesse Graham, each foundation contributes to our formation of how “right” or “wrong” an action is.

Customer Service 101

Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Customer examines myriad soft drink choices in a NJ Wal-Mart. Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Imagine a Catholic Church that stopped catering to its tiny cadre of old male bishops and heard instead the cries of its people. Or a fundamentalist movement that stopped defending its franchise by nonsensical attacks on evolution and modernity, and instead took Scripture seriously.

Imagine a conservative Christian movement that dropped its relentless assault on women's rights and instead sought a fresh vision of family and values. Or a progressive movement that listened to people, rather than lecturing them.

Too many "providers" — in politics, business and religion — come across as having a low opinion of their constituents. People tend to be good judges of what matters to them. Voters know this recession better than their would-be leaders seem to know it. Believers seem to take their faith more seriously than those institutions that seek to enroll them as members.

The Moral Default

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.

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