Category Archives: Sojourners

“Our Life Together Can Be Better”

Rev. Jim Wallis was on The Stephanie Miller Show today. I just caught the last few minutes of the interview but someone pointed me to it over here on Soundcloud.

I recommend giving it a listen. Wallis is so refreshing. He’s a much-needed counter to the frothy-mouthed “gays and feminists caused x, y, z disaster” we usually get from religious circles. He’s promoting a new book about bringing back the old ethos of social responsibility and the common good; in fact, he told Miller the first line of the book is, “our life together can be better.” I really like that. I think we forget sometimes that we really do have a part to play in all of this. If we want everything to be better for more people, we can actually make it happen. We can, you know.

Wallis is supposedly of the evangelical persuasion, but he seems to spend all of his time and energy preaching about caring for the poor and marginalized and building a just society. Most evangelicals who cross my path seem to spend 99% of their energy trying to lead people to Jesus and little time worrying about them beyond that. If that’s all you get out of the Bible then I have no time for you.

Also, something I’ve noticed lately — and maybe it’s just because I’m somewhat disconnected from that world — but it seems like there’s been a real lack of Jesus-y stories in the aftermath of the Boston; West, Texas; and Newtown tragedies. You know how whenever there’s a horrible tragedy we always hear stories about how God stepped in and performed some kind of miracle? And then all the parties involved appear on The 700 Club and such to talk about it? And Christian musicians write songs about it? Martyrs pulled from the rubble and all that?

I’m thinking of Columbine shooting victim Cassie Bernall, who supposedly was asked if she believed in God with a gun to her head. The story was that Cassie responded yes (later versions of the story in Christian media had her being told to deny her religion and be spared, and Cassie refusing). Michael W. Smith wrote a hit song about it. Other witnesses disputed these accounts, but it didn’t matter, the story was trotted out as an evangelism tool. We got a similar story after the Heath High School shootings in Kentucky and the Aurora theater shooting.

Anyway, I haven’t heard any stories like this after any of our recent tragedies. Maybe I’ve missed them, or maybe this brand of religion is truly dying. It certainly doesn’t seem to be doing much for the people it’s supposedly trying to help — and yes, glossy multimedia marketing campaign, I’m looking at you. Those annoying “I Am Second” billboards have started popping up all over Nashville and people, they are everywhere.

I’m just trying to figure out how an artsy black and white photograph of Scott Hamilton or Darrell Waltrip topped by the words “I Am Second” is supposed to help someone working at the local multiplex who’s just had their hours cut because Regal Entertainment would rather give their CEO a 31% pay raise than pay for their employees’ health insurance.

This is the kind of stuff that worries people like Jim Wallis, and it should worry more church people. This is the kind of issue that makes the church “relevant,” not the production values on a multimedia marketing campaign. Just sayin’, guys.

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Filed under Christianity, religion, Sojourners

>Weird Crap I Read

>I think listening to Karl Lagerfeld on climate science must be akin to listening to Glenn Beck on theological matters.

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>America First, God Second

>Jim Wallis, the evangelical author/activist, has something important to say to American Christians. I urge everyone to read the whole thing, but in summary, he takes American Christians to task for their blind support of U.S. wars and a foreign policy that oppresses our neighbors. He calls this our “Achilles’ heel, our biggest blind spot, our least questioned allegiance, the worst compromise of our Christian identity, and the greatest failing of our Christian obedience.”

Even in the subset of born-again, Bible-believing evangelical Christians around the world, an overwhelming majority are against American policy in Iraq. Many Christians I’ve spoken to go further and say that America’s aggressive role in the world today has hurt the cause of Christ globally, especially when an American president dangerously conflates America’s role with God’s purposes.

Some on the American Christian Right are now calling for all-out war against “Islamofacism,” and recent presidential endorsements from the Religious Right even suggest that winning the “clash of civilizations” with Islamic fundamentalism is really another “life” issue, perhaps even a higher priority than their traditional concerns such as abortion. Shouldn’t it give us pause that virtually no other Christians or churches around the world take this position, finding it utterly appalling and contrary to the gospel of Christ? Do these militant Christian nationalists, who would again call us to war, know something that the rest of world Christianity does not? Even many Christians who live in or near Muslim countries, and sometimes suffer for their Christian identity, find the warlike theology of their aggressive American brothers and sisters very frightening.

Could it be that far too many American Christians are simply Americans first and Christians second? To say, “We are to be Christians first and members of a particular nation second” is more about our understanding of church than it is about our politics. That simple affirmation, if ever applied, would utterly transform the relationship of American Christians to the policies of their own government.

This message resonated with me today, because I had to drive past Two Rivers Baptist Church this morning. Every time I see that massive building on Briley Parkway all I can think of his how this congregation opened its doors for the Justice Sunday II event, a partisan piece of political theater staged as much (if not more) for the national media than any issues of faith.

Yes, faith informs political views, but when your faith tells you to support procedural maneuvers in the U.S. Senate while ignoring much larger moral issues like war and poverty, something is very wrong.

Much is being said about faith in this presidential campaign. Every endorsement from a faith leader such as James Dobson or Pat Robertson is dutifully reported in the press. But few have stopped to examine these leaders’ motives and intentions. Our media is quick to present someone like CBN’s David Brody as a legitimate pundit, but no one has ever bothered to ask how well CBN or Focus On The Family (his previous employer) represent Christian values. The media assumes these people represent “the voice of Christianity” but they don’t even represent all of American Christians, let alone the global faith community–what Wallis calls “the body of Christ.”

I have to wonder why these faith leaders and their misguided flocks still have so much influence in our political debate.

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Filed under Christianity, Iraq War, Sojourners

Freegans: They’re Not Down With Capitalism

Today’s New York Times has a fascinating article on a burgeoning movement of modern-day scavengers called “freegans.” These are folks who reject the consumer economy and live by dumpster diving. They aren’t bums, many are middle class and have jobs, they just don’t see the need to go out and buy a bunch of crap when they can get what they want for free:

Freegans are scavengers of the developed world, living off consumer waste in an effort to minimize their support of corporations and their impact on the planet, and to distance themselves from what they see as out-of-control consumerism. They forage through supermarket trash and eat the slightly bruised produce or just-expired canned goods that are routinely thrown out, and negotiate gifts of surplus food from sympathetic stores and restaurants.

Before you go “eww, that’s gross,” take a moment to think of your own garbage, or maybe if you’re more thrifty, think of the trash from your workplace or your neighborhood. For instance, there are several houses on my street that are rented to college students and when moving day comes, it’s a regular Wal-Mart shopping spree on trash day. One year, the kids left a satellite TV programming box in the trash. That’s the principle at work here:

As of 2005, individuals, businesses and institutions in the United States produced more than 245 million tons of municipal solid waste, according to the E.P.A. That means about 4.5 pounds per person per day. The comparable figure for New York City, meanwhile, is about 6.1 pounds, according to statistics from the city’s Sanitation Department.

“We have a lot of wealthy people, and rich people throw out more trash than poor people do,” said Elizabeth Royte, whose book “Garbage Land” (Little, Brown, 2005) traced the route her trash takes through the city. “Rich people are also more likely to throw things out based on style obsolescence — like changing the towels when you’re tired of the color.”

Dumpster diving isn’t just for young kids on the far left, the kind you see protesting G8 summits and the like; there’s actually a growing movement among social justice and “red letter” Christians. Sojourners Magazine covered this movement last fall in their article, The Tao Of Dumpster Diving. Author Ryan Beiler, Sojourners web editor and a dumpster diver since 2005, says he subsists largely on food reclaimed from dumpsters. Here he explains why:

Reason number one–you get a lot of really, really good food really, really free. I often come away with a decent segment of the food pyramid: vegetables, meat, milk, eggs, and almost always lots of bread. And we’re not talking Wonder Bread–we’re talking sprouted wheat berry, pita, ciabatta, foccacia, and any number of Mediterranean-themed baked goods.

Though I’ll occasionally supplement my dumpster bounty with a trip to the natural foods co-op for some local produce or organic oats for homemade granola (bring on the stereotypes), I’ve come to rely mostly on society’s waste for my provision. As Jesus taught, “Do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’… Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (Matthew 6:32). In this spirit, dumpstering’s spontaneity is both liberating and satisfying. Instead of the anxiety of bargain-hunting among the throngs at corporate übermarkets, I enjoy the surprises of late-night expeditions and never worry about finding enough to eat.

BEYOND BASIC NECESSITIES, there’s also the allure of the big score. On my very first dumpster run, I went into Homer Simpson-drool mode at finding several pounds of smoked salmon–a delicacy I could never justify buying in real life. I ate it three meals a day for a week. It’s really great with eggs.

On a subsequent trip, I found six jars of caviar. I’ve also developed an addiction to grocery-store sushi (all pre-cooked or veggie). Just tonight I had a simple dinner of dumpster fare: soup and bread. But the soup was lobster bisque, and the bread was a lovely sourdough boule.

I never thought I’d pull food from a dumpster to feed my family but hey, you never know. Caviar? Lobster bisque? Sourdough boule? I have to say, as a city dweller, this intrigues me.

I can’t call myself a dumpster diver, but I have been known to pull something I wanted out of the trash; in fact, when I first moved to Nashville I found a perfectly lovely bamboo trunk on my first trip to the dumpster at my new apartment complex. I pulled it out, cleaned it off and it became the centerpiece of my living room for years afterward.

One of the worst things I ever heard about Wal-Mart was that stores padlock their trash dumpsters. Former Wal-Mart employees have told me of the perfectly good food and merchandise that is thrown away on a daily basis, yet Wal-Mart locks people out of its trash. When your trash is so valuable that it requires padlocks, something is seriously wrong. Hey, Wal-Mart, if it’s thatvaluable, try donating this stuff to a shelter, OK?

Americans generate a lot of trash. Contemporary American society, indeed our entire economy, is based on marketing consumer goods that folks don’t really need. When you buy stuff you don’t really need, it makes it a lot easier to throw it out later.

Which makes me wonder: why do we need to be buying it in the first place?

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Filed under consumerism, Dumpster Diving, Freegans, Sojourners