The Common Good

Sojourners

Spiritual But Still a Bit Religious: The U2 Church

If you’ve been reading our blog or have checked your iTunes last week you’ve noticed the power couple of Steve Jobs’ ghost and Bono working together again. (Anyone rememberthe U2 iPod?) I’ll leave it up to music critics to debate the musical quality of the album and the potential violation of the now infamous iCloud downloading music for each Apple user. But there is one other issue to discuss regarding the U2’s recent release: God.

In a recent article published by The New Yorker, author Joshua Rothman takes an in-depth look into the spirituality of what some would call the world’s most popular rock band. Throughout the years, Bono’s religious roots have not been a secret.  Books such as Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog and We Get to Carry Each Other: The Gospel according to U2 have been published within the last decade. The Archbishop of Canterbury has addressed Bono in lectures and Bono has preached at the National Prayer Breakfast

One of the most interesting aspects of Rothman’s article was the citing of “churches around the world celebrating U2charists.” Churches as far as the Netherlands, Austria, Mexico, and as close as Iowa, Baltimore, and Maine have celebrated U2charists, a communion service accompanied by U2 songs in lieu of traditional hymns. Rev. Paige Blair, of St. George’s Episcopal Church of Maine, was one of the first religious leaders to host such a service. According to Rev. Blair:

“the liturgy itself is pretty traditional — it has all the usual required elements: a Gospel reading, prayers, and communion from an authorized prayer book. The music is really what is different. And yet, not so different. It is rock 'n roll, but it is also deeply and overtly spiritual.”

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When Prayer Becomes Control

Andrew W.K. at the Village Voice received a question from someone whose brother was diagnosed with cancer. In his grief, he is frustrated by his grandma’s prayers and sees them as “superstitious nonsense.” Andrew’s brilliant response is a very worthwhile read, in which he positions prayer as a posture of humility, a deep realization of our smallness.

When senseless tragedy occurs, people of faith often rush to explain and control. As finite human beings, we are limited in our knowledge and power, which makes us uncomfortable. When we encounter something incomprehensible, we are driven to explain it. When a situation reels out of control, we long to control it. We invite God to fill those gaps of our discomfort, our lack of understanding and control.

We look for redemption stories, the ways God is bringing about good through a tragic situation. We do this to avoid letting the grief overwhelm us. Like grandma, we pray because we are hoping to claim some power in our helplessness. Our prayers end up being more beneficial for ourselves than the person we are actually praying for.

Unfortunately, what happens then is we cease to need God beyond the quick explanation. We’ve tidied up the situation with reverent prayers and spiritual meaning. We’ve quickly salvaged the ecosystem of our faith despite a tragic intrusive incident — our belief in the God of the gaps remain intact. Everything stays the same. When we do this, we are making God into an idol, one that explains and controls according to our sensibilities.

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Why I’m Not Stopped by Border Patrol

Midnight. 80 degrees. Palm trees, illuminated by the airport lights, lining the street. My dream was now a reality. Germany to Miami. I did it. I moved to America!

When I was 12, my family vacationed in upstate New York. From then on, I knew I wanted to live in America. When other children dreamed of becoming policemen, rock singers, and cowboys, my perpetual childhood dream was to become an American. I devoured books by German author Karl May, about an Apache warrior named Winnetou. His pride and honor started my fascination with this country.

I was 16 when I finished school in Germany, 17 when I finished school as an exchange student, and was 20 when I moved to Miami. I fell madly in love and we moved to Los Angeles. After some time, we moved to Detroit and got married. Then we broke up.

The breakup forced a brief pause as I unwillingly moved back to Germany to reset my visa. Before I left Detroit, I had set up an interview with another freight forwarder in Hamburg, under the condition that they would send me back to the U.S. I never, ever gave up on America — it was never, ever a consideration. Within ten days of arriving in Hamburg, I was at my new job at the German Freight Forwarder. Ten months later, I was back to my America — assigned to Houston.

When they moved me to Atlanta, I remarried. He was a contractor, and I quit my freight job so we could renovate houses together. Unfortunately, the relationship didn't work out. I thought I didn't need to worry about the visa situation because I was married to a U.S. citizen. Had our relationship worked out, I would have been on track for a temporary green card. I was single again, so I was in violation of my H1B visa — and of the five companies in Atlanta that I could have worked at, none of them had job openings.

I found a glimmer of hope — maybe I could switch to an entrepreneur visa. I quickly found an attorney to take my case, but later found out that he never filed anything.

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Why We’re Building an Ark

On Sunday, Noah's Ark will be rolling through the streets of New York City.

Powered by a bio-diesel truck and paid for by faith-rooted climate activists, it will drive on Manhattan’s West Side alongside hundreds of thousands of climate activists calling for climate justice.

The ark appeared in a collective dream with other faith-rooted activists and organizers about how our wisdom traditions could speak to this urgent moment with radical creativity and dramatic flair.

The same old calls for action aren’t getting through. We don’t have much time to act, yet our world leaders lurch from crisis to crisis while the frog slowly boils in the pot. We are living through one of the greatest extinction in our planet’s history. And even if we did survive the Earth’s death by some technological miracle, what kind of life would that be?

We must help people see that climate disruption is real and that there are solutions. We need to help the media and our political leaders see this movement as truly multiracial, multigenerational, multifaith, and of many economic backgrounds.

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Welcoming Sojourners Intern Cycle 31

Every September, Sojourners welcomes a new cycle of interns who have committed to living and working with us in our office in Washington, D.C., for one year. This group of 10 women and men work full time in the ministry of Sojourners, are given vocational and spiritual guidance, and live together in intentional community. Sojourners is also committed to providing housing, health care, food, and a modest living stipend for each of these great additions to our team.

The Sojourners Internship Program is more than an internship program: it’s one of the many ways we seek to build the next generation of leaders turning faith into action for social justice. Alumni of our program are serving as pastors, educators, and activists across the world (now more than 300 strong!). Several have joined our staff. Many of our alumni tell us this internship was a catalyst on their journeys.

We’re excited to introduce the newest group of Sojourners interns – Cycle 31 – to you. They are a group that comes from a diversity of backgrounds and religious traditions, and all offer their unique experiences and life journeys to our work here. Continue reading below to learn about each member of Cycle 31 and someone they’re grateful for who has influenced their personal journey to Sojourners. We look forward to seeing how they will transform us and be transformed by their experience with us in the coming year!

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In McAllen, Texas, Faith Groups Responded, while Washington Dithered

In the face of an imploding immigration system, an exploding political debate and a deadlock on reform in Washington, it was religious leaders who rallied to form a humanitarian response to the surge of unaccompanied children crossing the border to the United States this summer.

The number of migrants crossing the border began its steady rise in 2011, but it escaped the Obama administration’s notice until spring, when the rise became a wave.

By September, 66,127 unaccompanied children and 66,142 Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Honduran families had crossed into the Southwest, mostly into the Rio Grande Valley. The flood contributed to a backlog in U.S.  immigration courts of nearly 400,000 cases.

Nowhere was the religious leadership more apparent than in McAllen, Texas, where churches and local government forged an effective and compassionate response to the crisis.

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Will the Catholic Church Change Its Stand on Marriage and Divorce?

Pope Francis made headlines this week when he officiated at the weddings of 20 couples, including  some who had been living together and a woman who has a daughter from a previous relationship.

It was the first time that the Argentine pontiff had presided over a marriage ceremony since his election and it may have also signaled a dramatic shift in Catholic Church doctrine.

Now five conservative cardinals appear to be hitting back.

In a new book to be released days before the world’s Catholic bishops gather at the Vatican for their October Synod, the hard-liners are challenging moves to moderate church doctrine on marriage and offer Communion to divorced Catholics who remarry.

The book, Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church, will be published in five languages, including English and Italian, on Oct. 1.

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'All pastors are interim pastors'

When megachurch pastor Max Lucado greeted his successor at his San Antonio church, the two stood onstage and tried to put on each other’s shoes. They couldn’t.

The problem? Randy Frazee, Lucado’s successor, was six inches shorter.

The point, say co-authors William Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird in their new book about pastoral succession, came through loud and clear: No leader can stay forever. And none will be exactly like the one who came before.

For congregations that haven’t thought about who will succeed their current pastor, the authors of the new book “Next: Pastoral Succession That Works” have words of warning: Be prepared.

Churches may not know the day or the hour when they need to have an interim or permanent replacement for the senior pastor.

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Many Church Choirs Are Dying. Here’s Why

James Merritt spent years as senior pastor of an Atlanta-area megachurch that featured a mighty choir.

Then he changed his tune.

At 50, he left First Baptist Church Snellville to plant a new church — 200 people in a rented space at a high school 12 miles away — focused on reaching a young generation.

There was and is no choir. And that puts Merritt’s current congregation, Cross Pointe Church, right on trend.

The newly released National Congregations Study finds church choirs are on the downbeat in white Protestant churches across the theological spectrum.

Choirs stand strong in black Protestant congregations, where 90 percent of regular attendees say there’s a choir at the main service. The same is true for three in four (76 percent) Catholic worshippers.

But among white conservative evangelicals, only 40 percent of worshippers say they hear a choir at services, down from 63 percent 14 years ago.

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'Rich Hill' Gives a Voice to Rural Missouri

“God has to be busy with everyone else. And hopefully he will come into my life. I hope it happens. It’s going to break my heart if it don’t.”

So says Andrew, one of the three teenage subjects of the documentary Rich Hill, currently playing in theaters across the country. While film refrains from any sermonizing on poverty, or any direct call to action from its audience, it’s mighty hard for socially minded Christians to hear these words and not feel compelled to react. Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo’s documentary is an unflinching portrait of poverty in rural America, and its sympathetic portrayals give heartbreaking examples of neighbors in need. 

The film follows a year in the lives of three boys: Andrew, Harley, and Appachey. They don’t know each other, but they have much in common. Besides living in the small town of Rich Hill, Mo., all three come from troubled families living well below the poverty line. Andrew is the most hopeful of the group. He’s got a family he loves, and a father who means well, but whose unrealistic dreams keep the family moving from place to place and dodging unpaid bills. Thirteen-year-old Appachey and 15-year-old Harley, however, come from darker situations. Harley is a victim of sexual abuse (his mother is in jail for attempting to kill the man responsible), while Appachey’s violent behavioral issues are simply too much to handle for his single mom, overwhelmed with his siblings and a dilapidated house filled to the rafters with junk.

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