The Common Good

Whenever Two or More Are Gathered...Online

Sojomail - February 9, 2012


"You don’t have to be a technophobe or think corporations are evil to not want G.M.O.'s in your food." - Ashley Russell, a college student at a rally after a Manhattan court hearing on the use of GMOs (genetically modified organisms). (Source: New York Times)

+ Sign up to receive "Verse and Voice" - our daily quote and Bible verse e-mail

 GUEST COMMENTARY by Cathleen Falsani

Whenever Two or More Are Gathered...Online

Get a free trial issue of Sojourners Get a free issue of Sojourners
Donate to Support Sojourners
Donate to support

“There is no distance in the Spirit.”

After 30 years as a believer, I experienced the truth of that statement — powerfully and indelibly — in an unlikely place: online.

Like so many of more than 500 million (and growing) members, I signed up for Facebook, the social networking site, a few years ago out of pure curiosity -- to check in with old friends, boyfriends, and former colleagues from a safe distance. With its plethora of personal photos, videos, and regular “status updates” from members, it was a voyeuristic paradise, not to mention an excellent place to kill time.

I am by vocation a journalist, author, and blogger and had grown accustomed to sharing glimpses of my life in print and online. Facebook was just another venue to do that, but little more.

That is, until early one morning in April 2008 when I signed on to my account, wiping sleep from my eyes with coffee in hand, and noticed the status update of a friend from college: “David is really sad that Mark died today.”

The words ripped a hole in my heart. Our friend, Mark, a former U.S. Navy Seal who was working in Iraq training Iraqi Special Forces, was gone. He had been killed instantly by a roadside bomb outside Sadr City.

Sitting in bed with my computer on my lap, tears streaming down my face, I sent David an email asking what had happened and how I could help, joining him in prayer for Mark’s family and the rest of us who loved him (even if we hadn’t seen him in more than 15 years).

In about 48 hours, as news of Mark’s death began to spread, dozens of fellow classmates from our alma mater, Wheaton College, joined Facebook to share stories and pictures of Mark. Facebook became the place where we could mourn together and reconnect.

A couple of weeks after Mark was killed, I sent a group email on Facebook asking for responses to a column I was working on. That email started a “thread” — a discussion among a group of people. There were 20 of us from all over the world -- Southern California, Chicago, Hawaii, Spain, New York, Atlanta, Florida, North Carolina, and Dubai.

Nearly four years later — and almost 100,000 posts — later, the thread is still going. We call ourselves “Wine & Jesus: The Communion of Sinnerly Saints,” and our cyber-community is, in a very real way, church for some of us. Our conversations were mostly about Mark at first, and about faith, loss, God’s will, and grieving. But they soon turned to the rest of our lives, the mundane and the transcendent.

Collectively we are husbands and wives, brothers and sisters (in law and biologically), Protestant, Catholic, Anglican, conservative and liberal, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green Party, vegetarian, entrepreneurs, musicians, stay-at-home moms, married, divorced, widowed, mothers and fathers, adopted and adopters, seminary graduates, pastors, chaplains, writers, filmmakers, artists, lawyers, church members and church-averse, and believers all. Some of us were close friends in college, some were acquaintances, and some had never met. But we are now, I would dare say, utterly and wholly committed to one another. As Bono said in U2’s theological opus, “One,” we are one but we’re not the same; we get to carry each other …

Via our conversations online, a few of us have even begun to rediscover (or exhume) our faith. If you had told me a few years ago that I would find community — real, authentic, deeply connected, deeply faithful community — online, I would have scoffed. I’m not, by nature, a joiner.

And yet, here we are, almost four years of daily interaction later, with a communion of 20 souls around the world. Since we formed this unlikely community online, we’ve walked with each other through sickness and pregnancies, the death of parents and siblings, job losses and career changes, one-and-a-half presidential elections, recession and war, adoptions, divorces, and even a marriage between two friends who met through the thread.

For me, the thread has become what the sociologist Ray Oldenburg, in his book The Great Good Place, described as a “third place.” Most people have two primary places — home and the workplace. Then there is a third place where they feel part of a chosen community. It might be a bar (think the Boston tavern in Cheers) or a restaurant, a house of worship or a tennis court.

For me, Facebook is that place. Despite its undeniable worldwide success, one of the persistent criticisms of Facebook and other online social media is that they provide a false sense of intimacy and community — all of the interaction with none of the commitment. While that may be the case with some folks, nothing could be farther from my experience.

Rather than satisfying our need for connection and leaving it there, our Facebook community made us yearn to be in one another’s physical company. Two years ago, my family moved from Chicago to Laguna Beach, Calif., so that we could live physically near several of the members of the thread. Mark's best friend, David, now lives about four minutes from me, we worship together at the same physical church, and his wife, Sarah, whom I knew only in passing before our initial encounters on Facebook, is my son's godmother.

Yet, whether he's down the road or having dinner in Tokyo, we still connect every day online.

The constraints of Facebook limit the membership of any thread to 20. But I think I speak for all of our members when I say there is a 21st member: the Spirit of God. Jesus said whenever two or more are gathered together in his name, he’s there, too.

And he is, in all of his glory and grace, right there with us. On Facebook.

As Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners, my prayer is that this space might become a vessel of grace and true community for you.

Sojourners is many things: an organization, an idea, a magazine. But first and foremost, we are a community where we walk with, challenge, encourage, and carry each other.

Sojourners has a Facebook presence as well, one that is growing by leaps and bounds and set to expand even further in the coming weeks in innovative and exciting ways. Through our Facebook community page, we share news that’s relevant to our social justice mission to be advocates for the poor and marginalized, but our hope is that our online community — here and on Facebook — will become something much more than that.

A safe space. A sacred place, where our members and friends can share their concerns, joys, and work. A place where we can join in prayer, celebrate victories, and continue our journey toward making things on Earth as they are in Heaven, together, even through the flickering pixels on a computer screen.

Won’t you join us?

Click HERE to “like” the Sojourners Facebook page and continue the great conversation.

Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. She is the author of four nonfiction books, including the memoir Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace, and her latest, BELIEBER!: Fame, Faith and the Heart of Justin Bieber. Follow Cathleen on Twitter @GodGrrl

E-mailE-mail this article to friends
FacebookShare this article on Facebook
CommentComment on this article on the God's Politics Blog


+ See what's new on the blog of Jim Wallis and friends

Examining John Piper's "Masculine Christianity"
by Christian Piatt

Given the breadth of his influence, Piper's message serves to normalize the marginalization of half (slightly more than, in fact) the world's population. While I expect he believes he is fulfilling a divine call in sharing his message, I believe I'm serving a similar call in holding him to account.
+ Click to continue

Pete Hoekstra and Cultural IQ: Why It Matters to the Church
by Eugene Cho

For those who are passionate about the future of Christian leadership, for those who seek to or who already influence a group of followers, we have a prediction: more so than "emotional intelligence" or cognitive ability, your leadership prowess will be largely affected by how much cultural intelligence you possess and demonstrate.
+ Click to continue

The Top Six Mistakes Reporters Make About Mormons
by Jana Riess

Peggy Fletcher Stack has been covering Mormonism (and every other faith) for years for the Salt Lake Tribune and had some advice for journalists who suddenly find themselves trying to understand Mormonism this year during the Romney campaign. Peggy's basic thesis was that many reporters cover Mormonism using a basic paradigm taken from covering Protestantism, and fail to appreciate important differences.
+ Click to continue

News Analysis: 5 Reasons Why Obama is Losing the Contraception Fight
by David Gibson

Given that birth control use is almost universal — even among Catholics — many wonder why the Obama administration could wind up retreating on its pledge. Here are five reasons that may help explain the political dynamic the president is facing.
+ Click to continue

I Love Jesus, But I Swear A Little
by Nadia Bolz-Weber

But there are other folks out there who are comforted by ambiguity, who need a Word of grace which is not covered in strawberry syrup. Who need the stark truth of what it means to be broken and blessed at the same time. Who are at home in the Biblical story; stories of anti-heroes and people who don't get it; beloved prostitutes and rough fishermen.
+ Click to continue

Follow the Meme: "Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus" Copycats and Responders
by Jack Palmer

Whilst none has had quite the same impact as the original in terms of millions of hits, clicks, and media coverage, there are conversation starters aplenty in many of these intriguing (and entertaining) videos. Here's a roundup of some of the most interesting responses.
+ Click to continue


+ Sign up to receive our "Daily Digest" e-mail - the latest headlines on critical issues

Top Stories:

Analysis: Obama Contraceptive Mandate Has a Price
The Associated Press
In a much-quoted 2006 speech at the Call to Renewal conference, organized by the evangelical anti-poverty group Sojourners, Obama said secular Americans were wrong to ask churchgoers to "leave their religion at the door before entering the public square." But he also said religious groups must recognize "ground rules for collaboration" and the importance of church-state separation. Obama reaffirmed the importance of religion just last week in a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, saying his faith is a driving force on economic policy and other matters.

WWJD On YouTube? It Depends Who You Ask
Journalist Cathleen Falsani says she saw that when she visited a Sunday school class recently. The teenagers were rowdy, talking over each other and the teacher. Then the teacher played Bethke's video. "And you could have heard a pin drop in the room," she says. "They were absolutely rapt, they were focused. And then when it was done they had really good questions to ask, they had excellent feedback. It engaged them in a way that I did not think they could be that early in the morning." Falsani, who heads new media for Sojourners, a progressive Christian organization, says video Christianity isn't a bad thing. It's a spiritual thing.

"Sojourners in the news" articles are the most recent news clippings that mention Sojourners in any way - whether favorably or unfavorably. Though we provide the text on our site for your convenience, we do not necessarily endorse the views of these articles or their source publications.


Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Chief Executive Officer Ten Thousand Villages seeks values-driven CEO to lead North America’s top fair trade retailer. To view full job description click here. Email cover letter and resume to

Creighton University, a Jesuit, Catholic University in Omaha, Nebraska, is seeking a Director for its Creighton Center for Service and Justice. Experience of service, Ignatian Spirituality, supervision & administration required. Click here to apply.

“Discipleship Year Program” in DC offers year in Intentional Christian Community, work in a social justice ministry and classes at the Servant Leadership School. Stipend/Health Insurance provided. Contact:

Wisdom for your commute: Download audio talks by Shane Claiborne, Brian McLaren, Lucy Winkett and more. Shop the SojoStore.

Christians and Islam: Do we share more than we realize? This discussion guide looks at the shared history, theological similarities and differences, and hopes for social justice that both Christians and Muslims share. Download now.



Click Here!

GIVE TO SOJOURNERS: Donate now to support this voice for justice and peace.

GET THE MAGAZINE: Subscribe today

CONTACT US: General inquiries: | Advertising: | About Us

PRIVACY NOTICE: Sojourners won't trade, sell, or give away your e-mail address. Read our privacy policy.