The Common Good

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Something in the Blood

Usually when I hear people talk about finding the good in the midst of a difficult situation, my cynical radar goes up. I picture the scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian where Brian and the two thieves are being crucified while whistling and singing “Always look on the bright side of life.”

Yeah, right.

I reminds me a girl named Cathy that I knew in high school who already lived on her own before she had even graduated. At school she was the perpetual ray of sunshine, always offering warm smiles and hugs, but hardly concealing a deeper undercurrent of sadness that you could nearly taste.

But once in a while, we have an opportunity to catch a glimpse of grace in the middle of the worst humanity has to offer. And it’s in those moments that I tend to recognize God in our midst.

 

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Just Say It: Be God's Love, Grace and Mercy Today

"You and I have the power to change someone’s day. And so I am going to challenge you, on this Valentine’s Day, to not only tell family members you love them, but also others whom you care for. 

"In a world where people are beat up and put down, God gives us the ability to completely turn negativity, criticism and rude opinions around. “Encourage one another and build each other up,” says 1 Thessalonians 5;11. That is one of the most significant verses in all the Bible because when we do this it sets off a chain reaction of blessing.” You become the voice of God’s mercy and grace in the lives of others."

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No Pews, No Suits, No Problem.

Ron Williams is the pastor of Church at the GYM in Sanford, Fla. As the Baptist church's name implies, Williams' congregation meets, well, in a gym.
   
Williams said the goal is to remove the "stained-glass barriers" for people who might not be comfortable in traditional church settings.
   
"I think all the trappings of traditional religion can make it difficult for people to start coming," he said. "You can invite someone, and they will say, 'I don't have any clothes to wear to church.'"
   
To make people feel more comfortable, Williams wears jeans. In the warm Florida climate, some members wear shorts. Other clothing types, from urban wear to biker gear, also are welcome.
   
Sanford native Sandy Adcox, 38, had not been to church in 18 years before she attended Church at the GYM last March. She hasn't missed a service since.
   
"I've never in my life felt more comfortable in a church," she said. "It's so warm and welcoming."

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Whenever Two or More Are Gathered...Online

“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.”

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Facebook: The New Public Square

Even though I use Facebook frequently, I doubt my usage pattern will justify a $100 billion valuation for the company or send a new crop of Silicon Valley paper millionaires to Ferrari dealerships.

I never click on sidebar ads, I immediately block all games, and I have no intention of using Facebook's virtual money. I've done some advertising -- to little effect -- and will do more, but not much.

On the other hand, I find Facebook intriguing, sobering and oddly encouraging. To me, Facebook is an intriguing window on the world. It's the raw stuff of human diversity, not filtered through self-serving politicians or media summaries. When I decided to "friend" people whose views differ from mine, little did I know how much we differ.

Name an issue — say, the recent dust-up over breast cancer funding for Planned Parenthood — and I read not only the rage and indignation of fervent extremes, but deep divisions within the sensible middle. The hope that we could find common ground by moving to the middle could be delusional. Divisions are still there, but maybe they're just calmer.

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Dear SoJo Commenters: "This Aggression Will Not Stand, Man."

The Great Conversation that we invite our readers to join here at Sojo.net must, by definition, be both civil and respectful. Our comments sections should be a safe harbor, different from the comments sections of any other websites and blogs that deal with the busy intersection of religion, politics and culture.

To that end, during the last few weeks Sojourners staff and management have had a great many discussions about how we might best address the issue of incivility in our comments sections and correct it. We are committed to preserving the comments sections as a vital part of our community and that Great Conversation, but not at the cost of hearts and minds that have been wounded by their experiences here.

We can disagree, and we must when our conscience so demands, but we must do it with kindness, open minds and open hearts.

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An Advent Reflection: Being a Hospitality House

I think of Mary, the young woman whose eyes were opened to God’s messenger, whose womb was opened to God in human flesh. The Greeks call her theotokos — the God-bearer.

She is the one who welcomed Jesus to make his home in her. Blessed among women, she is a model for us.

She’s not just an inspiration for a house of hospitality. She is one.

Two years ago, Leah was very pregnant during Advent. Because of high blood pressure, she was on bed rest for most of it. So we waited.

We waited for our daughter to come, and we waited for Christmas. We waited with Mary to greet face-to-face the One whom we invite into our lives every time we whisper a prayer.

Waiting, we learned, changes your relationship to time. You stop partitioning it into blocks, and you learn to receive it.

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An Open Letter to Kermit the Frog

Dear Kermit,

You’re right. It’s not about the building.

In your newest movie, I hear them saying that you guys are irrelevant, washed up.

But I’m an Episcopal priest and for years they told me that I and other Christians were washed up and irrelevant, too.

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