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Maria and the Rabbi

IT’S THE 50TH anniversary of The Sound of Music. I never thought I’d write about it here, but someone recently offered me the kind of gentle admonishment that Maria might have given to the von Trapp children. Maria is usually right, and my friend is too. One of the wisest film critics I know, a man dedicated to contemplation and activism and who doesn’t shy away from the more challenging edges of cinema, still considers it his favorite film.

Don’t get me wrong— it’s not the greatest movie he’s ever seen (that’s usually an entirely different category to “favorite”). But The Sound of Music did something unique for my friend—it showed him that there was a bigger world out there. My friend was suffering constant night terrors. When The Sound of Music finally showed up in his town, it was the first film ever to be approved by the local religious authorities. He felt safe to watch it (as did many other townsfolk— it played at their local theater for six years without a break); it became a bath for his soul. The scale, the energy, the sheer heart seemed to leap off the screen. The night terrors stopped, and never came back. He says he’s seen it nearly 60 times in the last 50 years. Lest we forget, the story is one of hope trumping almost unimaginable odds.

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Building Beloved Communities

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The (Un)Common Good: How the Gospel Brings Hope to a World Divided, the updated and revised paperback version of On God’s Side, is available now. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

ONE OF MY favorite descriptions for the people of God, what the New Testament calls the “body of Christ,” is the evocative language of “the beloved community” used by Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement.

beloved community is a powerful vision of a new coming together, a new community that welcomes all peoples in their diverse ethnicities and nationalities. Everygroup, clan, and tribe is included and invited in. That dream and vision undergirded King’s movement for civil and voting rights, both spiritually and philosophically, and deeply reflected his own underlying moral belief and hope as a Christian minister.

Yet in one of his most famous quotations, King also said this: “I am ashamed and appalled at the fact that 11 o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in Christian America.” He said this in 1953, while he was still associate pastor at his father’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. But obviously, and most painfully, that quote is still true today.

Incredibly, prior to 1998 there was no good national data on how many U.S. churches were “multiracial.” In this context, a multiracial congregation is one in which less than 80 percent of members belong to any single race. This definition is now widely used by scholars of modern religion, including Michael O. Emerson, the definitive scholar on multiracial congregations. According to scientific surveys of U.S. congregations of all faiths, Emerson has observed that “7.4 percent of U.S. congregations were multiracial in 1998, [and] in 2010 that figure had grown to 13.7 percent.” In other words, truly multiracial congregations in the United States are still very much the exception to the rule. At the same time, it is highly encouraging that their number nearly doubled in just over a decade.

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The First Time Resurrection Mattered to Me

An empty tomb. Image via ehrlif/shutterstock.com

An empty tomb. Image via ehrlif/shutterstock.com

I’ve celebrated Easter before. My whole life I’ve dressed up, colored eggs, gone to church.  

But this year was different. This year, I realized resurrection.  

I’m not sure how the realization came.

Maybe it came because this was the first time I gardened. My mother once said, “Gardening is prayer.” I never believed her until I physically saw the transformation of dead earth into mustard greens and zucchini plants. I never realized how good the pulse of the sun felt on my back after months of gray. I never saw seeds push through the darkness of soil and become new life — until this year, when I realized resurrection.

Maybe it came because this was the first time I’ve ever felt depression. This winter was the first time there were no windows in the tomb. The first time I held myself crying in the shower wondering if the emptiness would stop. This year was the first time I saw Lent as a season to sit in deep sadness. The first time I realized that Mary Magdalene sat at the tomb simply because she was just so sad.

Maybe it came because this was the first time I’ve fully embraced a Christian community. The first time I’ve intimately walked through the liturgical season with the same people. The first time I shared the miracle of Christmas and the deep sadness of Lent in the eyes of other vulnerable humans. The first time I’ve attended an entire week of Holy Week services. The first time I sat in the dark on Good Friday after service ended and cried.

This year, I realized resurrection and I’m not exactly sure why.

'No, Jesus Isn't My Boyfriend' and Other Lessons from Single Christians on Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day image, nito / Shutterstock.com

Valentine's Day image, nito / Shutterstock.com

So it’s almost Valentine’s Day. Seemingly everywhere you look is a celebration of love and romance. There’s so much sweetness in the air (and on store shelves), it has almost the opposite effect.

Especially if you’re single. Valentine’s Day is often one of the most uncomfortable days of the year. It’s that one special day a year in which single people are painfully reminded that we may very well die alone and childless. Unfortunately, in our romance and sex-saturated culture, every day kind of reminds you of that.

The church hasn’t offered much by way of alternatives. In the evangelical church, there’s far too much “Jesus is my boyfriend” or “I’m dating Jesus”-type songs and teaching that it trivializes the kind of intimacy that can exist between God and humanity. And it silences the deeper pain of loneliness and disappointment that single adults — both gay and straight — can feel. Humans were made for relationship with God, but we were also made for relationships with each other.

There are a couple of issues at work here. On one hand, we’re fed so much junk about sex and romance and relationships from our culture that it becomes difficult to think any differently about love. When the highest, most celebrated form of love in our culture is erotic love and romance, the concept of spiritual intimacy with God seems unsatisfying and — let’s be real — also kind of icky. It feels like a consolation prize, something you say to make yourself feel better about being alone.

On the other hand, in the church, marriage almost becomes an idol. Christina Cleveland writes all kinds of amazing things about singleness in this essay, (so many I want to quote!) but this stands out:

“After interacting with the church, many singles start to wonder: Is there something wrong with me? Is God working in my life? Am I as valuable (to God, to the church) as married people? Does God love me as much as he loves married people? Does God have good things in store for me as a single person?”

Review: 'Sojourners Internship Program' is a Real Treat

Screenshot from 'The Sojourners Internship Program' trailer. Courtesy Ted Eng

Screenshot from 'The Sojourners Internship Program' trailer. Courtesy Ted English/Sojourners.

It’s rare that a film can take all of these journeys and still tell a cohesive story. Sometimes, when we’re very lucky, a truly special film comes along that gets as close as possible to combining and distilling the infinite layers of the human experience. The Sojourners Internship Program is one of these truly special feats. It takes each facet of its characters’ journeys seriously, and allows each of them to explore those facets in their own unique ways.

Like most great stories, the setup of The Sojourners Internship Program is simple, but filled with the potential to go any number of directions: 10 individuals from different ethnic, economic, political and spiritual backgrounds are selected as interns for a social justice organization. They travel to Washington, D.C., to live in community and work together. But the community they live in is no ordinary community, and neither is the organization. The interns enter their house in Columbia Heights as strangers with hopes, ideals, doubts and a few preconceived notions. But they will leave forever changed.

The organization at the heart of The Sojourners Internship Program is just one of the great things about this beautiful, thoughtful, and challenging piece of art. It has its own rich history, a complicated and colorful tapestry of victories, defeats, joys and sorrows. The genuine caring each employee displays toward each other and towards the ten fresh-faced newcomers inevitably brings to mind John 13:35: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

It comes as no surprise then, that those same behaviors extend to the community of interns as they learn more about their work and the issues they will come to be passionate about. Fortunately, the film doesn’t sugar-coat anything — these folks are only human, after all, and what’s a good story without a little conflict now and then? But the way these ten young idealists work together eventually mirrors the way they live together, and that gradual transformation with its own celebrations, disappointments, pain and healing, is a beautiful thing to behold.

When Love with Limits Isn’t Love at All: Thoughts on Exclusion in a Time for Inclusion

A door opens to light. Image courtesy Peshkova/shutterstock.com

A door opens to light. Image courtesy Peshkova/shutterstock.com

I’ve always cringed when I hear someone say, “Love the sinner but hate the sin.”

In the end, I don’t quite know how to do that. I get the sentiment, and I think it basically comes from a well-intentioned place. Essentially, when someone says this, I think they’re trying to be kind and caring for the person above and beyond any kind of vice or sinful deeds that person has committed. You know: Man, I really love Steve but I hate his alcohol addiction. Deborah is a wonderful friend but her tendency to gossip is really not so wonderful. James has a heart of gold but I just can’t condone his adultery.  

We love and affirm people but we don’t affirm the things they do that hurt themselves, others, or are an affront to God’s dream for them and their God-given potential.  

But sin is not just the things we do (or do not do — there are both sins of commission and omission). Sin is something we can’t quite shake. While we’re first created good, as Desmond Tutu has reminded us, we certainly fall short (always be sure to remember Genesis 1:31 as the first word and Genesis 3 as the second).

Sin is a reality of our brokenness this side of Jesus’s return and that fully realized realm of God where there will be shalom and no one will hunger or cry anymore. Sin isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. So many want to make it out to be a laundry list of "don’ts" along life’s way — our faith, in the end, teaches us that it’s so much more than that.  

I reject the whole notion of love the sinner but hate the sin — it misses the Gospel point that we are more than our inadequacies or things that we’ve done or not done that have missed the mark. We are better than our sin — we are created in the beautiful image of God.  

 

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