Commentary

Jim Wallis 3-30-2017

Jim Wallis speaks at U.S. Capitol vigil on March 29. Photo by JP Keenan / Sojourners

We celebrated the failure of a cruel bill. We celebrated our powerful unity across other theological and political differences and our clear opposition to cutting the poor out of the critical budget decisions which now lie ahead. Yes, we celebrated. But we remain vigilant.

Smoke from an airstrike rises behind food distribution in west Mosul. Image courtesy Preemptive Love Coalition.

Every time more civilians are killed, it gives further weight to the idea that we have lowered value of human life — or at least, the value placed on Iraqi lives. Imagine the response, by comparison, if 200 American aid workers were killed in an errant strike. The seemingly low threshold for civilian safety makes the fight against ISIS harder, not easier. It makes ISIS propaganda more believable. At the very moment when ISIS should be gasping its final breath, these incidents inject life into their militancy.

Image via RNS/European Union 2016 - European Parliament/Pietro Naj-Oleari

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks made a name for himself as chief rabbi of Great Britain for nearly a quarter-century, a time of great tumult that included the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the influx of millions of Muslims into Europe, and the ongoing pressures to absorb and assimilate newcomers into a mostly secular society.

As chief rabbi, from 1991 to 2013, he stressed an appreciation and respect of all faiths, with an emphasis on interfaith work that brings people together, while allowing each faith its own particularity.

Jenna Barnett 3-29-2017

Women sewing American Flags in Brooklyn on July 24, 1940. Photo: Records of Naval Districts and Shore Establishments, by Margaret Bourke-White

Bourke-White traveled the world in search of complete stories: from Depression-era Hooverville to partitioning India to Apartheid-era South Africa to Nazi Germany. She became the first female war photojournalist and the first photographer for LIFE. After surviving a helicopter crash and getting stranded in the Arctic, Bourke-White’s colleagues declared her “Maggie the Indestructible.”

Stephen Mattson 3-28-2017

As presidential orders and administrative policies continue to scale back environmental protections, it’s important for Christians to realize that this is a vitally important spiritual issue. Many Christians ignore environmental issues because they don’t view it as an important faith-related concern — but what if environmentalism was essential to evangelism? In many ways, taking care of our environment is a direct form of evangelism, but many Christians have yet to realize — and even reject — this truth.

Image via RNS/Reuters/Max Rossi

During our nearly 40 years of friendship, I led several interreligious missions with Keeler, including meetings with then-Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. We co-led trips to Israel, including a visit to a civilian bomb shelter, and a poignant painful pilgrimage to the infamous death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Sometimes public figures can seem distant and impersonal, but that was never the case with the always gracious and welcoming Keeler.

Kaitlin Curtice 3-28-2017

I began writing letters. One hand-written letter a week, delivered to the White House door, so that he’ll know we are here, so that he’ll know our story exists and that we are not to be ignored. I’m not saying that as a liberal I feel ignored; I’m saying that I don’t want to be ignored as a human being, as a citizen, as a woman, as a mother, as a Native American, as a Christian.

Lucy Hadley 3-27-2017

The statue will live on Wall Street for a year, after popular support pressured to city to allow the statue beyond its one-week permit. The extension is a small victory. But her removal next year will be a quieter, yet no less important visual: Wall Street’s unwillingness to feature women in a public space without an end date.

Image via RNS/Creative Commons

Legally, the federal civil suit the mother and the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation recently filed against Mercer County schools is clear-cut: It is unconstitutional to preach the Bible to students in school. But there’s another pressing reason to keep these classes out of public schools: to prevent ostracizing of religious minorities and atheists. 

Storm Swain 3-27-2017

Image via Ron Frank/Shutterstock.com

It would be much easier to let the face of the tomb be a scriptural story, so we could talk about terror and grief at arm’s length. But if we strip the story of humanity, we have no recourse but to fall into Christian platitudes that have no resilience in the face of real pain and grief.

Stephen Mattson 3-24-2017

The problem for many Christians is that instead of asking themselves, “What would Jesus Do?” they ask, “What does the Bible say is permissible?” At first glance these two questions don’t seem radically different, but the applications are often contradictory to each other.

We are awakening now to at least some of the consequences of devoting our dollars toward death. As we contemplate the toll that endless war is taking on education, the environment, housing, and healthcare, may our hearts expand in empathy — not only to our immediate neighbors, but to our neighbors around the world. None of us can afford to lose any more.

Where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. Let us invest our treasure in building one another up — here, and around the world — that we may mend our hearts and resurrect our humanity.

Sandi Villarreal 5-05-2016

For me, as a mother, the incarnation becomes tangible thus: “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus” and [not listed in Gabriel’s announcement] he’ll be brutally killed in front of you. It becomes tangible when I again picture this mother at the foot of a cross where her son hangs. He is the savior of the world, carrying out God’s perfect plan through his death and resurrection, yes. … But he is her baby.

Adam Ericksen 3-24-2016
Judas Iscariot. Engraving by Shyuble.

Judas Iscariot. Engraving by Shyuble. Oleg Golovnev / Shutterstock.com

One of the many things that I love about being a progressive Christian is the frequent emphasis that Jesus is our brother. He’s one of us. He took on the fullness of humanity.

The joy and the hope and the friendship and the love.

But also the pain and the anger and the grief and the suffering.

Jesus, the One who was fully divine was fully human. Our brother. Our friend. It’s a beautiful thing.

Indeed, Jesus is our brother, but what about Judas? This Maundy Thursday, let us acknowledge that Judas is our brother, too.

Catherine Woodiwiss 10-29-2015

Of all the social indignities a child can suffer, not celebrating Halloween is surely near the top. In addition to the already-baleful list of oddities trailing my grade school self (fresh out of homeschool; in desperate need of braces; asking for more homework because I “liked it”), my panicked silence to the yearly question, “What are you dressing up as for Halloween?” — and my subsequent recusal from class before the festooned Halloween parade and glittering candy bonanza sugar rollercoaster that followed — burned my ears with everlasting shame.

But once safely away from judging peers, I actually never minded too much. I’d help give out candy at our door (“just getting some water from the kitchen” when kids my age came down the street), and tuck away a few treats for myself. The next morning, I’d come downstairs in the post-Halloween dawn to a row of neatly-folded gold origami baskets, filled with candy and homemade chocolates and a little note from my mom — a verse about light, or resurrection, or great clouds of witnesses.

For years, All Saints' Day was to me a kept secret, a holiday I learned to love and never share. I had to try desperately to get away with casually not-celebrating Halloween. I definitely couldn’t tell anyone in my nondenominational evangelical conservative town that I celebrated saints.

But I did. I wore saint costumes, and sang songs about the “faithful and brave and true.” I proudly paraded down the aisle of my church with my St. Catherine of Siena cape lovingly arranged just so, proud of my brother’s St. Martin of Tours impression (though I was too dignified to tell him. Saints don’t compliment each other’s outfits).

And the truth that my parents taught — and my young self intuited, beneath the social anxiety and denominational ritual — was this: Christians have an additional story to tell. And while I have never found Halloween and All Saints' Day to be mutually exclusive, for Christians, the former without the latter is anemic.

Halloween, great fun as it is, is simply a prelude to the symphony.

Photo via Christopher Bremrose / Flickr

Jean Vanier and a resident of L'Arche named Kathy in L'Arche Bognor in Trosly, France. Photo via Christopher Bremrose / Flickr

The problems of the world can overwhelm us. When we are confronted by the Divine in the cries of human need, we may, like Isaiah, feel unworthy and ill-equipped to respond. However, if we allow this Divine experience to transform our human weakness, we can find the courage and strength to answer that call, as Jean Vanier has, with a bold, “Here I am!” What follows may be more difficult than we can imagine, but we can be confident in the knowledge that the work we do is Holy work.

 
Stephen Mattson 6-23-2014
Smiling child,  mimagephotography / Shutterstock.com

Smiling child, mimagephotography / Shutterstock.com

It’s easy for the faith of children to go unnoticed. But here are four spiritual things kids do better than adults:

They Ask Questions:

Nobody asks more — or better — questions than children. “Who?” “What?” “Where?” “When?” and “Why?” are expressions patented by kids everywhere. They’re obnoxiously curious and want to know everything about everything.

They aren’t afraid to ask the most difficult and messy questions. Too often we mistake spiritual maturity for certainty, and lose our thirst for discovery. Kids remind us how to approach God — truthfully, stubbornly, inquisitively, and tirelessly.

 
Stephen Mattson 3-13-2014
Cross on top of $100 bills, StockThings / Shutterstock.com

Cross on top of $100 bills, StockThings / Shutterstock.com

It’s sometimes cliché for Christians to warn about the dangers of idolizing wealth and money, but the negative impact it can have on our faith is often more subtle than we realize. Here are a few ways it covertly manipulates our spirituality

Juliet Vedral 1-10-2014
Courtesy 20th Century Fox

Gob Bluth. Courtesy 20th Century Fox

Author’s note: If you know me, you’d know that that I think the most important thing (of the things we worship ) is Jesus. And you’d also know that I love Arrested Development, with almost the same type of devotion I typically reserve for God. As a former “professional  church lady,” crafting prayers was right in my wheelhouse. So I’ve composed a psalm entirely out of Arrested Development quotes based on the ACTS style of prayer, because it is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to God. And also … not Aunt Lindsay’s nose.

Oh God. (AD 2:13)

I love you. (AD 1:7)

We all must seek forgiveness. I’ve always tried to lead a clean life. My brother and I were like those Biblical brothers, Gallant and, um … Goofuth. (AD 2:14)

Lisa Sharon Harper 6-25-2013
Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Demonstrator outside the Supreme Court on Monday, Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Today is a dark day in our nation’s history. In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional, rendering the 48-year-old legislation impotent to protect citizens from voter suppression. Section 4 lists the states that must obtain “preclearance” from the Department of Justice before instituting changes to their voter laws. In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, said: “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Only 48 years ago, on March 7, 1965, men, women, and children absorbed blasts of water, bone-crushing blows from police batons, and profound humiliation as Selma, Ala., police dragged limp black bodies over concrete on the far side of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. They had assembled on that day, which came to be known as “Bloody Sunday,” to march from Selma to Montgomery in protest of voter suppression and intimidation that had plagued the entire South. Ten days later, President Lyndon B. Johnson sent the Voting Rights Act to Congress. The bill passed in the Senate on May 26 by a vote of 77 – 19 and passed in the House on July 9 of that year. President Johnson signed the Act into law with Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and others present on August 6.

Flash forward to Fall 2012. I launched a blog series called “Watch the Vote” because, as of August 2012, 30 states had introduced legislation or enacted laws to hinder voters’ access to voting over the previous year. The Fair Elections Legal Network crafted this map to chart the spread of legal voter suppression initiatives across the nation. Notice, Alabama is one of the states that has recently passed voter restriction law that has not been precleared by the Department of Justice. Its new law, requiring photo ID and proof of citizenship, was set to take effect in 2014 before the Supreme Court ruled last week that Arizona’s voter ID law, which Alabama used as a model for its own, is unconstitutional.