Love books, culture, faith, and justice? Subscribe to Inscribed, a monthly newsletter by Jenna Barnett, here.
Years ago, while living on a farm in Georgia, I signed up to take care of the goats. It was the only farm chore that allowed me to sleep in. The duties were odd and specific: I had to check their butts for signs of dysentery and their eyes — which, like sheep, can see in every direction at the same time — for infection. For weeks, I fed one goat a whole head of molasses-soaked garlic every day to cure her of mastitis. But mainly, I just counted them.
Which is harder to do than you might imagine. Goats are wily, determined creatures. Their strong jaws and curious spirit has made them an excellent resource for disrupting the paths of wildfires in the West (sheep too!), but those same attributes make them hard to wrangle. Goats hop on fallen logs with the eagerness of 5-year-olds at a bounce house. They climb branches, chew through fences, and even though they fear water, I once caught a goat using the swift current of a post-storm creek to glide under a fence to freedom. Thank God I only had to keep track of 11 goats and not 100 sheep like that gentle shepherd in the parable of the lost sheep.
In the September/October issue of the magazine, Bill Ayres wrote a beautiful poem from the perspective of the shepherd who walks away from the 99 so he can bring back the one lost sheep. “I’ve told you there are wolves out here. / Don’t you believe me?”
It’s one thing to believe in wolves; it’s another thing to spot them. Sometimes the wolves dress up as sheep, sure, but it’s even scarier when they dress up as shepherds. In “The Problem Was Always Bigger Than Mark Driscoll,” Kristopher Norris writes how quickly abuse spread at Mars Hill when Driscoll, a megachurch pastor who had a flock of thousands, began confusing God’s sovereignty with his own: “Unchecked authority is a recipe for abuse.”
The first time I counted 10 goats instead of 11, I was terrified. I wandered the 200 acres of farmland long after the sun went down — to no avail. When I told the lead farmer about the lost goat, he didn’t seem too concerned. “She’ll come back after she’s had her fun,” he said, as if she was indulging in a goat’s version of rumspringa. “She’ll miss her friends and brothers too much.”
He was right. The next morning I found her crying at the fence, nuzzling against her friends through the slats. Sometimes it takes more than a shepherd to bring back a lost sheep, or goat, or soul. It almost always comes back to belonging. In A More Perfect Union, Sojourners president Adam Russell Taylor argues that we can only recover the lost soul of the United States if we work tirelessly to build the Beloved Community. He defines Beloved Community as “a society in which neither punishment nor privilege is tied to race, ethnicity, gender, ableness, gender identity, sexual orientation, or pretty much anything that has been used to create a hierarchy of human value.” But he also told me that “the Beloved Community is not complete until each of us is able to contribute our own definition.” I’m still working on my definition of Beloved Community, but I know the goats will be there: bouncing on logs, putting out fires, getting lost, and getting found.
Interested in religion, justice, and goats? Apply to our culture editor opening here.
1. “The Parable of the Lost Sheep” by Bill Ayres
“On my shoulders you wiggle, you bleat / you aren’t hurt / but I won’t put you down / knowing how you wander.”
2. “Jessica Chastain Has Wanted to Portray Tammy Faye for Years” by Abby Olcese
Jim and Tammy Faye Bakkers’ opulent televangelism empire is easy to parody. But Chastain saw more.
3. “Queering Robin and Our Modern Mythologies” by JR. Forasteros
“Superheroes not only help us feel heroic, they shape and reshape who counts as a hero.”
4. “Now If You’re Looking for a Savior, Well, That’s Not Lorde” by Sergio Lopez
In Solar Power, Lorde takes a different path from the rock messiahs of generations past.
5. “The Mystical Neon Heart Behind @PaperCutPrayers” by Cassidy Klein
“The gnarly hole inside my chest juxtaposed with these very bright colors — it was a way to present my longing to myself.”
6. “A Hymn for Places Where War Leads to War” by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette
We pray for young children whose first lullabies / were bombs and explosions and wounded ones’ cries.
7. “The Problem Was Always Bigger Than Mark Driscoll” by Kristopher Norris
It would be too convenient to suggest that Driscoll’s authoritarianism was solely a product of his warrior Jesus theology.
8. “Why Did This Nevada Pastor Bless Goats?” by Gina Ciliberto
“Animals aren’t just cute or cuddly, they’re a value because God created them to do certain things and they have a really important impact on the rest of the planet.”
9. “Beloved Community Sounds Nice But What Does It Mean” by Jenna Barnett
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. often spoke of “Beloved Community,” but he never explicitly defined it.
10. “Are You Leveraging Your Privilege or Exploiting It?” by Dominique DuBois Gilliard
Questions to help you use your privilege for the flourishing of all.
Got something to say about what you're reading? We value your feedback!