DECEMBER IS A stressful time for fundraisers, as a significant percentage of most nonprofits’ annual revenue comes in during the holiday season. We made a mistake this month when we asked Beth, who does much of Sojourners’ online fundraising, to write a humor column for this issue. Instead of a humor column, she sent us the following, in an envelope with a return address of “a cave in the woods; do not look for me.” We hope she’s doing okay. — The Editors
Dear Potential Supporter,
Now more than ever. This holiday season. In this moment, this urgent time, the most crucial of moments that all of us are in, right now. (Yes, you too.) Now — today — more than ever — Sojourners needs your year-end donation.
Did you know that the average American hears the phrase “now more than ever” 500 times a day? Did you know that all other organizations who use the phrase “now more than ever” are copying us, and we used it first? (Did you know that I, a fundraising professional hiding inside a cave, am both deeply normal and a trustworthy source of information?)
IT'S HARD TO tell whether Southern California, where I live, holds more nondenominational churches or neighborhood gyms. Sometimes, it’s even hard to tell whether a facility is a nondenominational church or a fitness center. At both the church and the gym, you are likely to encounter over-enthusiastic greeters in the foyer. And as you proceed farther into either type of institution, you’ll begin to hear vaguely inspiring pop-rock music. (Are the lyrics love songs to your boyfriend, to Jesus, or to an unrealistic projection of your future self? It’s hard to say — that’s the genius of it.) As you arrive in the back of these buildings, you’ll see a shared main attraction: a vivacious man in expensive sneakers urging you to strive for greatness, push through the pain, and please, please, please bring your friend with you next time. The websites of both the gyms and the churches will promise you a “no judgment zone” where “all are welcome.” Pretty good chance both are lying to you. But there’s free child care!
The biggest similarity of all between nondenom churches and neighborhood gyms? Their names: They will usually be one word long: Arise, Equinox, Crossroads. Likely, the names could also serve as code words for MDMA or WWE wrestlers’ stage names: The Rock, The Renegade, Saddleback.
Below are the names of gyms and churches. See if you can rise to the challenge, push through the pain, and determine which names belong to churches and which ones belong to gyms that I can’t afford.
READERS, I AM here to tell you about My Mindfulness Journey, but not in an annoying way, guaranteed or your money back. (Please keep reading. It’ll be different this time.)
But, before we get to mindfulness—aware of Carl Sagan’s comment, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe”—we will need to invent my brain, or at least take some major psychological detours. Which is appropriate, since ADHD is all about detours.
Oh, wait. Got ahead of myself there. Let’s start at the beginning.
My 2020 experience was a typical one, in that I spent 100 percent of it in my home and/or in untenable personal and professional situations. Switching to working from home utterly destroyed my routines and support systems. The accompanying collapse of my productivity, mood, and mental health prompted my therapist to ask if I’d ever considered that I might have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder, or ADHD.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects attention regulation, executive function, working memory, and a host of other issues—seemingly designed with the express purpose of embarrassing me in front of my boss.
In the months following my diagnosis, I analyzed my habits with the eye of a quality control inspector, dumbstruck by the breadth and scope of this particular unit’s malfunctioning. “How have I survived all this time?” I wondered almost daily. “And surely one of these ‘normal’ people could give me a scrap of their extra dopamine? For a good cause?”
At the same time, I realized: You know what would be a great way to help me learn to live with an overactive and unpredictable brain? Mindfulness.
IN HER RECENT article “Praying the Imprecatory Psalms Is an Act of Nonviolence,” Liz Cooledge Jenkins explains that the imprecatory psalms of the Hebrew Bible “demand that God exact judgment against evildoers.” These psalms are particularly ... colorful. Take Psalm 35, for example:
Let ruin come on them unawares.
And let the net that they hid ensnare them;
let them fall in it—to their ruin.
In comparison to other imprecatory psalms, the above is fairly sanitized. Often in these verses, the psalmist calls for teeth-breaking, infant murder, and widow-making. To be honest, I’ve struggled to read them. My privileged life has left me with few enemies worth cursing and scant violence to avenge. But I realize that many people of faith—especially those living under oppression’s boot—may find a certain catharsis in these psalms as they imagine God judging the truly hurtful people and powers of the world. “In praying these psalms,” writes Cooledge Jenkins, “we process our rage and give our violent impulses over to God.” One problem, though: The curses in the imprecatory psalms are a bit dated and unrelatable. I’ve gone to the trouble of updating them for modernity. For your consideration:
O Lord, may the iPhone of the slumlord in Crown Heights fall into a toilet of his own urine. May a single AirPod follow quickly behind.
LEST YOU THINK labor organizing started with the most recent Amazon or Starbucks unionization, let’s look at this ancient document found submerged near the island of Patmos. The document appears to be from another group of mammals negotiating what is believed to be the first collective bargaining agreement.
Letter of Demands
From: The International Animals Union
Subject: Excessive Rainfall
Whereas the earth has become corrupt and filled with violence and
Whereas God has decided to destroy all living creatures and
Whereas Noah is required to build an ark and bring a pair of every kind of animal on the ark, therefore
Noah and the International Animals Union agree that the previous agreement has been terminated and replaced by the following agreement beginning on the 17th day of the second month and ending after 40 days and 40 nights, unless it rains the whole time.
All animals shall be given 15-minute breaks for naps, whenever they feel like it. (We’re assuming any human over 600 years old on the ark will likewise be taking multiple naps per day.) Breaks can be used for whatever animals want, including but not limited to gathering around the water trough to talk about the change in rain patterns for the day.
II. Schedule Assignments
All animals shall be given their work assignments a week in advance via pigeon post delivered on papyrus. On holidays, work assignments shall be delivered on parchment. Ravens and doves are available for special work at the end of the cruise.
III. 40-Hour Work Week
ONCE I HAD a dream that I was walking along the beach with my Lord. I felt self-conscious about wearing a two-piece swimsuit, but I didn’t know the Lord was going to be at Rehoboth Beach during spring break.
God said, Don’t worry about it, Jenna. Purity culture is so 2008.
Suddenly, scenes of my life flashed before me along the shoreline. I looked back at the footprints in the sand. In most scenes, there were two sets of footprints: Mine and God’s. God is a size 8.5 and has high arches, in case you were wondering. But then I noticed something troubling. At many of the hard times in my life, there was only one set of footprints.
When I needed you the most, why did you leave me? I asked God, with more sass than I’d like to admit. God whispered something in return, but I couldn’t hear the words. It’s really loud at the beach, and there was a sand volleyball game nearby. So then God yelled, I never left you! When you saw only one set of footprints, that was when I carried you.
I was so relieved. Sorry for the mix-up, I said to God. I also wear size 8.5, so I was confused.
But then I noticed something even more troubling.
Date: Sunday, May 17, 2122
To: allchurch @gracechurch.metaverse
From: staff @gracechurch.metaverse
Subject: Children singing in church
RECENTLY OUR STAFF has received many questions about why we do not permit children to sing during services. We understand that this is a contentious issue, and we want to do our best to respond to these concerns. Before we begin, it must be made clear that on all matters of doctrine, we look to the sacred All-Church PDF sent out by our founding elders in the year 2022, almost 100 years ago, which clearly defined our church policy.
To begin, let us look at section 4.A of the holy PDF. It states: “Please do not allow your children to sing during the sermon, especially if it’s a shouted rendition of ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno.’” Given this language from the foundational All-Church PDF, the prescribed ban on singing seems clear (although we’re not quite sure who Bruno was or why people weren’t supposed to talk about him). Some of you have noted that this directive may have been a response to disruptions during services. While it is true that we have found several cellphone videos from 2022 of children standing up to loudly sing in the middle of the Eucharist, there is simply no way to know if section 4.A of the PDF was written in response to that.
ALLOW ME TO introduce myself: I’m IKEA, an expert in DIY construction and deconstruction, here to explain a recent religious phenomenon. According to a 2021 Relevant magazine article, Christianity is in “the age of deconstruction.” “Through deconstruction,” explains writer Kurtis Vanderpool, “we are able to find the good and the helpful parts of our faith upbringing, while reshaping or throwing out the unhelpful.” But there is a problem! While the exvangelicals on Twitter are obsessed with deconstruction, “most people you will find in church are uncomfortable with deconstruction,” says Vanderpool.
You may be thinking, “Is an enormous warehouse full of good-enough furniture really equipped to explain a sensitive theological process? No offense, IKEA, but did you even go to seminary?” No, I didn’t. But nondenominational churches often pay me thousands of dollars to host massive lock-ins and I overhear A LOT of really bad theology as youth pastors, groggy chaperones, and sugar-faced youth groups play hide-and-seek in my showrooms. (I’m pretty sure I didn’t dream this.)
AS MORE AND MORE more of us who are still working remotely receive the COVID-19 booster, and as more effective treatments are developed and omicron fades into distant memory (one can always hope), the threat of returning to “normal life”—offices, restaurants, bars—looms on the horizon. White-collar workers across the nation are looking upon their professional shoes and slacks with fear and dread. Are we as a country capable of abandoning sweatpants, after all they’ve done for us?
We have grown accustomed to a softer, smaller world, a comfortable and blanket-filled cocoon of our own making, but soon we will reenter a world that is both freer and crueler. A world where people see our faces when we walk by and (God forbid) try to start conversations with us. A world where people hug us without asking first. A world where, for some reason, we are expected to make small talk. Calvinists and non can surely agree that this is depraved.
It will be difficult to return to professional lives that involve arduous and near-mythical rituals of the before-times such as “commutes” and “dress codes” and “supervisors who know how late we sleep in.”
A SOJOURNERS COLLEAGUE actually used one of these excuses for taking a day off work. If you correctly guess which one, you get to take a day off, no questions asked, at least by me.
1. I volunteered to run the Taizé service at my church and that is not the kinda service you can just barge into with clickity-clackity heels on.
2. After coming to terms with how my childhood atonement theology shaped my attachment style, I had to retake the Enneagram test.
3. I had to throw blood at a nuclear warhead in protest of the war machine.
4. Alternate: I became lightheaded after collecting too much of my own blood to throw at a nuke. In retrospect, I should have just used grape juice.
The Parkers wanted to limit small talk at their annual family Christmas party, fearful that conversation would veer into politics, or religion, or whether Pete Davidson is unconventionally attractive. So they organized a harmless white elephant gift exchange. By night’s end, they would be full of carbs and regret, vowing to play charades next year.
AS WE APPROACH the new year, the more fortunate among us will be taking time to organize their lives by rebalancing their financial portfolios and considering new investments. While taking care of your cash, it’s important to remember that a wise teacher once said, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy.” I still don’t know what vermin is (it’s probably bad because it’s in the same sentence as moths), but I think the teacher might have been telling us that in additionto tending to our finances, we should also tend to our spiritual portfolios.
If you’re wondering about how exactly to do this, here are three rules to spiritual wealth that I think will prove helpful.
Happy birthday, darling. So sorry this post comes 11 days after your actual birthday.
AS I WRITE this, it has been 16 months since my last haircut—the last time I felt safe being partially restrained by a front-facing cape while a stranger hovered near my face with scissors. Needless to say, my hair is unruly and prematurely greying, but fear not, it is doing wonders for my love life. I have kissed dating goodbye and started washing people’s feet with my hair. Because why walk a mile in someone’s shoes when you could just take a good hard look at their calluses? If you can feel the tug of your hair between your partner’s toes and not turn away in shame (or accidentally tickle them), what can’t you accomplish together?
This method is not only pandemic-safe-ish, it’s biblical. And it is much wiser to take intimacy advice from Mary of Bethany than Joshua Harris of Dayton, Ohio. In the gospel of John, Mary pours an expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wipes his feet with her hair. In the gospels of Mark and Matthew, Jesus himself calls being anointed, “A BEAUTIFUL THING” (the original Greek did not use all caps, but it should have).
EVERY ONCE IN a while, while brushing my teeth or driving to work, my mind will wander to what I call “future regrets”—things that I’m pretty sure I’ll rue later in life but about which I do nothing to resolve in the present. Those include obvious ones like not flossing or watching PBS NewsHour enough. But there’s one thing in that category that’s a little more unexpected: dancing.
The sheer act of dancing—with its flailing of the arms and stomping of the feet (including, inevitably, stomping on other people’s feet)—doesn’t exactly lend itself to those inclined toward modesty and reserve. And unless you’re doing that flailing and stomping while walking over hot coals at the direction of human resources as part of your new employee training icebreaker, people will probably turn their attention to you, and not in a good way. But for those of us who grew up in churches where dancing was frowned upon, stepping out on the dance floor feels like a theological risk as well. (Old joke: “Why do Baptists prohibit sex while standing up? It might lead to dancing.”)
AMAZON FOUNDER JEFF BEZOS arrived at writer Wendell Berry’s home in Kentucky the same way he arrives anywhere on earth: by drone, covered in cardboard. When he stepped out of the large box, the two men shook hands and exchanged gifts. Bezos gave Berry a single octopus tentacle wrapped in burlap. Berry offered Bezos a gooseberry coated in local honey. Both quietly hoped the exchange was a step forward for modern masculinity. It wasn’t.
Bezos: This is a fabulous berry, Wendell. Do you live off the food you farm? Or book sales?
Berry: Well, tax-evading corporate conglomerates have made it harder for authors to earn a sustainable living, but I’m happy with my lifestyle.
Bezos: So, you have other investments?
Berry: I invest in sequoias and in the two inches of humus that will build under the trees every thousand years.
Bezos: I LOVE hummus. But I’m not familiar with Sequoia. Has their stock gone public?
Berry: They are trees. Very old trees.
IN LATE APRIL 2021, the food website Epicurious made the decision to stop publishing recipes with beef to “encourage more sustainable cooking.” The move sparked an immediate backlash. But I must admit that I would hardly care if every beef entrée were wiped from the internet, so long as the recipes that remained included a “jump to recipe” button so that I did not have to spend 20 minutes scrolling through a 50,000-word memoir about how a particular dish made its way through 17 generations of your family. But alas, it seems that for the time being we are stuck with far too many food platforms doubling up as literary agencies.
Along with facing criticism, Epicurious also won a fair amount of praise. Supporters noted that meat production is one of the most significant contributors to climate change and an ever-warming planet. As a result, over the past few years a number of people have begun to identify as “flexitarians.”
Contrary to my initial belief, these are not people who like to tell others about their bench press record. They are actually folks who generally do not eat meat but might make a few rare exceptions. If most Americans became flexitarian or even just cut cow out of their diet, this could make a significant impact. I do recognize that it is incredibly difficult to get most Americans to do anything for the common good unless it involves the words “listen,” “to,” “Dolly,” and “Parton,” but I actually believe that with a charismatic spokesperson at the forefront of a flexitarian campaign, this could get off the ground.
ON A RECENT Sunday, my pastors asked the congregation to show up for Zoom church with “something to consume during communion.” And let me tell you, if you’ve never had a tortilla chip as the bread and chipotle salsa as the wine then you might be experiencing a lower tier of consecration. Even my dog—who not only considers the lilies, but also pees upon them—ate from the crumbs of my Tostitos and knew something beautiful and mysterious had transpired.
In other words, Zoom church, even with its lag time and pixilation, has had its perks—but one perk, specifically, above all other perks: While the absence of commutes and underwire bras has been noteworthy, the absence of churchy small talk has been paramount.
My trifles with the Passing of the Peace predate and rival my newer fears of the Passing of the Germs. At the age of 8, I had what my therapist called “separation anxiety” and what my older sister called “OHMYGOD Loosen Your Grip on My Forearm, JENNA.” I did not know what to say if the kind, adult Presbyterians asked me, “How’s school?” or the even more terrifyingly open-ended: “How’ve you been?”