Gregg Brekke 5-03-2021

Corruption and climate disaster push many people in Honduras and elsewhere to make the uncertain journey north.

Bee Moorhead 5-03-2021
A photo of the Texas power grids during the power outage in February.

A power grid control center operated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas in Taylor / Michael Stravato / The New York Times

Texas ought to have a climate plan because that's the loving thing to do.

Greg Williams 5-03-2021

UNTIL RECENTLY, I had a boss who kept CNN on all day in her office. I work in communications, so this made sense, but it made me wonder: How can we best consume the news? Does the news make us anxious and divide us? Or does it serve as a way to learn about the world and how we can better love and serve our neighbors? Though the evidence is mixed (we rarely have simple answers in life), Jeffrey Bilbro’s verdict on news consumption in Reading the Times is mostly negative.

Bilbro’s analysis suggests that modern media—understood broadly to include everything from newspapers to social media—divides our attention among trivia, binds us to the daily rather than allowing attention to the eternal, and diverts us from local, embodied concerns to national ones outside our scope of influence. His argument ranges broadly, integrating thinkers from Thoreau and Auerbach to the more modern Wendell Berry and Charles Taylor. The reader feels like they are in a college classroom, in a good way, with a professor who isn’t afraid to synthesize broadly to make their point.

Joey Chin 4-29-2021
An illustration of a girl placing a ballot into a #1 box, with boxes #2 and #3 to the sides.

Illustration by Yann Bastard

ACROSS THE COUNTRY a number of places are using or are considering adopting ranked choice voting for state, local, or federal elections. If you’re unfamiliar with ranked choice voting (RCV), that’s too bad, because other than the most recent here’s-how-to-make-the-perfect-garlic-bread TikTok video, this is just about the biggest news there is right now. But let me take a moment to explain.

Ranked choice voting is a process in which voters rank their candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and the voters who chose that last place candidate as their first choice have their vote shifted to their second choice, and so on, until there is a winner. If you’re with me so far and like the idea, feel free to stop reading and go sign a petition for RCV. If you’re still confused, let me offer an example.

Earlier this year, the children’s ministry team at my church needed to decide which book our K-5 kids should read for the upcoming quarter. Each of the 21 teachers submitted the name of a book we felt would be appropriate. We then ranked the submitted books in order of preference. Of the 21 books, my top three picks were The Mueller Report by Robert S. Mueller III, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, and The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Isaac S. Villegas 4-29-2021
An illustration of hands with gardening gloves holding a globe with a picture of soil and gardening tools in it.

Illustration by barbarian flower

DURING THESE LONG months of pandemic, I’ve returned to the 14th century writings of Julian of Norwich, a theologian who lived through seasons of plague as a child. She lost neighbors and loved ones. Later, as an adult, she almost died from a mysterious illness. After her recovery, Julian received visions from God that she wrote down in a book of theological reflections.

God “made everything that is made for love,” Julian writes, “and the same love sustains everything, and shall do so forever.” On page after page of Revelations of Divine Love, Julian dwells on God’s steadfast care for all of creation. She offers—to herself and to her readers—words of comfort and hopeful reassurances (“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well”), while staring clear-eyed at a life of suffering (“all the pains and sufferings of all creatures, both in body and spirit”).

When I can’t sleep, I repeat Julian’s line in my mind. “All shall be well, and all shall be well.” Her words have accompanied me through night after night of pandemic anxieties and despair. Her repetitions (“all shall be well, and all shall be well”) remind me of Psalm 130: “My soul waits for God more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning” (verse 6). We wait and watch for the glow of morning, for redemption’s dawn when all shall be well.

Jeffrey Thomson 4-29-2021
Illustration of a man looking to his side, surrounded by abstract swirls and plants all in an orange hue.

Illustration by Mikita Rasolka

Lorenzo was mortar for the church
he built, gathering wild birds
for the rafters and fruited trees
for their food. He carted stone
and hoisted, he pestled, he block-
and-tackled. Persecuted
by Valerian and about to be
arrested, Lorenzo goat-herded
the church’s wealth, distributed it
to the poor. He paid the unmade
orphans, clothed the lepers
in money. He sold the sacred
vessels, the varied trestles.

Elinam Agbo 4-29-2021
The cover of 'The Prophets' by Robert Jones, Jr. features silhouettes of faces in teal, blue and white.

ON A MISSISSIPPI plantation known as “Empty,” two young enslaved people work and live in the barn, tending to the animals and each other. Despite opposing personalities, Isaiah and Samuel fit together: Where Isaiah is soft and accommodating, Samuel is hard and unyielding. As Samuel actively fights the system that seeks to bend him, Isaiah bends to survive, even as he mourns the name that was stolen from him. While Empty constantly seeks to erase their humanity, these young men find a quiet peace in their love, which touches the community around them.

In The Prophets, Robert Jones Jr. richly renders the perspectives of the enslaved and their enslavers, allowing for a complexity that a story with a single point of view would miss. The novel contains multitudes, among them a love story, an epic, an origin story, and a spiritual journey. This formidable debut weaves the ancestral past with the characters’ present to illuminate histories, realities, and possibilities that are just beyond reach. In his testament to Black queer love and storytelling, Jones confronts questions of gender, power, and consent in the wake of the transatlantic slave trade.

As the owner of Empty, Paul’s priority is to breed more slaves, and Isaiah and Samuel’s union poses a threat to these goals. In his own attempt at survival, the slave Amos proposes a solution: In exchange for “being learned in the ways of Christ, which meant being learned in ways forbidden by law,” he would preach to his fellow slaves and instill that “docility was treasured over rebellion.” For Amos, a glimpse of freedom means access to doors that have been closed to him. But for Amos to succeed, Samuel and Isaiah must give up their ability to choose who they can love.

The Editors 4-29-2021

No More Death

In the 98-minute documentary Us Kids, survivors of the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., organize the monumental March for Our Lives against gun violence while they honor their dead and take back democracy. Impact Partners.

Flesh Bears History

Natalie Wigg-Stevenson expands our theological imagination with Transgressive Devotion: Theology as Performance Art. Rooted in Baptist, Catholic, Anglican, feminist, and queer theological traditions, Wigg-Stevenson explores the emotional depths artists access by crossing boundaries in hopes of coming closer to God. SCM Press.

A Black man and a white man "high-fiving" each other with their elbows.

Photo by Bryan Woolston / Reuters

MY BELOVED ADOPTED state of Kentucky doesn’t rank number one in many things. In most measures of health, wealth, or education, we rank somewhere in the mid-40s. However, Louisville’s Courier-Journal recently unearthed a statistic in which Kentucky totally wrecked the curve—number of people per capita arrested for their actions during the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol.

As of this writing, Kentucky’s number of apprehended insurrectionists equals that of neighboring Ohio, a state with almost three times our population.

I doubt that surprises many readers, but there’s another side to the Kentucky story that might: There are important voices in the state denouncing the riot—members of the African American community, which is mostly concentrated in our cities, but also members of our other left-out and left-behind community, the mostly white population of Appalachian eastern Kentucky. And there are even signs that some people among those two groups are reaching out to each other.

Da'Shawn Mosley 4-29-2021
A scene from 'Work In Progress' shows Abby, the main character, at a club in pink light.

THE PROPHET JOB had a hard life, but I think even he, if listening to Abby’s story, would say, “Damn.”

He’s not listening to her troubles, though: Abby’s therapist is. No, wait, she’s not listening either, for a reason that will spur Abby’s friends to joke about just how sad Abby’s life really is.

I’m describing Work in Progress, a scripted comedy produced by Showtime and co-written by Tim Mason, Lilly Wachowski (The Matrix, Sense 8), and Abby McEnany, who stars as a fictionalized version of herself.

“Abby is a mid-forties self-identified queer dyke whose life is a quiet and ongoing crisis,” Showtime’s website describes, not revealing that Abby lives with OCD, washing her hands repeatedly and recording her life meticulously in notebooks, in case she forgets anything she’s ever done. It doesn’t reveal that Abby, throughout much of her life, has been called Pat—a reference to the Saturday Night Live character from the early ’90s—and is often mistaken for a man, asked to leave public bathrooms, and struggles with her weight. It certainly doesn’t reveal what we learn in the first few minutes of Work in Progress: In a couple of weeks, if Abby’s life doesn’t get better, she plans to take her own life.

Rebecca Riley 4-28-2021
A vintage photo of two Black women laughing and playing instruments in church.

Getty Images

I'VE NEVER REALLY thought about what church ladies do when they’re not at church. My interactions with them have always been tied to the building and its activities. In pre-pandemic times, I would see them at service and maybe hug or shake hands, chat briefly, or just wave goodbye on my way out the door. But easy smiles and they’ve-got-it-together appearances belie the “less presentable” parts of everyone’s story, bits that, if shared, could create a space where we no longer feel isolated, but instead are comforted by the fact that each of us is trying to deal with at least one hot mess in our lives. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw unflinchingly tells the stories of a few of those messes, stories of the things that we hide.

Each narrative in the collection aches with a desire for connection, and Philyaw provides the reader a sometimes uncomfortably intimate view of how these “church ladies” try to meet this need. Some characters turn to intimate affairs, choosing partners with whom they can envision more or partners with whom there can never be more than fleeting and secret arrangements, sometimes due to the damage of homophobia. Other stories aren’t about romantic desires at all, but feature characters longing to connect with family, carrying a deep-seated, perpetual wish to simply be seen, valued, loved, and embraced for who they are by the people they thought could be expected to do so.

I particularly love that this collection features characters of diverse ages. I’m so tired of how not-entirely-subtle ageism has crept into various avenues of storytelling, as if all significant human experience, growth, and formation is wrapped up by the time you’re 40. Philyaw rejects this notion and delivers fully formed characters of all ages.

Illustration of a white person's hand refusing a book being held out by a Black person's hand.

Illustration by Mark Pernice

IN THE WAKE of the horrific killings last year of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others at the hands of white vigilantism and aggressive policing, many institutions, companies, and other bodies sought to express their opposition to racism, even if their responses were merely symbolic gestures. But the presidents of Southern Baptist seminaries went in what seemed to be the opposite direction, issuing a joint statement in November that disavowed what is known in academic circles as “critical race theory.”

Many Black clergy were shocked but not surprised by the seminary presidents’ statement, coming from a denomination that had sought to defend its racist history and had criticized efforts at racial reconciliation and truth. Two prominent Southern Baptist-affiliated megachurch pastors—Ralph West and Charlie Dates—announced their out-migration from the denomination, and it’s possible that more Black clergy will follow.

Five weeks after the Council of Seminary Presidents released their statement—curiously, on the fretful day, Jan. 6, when a frenzied mob of homegrown white terrorists blitzed the U.S. Capitol—the six presidents, the heads of each Southern Baptist seminary, met with a group of Black Southern Baptist pastors. The pastors reported that the exchange was conciliatory, and that they felt heard—even as the seminary presidents doubled down on their rejection of critical race theory. The presidents offered gestures toward further conversations and a stronger commitment to recruit and financially back more Black students at their schools, but no counterproposal concerning critical race theory.

Gina Ciliberto 4-28-2021
Abstract illustrations of ears, hands, and a church building in a sinister red.

Illustration by Ibrahim Rayintakath

BEFORE 2020, REV. JOSH GELATT did not know much about QAnon. Gelatt had been lead pastor at Cascades Baptist Church in Jackson, Mich., since 2016. On occasion, he had heard congregants allege that “Democrats, liberals, and socialists are evil,” and that “they’re out to close churches and take away guns in the United States.” He had heard Christian nationalistic claims, such as “we are God’s chosen country.”

Gelatt, who does not identify as a Democrat or a Republican, was reasonably concerned. Then in spring 2020, Gelatt noticed what he called an “alarming twist” in his congregation.

After the murder of George Floyd in May, Cascades Baptist Church erupted with QAnon’s apocalyptic conspiracy theories, which the FBI has warned may lead some adherents to domestic terrorism. In the church and on social media, Gelatt witnessed members share false allegations that then-presidential candidate Joe Biden had “an island with an underground submarine where he receives his pedophile orders” and that there were “underground railroads between various cities run by Hollywood elites.” Congregants claimed that then-President Donald Trump was going to “seize power, execute the liberals, and expose pedophile rings.”

Rose Marie Berger 4-28-2021
Illustration of hands holding drawings of hearts.

Illustration by Matt Chase

AT AGE 43, I found the person I wanted to marry. At 50, I proposed. And she said yes. I, a generations-long Roman Catholic, was proposing to a United Methodist (with deep ancestry in Presbyterianism). We wanted our marriage witnessed and blessed by the church. We wanted to hear our community pledge to uphold and care for us in marriage. But we were not of opposite genders—a prerequisite for marriage in both our denominations.

For seven years we prayed and wrestled over our “mixed marriage” and what to do with our respective denominations’ position, which amounted to “love the sinner, hate the sin.” The priests in our Catholic community recognized us as a couple and tended our wounds when anti-gay teaching came from the pulpit. But they could not invite us on couples’ retreats, consecrate our marriage, or even offer us a blessing. Our evangelical and Methodist communities defended our civil rights, but not our ecclesial ones. If we asked for liturgical rites, we became a “problem.”

Eventually, we found an Episcopal community that not only welcomed us but offered marriage preparation tailored for same-gender couples. We signed on the dotted line, completed the pastoral process, and sent out invitations for our April 2020 wedding. A global pandemic scuttled our plans.

Lisa Sharon Harper 4-28-2021
Silhouettes of faces looking up toward a sun.

Illustration by Matt Chase

I SCROLLED THROUGH the “Moving Mountains” columns I’ve plunked out on laptop keyboards over the past decade. Each title marks a particular threshold in my own journey and understanding. As titles roll from top to bottom, one thing becomes clear as crystal: I have shared my life and my heart with you. This column has largely served as sacred space to reflect, from the perspective of a Black woman follower of Jesus, on the mountains we face, the strategies and tactics it will take to move them, and the faith it takes to move our feet at all. I am grateful to you, the Sojourners community, for all your emails and tweets. Thank you for reading my words.

A recent New York Times article, “Can This Amusement Park Be Saved?” did a deep dive into the fate of the Clementon Park and Splash World, located just across the Delaware River from my home in Philadelphia. Seeded by Civil War veteran and New Jersey Assemblyman Theodore B. Gibbs in 1907, this New Jersey amusement park found its heyday in the late ’40s and early ’50s, but fell into disrepair, refinance, and repossession, finally being auctioned off this year. Indiana-based developer Gene Staples won the auction with a bid of $2.37 million and aims to restore the amusement park to its former glory.

Reporter Kate Morgan writes, “the true draw, [Staples] believes, is the nostalgia itself; the promise that you can go home again, and when you get there, you’ll recognize the place.”

Illustration of a hand sticking out of an Amazon box pushing away a library building with books flying out.

Illustration by Michael George Haddad

AMAZON FOUNDER JEFF BEZOS has never been seen in a top hat like the guy on the Monopoly board game, but, in every other way, he is a classic monopolist—the very model of a 21st century robber baron.

There’s at least one difference, however, between Bezos and robber barons of the past. While steel baron Andrew Carnegie became famous for building nearly 1,700 public libraries in small towns across the United States, Bezos has turned his wealth and power to strangling them.

One mark of the monopolist has always been predatory pricing—selling an item at a loss to force a competitor out of business. As the first company to perfect an online ordering and delivery system, Amazon used that advantage to destroy its independent, brick-and-mortar retail competition. As rival online merchants emerged, Amazon systematically underpriced them until they shuttered or fled to the “shelter” of the Amazon Marketplace.

Another classic monopolizing strategy is vertical integration—controlling the supply chain from production to point of sale. When streaming video became the next big thing, Amazon didn’t simply start a streaming rental service, it went into the movie production business.

Jonathan D. Quick 4-28-2021
Illustration of a globe with a vaccine vial wrapped around it.

Illustration by Michael George Haddad

THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC has claimed more than 3 million lives around the world and left tens of millions more with insidious aftereffects. It is reversing decades of progress in reducing child mortality, health inequity, poverty, gender inequality, illiteracy, and hunger. Immunization against COVID-19 is the single most powerful weapon we have to end the pandemic and reclaim lost ground.

More than a dozen safe, effective vaccines are now in use worldwide. The Global Health Innovation Center at Duke University estimates global production capacity to be 12 billion doses for 2021. This is sufficient to immunize 70 percent of the world’s population and achieve “herd immunity”—the level of protection sufficient to stop community spread and eliminate surges. Through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) program, more than 190 countries made a joint commitment to secure enough vaccines by the end of 2021 to immunize 20 percent of the population in lower-income countries.

Despite these remarkable successes, the world is headed toward two parallel realities: By late 2021 or early 2022 most high-income countries will have achieved herd immunity and made significant progress toward a new normal. In contrast, lower-income countries are not yet on track to even reach the 20 percent vaccination target. Despite $400 million in public and private pledges in April, COVAX is short more than $22 billion for this year’s budget. Rich countries have made purchase agreements with vaccine manufacturers that far outweigh the needs of their own populations. Based on the current trajectory, it will take several years to immunize enough people in lower-income countries to stop the pandemic.

Illustration of hands with many skin colors pushing a lever together.

Illustration by Michael George Haddad

ON NOV. 3, 1979, five young labor organizers were murdered by Nazis and Klansmen in Greensboro, N.C. Ten were wounded. And a low-income, African American community was terrorized. The police knew the ambush plans and chose to be visibly absent. This tragic event eerily foreshadows what happened in our nation’s capital on Jan. 6. Our country is at a boiling point. We are closer than many want to admit to losing this developing republic.

To address together growing national divisions, we must struggle with three evils: white supremacy, massive economic disparity, and a significant decline in the moral fabric of this nation. These issues must be addressed concurrently if they are to be effectively addressed at all. To do this, we need to design a process in which people can walk toward each other and, ultimately, with each other out of this moment and into a more just and equitable future.

Truth must be foundational in the process we design. Attempting to advance policies to address the legacy of racism and segregation without first establishing the truth of the impact of that lived history at the community level risks exacerbating our divisions.

Jim Rice 4-27-2021
Pastor José Chicas spent 1,300 days in sanctuary in Durham, N.C. He returned home in January. / Illustration by Jenny Kroik

Pastor José Chicas spent 1,300 days in sanctuary in Durham, N.C. He returned home in January. / Illustration by Jenny Kroik

AMAZON'S STRONG-ARM TACTICS and disinformation campaign enabled the behemoth corporation to prevent workers from organizing in Alabama earlier this year. That Amazon used its overwhelming power and wealth—and some would say lack of scruples—to undercut its employees came as little surprise to anyone who’s observed its treatment of any entity it perceives as competition. And, as Danny Duncan Collum explains in this issue, Amazon is going after public libraries the same way it attacks small businesses and union organizers—ruthlessly, methodically, and without remorse.

While Amazon’s blatant abuse of monopolistic power is plain to see, the proper response is anything but easy, even for Christians committed to putting our purchasing power where our morals are. Often, using alternatives to Amazon means paying a little more and waiting a little longer for our order to arrive. But unless people with a conscience begin to send a message in the only language Amazon understands, the possibility of change will remain remote.

Patrick Henry 3-24-2021
Illustration of peace activism Dan Berrigan's face. He is wearing a golf cap and behind him is the New York City skyline with a red ribbon for AIDS awareness.

Illustrations by Ryan Inzana

The well-known peace activist spent much of his life bringing comfort to the dying.