Magazine

Jim Rice 11-28-2023
The illustration shows Ali Abu Awwad, with the colors of the Palestinian and Israeli flags in the background, with a row of hummingbirds flying, and leafy branches.

Illustration by Kael Abello 

A CORE PRINCIPLE of nonviolence is recognizing the humanity of your opponent. In time of war, that principle does not become irrelevant or obsolete — it becomes more difficult, and essential. In the wake of Hamas’ brutal Oct. 7 attack, as Israel’s retributory assault was gearing up, Ali Abu Awwad, a nonviolence activist who lives in the West Bank, wrote: “Now more than ever, we all must refuse to use violence to justify more violence. We should not allow our pain to blind us to what is most needed: mutually guaranteed sovereignty, security, and dignity for both Israelis and Palestinians.”

At a time when even calling for a cease-fire is seen by some as an unforgivable choosing of sides, Awwad and other peacemakers insist that the “side” we’re called to support isn’t exclusively pro-Israel or pro-Palestine, it’s “pro-solution.” Awwad is clear that there is no military answer to that question: “The best way to support Israel,” he writes, “is to protect both Palestinian lives and Jewish lives.”

He’s not alone in recognizing the humanity of all involved. For instance, some Israelis who suffered terrible loss in the Hamas attacks have been among the strongest proponents of peace. Noy Katzman’s brother, Haim, was killed on Oct. 7. In her eulogy, Noy called for the end of the killing of innocents. “I call on the government and all of us not to use our death and pain to cause death and pain of other people or other families,” Noy said. “I demand to stop the cycle of pain, and understand that the only way is freedom and equal rights.” Israeli peace activist Maoz Inon, whose parents were killed by Hamas, implored Israel to stop its war on Gaza. “Revenge is not going to bring my parents back to life,” Inon wrote on Aljazeera.com. “It is not going to bring back other Israelis and Palestinians killed either. It is going to do the opposite. It is going to cause more casualties. It is going to bring more death. We must break the cycle.”

Awwad has also been the victim of violence. As a teenager, he was imprisoned for four years for participating in the protests of the first intifada. Years later, he was shot by an Israeli settler while changing a tire in the West Bank; soon thereafter he learned that his brother, Yusef, had been shot and killed by an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint. But Awwad did not succumb to the temptation to seek violent revenge. Instead, he began working with Israeli families who lost loved ones to violence, starting him down a path that led, in 2016, to the co-founding of a Palestinian nonviolence movement called Taghyeer, the Arabic word for “change.”

Awwad spoke with Sojourners senior editor Jim Rice while visiting Washington, D.C., last summer. After the Israel-Hamas war started, Stephen R. Stern, director of the U.S.-based Friends of Taghyeer Movement, decried the “unspeakable crimes and terror” committed against Israelis and told Sojourners, “The Israeli military response takes the Holy Land deeper” into an “uncharted abyss built on years of conflict ... on a precipice that might reach the truly unimaginable.” — The Editors

Jim Rice 11-28-2023
The illustration shows a rocket broken apart, with peace doves coming out of the center. It is on a yellow background.

Illustration by Alex William 

SOME RESPONSES TO the Israel-Hamas war seem almost clinical in their rationalization of the most abhorrent behavior, as if it’s acceptable to engage in evil acts in response to evil acts. But, as Pope Francis warned, we cannot harden our hearts and ignore the human suffering caused by the violence: “We must not become accustomed to war, to any war,” the pope wrote. “We must not allow our hearts and minds to be anaesthetized at the repetition of these extremely serious horrors against God and humankind.”

The horrors, as is the case in all war, include the victimization of children. In the first three weeks of the war, according to Save the Children, more Palestinian children were killed by Israeli bombing in Gaza than the annual number of children killed in all the world’s conflict zones since 2019, including the war in Ukraine. “The more than 3,300 deaths of Palestinian children,” Omar Suleiman wrote on Religion News Service in late October, “have come as entire neighborhoods have been reduced to rubble, crushing innocent residents and neighbors.” The grief of the survivors echoes the lament in Matthew 2 at the slaughter of other holy innocents in the same land: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

Jenna Barnett 10-31-2023
The cartoon shows an orange cat and a blonde girl facing each other, sharing a speech bubble with a heart in it. But the speech bubble is torn, to signify that they can't communicate with traditional language.

Illustration by Melanie Lambrick 

AS A KID, I had a fraught relationship with my cat, Buddy. I know what you’re thinking: “Buddy?? What a basic name.” Well, I couldn’t agree more. I was 5 when we got him, and unfortunately, I was not trusted with the responsibility of choosing a name. To placate me, my parents told me I could come up with the middle name and the last name of the new cat (I don’t know why Buddy didn’t take on our family’s surname — “Buddy Barnett” has a nice ring to it). I christened him “Buddy Bear Donkey.”

Maybe that’s why Buddy hated me. His disdain for me was different from most cats’ aversion to small children. He didn’t run from me or hide beneath couches, both conventional and understandable responses to overzealous hugs. No, Buddy didn’t seek avoidance; he pursued revenge. The orange tabby cat sought me out when I was weakest: at 5 a.m., in my deepest slumber. He would climb on my bed, dip his deceptively cute head under the covers, and bite (not nibble!) my toes.

In the morning, I would find him so that we could make up. Hug it out. Ask him, “What had I done to deserve this?” But I couldn’t get through. I even watched The Aristocats, hoping I could learn something about Buddy. Perhaps, like the Duchess and her kittens, Buddy had a love of the piano. I played him my best rendition of “Hot Cross Buns.” (In retrospect, he might’ve been hoping for a more refined tune. Perhaps an arpeggio or some coffeehouse Norah Jones).

The illustration shows two Black women embracing, both have halos, and the one in front is holding her hand around her stomach as if she were pregnant, presumably the Virgin Mary. The woman behind her has colorful angel wings presumably God or an angle.

Illustration by Lauren Wright Pittman 

“THE CONTEMPLATIVE ON her knees well knows the messy entanglement of sexual desire and desire for God,” writes theologian Sarah Coakley. If she’s right, then attending to what arouses us sensually can teach us something about how God lures us through our longing and, even, how we can attract God’s intimacy. This month, we’re exploring how queer theology can invigorate (dare I say, stimulate?) the anticipation we build throughout Advent. This approach may seem blasphemous to some who aren’t familiar with a queer-affirming lens ... and perhaps uncomfortable to some who are. Many of us are steeped in Christian body-denying theologies and moralities. We are uncomfortable meeting God in ways that are playful, erotic, unnerving, and always cognizant of power dynamics (though scripture is steeped with such sexual innuendo). Queer theology starts from (rather than argues for) not just queer affirmation, but queer celebration. It can expose the erotic dimensions of our sacred stories to reveal God’s wild and promiscuous desire for all creation.

December is a season for sending Christmas cards depicting the Holy Family — perhaps the most heteronormative image in the church year: A mom and dad stare lovingly at their beautiful baby. This static image can obscure the mess of desire, power, submission, and surprising gender fluidity required to incarnate this Holy Child. What moves in us as we ponder the design of different Christmas images that don’t shy away from this beautiful mess? What images help us face the wonder and terror of what it feels like to be undone and remade by God’s overcoming?

Laura Sobbott Ross 10-31-2023
The image is a watercolor painting of a barren forest with a layer of snow and a setting sun shining through the trees.

Egle Lipeikaite / Alamy

A poem

Olivia Bardo 10-31-2023
The image shows the cover of "The Country of the Blind" by Andrew Leland.

Penguin Random House

ANDREW LELAND HAS been going blind since high school. In college, he was formally diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye condition. Leland, who is a writer, editor, and educator, named his memoir The Country of the Blind, after the 1904 H.G. Wells short story in which an explorer falls down a mountain and finds himself in a village where everyone is blind. But unlike the explorer, Leland does not experience a rapid descent into blindness. Instead, for decades he has traversed the blurry middle ground of “becoming blind.” He writes, “It’s so much easier to conceive of it as a binary — you’re either blind or you’re not; you see or you don’t.” The Country of the Blind breaks down the binaries of our understanding of blindness and sightedness, and takes us on a personal and historical journey through the culture of blindness.

Blindness has always been a part of my story. My father, who has both retinitis pigmentosa and Coats disease, started to lose his eyesight in his teens and lost almost all of it by the time he was 27. But his world was not lost when blindness set in. Rather, like Leland and others with blindness, his world was still there; he just needed to learn new ways to traverse it. Growing up, I observed my father navigate the world with intention. He chopped firewood to keep us warm in the winter. He identified different denominations of currency by distinctively folding the bills. He carried a special tool to guide his pen when he signed documents.

Greg Williams 10-31-2023
The image shows the cover of the book "Reckoning with Power" but David E. Fitch

Baker Books

THE POWER OF Jesus works like yeast: At first invisible, it transforms lives and eventually transforms cultures. In Reckoning with Power, David E. Fitch, a pastor and professor at Northern Seminary, explores this power — what he calls “Power With,” a relational and restorative type of power. It is, essentially, the power of love. Fitch contrasts this with worldly power, “Power Over,” which is hierarchical, domineering, and ultimately incompatible with Christianity.

Fitch first examines power sociologically, then biblically. He reads all scripture through the lens of Jesus’ authority to serve and heal. Helpfully, Fitch spends time discussing the difficult passages that seem to endorse God’s power as Power Over, including the Canaanite conquest and the violence in apocalyptic literature. He closes with some practical tactics for churches to help foster Power With, including a process of discernment he calls “IGTHSUS” (“It Has Seemed Good to the Holy Spirit and to Us”). Rather than model our communities after the power of the world, he encourages us to follow Christ by embracing God’s power.

Fitch’s core recommendation for how Power With should operate in churches is based on small groups discerning the Holy Spirit. However, he doesn’t acknowledge that small groups can also be sites of domination. Consider how misogynistic habits of conversation can privilege men’s voices. At times, Fitch is overly optimistic about our ability to relinquish Power Over.

Sarah James 10-31-2023
The illustrations shows the head of a woman whose eyes are closed, with a single tear falling down her face. The background covered in gray drips.

luboffke / Shutterstock 

IN THE 15TH CENTURY, Margery Kempe received the divine gift of weeping. When considering the multitude of spiritual powers God has bestowed — prophecy, healing, and discernment, for instance — weeping is a peculiar one. After several transformative visions, Kempe, an English laywoman and mystic, wept regularly in hourslong sessions out of contrition for human fallenness and compassion for Christ’s suffering. St. Jerome visited her to convey that God had given her a permanent “well of tears” to help others. Consequently, she developed a form of sanctifying prayer, weeping “on others’ behalf” to help liberate them from sin, purgatory, anguish, or death. Kempe’s fervor continues to demonstrate the place of tears in daily life. Even for us non-ascetics, tears express truth, helping us attune to the wisdom within and beyond us.

Some of Kempe’s contemporaries thought her weeping (which evolved into a decade of “roaring”) to be disruptive, odd, or performative. And as Oxford professor of English Santha Bhattacharji explains in her article “Tears and Screaming: The Spirituality of Margery Kempe,” those critiques continue today. Some scholars have labeled Kempe as “extreme” or “hysterical,” characterizations that ring of misogyny. Nevertheless, her practices were church-approved and part of the well-worn tradition of Christian tears. The Desert Mothers and Fathers considered crying an “official form of worship.” The Rule of St. Benedict stipulates that tears are the mark of “pure prayer.” Tears — whether quiet or loud — are expressions of the heart that connect us to divine wisdom. As Eastern Orthodox theologian Kallistos Ware writes in his article “‘An Obscure Matter’: The Mystery of Tears in Orthodox Spirituality,” “We weep [to give] expression to the intimate feelings that are ‘too deep for words.’”

The Editors 10-31-2023
The image shows a couple sitting dow, wearing headphones, looking at a large, electronic egg. There is a woman standing behind them, watching.

Scope Pictures

Futuristic Dilemmas

In the film The Pod Generation, parents-to-be pay top dollar to gestate a fetus in an artificial womb outside the body, a commodification that more equally distributes the responsibility of pregnancy between males and females. But every technological advancement brings new moral quandaries. Scope Pictures

Michael Woolf 10-31-2023
The photo shows two men, one who is an angel and dressed in lighter colors, and another who is a demon dressed in black. The angel is looking at a clipboard and the demon is just standing there.

From Good Omens

IN THE THEOLOGY course on suffering that I teach at Lewis University, the Book of Job is required reading. Its plot can be hard to stomach: Satan believes that Job only loves God because the faithful servant has a blessed life. Looking to prove Job’s unconditional loyalty, God gives the accuser permission to take everything from Job except his life. The wager causes Job great suffering. When God finally arrives on the scene (Earth), we get some beautiful, albeit troubling, poetry. God says that God’s ways are beyond human understanding and especially human questioning. As one of my students put it last year, “God is kind of a jerk.”

Season 2 of Good Omens, streaming on Prime, leans into that confusing characterization of God. The fantasy comedy follows the unlikely friendship of Aziraphale (an angel) and Crowley (a demon). After thousands of years together on Earth, they find themselves more at home with humans than with angels or demons.

Avery Davis Lamb 10-31-2023
The picture shows a melting glacier and the pool of meltwater that has formed beneath it. The remaining snow is on a mountain.

Glacial tarn and melting ice, Grinnel Glacia, northern Montana / Getty Images 

I KNOW WHAT it’s like to be baptized in the meltwater of a dying glacier. It feels like a plunge into all the emotions of living in our climate-changed world: joy, dread, awe, fear, love.

In August, a few of my college friends and I took a trip, something of a pilgrimage, to Glacier National Park in Montana. We wanted to visit the glaciers that are projected to die off in the coming decades. The Kootenai people call this place Ya·qawiswitxuki,“the place where there is a lot of ice.” It is a place burdened with names that it will hold on to even after the glaciers and ice disappear.

The geology of the park is like a cake cut open to show layers of sandstone, shale, and limestone — a portal into deep time. About 100 million years ago, in an event called the Sevier Orogeny, the mountains in Glacier formed as the forces of colliding tectonic plates thrust two billion years’ worth of sedimentary rock upward. Across 100,000-year cycles, glaciers formed and retreated, slowly whittling away at the rock and carving out dramatic valleys, moraines, arêtes and horns, cirques and tarns. During a simple four-hour hike, we walked through billions of years of sedimentation.

Walking through such a place makes this moment in history seem both insignificant and deeply important. Thousands of feet of layered sediment formed organically, with nearly no human influence, but the small sliver at the top will be markedly human. This Anthropocene layer in the geologic cake holds markers of nuclear bombs, cow manure, and a lot of plastic. It holds the most dramatic increase in carbon concentration and the accompanying increase in temperature. It holds the extinction of hundreds of creatures, which may soon include the western glacier stonefly and meltwater lednian stonefly, who require ice-cold clear streams to survive.

This layer is also the moment, a blink of an eye in geologic time, when the mighty glaciers disappear. It is estimated that by 2100, two-thirds of the world’s glaciers will be killed. The reality is more devastating in the eponymous national park, where all the glaciers are expected to be gone by the end of this century. I can’t predict all the impacts the park will feel over the next 75 years, but I imagine that the numerous hikers currently making pilgrimages to the glaciers will instead walk in funeral processions to plaques, like the one marking the death of the Okjökull Glacier in Iceland.

Bekah McNeel 10-31-2023
The illustration has five panels showing the journey of a teenager who is pregnant, has a baby, feels alone, and then finds community.

Illustration by Cornelia LI

FIVE YEARS AGO, Madelynn Meads was pregnant and stuck between worlds.

Her high school in Leander, Texas, was a new school, and it had never been known to have a teen mom. Her church, where she’d been active in the youth group, suddenly couldn’t find a place for her. She didn’t fit in with the youth group anymore, but the church wouldn’t include her in its ministries for moms either. She’d lost the privilege of a relatively carefree youth without gaining the respect and spiritual investment often offered to young adults and new moms. As a pregnant 16-year-old, Meads said it felt as if the consistent message was, “You’re not a real adult or a real mom.”

Meads, like other teen moms, had fallen into a hole in the social fabric. She didn’t have the support available to teenagers carrying the hopes and dreams of their parents, or to new moms carrying the hopes and dreams of the next generation. Instead, she became part of a statistic, one that schools, government, and nonprofits are working to shrink.

In public discourse, teen pregnancy, poverty, and other adversity often go hand in hand — high school dropout rates for teen moms hover around 50 percent, and few go on to complete higher education. But advocates say that has less to do with the additional responsibility of a baby and more to do with the phenomenon Meads experienced at her church. The moms are no longer the kinds of teens targeted for scholarships and other educational opportunities. Traditional school schedules don’t work with baby schedules, and they can’t meet the time demands of most extracurriculars. If they want the kind of jobs that can help them raise their children in financial security, they must make it through a gauntlet of challenges to get there.

School systems sometimes have specialized services for teen parents to help them finish high school, and staff say they also have to help the teens renegotiate their place in family systems and community. For some Christian ministries, these extra challenges are opportunities to show the teens that there’s a secure, unconditional place for them in God’s family, with all the support to go with it.

Meads found those supports with YoungLives, a branch of YoungLife, a global Christian youth ministry. A YoungLives mentor reached out and gave her a place to belong, to be fully mom and fully teenager, both fun-loving and abundantly capable of facing the huge responsibilities that lay ahead. Instead of struggling to belong, she said, the message changed to “Let’s still have fun and let’s love God.”

Meads recently graduated from Texas A&M University and is getting her teaching certificate. During summers, she volunteers with YoungLives to try to give other teen moms the experience that made such a difference for her.

Kris Brunelli 10-30-2023
The image is a collage of many people who are a part of the Catholic Worker community

Top row, left to right: Dimitri Van Den Wittenboer, Bud Courtney, Lyn Lamadrid. Bottom row, left to right: Gerald Howard, Hideko Otake, Tom Heuser. / Photos by Kris Brunelli 

“CATHOLIC WORKER” is shorthand for a movement, a place of hospitality, and a one-penny newspaper started by activist visionaries Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in the early 1930s in New York City. They imagined urban and rural communities where poverty and loneliness could be alleviated by compassion, connection, shelter, and meaningful work rooted in the teachings of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Catholic Workers are also the people who dish soup, pour coffee, sweep floors, and work for peace at more than 100 loosely affiliated Catholic Worker houses around the world.

Kris Brunelli has been involved in Catholic Worker communities since 2011 when she started serving soup in New York City’s East Village. She met her husband, Marcus, while they were live-in volunteers at the Denver Catholic Worker. Now the two live in Harlem and volunteer at two Catholic Worker houses of hospitality: St. Joseph House and Maryhouse. Marcus is one of a dozen St. Joseph Catholic Workers that Brunelli interviewed for this story.

Between the clang of ladles and the splash of dishwater, community is born and reborn each day. Although people experiencing hunger and homelessness come to St. Joe’s for obvious needs, everyone who walks in the doors needs something. “We volunteers need community — need it just as much, if not more, as the guests who come and eat,” Brunelli says. “We would be lonely without it — lost, even.” — The Editors

Hideko

AT 8 IN the morning, my husband and I knock on the graffiti-splattered, candy-blue door. Most Mondays, alongside other St. Joseph Catholic Worker volunteers, we help serve breakfast to roughly 80 people. Since 1968, off First Street and Second Avenue in the East Village, people have found community.

“Come in! Come in!” Hideko says.

Five feet tall, a black braid down her back, she smiles over her shoulder. “The boss” several days a week, Hideko asks if we want to help make sandwiches — and heads back to the door when someone else knocks.

She stays busy. Originally from Japan, she’s worked on the Japanese translation of Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s 2021 edition of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, as well as for Democracy Now! Japan, and regularly organizes protests against U.S. military bases in Okinawa. She is “stubborn.” She says, “you have to be to do this work.”

Julian Davis Reid 10-30-2023
The illustration shows a shepherd sleeping with his sheep with the star of Bethlehem in the sky.

THE FERVOR AT church during the Advent season is a remarkable sight. Both clergy and laity work like the shepherds, tending to their flocks late into the night. And many move like the wise men, traveling to foreign places and spending extensive resources to celebrate Christ’s arrival with family.

 

This time of heightened activity makes sense given the story of scripture and the story of our current world. The shepherds could not help but tell others once they learned of the Savior’s birth. And as we now await his return, we shouldwork hard to share the riches of the nativity with a world that is a little more open to matters of faith at this time of year.

 

But if increased activity is the only melody we pick up from the nativity story told in Matthew and Luke, we neglect a needful counterpoint: the importance of rest. The nativity story is replete with theological, familial, and political lessons about rest that quietly proclaim God’s goodness to this weary world. With exhaustion rampant in the church — perhaps especially so at Christmastime — we would do well to hear notes of rest sounding from the manger.

 

1. Listen to your sleep

God uses sleep as a vehicle for saving Joseph’s family (Matthew 1:18-25). God instructs Joseph to honor his marriage to Mary because her pregnancy was not a sign of infidelity. To the contrary, it was a sign of immense devotion to God. Furthermore, this miracle child would save all his people, including his parents, from their actual sins, as opposed to their alleged ones. In obedience, Joseph listened to the message heard in his sleep and thus participated in God’s saving of his family.

Michael Tabor 10-26-2023
The photo, taken through the middle Christmas tree bailer, shows two men lifting up a Christmas tree

In rural Virginia, two men are seen through a bailer preparing freshly cut Christmas trees. In the U.S., nearly 30 million live trees will be purchased this year. / Photo by Gary Cameron / Reuters 

WHEN I STARTED farming, 52 years ago, I knew it would take 15 to 20 years to plant Christmas trees without chemical fertilizer sprays and colors. Most commercial trees are sprayed with deep dark green. We get requests to mail the trees. We won’t do that because of the carbon footprint. If anything, we’re a little too idealistic. We started renting live trees in pots. They’re cedars. So, it doesn’t look like that perfect tree. Plastic trees are very questionable. A lot of people want a tree that looks like a plastic tree. They want a tree that has a certain look. We defy that.

Liuan Huska 10-26-2023
The illustration shows lots of diverse hands reaching out to touch a globe in the middle.

Dusan Stankovic / iStock

ALONG INTERSTATE 10 in southeast Texas, a billboard showcases a wrecked house, presumably from a hurricane, and the words, “The Next Disaster Is Coming. Are You Ready?” I spent a month this summer driving past this sign, enduring a heat dome while
visiting family.

A year of intensifying disasters, from wildfires to extreme heat to flooding, has all of us thinking about how to prepare for the next “big one,” whatever that may be in our area. Ready.gov, which this billboard points to, offers practical tips for everything from attacks in public places to tsunamis: Create a plan, gather supplies, map an escape.

While I want to be ready for a disaster, it’s too easy to go from thatto catastrophizing, from storing supplies to sitting back under the illusion of self-reliance and control. The billionaires who build luxurious bunkers and the preppers all-consumed with societal collapse show us the extremes of disaster preparedness. It can come with spiritual pitfalls, as the Parable of the Rich Fool illustrates.

In the parable, found in Luke 12:13-21, Jesus warns about relying on lots of stuff for a false sense of security. The rich man stored his surplus grain in huge barns and then sat back to enjoy life, but his life was taken from him that very night. All his efforts couldn’t keep him from harm. Jesus concludes, “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Rose Marie Berger 10-26-2023
The photo shows a large group of people smiling for a photo underneath a banner that reads "We Will Not Be Moved." The people are standing in front of the door to their apartment complex.

Neighbors and tenants at their Washington, D.C. apartment building in October 2012. / Tenant Association file photo 

FIDEL WAS FOUR years old when I met him in 2014. His family lived in an apartment building around the corner from us in Washington, D.C. He liked to fly around the apartment entryway with arms extended, making airplane sounds. He liked to say “no.” He played with toy cars during tenant organizing meetings.

Fourteen families shared the 26-unit building, which had decades of deferred maintenance. The absentee landlord (a Palm Beach-based Episcopalian, real estate magnate, and attorney, who preserves wealth for his children, practices elite philanthropy, and once served as protocol officer for Spiro “Bag Man” Agnew’s reelection campaign) had abandoned the building—except for rent extraction.

In Fidel’s one-bedroom apartment, he maneuvered around handfuls of roach motels and rodent snap traps. His mom sealed his clothing in airtight plastic bags to keep out the night-crawling, blood-sucking bed bugs. Upstairs, a neighbor slept with her “rat stick.” Water from the tap often ran brown or didn’t run at all. Stoves were rusted. Toilets leaked. Frigid winter air poured in through broken windows or damaged frames. Ceilings collapsed. Lead paint and mold flecked the baseboards where Fidel played and slept.

The tenants submitted repair requests. The building manager ignored them or responded inadequately. The sooner he could drive them out, the sooner the owner could flip the property to luxury condos and realize astronomical profit. One day, the owner notified tenants of a 31.5 percent rent increase. Failure to pay risked eviction. The owner’s preferential option for profit over people sent Fidel a clear message: You are disposable.

Quincy Howard 10-26-2023
The illustration shows shrouded figures in a crowd, all looking forward or down. One person stands in the middle and is looking up at the sky. They are orange, with clouds.

Jorm Sangsorn / iStock

DOES IT EVER seem that you’re cultivating your worst self instead of your best? We are still a far cry from what Catholic Worker co-founder Peter Maurin called “a society in which it is easier for people to be good.” Every day we face hard moral choices. Social media and the broader culture foster entitlement, grievances, tit-for-tats, snap judgments, and hurtful words. The global economy entangles our purchases to injustice somewhere. We are constantly in fragile, guilty, fearful, and wounded states that lead to lashing out and reacting badly. So, how do we live principled and faithful lives within sinful systems? Our Christian tradition provides tools to maintain a sense of integrity.

When a person finds it impossible to make decisions according to their conscience, they sustain a “moral injury.” Such injuries result when we are unable to align how we live with who we believe ourselves to be. For most of us, these injuries are small (compared to those in violent situations), but they add up. We may look at injustice in the world and spiral into thoughts such as, “I’m not doing enough,” “I’m part of the problem,” “I’ve got no right to complain,” or even “Why can’t I remember to bring a frickin’ container for leftovers when I go out to eat?” Our inner critic works overtime — and has plenty of material. These self-criticisms can define how you see yourself. Getting a handle on them with mercy — recognizing and assessing them honestly — is key to spiritual resilience.

The graphic shows a variety of protest symbols, including an eye, raised fists, flags, and the word "NO"

Irinia Qiwi / iStock 

YOU NO DOUBT have heard about the history-making criminal indictment of former President Donald Trump and several allies for their efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia. The indictment used a state statute intended to address organized crime. In the case against Trump, the state is defending the democratic electoral process against an organized criminal conspiracy. But in another recent case, this same Georgia statute is being wielded in a manner that weakens democracy and could lead to a catastrophic loss of First Amendment rights.

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, while designed to dismantle organized crime groups, has too often been transformed into a government tool to suppress protest and thwart the principles of free speech and assembly, rights secured in the U.S. Constitution. Broadly speaking, RICO statutes (both federal and those adopted by most states) make three things illegal: First, for any person to acquire assets by engaging in a pattern of criminal activities (“racketeering”). Second, for any person employed by or associated with such an enterprise to conduct or participate in, directly or indirectly, such enterprise through a pattern of those activities. Third, for any person to commit any “overt act” of planning, preparing, or attempting to commit the behaviors described in the previous two situations with one or more people.

The reason these laws are so effective in taking down organized crime enterprises, such as some prominent Mafia crime families, is the same reason it is dangerous to free speech: It criminalizes indirect participation in criminal acts, including taking any step that could be perceived as preparing to break a law (the slippery slope of “precrime”). Since its adoption in the 1970s, RICO has been used in attempts to criminalize support of political protest organizations including PETA, Greenpeace, and Black Lives Matter.

Adam Russell Taylor 10-26-2023
The illustration shows a semi-transparent person holding a newborn infant on a red, tendril-esque background.

Illustration by Cate Andrews 

I’ll never forget the day my first son was born. Joshua was more than a week late, so my wife’s doctor wanted to induce labor. After a long day of waiting, the nurses convinced me to get a bite to eat because it was likely to be an even longer night. Minutes later, I got a frantic call that my wife, Sharee, was undergoing an emergency cesarean section because Joshua’s heart rate had suddenly plummeted, and his umbilical cord was wrapped around his throat. That day marked the beginning of my journey as a father, the most rewarding and demanding experience of my life. Joshua immediately became the center of our world, as though a huge part of my own heart were living and breathing outside of myself.

The love I feel for my sons is the closest I have felt to God’s unconditional love for everyone. I knew instinctively from the moment I first held my son in my arms that I would do everything possible to ensure that this tiny, fragile person, who was completely dependent on our care, was protected, loved, and able to thrive.