An illustration of three vials that contain roots of leafy plants: The left has several oval-shaped green leaves, the center has a large singular dark green leaf, and the right has a blue-green circular leaf. Each has a gold halo behind their leaves.

Illustration by Lauren Wright Pittman

BEFORE THE PANDEMIC hit, I could have told you the precise number of my indoor plants: zero. But then lockdown started and, like countless people around the world, I became obsessed with all things leafy and green. Once I learned how to keep a plant alive, I began to nurture cuttings. To see that first fresh leaf grow — an assurance that new roots had taken hold — filled me with a kind of joy heretofore unknown.

I needed to feel like life could not just survive, but flourish and thrive. “Give this at least six weeks before repotting,” I would text a friend from her porch as I dropped off the gift of a budding leafy monstera, “just to let the roots settle.” Then I’d trudge back to the sidewalk to watch my friend open her door, wave to me, and take this small extension of myself into her home. Months later, when we could visit in person, I’d get to see how much these little ones had grown. Great leafy extensions of love.

Most of the gospel readings this month contain horticultural parables — seeds and soil, wheat and weeds, sowers and reapers. Before the COVID-19 years, I had never read these parables through the eyes of someone who had nurtured plants to life. Their images had been abstractions, ideas, metaphors with no roots. But now that those seeds have grown, I see each one anew. Perhaps you do too?

Kristin Gifford 6-02-2023
An illustration of four colorful rectangular panels. The top left has sunflowers with two birds flying over it. The top right shows a sunflower being cut by shears. The bottom left shows black seeds on the ground. The bottom-right shows a new sunflower.

Illustration by Rachel Joan Wallis

When I decapitated the sunflowers today, the birds had already
pecked them mostly bald. I sawed through those thick necks with
silver shears, squash leaning to cup falling petals and black seeds in her
green palms. I was cutthroat, ripping this food from the garden. I knew
how fierce and warlike the small wrens had become, and, sure enough,
there were the fearless nails in my scalp, clawing for my soul.

JR. Forasteros 6-02-2023
The cover for the book ‘Faith Unleavened.’ It features a dark brown background with white bare trees that frame the title, subtitle, and author; small drawings of Black Lives Matter protesters, a wrapper, and more  are interwoven among the branches.

Faith Unleavened: The Wilderness Between Trayvon Martin and George Floyd, by Tamice Spencer-Helms, KTF Press

Tamice Spencer-Helms shows how colonialism and white supremacy are embodied in a Jesus made in Christian Europe's image.

Jenna Barnett 6-02-2023
The cover for the book ‘Sober Spirituality’ features the title in block white text among layered thin waves of yellow, pink, green, and blue. The book is floating at an angle against a steel blue backdrop.

Sober Spirituality: The Joy of a Mindful Relationship with Alcohol, by Erin Jean Warde, Brazos Press

SOBER SPIRITUALITY by Erin Jean Warde is ultimately an invitation for readers to ask themselves, “How do I want to be in a relationship with alcohol?” Warde, an ordained Episcopal priest, spiritual director, and sobriety coach, asked this question of herself years ago. She ultimately chose sobriety but realizes that won’t be where everyone lands. And Warde also wants the whole church, not just individuals, to engage this question.

Because, according to Warde, the church’s current relationship with alcohol is pretty toxic — especially in progressive churches. Progressive denominations often work to distinguish themselves from fundamentalism and much of white evangelicalism, communicating, “Yes, we’re Christian, but not that type of Christian” — not the type that is hostile to immigrants and bars women and LGBTQ people from the pulpit.

But one of the ways progressive churches have signaled this distinction, Warde argues, is harmful: “by illustrating how much they drink or that they drink at church.” Events like “Beer & Hymns” or “Theology on Tap” come to mind. This type of laid-back programming quickly communicates to newcomers that the host church isn’t dogmatic or old-fashioned. But it sends a different message to people who are sober or sober curious. “The common refrain of ‘all are welcome’ must ring true when a person changes their relationship with alcohol,” Warde writes.

Sarah James 6-02-2023
A painting called "Mother Julian": Julian of Norwich, pictured in nun's clothing, sitting inside a small room reading a book. There's a view of two windows behind her that show villagers milling about in a medieval town.

“Mother Julian” (1912) / Stephen Reid

JULIAN OF NORWICH, the 14th-century anchoress and mystic in England, prayed for an embodied understanding of suffering. As she wrote in Revelations of Divine Love, she desired “three graces” from God: “to relive Christ’s Passion”; “bodily sickness”; and the wounds of “contrition,” “kind compassion,” and “purposeful longing for God.” At age 30, on what she presumed to be her deathbed, Julian received a series of divine visions — equally euphoric and terrifying — that taught her about the all-encompassing nature and nearness of God’s love. In one vision, Julian saw Christ’s head bleeding profusely from the crown of thorns.

But these images did not bring her a message of despair. Julian wrote, “This is our Lord’s will: that we yearn and believe, rejoice and delight, take comfort and console ourselves as much as we can, with his help and his grace, until the time when we can see it truly for ourselves.” Through pain and contemplation, she developed a deeply embodied faith. Reading her work healed years of spiritual pain for me. In the Catholic context of my upbringing, shame led to disembodiment and antagonism toward my body. Julian, by contrast, envisioned human wholeness — in mind, body, and soul.

The Editors 6-02-2023
A black-and-white photograph of Sinéad O’Connor in ‘Nothing Compares.' Her head is shaved and she is wearing a long-sleeve shirt. She is resting her head in both of her palms with her fingers clasped over both cheeks.

From Nothing Compares

The Sinéad Effect

Nothing Compares documents the tumultuous career of Irish musician Sinéad O’Connor. On live TV in 1992, O’Connor protested child abuse in the Catholic Church, nearly a decade before papal acknowledgment. Her actions jeopardized her career, but she clung to music as a form of healing.

Liz Bierly 6-02-2023
Paul (Harrison Ford) wears a light blue dress shirt and hat and sits on a black park bench next to teenage girl Alice (Lukita Maxwell), who's sitting cross-legged while wearing a gray hoodie.

From Shrinking

HOW WOULD YOUR life change if you stopped filtering your thoughts and instead shared what was really on your mind? This is the question at the heart of Apple TV+’s Shrinking, a tear-jerker of a comedy that follows therapist Jimmy (Jason Segel) and his teen daughter Alice (Lukita Maxwell), who is grappling with the loss of her mom and the emotional withdrawal of her grieving dad. In the months following his wife’s unexpected death, Jimmy turns to women and substance use to numb his pain. As Jimmy checks out of actively parenting, other people in Alice’s community step in — including the neighbor Liz (Christa Miller), who makes dinner for Alice and cheers her on at the soccer games her dad has forgotten. After a particularly flagrant parenting fail on Jimmy’s part, Liz confronts him, saying, “I have to ask: Is this you forever?” Jimmy’s response is relatable to many who have lost themselves in the wake of losing a loved one: “I don’t know.”

Yet with assistance from Liz, candid conversations with co-therapist Gaby (Jessica Williams), and unwavering friendship from Brian (Michael Urie), viewers watch Jimmy return to himself. And in the process, he breaches all guidelines about boundaries between patients and clients.

Caroline McTeer 6-02-2023
An illustration of Emily Dickinson: a white woman with brown hair in a blue dress and blue and white short neckscarf. Pink, turquoise, and teal paint is splattered across the background.

Emily Dickinson Dream / Miki De Goodaboom

WHEN EMILY DICKINSON first read the novel Jane Eyre, she didn’t know the name of its author. At the time, Charlotte Brontë wrote under the pseudonym Currer Bell, and her work was the subject of controversy. The British Quarterly Review referred to Bell as “a person who ... combines a total ignorance of the habits of society, a great coarseness of taste, and a heathenish doctrine of religion” and said, “the tone of mind and thought which has overthrown authority and violated every code human and divine ... is the same which has also written Jane Eyre.

When Dickinson returned Jane Eyre to the friend who lent it to her, she sent it with a bouquet of box leaves and a note that makes it clear she’d heard the gossip on Bell. She wrote, “If all these leaves were altars, and on every one a prayer that Currer Bell might be saved — and you were God — would you answer it?” Years later, when Brontë died, Dickinson wrote the following elegy: “Oh, what an afternoon for heaven, / When ‘Brontë’ entered there!”

As Dickinson’s biographer Alfred Habegger notes, this elegy not only grants Brontë salvation but also “made heaven the beneficiary.” Even in these brief notes on Brontë, we can see some of the common themes of Dickinson’s poetry. There is the impulse to engage with (and even affirm) the ideas of God and heaven but also the impulse to subvert rigid and exclusive notions of theology.

Frank A. Thomas 6-01-2023
A painterly illustration of two people walking along the edge of a lake on a wide iridescent pathway at night. A cityscape is behind them to the left, and a purple-blue and pink horizon to the right, casting the whole illustration in these two colors.

Illustration by Matt Williams

MY DAD HAD a very mixed relationship with America. Based in his experience of and feelings concerning white supremacy in America, I was never sure he loved America and knew with certainty that he hesitated to call it “home.” America was never holy ground for him.

On Jan. 6, 2021, while I was watching the Capitol insurrection on TV, he died in his hospice bed. My screen view of the Capitol mob’s recitation of “hang Mike Pence,” in rhythmic incantation to bring forth the blood-boiling hate, was reminiscent of the ritualistic lynching of thousands from 1870 to 1940, particularly and almost exclusively African Americans.

I also had a screen view of my dad. Given the threat posed by COVID-19 exposure upon his chemotherapy-treated and compromised immune system, we were not able to visit him as we would have liked. My sister had installed a camera system to get a visual. I noticed that he was not moving. I earnestly studied his lack of motion and noticed that his mouth was wide open. This was the death posture. I instantly knew he was gone.

Trying to come to grips with the death of my father, while staring with glazed-over eyes at the Capitol riot, I said to myself: “The insurrection took my dad out of here. He had enough of white supremacy in America.” During the chaos of the insurgency, my dad became an ancestor. In the stark reality of his death, I realized he had been in search of holy ground for a long time.

G. Scott Morris 5-31-2023
A side-rear view woman doctor with red hair points to a screen with a spectrum of faces from sad to happy, asking her patient in the chair (a man with gray hair) which is most accurate for him. A purple screen with "Church Health" is shown nearby.

Photo courtesy of Church Health

IN SEPTEMBER 1987, ordained Methodist minister and practicing physician G. Scott Morris opened Church Health, a faith-based health care center in Memphis, Tenn. The first clinic tended to 12 people. Over 35 years later, more than 80,000 different individuals have come through Church Health’s doors. When they started, Memphis was the poorest city in the country, but Morris and companions didn’t open Church Health center as an act of charity. Church Health’s mission has always been about demanding justice. His book Care: How People of Faith Can Respond to Our Broken Health System tells the story of clinics across the U.S. where people practice Jesus’ command to heal. — The Editors

I FIRST CAME to Memphis in 1986. Having completed my theological and medical education, I was determined to begin a health care ministry for uninsured people working in low-wage jobs. I had dreamed of this for years as I slogged my way through the training that would make it possible. When the time came, I chose Memphis because historically it is one of the poorest major cities in the U.S. Today we see patients in clinics for primary care, urgent care, dental work, and optometry services. Behavioral health, life coaching, and physical rehabilitation are integrated into our clinics, and we have a teaching kitchen offering classes on culinary medicine for patients and the community. The Church Health model is used in more than 90 clinics around the country. There are about 1,500 free and charitable clinics in the U.S., many of which have faith-based connections.

God calls the church to healing work. Jesus’ life was about healing the whole person, and Jesus is the church in the world. Tradition suggests that Helena, the mother of the emperor Constantine, was the first to open a hospital specifically to care for the poor. The ancient world never had a system to care for the sick who were poor until Christians offered hospitals. Even Julian the Apostate, a fourth-century Roman emperor who did not have much use for Christians, wrote, “Now we can see what it is that makes these Christians such powerful enemies of our gods, it is the brotherly love which they manifest toward strangers and toward the sick and poor, the thoughtful manner in which they care for the dead, and the purity of their own lives.” We are still Jesus’ disciples, the body of Christ running after God’s priorities in the world together. What does it look like to have a healing ministry in today’s world?

Zachary Lee 5-31-2023
An illustration of a giant film reel being lifted up by an invisible force, revealing a bottomless pit. A man stands on the edge of the deep red floor, peering in as some of the film unspools over him out of frame.

Illustration by Nicolás Ortega

EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE, the absurdist sci-fi cinematic romp through the multiverse by a Chinese American laundromat owner in the L.A. mega sprawl, garnered seven Oscars this year, including for Best Picture. I’ve seen Everything Everywhere eight times. I’ve introduced it to friends. I did not think my favorite film could do anything wrong. What could be better than to be wrapped up in the spectacle created by directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert and their amazing cast?

The directors’ over-the-top approach embraces the “too muchness” of its title. Laundromat owner Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) lives with her husband, daughter, and recently-arrived-from-China elderly father in a small apartment above the family business. Their dining room is cluttered with the American dream — workout equipment, inspirational business books, beeping electronic kitchen gadgets, a TV droning in the background, and a live security feed to the washers and dryers downstairs. “The Daniels,” as the directors are known, wrote in the original script, “It is a still life of chaos.”

Evelyn and her family are slowly spinning apart, and now the IRS is auditing the Wangs and their business. The forces of chaos are spreading beyond their little apartment. Later, while Evelyn is explaining to an IRS auditor (Jamie Lee Curtis) why her receipts are not in order, she gets a message from her husband (well, an alternative version of him) that she may be in grave danger and that she may hold the key to saving not only her own world but also the worlds in multiple universes and parallel time frames.

Despite its zany premise and on-screen absurdities (from anthropomorphic racoons and talking rocks to people with hot dogs for hands), Everything Everywhere never lets the spectacle eclipse the emotional story at its center: Evelyn is learning to find contentment in her own universe with her real family, even if she has the power to be elsewhere all at once.

Justin Jones 5-31-2023
Representative Justin Jones, a Black-Filipino man in a white suit and brown tie, stands amid the aisles of Tennessee's House of Representatives, raising his fist to the ceiling as his colleague Justin Pearson stands behind him to the left.

Rep. Justin Jones gestures during a vote to expel him from the state legislature in Nashville, Tenn., in April, for taking part in a gun-control demonstration on the House floor after six people were killed in a mass shooting at a local Christian school. / Seth Herald / Getty Images

Justin Jones is a Tennessee state legislator representing Nashville. He spoke with Sojourners’ Mitchell Atencio.

What they were trying to do wasn’t just expel us, but the movements we are standing in solidarity with. It’s not ironic that it happened on the day before Good Friday. They tried to crucify democracy and I [was reinstated] the Monday after Easter as a testament to the resurrection of a movement for multiracial democracy here in the South. The resurrection of a Third Reconstruction [is] being led by students and young people — that’s a very powerful vision. If it’s possible here in the South, if it’s possible in Tennessee, that should give us some hope in the nation.

A minimalist cartoon of people at a party. A man and woman stand together to the left next to some plants, a man cooks on a grill to the right, two women sit in chairs while drinking beer in the upper center, and a man holds his bike in the lower center.

Nadia Bormotova / iStock

FOR SOME REASON, conversations about economics and the church are rare these days — even though scripture includes more than 2,000 verses on poverty, such as laws in the Hebrew Bible on debt, labor, and land ownership. In the gospels, Jesus had many conversations with people about their relationship to money.

Our daily lives wade in the waters of economics, even in the most ordinary ways. When I brushed my teeth this morning, for instance, I used a brand-name electric toothbrush and a brand-name toothpaste, one that claims to be gentle on tooth enamel. After leaving my apartment, I gazed ahead to the street corner, where a man with a familiar face extended his hand in need to passersby. On the streets of New York City, the human cost of economic insecurity is painfully evident. I made my way eastbound toward Park Avenue; the potholes had me pondering how my hood is often overlooked in the city’s infrastructure budget. Yet, somehow, new “affordable” luxury apartments pop up, seemingly out of nowhere; I sometimes wonder if these buildings just appear overnight, ready-made. I’m also reminded that our local community board, through its land use committee, had some say in these new developments.

Rose Marie Berger 5-31-2023
An illustration of an open scroll with swirling, sandy textures across its blank page.

kzkz / Shutterstock

IN THE EARLY days of the pandemic, I started a death scroll. Not to be confused with “doomscrolling” (a malady related to one’s smartphone), my death scroll was a physical length of paper on which I penned names and death dates as I learned of them.

Across the top I scrawled: “Blessed are you, Lord Our God, Who Is Keeper of the Book of Life. Today, we learned that Sister Death called ...” On March 13, 2020, I wrote the first name: Barbara Clementine Harris. A towering figure in the American church, Harris registered Black voters in Mississippi in the 1960s, marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, and was one of the first 11 women “irregularly” ordained as Episcopal priests in 1974 and the first female bishop in the Anglican Communion. But, because of the COVID lockdown, no churchwide memorial service was held for her.

Pandemics bring death. And, as Christians, it’s impressed upon us to remember. Remember the Sabbath. Remember that your ancestors were slaves in Egypt. Do this in remembrance of me. Remember my chains. But ... I have a very bad memory. So, I made the scroll. When I stopped collecting names in late 2022, my scroll held 36. How many names would your scroll hold?

Maria Santelli 5-30-2023
An illustration of a blue peace symbol with two yellow hands raised to the sky in the center, which are each holding both halves of a broken rifle.

Vera Smirnova / Alamy

THE NUMBER OF asylum seekers from Russia arriving at the U.S. southern border has risen dramatically in the past year. Hundreds of thousands of Russians have left their homeland since President Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine. Some fear increasing economic hardship and that Putin will impose martial law and close the borders, and some are fleeing to follow their conscience.

In September, the Kremlin announced its first military mobilization for soldiers to fight in Ukraine, prompting the departure of tens of thousands of Russian men. A second mobilization may occur this fall. Many of those who have fled hold religious or moral beliefs that tell them that participation in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is wrong. Many young men have come to the United States seeking asylum as conscientious objectors (COs) based on their refusal to be drafted into Russia’s military for reasons of moral conscience.

At the Center on Conscience and War, we began hearing about these cases in fall 2022 — and found very few resources to support them. A handful of immigration attorneys are taking on a few of these cases, but the demand is much greater than the help available. This spring, our center initiated a Freedom of Information Act request to learn exactly how many of the asylum seekers are making claims based on conscientious objection to military conscription.

Julia M. Speller 5-30-2023
An illustration of the United Church of Christ symbol inside the African symbol for Odomankoma. Both are enclosed in a black circle with a green border against against a gold backdrop.

From Afro-Christian Convention

THIS JULY, THE United States turns 247 years old. Independence Day calls to mind a powerful narrative—our nation’s defiant break from the British Empire, explosive population growth and expansion, and ascent as a world power. Yet within this historical movement are rooted many other stories—large and small—that reflect who we really are as a nation. When we hold up a larger mirror, when we view ourselves more completely and take all these stories into account, then we recognize that “our” history is more than a collection of dates, events, and people prioritized by the powerful. History is a complex web of beliefs, practices, and interpretations that exist in the sacred movement of time and space as a spiraling mixture of who we are and who we are becoming.

Sharing a common understanding of history is complicated these days by new words in our lexicon like “fake news” and “alternative facts.” How do we know what to believe and what to reject? Isn’t “revisionist history” a bad thing?

In fact, many historians agree that allhistory is revisionist. Historical interpretation, by its very nature, changes with time and circumstance, requiring new views and fresh analyses. From one perspective, the revision of history in any form means to criticize the past and disrupt commonly held ideas and beliefs. Conversely, the introduction of new, validated, historical information broadens the scope of discourse and deepens its meaning in ways that bring clarity to the past and hope for the future.

An illustration of the Statue of Liberty's torch, completely colored in red. The torch is ripping through a tear in the background, which depicts an aerial view of land plots in a dark blue tint.

Illustration by Candice Evers

WHEN WE LOOK at the record numbers of migrants who are seeking refuge and asylum in the U.S. and the deplorable ways they have often been treated, it’s easy to lose faith. The U.S. immigration system seems so hopelessly broken, and hateful rhetoric and bad faith are so abundant among our politicians, that it can often feel as if there’s nothing we can do to fix it. Yet, if we take seriously both the Hebrew scripture command to welcome the stranger and Jesus’ call to treat migrant people as we would treat him (Matthew 25), then we cannot let ourselves succumb to despair or resignation. People who have been forced to leave dangerous conditions in their home countries to seek asylum are depending on us to not give up fighting for a fairer and more humane immigration and asylum system. Sadly, Congress has lacked sufficient political will to pass the sweeping overhaul of our immigration laws that is so sorely needed.

The Editors 5-30-2023
An illustration of Renee N. Salas, a professor and physician at Harvard Medical School. She is wearing light blue scrubs and has long brown hair and blue eyes. An iceberg enveloped in a hot pink flame is behind her.

Renee N. Salas is a professor and physician at Harvard Medical School and a senior author of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change Policy Brief for the U.S. / Illustration by Adriana Bellet

MANY SCRIPTURAL METAPHORS for transformation involve variations on the “open my eyes that I may see” plea of Psalm 119; the writer of Ephesians 1, for instance, prays for the enlightenment of the “eyes of your heart” so that “you may know the hope to which he has called you.” Various authors in this issue wrestle with similar images. For example, our Prelude, which draws on the writings of French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, refers to the “worst failing of our minds” as the inability “to see the really big problems” that “are right under our eyes.”

Much of our culture, Zachary Lee explains in his cover feature on Hollywood “spectacle,” serves to distract us from those “really big problems” and makes it difficult for us to see in different, more hopeful ways. Bible savant Walter Brueggemann, who knows a thing or two about alternative ways of perceiving, said that prophets “are able to imagine the world other than the way that is in front of them.” But that task, that “prophetic imagination” of seeing with enlightened eyes, isn’t reserved just for prophets: It’s really an invitation to all of us who seek a better world.

An illustration of a open light green hand with leaved branches sprouting upwards and tangling along the fingers. Larger and abstracted olive-colored silhouettes of leaves are intermingled with the branches.

Illustration by Cat O'Neil

WE HAVE SEVERAL readings this month where God creates something out of nothing — or at least out of pretty limited materials. In the opening chapters of Genesis, we see creation birthed from God’s imagination and curiosity. In the story of Sarah and Abraham, a child is conceived in a womb so postmenopausal that the now-pregnant woman can’t help but laugh (Genesis 18). A well appears from nowhere to quench the thirst of a dying woman and her child (Genesis 21:19). God “calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Romans 4:17). And God turns death to life through the mysteries of resurrection (Romans 6:1-11).

This month’s lectionary readings make God’s continuous creation — as well as God’s continual renewal of creation — explicit. But the fact is, once we’re looking for it, all of scripture tells these stories of renewal. God is always creating, re-creating, and reimagining our world. God is always making a way where there was no way before. God continually turns death to life. And, just as importantly, we are called to participate in God’s divine practices of continuous creation, in God’s own divine practice of everyday resurrection.

As we exit a series of some of the higher holy seasons in the liturgical year — Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost — June quiets down from such intensity. The slower pace to which (in some places) the warm summer sun calls us can inspire us to seek out everyday resurrection wherever God hides it. How is the Spirit calling you to partner with divine practices of renewal, with everyday resurrections?

A cartoon illustration of a woman with orange skin and gray hair lying prone on the floor with a blank expression. She's wearing an orange shirt, blue pants, and green slippers. Chips and a crinkled green bag are spread out in front of her.

Illustration by Melanie Lambrick

WHAT DO YOU MEAN, “How to keep going,” you may ask? I’m fine, you may say. The increasingly fraught political landscape, the ominous signs of climate change, the erosion of voting rights, the crushing “invisible hand” of global capitalism, and a lack of space to collectively process any of the above — these are all things that are totally fine and normal and do not bother you. Your eye is not twitching right now as you say this.

Hush, you. I made a list of five easy steps to help you keep on keeping on. Read it and weep. I mean, stop weeping.