Elisabeth Ivey 4-27-2023
An illustration of a bird engulfed in flames with its wings spread out being held in human hands. A person's face is visible in the dark backdrop with glowing orange eyes, staring down at the bird poised over their cupped hands as feathers float downward.

Illustration by Kat Ash

I like my anger. I stoke it
like a fire, tend to it
with tender hands, cup
a hand ’round as I
blow to fan the flames

Mitchell Atencio 4-27-2023
A comic book illustration of a male superhero in purple tights, a purple cowl, and red gloves. He's holding a woman in his arms in a city park as a police helicopter circles a tower in the background, where an explosion occurs on an upper floor.

Illustration by Cat Sims

EVER SINCE I was little, my imagination has been shaped by superhero worlds, lore, and comic and animated adaptations. And while more “realistic” adaptations are the trend on the big screen, what enthralled me about characters such as Batman wasn’t that I thought he could be real; I was tuned instead to the ethos behind the caped crusader.

Superhero stories often seem limitless. At their best, they stretch the imagination to ask what type of world we want to exist and what it would take to get us there, while acknowledging hardships along the way.

Recently, I began a rewatch of the DC Animated Universe: TV shows, feature films, and shorts that aired mainly from 1992 to 2006. These shows were the first to capture my attention and shape my imagination. Batman: The Animated Series was my first love, with Kevin Conroy’s Batman and Mark Hamill’s Joker seared into my consciousness. As I watched, I made a particular note about the moral imagination of these shows: Superheroes in these shows don’t just refuse to kill — a theme recurring across superhero worlds — they refuse to even let anyone die.

Take Season 1, Episode 11 (S1 E11) of Superman: The Animated Series: Lex Luthor’s weapons factory is about to explode, with spilled molten metal splashing about. Lana Lang is hanging by a thread above certain death; so is Lex Luthor, who unintentionally caused this mess in his attempt to kill Superman. But then, at the last moment, Superman bursts forth from under the molten waves, crashing out of the top of the factory just before it explodes, with Lana in one arm and the villain in the other.

It’s a scene that strains credulity. There’s an improbability of timing, a lack of “logic” in doubling back for the person trying to kill you, and the storyteller’s refusal to explain how Superman managed to save the villain. But what’s key here is the insistence, and flaunting, that Superman would save the villain. It doesn’t need an explanation; it’s assumed.

For a while, I was paying attention to how the writers made this subtext believable. Superman saves some villains in hopes they can be rehabilitated, others because they are being used by larger, more villainous characters. Why? The simple answer is that these were shows for families and children. The same reason the comic book’s “League of Assassins” became the TV show’s “Society of Shadows” and villains set out to “destroy” rather than “kill” heroes.

But this death-resisting subtext becomes dialogue in S2 E9 of Superman: The Animated Series when some kids plead with Metallo, a villain disguised as a hero, to save Lois Lane from an exploding volcano. “Superman wouldn’t let anyone die, no matter how bad they were,” the kids protest. “I’m not Superman,” Metallo retorts.

Josiah R. Daniels 4-27-2023
An illustration of blue disembodied hands pulling white strings in various directions in the shape of the Enneagram symbol. The background is a mixture of bright pastel colors of the rainbow.

Illustration by Mark Pernice

IN 2011, I took a course at my Christian college about the personality type system known as the Enneagram.

The Enneagram is a system built around nine personality types, with each type providing a unique perspective on how we navigate our relationships, emotions, and the world around us. The Enneagram draws on both spirituality and psychology, which distinguishes it from many other personality indicators.

A primary question that emerged for me from that college class: Does the inner work that the Enneagram encourages manifest itself in the outer world through justice work, or is the Enneagram primarily a tool meant to encourage people to focus on individual healing, career, and spirituality?

Throughout history, questions about how and why each human has a unique set of behaviors, motivations, emotions, and cognitions have preoccupied philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, religious thinkers, and Buzzfeed quiz creators alike. Indeed, in the 21st century, “know thyself” is less of a thought-provoking ancient Greek aphorism and more of a cultural imperative lauded by the self-help industrial complex and career coaches. We are assured that by unlocking our “true selves,” we will ultimately be unlocking our true potential, which will drastically improve our fortunes.

But the Enneagram was never meant to simply measure our potential or provide a definitive answer to the question of human personality. This is contrary to some of the most popular personality indicators such as Myers-Briggs or CliftonStrengths (formerly StrengthsFinder), which became popular because they promised to help employers tap into human potential and productivity. The Enneagram originated as a tool for contemplation but has come to emphasize how self-growth and inner work prepare us for the outer work of building community.


An illustration of disembodied pink and purple hands plucking and stretching crisscrossing white and purple strings across a teal backdrop.
Illustration by Mark Pernice

In their book The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, Catholic priest Richard Rohr and Lutheran minister Andreas Ebert point to a 4th-century Christian Desert Father, Evagrius Ponticus, as the first to use, loosely, the nine-pointed symbol to highlight vices that he believed interrupted one’s inner peace and relationship with God. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that Chilean psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo, inspired by a theory originated by Bolivian philosopher Oscar Ichazo, used modern psychology to develop a theory of nine distinct personalities — or “enneatypes” — that highlighted the vices, virtues, and core motivations of each type.

The Enneagram is sometimes treated as just another personality test that can help us purchase the things that “match” our personalities, find romance, or unlock our “true potential” so we can make more money — part of our culture’s obsessive focus on self-improvement. But at its best, the Enneagram not only emphasizes making peace with yourself and a higher power, it also offers tools for learning how to be in community and build a more just society.

To help me sort through my questions, I interviewed three Enneagram experts: Chichi Agorom, an associate faculty member with The Narrative Enneagram and author of The Enneagram for Black Liberation; Jessica Denise Dickson, a life empowerment coach and Enneagram guide who uses the Enneagram in anti-racist workshops; and Abi Robins, a queer, trans Enneagram teacher, coach, and author of The Conscious Enneagram. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity. — Josiah R. Daniels

Robert L. Foster 4-27-2023
A vibrant illustration. On the left, Zechariah is portrayed with brown skin, a white beard, and yellow robes. The center shows hands reaching up. Among them, there's a scroll, bird, and three women hugging. To the right, there's a city on a tall mountain.

Illustration by Thiago Límon

IN 1991, FOUR Los Angeles police officers beat Rodney King, a 25-year-old African American man, nearly to death. It was caught on video. All the officers were acquitted of assault with a deadly weapon. The acquittals were followed by six days of rebellion with more than 50 associated deaths. At that time, I and many other white Christians fixated on our desire to see “peace” restored. Even in the face of graphic police brutality, I was unable to see the pernicious racial injustice that created the context for the riots. The white Christianity of my upbringing did not equip me with a biblical lens through which to discern the truth about racial injustice in the U.S. It would be nearly a full decade before I could finally begin to perceive it.

Nevertheless, in light of the role white Christian nationalists played in the Jan.6 riot, the number of pastors who preach against Black Lives Matter and critical race theory, and the deafening silence and stubborn inaction of many white Christians in the face of explicit cries for racial justice, I have to ask: Will this generation of white American Christians be just another in the long line to embolden racial injustice?

Where do we turn to find hope, inspiration, and guidance to help white Christians finally commit to our God-given vocation to do justice instead of holding tightly to our idolatrous commitment to white supremacy? I look to the little-known biblical prophet Zechariah and how he called a generation returned from exile to live out God’s call to do justice.

Zachary Lee 4-26-2023
The cover for the podcast 'Sounds Like A Cult' is cast against a gray-green backdrop. The cover is an illustration of an open human mouth superimposed over a multi-colored background. The podcast's name is in cursive, positioned between the teeth.

Sounds Like A Cult, hosted by Amanda Montell and Isa Medina-Maté / All Things Comedy

WHAT DO CELEBRITY megachurches, a cappella groups, nonprofits, and Trader Joe’s have in common? According to author Amanda Montell and comedian Isabela (Isa) Medina-Maté, they’re all cults. In their hilariously informative podcast, Sounds Like A Cult, launched in 2021, these are just a few of the groups they eye with suspicion. Across episodes, the duo focuses on a group, institution, or brand with a fanatical following and ask, “This group sounds like a cult, but is it really?”

Whether they are calling out the hypocrisy of Starbucks’ refusal to let their workers unionize or critiquing the ways Taylor Swift weaponizes her loyal fan base to dismantle outlets that might portray her negatively, no brand, organization, or person is safe. They often have guests who have escaped (or sometimes still are in) said “cults,” and at the end of each episode, Medina-Maté and Montell share whether that week’s subject fits under one of three categories: a “Live Your Life” cult, a “Watch Your Back” cult, or a “Get the [Expletive] Out” cult. Listening to them is akin to eavesdropping on a conversation between friends, and the tone can switch from serious to breezy in the same breath. “All billionaires are cult leaders, period,” Montell says in an episode about Starbucks. In an episode about church camps, she notes that camps are great at “weaponizing endorphins and calling it the Holy Spirit.” The hosts are alternately analytical, easygoing, and earnest, but they never belittle their subjects for the sake of laughs.

Liz Bierly 4-26-2023
An image of Beth Moore's memoir 'All My Knotted-Up Life' against a pink backdrop. The cover shows her as a child posing with her family as they stand behind and to both sides of an old navy and white van outside near a forest.

All My Knotted-Up Life, by Beth Moore / Tyndale House

“GRIEF TAKES SO much energy. I can feel it even in my fingers.”

These are the words that drew me to Christian author and speaker Beth Moore’s memoir, All My Knotted-Up Life. She posted the sentences as two separate tweets in the wake of her brother’s unexpected death, less than three weeks before her memoir’s release.

Through her Living Proof Ministries, Moore is one of the most prominent white evangelical women in the U.S. I braced myself as I entered the book, but she delivers stories of resilience with all the charm, sweetness, and humor one would expect from a memoirist with roots in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.

Josina Guess 4-26-2023
Garrett Turner is dressed in a black suit playing an electric guitar as Ike Turner in the musical 'TINA: The Tina Turner Musical.' A black man in a blue suit is playing the keyboard in the background, where both men are flanked by a purple stage curtain.

Garrett Turner as Ike Turner / Matthew Murphy / Evan Zimmerman / Murphymade

BEFORE HE STEPS onstage as Ike Turner in TINA: The Tina Turner Musical, Garrett Turner (no relation) does a simple ritual: He swirls a wooden mallet along the rim of a Tibetan singing bowl. As the sound washes over him, he focuses on himself as Garrett, not Ike the musician and abusive ex-husband of the “Queen of Rock ’n’ Roll.” And he prays.

“Tina found Buddhism on her way to liberation from Ike, and it was something that Ike decried,” Garrett told me a few days after I saw him perform in Atlanta. Embracing something that Ike pushed away helps Garrett become Ike onstage while remaining Garrett within. With eight shows a week for the touring Broadway production, this spiritual practice helps Garrett draw a clear line between himself and the broken man he portrays.

The Editors 4-26-2023
Rebecca Shearer (actress Sienna Miller) wears a red shirt and brown shorts with a bandana around her neck while leaning against a tree in a forest and looking up to the sky in the 'Extrapolations' Apple TV series.

From Extrapolations

New Earth?

The TV show Extrapolations, featuring Meryl Streep and Forest Whitaker, offers eight terrifying visions of how climate-changed humanity’s unchecked consumption will harm Earth. The interwoven stories aim to inspire climate action, even as they disturb.
Apple TV+

Abby Olcese 4-26-2023
Julie from 'The Eternal Daughter' (Tilda Swinton) is seen from a side profile staring out a window, where you can see her image reflecting in the glass and a view of a forest in the background.

From The Eternal Daughter

IN HER POEM “Flare,” Mary Oliver writes about grief and the relationship between memory and reality, especially when it comes to parents. She writes: “My mother / was the blue wisteria, / my mother / was the mossy stream out behind the house, / my mother, alas, alas, / did not always love her life, / heavier than iron it was / as she carried it in her arms, from room to room.”

Our relationships with parents are shaped by our memories, what parents tell us about their lives, and what we come to understand about them. The Bible tells us to honor our father and mother, but we can never do that perfectly because we never fully know them. This becomes more poignant when those who raised us are no longer around.

Like Oliver’s poem, Joanna Hogg’s The Eternal Daughter (available on video on demand) captures this liminal, lonely feeling in an intensely personal way. Hogg’s semi-autobiographical film is a ghost story about memory, family, and the pull between the stories we know, the ones we don’t, and unresolved ways they differ.

JR. Forasteros 4-26-2023
Joel (actor Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (actress Bella Ramsey) from 'The Last of Us' HBO series are standing side by side on the roof of a neglected building with their arms leaning on a brick wall covered in foliage.

Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) in The Last of Us / Liane Hentscher / HBO

HBO’S BIGGEST POST-APOCALYPTIC SHOW, The Last of Us, imagines a brutal world — and the mushroom zombies are only occasionally the source of danger. The first season followed Joel (Pedro Pascal), as he escorted teen Ellie (Bella Ramsey), who is immune to the zombie infection, to a hospital that can turn her immunity into a cure. In the final episode [SPOILERS], Joel and Ellie reach their destination. But when Joel learns they can only manufacture the cure by killing Ellie, he kills the doctor who was set to operate on Ellie. Joel’s decision raises the question: If the world can only be saved by sacrificing the innocent, is it a world we want to save? The Last of Us, itself an adaptation of a beloved video game, is far from the first show that employs apocalypse to interrogate our morality. Our end-time imaginings can show us who we are ... and who we could be.

The Greek title of the last book in the New Testament canon is Apokalypsis (“apocalypse”), the best English rendering of which is “revelation.” Revelation isn’t about the end of the world. It’s about a revelation — an unveiling. Revelation is one example from the genre of books we call apocalyptic literature. The genre, popular among Jews and Christians for hundreds of years before and after Jesus’ life, usually features a human receiving a message from some sort of divine messenger. The messenger wants to show the listener some deeper truth about the world — something that helps the audience participate more faithfully in the new world God is bringing forth.

Sid High 4-26-2023
A family photo of trans Christian Sid High's family sitting on a couch in their living room as they look off to the side. Sid's dad sits on the left; Sid's mom sits in the center with his younger sister in her lap; Sid sits on the right.

Sid High, right, and family attend online church from home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. After multiple pastors told Sid, a transgender Christian man, that he was going to hell, the family began worshiping at home. / Rachel Mummey / Getty Images

Sid High is a trans Christian in Iowa and a youth ambassador for Beloved Arise. He spoke with Sojourners’ Mitchell Atencio.

I REALLY SUPPRESSED my trans identity before I came out. For me, that wasn’t accepting myself as my true self. There’s something to be said for being who you are without having to hide who you are for the approval of others. I feel more at peace with myself because God is pleased with me for being who I am and living in my authentic self. God wanted me to be who I am and to be able to show other people that they can be who they are too.

I started the first Pride event [in Marion, Iowa] when I was 15. That’s when I started getting interested in helping the community more. People often see the queer community as sinners. Even if people do believe it’s a sin, the right thing to do is not to judge and to continue to love — because that’s what Jesus did. God is Love, and [God] made us to love, regardless of who we love.

Liuan Huska 4-24-2023
A simplified illustration of the Earth drawn in different shades of green. Hearts are drawn on different continents and arrows circle and surround the globe. Houses and plants are drawn just below the world.

Dusan Stankovic / iStock

I NODDED ALONG with everything in the holistic permaculture course until day four, when things went off the rails. My family and I were at a farm in Bolivia, volunteering and learning about land design, groundwater recharging, alternative energy technologies, and returning fertility to the earth. Day four’s topic was community-building, which sounded innocuous enough.

Our host and instructor was a man from New Zealand who has farmed two acres in a remote Bolivian valley for nearly a decade. He talked about the importance of local decision-making, how focusing on global problems over which we have little influence can leave us feeling disempowered. Human-induced climate change, he added, is another story the oligarchs at the top are telling to stoke our fears and get us to surrender our freedoms. That and the pandemic.

Our host’s views are extreme. But he is among a growing group of back-to-the-land conservatives who don’t fit my categories. He disbelieves mainstream climate science, yet he is installing solar ovens, composting toilets, and bioconstructed buildings on his property. He scoffs at “wokeism,” which he sees as another form of top-down control, yet he deeply respects the local Indigenous community and attends the Quechua-only neighborhood meetings with surrounding farmers.

Bill McKibben 4-24-2023
A front-view illustration of a church with an open door and steeple with a cross on top. The church is made out of a collage of red and blue American symbols like dollar bills, a cowboy's hat and boots, sports balls, the American flag, stars, etc.

bubaone / iStock

A LOT HAS BEEN written in recent months about how Christian nationalism is a threat to America — and of course that’s right. But it’s also worth noting that it’s a threat to Christianity.

This round of concern really took off when a new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that alarming numbers of people believed things such as “the U.S. government should declare America a Christian nation” and “God has called Christians to exercise dominion over all areas of American society.” Nearly 30 percent of Americans mostly agreed (sympathizers) or completely agreed (adherents) with such statements, which is scary enough — but among Republicans that number rose to 54 percent, which means it is the dominant belief system among one of the two parties that frequently swap control of the U.S. government.

PRRI President Robert P. Jones defines Christian nationalism as “the idea that America is destined to be a promised land for European Christians.” Nearly two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants, according to PRRI, qualify as adhering or sympathizing with this belief. Astonishingly, these beliefs cross racial lines. “White (29%), Hispanic (25%), and Black (20%) Christians who identify as born-again or evangelical are each about five times as likely to be Christian nationalism adherents as members of the same racial or ethnic groups who identify as Christian but not evangelical,” the institute reports.

Eric Stoner 4-24-2023
A realistic illustration of a pale blue blank check set on top of a teal background.

filo / iStock

THERE IS A DISTURBING sense of déjà vu in the Philippines. Thirty-seven years after the nonviolent People Power movement ended the brutal and kleptocratic 20-year reign of Ferdinand Marcos Sr., his only son and namesake sits comfortably in the presidential palace. Following in his father’s footsteps, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is once again cozying up to the United States.

In 2012, the Obama administration began to “rebalance” U.S. military and trade agreements in Asia. Since 2014, the U.S. has had access to five military bases in the Philippines and trains Filipino soldiers under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) — all part of Obama’s “pivot to the Pacific.”

In February this year, Marcos agreed to allow the U.S. military to pre-position troops and weapons at another four bases. This gives the U.S. the largest military footprint it has had in the Philippines in 30 years, when a Filipino-led anti-colonial independence movement led to the removal of all permanent military bases in their country.

In its push to expand EDCA, the Biden administration said it would spend $82 million on projects at the first five bases. In addition, U.S. ambassador MaryKay Carlson announced $100 million in new foreign military financing for the Philippines “to use as it wishes.” The Philippines is already the largest recipient of U.S. military assistance in the region, receiving $1.14 billion in weapons and equipment since 2015. U.S. and Philippines government officials claim that the purpose of this growing U.S. military presence is to help with humanitarian crises and disaster relief, as well as to prepare for a future conflict with China, most likely over Taiwan.

Joe Roos 4-24-2023
An illustration with a bright yellow background of a white robed arm with blue outlining. The hand thereof is holding the lower portion of a cross that's uneven and bendy in shape.

CSA-Archive / iStock

IN LATE MARCH, when Far Right former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro returned from self-imposed exile, supporters greeted him with chants of “God, family, and liberty,” harkening back to the motto of the dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985. Overwhelming political support from evangelical Christians — similar to that received by Donald Trump — had swept Bolsonaro into office in 2018. Both men repaid this support by moving their respective embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, actions that were long sought by conservative Christians in the West, signaling a rejection of Palestinian aspirations for independence.

Brazil is only one of the countries in Latin America where right-wing evangelical Christians have become a political force. Today, evangelicals constitute about 27 percent of Brazil’s population, compared to about 25 percent in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center. As the number of Latin American evangelicals has soared in recent years, Christian Zionism has also risen as a political and cultural force in the region.

Christian Zionists believe that support for the modern secular state of Israel is a scriptural obligation with theological ramifications for the “end times.” Too often Christian Zionists defend Israel while perpetuating Christian supremacy and antisemitism; they remain ignorant of the persecution of Jews throughout history. Adopting uncritical, religiously motivated support for the secular state of Israel, Christian Zionists provide cover for Israel’s internationally recognized human rights abuses against Palestinians. The embrace of Christian Zionism threatens to be as damaging to marginalized communities in Latin America as it has been to Palestinians.

Jim Rice 4-21-2023
An illustration of a tan wall decorated with pieces of Palestinian art. From left to right, there's a painting of a woman holding up the Palestine flag behind her, a map of historic Palestine, a framed key, a white tapestry with complex red patterns, etc.

Illustration by Nada Esmaeel

WHEN BSHARA NASSAR moved to the United States in 2011, he quickly noticed that something was missing. “There was no place for our story to be told,” said Nassar, a Palestinian Christian born in Jerusalem and raised in Bethlehem. (“My family has been Christian for 2,000 years,” Nassar told Sojourners. “We didn’t convert — the faith was born here!”) But he felt the story of the Palestinian people “was always being distorted or minimized — it was always about either ‘victims’ or ‘violence.’” So, in 2015, Nassar started visiting universities, churches, and community centers with a “traveling exhibit” of only two pieces, focused on refugees from Palestine. “It took a while to build momentum,” Nassar said.

Nassar is now director of the Museum of the Palestinian People, situated in a rowhouse near Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. Through the museum, Nassar said, “We want to share our story from our perspective — who we are, where we come from. For too long our stories have been told by others, who portray us in often negative stereotypes. We want to share with the world who Palestinians truly are.”

The museum’s latest exhibition focuses on tatreez, the art of Palestinian embroidery, and looks at the role of “material culture and art history in preserving a nation’s identity,” according to exhibit curator Wafa Ghnaim. For Ghnaim, the first Palestinian embroidery instructor at the Smithsonian Museum and now a senior research fellow for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the exhibit is about addressing the question, “How do we reclaim our heritage?” The exhibit includes embroidered dresses from before and after 1948—the year of what Palestinians call the Nakba, or catastrophe, when according to the Institute for Palestine Studies, two-thirds of the Palestinian population was uprooted as the State of Israel was created. “The dresses created before 1948 reflect a village identity,” Ghnaim, an expert in Palestinian traditional dress, told Sojourners, “while dresses created after 1948 reflect a national identity.”

The Editors 4-21-2023
Illustration of Pamela R. Lightsey, a black lesbian Methodist elder. She has a shaved head and is smiling with red lipstick. She wears a black shirt, red earrings, and red bangles with black stripes. She is framed by a rainbow circle and yellow lilies.

Pamela R. Lightsey, the first out Black lesbian elder ordained in the United Methodist Church, is a scholar, speaker, and author of Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology. / Illustration by Kim Thompson

POPULAR CULTURE PLAYS an important role in shaping our view of the possible. Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of Between the World and Me, for years wrote Marvel’s Black Panther and Captain America comics. “I think we don’t always realize the extent to which the culture actually interacts with politics,” Coates said on Ezra Klein’s podcast. “I could advocate for all of the policies in the world ... but it really, really occurred to me that there’s a generation that is being formed right now that’s deciding what they will allow to be possible, what they will be capable of imagining. And the root of that isn’t necessarily the kind of journalism that I love that I was doing, the root of that is the stories we tell.”

In this issue, associate news editor Mitchell Atencio looks at some of those stories — in particular, superhero comics — and explores what is not being told, and how pop culture often avoids grappling with the way our country approaches issues such as policing and incarceration. That failure has consequences far beyond the DC and Marvel universes.

Betsy Shirley 3-24-2023
A cartoon illustration of Brother Lawrence praying with a giant sunnyside egg as a backdrop with the yellow yolk behind his head, made to look like a halo. To the left and right, there are mirrored reflections of objects like a Bible, fork, apple, etc.

Illustration by Ryan McQuade

CHRISTIAN MYSTICS HAVE a definite dramatic streak. Their transformative encounters with God are full of divine revelations (Julian of Norwich), ecstatic visions (Teresa of Ávila), stigmata (Francis of Assisi), erotic imagery (John of the Cross), and all manner of artistic compositions (here’s to you, Hildegard of Bingen).

But then there’s Brother Lawrence who — if he is known at all — is known for experiencing God’s presence as he washed dishes, cooked eggs, or did other monotonous chores that came with life in a 17th-century French monastery.

Born Nicolas Herman, he emerged from one of Europe’s deadliest religious wars a disabled veteran. Haunted by his past actions and convinced he was eternally condemned, he failed as a hermit (too much time alone with his thoughts), then as a footman (“a clumsy oaf who broke everything,” he recalled), before eventually joining the lay brothers of the Order of the Discalced Carmelites in Paris in 1640. Yet Brother Lawrence’s anxiety persisted. When he tried to pray, he spent the whole time “rejecting thoughts and then tumbling back into these same thoughts.” Eventually, he gave up all his spiritual exercises and focused on becoming aware of God’s presence as he did his assigned work in the monastery’s kitchen. What he experienced wasn’t a celestial vision, but what he had sought all along: God’s peace.

“We go to such great lengths, trying to remain in the presence of God by so many methods,” he told a friend who posthumously published Lawrence’s modest writings and letters. “Isn’t it much shorter and more direct to do everything for the love of God?”

Carmen Acevedo Butcher, an award-winning translator of mystical and classic Christian texts, was drawn to Brother Lawrence’s gentle practice. Acevedo Butcher herself grew up saddled with severe “self-loathing” and anxiety from a childhood shaped by trauma, hellfire preaching, and the strain of being “a brown girl in a white society.” But in Lawrence’s writing she finds someone who experienced real Love amid real pain.

In Practice of the Presence, Acevedo Butcher’s new English translation of Brother Lawrence, she emphasizes his embodied joy and his “original welcoming spirit,” which she sees in his frequent use of tout le monde — “for everybody.” Drawing on Lawrence’s deeply trinitarian theology, Acevedo Butcher uses they/them pronouns for God, a move she hopes will communicate Lawrence’s kind, inclusive understanding of Love to a wide audience. Acevedo Butcher spoke with Sojourners’ Betsy Shirley about translation, mysticism, and how Brother Lawrence’s practice connects to the work of social justice today.

Vincent W. Lloyd 3-23-2023
An illustration with a black man and black woman standing side by side, both breaking through red prison bars with the man reaching up to the sky.

Illustration by Trevor Davis

BLACK LIVES MATTER. In the years since 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was murdered in his hoodie carrying Skittles, we have learned why this phrase is not simply a consequence of all lives mattering. The world systematically devalues Black life, turns Black life into death-bound life, and it is our task — as justice seekers and as Christians — to embrace Black resurrection.

Politically that makes sense, but what does it mean theologically? Surely Christianity proclaims that all might be saved, independent of skin color. A half-century ago, James Cone and fellow Black theologians embraced this theological challenge head-on. They charged that the possibility of life after death for any individual is inextricably linked to the struggle against the death-dealing forces of white supremacy. How might we fill out this insight today, with Black Power slogans themselves finding new life and new form as activists embrace Black joy, Black excellence, Black rage, Black love, and Black dignity?

In a definition that has rapidly gained traction in activist circles, Black prison abolitionist and scholar Ruth Wilson Gilmore defines racism as “the state-sanctioned or extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death.” Black studies scholars have refined and deepened this claim, arguing that anti-Black racism names a system of laws, institutions, feelings, and even forms of seeing and thinking that make Black life particularly vulnerable to premature death. Slavery may have ended in the 19th century, but many of the structures and habits that made slavery possible, that made it plausible for Black human beings to be treated as less than human, persist, and those structures and habits function by making Black life precarious. One false move, and the police officer or prison guard or neighbor or privileged “Karen” may invoke the violent power of whiteness to put an early end to Black life.

An illustration of pink bubbles on a purple backdrop with various things in them, such as a baby in utero, pro-life and pro-choice signs, a Bible, a law book, and a hand holding a sprout.

Illustration by Alex William

THE REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH landscape in the United States has changed drastically in the last year, and it continues to change. But some things remain the same. One consistent aspect of our ongoing national conversation is that many of those who support the greatest restrictions, including on access to abortion and other elements of reproductive health, claim Christian faith as a primary motivator.

I spent much of my young adulthood in evangelical contexts where people had strong opinions about faith and reproductive rights. Most evangelicals I knew believed that life begins at conception and thus abortion should be broadly prohibited by the law as akin to murder. In these spaces, the Bible was considered the main — sometimes the only — source of authority when it came to navigating ethical questions. I’ve come to realize, though, that the Bible hardly speaks anything straightforward into the intensely personal realm of when human life begins and what decisions should be made in complicated, real-world situations.

I wonder, then: What does it look like to wade through this murky territory as people of faith? Who are Christians called to be in a post-Roe world?