Stephanie Sandberg 8-05-2019

WHEN YOU WALK into the theater, you feel you’re at an American Legion community center, with hundreds of framed male portraits lining the walls. It’s a little daunting. And then Heidi Schreck as a young woman arrives to give her speech, “What the Constitution Means to Me.”

She explains that this is how she raised her state college tuition: winning speech and debate competitions about the Constitution, taking on the male power structures that surrounded her. Our 230-year-old Constitution is a wordy and tricky document, to say the least, and Schreck steps up to it with delightful rhetoric, full presence, and comic genius. She shows us why we should be in love with it and why we should uphold it.

But then things shift, and she comes to us, blazer tossed aside, as a now-40-something woman with wisdom and deep questions. The second half of the play takes us on a whirlwind history of the document with all of its problems, especially how this male-conceived, male-written constitution suppressed and continues to suppress women. Sitting quietly at the side, and sometimes explaining the rules of the speech debate competition, is an American Legion representative, played on Broadway by Mike Iveson.

Elisa Rowe 8-05-2019

Illustration by Ric Carrasquillo

I am Peter at Gethsemane
where I wake to oak
branches suspended,
spinning like hair in water.

Flora’s night
blanched, a prophet’s
chanting, every caesura’s
quiet steeping, transfiguring
grief to alms.

Getty Images

Wealth advisers teach us why and where to stockpile our assets and how to diminish our liabilities. “Save! Save! Save! Put away for rainy days. Establish your kid’s college nest egg now! Buy low and sell high! Get real estate to get more bang for your buck! Don’t touch your 401(k) or you’ll risk having nothing for retirement!” And of course, they earnestly urge, “Set aside enough for taxes or be bitten by Uncle Sam in the end!” Any good wealth adviser aims to cure their clients of unsound “robbing Peter to pay Paul” financial practices. Managing portfolios calls for vigilance because markets can be highly volatile and thus vulnerable to external forces beyond one’s control. For this reason, sound investment strategy requires advanced planning, goal-setting, and staying focused. This month’s gospel readings address the importance of honoring one’s faith journey by carefully calculating costs and practicing disciplined stewardship.

These themes color the pages of Luke’s gospel but also inform Paul’s eldering counsel to his young devotee, Timothy. Paul writes: “There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment” (1 Timothy 6:6), for true satisfaction is discovered at the site of contentedness, not on “the uncertainty of riches” (verse 17).

Our spiritual ledgers get out of whack when wealth accrual is decoupled from gratitude and when we forsake practical wisdom. Dialing back the spiritual appetite for hoarding temporal goods is not only good stewardship but crucial for securing tomorrow’s sacred dividends. Having an appropriate perspective on wealth is the initial deposit for moving into the life-giving presence of a debt-canceling God.

September 1

Forsaking Fidelity

Jeremiah 2:4-13; Psalm 81:1, 10-16; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14

Biblical storylines of God’s dealings with Israel vary little in terms of plot. The master narrative of unrequited love loops over and again in the prophetic literature. Taglines proceed in this order: “As they pursued worthless things, they forgot their first love and were forced to submit to the exacting demands of their foreign foes. Yet again, a faithful God is love-spurned by a prized people who contented themselves with serving lesser gods of their own making.” Sacred love tales of this sort get nauseating, at least I think so.

Ed Spivey Jr. 8-05-2019

Illustration by Ken Davis

WITH THE NATION'S economy on the brink of another crisis (what, you haven’t heard?) and major banks expecting their feckless greed to again be punished with a harsh government bailout, what can we citizens do to help? We can shop, that’s what. It’s our patriotic duty.

In this capitalistic democracy we cast a vote for freedom every time we make a purchase. The more we buy, the more freedom we celebrate. (I didn’t just buy cat food this morning, I made a profound statement about America. And I’ll make it again when I go back for the cat litter that I forgot.)

The Founders might not have had this in mind when they conceived our republic, but they never felt the joy of buying a 24-pack of tuna at Costco, did they?

Steven Charleston 7-14-2019

Illustration by James Jirat Patradoon

I HAVE WORKED WITH progressive Christians for a very long time, and I’ve noticed that too much talk about heaven seems to embarrass them.

Many people I’ve encountered have been eager to talk about the gospel of social justice but much less enthusiastic talking about eschatology. They seemed happy, for example, to talk about the feeding of the 5,000, but not so much about the Book of Revelation or the apocalypse.

Photos from Reuters

MOST AMERICAN CHRISTIANS likely don’t know the degree to which the center of gravity of Christianity has shifted from the West to the global South. This reality has failed to penetrate the consciousness of most Christians in the U.S.—and our ecclesial imagination would be transformed if it did.

In the early years of Christianity, Paul wrote to what had already become a global church stretched across the vast reaches of the Roman Empire, from Rome to Corinth to Ephesus to Philippi and beyond. Paul’s epistles demonstrate his clear conviction that the health of the church in one place impacts the health of the church elsewhere or, as he puts it so poetically in 1 Corinthians 12, if one part of the body suffers, then all parts suffer with it.

Ed Spivey Jr. 7-03-2019

Illustration by Ken Davis

AS WE MOVE into the hottest part of the summer and the likelihood that only two-thirds of the planet’s species will survive until the next election (oddly, presidential candidates as a species seem to be increasing), two things occur to me:

• I forgot to work on my beach body over the winter. And now it’s too late. (Next year, baby!)

• This might be a good time to check in on that climate change panel the Trump administration formed a few months ago.

The panel still has no official name, although any reference to it is usually preceded by “ad hoc,” which is Latin for “spitting distance.” It’s not clear if that distance is from reality, but we have a guess.

THE NATURE OF dishonor and consequence are what these passages teach. For the average Bible reader, the front matter of the book of Hosea—specifically the first three chapters—disturbs the conscience. At the time of Hosea’s calling, God’s first words are: “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord” (1:2). Wow!

The writer of Hebrews proposes an alternate reality: Any reality worth seeing comes into view through faith in the unseen (see Hebrews 11:1). Prophet Isaiah sees what God sees through another portrait. Like believers today, empty rituals and defiled worship strain Isaiah’s eyes. Do we have eyes to see what the prophet saw in our context of racial intolerance and religious bigotry? Harsh judgment meted out in scripture is generally in response to an act of rebellion or for defaulting on a covenantal agreement. An aggrieved God enters our contemporary global vineyard asking Christians today, “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?” (see Isaiah 5:1-4).

The essential work of the guardian is to protect the investments. While we are not permitted to “psychologize” the prophet Jeremiah, we can still say that shame is evident. To say, “Why me, God?” rather than “Why not me?” is to be imprisoned by a faulty internal transcript.

Albert Haley 7-03-2019

Illustration by Jon Krause

Why wouldn’t they drop by, stare up
approvingly at the point of the minaret?

Perpetual connoisseurs of the loving work
of centuries, the stacked stones, nails pounded
until synagogues, temples, shrines
little houses of worship rise from the land.

James Chappel 7-03-2019

Oxford University Press

THE U.S. HAS BEEN on a war footing since at least 1939. Undergraduate students today have never known a world before 9/11, and even their instructors (I was born in 1983) have never known a peaceful America. The Cold War era that preceded our own was enormously bloody in places such as Lebanon, Vietnam, and Afghanistan—and in all these countries, American intervention played a role.

During the Cold War, permanent war footing seemed like more of a threatening novelty than a grinding inevitability. The time played host, therefore, to a global and surprisingly influential peace movement. The Politics of Peace tells the movement’s dramatic story of both ideals co-opted and maybe even betrayed and ideals that shaped our world and might be worth recovering.


WHITE EURO-AMERICAN Christianity is dying, according to Miguel A. De La Torre, and from his point of view, its death is necessary. It has distorted the gospel with Euro-American nationalist ideals that benefit white communities at the expense of communities of color—heretical beliefs grounded in fear and exclusion, rather than love. In Burying White Privilege: Resurrecting a Badass Christianity, De La Torre deconstructs Donald Trump’s abundant evangelical support. In doing so, he offers guidance on how Christians can move forward.

Whiteness lies, he explains. It lies about the superiority of particular beliefs and nations. And this superiority complex has led to a lot of violence being done under the name of Christianity, including displacement, slavery, and genocide.

Beth Norcross 7-03-2019

Tim Duggan Books

YET ANOTHER BOOK about climate change. What could it possibly say that we haven’t already heard?

Plenty, it turns out.

David Wallace-Wells’ extraordinary and chilling book The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming gives an overview of the overwhelming scientific consensus that the planet is warming and changing at rates never seen before. But the real value for its readers are the 100 brutal pages of excruciating details about what life will be like if they do not quickly make extraordinary changes to their energy consumption. Wallace-Wells’ central message is that we are living in a time hotter than any other time humans have ever lived in, and we cannot go back in our lifetimes. And looking forward is nothing short of terrifying.

Justin Townes Earle / New West Records

APPROPRIATELY ENOUGH, The Saint of Lost Causes —the new Justin Townes Earle album—has an Orthodox icon of St. Jude on the cover. In Catholic lore, St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes and desperate cases. But if a person can still turn to a saint for intercession, the cause isn’t entirely lost. The desperate act of prayer implies at least a sliver of hope for grace and mercy, and that’s mostly where the people in Earle’s new batch of songs are: down to their last desperate prayer but still hoping.

At the beginning of the album, in the title track, Earle lays it out, singing: “Now it’s a cruel world / But it ain’t hard to understand / You got your sheep, got your shepherds / Got your wolves amongst men.” Over the course of the next 11 songs, we see the world mostly from the point of view of the sheep. We hear from some fracked-out citizens in “Don’t Drink the Water” who are growing increasingly restless as some oil company hack keeps claiming that their poisoned land and water, and the occasional earthquake, are all an “act of God.” Later, in “Flint City Shake It,” a streetwise Michigander fills us in on how General Motors assassinated his still-resilient hometown. Then there’s the junkie desperado of “Appalachian Nightmare” who hopes God can forgive him at the moment of his death.

The Editors 7-03-2019

William Stringfellow

Shelter and Storm

Seeking Shelter: A Story of Place, Faith, and Resistance is a 30-minute documentary on the personal history of the late Christian activists Daniel Berrigan, William Stringfellow, and Anthony Towne. Using firsthand accounts, the film follows their work for civil rights, social justice, nuclear disarmament, and environmental action.

Chris Karnadi 7-03-2019

Detail of “Under the Wave Off Kanagawa,” by Katsushika Hokusai / Apple’s wave emoji

WHEN I TRAVEL to a city, I find art museums and their masterpieces: “Sunflowers” in Amsterdam, the “Prodigal Son” in St. Petersburg, “David” in Florence. Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Michelangelo. These are masters, according to some cultural imagination.

But it wasn’t until this past April that I encountered an Asian master and masterpiece: Katsushika Hokusai’s “Under the Wave Off Kanagawa.” The print is better known as “The Great Wave”—you know, the Apple wave emoji. Why is this the first Asian masterpiece that I’ve seen?

Christina Colón 7-01-2019

The Peace Poets.

BEFORE THEY ARE hip-hop performers, educators, and poets, the Peace Poets are a family. “It’s been a development of a brotherhood,” Frank Antonio López (aka Frankie 4) says of the group’s formation. López and Abraham Velazquez Jr. (aka A-B-E) met when they were 3 years old. Enmanuel Candelario (aka The Last Emcee) was introduced to the pair in grade school and introduced to Frantz Jerome (aka Ram 3) in high school. Candelario would go on to meet Luke Nephew (aka Lu Aya) at Fordham University in New York.

Much of the Peace Poets’ foundational development occurred in Harlem at Brotherhood/Sister Sol, a leadership and educational organization for black and Latinx youth. It was there, López says, that the Peace Poets were “politicized through art.”

Composite photo from NASA images

“A BRILLIANT JEWEL in the black velvet sky.” That’s how lunar-module pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin described the Earth in a 1998 interview, recalling how our planet looked from the vantage point of its natural satellite. Fifty years ago this summer—on July 20, 1969, during the Apollo 11 mission—Aldrin and Neil Armstrong became the first people to walk on the moon, a revolutionary moment for all humanity.

Extinction Rebellion protesters at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, Scotland / Wattie Cheung / Camera Press / Redux

“FOR A LONG TIME, people were scared to talk about climate change in its stark reality because they thought people weren’t ready to hear that story. But after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its 2018 report laying out the situation we’re in with the climate, Extinction Rebellion started a movement to tell the truth and act as if that truth is real.

Najeeba Syeed 7-01-2019

Illustration by Hugh D’Andrade

IN THE WAKE of the terrorist attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, earlier this year, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern seamlessly incorporated Muslim rituals into the public rites of grieving. Her response to the attacks was striking for its cultural competence in engaging Muslim tradition and also projecting it in ways that engaged a broader audience to build empathy and not further structural violence. It allowed for immediate national unity and rehumanizing of the Muslim community.

The prime minister’s response to the violent attacks in New Zealand pointed out the importance of extending interreligious education to state actors.

Rose Marie Berger 7-01-2019

Illustration by Laura Pacheco

THE MAP is not the territory, wrote Polish scientist Alfred Korzybski, “but, if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness.”

When I glanced through the participants list at the second Vatican consultation on nonviolence and just peace, I recalled Korzybski. The list was organized by ecclesial rank. Cardinals on top, followed by archbishops, bishops, monsignors, and reverend fathers. Next were women in religious orders, then male and female laity with titles, finally misters and Mses. My name was last.