Christina Colón is a writer and editor. Follow her at cjcreativecontent.com and @CJaneColon

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A Holy Response to Urban Violence

by Christina Colón 07-30-2018
Five questions for Rev. Bill Terry.

Illustration by Faith-Marie Zamblé

Bio: Bill Terry is rector of St. Anna’s Episcopal Church in New Orleans. In 2007, he started to list the names of individuals recently murdered in the city on a board outside of the church’s building. The church sees the “murder board” as a public memorial, a way to humanize victims of urban violence.

Website: stannanola.org

1. What inspired the murder board? When we talk about murder in the United States, we tend to talk in terms of numbers. Cities talk in terms of a murder rate, which is dehumanizing. We thought we would start listing the names of murder victims rather than numbers. We used to have the names printed, but the printers couldn’t keep up, so we started writing them down. We list the names, the age, and whether the individual was shot or stabbed. That has a visceral impact and, in and of itself, tells a story. There’s nothing glorious about it. It’s a holy site, and people have a holy response to it. Through the board, we began to humanize the deep loss in our city.

 

2. What impact does the board have? It’s hard to be a Republican or a Democrat when looking at the murder board. It’s hard to be accusing and making aspersions against a race, community, or economic class. More than 2,000 names are on that board alone. They are [people murdered] from 2007 to 2012 in a city of less than 500,000. And during that period, our population got as low as 350,000. I had a police officer who came here and noticed the permanent memorial. He asked if it was all the murders in the state, and I said no, it’s [murders] in New Orleans. He was shocked. Then he went over and started reading the board from left to right. He spent about 20 minutes just slowly walking along the board. He walked back to me, very quiet, tears in his eyes. He said, “I counted three guys I went to high school with. I had no idea, Father.” Then he quietly walked away. That’s the transformative power of our public exhibition.

#InternsToo

by Christina Colón 07-25-2018
Interns are vulnerable to sexual harassment at work. Can churches model a better way?

THE #METOO movement against sexual assault and harassment has empowered many people in the workplace to speak out. But there’s one group still fighting to be heard: interns—the semi-skilled students and recent graduates seeking supervised practical experience in a profession and who form the backbone of many government, nonprofit, and religious organizations.

In March, Vox caused an uproar when it released copies of a nondisclosure agreement required of all congressional interns. Notably missing was an “exception for incidents of harassment, discrimination, or abuse.” The Washington Post reported that interns who came forward about sexual harassment in California, Oregon, Nebraska, and Massachusetts all had their cases dismissed, “leaving them in legal limbo.”

The absence of legal workplace protection is only one reason interns are dissuaded from reporting harassment. A second is lack of power. Internships are generally temporary and unpaid. Interns fall in a hierarchical gray area that leaves them particularly susceptible to exploitation and harassment.

In a USA Today commentary headlined “Dear interns, we’re sorry. We should have warned you about sexual harassment,” Jill Geisler of Loyola University Chicago wrote: “We’ve learned that workplace sexual misconduct is about abuse of power. And those with the least power are the most vulnerable.”

The Bible is full of cries to protect the vulnerable. It warns against seeking power over others. Yet Anglican Bishop Peter B. Price notes that “abuse of power is one of the greatest temptations for Christian leaders”—the consequence of which is not just scandal, “but the loss of a unique corporate authority, achieved by mutual self-giving.”

Q&A: Johnnyswim and Drew Holcomb On Justice, Church, and Making Music

by Christina Colón 07-09-2018

Image via Bekah Fulton/Sojourners 

Ramirez: I think like what you said, it's taking the side of the broken, the beaten, and the defeated. It’s knowing that when you say, “You just gotta lift yourself up by the bootstraps,” that not everybody has boots to be lifted up by. Justice looks like that. It looks like taking the side of the one being accused, the one being pummeled, not even just today, but throughout history because there are whole people groups who have been pummeled. Justice looks like giving people a taste of a true Jesus. Jesus would go to the woman at the well even if all of culture said not to, even if people looked down on him, even if it might have been bad for his reputation, that’s what he did. So often we like to tell good stories and take pictures of refugees and orphans somewhere else, but we very much like to ignore the causes that we should be fighting for here. For me, that's what justice looks like.

Families Belong Together

by Rebekah Fulton, by Christina Colón 07-02-2018
Photos and Prayers from the Families Belong Together Multi-Faith Prayer Vigil

In Their Own Words: Voices from D.C.'s Families Belong Together March

by Christina Colón 07-01-2018

Protesters outside the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., June 30, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Tens of thousands gathered in Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C., Saturday to call for an end to family separation. Braving a scorching 95-degree heat, people had come from all over the country to attend the Families Belong Together event. Organizers had three demands for President Trump: Reunite families, end family detention, and reverse the “zero tolerance” policy.

'Pa'lante' Is an Ode to Puerto Rico's Future

by Christina Colón 05-24-2018

Image via "Pa'lante"/YouTube

“Pa’lante is a very Puerto Rican mindset,” Kristian Mercado Figueroa, who directed the music video, said. “Be it a family struggling to stay together, or recovering from the hurricane, the Puerto Rican people are strong and they will always stand and move forward.”

The Poor People's Campaign Is 'a Re-Consecration, Not a Commemoration'

by Christina Colón 05-14-2018

Image by Rebekah Fulton/Sojourners

“Today is Mother’s Day,” Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, said to the crowd. “A holiday established by women with a rich history of activism and resistance, who called for an end to violence and won. Standing in our nation’s capital, I have a question for our country: Is denying healthcare to mothers and their children a way to show love to mothers?"

Writing a Soundtrack of Reconciliation

by Christina Colón 05-02-2018
Urban Doxology uses the language of worship to reimagine community.

ON A TUESDAY EVENING in February, the band called Urban Doxology rehearses for an upcoming performance in Richmond, Va. They jump from song to song without sheet music or a printed set list.

“We who believe in freedom cannot rest,” they sing. “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”

The group’s founder, David Bailey, watches. Dressed in a pink button-down shirt and a brown fedora, Bailey moves about the rehearsal space adjusting sound levels and giving occasional feedback.

Ten years ago, Bailey was leading music at a church in the suburbs when he and his wife felt called to join a budding multiethnic, economically diverse worshiping community in the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond’s East End, where Patrick Henry gave his famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech in 1775.

Over time, the community grew into a church, East End Fellowship. It found a home in the Robinson Theater, a brightly colored community arts center named after Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, a Richmond native and tap dancer.

Committed to the work of reconciliation, Bailey began leading cultural competency trainings less than four miles from Monument Avenue, a divided street peppered with statues of confederate leaders, including Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis. Grounded in theology and history, the training provided members with a shared knowledge and language to talk about race. However, Bailey sensed it wasn’t enough.

He noticed the lack of leadership development for people of color going into vocational ministry. He had also grown wary of the available worship music repertoire. “It was like you either had old-school gospel or we had retuned hymns,” he said. East End Fellowship needed more leaders and new songs, ones that better reflected its growing multicultural congregation.

Bailey devised a single solution for the two challenges: a summer internship program dubbed the Urban Doxology Songwriting Internship. “We started the internship so we could develop the kind of leaders we wanted to see as people of color,” Bailey said. “But also so we could create the kind of culture and language for worship that shapes the imagination and deals with the pastoral concerns of the people in the community.”

In 2011, East End Fellowship welcomed its first class of diverse young musicians to Church Hill.

Music for Turbulent Times

by Christina Colón 03-28-2018
Bigger Than Your Box, by Joy Ike. joyike.com

WITH THE ONGOING shattering of silence through the #MeToo movement and a record number of women running for office, 2018 feels unstoppable in its forward movement. Infused with bold rhythms, Joy Ike’s latest album, Bigger Than Your Box, could easily serve as the soundtrack of this march.

While described by Ike as a “political album that has nothing to do with politics,” Bigger Than Your Box conjures up images of self-serving leaders, complacent neighbors, and waning nostalgia. “You may want to go back where you’ve come,” Ike sings in “Say Goodbye.” “But there’s nothing for you and it’s not an option.”

How to Combat Political Apathy

How do we reconcile our vote with our conscience?

IN A TIME of voter suppression, gerrymandering, and persistent political scandals, it’s easy to wonder if voting matters anymore. Many people don’t vote at all, citing everything from long lines to ethical squeamishness. But not voting is still a vote, with real consequences for our democracy. Here are a few ways to reframe the way we think about voting:

1. Make it more than a vote

Voting is just one aspect of civic participation. Extend the action by engaging in your community. Participate in events at recreation centers, run for school board, and attend public forums on local policy. Don’t make a ballot the only place you voice concerns—communicate with local officials and speak up at city council meetings. Think wisely about how you spend your money and your time, and make civic commitment an everyday mindset rather than an annual event.

2. Think globally

Thinking about one’s individual ballot, by itself, can make voting feel uncomfortably personal and easy to dismiss. Instead, consider how your vote impacts those outside the voting booth. Many people are unable to vote in some or all elections, including legal permanent residents, U.S. citizens living in U.S. territories, and, in many states, formerly incarcerated persons. Think critically about how proposed policies will impact these individuals. Be mindful of a candidate’s disposition toward the world. U.S. foreign policy is felt worldwide—vote with our global neighbors in mind.

3. Recognize that voting is an extension of your faith

While you won’t find a Bible verse commanding Christians to vote, we are called to care for marginalized communities that may be adversely affected by social policies. Sometimes we have strong affinity for a candidate, and other times we feel that one is the lesser of two evils. To vote is to recognize that community is messy and people who run for political office are rarely perfect. In the moment, voting doesn’t always seem worthwhile or meaningful, but it is an act of hope, an expression of trust in the power of collective agency to build a more just future.

Fighting for Home

by Christina Colón 02-12-2018
What the ‘Longest Blackout in American History’ Tells Us About U.S. Priorities

Cars drive under a partially collapsed utility pole, after the island was hit by Hurricane Maria in September, in Naguabo, Puerto Rico October 20, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez/File Photo

It’s been over four months now since Maria hit the island, and 1.36 million Puerto Ricans are still without power in what is being called the “longest and largest blackout in American history.” While they wait in literal darkness, my abuela sits in a memory one.

Beware of Greeks...

by Christina Colón 01-24-2018
How did sororities and fraternities go from service to sociopathy?

“IS GREEK LIFE Worth Saving?” asked a recent U.S. News & World Report article. It’s a question others are asking since Indiana University became the seventh university to suspend the activities of its fraternities and sororities. Four deaths in a year attributed to the fraternity pledge process are a clear sign that “Greek life” has a problem.

Yet fraternities aren’t going away. In fact, journalist John Hechinger estimates that at least 380,000 male undergraduates belong to Greek-letter organizations, a 50 percent increase over the last decade. And while millennials are flocking to Greek life, even more are abandoning the church.

A 2015 Pew study found that only 27 percent of millennials attend a religious service on a weekly basis. It’s something college Christian organizations are noticing, and why InterVarsity now sponsors “Greek InterVarsity,” purporting that one can be both “Greek” and Christian.

It’s an interesting approach. However, considering these deaths—and the numerous sexual assault allegations made against fraternity men—some wonder if InterVarsity is making the right decision. It’s time to ask how people of faith can effectively combat the toxic behaviors—prejudice, misogyny, and addiction—that are allowed to flourish within the Greek college and university systems.

 

Tuned to Trouble and Faith

by Christina Colón 12-01-2017
Wendigo, by Penny and Sparrow. Single Lock Records.

Penny and Sparrow performing with folk duo Lowland Hum. Photo courtesy of Bekah Fulton.

It’s been a year of unease. Neo-Nazis, hurricanes, and threatening tweets sent by orange-tinged fingers have left me wondering, “What’s next?”

Wendigo , the latest album from indie folk duo Penny and Sparrow (Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke), didn’t answer that question for me. Rather, their somber melodies provided something I didn’t realize I needed—space to confront the uncertainty.

According to Chippewa poet Louise Erdrich, the wendigo “is a flesh-eating, wintry demon with a man buried deep inside of it.” Some Indigenous communities see environmental destruction, exclusion, and greed as indicators of “wendigo psychosis.”

Many wendigos seemed to appear after the 2016 election. Not just in the White House, but also in families, friends, and neighbors. The song “Kin” calls to mind Thanksgiving dinner with pecan pie and family members-turned-strangers. “Where the hell did your spine go? / Did you cut it out? / Did it never grow?” the lyrics ask.

 

Meet the Women Fighting West Virginia's Drug Epidemic

by Christina Colón 11-15-2017

Image via "Heroin(e)" trailer/Netflix.

In many ways, drug court functions like church. The men and women sit side-by-side in pews. They welcome newcomers. They hold each other accountable. And though there is no set time for a “passing of the peace,” when they cheer on those who have remained sober, it looks like a place of forgiveness.

Better Business for a Better World

by Christina Colón 11-02-2017
In a profit-driven world, B Corporations offer a refreshingly holistic--and practical--alternative.
David Drexler / Flickr

David Drexler / Flickr

WHAT DO PATAGONIA, Ben & Jerry’s, and Etsy have in common? They’re all B Corporations. As part of the B Corp movement, they have committed to using business to build a better and more sustainable world. Along with 2,294 other corporations, they have signed a “Declaration of Interdependence” and are attempting to redefine the for-profit sector.

To become a B Corp, businesses must complete the B Impact Assessment, which scores the company on its environmental impact, relationship to its workforce, commitment to the community, and transparency in governance, as well as the benefit of the product to customers.

In 2016, the B Corp Community launched the “inclusive economy challenge” to encourage for-profit entities to think critically about the economy and work to create opportunities for all people to flourish. During the pilot year, 175 B Corps took on the challenge; together they eliminated wage gaps and expanded company ownership.

Director of ‘The Florida Project:’ Poverty Isn’t Just a Florida Problem

by Christina Colón 10-10-2017

Image via The Florida Project 

"Especially in this day and age, we already are living in tough times…I’ve seen people looking to things like film and television as a means of escape, so I have to acknowledge that people are spending their hard-earned money to go to a movie on a Friday night and want some sort of escape....My hope is that along with getting that escape, they will be positively motivated," says the filmmaker.

‘The Florida Project’ Shows How to Tell Good Stories About Poverty

by Christina Colón 10-06-2017

Image via The Florida Project

Orlando, Fla. is most known for the Walt Disney World theme parks that draw millions of visitors to the area each year. Yet few realize that the discount hotels they drive past on their way to the parks are occupied not by tourists, but by the homeless. They’re who The Florida Project director Sean Baker refers to as the “hidden homeless,” as they live, mostly unnoticed, at the fringes of the billion dollar resort. In The Florida Project, their stories find a platform.

Sweetheart or Serpent? Taylor Swift and Our Purity Problem

by Christina Colón 08-31-2017

Screenshot from Taylor Swift's 'Look What You Made Me Do'

While there are those who have embraced Swift’s new sound and video, many fans were horrified to witness “America’s sweetheart” claw herself out of her own grave. Perhaps the most startling image is the one in which Swift stands atop a mountain of past selves. It’s unnerving to watch the white T-shirt wearing “You Belong With Me” Swift lose her grip and fall with arms outstretched into the blackness.