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New & Noteworthy: June 2018
Four culture recommendations from the editors.
Letters to the Editor
A Plateful of Good Stuff
“Game Changer?” by Rose Marie Berger in the December 2016 issue really challenges me as a Catholic. We are called to be a peace church. We are disciples of a nonviolent redeemer and liberator. I want to be nonviolent. It would mean that I have to love nonviolently. I cannot call anyone names. I should love the members of the other political party and work for unity. I should be a listener. I should advise military people to be conscientious objectors in violent affairs, and maybe more than that. I will love the veterans, as I presume they did what they did according to their conscience. I have a plateful of good stuff to do. Help me, dear Lord.
Rev. Anthony Kroll
Sauk Rapids, Minnesota
Those Who Have Ears ...
In the days following the ugliest election in my life (I was born in 1945), I have seen few, if any, commentaries on how this election impacted the children of America. Our kids hear our fears and anxieties, as well as what they hear on TV or radio, but they are not able to deal with and process those fears as are adults.
What is our Christian responsibility to help our children deal with and overcome the fear and anger they feel when they hear the president-elect denigrate minority groups and promote violence against those who disagree? This is truly a teachable moment in every house of worship, and not just for adults. Our kids are suffering, and we cannot let the words of a narcissistic bigot go unchallenged. I agree with everything Jim Wallis said (“Ministers of Reconciliation,” December 2016), but I urge us not to forget the children.
Ministers of Inspiration?
I was thrilled to receive my first issue of Sojourners magazine and find Jim Wallis’s article titled “Ministers of Reconciliation.” I am grateful for the reassuring inspiration I derived from his words.
Rev. Dale Morris Lee
A Heavy Hand
In your November 2016 issue, David Gushee writes of Americans yelling at each other about abortion and our polarization on the subject (“The Abortion Impasse”). But he shows his own polarization with the sentence, “Having actually held dead 18-week fetuses in my hands ... I think it is indeed a travesty that abortion is permitted in non-emergency circumstances as late as that.” I ask him: Have you ever held the hand of an 18-year-old girl dying of sepsis from a backstreet illegal abortion? I have. When abortion is not legal or the financial cost is too high, the poor seek out the unskilled—which can take weeks—while the wealthy go to other countries. Until we have a country that cares for and about all its citizens by lowering our high infant mortality rate and doing away with guns, wars, death penalties, and cop shootings, why should anyone worry about abortions? I think the answer is: It is a way to subjugate women. As Gloria Steinem says: “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”
South Hamilton, Massachusetts
New & Noteworthy
Tuxedos on Ice
Need a cold distraction from summer heat? Love penguins? Want to be inspired by rugged scenery and a field biologist’s enthusiasm for his work, despite harsh conditions, endless counting, and climate change? The documentary film The Penguin Counters is now out on iTunes and DVD. First Run Features
Find What’s Missing
In the picture book Who Counts? 100 Sheep, 10 Coins, and 2 Sons, biblical scholar Amy-Jill Levine and children’s book author Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso imaginatively retell three of Jesus’ parables. Suitable for kids 4 to 8. Includes afterword for parents and teachers. Illustrated by Margaux Meganck. Westminster John Knox
An American Story
Amir Hussain’s Muslims and the Making of America is a compact overview of how Muslims have been an intrinsic part of American society, politics, and culture since the colonial era. Released last fall, but timelier than ever as anti-Muslim rhetoric and actions grow. Baylor University Press
In Grieving a Suicide: A Loved One’s Search for Comfort, Answers, and Hope , Albert Y. Hsu explores the hard emotional and spiritual questions survivors face. First published in 2002, this newly revised and expanded version includes updated resources and a discussion guide for suicide-survivor groups. IVP Books
New & Noteworthy
Wherever You Go ...
In Why Am I Here?, by Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen and Akin Duzakin, a picture book for ages 5 to 9, a child ponders the many different places she could be: a huge city, an isolated forest, a war zone, fleeing to a strange land. A book that encourages empathy and acknowledges the big questions that kids ask themselves. Eerdmans
Faith for the Struggle
Shannon Daley-Harris, religious affairs adviser for the Children’s Defense Fund, offers scriptural meditations to inspire and sustain advocates and nurturers in Hope for the Future: Answering God’s Call to Justice for Our Children. Includes questions for faithful response. Westminster John Knox
No Easy Road
Activist and artist Anthony Papa writes about the challenges of rebuilding his life after serving 12 years for a nonviolent drug offense, his work to change oppressive drug-sentencing laws, and memories of prison in This Side of Freedom: Life After Clemency. 15yearstolife.com
Life Out of Death
“I did not understand how people changed so much: Some became executioners, others became victims,” writes Holocaust survivor Magda Hollander-Lafon in Four Scraps of Bread, a slim volume of piercing, simple-yet-profound reflections on her journey through hell and back. Notre Dame Press
Having Our Cake?
IN THE TERM that begins this fall, the Supreme Court will hear the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The nine justices will decide: Is a baker with sincerely held religious objections to same-sex marriage obliged—by anti-discrimination laws—to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple?
But underneath the frosting, the case exemplifies a much broader conversation in which religious liberty is pitted against civil liberties. In this ongoing fight, sides are often split down partisan lines, with conservatives championing religious liberty and liberals defending civil rights.
This religious-freedom-vs.-civil-liberties split is frustrating to many. After all, religious liberty isn’t just for conservatives; the First Amendment offers important protections to all people of faith, from Muslims who seek permits to build mosques to Christians who are conscientious objectors to war. At the same time, we care deeply about civil rights, especially in an era when so many Americans face discrimination because of their gender, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity. In a nutshell, we want to support religious freedom for all while also protecting the civil liberties of LGBTQ folks and other minorities. But is that even possible?
Baptist minister and constitutional lawyer Oliver Thomas is optimistic, but not naive. In “Clash of Liberties,” he explains how religious liberty laws morphed from bipartisan efforts to ensure religious liberty for all into tools used by conservatives and liberals alike to press their own advantage. If we’re serious about protecting both, Thomas writes, we’re going to have to do something that’s easier said than done: lay aside our ideological differences and work for the common good.
Letters to the Editor
D.L. Mayfield’s article (“Church Planting and The Gospel of Gentrification,” July 2017) hit home and is an important conversation. Out of economic necessity after a bout of homelessness, I moved into a neighborhood jokingly referred to as “meth alley” by the uptown people. Our neighborhood health statistics were dismal because of poor access to anything resembling fresh food. When we became the object of “saving” by some churches from the other side of town that wanted to be missional, they didn’t ask us what we needed. We became the project of outreach by young, white, educated, privileged religionists intoxicated by their specialness. The exuberant youths were quite clueless that we had some wisdom about what our neighborhood could use. Most were from two local Bible colleges and had grand ideas about urban outreach.
They planned a hipster coffee shop that the evangelical whites with privilege would use as a base of operation, providing tutoring to our youth. They believed they would open their doors to the unfortunate of my dismal neighborhood and we would come flooding in to be saved by their great goodness from our great need.
I just wanted to recover and get a job. What my saviors failed to see without exception were my strengths—my resilience, the gifts I wanted to bring to my community, and my long experience with making do in the most hostile of circumstances. They could have asked, and I would have told them patiently, but they weren’t listening because they knew all there was to know about poverty and how to fix it.
I didn’t have the gas money to get to church; they were going to Hawaii for a break from us.
My suggestion: If any church or Bible college wants to be missional, ask the community what they most need. Ask who the community leaders already are and help them! Jobs and microloans to small neighborhood businesses are a place to start. Transportation opportunities to those jobs and access to good food are tangible helps. Without giving neighbors the dignity of being understood as people that have much to contribute to our own communities, being “missional” alienates and harms.
Thanks to Danny Duncan Collum for introducing me to Jessi Colter’s album The Psalms (“Strange and Beautiful Psalms,” July 2017). It is a balm to me during this summer’s heat. Once you hear it, there’s no turning back.
New Language Needed
Regarding Leslie Copeland-Tune’s article “What Are Block Grants” in the June 2017 issue: I am frustrated when Medicare and Social Security are called “entitlement” programs. Of course, all who have contributed into each fund during their working lives are entitled to the benefits we receive, but Medicare is a federal health insurance program and Social Security is a federal retirement program. Unfortunately, both funds have been raided by Congress for other purposes and are now in some jeopardy. Perhaps if we used language other than “entitlements,” which gives the impression of being undeserved, these programs would be held in higher regard and protected.
Letters to the Editor
Spirit of Compassion
I read with great interest the article on Northmead Assembly of God’s Circle of Hope AIDS clinic in Zambia (“When the Spirit Comes Down,” by Wonsuk Ma, January 2017), because I spent six months in 2011 conducting research there with support groups for people living with HIV. Clinic clients I interviewed reaffirmed my observations about staff members’ dedication, often reporting that they were grateful that the clinic was in their low-income neighborhood. Most crucially, I noted how staff members showed acceptance and compassion toward all clients. While the clinic faces challenges—long lines, clients who sometimes do not adhere to their medications, excellent staff members who may be “poached” by other donors—it does important work in Zambia’s AIDS response.
It is encouraging to hear about the good work being done in Pentecostal churches around the globe (“When the Spirit Comes Down”). However, there was not one word in the article about the plight of homosexuals living in these societies. These churches are often at the forefront of oppressing gay people in the name of religion. Until we all confront the horrific situation of gay people (ostracism, forced marriage, beatings, prison, and execution) in so many places, especially Africa and the Caribbean, I can’t take these churches or their brand of religion seriously.
Robin Van Liew
Thank you for providing a magazine that I am able to count on for intelligence and sensitivity in both your writing and reporting. However, I must take exception to the claim that Elizabeth I “founded” the Anglican Church (“Entering my ‘Power Decade,’” by Catherine Woodiwiss, January 2017). While it is true she is credited for the eponymous settlement, those acts of Parliament did not “found” anything that did not already exist. They smoothed the waters so that the English church could proclaim the gospel in relative peace.
Traverse City, Michigan
I want to thank you for publishing the article by Susan K. Smith on John Rush in your December 2016 issue (“Can Business Be Beautiful?”). It presents a different (and more accurate) example of Appalachia than does J.D. Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy. As a born-and-bred hillbilly, I take great umbrage at Vance’s book. It is a very courageous memoir of one family, but that’s what it is—the story of one very dysfunctional family and the salutary effects of the Marines on one very mixed-up young man. Most poor and working-class Appalachians have not become as disoriented and dysfunctional as Vance’s family. Many of them, like Rush, have started enterprises of their own or are otherwise engaged at jobs they find rewarding. While not all these businesses are social enterprises as is Rush’s, they all nevertheless indicate successful adjustments to situations in which people find themselves.
Assets in Heaven
Please do more articles on businesses that have doing good in the world as their bottom line (“Can Business Be Beautiful?”). Business owner John Rush makes a point about the profit-making business model that it is the love of money that is a problem, not having money itself. A current line of research, however, is showing that it isn’t as simple as that; money and decision-making power over others quickly reduce compassionate awareness and behavior. Jesus was right about wealth: Good motivations and intentions are not enough. Any condition that reduces our sense of shared vulnerability with others works against our ability to live lives of universal love.
New & Noteworthy
Piety’s Dark Side
Love the Sinner is a short documentary narrated by queer filmmaker Jessica Devaney, who grew up in a conservative evangelical church. In the wake of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, she takes a hard look at the connection between Christianity and homophobia. lovethesinnerfilm.com
Crisis and Conscience
Simone Campbell, Kelly Brown Douglas, Jacqueline M. Hildago, George “Tink” Tinker, Kwok Pui-lan, Jim Wallis, and others write about the “confessional crisis” of our political era and possible faithful responses in Faith and Resistance in the Age of Trump. Edited by Miguel A. De La Torre. Orbis
A Lifetime Adventure
Calling All Years Good: Christian Vocation throughout Life’s Seasons explores calling as something we wrestle with not just as young adults but “from infancy to old age,” combining social science insights with practical theology. Edited by Kathleen A. Cahalan and Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore. Eerdmans
John M. Perkins, co-founder of the Christian Community Development Association, has spent decades working for a gospel that is inseparable from racial and economic justice. In the memoir Dream With Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win, he reminds us, “It all comes down to love.” Baker Books
New & Noteworthy
For the critically acclaimed film I Am Not Your Negro, filmmaker Raoul Peck drew upon an unfinished manuscript by writer James Baldwin and archival footage to fashion a searing narration about race in America. Opens in theaters in February. Magnolia Pictures
People of the Book
In Islam: What Non-Muslims Should Know, John Kaltner, a Rhodes College professor of Muslim-Christian relations, explains the basics of Islam, including frequently misunderstood practices. Originally released in 2003, this is a newly revised and expanded edition. Fortress Press
A Chicago church divided a financial windfall among its members, $500 each, telling them to use it to do good in God’s world. Laura Sumner Truax and Amalya Campbell tell the practical and inspiring lessons learned in Love Let Go: Radical Generosity for the Real World. Wm. B. Eerdmans
Mishwar Music , by The Homsies, is a three-song EP recorded in a refugee camp in Akkar, Lebanon, with a team of youth from Homs, Syria. It is available for download on Bandcamp. mishwar.org
Letters to the Editor
Eye of the Beholder
In “Where Protestantism Went Wrong” (February 2017), Wesley Granberg-Michaelson rightly critiques some of the consequences of the Reformation. Surely he is inaccurate, however, in arguing that “the Reformation bred a mistrust of aesthetics.” It would be more accurate to state that it promoted a different aesthetic than that prevalent in Catholicism. New England Puritans, for example, developed a “plain style” in literature and architecture evident in the accessible prose of William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation and the beauty of many Congregational churches still standing in town squares. This plain style influenced modern literature and the “form follows function” aesthetic of much modern architecture. Sometimes, to quote a fine expression of the Protestant aesthetic, “ ’tis a gift to be simple.”
Jim Wallis has asked the question that I, and I am sure others, have been wrestling with for some time: “What is an evangelical?” (“White Evangelicals and the Election,” January 2017). As an 81-year-old Lutheran pastor, I have been advocating that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America drop the word “evangelical” from our name. The word has been hijacked; the original meaning has been perverted! Retaining the word in our church’s name distorts the very heart of our identity. The change should not be that significant for Lutherans; when “evangelicals” meet, the ELCA is usually absent. It is sad but true that other words must be employed to convey the powerful identity that the word evangelical once held.
North Richland Hills, Texas
Stick to the Facts
I was disappointed in your January 2017 issue’s exclusive focus on the danger Trump poses because of a “racist, misogynistic, ethnocentric brand of nationalism” and policies that likely will hurt poor, vulnerable people (“Is America Possible?” by Heath W. Carter). What of his cavalier attitude toward facts, evidence, and truth, such as his disputing the overwhelming scientific evidence for human-caused global warming? When our culture is on a binge of finding “truth” in unwarranted places, and people are believing what they want to believe no matter how far off the mark (with the encouragement of our president), our democracy is in serious, long-term danger.
In David Gushee’s November 2016 piece on abortion (“The Abortion Impasse”), where are women’s voices? Where is the acknowledgment that there are no women’s voices here? Gushee supports not banning abortion. In some cases. I get that. But the rhetoric, implicit and explicit, embodied in such statements and phrases as “abortion is the sad song that never ends,” “the everyday ‘garden variety abortions’ go on and on,” and “that miserable drive to the abortion clinic” send chills of exclusivity, domination, privilege down this reader’s spine. “What is an anxious Christian to do about all this?” Listen to women’s and girls’ stories. Listen. And listen. And listen.
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