“The poet is not a man who asks me to look at him; he is a man who says ‘look at that’ and points.” – C.S. Lewis
Brandon hopes to pay attention. He wants to be like Ricky Fitts in the film American Beauty, who marvels at a plastic bag dancing with the leaves in the breeze (as cliché as that may be). From what he knows, Brandon is not crazy. Rather, little things hopefully remind Brandon that God is present in a world littered with beauty—and Brandon simply wants to point and say, “Look at that.”
Brandon hopes to see where God is speaking and working in all of life: in nature, movies, music, people—specifically what Jesus calls “the least of these” in Matthew 25—himself, and even politics, which he still has a lot to learn about. Brandon found this passion for the intersection between faith and culture at Azusa Pacific University, a small school in Southern California.
Brandon also cultivated a lifelong love for travel in college. He spent a semester studying the humanities at Azusa Pacific’s High Sierra campus near Yosemite, Calif. Brandon flew off to South Africa the next year, serving a local community called Haniville, living with locals near Cape Town, traveling the coast, and doing some studying in between. His last adventure before the “real world” sent him to study C.S. Lewis and poetry at Oxford University in England. There he thoroughly enjoyed a Christmas party at C.S. Lewis’s house.
Brandon is not originally from the Golden State. He hails from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. Among many other things, he loves his family, friends, photography, seasons, and nostalgic movies that try to pin down the elusive concept of home.
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#BlackLivesMatter: Gathering for Solidarity in Washington, D.C.
Last night, Washington, D.C., residents young and old gathered in the Columbia Heights neighborhood to protest the shooting of Michael Brown, stand in solidarity with those on the front lines of continued protests in Ferguson, Mo., and let our governmant and law enforcement officials know that #BlackLivesMatter. The protest was organized by a Howard University student who hails from St. Louis and "needed to do something" given the reports she received from friends and family on the ground in Ferguson.
About a dozen Sojourners employees were in attendance. Check out the video below with testimony from two protestors who spent some time over the last week in Ferguson.
People Love Their Nickel Creek
The last time I listened to Nickel Creek was to analyze their adaptation of Robert Burns’ poem, “Sweet Afton,” in my English literature class in college three years ago. Indeed, the waters of Nickel Creek flow gently, a trait reflected in “Sweet Afton” and many other Nickel Creek staples. And that general lack of bite, paired with an almost robotic mastery of each band members’ respective instrument, pushed me away from the band.
So it was strange that, with no expectations and an arbitrarily negative perception of the classic folk band, I really enjoyed seeing Nickel Creek reunite in Washington, D.C. after a six-year hiatus. The show, in sum, was really, really good.
5 Reasons to Love/Hate the Internet
I was born in 1990. That puts me squarely in the middle of what is referred to as the millennial generation.
It also, apparently, makes me a lazy, entitled, narcissist who still lives with my parents.
But that’s beside the point. What’s more important about the date of my birth is that it places me at a distinct and pivotal point in human history: I grew up with the Internet — what they call a “digital native.”
I (vaguely) remember when the Internet got popular; having slow, dial-up that made lots of crazy noises whenever you wanted to use it; talking to other angsty teens on AOL Instant Messenger (“AIM”); downloading music on Napster and Kazaa; and then, slowly but surely, having the Internet became engrained in my everyday life as if it was there the whole time.
But, like the bratty sibling I grew up with (upon reflection, I was equally, if not more, bratty — #humility #perspective), I’ve recognized that I have a love/hate relationship with the Internet. It’s a game-changer for the human experience, so, like that sibling, I think I’ll always love it. But, for every positive, innovative element of the Internet there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Saving 40,000 Lives in Under 3 Minutes
How can we save 40,000 lives in under three minutes?
That question served as the provocative title of Israeli medic Eli Beer's TEDMED talk. Beer is the founder and president of Israel-based United Hatzalah (which is Hebrew for "rescue"), a rapid response team of 2,000 skilled volunteers — EMTs who range professionally from "expensive lawyers to people who sell fish or shoes," he said to CNN Health.
Beer answered his question this way, "The average response time of a traditional ambulance is 12 to 15 minutes — we reduce it to less than three minutes. Our response is the fastest in the world. We call our approach a lifesaving flash mob. On motorcycles, traffic doesn't stop us. Nothing does."
ICYMI: Brooklyn-Based Lucius' Vintage Pop Tunes Are A Must Listen
It seems rare these days to find an album where each song is valuable both individually and as part of the collective whole that makes up the record. Musicians are always telling us that they “don’t want to make just a few good singles with filler,” but few are able to fulfill those lofty intentions. Wilco did it on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, where the songs were different from themselves and anything Wilco had ever done in the past, and Animal Collective did it more recently on the 2009 album Merriweather Post Pavilion with the opposite approach: each song was unified by a cohesive and consistent sonic palette. Many point to Fleetwood Mac’s 11th studio album Rumours as another example, and there are surely others depending on one’s musical tastes.
But I think a newer, much lesser known group has entered that conversation, and they’ve done it on their first studio release, nonetheless. Brooklyn-based Lucius have managed to craft an album with diverse songs, catchy hooks, and really powerful vocals and harmonies stick in your head for days. There isn’t a song on their debut, Wildewoman, I want to skip through. Bob Boilen of NPR’s ‘All Songs Considered’ perhaps says it best when describing their EP: “If it were possible to wear out a digital file, then my copy of Lucius' self-titled 2012 EP would now be scattered digital bits.”
Noah and the Whale: Simple but Delightful Rock n' Roll
“I’ve always believed that there’s an amazing number of things you can do through a rock ‘n’ roll song,” Lou Reed, who just this past week passed away, once told the journalist Kristine McKenna.
English band Noah and the Whale take that observation and run with it. I had the opportunity of seeing the band live last week, and the show — and their sound — was simple, as nearly every rock song is, yet cathartic and delightful. It mixes elements of Reed and his sixties and seventies peers with Springsteen and sprinkles on touches of indie-folk that’s flourished over the last decade. And the results are marvelous.
ICYMI: Heavy Hearts on The Head and the Heart's Sophomore Release
Life is riddled with a smorgasbord of emotional highs, lows, tragedies, triumphs, and what might feel like monotony to fill in the gaps.
On the newest album from Seattle folk and Americana band The Head and the Heart, you can feel the wear and tear of a group who have simply experienced a lot and probably had little time to rest and reflect.
“When I think about the two records together, the first one feels like we all wanted to fulfill this dream we’d had about playing music, meeting people and traveling around,” drummer Tyler Williams told Sub Pop. “This one feels like the consequences of doing that — what relationships did you ruin? What other things did you miss? You always think it will all be perfect once you just do ‘this.’ And that’s not always the case.”
WATCH: The Head and the Heart's New Single Written in the Wake of the Newtown Tragedy
Seattle-based folk group The Head and the Heart released their newest single, "Another Story," off of their anticipated upcoming album, Let's Be Still. The song beautifully wrestles with the grief and confusion that struck the country during the chaos that followed the Newtown, Conn., shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Check it out below:
Sojo Stories: Marching Alongside a Civil Rights Hero
It may have taken a little bit of prodding — a little ‘you-want-me-to-do-what?’ and a lot of faith — but in the end, Congressman John Lewis agreed to go along with staffer Andrew Aydin’s out-of-the-box idea. The result: March (Book 1) — the first of a three-part graphic novel autobiography chronicling Lewis’ life and the Civil Rights Movement.
“The story of the movement that we tell is very much John Lewis’ story in this first book,” Aydin said. “It is a story of him growing up poor, on a farm, and it builds to a climax of the national sit-in movement.”
Lewis certainly has a lot to tell. He and other activists famously were beaten by police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., in 1965 during an attempted march for voting rights — an event that became known as “Bloody Sunday.” He served as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the height of the movement, spoke at the historic March on Washington alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and was instrumental in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Aydin, who co-wrote the book with Congressman Lewis, and illustrator Nate Powell sat down with Sojourners to explain how the series came about and why it is such an important story these 50 years later.
President Obama: ‘Trayvon Martin Could Have Been Me 35 Years Ago’
President Obama addressed the nation today regarding the George Zimmerman trial, giving his thoughts on the nation's response to the verdict and the state of racism in our society.
Folks understand the challenges that exist for African-American boys, but they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there’s no context for it or — and that context is being denied. And — and that all contributes, I think, to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.
You can read the full transcript of his speech here.
Animal Collective: ‘With It’
Oddly enough, whenever I think about eternal life, Animal Collective come to mind.
That might — well, almost certainly will — need some clarification because, as many Christians might be quick to point out, shouldn’t Jesus be the first person that comes to mind, or maybe living on some clouds in a golden city or something?
Yes and no. What comes to mind when I think about eternal life is painted by Frederick Buechner’s entry on the subject in his book Wishful Thinking, which I studied for a class in college. Buechner takes religious terms and eloquently and poetically explores what they might mean.
ICYMI: Vampire Weekend Wrestle with Faith ... Wait, Really?
Vampire Weekend are a little like a college-educated version of the rich young ruler in Mark 10. I say a little because, despite the fact that they have gotten flack for being “privileged, boat shoe and cardigan loving Ivy League graduates,” the New York-based foursome actually probably aren’t as wealthy as skeptics think, and the late 20-somethings probably haven’t been as straight edged as the rich young ruler. I mean, they’re rock stars. And even though they went to Columbia University, rock stars aren’t widely renowned for their moral rigidity.
But on Vampire Weekend’s third album, Modern Vampires of the City, which was released last month to critical acclaim and commercial success, we find lead singer Ezra Koenig asking honest questions of God, much like the young ruler.
On this album, the third in what Koenig sees as a trilogy, Vampire Weekend manage to mature their poppy, eclectic sound, drawing from all sorts of genres and international songs — as they normally do — but also exploring deep questions of morality, love, faith, and belief in complex ways.
Sojo Stories: Dirty Wars
Days before President Barack Obama's high-profile speech on drones and U.S. counterterrorism efforts, Sojourners sat down with investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill to take an inside look at U.S.-led covert wars and the drones that have become an integral part of our global “war on terror.”
"After years of traveling in these countries, I really believe that we’re creating more enemies than we’re killing.”
In some respects, drones are simply a new tool of old empire. Scahill, author of Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield and producer of the documentary of the same name, now in theaters, calls this an "unending war ... being legitimized under a popular Democratic president, who is a constitutional lawyer by trade.”
Indeed, within five years, the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq for terrorist attacks the country did not commit has transformed under the Obama administration into pre-emptive assassinations halfway around the world, for crimes citizens have not yet committed. The result, Scahill suggested, is our collective complicity to “unending war.”
DC 127: Flipping the Foster Care Waitlist
Jesus flips things upside down. DC 127 plans to follow suit.
The Washington, D.C.-based foster care initiative created by the District Church seeks to reverse the foster care waitlist in our nation’s capital, leaving parents waiting to foster the 3,000 children currently on the list instead of children waiting to be taken in by families.
“The heart behind DC 127 is to reflect God’s heart,” said District Church Lead Pastor Aaron Graham. “We believe there are no orphans in heaven. And Jesus taught us to pray, ‘your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ And so our prayer is that we would reflect God’s heart, who’s adopted us, by helping adopt and foster kids in D.C.”
The 2013 Sweetlife Festival: At the Intersection of Passion and Purpose
Passion and purpose.
Sounds familiar, huh? Those two words are at the heart of activism and social justice. I could have safely assumed that almost every young Christian activist at the Justice Conference in Philadelphia back in February was passionate about a particular purposeful cause. I’m surprised a Christian conference hasn’t already picked up on the whole passion and purpose thing for slogan or tag line.
Christian conferences aside, I never thought those two words would be the foundation of a cutting-edge music and food festival at Merriwewather Post Pavilion, and certainly not one where 18,000 people were jamming to some of their favorite artists and scurrying over to local food trucks for healthy, delicious food in between sets. Heck, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a festival that focuses on both music and food.
INFOGRAPHIC: The Racial Wealth Gap
Recent studies from both the Urban Institute and the Pew Forum tell the story of America's growing racial wealth gap. In the May issue of Sojourners magazine, Otis Moss III talked about the unjust trend:
The call of the church has been, and always will be, to become the compassionate hands and feet of Christ. Poverty, when attached to race, is the original sin of America, a country built by slave labor and enriched by the unfair labor practices of the Industrial Revolution.
Read the full piece HERE.
See the full infographic at the jump.
Stornoway: Hopeful and Honest
I first got wind of Stornoway back in 2011 when Izzy Westbury was president of the Oxford Union during the Michaelmas term of 2011 at Oxford University while studying abroad. The group of Oxford natives were Izzy’s favorite band at the time, and she made sure to give them a chance to play that I regretfully passed up to grab a pint with some friends.
So when the opportunity arose to see Stornoway in Washington, D.C., envelope myself in Oxford nostalgia, and enjoy some good tunes, I couldn’t pass it up.
And Stornoway delivered with hopeful, honest songs about life, love, and everything in between. Delightful is probably the best word to describe their music and the experience of seeing them live. It’s like taking a deep, refreshing breath. The British quartet mix elements of beach boys-esque pop with fleet foxes’ harmonies and a low fi, organic feel.
Sojo Stories: Immunizing 250 Million Children By 2015
According to UNICEF, 29,000 children under the age of five – 21 each minute – die every day, mainly from preventable diseases.
The GAVI Alliance, a public-private partnership aimed at increasing worldwide access to immunizations, has a goal of reaching 250 million children by 2015. Dr. Mercy Ahun, GAVI special representative in Geneva, sat down with Sojourners to discuss the role of faith-based organizations in helping reach those 250 million,and the role her own personal faith plays in her work.
“What really got me into public health is my time in the children’s wards. We were working with children who had preventable diseases,” Ahun said. “… I thought to myself, why should stay here waiting for the children to fall sick before they come to the hospital. It’s better actually to go out there and prevent this in the first place.”
Still A Believer: A Talk with Singer-Songwriter Nataly Dawn
A while back I had an opportunity to sit down and talk with up-and-coming singer-songwriter Nataly Dawn about faith and songwriting. Dawn grew up in France, went to Stanford for undergrad, and made it big on YouTube with a duo called Pomplamoose before signing with Nonesuch records and starting her solo work.
This interview was edited for length and content.
Nataly: I have to warn you, I’m in a little bit of a food coma; I just made a really big brunch. I had probably five pancakes.
Brandon: Wow. Impressive. That’s awesome.
Top 5 Earth Day Videos
Today is Earth day! More than 1 billion people in 192 countries are participating in Earth Day festivities, which means there must be some good videos out there on the Internet commemorating this occasion, right? Right. So here are the five of our favorites videos — in no particular order — celebrating the Earth and the day designated for it.
1. Where did Earth Day come from? Get some info about Earth Day.