James is a former campaigns assistant (Intern Cycle 28) for Sojourners, and currently works as assistant to the CEO, Jim Wallis. He grew up outside of Chicago in Wheaton, IL, and graduated from Hope College (Holland, MI) in 2011 with a degree in political science. At Hope, he was able to pursue his passion for social justice, as well as study the effects of religion on social and political life. However, it was through his church in Holland that he began to learn about community and what it means to be a good neighbor.In his spare time, he enjoys breaking a sweat by running and bicycling, or playing ultimate frisbee, football, tennis, and basketball. He is inspired by good music, creative cafés, and thriving farmers markets. He serves as a utility musician on his church’s music team, but enjoys playing regular, old pianos the most. Even though East Coast beaches are nice, none of them compare to the ones on the west coast of Michigan.You can follow James on Twitter at @JamesColten.
Posts By This Author
'I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You:' Album Review
It’s been twenty years since I rose and cleared my throat
It’s been ten years since stood outside the church
- Derek Webb, I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You
The first verse of the first song on the Derek Webb’s new album is a recap of his music career, from Caedman’s Call in the 90s to his solo career launched with She Must and Shall Go Free (2003). Since that first solo album, Webb has pushed all sorts of buttons in the church and the “Christian” music world. From albums Stockholm Syndrome (2009) to Sola Mi (2012) and Ctrl (2012), he’s pushed his own musical boundaries and themes, incorporating elements of hip-hop and electronica and veering away from his gospel-country-folk roots.
I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You releases today across the country. While you can buy the album online, it is also at a number of Christian retailers for only $4.99 (an unbelievable deal, I must say). It is a return to those gospel-country-folk roots while still embracing all he’s learned in the past 10 years of a solo career. The bright guitar sounds return alongside mellow synthesizers, and for some songs, a crowd-sourced chorus.
But more important than the sounds are the lyrics. They’re not snarky or sarcastic like earlier records Mockingbird and The Ringing Bell, but still raw and personal.
Ultimate Passion: Q&A With Ultimate Frisbee Star Brodie Smith
It’s almost impossible to talk about Christians in sports without talking about Tim Tebow (case in point). But there’s another University of Florida grad who has gained attention from another sport — Ultimate Frisbee.
Unlike mainstream sports like baseball and football (and futbol), Ultimate is a relatively new sport. In fact, it is not much older than Sojourners, as it was reportedly invented in 1968 (Sojourners was founded in ’71). And like Sojourners, it has gained momentum through word of mouth to the point that it is a nationally recognized sport.
Even with the infiltration of high school sports, college teams, and semi-professional clubs, Ultimate is, for the most part, faceless, with the exception of one man: Brodie Smith. Smith grew to be a nationally recognized Ultimate player through his Youtube trick shot videos.
'The Convert' Comes to Washington, D.C.
Next week, The Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company will premiere The Convert, a play by Off-Broadway Theater Awards-winning playwright, Danai Gurira.
The Convert is set in late 19th Century Southern Africa (modern-day Zimbabwe). The play follows Jekesai, “a young girl who escapes village life and a forced marriage arrangement, ultimately discovering Christianity under the guidance of an African teacher. However, as anti-colonial sentiments rise to a boiling point, Jekesai must choose between her new European God and the spirits of her ancestors. … The Convert examines complex cultural and religious collisions that shaped the post-colonial world, the reverberations of which are still felt in Zimbabwe today.”
I had the opportunity to talk to actress Dawn Ursula, who plays Prudence in The Convert. She was also named one of DC’s top 12 actors / actresses by the Washington Post.
What Are You Singing: What Child Is This / Child of the Poor
“What Child is This,” written by William C. Dix in 1865 is one of the few Christmas carols I know of that does not have its own musical arrangement. It uses the tune, “Greensleeves” (a traditional English folk song, thought to have been written in the late 16th or early 17th century), which when paired with Dix’s lyrics creates a haunting and beautiful image of the birth of our Lord.
There’s another song that’s less well-known titled “Child of the Poor,” written by Scott Soper (published in 1994). The counter melody blends stunningly with the melody of “What Child is This.” Reading the lyrics, side by side, gives me chills. In part, because it reminds me that hope is found in low places — God could’ve chosen to be raised in comfort (as Moses was). The cross was only the finale of Jesus’ discomfort. “Child of the Poor” honors the death and discomfort we often don’t want to think about while we’re sitting around the fire drinking cocoa.
What Are You Singing: Good King Wenceslas
When I go home for Christmas, I always end up pulling out the old Christmas songbook from inside the piano bench and working my way through while my mom cooks dinner. I don’t really read the music as much as I read the chords and play by ear. Good King Wenceslas is a beautiful song musically, but is one of the most fun songs to play because of the never-ending chord changes.
I never really considered what the song was about, being raised in a school system that taught of the tyranny of monarchies and the Revolutionary War. Medieval leaders ruled in an age of knights, castles, and oppressed peasants. But then there was Wenceslas (who I now know was the Duke of Bohemia).
What About Them?
All this talk about the three Israelis killed by Gaza rockets …
What about the fifteen Palestinians killed by Israeli bombs?
If I were inclined to give mathematical value to people based on the media coverage I watched on “Fox & Friends” this morning, I would come to this conclusion:
3 Israelis > 15 Palestinians
I don’t think God sees it that way. To God, all human life is equally precious.
I saw a photo showing an Israeli holding a blood-covered, critically injured 8-month-old baby.
There’s another photo of a man, Jihad Masharawi, clutching his 11-month-old son on today’s Washington Post front page. Jihad is a Palestinian and a BBC Correspondent. He lives in Gaza. I presume he has a wife, with whom he had his son, Omar.
Omar was killed.
It is one of the great tragedies of war that the innocents on both sides suffer.
My Vote Was Stolen
What does it feel like to have your vote stolen?
It sucks. It feels like someone literally let all the air out of my balloon animal.
Late in September, I happily filled out my absentee ballot request form to the DuPage Election Commission. Illinois had a new measure that allows for anyone to request an absentee ballot. I expected for there to be a delay.
So I waited.
And I waited some more.
Faith, the Poor, and Politics: A New Album by Josh Schicker
I couldn’t resist: I heard that a singer/songwriter in Atlanta was coming out with an album titled, Faith, the Poor, and Politics. Josh Schicker currently serves as Worship Leader in Mission at North Avenue Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. He’s also an accomplished musician, recording songs and performing at Eddie’s Attic most recently.
Faith, the Poor, and Politics is both catchy and contemplative. It’s spiritual but not in-your-face religious; personal, but not isolated from community. Below, you can read his thoughts on the album and other things in the realm of faith, politics, and culture.
Sudanese Peace Activist Beaten in South Sudan
Emmanuel Jal—South Sudanese pop musician, rapper, and peace activist—was beaten and robbed this past weekend by Police in Juba, South Sudan (Rolling Stone). Jal, a former child soldier, was in his homeland promoting an upcoming concert on International Peace Day in two weeks.
“At approximately 9:30pm, Emmanuel was en route to the Gatwich guesthouse in the outskirts of Juba when he was stopped by police and robbed of his mobile phone. Imminent not to use violence, he was repeatedly beaten by 5 police and national security officers until he eventually lost consciousness."
First Official Sojourners Fantasy Football Guide
You know it is football season when the office starts grumbling about the offensive name of the local football team, or when co-workers start asking, "What ever happened to Tim Tebow?" Still others, "What is fantasy football?"
Politics aside, I went ahead and compiled a little fantasy team for Sojourners, featuring both prominent and less-prominent Christians thriving in the NFL. So if you own a fantasy football team, or are starting one for the first time, here are some picks to help inject some strong faith in your team. (I don’t get paid to do football analysis so take this for what it’s worth).
Will Alabama’s Governor Listen to the Faith Community?
Over the past few weeks, Christians have written Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley asking him to stop the immoral practices that plague the state’s criminal justice institutions. This incredible outcry from the faith community demonstrates their outrage at stories of people in poverty spending days, weeks, and months in jail over their inability to pay fees and fines to private companies contracted to administer parts of Alabama’s system.
When contacted by Sojourners for a response to the thousands of messages received from people of faith about this issue, Jeremy King, spokesman for Gov. Bentley’s office responded, "We can review this issue and move forward from there."
Loving our Muslim Neighbors
A few weeks ago, we asked you to sign a petition asking the Department of Justice to investigate hate crimes against the Islamic Society of Joplin’s mosque. Federal officials are offering $15,000 for information leading to the man who set the mosque on fire July 4th.
Beau Underwood wrote for Sojourners two weeks ago: “The biblical call to love our neighbors as ourselves requires Christians to speak out against these attacks. By protecting the rights of American Muslims to worship in the United States, we provide a powerful witness to those countries where Christian minorities face attack and persecution, such as Nigeria, Egypt, Somalia, and Kenya. If we expect others to take our advocacy for global religious freedom seriously, then our efforts must begin in our own backyard.”
More than 5,500 of you signed this petition, which is incredible! But we don’t have to stop there.
Rally to Restore Balance to the Budget Debate
A few weeks ago, members of the House spoke out against the House Agriculture Committee’s vote to cut SNAP benefits to working class Americans. On Wednesday, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) rallied on the Senate-side to restore balance to the budget debate and avoid sequestration in conjunction with a report on the effects of such cuts.
The premise of the current debate is that all the cuts have to come from the non-military, discretionary budget. Harkin reported that since we last had a balanced budget (Clinton-era), discretionary funds have risen 0 percent as opposed to a 73 percent increase in the Pentagon budget.
We have two sets of rules, he said. One set for the rich, and another set for the rest of America. This equals out to tax cuts for the rich and budget cuts for the poor and middle class.
Arizona “Papers Please” Law Faces New Challenge
Last month, the Supreme Court struck down three of the four provisions of SB 1070, Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant law. Now civil rights groups are going after the remaining provision—what many call, the “show me your papers” or “papers please” clause.
Of concern to these groups, along with many leaders in the faith community, is that the law will lead to people being targeted by law enforcement solely because of their race. As Luis Gutierrez (D – Ill.) explains:
"For our young C-SPAN [viewers]: Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez … have overcome their very different national origins and became apparently a happy couple. I’m sure Justin helped Gomez learn all about American customs and feel more at home in her adopted country.
"Oh wait a minute, I’m sorry," he continued. "Because I’m not a trained Arizona official, I somehow got that backwards. Actually, Ms. Gomez, of Texas, has helped Mr. Bieber, of Canada, learn all about his adopted country. Justin, when you perform in Phoenix, remember to bring your papers."
Cuts to Hunger Programs Threaten Children and Families
Anti-poverty advocates and members of Congress are speaking out against proposed cuts to anti-hunger programs being considered in the broader political tussle over the Farm Bill. Over ten congressional representatives, including Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), joined a rally denouncing.
Next Steps toward Immigration Reform
After announcing the Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform, Sojourners asked Christians across the country to add their endorsement. More than 10,000 people have now signed their name!
Faithful Alternatives to the Sequester
Today the Interreligious Working Group on Domestic Human Needs (DHN) presented a forum for congressional representatives to talk about a more faithful response to the pending sequester this upcoming January.
Sequestration as we know it was meant to be a last resort – if Congress could not agree on a budget, then programs would be cut, or sequestered, across the board. The problem with the current sequestration agreement is that it does not protect programs that affect the poor, uninsured, and unemployed.
Crowds Erupt in Praise as Obama Announces Immigration Policy Change
Dreams came alive today as President Obama granted relief to thousands of undocumented students. While the decision does not create a pathway to citizenship, it eliminates the threat of deportation for many unauthorized students and makes them eligible for work permits.
Sponsored by Casa de Maryland, a number of organizations—Amnesty International, Jews United for Justice, 32BJ SEIU, National Council of La Raza, and the National Gay & Lesbian Taskforce—participated in a rally in front of the White House to celebrate the president’s announcement.
Hundreds Protest Alabama Immigration Law
Hundreds of Alabamians gathered at the state Capitol grounds after their legislators passed HB 658, a harsher version of now infamous anti-immigrant HB56.
HB658 calls for the creation of an online public database to expose individuals’ identities. The database would list the names of all undocumented immigrants who have appeared in court. In addition, the law targets innocent children by requiring schools to check the immigration status of students. It is both reckless and morally indefensible.
Voices for Cleaner Air
WOW! More than 3,000 of you submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency regarding their proposed carbon regulation. Thank you for your heartfelt letters and remarks in support of this rule -- read some of them below! Why are people supporting the EPA carbon rule? Faith, health, science, family, you name it. Below you’ll find some samples from Sojourners members.