Jenna Barnett is the senior associate culture editor at Sojourners and the host of the audio miniseries Lead Us Not. She was born in San Antonio and lives in San Diego. She has a B.A. in sociology and religion from Furman University and an M.F.A in Literary Reportage from New York University.
Before joining the Sojo team, Jenna managed the International Rescue Committee’s urban gardens in San Diego, and worked as a writer for the Women PeaceMakers Program at the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice.
She has written for McSweeney’s, the Belladonna, and New York Magazine’s Grub Street. You’re likely to find her playing basketball, watching women’s soccer, eating homemade flour tortillas, or taking her time in Scrabble.
Posts By This Author
What Is Spiritual Abuse? And How Do We Heal From It?
As director of teaching and care at The Allender Center, which offers care and training to help people heal from trauma, Rachael Clinton Chen knows that abuse has many forms. And when sexual violence is committed by a faith leader, it’s often accompanied by another form of violence that’s harder to define: spiritual abuse.
As the World Cup Kicks Off, U.S. Women’s Soccer Has Already Won
IN THE SUMMER OF 2019, I fulfilled one of my childhood dreams: I cheered from the stands as the U.S. Women’s National Team won the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.
This summer, I’ll be traveling to New Zealand and Australia to watch the team compete to win a third straight World Cup, a feat never before accomplished. I loved every moment of the 2019 tournament — the clutch penalty kicks and the cheeky goal celebrations — but two of my favorite moments came right after the final whistle blew.
The crowd of 57,900, which had been loud the whole game, got even louder.
The first chant was an easy and obvious way to cheer on the new champs: “USA! USA! USA!” I said it a couple times, but not with much gusto. It felt weird. If I said those letters, I wondered, what exactly was I cheering on? Just the team? Or also the U.S. president (at the time, Donald Trump) and his administration’s policies?
Fortunately, the chant shifted to one I could get behind wholeheartedly. As FIFA president Gianni Infantino, head of the international soccer governing body, walked to center field to begin the trophy ceremony, people around me started chanting: “EQUAL PAY! EQUAL PAY! EQUAL PAY!” Drummers behind the goal line punctuated the sound. Within seconds, the whole stadium had joined in.
At the time, a top-performing player on the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) earned only 38 percent of what was earned by a top-performing player on the U.S. Men’s National Team. But as of 2022, the USWNT signed a collective bargaining agreement with the U.S. Soccer Federation that ensures that the national women’s team will be paid at the same rate for game appearances and tournament victories as the men. With this agreement, the U.S. team is setting a powerful global example.
A Gift (and Survival) Guide for Jesus Feminists
THERE'S NEVER A bad time to show a woman you value that she’s a woman of valor. But there are bad gifts. Just because your favorite Jesus feminist loves Mary Oliver, for instance, doesn’t mean you should gift her a wild goose — no matter how harsh and exciting the goose may be. Also, do not arrange a telegram delivered to her by a man dressed in a gazelle outfit reading the Song of Songs; her parents might be over for Sunday dinner! And I can’t emphasize this enough: Do not gift her an animatronic infant in a basket floating down a river. I learned that one the hard way.
But don’t worry, there are plenty of other options:
The Joy and Terror of Quitting Alcohol
SOBER SPIRITUALITY by Erin Jean Warde is ultimately an invitation for readers to ask themselves, “How do I want to be in a relationship with alcohol?” Warde, an ordained Episcopal priest, spiritual director, and sobriety coach, asked this question of herself years ago. She ultimately chose sobriety but realizes that won’t be where everyone lands. And Warde also wants the whole church, not just individuals, to engage this question.
Because, according to Warde, the church’s current relationship with alcohol is pretty toxic — especially in progressive churches. Progressive denominations often work to distinguish themselves from fundamentalism and much of white evangelicalism, communicating, “Yes, we’re Christian, but not that type of Christian” — not the type that is hostile to immigrants and bars women and LGBTQ people from the pulpit.
But one of the ways progressive churches have signaled this distinction, Warde argues, is harmful: “by illustrating how much they drink or that they drink at church.” Events like “Beer & Hymns” or “Theology on Tap” come to mind. This type of laid-back programming quickly communicates to newcomers that the host church isn’t dogmatic or old-fashioned. But it sends a different message to people who are sober or sober curious. “The common refrain of ‘all are welcome’ must ring true when a person changes their relationship with alcohol,” Warde writes.
The Pros and Cons of Twitter Blue for Me, Jesus, Son of God
Given my preferential option for the poor, would it seem kinda hypocritical of me to pay a billionaire for a blue check mark?
RECIPE: John the Baptist's Signature Honey-Crisped Locusts (Yum!)
TODAY I WANTED to take the time to spotlight a recipe from my forthcoming book, Appetizers to Prepare the Way: Not the Main Course, but Still Pretty Cool.
Now, Honey-Crisped Locusts are delightful to eat year-round (God knows I do!), but they are most satisfying on an early spring day. Just imagine it: You ask some
followers friends to meet you by the river. The air is still too cold for a jaunty baptismal dip, but it’s perfect for a picnic. You lay out your camel-hair picnic blanket, which took you two years to knit, and invite your friends to sit down. Then you reach into your (also) camel-hair knapsack, and one of your friends says, “Heck yeah! Did you bring us some bread and wine?” And you say, “Never! I’ve brought something better!” You hand each of them three honey-soaked locusts. Undoubtedly overcome with joy, your friends are at a loss for words, so speechless that they don’t talk to you for the rest of the picnic. The perfect day.
That Time a Jesus-is-my-Boyfriend Mix CD Broke My Heart
“I’m getting into you / Because you got to me in a way words can’t describe.”
WHEN I FIRST heard these lyrics in the early 2000s, I was smitten. I pressed the soft foam of my headphones against my ears to better hear the lyrics of Relient K. My crush, who we’ll call “Jamie,” had chosen this song as track one on the mix CD he burned for me. Near the top of the CD, he sharpied the name of the song: “GETTING INTO YOU” (emphasis Jamie’s).
Surely this was confirmation that Jamie didn’t just like me as a classmate — he was, as Paramore sang it best, into me. But I was naïve; I was mainline; I interpreted Relient K’s lyrics romantically when I should have approached them hermeneutically. Reader, I was so Presbyterian Church (USA) that I had never heard of the PCA. I knew there was an old rugged cross on a hill, but I’d never heard of Hillsong.
How Do We Recover When Our Leaders Betray Us?
THIS IS ONE way to tell the founding story of L’Arche:
The main character is a sailor-turned-ethicist named Jean Vanier. The son of the governor general of Canada, he was, as his biographer Anne-Sophie Constant wrote, “a child of privilege, he had danced with princesses, dined with politicians and philosophers, and circled the world twice.”
As the story goes, Vanier gave all that up in 1964 when his spiritual mentor, Thomas Philippe, a Dominican priest, took him on a tour of the psychiatric facility where Philippe was a chaplain. There, Vanier discovered, as he put it, “an immense world of pain.” This is not an exaggeration: At the time, asylums, which were notorious for overcrowding and abuse, functioned more as prisons than treatment centers. Inside these walls, Vanier heard an invitation — from Jesus and the men with intellectual disabilities — to do something.
So Vanier bought a broken-down house in Trosly, France, and invited two men from the mental institution to live with him. He named the home “L’Arche,” French for “The Ark,” a biblical symbol of protection in a storm-tossed world. Vanier traveled around the globe to tell the story of their life together, and soon L’Arche communities sprouted up in Canada, India, Australia, Haiti, and beyond — a constellation of communities where adults with and without intellectual disabilities have aspired to live, work, pray, and play together as equals. L’Arche became integral to the movement for the deinstitutionalization of people with intellectual disabilities, and Vanier became a best-selling Christian writer and hero to all of us looking to practice a faith that prioritized those on the margins.
When he was introduced to give lectures, Vanier often said, “I feel uncomfortable when people say nice things about me.” Yet the world had lots of nice things to say, bestowing upon Vanier countless awards, including the French Legion of Honor, the Companion of the Order of Canada, and the Templeton Prize. But for me, a certain 2010 accolade feels the most poignant: Astrophysicist C.J. Krieger discovered an asteroid and named it after Vanier. Vanier is above us; Vanier spins on a different celestial plane than the rest of us.
Before he died, Vanier was often called a living saint. Upon his death in 2019, Pope Francis sent his sympathies, asking Jesus to welcome Vanier into heaven as his faithful servant. It’s the type of eulogizing that you expect for someone who saw beauty and divinity where others saw shame and destitution.
It’s an inspiring story that changed thousands of lives: At the time of Vanier’s death, there were 147 L’Arche communities in 37 countries, home to approximately 10,000 people with intellectual disabilities. The protagonist of the story also saved my faith, showing me how Christianity is capable of destabilizing dangerous institutions, rocking the boat, building new arks.
Unfortunately, it’s a bad story.
Neighborhood Gym or Nondenominational Church?
IT'S HARD TO tell whether Southern California, where I live, holds more nondenominational churches or neighborhood gyms. Sometimes, it’s even hard to tell whether a facility is a nondenominational church or a fitness center. At both the church and the gym, you are likely to encounter over-enthusiastic greeters in the foyer. And as you proceed farther into either type of institution, you’ll begin to hear vaguely inspiring pop-rock music. (Are the lyrics love songs to your boyfriend, to Jesus, or to an unrealistic projection of your future self? It’s hard to say — that’s the genius of it.) As you arrive in the back of these buildings, you’ll see a shared main attraction: a vivacious man in expensive sneakers urging you to strive for greatness, push through the pain, and please, please, please bring your friend with you next time. The websites of both the gyms and the churches will promise you a “no judgment zone” where “all are welcome.” Pretty good chance both are lying to you. But there’s free child care!
The biggest similarity of all between nondenom churches and neighborhood gyms? Their names: They will usually be one word long: Arise, Equinox, Crossroads. Likely, the names could also serve as code words for MDMA or WWE wrestlers’ stage names: The Rock, The Renegade, Saddleback.
Below are the names of gyms and churches. See if you can rise to the challenge, push through the pain, and determine which names belong to churches and which ones belong to gyms that I can’t afford.
10 Quotes From Mary Oliver, the Patron Saint of Paying Attention
Mary Oliver often explored big existential questions with the unlikeliest of philosophical partners: moss, roses, geese, dogs, waves. They all had interesting things to say to her. In a 2015 interview with Krista Tippett, Oliver explained that there is nothing more interesting to her than spirituality. “So I cling to it,” she said. “I have no answers, but have some suggestions.” Her poems are riddled with those suggestions. Here are some of my favorites
O Solitary Chin Hair, Where Art Thou?
What gives this smooth-faced woman the right to teach me something from the Bible? Fear not! I have a single hair sprouting from my chin.
An Ode to the God Beat
Compiling Weekly Wrap is sort of like going on a literary scavenger hunt for meaningful faith angles. And folks, there’s always a faith angle.
Psalms: Revised and Updated (NSFW)
IN HER RECENT article “Praying the Imprecatory Psalms Is an Act of Nonviolence,” Liz Cooledge Jenkins explains that the imprecatory psalms of the Hebrew Bible “demand that God exact judgment against evildoers.” These psalms are particularly ... colorful. Take Psalm 35, for example:
Let ruin come on them unawares.
And let the net that they hid ensnare them;
let them fall in it—to their ruin.
In comparison to other imprecatory psalms, the above is fairly sanitized. Often in these verses, the psalmist calls for teeth-breaking, infant murder, and widow-making. To be honest, I’ve struggled to read them. My privileged life has left me with few enemies worth cursing and scant violence to avenge. But I realize that many people of faith—especially those living under oppression’s boot—may find a certain catharsis in these psalms as they imagine God judging the truly hurtful people and powers of the world. “In praying these psalms,” writes Cooledge Jenkins, “we process our rage and give our violent impulses over to God.” One problem, though: The curses in the imprecatory psalms are a bit dated and unrelatable. I’ve gone to the trouble of updating them for modernity. For your consideration:
O Lord, may the iPhone of the slumlord in Crown Heights fall into a toilet of his own urine. May a single AirPod follow quickly behind.
Footprints in the Sand (Unedited)
ONCE I HAD a dream that I was walking along the beach with my Lord. I felt self-conscious about wearing a two-piece swimsuit, but I didn’t know the Lord was going to be at Rehoboth Beach during spring break.
God said, Don’t worry about it, Jenna. Purity culture is so 2008.
Suddenly, scenes of my life flashed before me along the shoreline. I looked back at the footprints in the sand. In most scenes, there were two sets of footprints: Mine and God’s. God is a size 8.5 and has high arches, in case you were wondering. But then I noticed something troubling. At many of the hard times in my life, there was only one set of footprints.
When I needed you the most, why did you leave me? I asked God, with more sass than I’d like to admit. God whispered something in return, but I couldn’t hear the words. It’s really loud at the beach, and there was a sand volleyball game nearby. So then God yelled, I never left you! When you saw only one set of footprints, that was when I carried you.
I was so relieved. Sorry for the mix-up, I said to God. I also wear size 8.5, so I was confused.
But then I noticed something even more troubling.
Christianity Today and the Sacred Work of Documentation
As a journalist in the religion and social justice realm, two stories dominated my newsfeed this week: Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine and sexual harassment at Christianity Today. Both reinforced to me the power of documentation.
Six Unintentionally Perfect Songs for Lent
Lent is the angstiest season of the liturgical calendar: Jesus in the desert with the devil; us sitting with our sin and mortality. So below you’ll find six songs to accompany you this brooding, contemplative season. Soon, Easter will roll around and bring with it upbeat resurrection bops, but for now, the tunes are appropriately emo — at least lyrically.
How Do You Memorialize One Million U.S. Pandemic Deaths?
Last year, Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg, a social practice artist, created In America: Remember — a vast field of flags on the national mall, one for each American who died from COVID-19. Visitors, both in-person and digitally, had the opportunity to dedicate a flag by writing a message on the while poly film. When the installation began in mid-September of 2021, there were 666,624 deaths. When the installation closed in early October, there were 701,133 deaths. As of this week, nearly 1 million people have died of COVID-19 in the United States, 6 million globally. As we try to grapple with the weight of these fatalities, we’re revisiting an interview from late October 2021 between Firstenberg and Sojourners associate culture editor Jenna Barnett, in which they discuss what it looks like to honor grief and memorialize an ongoing pandemic.
Ikea Explains Religious Deconstruction
ALLOW ME TO introduce myself: I’m IKEA, an expert in DIY construction and deconstruction, here to explain a recent religious phenomenon. According to a 2021 Relevant magazine article, Christianity is in “the age of deconstruction.” “Through deconstruction,” explains writer Kurtis Vanderpool, “we are able to find the good and the helpful parts of our faith upbringing, while reshaping or throwing out the unhelpful.” But there is a problem! While the exvangelicals on Twitter are obsessed with deconstruction, “most people you will find in church are uncomfortable with deconstruction,” says Vanderpool.
You may be thinking, “Is an enormous warehouse full of good-enough furniture really equipped to explain a sensitive theological process? No offense, IKEA, but did you even go to seminary?” No, I didn’t. But nondenominational churches often pay me thousands of dollars to host massive lock-ins and I overhear A LOT of really bad theology as youth pastors, groggy chaperones, and sugar-faced youth groups play hide-and-seek in my showrooms. (I’m pretty sure I didn’t dream this.)
Priests We Arrest, Priests We Don't
As part of the Catonsville Nine, the rebel priest Daniel Berrigan joined eight other Catholic activists in setting fire to hundreds of draft files with homemade napalm. It was 1968 and he was protesting the Vietnam War. The way he evaded prison was perhaps as memorable as the crime he committed.
Man Plans, Cats Laugh: What Our Editors Are Reading
On New Year’s Eve, exactly five cats cuddled on Starlink user Aaron Taylor’s dish, slowing down his movie-streaming experience. “Starlink works great until the cats find out that the dish gives off a little heat on cold days,” he wrote in a now viral tweet.