Senior Associate Culture Editor

Jenna Barnett (@jennacbarnettis the senior associate culture editor at Sojourners and the host of the audio limited series 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, Texas Monthly, 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.

Some Sojourners articles by Jenna Barnett:


Brandi Carlile’s Radical Gospel of Gentleness
“What I'm talking about is radical, filthy, trembling, scary, life-changing, beautiful forgiveness,” the Grammy-winner told Sojourners in an interview.

Snorting Nutmeg at Vacation Bible School with Lucy Dacus
Her album Home Video could have just as easily been named “Youth Group” or maybe “Adventures in Suburbia.”


How Do We Recover When Our Leaders Betray Us?
Charismatic leaders like Jean Vanier can inspire our faith — or make it fall apart.

Let There Be Light
When sexual abuse occurred in their church, Rev. Heidi Hankel and her congregation refused to let it stay hidden.


Footprints in the Sand (Unedited)
Lord, when I needed you most, why were you snacking on Flamin' Hot Cheetos?

John the Baptist’s Recipe for Honey-Crisped Locusts
Once the locusts are as hot as a wealthy hypocrite burning in hell (about 200 degrees), add the honey.

Posts By This Author

Christian Wiman Pushes Back Against Despair

by Jenna Barnett 05-08-2024
 In “Zero at the Bone,” the lament is just as valuable as the sermon.
The image shows the book "Zero at the Bone" by Christian Wiman, which has a tan cover with an orange circle drawn on it.

Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

IN HIS LATEST book, Zero at the Bone: Fifty Entries Against Despair, Christian Wiman is not concerned with suspense. Two paragraphs into his first “entry against despair,” he discloses the fiercest nemesis of that tried-and-true doom and gloom. “The only true antidote to the plague of modern despair is an absolute — and perhaps even annihilating — awe,” he writes.

That’s probably why Wiman, writer, translator, and professor of communication arts at Yale Divinity School, begins Zero at the Bone by mining the wisdom of the world’s biggest experts on awe: children. His latest collection leans on the “visionary innocence” of a child “whose unwilled wonder erases any distinction between her days and her dreams.” Wiman has had daily access to two such visionaries: his twin daughters Eliza and Fiona.

Unfortunately, he has also had steady access to despair, most visibly through his 19-year battle with a rare, aggressive form of bone cancer. He is currently in remission.

14 Rachel Held Evans Quotes on Doubt and Other Key Parts of Christian Faith

by Jenna Barnett 05-03-2024

Rachel Held Evans, outside her home in Dayton, Tenn., in November 2014. Credit: Robin Rayne/ZUMA Wire/Alamy Live News

Sometimes I am haunted by Glennon Doyle’s forward to the late Rachel Held Evans’ book Searching for Sunday. Doyle begins: “Whenever I want to scare myself, I consider what would happen to the world if Rachel Held Evans stopped writing.” In 2019, about four years after those words were published, Evans died. She was 37, survived by her husband, two kids, and Christians around the world who found comfort in her faith-rooted advocacy for racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights, and egalitarianism.

From the Mouths of Babes and the Ears of Whales

by Jenna Barnett 03-27-2024
How do you respond to a 2-year-old who asks you what a soul is?
The illustration shows a whale tale sticking out of the ocean, and an ear, swimming as if it were a whale

Illustration by Melanie Lambrick 

LAST WINTER I woke up to 24 text messages on the family chain, which could only mean that someone had died, or someone was pregnant, or the San Antonio Spurs had finally decided to end their rebuild and trade four first-round draft picks for star point guard Trae Young. But I was wrong. My 2-year-old nephew Sébastien had asked his first theological question. The question arrived, according to my sister, around 6 a.m., an ungodly time for existential matters.

“What is a soul, mama?” Séb asked her. My nephew had been running through the lyrics of “Frosty the Snowman,” wondering what it meant to have a “jolly, happy soul.”

I FaceTimed my sister to learn more. “How did you respond?” I don’t have any kids — yet — so her anecdote was equal parts thrilling and terrifying.

Coming Out Doesn’t Have To Be a Horror Story

by Jenna Barnett 02-12-2024
On the rare media depictions of religious parents embracing their children's queerness.
The image shows two girls in pink, the one in the front is holding a small electric fan, and the one in the back is holding onto the other girls' arm.

From XO, Kitty

IN THE GEN-Z romance XO, Kitty, Netflix platformed an uncommonly tender father-daughter exchange. “I have feelings for my friend Yuri, who’s a girl,” says Kitty, an American attending high school in Seoul, Korea. Speaking to her father across continents and generations, she’s visibly nervous to come out. He’s nervous too, but only because his daughter called him in the middle of the night. “Oh, thank God,” he exhales. Confused, she asks, “Thank God I’m bi? Or pan? Or fluid?” He smiles. “Whatever pan or fluid is, thank God you’re safe and healthy.”

I realize it’s doubtful the father is literally engaging the divine here — I don’t even know if he’s Christian — but I’ll take what I can get. Depictions of religious parents embracing their children’s queerness are rare. Christian coming-out stories are usually serious dramas, not binge-worthy rom-coms.

Our Favorite Oscar-Nominated Films — And Where to Watch Them

by Jenna Barnett 02-09-2024

'Barbie,' Warner Bros.

The greatest single line in cinema of the past 12 months was delivered inside of a Barbie Dreamhouse.

Sojourners’ Best Books of 2023

by Jenna Barnett 12-08-2023

Graphic by Mitchell Atencio, Sojourners

Each book, whether subtly or overtly, shows readers how to build community in the face of both real and existential danger.

God, Please Pass Along This Message to My Pet

by Jenna Barnett 10-31-2023
Lessons in communicating with your cat via the Holy Spirit. 
The cartoon shows an orange cat and a blonde girl facing each other, sharing a speech bubble with a heart in it. But the speech bubble is torn, to signify that they can't communicate with traditional language.

Illustration by Melanie Lambrick 

AS A KID, I had a fraught relationship with my cat, Buddy. I know what you’re thinking: “Buddy?? What a basic name.” Well, I couldn’t agree more. I was 5 when we got him, and unfortunately, I was not trusted with the responsibility of choosing a name. To placate me, my parents told me I could come up with the middle name and the last name of the new cat (I don’t know why Buddy didn’t take on our family’s surname — “Buddy Barnett” has a nice ring to it). I christened him “Buddy Bear Donkey.”

Maybe that’s why Buddy hated me. His disdain for me was different from most cats’ aversion to small children. He didn’t run from me or hide beneath couches, both conventional and understandable responses to overzealous hugs. No, Buddy didn’t seek avoidance; he pursued revenge. The orange tabby cat sought me out when I was weakest: at 5 a.m., in my deepest slumber. He would climb on my bed, dip his deceptively cute head under the covers, and bite (not nibble!) my toes.

In the morning, I would find him so that we could make up. Hug it out. Ask him, “What had I done to deserve this?” But I couldn’t get through. I even watched The Aristocats, hoping I could learn something about Buddy. Perhaps, like the Duchess and her kittens, Buddy had a love of the piano. I played him my best rendition of “Hot Cross Buns.” (In retrospect, he might’ve been hoping for a more refined tune. Perhaps an arpeggio or some coffeehouse Norah Jones).

What Is Spiritual Abuse? And How Do We Heal From It?

by Jenna Barnett 08-09-2023
Healing from Spiritual Abuse

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

What is spiritual abuse in the church and how do we heal from it? Spiritual abuse is “a distortion and exploitation of spiritual authority to manipulate, control, use, or harm others, mostly through shame and fear,” Rachael Clinton Chen told Sojourners. The warning signs of spiritual abuse include intolerance for questions and doubts and using the Bible to arouse fear. Healing from spiritual abuse will be possible with time, therapy, and truth-telling among people who are known and trusted.

As the World Cup Kicks Off, U.S. Women’s Soccer Has Already Won

by Jenna Barnett 07-10-2023
These women know how to ball — and show us that true patriotism includes challenging our countries to do better.
An illustration of a soccer ball with an American flag all over its surface. It's on the ground of a completely white background.

aboost / iStock

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

by Jenna Barnett 06-03-2023
Talk about putting on the armor of God.
An illustration of several git items (from article) on a light green background: a red bandana with white patterning, one blue Birkenstock sandal, a green candle, a blue tattoo engraving pen, a white lily, and perfume in a round pink bottle.

Illustration by Melanie Lambrick

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

by Jenna Barnett 06-02-2023
Sober Spirituality allows nuance toward drinking while outlining its real bodily and spiritual dangers.
The cover for the book ‘Sober Spirituality’ features the title in block white text among layered thin waves of yellow, pink, green, and blue. The book is floating at an angle against a steel blue backdrop.

Sober Spirituality: The Joy of a Mindful Relationship with Alcohol, by Erin Jean Warde, Brazos Press

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

by Jenna Barnett 04-21-2023

Original photo by Arturo Rey via Unsplash. Graphic by Mitchell Atencio/Sojourners

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!)

by Jenna Barnett 02-24-2023
You'll need 100 percent real wild honey. Only the best will do for our Lord.
An illustration of crickets being grilled with globs of honey in a gray pot over a blazing fire.

Illustration by Melanie Lambrick

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

by Jenna Barnett 12-27-2022
Is he singing about Jesus or ...?
A teenage girl holds her boyfriend around the waist from behind, while the boyfriend hugs a golden cross from the front.

Illustration by Melanie Lambrick

“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?

by Jenna Barnett 12-27-2022
Charismatic leaders like Jean Vanier can inspire our faith — or make it fall apart.
A cropped picture of Jean Vanier's eyes, his face fractured with thick red lines. A photo of members of the L'Arche community is superimposed over his forehead.

Illustration by Mark Lucien Harris / Archival photos from L'Arche International

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?

by Jenna Barnett 09-30-2022
A quiz.
Two people illustrated in a cartoon style are dressed in workout clothes and sit on a bench under a glass window; between the two of them is the word "Blessed" with a red heart below it. A third passer-by stares at these two people.

Illustration by Melanie Lambrick

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

by Jenna Barnett 09-12-2022
Mary Oliver quotes about geese

Silhouettes of flying geese at soft colored sky. Photo: olandsfokus / Alamy

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?

by Jenna Barnett 08-23-2022

A girl shaving her glitter covered face. By Victoria Alexandrova via Unsplash

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

by Jenna Barnett 07-08-2022

Photo by Kashish Lamba on Unsplash

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)

by Jenna Barnett 06-29-2022
Steer their karts into a banana peel, causing them to swirl off the edge of Rainbow Road.
Illustration of a video-game avatar in a kart sliding on a banana peel off Rainbow Road

Illustration by Melanie Lambrick

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:

Psalm 1
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.