Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove directs the School for Conversion in Durham, N.C. He is a member of the National Steering Committee of The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival and author of Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom From Slaveholder Religion.

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Freedom Summer Volunteers Inspired by More than Just Idealism

Heather Booth plays guitar for Fannie Lou Hamer during the Freedom Summer, Mississippi, 1964. Creative Commons:Wallace Roberts.

On June 2, 1964, while hundreds of Freedom Summer volunteers were still finishing their training in Oxford, Ohio, three civil rights workers went missing in Neshoba County, Miss.

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee field secretary Bob Moses was charged with leading the project that would organize poor, black Mississippians to challenge the power structure of the South and upset the Democratic National Convention.

Moses knew from his experience in Mississippi that James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman, who had left the day before to investigate a church burning in Philadelphia, Miss., would never be found alive. Moses’ responsibility that evening was to tell the young recruits who planned to spend their summer registering voters in Mississippi that they could meet the same end.

What happened next surprised some. In small circles, the young volunteers sat and talked. Soon, they started singing.

Botched Oklahoma Execution Reveals Self-Deception

Courtesy of OK.gov

Courtesy of OK.gov

At 6:23 p.m. yesterday, the state of Oklahoma initiated its effort to kill Clayton D. Lockett. Twenty minutes later, after being declared unconscious by a physician, Lockett cried out, "Oh, man," writhing in pain. Addled by this unexpected display of pain, one of the executioners said, "Something’s wrong." Soon after, the window to the observation room was covered and media were escorted out of the room.

A state official later reported that Mr. Lockett died of a heart attack at 7:06pm.

The fact that this unexpected scene was preceded by months of arguments by lawyers about the constitutionality of resuming executions in Oklahoma guarantees that a debate about the death penalty will ensue. Those who have argued that this ultimate form of punishment is "cruel and unusual" will make last nights scene their case in point. The Governor of Oklahoma has already declared that a thorough investigation of what went wrong will take place before any other executions go forward. Privately, in conversations at home and on their computers, many will say, "Did he suffer? Sure. But why shouldn’t he after what he did." Most national polls show that support for vs. opposition to the death penalty is about 50/50. Both sides will have plenty of people to argue.

But I think it would be the greatest of tragedies if we did not notice that what happened in Oklahoma last night reveals perhaps our deepest national self-deception — that, no matter what goes wrong, we will fix it because we are in control.

'Forward Together, Not One Step Back!'

A grassroots resistance movement emerges in North Carolina.

(STILLFX / Shutterstock)

THOSE WHO BELIEVE in freedom and work for justice in our world sometimes grow nostalgic about the 1960s in this country, looking back at the leadership that emerged from African-American churches in the South, drawing allies from outside the region and beyond the bounds of creed. America has a vivid, living memory of faith inspiring public justice. But the civil rights movement did not just happen. The March on Washington and Selma were moments in history made possible by movements that grew out of hard work over the course of decades.

This summer in North Carolina, “Moral Mondays” at the state General Assembly have drawn thousands of weekly protesters, more than 800 of whom have been arrested for engaging in mass civil disobedience. A few weeks into the campaign, some elders started saying it felt like the ’60s all over again. The Washington Post highlighted NAACP state chapter president Rev. William Barber’s dynamic preaching. The New York Times pointed to the significance of hundreds of clergy uniting to lead the movement. MSNBC andFox News set up their satellite trucks. Week after week, thousands of people kept coming.

When reporters asked why, participants explained the concerns: 500,000 people denied health care when the legislature refused federal funds for Medicaid expansion, 70,000 people whose unemployment insurance was cut off, thousands of poor families denied an earned income tax credit, wholesale repeal of the hard-won Racial Justice Act, and diversion of public education funds through a voucher program. The reasons were legion, but they were not, by and large, unique to North Carolina. They were the sort of changes the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) promotes at the state level throughout the country. How, then, did this grassroots resistance movement emerge in North Carolina?

The Dream 9: Praying God Will Make a Way

The Dream 9, photo by Steve Pavey, One Horizon Foundation

The Dream 9, photo by Steve Pavey, One Horizon Foundation

On Monday I watched as my young DREAMer friends pause to pray from the “other side” of the fence in Nogales, Mexico before attempting to cross the border back into the Arizona. Rev. John Fife, founder of the Sanctuary Movement, walked with his hand on the shoulder of Marco Saavedra. As he approached the border, a reporter asked Marco if he had anything to say. “Perfect love casts out all fear,” he said. Then he stepped forward into the unknown.

All nine immigrant youth leaders grew up in the U.S., some of them qualify for Deferred Action for Childhod Arrivals, therefore are DREAMers. They chose to leave the U.S. to accompany their undocumented peers, who also grew up here, but who left or were deported because of a broken immigration system. They and their families are victims of the broken U.S. border policy. So “documented” and “undocumented” youth, standing together for justice, met on the Mexico side of the border an attempted to cross back into the U.S. together. They were immediately arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials and are now detained at the Correction Corporation of America’s private detention center in Eloy, Ariz.

Soul Force vs. The Assassin

Gandhi and the Unspeakable: His Final Experiment with Truth, by James W. Douglass.

An Advent Reflection: Being a Hospitality House

Image via Wylio: http://bit.ly/rRaH5G

"Away in a manger" at the Holy Cross Monastery, NY. Via Wylio: http://bit.ly/rRaH5G

I think of Mary, the young woman whose eyes were opened to God’s messenger, whose womb was opened to God in human flesh. The Greeks call her theotokos — the God-bearer.

She is the one who welcomed Jesus to make his home in her. Blessed among women, she is a model for us.

She’s not just an inspiration for a house of hospitality. She is one.

Two years ago, Leah was very pregnant during Advent. Because of high blood pressure, she was on bed rest for most of it. So we waited.

We waited for our daughter to come, and we waited for Christmas. We waited with Mary to greet face-to-face the One whom we invite into our lives every time we whisper a prayer.

Waiting, we learned, changes your relationship to time. You stop partitioning it into blocks, and you learn to receive it.

Is Revivalist Spirituality Still Relevant Today?

I made my first trip to the Greenbelt Festival in the UK last summer.

How William J. Barber Saved Wake County Schools

February is Black History month.

Community's Messy Grace

"The Gifts of the Small Church" by Jason Byassee

I grew up on gospel preaching the same way some of my peers grew up on Star Wars and E.T. In North Carolina's tobacco country, the church house was our local theater and preachers were not only pastors—they were our primary entertainment. In the Bible Belt in the 1980s, a small church was the center of my family's social life. I was a teenager before I realized that this wasn't the case for everyone.

But as much as I love the people who raised me, I'm not nostalgic for an idealized small church. Like all people, we had the good and bad mixed up in us. Most of the people I grew up with would give the shirt off their back to someone in real need, and they knew a hot summer afternoon was for making homemade ice cream and enjoying it together in the shade of a picnic shelter. But they were also generally suspicious of outsiders, given to petty disagreements, and blindly racist. I don’t think the church that raised me was perfect. But I do know that it saved me.

Which is why I was glad to read Jason Byassee's The Gifts of the Small Church. Jason made a name for himself as a religious journalist after finishing a Ph.D. in theology. Unlike many academics, he has a knack for spinning a good tale. While working for the mainline magazine The Christian Century, Byassee frequently published in the evangelical Christianity Today, because beyond his gift of story-telling he also has a keen eye for what God is up to in every place. Unwilling to simply accept the assumptions of an ideological camp, he's good at inviting his reader into a place where she can be surprised.

Come Celebrate With Us Where You Are

A few years ago, a bunch of activist-types and a bunch of prayer-warriors got together to create a prayer book with the goal of bringing together the Bible and the newspaper.

Health Care and a New Imagination

About 25 years ago, the pastor of a relatively poor congregation had an accident and racked up a huge medical bill in the hospital.

Giving Up Your Spiritual Journey (and Putting Down Roots)

Don lived for years in the Chicago area, working hard and trying to keep up with the fast pace of his profession.

Searching for Community in a Hyper-Mobile Culture

My friend Joe told me the story of relocating his family to be part of a church that takes community seriously.

My Education in Wake County Jail

I got locked up once when I was in seminary.

Listening to Poor People 'Offstage'

I have a neighbor who has a little maxim he uses to explain much of what he sees on the news or reads about in the local paper.

The Politics of Gentleness

An interview with L'Arche founder Jean Vanier and theologian Stanley Hauerwas.

Audio Interview with Jean Vanier and Stanley Hauerwas

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove interviews L'Arche founder Jean Vanier and theologian Stanley Hauerwas about the ways Jesus calls us to engage this violent and broken world.

The Pattern of this World

A Ugandan Catholic priest, the child of Rwandan parents -- one Hutu and the other Tutsi -- explains how missionary Christianity helped create the divisions that led to genocide.

Listening to the Black Church Tradition on Voting and Hope

In the black Baptist church where I worship every Sunday, it's no surprise that Republicans don't own the evangelical vote.

Letting Reconciliation's Challenge Change Us

[see all posts in this conversation on New Monastics and race.]

Jason and Vonetta Storbakken have extended a gracious and hopeful invitation to public dialogue about reconciliation's challenge for New Monasticism. I'd like to say in public what I've already said to them privately: Thank [...]