Julie has been a member of the Sojourners magazine editorial staff since 1990. For the last several years she has edited the award-winning Culture Watch section of the magazine. In her time at Sojourners she has written about a wide variety of political and cultural topics, from the abortion debate to the working class blues. She has coordinated in-depth coverage of Flannery O’Connor, campaign finance reform, Howard Thurman, the labor movement, and much more.
She studied English literature at Ohio State University and has an M.T.S. (focused on language and narrative theology) from Boston University and an M.F.A. in creative nonfiction from George Mason University.
Julie grew up on a farm in the northwest corner of Ohio. She has been fascinated by the power of religious expression in and through culture since she can remember. Obsessively listening to her older sister’s copy of the Jesus Christ Superstar cast recording when she was 10 was an especially crystallizing experience. In addition, Julie’s mother often argued about doctrine and the Bible and took her at least weekly to the public library, both of which were useful background for Julie’s current work.
She lives in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. and is a member of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church (where she had an unlikely four-year reign as rummage sale czarina). Her personal interests overlap nicely with her professional ones: Music, books, reading entertainment, culture, and religion writing, art, architecture, TV, films, and knowing more celebrity gossip than is probably wise or healthy. To make up for all that screen time, she tries to grow things, hike occasionally, and wonder often at the night sky.
Some Sojourners articles by Julie Polter:
Replacing Songs with Silence
Censorship, banning, blacklists: What’s lost when governments stifle musical expression?
It’s the Sprawl, Y’all
Why suburbs-on-steroids are wearing out their welcome.
A glimpse of grace and abundance from - of all things - reality TV.
The Cold Reaches of Heaven
Nobel Prize-winning physicist Bill Phillips talks about his faith.
Just Stop It
Daring to believe in a life without logos. An interview with journalist Naomi Klein.
Women and Children First
Developing a common agenda to make abortion rare.
Obliged to See God (on Flannery O’Connor)
Posts By This Author
Crossing the Belief Divide
IT WAS AS if the poison of the rancorous 2012 campaign had seeped into our social groundwater, tainting family gatherings, Facebook feeds, church coffee hours, and workplace lunch rooms. In my lowest moments I pictured an election-result map rendered with myriad fractures, like windshield glass—a nation of particles and fragments, held together, barely, by begrudging surface tension.
How do those of good will find productive and respectful ways to talk about important civic and moral issues when a significant number of people view their fellow citizens as enemies?
Two recent books, by radically different authors, explore how to stay committed to your principles while reaching out and even finding common cause with those who live and believe differently.
ReFocus: Living a Life that Reflects God's Heart, is by Jim Daly, president since 2005 of Focus on the Family. Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious is by Chris Stedman, the assistant Humanist chaplain at Harvard University and an activist in atheist-interfaith engagement. Daly leads a conservative evangelical institution that has been a major player on the Right in the culture wars of the past three decades (including around what Focus would term the "homosexual lifestyle"). Stedman is a young gay atheist who was once attacked by thugs who shouted Bible verses as they tried to shove him and a friend in front of an oncoming train. And yet both men argue, from both pragmatic and ethical grounds, for actively and respectfully engaging those who hold different beliefs.
New & Noteworthy
Cody ChesnuTT's Landing on a Hundred is a classic soul album, from the infectious grooves and vocals to recurrent themes of personal and social redemption (comparisons include Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield). Vibration Vineyard
A team of actors, playwrights, and activists help Ugandan teens, many of them survivors of abduction by the Lord's Resistance Army, courageously share their stories with their community—and, through the documentary After Kony: Staging Hope, with the world. First Run Feature
New & Noteworthy
A Vital Word
In I Told My Soul to Sing: Finding God with Emily Dickinson, Kristin LeMay explores in detail 25 poems as "witnesses" to Dickinson's wrestling with God. LeMay elegantly combines accessible literary analysis with her own spiritual memoir of search, doubt, and faith. Paraclete Press
South African native Jonathan Butler has earned praise in the R&B, contemporary jazz, and gospel music fields. His latest album, Grace and Mercy, offers gentle songs that proclaim faith and hope in the midst of troubled times. Rendezvous Music
Top 10 Advent Resources of 2012
Center yourself during this busy holiday season with our top 10 Advent resources.
New and Noteworthy
In the novel Running the Rift, by Naomi Benaron, a young Tutsi runner in Rwanda dreams of competing in the Olympics even as political tensions erupt into unfathomable violence. A story that gives both horror and hope their due. Winner of the 2011 Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. Algonquin
Finally, a "Christian Unicorn"
Perpetually quirky indie artist Sufjan Stevens’ new 58-track, 5-EP Christmas collection Silver and Gold promises to offer “holly-jolly songs of hope and redemption.” Not your typical Christmas music, but who needs more of that anyway? Liner notes include essays by Stevens and Vito Aiuto of The Welcome Wagon. Asthmatic Kitty
Keeping it Real
EVEN IN AN age of ever-faster news cycles and shorter word counts, some journalists still find ways to dig deep into research and reporting to bring history to life and lift up voices that might otherwise be unheard. Here is an eclectic mix of nonfiction works on issues and people that matter.
Can those who commit violent crimes ever truly be rehabilitated? What happens to them once they’re out of prison? In Life After Murder: Five Men in Search of Redemption (PublicAffairs, 2012), Nancy Mullane follows her subjects from prison to welcome-home parties and beyond. While never minimizing the crimes her subjects have committed, she portrays their full, complicated humanity. Moving insights about the ongoing spiritual, emotional, and practical work of accepting responsibility for great wrongs and rebuilding a life after prison are framed by reporting on the convoluted, expensive prison and parole policies of California.
You might not expect gripping drama from a writer specializing in U.S. Supreme Court history, but that’s what Gilbert King’s Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America (Harper, 2012) delivers. Long before he became a Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall was an NAACP lawyer who risked his life travelling to the Jim Crow South to defend African Americans accused of capital crimes. Devil in the Grove describes his efforts to save a black citrus picker from the electric chair in a Florida county where the Klan and law enforcement were brutally intertwined—and brings alive an era of domestic terrorism against people of color in the not-distant-enough past.
A Tempest in Arizona
TECHNICALLY, the Tucson Unified School District did not ban any books after the Dec. 27, 2011, state court ruling that upheld the Arizona Education Department’s order finding the Mexican American Studies program illegal. But in January, the school district removed from classrooms seven books it said were referenced in the ruling and put them into remote storage. The district, according to Roque Planas of Fox News Latino, also “implemented a series of restrictions ranging from outright prohibition of some books from classrooms, to new approval requirements for supplemental texts, and vague instructions regarding how texts may be taught.”
Former Mexican American Studies teachers have been instructed to not use their former curricula or instruct students to apply perspectives dealing with race, ethnicity, or Mexican American history. So, for example, Shakespeare’s The Tempest can still be taught—but former Mexican American Studies instructors have been advised to avoid discussion of oppression or race (which have long been taught as themes of the play, even in predominantly white classrooms many miles removed from Tucson).
New & Noteworthy
Across Sacred Fences
More than 50 contributors offer moving, insightful personal essays about interfaith experiences in My Neighbor’s Faith: Stories of Interreligious Encounter, Growth, and Transformation. Edited by Jennifer Howe Peace, Or N. Rose, and Gregory Mobley. Orbis Books
On Oct. 1 and 2, PBS will air the two-part special Half the Sky. Inspired by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s best-selling book of the same name, the film follows the authors through 10 countries to meet people challenging extreme gender inequality and the poverty, trafficking, and violence it perpetuates. pbs.org/independentlens
Education and the Wealth Gap
Ask a random group of people, “How do we improve our public schools?” and you’re apt to get divergent, passionate answers. Christians, like other citizens, have different opinions on how to heal what’s hurting in our education system. What we can share is a belief that all children are truly precious in God’s sight and an understanding that public education is a key component of the common good—that a healthy school system has the potential to bring opportunity and uplift to children regardless of their economic status.
Jan Resseger is the minister for public education and witness with the national Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ. She spoke with Sojourners associate editor Julie Polter in June.
Sojourners: Why is public education a commitment for the United Church of Christ?
Jan Resseger: The commitment to education is a long tradition for us. Our pilgrim forebears brought community schooling and higher education to the New England colonies—New England congregationalism is one of our denominational roots. Another root is the American Missionary Association (AMA), an abolitionist society that grew out of the defense committee for the Africans on the slave ship Amistad. The AMA founded schools for freed slaves as a path to citizenship across the South during and after the Civil War.
Several denominations came together as the UCC in 1957, and our general synods since then have taken stands on issues such as the protection of the First Amendment in public schools and supporting school desegregation through the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. From 1958 to the present, we have spoken to institutional and structural racism and classism in schools. We also have addressed privatization, because we’ve been strong supporters for many, many years of public schools as key to the strength of our society and democracy.
New & Noteworthy
Aiming to Shine
The debut album by Korean-American hip hop artist Gowe (pronounced “go,” it stands for Gifted On West East), We are HyperGiants, feature lyrics that touch on race, culture, and materialism, while unabashedly praising Jesus. www.facebook.com/TeamGowe
Can I Get a Vision?
If you’re blessed with vacation time this summer, don’t forget to let yourself dream. In Dreaming, Memphis Theological Seminary professor Barbara A. Holmes explores the power of dreams as a place for refueling our personal and social imaginations and meeting the mysterious, living God. Fortress Press
New & Noteworthy
God and the Godforsaken
Rafael Luévano, a Catholic priest and professor, writes a moving narrative theology of suffering—based on extensive field research—in Woman-Killing in Juárez: Theodicy at the Border. A powerful blend of reporting, analysis, and poetic theological meditation. Orbis
Veteran songwriter, producer, and musician Phil Madeira pulls together an all-star lineup including The Civil Wars, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, Mat Kearney, and Emmylou Harris for the alt-roots album Mercyland: Hymns for the Rest of Us—nondoctrinal music that yearns for a God who is love. Mercyland Records
Michigan Legislator Silenced
NPR reports that Michigan state representative Lisa Brown was not allowed speak on other legislation yesterday after she made a speech against a bill restricting abortion in which she used the word "vagina." A Republican spokesperson said Brown had violated the "decorum of the House."
"If they are going to legislate my anatomy, I see no reason why I cannot mention it," she said according to the Free Press.
"Regardless of their reasoning, this is a violation of my First Amendment rights and directly impedes my ability to serve the people who elected me into office," Brown added in a statement released by her office.
Read more here
The Vagina Dialogues
It’s profoundly disheartening to see people in political leadership and positions of cultural influence whose understanding of women’s anatomy—and that it is possessed by human beings, not mythical prototype “whores,” “virgins,” or “martyr mothers”—hasn’t progressed much past pre-adolescent hooting at drawings on the boys’ room walls.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m not actually looking for excuses to chat about vaginas or hormones with strangers or friends. I’m fairly comfortable with prudish reserve in daily life, especially when the alternative is coarse humor that’s usually not very funny. Then again, if you watch TV sitcoms or contemporary comedy films, hearing the word “vagina” outside of a gynecologist’s office isn’t the surprise it once was. As Ann Hornaday noted in her March 13 essay in The Washington Post, the word is now so prevalent, “it’s hard to believe that, just six years ago, Grey’s Anatomy producer Shonda Rhimes made ABC standards and practices executives so nervous about the word that she substituted the far more playful ‘va-jay-jay.’”
By contrast, when Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues” debuted in 1996 it was controversial theater for a number of reasons, the most obvious being the first word in the title. The play was groundbreaking in its forthright exploration of women’s experiences—the brutal, the ecstatic, the ambivalent—in relation to women’s distinctive anatomy. It helped many women reclaim the language for their own bodies in the public sphere, rather than being limited to euphemisms and crudities deployed by others. The play opened up more space to talk about sexual abuse and violence against women, a step in weakening the shame that is part of any abuser’s arsenal.
New and Noteworthy
UCLA professor Jorja Leap has immersed herself in the study of Los Angeles gangs since 2002. Jumped In: What Gangs Taught Me about Violence, Drugs, Love, and Redemption displays her deep passion and anthropological insight. Beacon Press
Up with (Real) People
Corporations Are Not People: Why They Have More Rights Than You Do and What You Can Do About It, by Jeffrey D. Clements, looks at the roots and consequences of the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission case and presents a strategy to fight back. Berrett-Koehler
Mother's Day: Supporting All Women
Whenever there’s talk about honoring mothers and motherhood, I’m always looking for how we as individuals and a society will support the women—of any race, creed, or orientation--who have to scoop up their children and run for their lives or who feel forced to decide between enduring emotional and physical abuse and feeding their children.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has been one way that our country has acknowledged and worked to stop the abuse that occurs every day. As Lisa Sharon Harper wrote on this blog last week, the House of Representative’s version of VAWA would exclude certain groups from its protections.
Four novels with nothing in common except storytelling done well.
Sidebar to "Work of Many Hands"
New & Noteworthy
Worship Across the Racial Divide: Religious Music and the Multiracial Congregation, by Gerardo Marti; The Forgotten Bomb; Let It Burn; Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis.
New & Noteworthy
Homies and Hermanos: God and Gangs in Central America; The Amish; Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit; The Ethical Vision of Clint Eastwood.
New and Noteworthy
Widow, Queen, Lover, Warrior; Faith in the Struggle; The Message; ‘Do Not Cast Me Away.’