Inside Story

Inside Story

'I was a stranger and you welcomed me.' Jesus' words in Matthew are disarmingly simple, yet they encapsulate a core tenet of Christianity: radical inclusion. Jesus calls us to extend that same kind of hospitality to the strangers among us. Two of our writers apply this message to the thorny issue of immigration, a topic that engenders passion from folks on all sides. Ched Myers provides a thought-provoking biblical reflection on welcoming the outsider, and Helene Slessarev-Jamir evaluates current policies and legislation aimed at immigration reform. Each writer, by the way, brings to the issue the perspective of being married to a foreign-born spouse.

Abortion is another topic on which political rhetoric tends to mask much of the real, substantive work being accomplished. Amy Sullivan goes beyond the standard for-and-against arguments to find promising developments among groups working to reduce the number of abortions in the United States. In CultureWatch, Hollywood insider Donovan Jacobs heads behind the screens to look at why films and television shows rarely depict characters who are poor.

And since we always need a laugh during tax season (actually, welll laugh any time), be sure to check out Ed Spivey's H'rumphs column on the back page. We're happy to report that one of his columns, '80 in a 55 Zone,' recently was honored in the Independent Press Association's first annual humor awards in San Francisco. Ed has kept us laughing for more than 30 years, and his humor has brought others into the fold. What a way to welcome.

The Editors

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Sojourners Magazine April 2006
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Inside Story

Many of us attend worship communities that struggle to hit the right note between traditional hymn-and-organ music and the praise choruses of a (usually loud and) youthful rock band. Some of us love those old hymns; others couldn't imagine singing anything more boring.

But there is a middle way, reports Sojourners' editorial assistant Steve Thorngate--who, in his pre-Sojourners life, was music director at several churches (and who now calls forth many a note from staff members during our worship gatherings and potlucks). Steve points to a variety of resources that are grounded in tradition yet contemporary and accessible.

Author and pastor Brian McLaren does much the same thing in our cover feature, in which he's proposed alternate images for the 'kingdom' of God. The 'revolution' of God is one suggestion; what might yours be? McLaren's musings go beyond mere semantics--fresh metaphors not only provide new understandings of God, but they can also chase out racism, nationalism, and other isms lurking in our more traditional words.

This month marks the start of Lent, our invitation to reflect and take stock of our lives, to grow in our relationship with God, and to remember our commitment to a deeper way of discipleship. Jesus withdrew into the wilderness for 40 days; your 'wilderness' likely will look different. But whatever form your journey takes, we pray that this Lenten season provides you with fresh words and reverent music, and--above all--draws you ever closer to the one whose Way we follow. The Editors

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Sojourners Magazine March 2006
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Inside Story

With all the bad news of late, it's heartening to read some hopeful news, especially about poverty. Stephen C. Smith, an economist and longtime Sojourners reader, points to some creative solutions to seemingly intractable problems, such as access to clean water. Ever heard of Play-Pumps? They're water pumps being used in South Africa and elsewhere that serve about 400 people each. Plus, they're fun--they double as merry-go-rounds for kids of all ages. The hard part is getting children off of them.

Promising stirrings in the ecumenical world also give reason for hope. For too long, our ecumenical bodies have remained strangely segregated, without the membership and insight of our pentecostal, evangelical, and Catholic brothers and sisters. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, former Sojourners managing editor who now heads the Reformed Church in America, looks at why this is, and why true ecumenism must reflect the actual makeup of the 21st century church.

Another writer with Sojourners connections reports from Greensboro, North Carolina, on the first truth and reconciliation commission in the United States. Deanna Wylie Mayer, who volunteered in our office for a few weeks last year, tells the story of a terrible event that took place in Greensboro 25 years ago, and the hard--but hopeful--work of reconciliation.

And while we wish wed had a direct connection to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the example of his life, which began 100 years ago this month, offers much in the way of hope. The question he and others in the Confessing Church movement tried to answer--how are we to live faithfully as Christians today?--is as pertinent as ever.  The Editors

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Sojourners Magazine February 2006
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Inside Story

Parents often feel like theyre swimming upstream when it comes to raising their kids and protecting their family life. It can feel almost impossible to make a living, get to every soccer game and band concert, and carve out a little personal space to keep from going loony.
        Danny Duncan Collum, one of our regular contributors, wrote a column some months ago on the perils of parenting, and it struck such a chord among our readers (and parents here) that we asked him to consider the subject in more depth. How did parenting get to be so hard?
        Here, he and his wife, Polly, parents of three, try to answer that question by looking at the cultural and economic changes of the last few decades. They also write about strategies for resisting the plague of consumption they and other parents experience, as well as some legislative policies that would lessen the economic death grip in which many of us liveparents and non-parents alike.
        We also speak with Mary Ann and Greg Welter, who have raised 13 kids over 25 years and were longtime members of Sojourners early worshipping community. Apart from a lot of prayer, howand whydo they do it? Part of the answer, Mary Ann says, is walking alongside your kids and realizing you cant control every outcome. But as they and our other writers note, there are individual and societal decisions we can all make to help life in the parent lane run a little smoother.
 The Editors

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Sojourners Magazine January 2006
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Inside Story

For many of us, Nelson Good the subject of our incarnation focus in this issue was a fellow parishioner and community member, an indefatigable scheduler of retreats at Rolling Ridge Retreat Center in West Virginia, and an intrepid carpooler. He drove the morning leg of a pick-up route for one of our interns and her classmates during their elementary school days (and, in all those years, was only ticketed once). He was devoid of ego, says Celeste Kennel-Shank. He did good things because that's who he was. Nelson was an apt example of incarnate grace in the world. The physical structures Nelson helped build will stand for some time, but it's what he built with his life that's instructive and inspiring. Nelson wasn't perfect by any means, but he was a tireless advocate for others, an accepting, generous person who was interested in what others had to say. He made people feel good about their contributions and about themselves, and he was deliberate about being in relationship with others. Church 'happened' wherever he was; his spiritual vitality was an animating force, and we'll miss him. Diana Butler Bass picks up the thread of spiritual vitality with her look at where it's occurring in the church. After three years of research, she sees encouraging signs churches are finding new ways to weave spirituality and social justice, as well as to honor and incorporate practices of the early church. In short, mainline renewal, as one pastor told Butler Bass, is not rocket science. You preach the gospel, offer hospitality, and pay attention to worship and people's spiritual lives. Nelson would approve. -The Editors

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Sojourners Magazine December 2005
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Inside Story

The t's were crossed and i's dotted for this issue with our special focus on books and music when Hurricane Katrina roared into the Gulf Coast stringing houses, cars, and boats together like so many beads. For thousands, the comfort and safety of home is gone, the favorite chair in a favorite room, the way the back door creaked, the billowy tree outside. Damaged are the wrought-iron balconies of New Orleans and the shrimp boats. Even more terrible is the loss of sisters, fathers, and grandmothers, of separated families, of emotional, physical, and spiritual trauma. Katrina's winds and waters left devastated lives and a damaged region that won't regain a sense of normalcy for a long time.

Of course, normalcy was an elusive state for thousands of Gulf Coast residents whose living conditions were already tenuous. As we've seen, one effect of Katrina's pounding is the confirmation and, yes, surprise from many that only some partake in our country's abundance. We have much to learn about loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Like so many of you, we have awaited word of friends and family living in the Gulf Coast, added our prayers of grief and mourning, and given resources to groups providing relief there. We are heartened to witness the opening of cities, schools, and churches to evacuees, and we pray that, like those who have held the hands of displaced kindergartners bravely marching up the steps of their new schools, we keep opening our arms to those in need one, three, and five years down the road.

-The Editors

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Sojourners Magazine November 2005
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Inside Story

After more than a dozen years at the corner of Chapin and 15th Streets NW, Sojourners is moving to another location in Washington, D.C. So that the editorial staff could spend some days packing (and unpacking) boxes instead of corralling words, we've made this a one-time-only combined September-October issue.

The old building that weve been in is a mansion built in the first decades of the 20th century, one of several in the neighborhood completed at the behest of Mary Foote Henderson, a senators widow. Henderson hoped to make this stretch of 15th and 16th Streets - the crest of a ridge with the sweep of downtown Washington visible to the south - into "Embassy Hill."

Decades after its glory days, you could call this building shabby chic - gold-painted detailing on the ornate plasterwork trim, chandeliers...and ceilings that only fall down occasionally (we have the only organizing staff in town with their own hard hats). Along with actual work, this place has held parties, worship services, lots of intern farewell skits, and myriad prayers of sending, healing, and thanksgiving. Well remember much fondly.

We wont, however, miss the frequent lack of heat in the winter or cooling in the summer, and the organizing staff would really like to take off their hard hats. Were going to a new old building, the former home of the Tivoli, a 1920s movie theater. Well have fresh-built office space, with intact ceilings. We carry there our memories, a lot of files, and the blessing of having good work. Thank you, as always, for being part of it.
- The Editors

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2005
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Inside Story

When it comes to faith, politics, and culture (three of our favorite topics here at Sojourners), the public discussion too often seems to shrink down big ideas and complex life to simple, narrow dichotomies: Yes or no. Blue or red. Pro-this or pro-that (anti-that or anti-this). Smut on the airwaves or rampant censorship. Guns or butter. Our God or no God.

Our choices are then supposed to line up neatly with one another, dividing us into two camps, Us and Them.

But life, for worse and usually better, isn't like that. Whether or not our political discourse or cultural institutions always reflect it, people are complex, our beliefs are complex, our hopes and dreams are complex. Simplistic extremes don't define most of us - and that doesn't mean that we're wishy-washy or undecided. Rather, it usually indicates that our deepest commitments and strongest passions don't come in prepackaged, pre-labeled, off-the-shelf sets.

In our cover feature, Washington Post columnist Donna Britt writes about the frustrations felt by herself and others who are often horrified by the sex and violence pervading our culture, who are devout in their faith, but who don't support the Republican agenda or always feel welcome or heard in the Democratic party. She makes an eloquent case for faith and values taking their proper place in both parties - not as tools to win elections, but as needed resources in a coarse and messed-up world. Also in this issue, Stacia Brown interviews seven people who were raised in conservative evangelical churches about the varied ways those experiences have shaped and influenced their lives.

Whether you prefer red, blue, purple, or blue with red stripes, we're glad you're here.

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Sojourners Magazine June 2005
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Inside Story

Our culture here in the United States has definite bipolar tendencies: On one hand we're encouraged to want--and to purchase--more, more, more. More food, more entertainment, more stuff. On the other hand, there's still a streak of 'deprivation equals virtue' in our collective psyche, which enterprising sorts have tapped by turning deprivation and discipline into products to buy--diet plans, gym memberships, storage containers to corral our stuff, organizers to sort our overflowing schedules, life coaching to help us figure out how to live a better game, a winning game.... Whew.

In the meantime we have neighbors near and far who lack food, water, shelter, love. Our shopping doesn't help them--but neither does our self-flagellation, since both keep us focused on ourselves and on our things. God's promises are far from stingy--"Hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in fatness," instructs Isaiah 55:2. But they're not a call to gluttony either (despite that bit about delighting in fatness). How do we find the right balance for our souls, our bodies, our sisters and brothers, and our world? What is 'enough'?

In this special issue, we explore some of the components of a sustainable, healthy, generous, just, and merciful life. How do we seek this for ourselves and others in the midst of consumerism and sprawl? What is the role of Sabbath in our call to follow Jesus? Do industrial processes, manufactured goods, and buildings need to be so often toxin-based, or could human creativity design a better way?

In all, we're humbly trying to find for ourselves what we wish for all of you: deeper knowledge, experience, and sharing of God's abundance in what can be a confusing, feast-or-famine world.

The Editors

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Sojourners Magazine May 2005
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Inside Story

Sometimes the most important stories are hidden in plain view.

In February 1965, during an assault on civil rights demonstrators, an Alabama state trooper shot a young black man named Jimmy Lee Jackson. Jackson died a few days later, and his killing was a catalyst for the march from Selma to Montgomery.

The trooper who shot Jimmy Lee Jackson had never been named. But late last summer, journalist John Fleming found the trooper, James Bonard Fowler, who agreed to talk. (For whatever reason, the Justice Department had apparently never sought out Fowler.) Fleming noted when he pitched the story, "He's never spoken to anyone before and fully admits shooting Jackson, although he insists it was self defense."

Fleming introduces us to a complex, but remorseless, old man who doesn't fear legal action, confident in his version of events - and who never had to be in hiding because authorities didn't seem to look for him.

A longer version of this article appears on www.sojo.net, and related material will be published in The Anniston (Ala.) Star - where Fleming serves as editor at large - on March 6 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the first attempt at a Selma to Montgomery march, which ended in a brutal attack on the Edmund Pettus Bridge by state and local law authorities.

Taxes are a less dramatic subject than a killer's confession, but the deficit of moral values and equity in the current administration's tax agenda is also a vital story that doesn't get enough play. In our cover story New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston clarifies some of the ways President Bush's proposals and strategies stray far from traditional principles of fair taxation - and even from the bedrock values of democracy.

- The Editors

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Sojourners Magazine April 2005
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