Activism

What to See

In Dear Francis students from Dallas Baptist University, Swaziland, and South Africa travel to Swaziland high schools to discuss sexual abstinence as part of HIV/AIDS prevention. They are soon confronted by the challenges of polygamy (legal in Swaziland), rape, incest, and desperate poverty in a country with one of the highest HIV-infection rates in the world. The students move from naiveté to despair and then to hope in this engrossing hour-long film. Chronicle Project.

The South African film Son of Man retells the story of Jesus by portraying him as an African revolutionary. This ambitious collaboration between director Mark Dornford-May and theater company Dimpho Di Kopane (Sotho for “combined talents”) presents numerous provocative scenes in which canonical gospel stories are resituated in a world of militias, dissidents, and disappearances. In isiXhosa, English, and Setswana with English subtitles. Film and Music Entertainment Ltd.

In Color of the Cross, Haitian director Jean Claude LaMarre portrays Jesus as a black Nazarene whose radical interpretation of the Torah leads to his persecution. Unlike Son of Man, this is not a birth-to-resurrection Jesus film but a tightly focused look at the last two days of Jesus’ life, one that places issues of race and prejudice front and center. Debbi Morgan and Ananda Lewis star. Nu-Lite Entertainment. J.L. Aronson’s documentary

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Sojourners Magazine November 2006
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Good Reads

We know what globalization is, but often not how to respond to it—except with guilt. In Justice in a Global Economy: Strategies for Home, Community, and World, edited by Pamela Brubaker, Rebecca Todd Peters, and Laura Stivers, contributors offer readable assessments of globalization but also specific ways to navigate the ethical and spiritual questions it raises—at both the individual and corporate levels. How should I think about household labor? How can we revitalize our communities? Christ didn’t come to make us guilty, the authors write, but to teach us a new way to live. Westminster John Knox Press.

Bridges to Contemplative Living with Thomas Merton, edited by Jonathan Montaldo and Robert Toth, is a series of eight booklets intended for small groups interested in delving deeper into contemplative living. Each booklet contains guidelines for eight sessions, with reading selections from Merton and other authors—including Karen Armstrong, Eckhart Tolle, and Rainer Maria Rilke—and questions for reflection. The first two booklets are available; the others will be finished next spring. Ave Maria Press.

Can true justice come from punishment? That’s the question Laura Magnani and Harmon Wray take up in Beyond Prisons: A New Interfaith Paradigm for Our Failed Prison System. Written from a Quaker perspective, the authors look at the factors that produced the present prison-industrial complex and its failings, sentencing laws, the juvenile justice system, prison conditions, and more, ending with an alternative vision of justice. An important and compassionate book. Fortress Press.

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Sojourners Magazine November 2006
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From Imagination To Action

Gus Traynor never wanted to be an interior decorator. But this financially strapped Alaskan newspaper publisher, the lead character in Marjorie Kowalski Cole’s new novel Correcting the Landscape, was worried that an interior decorator is what he had become—what with needing to write stories that made his town “look good to itself.” “I suddenly saw the danger that all my words over these years amounted to nothing more than, say, a tablecloth,” he says.

If this kind of journalism is akin to pulling a tablecloth over a town (or a country) so that it looks pretty, then writing socially conscious fiction is something like cleaning out an old barn and sifting through the trash and treasures one finds there.

Novelists in the United States who dare to sweep the barn rather than spread the tablecloth—who examine social and political problems rather than conceal them—often find their work viewed with suspicion, says Barbara Kingsolver, author of acclaimed novels such as The Poisonwood Bible and The Bean Trees. Kingsolver established the Bellwether Prize for Fiction, which is awarded biennially to a first novel that emphasizes issues of social justice, as a way to counteract what she calls a “phobic feeling about socially conscious literature from the literary gatekeepers” in the United States. “Trade publishing has become more commercial and money-driven than ever,” Kingsolver told Sojourners in a recent interview. “In some ways, commercial publishing has become like the movie industry—no one wants to take chances, and everyone wants to do what was popular last year.”

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Sojourners Magazine November 2006
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A Digital Stage Dive

In May, 61-year-old rock star Neil Young gave the world a preview of how popular culture and politics can interact in the 21st century.

By now, most readers know about Living With War, Young’s new album of grungy, anti-Bush agitprop recorded in less than a month and unveiled instantly on the Internet. For a few weeks this spring, Living With War saturated the media atmosphere—from The New York Times to NPR and E! Entertainment Television. The lead of all the stories was Young’s song “Let’s Impeach the President,” an eminently hummable, bitterly funny, and deadly serious bill of indictment that leaves no room for misinterpretation. The album contains several equally blunt musical instruments—including songs titled “Shock and Awe” and “Lookin’ for a Leader”—alongside more up-close and personal glimpses of life during wartime in “Families” and “Flags of Freedom.” The album also features Young’s roaring, distorted electric guitar over tub-thumping bass and drums, with the occasional martial flavor of a solo trumpet (which breaks into a few notes of “Taps” at the start of “Let’s Impeach the President”).

For 36 years, Young has been the Jekyll and Hyde of rock. Dr. Jekyll is introspective and acoustic, a sensitive soul who makes albums such as Harvest, Comes A Time, and last year’s Prairie Wind. Mr. Hyde is a quasi-metal rocker who turns out demented slabs of feedback such as After the Gold Rush, Rust Never Sleeps, and Ragged Glory. I can’t imagine anyone except Young could love them all equally.

I’m with Mr. Hyde myself, so I find Living With War to be Young’s most musically interesting work in a decade. Dr. Jekyll fans may beg to differ. But in either case, the way Young has launched this musical mortar into the pop cultural arena is at least as interesting as the noise it makes.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2006
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Singing for Clean Water

He seems relatively amused when people quote lines from the most famous song he’s ever recorded, but this day he was pretty serious. So as I walked the streets of Gualey with Richie Furay, I kept this thought to myself: There’s something happening here; what it is ain’t exactly clear.

Furay was moved by both the poverty of the people and the fact that they were getting clean water from their local church.

“I had to wipe tears from my eyes when I walked through that community,” he said later. “People are living like that, and we’re quibbling over the price of gasoline for our cars.”

Furay, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 as a founding member of both Buffalo Springfield and Poco, has been a Calvary Chapel pastor for more than 20 years in Broomfield, Colorado. He has a new book out this year, Pickin’ Up the Pieces, and a new CD, Heartbeat of Love, which features Neil Young, Jim Messina, and other former bandmates who went on to start groups such as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Loggins and Messina; and the Eagles.

Furay doesn’t talk much about his days in the rock world, although when pressed he will provide some details about the weekend he spent in jail with Eric Clapton. Most of what Furay has to say about those days is in the book For What It’s Worth: The Story of Buffalo Springfield.

But he has started to tour more. A recent concert he gave was a benefit for Healing Waters International. A month later he traveled to the Dominican Republic to see the fruits of that concert firsthand.

“I couldn’t wait to get home and tell my church about what I saw,” he said. “I know that Jesus said, ‘The poor you will have with you always,’ but what we saw there was off the charts. This is life and death.”

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Sojourners Magazine July 2006
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Camp Darfur

A refugee camp popped up last April on the sports field of Lennox Middle School, right next to Los Angeles International Airport. For five days, teachers, students, and even international visitors lived as “refugees” to raise awareness about the ongoing genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Sponsored by All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena and Jewish World Watch, the event educated participants about the history of genocide—in Armenia, Cambodia, the Holocaust, and elsewhere—offering them a chance to “connect the history of genocide with what is going on right now,” Gabriel Stauring, a Camp Darfur organizer, told Sojourners. “We tried to simulate a little bit the conditions, camped out, and had nightly events, showing films and speakers. … It was a way for people to connect more personally with what is happening in Darfur.” The Darfur genocide has claimed more than 450,000 lives and displaced at least 3 million people.

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Sojourners Magazine July 2006
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Baptism's True Claim

Jeanie Wylie-Kellermann, writer, activist, and longtime editor of The Witness magazine, died on December 31, 2005, after more than seven years of struggle with brain cancer. Jeanie was married to Bill Wylie-Kellermann and was the mother of two daughters, Lydia and Lucy. This article is adapted from a sermon preached on the occasion of her memorial service in Detroit on January 8, 2006.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
—Romans 6:3

Just a year before Jeanie Wylie-Kellermann collapsed in the bathroom of her home with the first seizure of what would become the long journey that ended on New Year’s Eve 2005, she was the keynote speaker at the 1997 Finger Lakes Conference in Geneva, N.Y. The theme of that gathering was “The Politics of Baptism.”

Jeanie spoke about how she had struggled with whether to baptize her daughter Lydia when she was an infant. In an article she wrote for the Detroit Catholic Worker paper some years before, Jeanie reflected on her protective impulses:

Water, words, community. Offering our child back to God. We would stand with Abraham at the sacrifice. We would give her to a God who models the cross. We would invite her to listen for a voice calling in the night, to vigil, to put herself at risk, to leave family and friends, to speak clearly a truth for which one can be executed. We would thereby invite her into the risks we have already elected and, by God’s grace, still will elect to take with our own lives. In the act of baptism we would wash away the possibility that our concern for her might justify a diminishing of our own obedience to our Lord’s perverse ethic of vulnerability and gain through loss.

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Sojourners Magazine July 2006
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A Life Of Enduring Impact

Anne Braden, who died in March at age 81, was not as famous as Rosa Parks or Coretta Scott King. But her contributions to social change in our country were just as important as theirs, and for many her example was just as inspiring.

Anne Braden was a white Southerner. She was born in Louisville, Ky., and raised in Anniston, Ala., in a fairly well-off Episcopalian family during the 1920s and ’30s, when segregation and white supremacy were pervasive and virtually unquestioned. After college in Virginia, she returned to Alabama as a newspaper reporter. In later years, Braden often said that covering the Birmingham courthouse, where unequal justice was handed out according to skin color, was what really radicalized her.

When she took a job at the (now defunct) Louisville Times, Braden began to find ways to act on her growing outrage at racial injustice. She met and married Carl Braden, who at the time was the labor reporter at The (Louisville) Courier-Journal. Carl was from a working-class southern Indiana family, and through his involvement with the labor movement was connected with a network of left-wing activists in the city—the remnants of the New Deal era’s communist-led Popular Front.

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Sojourners Magazine June 2006
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Who is the Enemy?

Everyone wants to be happy and to fulfill their dreams. For many who live in war zones, prisons, and places of poverty, those dreams aren’t likely to come true. While it’s a reality that gives rise to fear and despair, Kathy Kelly offers antidotes of courage and compassionate action in her new book Other Lands Have Dreams.

Kelly has been bringing to life Jesus’ teachings of love and nonviolence for more than 20 years through radical activism, teaching, and writing. Walking in the footsteps of Dorothy Day, David Dellinger, Daniel Berrigan, and Martin Luther King Jr., Kelly has served the poor, comforted the wounded, and led international efforts to noncooperate with systems of violence.

Written mostly in small hotels in Iraq and Jordan and in U.S. prisons, the book chronicles Kelly’s tireless journey of noncooperation with injustice and war. She has been arrested numerous times for nonviolent direct actions, including planting corn on nuclear missile silos in Missouri, protesting draft registration, and opposing U.S. military violence in Central America and Iraq.

Kelly has participated in and helped organize nonviolent direct action teams in Iraq (1991), Bosnia (1992 and 1993), and Haiti (1994), and has been a war tax resister for 23 years. She has been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize—in 2000 (with Dennis Halliday, U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq), 2001, and 2003 (with Voices in the Wilderness).

Other Lands Have Dreams highlights the motives of punishment and revenge that lie underneath both U.S. military violence abroad and domestic poverty and imprisonment at home. “Military and prison structures don’t train recruits to view ‘the enemy’ or ‘the inmate’ as precious and valuable humans deserving forgiveness, mercy, and respect, even if they have trespassed against us,” Kelly writes.

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Sojourners Magazine June 2006
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New And Noteworthy

A New Season

Hitting midlife can bring angst, lots of it. Dale Hanson Bourke’s Second Calling: Finding Passion and Purpose for the Rest of Your Life will speak to women who are entering the second half of life and aren’t too happy about it. Hanson Bourke records her personal journey from feeling “washed up” to energized and ready to embrace God’s calling for the next phase. The best may be yet to come. Integrity Publishers.

Civic Resistance

Two must-have publications from the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict: How Freedom is Won: From Civic Resistance to Durable Democracy and People Power Primed. Both look at the impact of “people power”—how civilian-based nonviolent resistance is more effective in securing democracy than violence or terrorism. The former provides fascinating stats on countries’ transition from authoritarian rule to democracy. www.nonviolent-conflict.org.

Places of Belonging

In Befriending the Stranger, beloved l’Arche founder Jean Vanier takes up the topic of community—how can we create spaces of sharing, peace, and compassion? The book’s six chapters were originally presentations Vanier made to a group of l’Arche assistants from communities in Latin America and the Caribbean, but the words and themes apply to any community. As he writes, the renewal of the church and the unity of Christians will come as we serve and befriend those who appear to us as strange, lonely, or unwanted. Eerdmans.

Walking Through Minefields

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Sojourners Magazine June 2006
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