activist

Struggling to Become Human

Walter Wink

WALTER WINK IS known as a lectionary commentator with lucid biblical insight, a chronicler of nonviolent practice, a scholarly essayist, an arrestee in direct action, and one of the most important theologians of the millennium’s turn. He effectively named “the domination system” and its collusive principalities, opened up biblical interpretation to an integrated worldview, and brought the New Testament language of power back on the map of Christian social ethics.

Two years ago he crossed over to God, joining the ancestors and saints. His first two posthumous books have now appeared. They make for good companion volumes. Let me weave back and forth between the two. Walter Wink: Collected Readings is the anthology of his core work. Just Jesus: My Struggle to Become Human is a short autobiography. The second is the more remarkable—because it’s so rare that a world-class scripture scholar should tell his or her own story in relation to encounters with the biblical witness. And all the more so because it was a project undertaken after he was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia.

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A Pivot on the Peace Island

Hang Dinh/Shutterstock.com
Jeju Island, South Korea. Hang Dinh/Shutterstock.com

Jeju Island, South Korea — For the past two weeks, I’ve been in the Republic of Korea (ROK), as a guest of peace activists living in Gangjeong Village on ROK’s Jeju Island. Gangjeong is one of the ROK’s smallest villages, yet activists here, in their struggle against the construction of a massive naval base, have inspired people around the world.  

Since 2007, activists have risked arrests, imprisonment, heavy fines, and wildly excessive use of police force to resist the desecration caused as mega-corporations like Samsung and Daelim build a base to accommodate U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines for their missions throughout Asia. The base fits the regional needs of the U.S. for a maritime military outpost that would enable it to continue developing its Asia Pivot strategy, gradually building towards and in the process provoking superpower conflict with China.  

“We don’t need this base,” says Bishop Kang, a Catholic prelate who vigorously supports the opposition.

In Remembrance of Dr. Vincent G. Harding

Vincent Harding with Sojourners Senior Associate Editor Rose Marie Berger

It is with deep sadness that we mourn the passing of well-known historian and scholar Dr. Vincent Gordon Harding, who died earlier this week at the age of 82. Harding, author of many books including Hope and History and There is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America, was a contributing editor for Sojourners magazine and a dear friend to the Sojourners community.

“This is a great loss for our movement and the world and for all of us here at Sojourners,” says Sojourners President Jim Wallis. “We are poorer for his passing and richer for having known him.”

A leading figure in the civil rights movement, Harding served as a speechwriter for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and helped write, among others, the seminal speech “Beyond Vietnam.” Harding was the first director of the Martin Luther King Memorial Center in Atlanta, and cofounder and chair of The Veterans of Hope Project—which documents and promotes democracy, reconciliation, and nonviolence—at Illiff School of Theology in Denver, where Harding taught for more than 20 years and served as Professor Emeritus of Religion and Social Transformation.

Since the early 1980s, Sojourners has worked with Harding to encourage and equip leaders in the faith-based movement for social justice. From his earliest writings about democracy and racial justice to his last Sojourners magazine article “To Redeem the Soul of America” (April 2013), Harding remained a steadfast activist and ally in the struggle for freedom.

In remembrance of Harding’s legacy, we offer this roundup of his writings.

‘Do Not Grow Weary of Lose Heart’ (Sojourners, March 2012)
What does it take to sustain the struggle for justice over the long haul?

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AUDIO: Kathy Kelly's Defiant Peace Activism

As Ramzi Kysia writes in "The Song Remains" (Sojourners, August 2013), after decades of work, Kathy Kelly’s commitment to peace and nonviolence remains strong. When Sojourners editorial assistant, Dawn Araujo, caught up with her in June, Kelly was between visits to Afghanistan and her work with the Afghan Peace Volunteers. She was spending her “down” time protesting drones, nuclear weapons, and organizing a U.S. speaking tour for the newly formed Veterans for Peace in the UK. She shared with Dawn some of her thoughts on aging and how she stays centered in her whirlwind world.

 

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The Passing of a Prophet

Civil rights activist and author Will Campbell, whose eccentricities and affectations had a profoundly serious purpose.

IN HIS EULOGY at Baptist pastor, civil rights activist, and author Will D. Campbell’s memorial service in late June, Campbell’s close friend, journalist John Egerton, recalled their first meeting. Campbell was wearing the broad-brimmed black hat that became his signature, with jeans and cowboy boots. At the time, Egerton noted, Campbell was in the middle of “a costume change” from the tweed jacket, clerical collar, and calabash pipe he had affected as a young, Yale-educated liberal minister.

Campbell was a notoriously theatrical figure, as famous for his hats and walking sticks as for his theological pronouncements. In fact, in the 1980s Campbell became a cartoon character in the guise of Rev. Will B. Dunn in the late Doug Marlette’s “Kudzu.” Campbell also dramatized his own life in Brother to a Dragonfly, his National Book Award-nominated 1977 memoir, and in a 1986 sequel, Forty Acres and a Goat.

Another favorite prop in the Will Campbell show was the acoustic guitar he would strum while singing his own country compositions and old favorites like “Rednecks, White Socks, and Blue Ribbon Beer.” Campbell, who was based in Nashville from 1957 on, also became a sort of chaplain to the “outlaw” element in that city’s country music industry. He traveled on Waylon Jennings’ tour bus, and Jennings’ widow, country star Jessi Colter, sang at Campbell’s memorial.

But to call Campbell “theatrical” is not to call him frivolous or trivial. Instead, he was following in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets who walked around naked or wearing a yoke, and of his beloved “Mr. Jesus,” who famously entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.

Campbell seemed to be having fun playing the role of a Mississippi Piney Woods prophet, but his eccentricities and affectations—most of them anyhow—had a profoundly serious purpose. He was trying to act out a way to be both a white Southerner of the yeoman class and a true Christian.

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The Song Remains

THE FONDEST memories I have of Kathy Kelly are of her singing. It’s safe to say that her three nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize were not for her voice, which is sometimes sweet but often a touch out of key. At times I’ve imagined her feeling briefly self-conscious about this, but that passes. The song remains, and I am again reminded of just how deeply this woman can move me.

In spring 1999, in a small banquet room at Georgetown University, I first heard Kelly sing and speak about the suffering in Iraq. A crowd of about 200 people had gathered to hear about her work. She had been to Iraq dozens of times to put a human face on the conflict there and to defy the drastic financial and trade embargo that the U.N. Security Council had imposed shortly after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

She briefly went over the statistics—the deep poverty, the lack of medicines, the estimated half-million children who had died, many due to the U.N. sanctions, enforced in part by a U.S.-led blockade—but she quickly moved on. Statistics weren’t her strength.

Instead she spoke from the heart. Kelly talked about the ordinary Iraqis she had met: the worn women who served her tea and biscuits they could barely afford, the countless kids in threadbare hand-me-downs who ran after her merrily in the street, the tired doctors who broke down crying as they remembered all the children they had lost, the stone-faced parents who accepted her condolences because they didn’t know what else to do.

She also told the story of Zayna, a 7-month-old baby girl who died of malnutrition shortly after Kelly visited her in the hospital.

Then she started singing “We Shall Overcome” in Arabic, after telling the crowd how her friend Sattar, an Iraqi engineer turned taxi driver, had spent hours sitting with her in Baghdad, patiently translating the lyrics into Arabic and teaching them to her.

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Keep On Keepin' On

IN ORDER TO imagine the solutions needed for our environmental crises, we must understand the depth and breadth of their severity—but understanding can all too easily lead to guilt, despair, and hopelessness.

Our response to climate change can no longer be about fear. The more overwhelmed, fearful, guilty, or bitter we are, the less likely we are to spring into action. Corporate monopolies, fossil fuel industry giants, and big money lobbyists have succeeded in getting us to be our own worst enemy. Anger and outrage can only get us so far, and no one knows that better than they do. And in my case, only the good Lord, and my loving husband, know the depth of my daily, ongoing struggle with this.

So what is a faithful, God-fearing, creation-loving person to do? One thing that I have found helpful is to purposefully set aside time to immerse myself in nature, appreciating God’s creation in its vast and intricate beauty. Even a 15-minute stroll through a city park helps me to calm down and regain perspective. Watching fuzzy animals, finding colorful creepy crawlies, and overhearing snippets of people’s conversations gives me pause and reminds me that ours is very complex and witty God.

Another thing essential to sustaining myself in this work is to interact with others for whom creation care and eco-justice is a passion or vocation. The interpersonal relationships build community and nurture my soul. And in them we most deeply experience the grace and presence of the Holy Spirit, at work among us, inspired by one another through our faith and common efforts.

Prior to coming to Sojourners, I coordinated multiday workshops for Lutherans Restoring Creation. Each one gave pastors and lay leaders an opportunity to share best practices and resources for integrating creation care into all areas of church life: worship, education, buildings and grounds, advocacy, and discipleship at home and work.

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VIDEO: Malawi Activist on Climate Change

While many people continue to believe there is no climate crisis, those most affected by global warming—particularly in the global South—know otherwise. According to Sojourners magazine’s interview with Malawi activist Victor Mughogho, the “impacts are quite severe on the ground.”

Victor and his organization, Eagles Relief and Development Programme, works with local churches in Malawi to address the effects of climate change. Together, Christians are caring for their neighbors and adapting to the changing environment. But are these efforts enough?

Find out the answer by reading our exclusive interview with Victor and watching this video below.

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Across the Board, Peace

JIM BALMER, president of an addiction-recovery center called Dawn Farm in Ypsilanti, Michigan, has been an antiwar activist since the Vietnam days. His engagement with nonviolence has taken him to some unexpected places, from the antiabortion group Operation Rescue to working with addicts. Sojourners associate editor Elizabeth Palmberg interviewed Balmer early last year at the Consistent Life conference in Washington, D.C.


Elizabeth Palmberg: What was your work for peace during the Vietnam war?

Jim Balmer: I had been part of Detroit-area draft resistance. I went through almost all the conscientious objector status [process]. And it was 1970—what can I tell you? I was under the influence of substances one night, and I wrote the draft board in Pontiac, Michigan, and told them off; I just said, "come and get me." They never did. I suspect that, as the '70s progressed, they got more and more tired of putting us in jail.

The Detroit-Ann Arbor area was a hub for political activism. Students for a Democratic Society was founded there. YPFJ—Youth for Peace, Freedom, and Justice—there were all sorts of organizations. We would protest. The first time I got actually picked up was at a George Wallace rally—Wallace was a terrible, racist candidate from Alabama.

I started being interested in nonviolence. I was reading Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., and I took King's nonviolence pledge when I was in high school.

How has King's pledge affected your life? I found myself in a couple of situations where I had the opportunity to practice nonviolence, to be assaulted and not return force. In a protest, during the Vietnam War, I got assaulted by a couple of guys.

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Inside Job

Viridiana Martinez
Viridiana Martinez

ONE EVENING LAST July, I walked up to the Port Everglades U.S. border checkpoint in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to intentionally turn myself in to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. My mission: to get into Broward Transitional Center, a privately run U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility, to expose the stories of those held there. It's categorized by ICE as a model facility. But as I witnessed firsthand, it is nothing short of a prison where, as in the other 250 immigration prisons across the U.S., immigrants are arbitrarily held and exposed to all kinds of human rights abuses.

The total number of undocumented immigrants detained in the U.S. each year is sky-high—ICE detained 429,247 people in 2011 alone. In August 2011, the administration announced that it would focus its deportation efforts on people with criminal records. "Obama is only deporting gangbangers and felons," established immigrant advocacy organizations said. "He's our guy for immigration reform!"

But that is far from true. In my work with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), I keep hearing the real stories of immigrant prisoners and the loved ones from whom they're torn.

Getting detained was part of a strategy of civil disobedience that fellow activists and I have been pursuing since 2010: In order to pressure ICE and the government, we have to put ourselves on the line. I was one of two Youth Alliance activists who sought to infiltrate the Broward Center to find out the inside story. We also set up a telephone hotline, funded by donations from the community, to take calls from people detained in the center.

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