Art

Celebrate 'Buy Nothing Day' with 'Make Something Day'

The day after Thanksgiving, thousands of Americans head for the shopping malls for a ritual known as Black Friday, called such as it's a day when many retailers move from the red (losses) into the black (gains).

Black Friday is "celebrated" nationwide by working off Thanksgiving's meal by shopping. Over a decade ago another celebration was started on the same day: Buy Nothing Day.

Word Become Fresh

Prelude: Live theater first enraptured me with a burst through the sanctuary doors of Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Blytheville, Arkansas, in the mid-1970s. My father, a volunteer youth minister, directed the youth group in a Passion play for Easter weekend. I tagged along to rehearsal each night for weeks, appointing myself Dad’s de facto stage manager and memorizing everyone’s lines.

In a clever bit of staging, Dad had “Peter” and “John” throw open the back double doors and race up the sanctuary aisle crying, “He is alive!” “He has risen!” Having seen all those rehearsals, each time I looked back and waited for Terry Watson and Joel Blakely to make their entrance. At their first performance on Good Friday, Terry and Joel sprinted in on cue, running and shouting, and an audible gasp arose from the congregation. Two pews in front of me, Mrs. Greene clutched at her heart and inhaled sharply, eyes wide in shock before a small smile crept across her face. It was almost as if the Good Lord himself had come through those doors.

I was hooked.

With these living, breathing characters in our midst, the air inside the church felt charged. Terry and Joel disappeared, and Peter and John sprang up in their places. Though neither of us would have put it this way, Mrs. Greene and I discovered something in that sanctuary: Theater is incarnational, an experience of word becoming flesh right before our eyes. In that sense, it mirrors the very essence of the Christian faith. After all, Jesus not only used parables, stories, and dramatic reenactments to convey his message—his very presence was the message.

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Sojourners Magazine November 2007
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Bearing Witness

Wearing a fierce gaze and his "HIV POSITIVE" faded red T-shirt, Winstone Zulu came right out and asked Toronto's Globe and Mail Africa correspondent Stephanie Nolen the question. "What are our lives worth?"

His five words touched on the central themes—economic, political, philosophical, theological—that must be considered in any examination of the AIDS crisis in Africa, and the response from the rest of the world it has and has not generated.

Nolen couldn't answer him and avoided his gaze by scribbling in her notebook. Zulu may as well have been asking on behalf of the 28 people profiled in Nolen's book, 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa, or for the 28 million people in sub-Saharan Africa estimated to be infected with HIV. Each has every right to expect an answer to that question from a world that has turned its back for too long.

In 28, Nolen approaches the difficult questions by telling the stories of an array of people affected by AIDS. There's Tigist, an Ethiopian teenager who has been raising her younger brother Yohannes on her own since their mother died of AIDS. She paints her toenails delphinium blue, lies awake at night worrying about money for school fees and more lentils, and tries to avoid the men approaching her for sex while promising rent money. Pontiano Kaleebu works as a virus researcher in Entebbe, Uganda, searching for an AIDS vaccine. On a good day, when he's feeling optimistic, he says it's at least another 10 years away. And there's Botswana's Miss HIV Stigma Free 2005, Cynthia Leshomo, photographed with one hand on her hip and the other draped down her thigh in the manner of beauty queens everywhere. Their stories, Zulu's story, and 24 more make the issue much more personal and much less theoretical.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2007
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Where Your Treasure Is...

Whenever I see a photograph by Sebastião Salgado, I'm reminded of St. Lawrence the Deacon.

The Brazilian photographer is renowned for allowing the gaze of the world's poor to indict and remind the world's wealthy. Third-century martyr St. Lawrence is remembered as an early church accountant. He distributed alms to the poor, but always valued the poor more than the money. Salgado started off as an economist conducting his "almsgiving" through the World Bank, but then took up his camera to create a public, religious narrative of poor people across the world.

I saw my first Salgado photograph hanging in the cramped Cambridge apartment of a friend who was studying to be a Lutheran pastor. The photo was a devastating black and white taken in 1983 as part of Salgado's Terra series on the Landless Workers Movement in Sertão da Ceara, Brazil. In it a man, covered in coal dust, holds his naked year-old child while both stare confidently into the camera. They are framed by a dilapidated doorway, their heads haloed by peeling paint. On the wall behind hangs an oversized poster of an Anglo Jesus gazing on the two with infinite love—and perhaps passivity. It's classic Salgado: cutthroat, compassionate, complex.

In the early '70s, Salgado left the World Bank and wandered through Latin America collecting images for his first book, Other Americas. Later, he worked for 15 months with Doctors Without Borders, photographing in the drought-stricken Sahel region of Africa. Next, in Workers, Salgado followed the effect that the transition from large-scale manual labor to mechanization had on people and their communities. His Exodus project depicted the newly developed migratory class of displaced persons and refugees. Salgado traces the human face, the imago dei, against the background of time, livelihood, and continents.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2007
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