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Author and Poet Maya Angelou Dies at 86

Angelou reciting her poem, "On the Pulse of Morning", at President Bill Clinton's inauguration, January 1993. Public Domain.

Maya Angelou, a renowned author, poet and civil right activist, has died at 86. Angelou, know for her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, also authored six other autobiographies along with numerous collections of poems.

Throughout her career, Angelou she was active in the Civil Rights movement, working with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. She also served a one point as the Northern Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a group founded following the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Dr. King and others.

NBC News reports her numerous achievements: 

Angelou was born on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri, under the name Marguerite Annie Johnson. She grew up to become a singer, dancer, actress, writer and Hollywood's first female black director.

Angelou had an impressive list of accolades: She was a three-time Grammy winner and was nominated for a Pulitzer, a Tony, an an Emmy for her role in the groundbreaking television mini-series "Roots."

Marianne Williamson's Prayerful Bid for Political Office

Marianne Williamson campaign photo courtesy of Marianne Williamson for Congress. Via RNS.

It’s not a typical campaign for U.S. Congress, and that’s the point.

Best-selling author and spiritual lecturer Marianne Williamson closed out a campaign volunteer meeting Thursday, by beckoning the crowd of about 100 people to do what she does naturally — pray. Chatter ceased, heads bowed.

After praying for humanity and for the country, Williamson offered up, “May love prevail. And so it is.” The rapt audience replied in turn: “And so it is.”

An Edgy Pastor Whose Edginess Isn’t Just Shtick

RNS photo by Sally Morrow
The Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber is a pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

PASADENA, Calif. — The first thing most people mention when they talk about Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber is her tattoos. She has many — most of them religious in nature, including a large icon of Mary Magdalene covering her right forearm.

Then they talk about how tall she is (6 foot 1), that she looks more like the lead singer of an all-girl punk rock band than a pastor and that she (unapologetically) swears a lot — even from the pulpit while preaching.

All of the above is true and part of what makes Bolz-Weber unique among high-profile pastors and so-called “Christian authors.” (I hate that term. The word “Christian” is best used as a noun, not an adjective.)

The Mythical World of Tom Clancy

Tom Clancy novels, cdrummbks / Flickr.com
Tom Clancy novels, cdrummbks / Flickr.com

The books of Tom Clancy, who passed away this week, contain some of the most detailed description of military weaponry and procedures the public is likely to see. And people want to believe it: Clancy’s world is one in which technology can provide security and the so-called experts can be trusted to protect us. He takes a complex world and doesn’t merely simplify it, but rather creates super humans and super machines that can manage the world’s complexities.

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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Vehicles for Grace

Francisco X. Stork

BORN IN MEXICO, Francisco X. Stork moved to Texas with his parents when he was 9. After college he studied Latin American literature at Harvard. Stork then decided to get a law degree, planning to make a living as a lawyer while writing fiction on the side. Many years later, he published the first of his five novels, The Way of the Jaguar. He continues to balance his vocation as a novelist for young adults with a "day job" as a lawyer for a Massachusetts state agency that helps develop affordable housing. Former Sojourners editorial assistant Betsy Shirley, now a student at Yale Divinity School, interviewed Stork last spring at Calvin College's Festival of Faith and Writing.

Betsy Shirley: On your blog you say that every author has a bone to which they return again and again to gnaw. What do you gnaw on?

Francisco X. Stork: The question that characters in my books keep asking themselves is, "Why am I here?" I keep coming back to trying to find some kind of meaning to life and to suffering that keeps people going. All my books center on young people who are questioning themselves in that vein. My first book had a person on death row, the second had a young man with someone out to kill him, and the third one had a boy, Marcelo, who was questioning how he could possibly live in a world of suffering. Those questions of mortality make you a little bit more aware of the preciousness of life.

What have you observed about faith and spiritual curiosity in young people? What scares me about a lot of the young people that I meet is that there's a lot of living on the surface—trying to achieve and to do well on tests and to make sure that you get into a good university to get jobs. So I see a lot of less significant questioning in many young people. Then you get to know them, and you know that those questions still exist. But there's a greater need to conform than there was in the past.

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Maurice Sendak Has Died

Sendak/Wild Things image via By .Va i ♥ ven. Arp/Wylio.
Sendak/Wild Things image via By .Va i ♥ ven. Arp/Wylio.

“But the wild things cried, “Oh please don’t go - we’ll eat you up - we love you so!”
And Max said, “No!”
The wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws, but Max stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye.”
~ Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak, the author and illustrator of unmatched and unfettered whimsy, whose fertile imagination gave children (of all ages) Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, Pierre and most recently Bumble-Ardy, died today in Connecticut. He was 83.

http://youtu.be/xXAjkLUv7dY

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