Books

Church Gardening As Peacemaking Ministry

The book cover of “Soil and Sacrament” by Fred Bahnson. Photo via RNS.
The book cover of “Soil and Sacrament” by Fred Bahnson. Photo via RNS.

Fred Bahnson’s first bit of advice when he started planning a church garden eight years ago came from an elderly tobacco farmer who grabbed a handful of soil, rolled it around in his fingers and shook his head:

“You don wohn fahm heah,” he said in his deep North Carolina drawl.

Those were not the only discouraging words he received as he planted and cultivated one of the earliest and most successful church gardens, 20 miles north of Chapel Hill.

But Bahnson, a Duke Divinity School graduate and a pioneer in the church gardening movement, had a different view of farming than the older tobacco farmer. He knew that if he gave back to the soil more than he took out — in the form of compost, manure and other soil food — he could create an abundant garden.

Wives Find Renewed Faith After Husbands ‘Visit’ Heaven

Eva Piper considered herself a "shallow Christian" before the accident that revi
Eva Piper considered herself a "shallow Christian" before the accident that revitalized her faith. Photo via RNS.

Eva Piper considered herself a shallow Christian until the accident that revitalized her faith and turned her Baptist pastor husband, Don Piper, into the best-selling author of “90 Minutes in Heaven.”

“It wasn’t until Don’s accident that I really opened myself up to a really honest relationship with the Lord,” said Eva Piper, who says she’s embarrassed to recall her superficial faith.

Eva Piper writes about life after her husband’s alleged visit to heaven in “A Walk Through the Dark,” released on July 30. Her book comes nine years after the publication of her husband’s book, which spent more than five years on The New York Times’ best-seller list.

New & Noteworthy

The Dream at 50
This August marks the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for civil rights for African Americans. PBS will feature special broadcast and Web programming, including the premiere of the new documentary The March onTuesday, Aug. 27 (check local listings). pbs.org/black-culture/explore

The Miracle of Meaning
Secular Days, Sacred Moments: The America Columns of Robert Coles, edited by David D. Cooper, collects 31 short essays by the respected child psychiatrist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Whatever the topic, Coles offers thoughtful insights on civic life and moral purpose. Michigan State University Press

Soul Searching
The album One True Vine, gospel-R&B legend Mavis Staples’ second collaboration with Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy, is an exploration of doubt and faith. Staples moves with understated, gravelly grace from gospel standards to covers of songs by Low and Funkadelic to originals by Tweedy. Anti- Records

Jerusalem, Jerusalem
Dale Hanson Bourke gives a helpful introduction for American Christians to an intensely controversial topic in The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Tough Questions, Direct Answers. This latest edition of the Skeptic’s Guide series covers key places, terms, and history, with helpful graphics, all in a compact, readable format. IVP

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Donna Schaper’s Grace at The Table is Gracious and Delicious

Photo courtesy Marcell Mizik/Shutterstock.com.
Man praying over a white plate while awaiting to be fed. Photo courtesy Marcell Mizik/Shutterstock.com.

Human beings seem to come with certain built-in spiritual inclinations, and gratitude is chief among them.

Parents and teachers think we have to be taught to say thank you, but maybe it just comes naturally. Gratitude is both accessible and enlivening.

Accessible because it’s as easy as paying attention to that which we might otherwise take for granted.

With gratitude, when our lover holds our hand for the umpteenth time it feels like it’s the first time and we’re grateful for them all over again. Or when we sit down to a plate of something humble and home-cooked it suddenly transports us to all those other meals in all those other places where we felt loved, accepted, and welcomed.

New and Noteworthy

Simple Truths
The Live Simply series, a set of four booklets based on the values of St. Francis of Assisi, is packed with practical, portable advice about ethical eating, holistic health, creation care, and sensible shopping. Ideal for anyone seeking a life of simplicity and satisfaction in a world of consumption. Franciscan Media

Lost and Found?
A decomposing body is found in the Sonoran Desert, with a tattoo, “Dayani Cristal.” The documentary Who is Dayani Cristal? shows the efforts to find out who this mysterious migrant was and the journey he likely followed. A haunting look at the people affected by the politics of immigration. www.whoisdayanicristal.com

Seeing Holiness
Inspired by meditation and mysticism, author Christine Valters Painter makes visual prayers come to life through the camera lens in Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice. Each chapter includes a spiritual practice, reflection questions, and stunning black-and-white or full-color photography. Sorin Books

Chronic Love
In Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up with a Christian Drunk, recovering alcoholic Heather Kopp details how she hit rock bottom—only to discover that God’s grace knows no limit. A bluntly honest must-read for people of faith struggling with addiction or a loved one’s substance abuse. Jericho Books

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Giving Tree

Giving hands support a tree. Photo courtesy art4all/shutterstock.com

If I were a tree

     I would like to be

          A giving tree.

Leaves a peaceful green,

     Birds could sit and sing,

          Children laugh and swing

                Upon my branches.

 

New & Noteworthy

A Terrible Thing to Waste
Many U.S. children living in poverty are further penalized by struggling public schools. Nicole Baker Fulgham, former vice president of faith community relations at Teach for America, offers passionate, practical solutions in Educating All God’s Children: What Christians Can—and Should—Do to Improve Public Education for Low-Income Kids. Brazos Press

Holy Disruption
The documentary Bidder 70 tells the story of a different kind of civil disobedience: Tim DeChristopher helped save 22,000 acres of Utah wilderness by outbidding industry figures at a disputed Bureau of Land Management oil and gas lease auction, with no intention of paying or drilling. www.bidder70film.com

Soulful Justice
In Just Spirituality: How Faith Practices Fuel Social Action, author Mae Elise Cannon profiles how the activism of seven Christian leaders was shaped by their practice of specific spiritual disciplines and offers ways to apply those disciplines in our own lives. IVP Books

Prophetic Good News
Pastor and anti-poverty worker George S. Johnson’s self-published anthology, Courage to Think Differently, testifies to, as Walter Brueggemann writes in the preface, “an awareness that the gospel pertains to every public question among us.” Includes essays by Frances Moore Lappé, Shane Claiborne, Elsa Tamez, and many more. www.adventurepublications.net

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Our Dolls, Our Selves

WHEN MY DAUGHTER, Jessica, was 7 years old, some of her best friends had American Girl dolls, so of course she desperately needed one as well. We asked three or four family members to chip in—these were expensive dolls—and got her one for Christmas.

Her doll, “Addy,” came with a story, as did each in the American Girl line. Addy and her mother had escaped from slavery in the American South, and they “followed the drinking gourd” north to Philadelphia, where they were eventually reunited with the rest of Addy’s family. It was a gripping story, especially for a 7-year-old. And the fact that Addy was about my daughter’s age made it all the easier for her to connect.

“It wasn’t so much that I learned ‘facts’” about slavery and race from the Addy stories, Jessica, now 27, told me recently, “but they made it all more personal. Addy was young, like me—I could relate to it.”

Other women who grew up with the dolls echoed that sense of connection with the various American Girl stories. Janelle Tupper, campaigns assistant at Sojourners, was around 7 when she received the “Kirsten” doll, a Swedish immigrant to the U.S. “My most distinct memory from the stories was that, on the boat, her best friend dies of cholera,” Tupper said. “Reading that passage was pretty devastating to me as a kid.” Other books in the American Girl series addressed issues of the day, from child labor to women’s suffrage. And while Tupper said she wasn’t aware as a child of the social justice themes in the stories—“I was just imagining life in the different time periods through the eyes of a character I identified with”—she now sees the series as addressing “societal change in terms that an 8- year-old can understand, often told through the characters’ friendships and family stories.”

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Marks

St. Francis of Assisi statue in Mexico, PerseoMedusa / Shutterstock.com
St. Francis of Assisi statue in Mexico, PerseoMedusa / Shutterstock.com

Editors Note: The following poem by Trevor Scott Barton was written while he was living in Africa and reading The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi.

Holding you in the palm of my hand
I see your tiny feet and hope you'll live and walk these stony paths
To the pump to get water.
Blessing you in your meekness and gentleness,
You are Jesus to me today.

Five Questions with Author of 'The Invisible Girls'

'The Invisible Girls' cover. Photo via Jericho Books
'The Invisible Girls' cover. Photo via Jericho Books

Sarah Thebarge is the author of The Invisible Girlsa new memoir from Jericho Books. I was fortunate to get a few minutes to ask her a few questions about her touching, funny, compelling new piece of work.

Q:  Your book is about Somali Refugees and also about your survival of breast cancer.  How do you write one book about both things?

A:  When I met the Somali mom and her girls on the MAX the first time, we had a lot of differences – different religions, ethnicities, skin color, and language. But as I developed a relationship with them, I realized that we had a lot in common at the core. Because I’d been a little girl growing up in a fundamentalist culture, where men buried you under yards of fabric and lists of rules and taught you that women were supposed to be silent.  And I knew what it was like to be a refugee of sorts, because after I nearly died of cancer in my 20s, I sold everything I had and got on a plane with a suitcase of clothes and flew from the east coast to Portland, Ore., and started over. And so even though the narrative lines of the Somali refugee family and my cancer experiences seem disparate, they actually weave together well, because all this time, I’d been an Invisible Girl, too.

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