'Blue Like Jazz': The Sojourners Interview


Editor's Note: Earlier this week, our intrepid blogger/reporter/resident-God-Nerd Christian Piatt sat down with the makers of the highly-anticipated film Blue Like Jazz —  Donald Miller, director Steve Taylor and Marshall Allman, the actor who portrays protagonist "Don" in the screen adaptation of Miller's best-selling memoir — to talk about faith, film and ... fate.

Blue Like Jazz premiered at the SXSW Festival in Texas earlier this month and opens nationwide April 13. Piatt caught up with the filmmakers in a Colorado Springs theater where they were hosting a sneak-peek screening and persuaded the gents to unpack the story of the-little-film-that-could and the Spirit that buoyed them along the way.

The wide-ranging interview covers everything from John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" and what Miller calls "dangerous theological ideas" to the astounding grace of God and peanut butter cups. Fascinating and funny, the conversation with the hearts and minds behind Blue Like Jazz is a humdinger.

Watch the interview in its entirety and read Piatt's reflections on the film and his conversation with its makers inside the blog ...

Culture Wars and Destructive Dialogue

Not too long after being introduced to John 3:16, I was taught Psalm 139:13: “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Now that I was a Christian, it was important I understood that Christians are anti-abortion, that life begins at conception, and that terminating life is nothing short of murder. Throughout college, I carried the cause of the pro-life movement in a symbol tacked on my school bag: a miniature pair of feet, a replica of a 10-week old baby in utero, intricately shaped in sterling silver.

I didn’t think about it. I never HAD to think about it, having never carried an unwanted pregnancy. For me, the pro-life movement was simple, uncomplicated, pretty, and as sanitized as a small silver ornament. That is, until I moved to China, a country well known for its high rate of abortions — including forced abortions, particularly of baby girls.

More Catholics, but Fewer Receiving Sacraments: New Report Maps Changing Church

Photo via beboy /

Photo via beboy /

A new report mapping the Catholic Church’s more than 1.2 billion souls — on track to reach 1.64 billion by 2050 — holds some surprises.

And not all bode well for the church’s future as it faces major demographic and social shifts.

Global Catholicism: Trends & Forecasts,” released June 1 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, looks at seven regions of the world. It wraps the United States, Mexico, and Canada in with Central and South America as simply the Americas.

‘Grace Notes:' The Quiet Unshakable Faith of Hillary Clinton

Photo via REUTERS / Carlo Allegri / RNS

Former first lady Hillary Clinton. Photo via REUTERS / Carlo Allegri / RNS

Late on a Saturday night in 2012, I received word from my sister in Mississippi that my mamma had passed away. My home was silent as my wife and two boys slept upstairs. I was reading when the sad call came.

I woke my wife to tell her; we sat on the edge of the bed and hugged. In my sadness, around midnight, I started cleaning the kitchen, likely because my mamma was always cleaning something. I also reached out to two friends.

It was within minutes that I heard back from Hillary.

Secretary Clinton joined me in my heartbreak, reminding me that she could share the pain because of the fairly recent loss of her own mother. She also told me to get to Mississippi, be with my family, and take all the time I needed — because my work in Washington paled in comparison to remembering and mourning my mom and being with family.

My family and I drove home, deeper and deeper into my Southern motherland, to bury my mom. My siblings had asked me to speak for the family at the funeral, so I rode shotgun and wrote while my wife, Karen, drove.

Along the way, drafting what I consider the most important talk of my life, I again reached out to Secretary Clinton, who was engaged in one of the most grueling and intense schedules that any secretary of state had undertaken.

Even so, she found the time to offer suggestions and talk me through this most personal task.


New & Noteworthy

A Good Neighbor
Children’s television host (and Presbyterian minister) Fred Rogers was known for his gentle, soft-spoken manner. Michael G. Long argues in Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers that Rogers was also a radical, imbuing his show with nonviolence and care for creation. Westminster John Knox Press

Be a Man
The creators of Miss Representation bring us The Mask You Live In, a portrait of masculinity in the U.S. through the eyes of young boys, educators, and social scientists. The documentary argues that hyper-masculine cultural messages manifest in violent, isolating, emotionally stunting ways. The Representation Project

All in the Family
For 10 years Patricia Raybon and her daughter Alana didn’t talk about faith—because Alana had become a practicing Muslim. In Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace, they tell about their search together for healing and understanding. W Publishing Group

Americana Moses
In Leave Some Things Behind, the Steel Wheels use mandolin, fiddle, and bass to bolster a lyrical theme of “Exodus.” The foursome reflects on the joy and consequences of leaving home for an abstract promised land, singing, “It makes a difference where you go. It makes you different where you go.”

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Secularism Grows as More U.S. Christians Turn ‘Churchless’

“Unchurched Adults Are More Likely To Be…,” graphic courtesy of Barna Group/RNS.

If you’re dismayed that one in five Americans (20 percent) are “nones” — people who claim no particular religious identity — brace yourself.

How does 38 percent sound?

That’s what religion researcher David Kinnaman calculates when he adds “the unchurched, the never-churched and the skeptics” to the nones.

He calls his new category “churchless,” the same title Kinnaman has given his new book. By his count, roughly four in 10 people living in the continental United States are actually “post-Christian” and “essentially secular in belief and practice.”

If asked, the “churchless” would likely check the “Christian” box on a survey, even though they may not have darkened the door of a church in years.

Kinnaman, president of the California-based Barna Group, slides them into this new category based on 15 measures of identity, belief and practice in more than 23,000 interviews in 20 surveys.

The research looked at church worship attendance and participation, views about the Bible, God and Jesus, and more to see whether folks were actually tied to Christian life in a meaningful way or tied more by habit or personal history.

Are All Christians Really Hypocrites?



According to one of my favorite authors, Brennan Manning, "The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable." It is just a much more eloquent way of saying that the world thinks we’re a bunch of hypocrites. 

To be quite honest, most of the time, the claim is warranted. I have a friend who wants nothing to do with Jesus because his father, a very religious man, was active in the local church but was abusive behind closed doors. Another friend continues to distance herself from anyone associated with the church because of their judgmental glares about her lifestyle choices. 

Whatever their reasoning, I understand. I, too, have personally encountered the hypocrisy they see in our communities of faith. And if I'm at all honest, the number of times I have been the hypocrite who has turned others away are too numerous to count.

Agents of Grit and Grace

THE 67 PEOPLE gathered in the basement of Union Baptist Church in Memphis have come from all over: Appalachian State University and Asbury College, Louisiana State and Liberty University, Wright State and Wheaton College. The youngest is 21; the oldest, 48. They’ve come to teach in some of the lowest performing schools in the state of Tennessee.

For the next 12 months, they’ll live, learn, and pray together, becoming a family as they also learn to become teachers and colleagues. All were drawn by faith and a dream that God is doing unexpected things in the city schools of Memphis.

Welcome to the Memphis Teacher Residency (MTR), a faith-based nonprofit that’s become one of the most effective teacher training programs in Tennessee.

At the front of the room, Rev. Tom Fuerst, an associate pastor at Christ United Methodist Church, gives the morning devotional. His message: The world is broken and so are Memphis schools. But God wants to fix them both. Fuerst describes the idea of “prior grace”—that God is at work in the world long before we are aware of it—and invites the new trainees to become agents of that grace by becoming great teachers.

But Fuerst, like everyone at MTR, is quick to warn the aspiring teachers—known as residents—against proselytizing. The residents, as public school teachers, don’t preach faith in the classroom, hold Bible studies, or actively discuss their faith. That would make the classroom unsafe for non-Christian students, warned Fuerst.

That doesn’t mean that MTR hides its Christian identity. Organizers believe that every student in Memphis is a child of God and deserves a great education. They believe that providing great public education is part of the gospel. The gospel motivates everything they do. But preaching is not part of their educational strategy.

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Pope Francis Apologizes for Persecution of Pentecostals

Pope Francis talks with Giovanni Traettino on July 28, 2014. CNS photo/ L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters.

Pope Francis sought forgiveness for decades of persecution of Italian Pentecostals when he met with around 300 evangelicals from the U.S., Argentina, and Italy in the southern town of Caserta on Monday.

The pope made his second visit in as many days to the Mafia stronghold near Naples, this time to meet evangelical pastor Giovanni Traettino, whom he befriended while he was archbishop of Buenos Aires.

During the visit, Francis apologized for the persecution suffered by Pentecostals under Italy’s fascist regime in the 1920s and 1930s and urged Christians to celebrate their diversity and unity.

“Catholics were among those who persecuted and denounced the Pentecostals, almost as if they were crazy,” Francis said.

“I am the shepherd of the Catholics and I ask you to forgive my Catholic brothers and sisters who did not understand and were tempted by the devil.”

Since his election last year, the pope has been reaching out to other faiths and has held talks with Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim leaders. On Monday, he went even further by apologizing for what Catholics had done.

Why Evangelicals Should Care About 'The Mikado' Controversy If They Care About Reconciliation in the Church

Courtesy of Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society

Courtesy of Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society

In my pastoral counseling class in seminary, the professor played a video of a counseling session of a black couple. He intended for us to learn some lessons on marriage counseling from it, but it turned out to be a laugh fest for the mostly white class. Repeatedly the husband and wife cut each other down with witty insults. My sense is that the couple reminded the students of George and Louise Jefferson from the TV show The Jeffersons. I sat next to an African American student that day and during the break I turned over to him and asked, “Do you find this funny?” He said, “I’m glad you asked,” and proceeded to tell me that he witnessed this kind of behavior firsthand in his own home since his parents are divorced. Needless to say he did not find the video amusing. I encouraged him to voice this to the class, which he courageously did when we returned from break. It seems while the professor intended to communicate one thing from showing the video, it communicated another because of the manner in which the students were racialized. 

I share this story as an analogue to the recent controversy surrounding the production of the Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s The Mikado — a comic opera written in 1885 as a critique of British politics and institutions, set in distant, mysterious, and mostly made-up Japan. It began with Sharon Chan writing an editorial to the Seattle Times, calling the current production of it by an all-white cast as “yellowface” and “open[ing] old wounds and resurrect[ing] pejorative stereotypes.”  Since then, Jeff Yang has also written an editorial for entitled, “Yellowface staging of ‘The Mikado’ has to end.”  I will not rehearse their arguments here; I write to address why this incident matters to North American evangelicals.