Community

Viewing Community

THERE ARE apparently 2,000 film festivals around the world, so the format of red carpet arrivals, gala screenings, and Q&A sessions that appear all but scripted in advance have become well and truly entrenched. The best festivals recognize that their purpose is to cast a spell over filmgoers and filmmakers alike, inviting them into a spacious place where the heart of the dream that led to the film being made and the audience’s reason for watching it can beat in a community of people who thirst for art that gives life. Unsurprisingly, the biggest festivals find it hardest to pull this off—asking for contemplative mutuality at Cannes or Sundance is like looking for a Buddhist tea garden at Disney World.

Yet film festivals can be places where small is indeed beautiful. It’s only the movies that need to be big—or at least their capacity to alchemize with the viewer’s autobiographical narrative. The trappings of VIP lounges, paparazzi, and celebrity gossip are just that: They trap the aesthetic air, creating distance between people and art. Smaller festivals may be more capable of nurturing something that really feels like community.

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No Longer the 'Best Kept Secret'

SINCE HIS ELECTION as the 265th successor of St. Peter, Pope Francis has provided a refresher course on Catholic social teaching to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. “Catholic social teaching is no longer a secret,” says Jean Hill, director of peace and justice for the diocese of Salt Lake City. “Everything Pope Francis is saying comes from social doctrine and is about social justice.”

Through his various homilies, speeches, and meetings, Francis is “reading the signs of the times” and making practical application to the issues of the day. Some of his most powerful statements to date were made in his first pastoral document, “The Joy of the Gospel,” including this declaration: “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting, and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church that is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”

Pope Francis is calling the faithful to be more merciful, compassionate, joyful, and centered upon the needs of the poor and vulnerable. He wants a church that sees the human person before the law and one that does not “obsess” about a narrow set of issues, but affirms both human life and human dignity. He invites

Catholics to pray, reflect, and embrace the beauty and breadth of Catholic social teaching—a rich tradition that is predicated on the dignity of the human person.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) defines Catholic social teaching as “a central and essential element of our faith. Its roots are in the Hebrew prophets who announced God’s special love for the poor and called God’s people to a covenant of love and justice.” This teaching is also founded on the life and words of Jesus. It posits that “every human being is created in the image of God and redeemed by Jesus Christ, and therefore is invaluable and worthy of respect as a member of the human family.”

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This Land is Our Land

RURAL COMMUNITIES in the U.S. wrestle with many of the same problems facing the rest of the country—persistent unemployment, access to quality health care, air and water degradation, a broken immigration policy. Other issues—such as supporting sustainable farming practices and drawing young people into agriculture, lack of broadband access, and the challenges of small-town economic development—are more unique to rural life.

Even though the 46.2 million people living in rural U.S. counties constitute only 15 percent of the country’s total population (spread across 72 percent of the nation’s land area), we are all connected—urban, suburban, and rural—by foodways, waterways, wilderness areas, and our national politics. As one Midwest-based organizer put it, “many progressives fundamentally don’t understand rural America—they don’t even know why they should care about it. You can’t understand the power of the tea party without understanding rural America. It is the key to the House of Representatives, and progressives will be hamstrung until they can make inroads in a few key congressional districts.”

But that organizer and others also draw power and hope from the deep history of populism in the rural Midwest and parts of the South, and the endurance of community-oriented values that aren’t just “heartland” clichés.

While many young people are itching to leave rural areas and small towns—anxious to find better jobs, educational opportunities, or city culture—others have always stayed put or returned after time away. And some “city cousins” move to rural America, enjoying the opportunity to work on issues they care about (with the bonus of a brilliant night sky). Here are four stories of young people investing in rural communities in the Midwest.  —The Editors

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Smiling Back

A grandfather and grandson play chess. Image courtesy imtmphoto/shutterstock.com

You can smile at someone, but you can’t really smile with someone until you’ve cried with them, too. Shared their pain, their doubts, their questions, their uncertainty, even their despair. And their joy as well, those moments when your eyes fill with tears for a different reason. You end up smiling together with tear-stained cheeks. And those smiles matter the most.    

An Unexpected Journey

Illustration of community holding hands, STILLFX / Shutterstock.com

Illustration of community holding hands, STILLFX / Shutterstock.com

When our church receives new members, we share a covenant that includes the commitment to “journey together.” Often, we realize this can mean ‘journeying’ into unwanted, dark, difficult, or surprising places with each other. We have stood with each other as loved ones pass away. We stand with each other in the difficult role of being children of aging parents, or parents of growing children. We bear witness to the power of hope when someone we love struggles with depression. We celebrate commitments made, successes honored, and loves found. The Christian faith, we realize, is rarely about solutions; it is about the authentic and real journey of life and a common trust that our God walks with us, no matter what.

For a variety of reasons, a former bishop in another denomination found us in the immediate aftermath of a horrible car accident that resulted in the death of an innocent and lovely woman in a nearby community.

Rather than becoming a setting to explore the details of this accident, our congregation became a lifeline for him during the months he awaited his fate and eventual conviction of second-degree reckless homicide. Week in and week out, he attended worship, sang with us, prayed with us, and sought spiritual solace with us. His presence was quiet but consistent. He didn’t ask for special attention, indeed didn’t want to make us uncomfortable with his presence. As a person of faith on his own difficult journey, he simply wanted to be in worship with a community.

 

Pittsburgh Bridge Project Knits Together Communities

At the project’s completion, almost 600 handmade panels covered the Andy Warhol Bridge. Photo: KnittheBridge.wordpress.com

Amanda Gross describes herself as a “weaver of things and people.”

Gross, a fiber artist based in Pittsburgh, Pa., has been weaving things — from quilts to bags to skirts — for years. But, as a “weaver of people,” Gross completed her biggest project yet this fall.

Gross is the head artist behind the Knit the Bridge project, a massive community effort that covered the Andy Warhol Bridge in Pittsburgh with knit and crochet panels. From August to September, Knit the Bridge workers installed 600 handmade blankets across the 1,061-ft. long bridge.

Hack the Church

When introducing people to hacking, Ali Llewellyn often brings up Apollo 13. “Remember that scene where they dump everything on the table and say, ‘We have to find a solution, with only these materials?’ And there’s, you know, duct tape? That’s all it is! Hacking is building a way to go from here to there.”

She should know. After studying church planting and social mobilization, Llewellyn went on to spearhead community engagement for NASA’s Open Innovation Program and is now a Senior Program Manager for SecondMuse, equipping hackers and non-hackers alike for the upcoming National Day of Civic Hacking.

Llewellyn’s dappled journey — from biblical scholarship to tech-minded collaboration — reveals a potent lens that Christians across denominations are using to repurpose, mobilize, and reform the church. In hacking, they see a model for the future of Christianity.

The term “hacking” has undergone a recent transformation in the popular lexicon, back to its amorally general origins as a method of discovery and recombination. For every Heartbleed-like scare today, there are innumerable cheery Buzzfeed tips to hack your life; and while the digital bandits of Anonymous capture our imagination, “hackathons” — community-oriented workshops to solve urban challenges — have popped up in many major cities.

With this broadened interpretation, Christian interest in hacking finds context. Just as faith systems give parameters to our spiritual imagination, so technology directs our inquiry into the universe and, increasingly, our connectedness to each other. Early Christianity spearheaded technological innovations with global ramifications, most notably in the invention of the codex. Today’s faithful hackers, armed with code, workshops, and participatory-minded theology, hope to do the same.

Beauty in Battered Places

Denise Giardina

“THE CHURCH radicalized me,” celebrated author and ordained Episcopal deacon Denise Giardina once said, describing how she sees herself as both social activist and servant minister. “The phrase in the prayer book is ‘Interpret the world to the church and the church to the world.’ It’s a totally different way to advocate, with a spiritual point of view.”

This philosophy has shown up in her bestselling novels, published over her long career, such as Storming Heaven (1987) and The Unquiet Earth (1992), which chronicle the history and social impacts of coal mining in Giardina’s native Appalachia; Saints and Villains (1999), which tells the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s resistance against Hitler and the Nazis; and, most recently, Emily’s Ghost (2010), a reimagining of Emily Brontë’s story and how her life was changed by her encounter with an ardent member of the clergy.

Shortly before her recent retirement from teaching creative writing at a West Virginia college, Giardina talked with Jason Howard, author of A Few Honest Words and coauthor of Something’s Rising, about her literary career, social justice activism, and her time in the late 1970s in Washington, D.C., as a member of Sojourners community (the intentional Christian community that founded Sojourners magazine and other ministries).

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For Innovation to Have a Prayer, It Needs to Start with Brokenness

Photo courtesy Tom Ehrich/RNS

“Innovation” is a warm and fuzzy word — until you dig inside it.

It’s like “community,” a warm and fuzzy term when taken to mean friendships, sharing, common interests, common values, perhaps working together.

But from a gospel perspective, “community” means much more. As Jesus modeled community, it means mercy — turning away from our instinct to judge and to punish. It means compassion — giving to the least, even when our instinct is to disdain.

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