Pittsburgh Bridge Project Knits Together Communities

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

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.

Millennials: Antisocial, Selfish, and Afraid?

Image via

Last week as I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed, I came across a post from Dr. Timothy Keller, one of the founding members of The Gospel Coalitionwho has been known for his very intellectual and reasonable perspective on a variety of issues that his other conservative colleagues have not been so balanced on. However, one of his recent comments surprised me, seeming to further a false narrative about millennial evangelicals that we are a generation of spineless, selfish, and scared hipsters:

I immediately was taken aback when I came across this post. As a millennial who has been actively involved in the conversation surrounding what faith, life, and church will look like for my generation, it is abundantly clear that the image that Keller paints has little to no grounding in reality. In fact, I would argue that one of the biggest desires of millennials is that we would be involved in deeply intimate communities that allow us to express ourselves openly, ask the questions to arise in our minds without fear of judgment, and give us a tribe of people that will walk with us through the ups and downs of life. In fact, this desire for intimate community is a direct response to the lack of community we have grown up with, especially in the evangelical world with our sterile megachurches that make true community nearly impossible.

Honoring Your Church

When the day of Pentecost came. Mark A Hewitt, Pastel & pen. 26 May 2012. Via

Headline news is usually bad news. Viral blog posts are usually polemical. And those “way-too-long” conversations on Facebook and Twitter are often based in controversy. Pain, division, and anger drive on-line traffic and often directs the content.

And church news is little different: pastor so-and-so is embroiled in a moral failing; church such-and-such fired its pastor over leadership differences; and the seminary down the street let go a professor over theological issues. The list goes on and on.

Isn’t it time for something different?

How about a little good news? What about a viral campaign about churches doing well? Well, here is my modest attempt to say a good word about our church community.

The Middle of the Shelf

Girl in a bookstore,  LIUSHENGFILM /

Girl in a bookstore, LIUSHENGFILM /

A few years ago, I was browsing a bookstore and wound up in the “Spirituality” section. While scanning the titles, I noticed something that struck me as ironic and funny.

At one end of a shelf was a book by an ardent and dogmatic atheist. At the other end of the same shelf was a book by an ardent and dogmatic fundamentalist.

Two books, same shelf.

And in many significant ways, two peas in the same pod, no?

The atheist and the fundamentalist needed each other as foils to sell their books and make a lot of money. They both had a vision of life that was black-and-white. Both thought they had infallible answers to life’s biggest questions.

Matching bookends indeed.

Don’t most of us live somewhere in-between?

Bringing the Word to Life

ONE YEAR MY small group decided to have each member choose a person named or alluded to in the gospels to “follow” during Lent. We researched our people and the customs of that time and reflected individually and collectively on their encounters with Jesus. Then we hosted a community meal for family and friends on the night before Easter. Each member of our group came in character as the person we’dstudied and tried to recreate the mood of that frightening, confusing, grief-filled night for followers of Jesus after his death and before his resurrection. After the meal, each of us presented a monologue that tried to project what our person might have been thinking and experiencing at that time.

The attempt to immerse mind, soul, and body into scriptures that I had listened to for much of my life (but perhaps hadn’t really heard) was a transformative experience: It burned away long-held assumptions and revealed new facets of chapter and verse.

The book Creating a Scene in Corinth: A Simulation, by Sojourners contributing editor Reta Halteman Finger and George D. McClain, provides a useful and fun toolbox for small groups, Sunday schools, religion classes, and even imaginative individuals who want their own full-immersion experience of scripture and biblical scholarship. It invites readers to a deeper understanding of the apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth by using role play to “become” members of the different factions of that community as they hear Paul’s words read for the first time. The authors assert that “as we more clearly experience what Paul meant in the first century, we can better understand what his writings mean in our 21st century context.”

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The Blades of Grass in the Garden of Gethsemane Speak to Me

Yes, his blood was on us once,
making us famous blades within the blades
community. I mean, many of us
had taken blood and sweat before
from lions and dogs and even fallen birds
or lovers and killers and the killed
but this was the first time we took both
at the same time, from the same creature.

You humans have that saying,
Blood, sweat, and tears. By this you signify work.
Consider the lilies of the field, he said
of our cousins. They neither work nor spin
but I tell you that not even Solomon
in all his glory was clothed like them.

Yes, we’re a humbler variety of plant
but news of him comes every time you all do,
which is often now. There are tour guides who speak
all the human tongues, and we are trampled
for being famous blades
but then are resurrected.

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Citizen Action Making a Vital Difference in South Africa

South African flag over human face, Aleksandar Mijatovic /

South African flag over human face, Aleksandar Mijatovic /

In the Khayelitsha township near Cape Town, Baphumelele Respite Care Centre and Clinic serves abandoned children as well as ill adults. The staff faces daily the anguish of caring for babies and older children with serious congenital alcohol and drug syndrome or HIV/AIDS complications. A compassionate professional team and scores of volunteers provide education and rehabilitative residential care for countless patients and support to child headed homes.

A nurse friend on the staff gave witness to the disparity between day-to-day realities when faced with the inadequate response by government and societal leaders. It is stunningly the case in South Africa in the post-Mandela era. The clinic was started in 1989 by the local founding-director Rosealia Mashale, “Rosie,” who could not abandon vulnerable children to the trash heap.

Even with more than 25 similar agencies active in the sprawling location of mostly substandard housing and services there are thousands still in need.

Professor Jonathan Jansen, a trusted commentator in South Africa and author of We Need to Act, reminds citizens to leave their comfort zones and contribute to righting the wrongs of society