Community

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 / Shutterstock.com
South African flag over human face, Aleksandar Mijatovic / Shutterstock.com

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

Let Your Life Be Changed

Applications for next year's program are due March 1st. Photo: Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Although it sometimes feels like our time here has just begun, our intern year at Sojourners is already almost halfway finished. 

Applications for next year's program are due March 1, and if you or anyone you know is on the bubble in regard to applying, here are a few thoughts from this year's interns as to why you should apply.

For more information on the Intern Program, check out our info page and apply today!

God's Dangerous Promises

INVITATIONS COME. Yet an expressed desire for your presence does not guarantee your willingness to show up. Invitations require a response. Some responses indicate significant commitment beyond “just showing up.” A summons may first entail an RSVP indicating a commitment to actually take an active part in the opportunity.

Such is the case for the people of God. Invitations arrived inviting God’s people to be witnesses to the power and presence of a particular God and to become a people who practice justice and favor kindness—peculiar expectations for an ancient culture, for any culture. A requirement of this sort unsettles the status quo of cultural mores where religion represents polytheistic attributions to a type of celestial Santa Claus or divine ATM, or where religion has been privatized—set aside from public prophetic witness to meditative reflection in the privacy of our own homes with occasional festive gatherings. Such genie-worship and privatization results in a deafening silence among the people of God. As Pope Francis put it recently, “a privatized lifestyle can lead Christians to take refuge in some false forms of spirituality.”

The promises that God calls us to are promises that Michael Frost, in Exiles, calls dangerous. They accompany dangerous memories that make a dangerous critique of society.

Over the next five weeks, the invitations extended in these texts indicate more than increasing the head count of seekers of spirituality. They require a response that signifies a commitment to participating in a community whose primary purpose is to expose the dangerous promise of God.

Joy J. Moore is associate dean for African-American church studies and assistant professor of preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary in California.

[ MARCH 2 ]
Eyewitnesses to Glory
Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 2; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9

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Why Does Anyone Go To Church?

Goran Bogicevic/Shutterstock
What I think we need is a rhetoric about how it's entirely fine that people don't go to church. Goran Bogicevic/Shutterstock

Tomorrow is Sunday. You know, the day when most Christians who bother to go to church with any regularity will get up on a perfectly good non-working morning and give their time to an institution that may or may not do them any favors. Catholics may have already gone to Mass on Friday or Saturday. The same with some people at Willow Creek.

The great thing about belonging to a Catholic Parish or a Mega-church is not having to go to church on Sunday. Okay, maybe there are other great things, but I think it's pretty swell.

'Nones' and the Common Good

THIS IS NOT a column full of hand-wringing about the moral decay of U.S. society. Nor is it about my concern for the souls of my fellow citizens who are atheists, agnostics, or some other stripe of nonbeliever. I am worried about the growing number of religious “nones” in the United States, but not for those two reasons.

Let me be clear about something before continuing: Many of the people I love and admire most are religious “nones”—those who indicate “none of the above” on religious preference surveys. They include people of high intellect, great sensitivity, and deep character. In fact, many of them could give lessons in such areas to some of the religious people I know.

What they do not do is build hospitals, schools, colleges, or large social service agencies. Such institutions (when not built by the government) have generally been founded and supported by religious communities in the United States. This is not so much because religious people are always better human beings; it’s because religious communities value and organize such work at significant scale.

Religious communities play a profound role in U.S. civil society.  About one out of every six patients in the U.S. is treated by Catholic hospitals. Most, if not all, have some sort of explicit commitment to serving the poor because of their faith identity. There are nearly 7,000 Catholic grade schools and high schools in the U.S., and more than 260 colleges. This is to say nothing of the refugee resettlement, the addictions counseling, or the services for homeless men and battered women provided by Catholic social service agencies.

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From the Archives: March 1986

AN ASTONISHING aspect of the miracle that was the Exodus is the recorded “600,000 men on foot, not counting their dependents” (Exodus 12:37). A whole people uprooted themselves and moved into the unknown. This was displacement on a massive scale. Their readiness to move from the security of slavery, from the only reality they had known for four-and-a half generations, was more awesome than the willingness of Pharaoh to let them leave.

What organizer today would not grasp at the key to a process that would move enslaved people in the Egypts of today? ... But this is still the beginning. The 40 years of wandering in the wilderness may have been a punishment for their constant complaining.

But there were good reasons for it that may be more important. They are reasons our settled lives, our lives in isolation, prefer to forget. The wandering was the time in which the Israelites learned to be free and learned to be a people. Neither happened in the condition of slavery from which they came. Oppression can bring out the best in people; more often it brings out the worst as individuals seek to carve out corners of relative security for themselves. 

Elizabeth McAlister, a member of Jonah House in Baltimore, was serving a three-year sentence for her role in the Griffiss Plowshares civil disobedience action when this article appeared.

Image: Destination, Anan Kaewkhammul / Shutterstock.com 

 

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The Thorn Tree Resistance

Surely there is a mine for silver, and a place for gold to be refined ... They put their hand to the flinty rock, and overturn mountains by the roots. They cut out channels in the rocks, and their eyes see every precious thing ... But where shall wisdom be found? —Job 28:1, 9-12

THE DIRT ROAD twists down into a gully at La Puya, Guatemala, and up the other side, slipping between the knee-high fields of holy corn. The river doesn’t run anymore at the bottom, but the butterflies gather in remembrance of the water of times past. Hundreds of them rest and then flutter suddenly up as a woman goes by to gather fresh basil or chipilin from the little herb and vegetable garden that grows in tires and the ground all along the blocked access road leading into the proposed gold-mine site.

La Puya is the curve in the road where a thorn tree used to stand, throwing fine sharp needles down on unsuspecting passersby. Now it is a well-ordered encampment of neighbors from the twin municipalities of San Pedro Ayampúc and San José del Golfo, 10 miles northwest of Guatemala City.

These women and men are here in a startling act of markedly Christian peaceable resistance. They have been at the gates around the clock and around the calendar since March 2, 2012, when a lone woman pulled her car across the access road to the mine, blocking some incoming machinery. Then a bus bumping down the main road stopped, and the passengers piled off when they saw what was happening.

Then more people came, and dozens stayed. They settled in for a long night that became a long season of resistance. Local communities had had enough of the obfuscation, lies, and manipulation from Radius Gold, a mining company based in Vancouver, Canada.

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Loose Threads

Single thread, itsmejust / Shutterstock.com
Single thread, itsmejust / Shutterstock.com

I noticed a loose thread in a blanket the other day and was reminded of something my mom always said: Never pull on a loose thread. All that will do is make it worse. It’ll yank on the other threads and wind up creating a knot. Even if you do manage to remove the one loose thread without doing too much damage to the fabric, it’ll leave a space that starts the nearby threads working their way loose, too.

Soon, the whole thing unravels. Removing even one thread from the fabric creates big problems.

Isn’t it the same with us?

Each of us is a thread woven into the fabric of our world. We’re looped around each other, pulled tightly to one another, intimately bound to one another. We’re so closely intertwined that we can’t be separated without making it all unravel.

By ourselves, we are a thread. Together, we are a blanket.

The weaver made it so.

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