Duane Shank 03-14-2012
(Photo by Tischenko Irina/

(Photo by Tischenko Irina/

Among my must reads are the Sunday New York Times Book Review and other book reviews I come across in various media outlets. There are too many books being published that I would love to read, but just don’t have the time. So, I rely on reading book reviews as one way of keeping in touch with what’s being written. 

Find out what Duane's picks for this week’s books of interest are inside the blog ...

the Web Editors 03-14-2012

Mississippi, Alabama Primaries: Evangelicals, Evangelicals Everywhere; The Middle Class Really Is In A Three-Decade Slump; Linking Extreme Poverty And Global Terrorism (OPINION); Syria’s Devastated Economy; Sudan And South Sudan Leaders Agree Basic Freedoms; In SXSW ‘Homeless Hotspots,’ Have We Lost Our Humanity?; Rising Sea Levels Seen As Threat To Coastal U.S.; Rooftop Revolution: How To Get Solar To 100 Million Americans; Obama, Cameron Affirm Commitment To Afghan Mission; Iran Nuclear Talks: Country Welcomes Negotiations With Six World Powers, Iranian Media Reports.

Joshua Witchger 03-14-2012

A new charity project debuting at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas, is sparking controversy.

BBH Labs, a non-profit in New York, has started a campaign called “Homeless Hotspots,” in which homeless people are equipped with the tools to act as portable hot spots for nearby people seeking 4G access.

Here’s how it works: The homeless person wears a t-shirt with the words “I’m a 4G Hotspot” written across the chest, accompanied with an SMS code and key number. Inquiring minds plug the information into their phones or tablets, give a donation via Paypal, and are given access to their service. Every dollar goes directly to the person providing you access, with a suggested donation of $2 for every 15 minutes.

But is this really a charity?

Nicole Higgins 03-14-2012
(Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)

Producer Judd Apatow, Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd arrive at the L.A. Wanderlust premiere. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)

If there were a movie about your life, what would it look like? Which celebrity would play you?

Ah, the timeless ice breaker question.

Over the weekend, I made plans to see Friends with Kids with a few coworkers. I thought I was heading to see a comedic depiction of my current life stage as the young adult who is left in the dust of the friends-getting-married-and-having-kids frenzy.

If this confession prompts an eye roll from you on account of my young adult angst, let me add one bit of vindication: the movie was sold out.

Our next option was to see Wanderlust, and something interesting happened: in my search for one snapshot of my current context, I found a wholly different but still parallel other. Bring on the ice breaker questions — I have found the film about my year in intentional community.

Christian Piatt 03-14-2012
Grumpy kitty. Image via Tumblr.

Grumpy kitty. Image via Tumblr.

I know, Christians, love everyone and everything, right? Mister Bluebird on my shoulder and all that jazz.

Well, that ain’t me. Not that I don’t try, but I also don’t try to fake it when I’m not feeling the love.

My wife, Amy, told me that one reason she married me was because she knew she could trust me. It seemed to her that I lacked the capacity to lie. And while this is reassuring on one level, the stark honesty can sometimes be a little jarring, I expect.

What I have found is that naming things out loud is the best way to help you get over them. Some of these might seem like relatively trivial things to you, but trust me – for a quasi-Aspie like me, they are often the bane of my existence.

So without further adieu, here’s a list of things that I can’t seem to shake, they annoy me so incredibly much. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change...inside the blog.

Photo by Peter Kramer/NBC/via Getty Images.

"KONY 2012" filmmaker Jason Russell in an appearance on the "Today Show" March 9. Photo by Peter Kramer/NBC/via Getty Images.

After returning to the U.S., they produced a film titled Invisible Children and then set up a non-profit organization by the same name as the vehicle through which they could use the film to raise awareness of the child soldiers.

I believe that the centrality of film and social media to Invisible Children’s organizing strategy places it at the forefront of new innovative forms of global activism that have to capacity to create a degree of intimacy between people living on opposite sides of the globe that could not have been possible in the past. Social media as an organizing tool also opens up the possibility of creating extensive webs of interactions between activists across the globe. It allows story-telling to be a global enterprise.

 The use of social media also has the power to unleash much greater local initiative and innovation by enabling direct communication between activists in different geographic locations across the global, without information first needing to flow up through traditional hierarchical organizational structures to a national staff that perhaps sends it back down again to activists in other local areas. 

Anne Saker 03-13-2012

PORTLAND, Ore. — Peter Goodwin, the first doctor in Oregon to campaign publicly for the terminally ill to obtain medical help in ending their lives, died shortly after exercising the right he fought to secure. He was 83.

Goodwin's four adult children and their spouses surrounded him in his apartment when he took a planned overdose of a prescribed drug on Sunday (March 11).

He died less than 30 minutes later, said Steve Hopcraft, a spokesman for Compassion & Choices of Oregon.

Goodwin, a retired professor of family medicine at Oregon Health & Science University, was diagnosed six years ago with a rare neurological disorder called corticobasal ganglionic degeneration, which is similar to Parkinson's disease but has no treatment or cure.

He spent his last weeks talking on the phone with friends and accepting brief visits from longtime comrades. He said the Death with Dignity Act was his most significant public legacy because passage prodded medicine to improve palliative and hospice care of the dying.

Joshua Witchger 03-13-2012

Take a few minutes to catch up with some of the newest and funniest videos circling around the internet (and the Sojourners office). Improv Everywhere's prank at a TED talk, Darth Vader on a unicycle with bagpipes, pigs chase a dog around a living room, Willy Wonka, Rube Goldberg, and dueling banjos... Click to see today's Links of Awesomeness, video edition.

the Web Editors 03-13-2012

The Psychological Toll Of War (OPINION); Mike Huckabee: 2012 GOP Candidates Must Stop Trying To 'Shred Each Other'; Obama And Cameron Must Strike A Balance Over Afghanistan Withdrawal; Syria Laying Landmines Along Border: Human Rights Watch; Have We Gone From A Mancession To A Shecovery? Not Quite. The Spectacular Triumph Of Working Women Around The World; The Reproduction Of Privilege; Obama Warns Opponents Against 'Using Religion As A Bludgeon In Politics'; Can Progressives Ride The Occupy Train To Congress?; Defining The Occupy Movement: It's Not Just About The Money (OPINION); Where Have You Gone, Mister Rogers?

the Web Editors 03-13-2012


"Mainly it seems the media is just annoyed that it took this guy to get people to listen...'I mean, we're handsome, we're on TV. Why won't Rhianna retweet our stories on Kony?'"

Jack Palmer 03-13-2012
Still from the film, "Blue Like Jazz," via

Still from the film, "Blue Like Jazz," via

As a progressive Christian in my mid-20s, it'd be safe to bet I might be a fan of Donald Miller. And I am. Miller's Blue Like Jazz and Searching For God Knows What are among the books that have significantly affected my faith journey.

And, like many others in my demographic, I met the news of an adaptation of Blue Like Jazz with both hope and apprehension. Like Miller himself, “at first, I didn’t understand how it could be a movie. I couldn’t see it on a screen.”

My own anxieties about a big-screen adaptation fell into two categories. First Jazz is, for all intents and purposes, a memoir. And memoirs — or the biopics they often become onscreen — are, in my opinion, rarely great films. They are usually little more than a path to the Oscars for actors who are pining after an ego-boost (but I guess that’s another story).

What saves Blue Like Jazz, thankfully, is that it is a memoir with a difference. It isn’t a rose-tinted, romanticized account of some historical or celebrated figure. It is the memoir of someone who is very much like me — just a little bit funnier. That’s where the appeal comes from and I'd expect that's what will make Blue Like Jazz (the film) a success both here and abroad.

Cathleen Falsani 03-12-2012
Mizz Chenoweth (with Elmo) at the Drama Desk Awards, 2012. Bruce Glikas/FilmMagi

Mizz Chenoweth (with Elmo) at the Drama Desk Awards, Feb. 2012. Photo by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic.

If you've ever seen or heard Kristin Chenoweth sing, you know she is a pint-sized ray of sunshine. She oozes joy and grace and love for her audience from every pore of her 4-foot-11-inch frame. Plus, girlfriend has a spot-on, finely calibrated sense of comic timing. (I dare you to watch her perform and not at least crack a smile. She is enchanting, her natural ebullience utterly infectious.)

What you may not know is that Chenoweth, 44, is a Christian. Born and raised in the Southern Baptist tradition where she accepted Jesus into her heart at the tender age of 8, "Cheno," as she is known to her legion devoted fans, now describes herself as a nondenominational "non-judgmental, liberal Christian." Her devotion to Jesus and His Way is something she's never been shy about, both before and after she took Broadway by storm in her early 20s.

“I'm sick of people who've never been to church telling me that church is full of hypocrites, and people who've never read the Bible telling me that it's baloney," she wrote in her 2009 memoir, A Little Bit Wicked. "I'm a very controversial figure in the Christian world. I don't believe if you're gay or you have a drink or you dance, you're going to hell. I don't think that's the kind of God we have. The Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells of the world are scary. I want to be a Christian like Christ — loving and accepting of other people."

Joshua Witchger 03-12-2012

24-hour "penguin cam" at SeaWorld, world dictators depicted in cake, public art collaboration "Before I die...", fun finds for children of the 80s and 90s, dogs catch pythons in Everglades, unsual protest at a Radiohead show, and the stars of Despicable Me sing a song about bananas. 

Cathleen Falsani 03-12-2012
 Photo by Richard Foreman / ABC via Getty Images

A married couple on ABC's "GCB" attends a church-sponsored marriage workshop. Photo by Richard Foreman / ABC via Getty Images

Over the weekend, Newt Gingrich decided to wade into a minor cultural skirmish by claiming that the new ABC dramedy GCB is an attack on faith fueled by anti-Christian bias.

As Gingrich is, from my perspective at least, prone to flights of intellectual fancy, I was at first prone to roll my eyes and ignore his latest sojourn into the ridiculous. But upon further reflection, I thought it merited a response because his notion that a satire could be the latest cannon fodder in the alleged war on religion (which usually means “war on Christianity” to those who invoke it) speaks to a larger cultural conundrum: Christians and our sense of humor (or, rather, the lack thereof.)

the Web Editors 03-12-2012

The Nuclear ‘Implementation Study’; The Unpersuaded; Latinos See Rise In Poverty & Unemployment; When Will The Christian Right Return To The Teachings Of Their Gospel? (OPINION); What Does the Kony Viral Video Say About Us?; Why It's OK To Let Apps Make You A Better Person; Annan Leaves Syria Without A Deal; Do Atheists Need Religion? (OPINION); Obama's Religion Still A Campaign Issue: Many Alabama, Mississippi Voters Believe President Is Muslim.

Cathleen Falsani 03-09-2012
U2 album photo from The Joshua Tree by Anton Corbijn

U2 album photo from The Joshua Tree by Anton Corbijn with the Joshua tree in the background.

Desert sky
Dream beneath the desert sky
The rivers run, but soon run dry
We need new dreams tonight

~ from "In God's Country" by U2

On March 9, 1987, U2 released The Joshua Tree, its fifth studio album and one that would catapult the Irish rock quartet from popularity to international superstardom.

Twenty-five years later, today The Joshua Tree is one of the most bestselling albums in history — with more than 25 million copies sold — and is considered to be among the best rock albums of all time.

Its spiritual and socio-political heft has, for me at least, only grown more powerful over the years. As I listened to it again today, the soul-shaking music and lyrics sounded even fresher in our current nervous times than they did to my teenage ears in the twilight of the Reagan era.

Joshua Witchger 03-09-2012

Major League baseball player sings Adele, vintage cases for modern technology, The Shins' exclusive web concert, the making of violins, Law & Order, and making fresh guacamole with some unlikely objects. Read today's "Links of Awesomeness" for these and other awesome links...

Duane Shank 03-09-2012
Photo by Tischenko Irina/

Photo by Tischenko Irina/

Among my must reads are the Sunday New York Times Book Review and other book reviews I come across in various media outlets. There are too many books being published that I would love to read, but just don’t have the time. So, I rely on reading book reviews as one way of keeping in touch with what’s being written. 

Here are my picks in this week’s books of interest:

the Web Editors 03-08-2012

U.S. Top Destination for Christian, Buddhist Immigrants, Study Saysl; Abdo Husameddine, Syria Deputy Oil Minister, Defects; Washington’s New Antiwar Movement; The Pentagon's (Preliminary, Shaky, And Hypothetical) War Plan For Syria; Arab Spring Fails To Allay Women's Anxieties; Progressives Petition Hoyer Against Safety Net Cuts; Carbon Fast 2012: Christians Give Up Carbon For Lent

Sandi Villarreal 03-08-2012
Still from upcoming 'GCB' episode, Photo by Karen Neal/ABC via Getty Images

Still from upcoming 'GCB' episode, Photo by Karen Neal/ABC via Getty Images

It’s a television show that 1) follows “Desperate Housewives” and 2) only got “meh” ratings for its Sunday premiere, so I was slightly taken aback by the mini-firestorm over ABC’s new “GCB.”

The show, based on the book Good Christian Bitches by Kim Gatlin and starring Annie Potts and Kristin Chenoweth, is getting heat from conservatives and Christian groups for portraying Christians in a poor light for their cattiness, opulence, and overall … well, bitchiness. (Don't worry; I'm female. I get to say that.)

New York City Councilman Peter Vallone is going so far as calling for a boycott of the show, saying,” the title of the show alone is yet another outrageous attack on the Christian faith. Charlie Sheen will be back on ‘Two and a Half Men’ before we see a similar title targeting another religion.”