Culture

To Protect and To Heal

OVER DINNER my friends and I reflected recently on the headlines that surprised us last year. A few were especially painful: former Rep. Todd Akin's comment that "legitimate" rapes do not lead to pregnancies; failed Senate candidate Richard Mourdock's comment that a pregnancy from rape is "something that God intended to happen"; and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), in effect since 1994, ending as the 112th Congress closed without reauthorizing it. All reminded me why the second edition of The Cry of Tamar: Violence Against Women and the Church's Response, by Pamela Cooper-White, is still needed almost 20 years since its first edition.

The Cry of Tamar reads as a graduate textbook on providing pastoral support for the victims of violence against women. It weaves pastoral counseling methods and social and psychological theories in dialogue with biblical exegesis and constructive theology to give clergy, pastoral caregivers, and religious leaders tools to help victims of violence and the larger Christ-community.

The story of Tamar, a girl raped 3,000 years ago in Jerusalem, frames and guides the book's goal of providing healing to the girls and women who are victims of violence today.

Advocacy, prevention, and intervention to stop violence against women have advanced since the 1995 first edition. Religious communities and congregations have become more informed about how to care and respond to both victims and perpetrators. But the need for increased awareness and education is ongoing. This second edition is an effort to update the conversation and keep it on the table.

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Oscars and the Big Picture

WE SHOULDN'T really expect the Oscars to grasp the point of history, though this year the films nominated for Best Picture are a fascinating snapshot of what ails—and could heal—us.

Zero Dark Thirty takes a clinical view of the search for Bin Laden and has been criticized for its portrayal of torture as effective. To my mind this debate may miss the wider question: Torture is bad enough, but a central assumption about the efficacy and validity of killing for peace—that shooting an old man in his bedroom would solve anything—is worthy of enhanced interrogation.

The point is missed also in the brouhaha about Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino's thrilling satirical Western. People are up in arms about the comic book violence and use of the N-word—but this is perhaps the most powerful, even indelible, portrayal of the violence of slavery ever made for a mainstream audience. Two wrongs don't make a right, and the revenge arc in this film should be questioned, but Tarantino has done a moral service in not sanitizing his fictionalization of historical memory. Lincoln is the perfect companion piece—I highly recommend you see both. Django Unchained uses B-movie tropes to vastly entertain while confronting the real horrors Abraham Lincoln was fighting to end. Lincoln is a theatrical history lesson that delicately handles the moral authority competitions, language games, and political complexity behind the 13th Amendment.

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Air Wars

AS THIS IS written, the Federal Communications Commission is, again, preparing to rule on a revision of its media ownership rules that could, again, allow the few remaining mass media conglomerates to own even more of what are currently competing local news outlets. For one thing, the proposed revision would allow Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation to have its Los Angeles and Chicago TV stations and eat the L.A. Times and Chicago Tribune, too.

Five years ago, the Bush administration's FCC commissioners tried this move, but it was routed in a decision by a federal appeals court. But, just in time to quash any illusions that a second Obama administration might be less friendly to corporate power, Julius Genachowski, the Obama-appointed FCC chair, tried, at the end of 2012, to quietly slip in this new set of Murdoch-friendly ownership rules. The only reason it may not have happened already is because he raised the issue at the same time that an FCC report on minority media ownership arrived showing the share of outlets owned by people of color to be only 2.2 percent for commercial full-power television and 6.2 percent for commercial AM radio. This, needless to say, raises questions about the wisdom of further media consolidation.

Over the decades, this column has spilled a lot of ink on the subjects of the FCC, media policy, and, especially, media ownership. I haven't obsessed over these issues because of any love for the details of broadband allocation and other regulatory minutiae. In fact, I struggle to understand some of those matters just well enough to try and explain why they are important. But they are important, mostly because deregulated and monopolistic mass media impinge upon our ability to effectively exercise our God-given free will and participate rationally in the process of self-government.

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New & Noteworthy

The Whole Gospel
Ken Wytsma's Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger Things is a passionate evangelical argument for making justice central to a gospel-rooted life. For those who already embrace social justice in their faith, it is a spiritual refresher and resource for engaging with more wary Christians. Thomas Nelson

Their Future, Our Future
Girl Rising, a feature film on the power of education in the lives of nine girls from the developing world, releases March 7. It is at the center of a social action campaign for girls' education called 10x10, launched by former ABC News journalists. Learn more, advocate, or organize a screening. 10x10act.org

A Lifelong Quest
In Summoned from the Margin: Homecoming of an African, Lamin Sanneh, a professor of world Christianity at Yale, tells of his journey from a Muslim childhood in Gambia to becoming a Christian academic in the West. An engaging personal story filled with professional insights on the global church, Christian-Muslim relations, and much more. Eerdmans

Distilled Wisdom
The booklet Old Monk gathers brief poems and short commentaries written by Benedictine sister Mary Lou Kownacki in response to Cold Mountain , a classic book by 9th century Chinese poet Han-shan. An unorthodox little devotional with wisdom for seekers and church pillars, artists and activists, monks and heretics. Benetvision

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Can You Hear My Song?

IF YOU ARE not overly familiar with the repertoire of a Leonard Cohen concert, it's hard to tell the new songs from the old. Songs from a different age sound neither anachronistic nor nostalgic, while the new echo as though they have been around forever. It's the same show night after night, with songs from the latest album, Old Ideas (released in 2012), woven into the familiar canon. Cohen tells audiences that his revivalist tour might end in two years, so that he can start smoking again by the time he turns 80.

It is a joke you know Cohen has cracked a hundred times, the kind that makes my brother call him the Jewish Dean Martin. The humor is one part of a precise choreography, whose arrangements shift from blues to waltzes to New Orleans jazz, Celtic, gospel, country, and disco, all set in the mode of Hebrew Minor and conspiring to create a vivid world that does not exist, except in paradox. Honey is the texture that comes to mind. Viscous and turbid, neither solid nor liquid. Sensual relief from the coarse, metallic world. And sweet. Sweet in the meaning of the verse from the Persian song "Navaee"—"High sweet melody, and sadness of love, dwelling in the bottom of the heart, where nobody sees"—the mixing of sorrow and transcendence into sublime paradox.

He is and has been many things to his devotees: poet, singer, writer, band leader, lover, satirist, artist, and novelist. But one thing Leonard Cohen is not is a preacher.

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Jesus is Stripped of His Garments

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Punch Brothers: God-Honoring Musicianship

Photo courtesy of Nonesuch Records / Taylor Crothers
Punch Brothers stopped by Washington, D.C. Feb. 8. Photo courtesy of Nonesuch Records / Taylor Crothers

People often say the mark of a true “master of a craft” is one who makes something ridiculously difficult look easy. Chris Thile, former member of Nickel Creek and front man for folk group Punch Brothers, is one of those people. As my buddy standing next to me at last night’s Punch Brothers show in Washington, D.C. said, “It’s like he’s an extension of the mandolin. He can do anything he wants with that thing.” I mean, the guy can almost flawlessly whoop out some Bach on the mandolin.

While musicianship is certainly present on their recorded material, the talent of each member of the five-piece band is fully realized during their live shows, which are more like jam sessions. With the encore, they ended up playing for almost two hours to a sold out crowd at the 9:30 Club.

It almost got to the point where I didn’t believe they were real. They almost seemed like robots.

'The Convert' Comes to Washington, D.C.

Photo courtesy of Woolly Mammoth
'The Convert' is award-winning playwright Danai Gurira's newest play. Photo courtesy of Woolly Mammoth

Next week, The Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company will premiere The Convert, a play by Off-Broadway Theater Awards-winning playwright, Danai Gurira.

The Convert is set in late 19th Century Southern Africa (modern-day Zimbabwe). The play follows Jekesai, “a young girl who escapes village life and a forced marriage arrangement, ultimately discovering Christianity under the guidance of an African teacher. However, as anti-colonial sentiments rise to a boiling point, Jekesai must choose between her new European God and the spirits of her ancestors. … The Convert examines complex cultural and religious collisions that shaped the post-colonial world, the reverberations of which are still felt in Zimbabwe today.”

I had the opportunity to talk to actress Dawn Ursula, who plays Prudence in The Convert. She was also named one of DC’s top 12 actors / actresses by the Washington Post.

In the Stacks, January 31, 2012

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 from this week’s books.

Book Review: 'Rob Bell and a New American Christianity'

Rob Bell, via Rob Bell's Facebook page
Rob Bell, via Rob Bell's Facebook page

"Can we watch a video with that guy who has the weird hair and the dark rimmed glasses?" -Member of My Youth Group

"Love wins the in the sense that God’s will is the reconciliation of all things—the soul, the body, the earth, the cosmos, and everything in it." -James Wellman, Rob Bell and a New American Christianity, 59.

American Christianity is experiencing a theological shift. Many have tried to explain it, sometimes making the shift far more confusing than it actually is. Fortunately, the shift can be explained quite simply, and while it may be new to American Christianity, it is actually very old. Indeed, it dates back 2,000 years. The shift boils down to the two theological axioms of the New Testament, both found in the letter 1 John:

“God is light and in him there is no darkness at all” (1:5) and “God is love” (4:8 and 16).

Those statements, while simple, are far from simplistic. John was bold in affirming these statements. He knew he had to give it to us straight – probably because he and the other disciples had a hard time understanding what Jesus meant in his teachings and parables. So, John cut to the chase and simply claimed that Jesus reveals, “God is love and God is light. There is absolutely no darkness within God.”

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