PRIOR TO MY conversion to Christianity, I was the roving reggae reporter for High Times, a magazine dedicated to marijuana culture. I also wrote music reviews for NY Press, Virgin Records, and various other publications.
One of my favorite artists from the early 2000s was Cody Chesnutt (he spells his name with two capital Ts at the end), an independent recording artist popularly known for his hit song “Seed 2.0,” a soulful rock and hip-hop hybrid released in 2002 with The Roots.
Chesnutt’s musical debut was a lo-fi soul and rock-and-roll album titled The Headphone Masterpiece. It was a double disc (this was still the heyday of compact discs) that he recorded on a 4-track recorder in the bedroom of his Los Angeles apartment. He played all the instruments—guitar, bass, keyboard, and organ. The sound quality and lyrical content are both intentionally gritty.
Headphone quickly became the soundtrack to my college years. I was a reveler, filled with hypersexual bravado and abundant egotism, and Chesnutt’s music reinforced and undergirded my misdirected youthful zeal. His lyrics were unrepentantly misogynistic, and his strong sense of self pervaded each track. He exploited his infidelity and womanizing in his music, at times in a prophetic way, such as in “My Women, My Guitars,” which he opens with incredibly crude lyrics, but later croons with utmost vulnerability: “Man, something’s been killing me. My women, my guitars. I’ve been living hard. My breakdown is on the way. I know my breakdown is on the way. So I get up on my feet. Falling back on my knees to pray.”
Faith: dealing with the meaning of life, the matter of eternal salvation — the bedrock upon which we build our families and society. This is serious stuff. Irreverence, by definition, is a lack of respect for that which is serious. It would seem that finding faith in the irreverent is impossible, like searching for the sun in the dark of the night.
Irreverence permeates pop culture. From HBO shows filled with crude nudity and violence, to musicals such as The Book of Mormon (where explicit ratings are applied to almost every song), to late night comedies featuring popular hosts like Jon Stewart and Colbert, who play-act a persona speaking exclusively in snark.
The Church, by and large, keeps irreverence at arm’s length. Sure, some pastors like to open sermons with a couple of clean jokes, but that’s about the extent to which humor interacts with the Faithful. While I agree there’s a social maturity required in expressing irreverence through appropriate channels, the Church is missing out on a deep authenticity of the human experience if we continue to fear irreverence instead of finding beauty in it.
Editor’s Note: We at Sojourners thought it would be nice to share first-hand reflections on our inaugural annual conference, The Summit: World Change Through Faith & Justice, from participants. Our first post comes from Sara Johnson, who hails from Ennis, Mont. and is the founder of the Million Girl Army, a brand new non-profit launching this year focused on engaging middle school girls in the U.S. on gender justice advocacy. Sara is an emerging leader who was able to attend The Summit because of a sponsorship from one of our Change Maker donors. The donor covered all of Sara’s costs, from registration to travel and had a tremendous impact on Sara’s work, as she shares below.
Although nervous to be a founder of a non-profit that hasn’t officially launched yet attending a conference with heavy hitters in the non-profit world, within seconds of walking into the initial Summit gathering I was glad I came.
If Christians stopped bickering about church, presenting sex as a first-order concern, telling other people how to lead their lives, and lending our name to minor-league politicians, what would we have to say?
We need to figure that out, because we are wearing out our welcome as tax-avoiding, sex-obsessed moral scolds and amateur politicians.
In fact, I think we are getting tired of ourselves. Who wants to devote life and loyalty to a religion that debates trifles and bullies the outsider?
So what would we say and do? No one thing, of course, because we are an extraordinarily diverse assembly of believers. But I think there are a few common words we would say.
“If, as Christians, we believe that peace is rooted in Christ, then how we build that peace within us, in one way, is through the disciplines of solitude and silence; through spending time with God. Solitude is not necessarily extremely easy process, because it will bring to the fore all sorts of things that are within us. We will get to know ourselves in a fuller way. In solitude, where you know that God is with you, you can just be with God, and there is no need for a mask. Also, your humility might grow because you will see yourself as you really are — in a way that needs to be healed and transformed.”
THROUGH THEIR EYES
In 2011, Raul Guerrero provided 100 Kodak disposable cameras and taught basic photography skills to nine young students in the Newlands area of Moshi, Tanzania. The Disposable Project book brings together their images of their community, with text by Guerrero. the-disposable-project.com
“Migration has been, for centuries, not only a source of controversy but a source of blessing,” Deirdre Cornell writes in Jesus Was a Migrant. Inspired by ministering among immigrants in different settings, this is a beautifully written set of deeply humanizing reflections on the immigrant experience and Christian spirituality. Orbis Books
LOVE. THAT'S WHAT moves mountains. That’s what the inimitable Dr. Maya Angelou shared with Oprah Winfrey in an interview a year before Angelou’s passing on May 28, 2014, at the age of 86.
In the days following her death, tributes blanketed the television and internet. Perhaps the greatest came on Sunday evening, June 1, as Oprah Winfrey aired a series of exclusive interviews with Dr. Angelou. Thus, the prophet spoke from the grave and this is what she said: “Love moves mountains.”
Jesus said faith moves mountains—faith the size of a mustard seed (Matthew 17:20). Did Dr. Maya Angelou dare to contradict Jesus? The poet/prophet says love. Jesus said faith. Which is it? Perhaps both.
People of faith know—they have witnessed it. Faith does move mountains. But they also know this: Faith’s power can lay dormant until it’s set ablaze by love. Perhaps only love has the power to fortify faith enough to make the earth quake.
Anger can shake earth, but it cannot move it. Rage can break earth, but it cannot move it. What if faith the size of a mustard seed requires the force of love to move the mountain? If that is the case, we are left with one haunting question: Why have we seen so few mountains move in our lifetime?
FAITH-ROOTED Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World outlines a theological cartography of social change. In this critical intervention, Alexia Salvatierra and Peter Heltzel reimagine—and as a necessary consequence, rechart—the landscape of vision, action, and strategic planning needed for social change.
Full disclosure: I have attended several trainings conducted by the co-authors. Indeed, the dual authorship of the text is a principal strength. Faith-Rooted Organizing blends the voice of an evangelical-activist theologian in Heltzel with the homespun profundity of a seasoned pastor and campaign organizer in Salvatierra. The authors delight readers with complementary writing styles: Heltzel speaks through theological propositions, interpolated intermittently with jazz references and theological punch lines; Salvatierra communicates through proverbs, organizing anecdotes, poignant biblical passages, and narrative side notes.
The result is a well-argued and accessible text that should resonate from the seminary to the sanctuary. Their driving thesis is that faith communities, especially Christian ones, should organize for social change in a way that is rooted and guided by the stories, symbols, sayings, and scriptures of our faith. Faith-Rooted Organizing functions as an instruction manual on effective advocacy while providing a theological rationale and vocabulary for a vocation marked by tremendous victories and colossal failures, breakthrough partnerships and fragmented coalitions, glimpses of beloved community and portraits of democracy stillborn.
A new biography is raising questions about the life and relationships of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an anti-Nazi dissident whose theological writings remain widely influential among Christians.
Both left-leaning and right-leaning Christians herald the life and writings of Bonhoeffer, who was hanged for his involvement in the unsuccessful plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1944. Bonhoeffer was engaged to a woman at the time of his execution, observing that he had lived a full life even though he would die a virgin.
The new biography, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from University of Virginia religious studies professor Charles Marsh, implies that Bonhoeffer may have had a same-sex attraction to his student, friend and later biographer Eberhard Bethge.
“There will be blood among American evangelicals over Mr. Marsh’s claim,” Christian Wiman, who teaches at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, wrote in a review for The Wall Street Journal. But there’s been no bloodbath yet, at least considering a few initial reviews.