Poetry: Picture of a Family after Cavafy

Micael Nussbaumer/Shutterstock

There’s a photo he carries for long journeys
like this one, for trips on loaded market lorries
where the passengers take their seat, perching
on top of cargo, or sitting on crude benches
inside the buses coming from Sudan with names
like “Best of Luck” or “Mr. Good Looking.”

As the road rumbles from Chad through Cameroon
to Nigeria, toward another year of medical school,
he always reaches into his inside coat pocket
and brings out the folded 4x6. Sees his brother,
with the latest jeans from the capital and a maroon
hoodie zipped half-way up, one leg placed forward
and his head tilted back—an “attitude” he’s learned
from movies and music pipelined from America.

Sees his mother, bright pink polyester swirling
around her figure, and remembers how she woke
before dawn to make him fangaso for his trip.
He sees the lines he and his brother have caused,
drawn into her face after years of worry,
fatherless years of selling produce in the market
and begging relatives for support. He sees the slight
twist of her mouth, the triumph of a mother
shining through the sorrow of leave-taking,
the promise for her child to have a better life.

Aaron Brown, author of Winnower, is an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Maryland. He lives with his wife in Lanham, Md.

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July 2015
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Pope Francis: Put Down Your Smartphone and Enjoy Family Dinners

Image via Sally Morrow / RNS

Pope Francis on Nov. 11 urged Catholics to continue the tradition of a family meal, leaving smartphones aside, and switching off the TV to enjoy the “fundamental experience” of sharing food.

“The sharing of a meal — and therefore, other than of food, also of affections, of stories, of events — is a fundamental experience,” Francis said during his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square.

Sitting around the table helps measure the health of relationships, the pontiff said: “If in a family there’s something that doesn’t work, or a hidden wound, at the table it’s understood immediately.”

When God Is Like an Italian Grandmother

Image via Lisa F. Young / Shutterstock


I still recall that moment when I first heard the words of the liturgy:

“The gifts of God for the people of God. Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.”

I had never considered the Lord’s Supper as feeding on Christ. Growing up in a charismatic, non-denominational church and then embracing my faith as an adult at a Presbyterian church, I found this to be a foreign (and admittedly strange) concept that didn’t fully take root in me until after I began attending an Anglican church on Capitol Hill.

As I grappled with unemployment those first months in D.C., feeding on Christ in my heart by faith became more real to me: I didn’t have a seat at the proverbial table, but here was a table prepared for me, full of all the goodness and joy and love and peace and grace I could imagine, because it was Christ who was on offer.

A.A., a Beautiful Lake, and God-Filled Places

Image via /Shutterstock

On my way home from working at the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa., I decided to do something that I’ve dreamed about for many years.

I would visit the lake.

There’s a lake just west of Youngstown, Ohio, that’s been special to me since I was about seven years old. It’s called Lake Milton. I don’t know the story behind how it got its name. But I can share my story of why it’s special.

Some of my friends know that my dad was an alcoholic. He didn’t drink every day, but when he did, he couldn’t stop. And he’d get loud and angry and abusive toward my mom. It was awful and frightening. I remember listening to the arguments and shaking uncontrollably. This went on for several years.

Fortunately, my dad eventually recognized he needed help and joined Alcoholics Anonymous. His sponsor was a funny, kind man named John. He became part of the family — we called him Uncle John. He and his wife, Fran, owned a cottage by Lake Milton. They encouraged us to use it for a week each summer.

Majority of U.S. Catholics Accept 'Non-Traditional' Families

new survey released from Pew Research Center, conducted in the lead-up to the pontiff’s visit, examined U.S. Catholics’ attitudes on family, marriage, and sexuality, as well as on issues close to the pope’s heart — concern for the poor, care for the environment, and forgiveness of sins. The results found Catholics “remarkably accepting of a wide variety of non-traditional families.”

This is not to say longstanding church teaching on marriage has changed — the church very much still upholds lifelong heterosexual monogamous marriage with children as the divine plan for coupleship, and nine-in-ten U.S. Catholics say this is the ideal arrangement. But large majorities now say other familial arrangements are acceptable, too.  

According to the survey of U.S. Catholics, 85 percent say it is acceptable for a man and woman to live together as a couple outside of marriage, and 84 percent say it is acceptable for raise children in this arrangement. Two-thirds say it is acceptable for same-sex couples to raise children. And 70 percent say married couples who choose to not have children are choosing a lifestyle that is just as good as any other.

Q&A: How Would You Respond If Your Christian Daughter Became a Muslim?

Photo courtesy of Dan Raybon / RNS

Patricia Raybon with her daughter Alana Raybon. Photo courtesy of Dan Raybon / RNS

Alana Raybon was baptized as a child in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. She attended youth activities and vacation Bible school and even sang in the choir. But today, she wears a headscarf and worships Allah.

Her mother, Patricia, describes Alana’s conversion to Islam as “heartbreaking,” and yet, they’ve found a way to love each other despite the faith divide. They share their struggles in Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace, a book that begs a vital question: how would you respond if your Christian child converted to Islam?

Religion News Service talked to them about their experience. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Alana, tell us the story behind your conversion.

Alana: I developed a love and reverence for God in church, but I couldn’t connect with the idea of the Trinity. I didn’t let my mother know about these feelings, and patiently waited to feel a connection to this concept. In my 20s, I began searching for spiritual enrichment and came upon the concept of Islamic monotheism — the idea of God being one, solely, without any associate. I became inspired to learn more about Islam and converted to the faith as a junior in college and called my mother to share the news.

Q: How did you react, Patricia?

Patricia: I was devastated. A daughter can call from college with all sorts of news — forgetting her mother is still dealing with her own life. In my case, my husband and I had hit a low point in our marriage, my widowed mother had come to live with us, my other daughter was closing a business, and my husband had a cardiovascular emergency. In all of that, Alana called from college to say, “Mom, I’m a Muslim.” Emotionally, I had run out of steam. So I thanked her for calling, asked how her classes were going and if her car was running OK. Then after a few minutes of such talk, we hung up. Looking back, it was my oddest reaction ever to a phone call.


Synod on the Family: Dialogue or Clash Between Factions?

Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service / RNS.

Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican on Oct. 9, 2014. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service / RNS.

Pope Francis used his weekly audience Dec. 10 to challenge media reports of “clashes between factions” at the recent bishops’ synod on family issues.

“Some of you have asked me if the synod fathers fought,” Francis said. “I don’t know if they ‘fought,’ but they spoke forcefully. This is freedom. This is just the kind of freedom that there is in the church.”

In a bid to set the record straight, the pope acknowledged the extensive media coverage of the global gathering in October and likened it to “sports or political coverage.”

“They often spoke of two teams, pro and con, conservatives and liberals,” the pope told thousands of pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square.

“There was no clash between factions … but a dialogue between the bishops, which came after a long process of preparation and now continues, for the good of the family, the church, and society. It’s a process.”

Pope Francis' Visit to Philadelphia Won't Focus on Hot-Button Sex Issues

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput. Photo courtesy of Archdiocese of Philadelphia/RNS.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput says hot-button socio-sexual issues won’t be the central focus when the World Meeting of Families welcomes Pope Francis to the City of Brotherly Love next year.

Chaput told a Vatican conference on marriage and the family Nov. 19 that next year’s event comes “at a critical moment in global culture” and willaddress a broader scope of concerns.

“It will deal with a wide range of family issues where our religious faith is both needed and tested,” Chaput said.

“These are matters that affect all families, not only in the United States but on a world scale. So we want to focus next year not just on the neuralgic sexual issues that seem to dominate the American media.”

Reflecting the change in emphasis under Pope Francis that was evident at the recent Vatican Synod on the Family, the four-day event in Philadelphia will look at poverty and the family, marital intimacy, raising children, and the impact of divorce, as well as issues affecting the elderly and the disabled.

Mark Driscoll Shares His Experiences After Resignation

Controversial megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll. Photo courtesy of Mars Hill Church/RNS.

Mark Driscoll is back. Kind of.

The controversial founder of Mars Hill Church who stepped down last week offered a brief address at the Gateway Conference on Oct. 20. Initially, he and conference organizers agreed that he would not give a formal address at the conference.

But Robert Morris, pastor of Gateway Church in Dallas, said Driscoll requested to come to the conference as an attendee. “That was big of him to just come and be ministered to,” Morris said.

“We could crucify him, but since someone’s already been crucified for him…” he trailed off. “It’s very sad that in the church, we’re the only army that shoots at our wounded. And I’d like you to stop it.”

Driscoll’s resignation came in the wake of accusations of plagiarism, bullying and an oversized ego that alienated some of his most devoted followers.

Conference attendees gave Driscoll a standing ovation as Morris handed him the microphone.

“What do you want me to do?” Driscoll asked Morris, teasing him about the dangers of giving “a microphone to a preacher who’s been gone for a while.”

Wisconsin Couple to Catholic Bishops: The Church is Failing to Address Marital Issues

Pope Francis officiated at the weddings of 20 couples at St. Peter’s Basilica in September 2014. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/RNS.

Pope Francis and his bishops got a wake-up call Oct. 7 from a Wisconsin couple who said the Catholic Church was failing to deal with the collapse of the traditional family.

Jeff and Alice Heinzen of La Crosse told the pope and 180 bishops attending a synod devoted to family issues that they were alarmed by the number of young people born out of wedlock or living with divorced parents.

The couple are one of 14 married couples invited to give their testimony.

“We have seen the number of marriages decline each year and the rate of cohabitation increase,” said the Heinzens, who have been married 34 years. “We know countless divorced adults who have joined other faith communities because they do not feel welcomed in the Catholic Church.”

What’s more, the couple added, the church’s pastoral programs were failing to address the forces impacting marriage and family life.