There is change for racial justice and equity in the air in Boston, to an extent that I previously only hoped for but could not heretofore have envisioned. And as I look ahead to attending Sojourners’ upcoming leadership Summit, which focuses on the intersections and implications of race across numerous justice issues, I expect and pray for change to be in the air in D.C., and that the same winds may fill our sails in June.
Editor’s Note: We’ve had the privilege of connecting with many members of the broader Sojourners community (including some of you reading this!) during Sojourners President Jim Wallis’ America’s Original Sin book and town hall tour. Our conversations in cities like New York, Baltimore, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Portland are serving as a tool to engage people – particularly people of faith and white people — more robustly on issues of white privilege, race relations, criminal justice reform, and inequalities work. The conversations have already been so rich and we wanted to capture a few reflections from those we see on the road to share with you all. The following reflection is from Alicia Philipp, CEO of the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta, who we met up with at the Atlanta History Center gathering alongside 70 of CFGA’s donors and board members.
I DIDN'T KNOW much about sepsis until it hit me out of the blue the Friday before Thanksgiving. After working late Thursday night, I woke up the next morning shivering and shaking, with my teeth rattling and full of pain; my left leg was swollen and fire-engine red.
I was immediately sent to the hospital and told frightening things about how dangerous a septic cellulitis infection can be. The ailment is random and can strike people of all ages; bacteria gets under the skin and spreads, and if it goes into the bloodstream, things can get dangerous indeed.
I am certainly not used to lying in a hospital with intravenous antibiotics being pumped into me day and night. Fortunately, thanks to my overall good health, I responded quickly to the antibiotics, resulting in a full recovery. I’ve often visited others in hospitals and been an advocate for patients in bureaucratic health-care systems, and this unexpected visit reminded me why that is so important. It is easy to feel alone in those systems and to lose your voice. I have always been impressed by nurses, who so often bring life, laughter, and even love to health systems that so easily block out such things, and some of my nurses were the delight of my lockdown hospital time.
I grew close to my roommate in the hospital, a man who, like me, is married to an English woman, and who was clearly suffering from cardiac issues. The lack of privacy through flimsy curtains forced me to overhear a doctor telling him that he had two choices: a heart surgery that the doctor thought the man wouldn’t survive, or hospice care with only six months or less to live.
Decisions about life and death often suddenly fill these hospital rooms. My leg infection quickly shrank in comparison, and being present to my roommate and his wife became very important. Friends coming by to talk to my roommate brought tears, stories, smiles, and fears.
TWO WEEKS BEFORE entering the hospital, I had gone on a much-needed personal retreat—not to lead but just to listen, learn, and be quiet. The topics of the seminar were “character” and “gratitude.” The former was intriguing, as the subject of character always is to me. But I found the latter theme, gratitude, to be profoundly challenging—and restful at the same time. Gratitude is hard. It is especially hard for those of us who see their vocation as changing the world—seeing what is wrong and trying to make it right. We see the unjust things and want to make them just, the broken things and want to help heal them; we see the bad and want the good. It can be exhausting.
Hollywood star Denzel Washington, the son of a pastor, preached a sermon of gratefulness Nov. 7 to hundreds of members of the Church of God in Christ at their annual Holy Congregation in downtown St. Louis.
“I pray that you put your slippers way under your bed at night, so that when you wake in the morning you have to start on your knees to find them. And while you’re down there, say thank you,” he told the crowd at a $200-a-plate banquet at the Marriott St. Louis Grand Hotel to raise money for the denomination’s charity work.
“It is impossible to be grateful and hateful at the same time,” he said.
“We have to have an attitude of gratitude.”
Over 400 participants from all continents (barring Antarctica) gathered on Messiah College’s campus in Harrisburg, Pa., to further their understanding of Anabaptist teachings while exploring what it means to be a part of the global church during the 2015 Global Youth Summit, under the theme, “Called to Share: My Gifts, Our Gifts.” Participants engaged in deep learning through workshops led by professors and historians, connected to their history through historical Mennonite tours all over Pennsylvania where they visited museums and Mennonite churches and met Amish families, and tapped into their musical side with globally-infused worship.
My role as the North America representative for the summit (which coincided with the 2015 Mennonite World Conference) meant meeting with delegates on an individual basis — the delegates being representatives from global conferences. It meant hearing stories about home churches and struggles with governments, and discussions about theologically Anabaptist responses to violence and change in all four corners of the earth.
And, of course, it meant witnessing people randomly break out in song and dance. Both a boisterous drum circle and competitive games of Dutch Blitz lasted well into the night.
Influenced in her early 20s by the civil rights movement, Barbara learned about Sojourners during the time that she and her husband served in Tanzania with the Peace Corps. Experiences interacting with folks diverse in religious belief and race during this time profoundly influenced her understanding of faith and social justice. She shares that her life has been influenced by Catholics and Mennonites, pagans and Methodists, Anglicans, Quakers, Hindus, and Buddhists: “At the core, a lot of us on the planet are looking for the same thing: to get along with one another, to have enough to eat, [and] to be able to live with some measure of safety and security.”
I spoke with James Tufenkian, founder of Tufenkian Foundation which serves to promote social, economic, cultural and environment justice in Armenia as it recovers from its genocide. I asked him about his connection with Sojourners, and how his work and faith intersect.
Ariana Denardo (AD): How did you get connected with Sojourners, and why did you decide to become a donor?
James Tufenkian (JT): My brother, a retired pastor, and I were having a series of conversations about the involvement of the church in social issues. He mentioned Sojourners, so I visited the website, read the magazine, and got interested. I found Sojourners to be the best, maybe the only organization I know of that works on social justice as Christians living out Christ’s example. It was natural for me to want to support that in different ways, one of them being as a donor.
I think we’ve all been there: physically tired, emotionally battered, and spiritual frustrated. This combination of conditions often lead to the thought of wondering if anybody cares — not just for you, but for the things that you are passionate about. You may feel like the last person standing, the only one who has a sincere zeal for what you’ve been called to address. ...
The Summit provided a unique setting that brought together leaders from the business and urban communities, others from the front lines of inner city racial inequality protests, and rural communities of both national and international descent.
Editor’s Note: We at Sojourners thought it would be nice to share first-hand reflections of this year’s leadership Summit: World Change Through Faith & Justice from participants to give a little glimpse into the impact and experience. Our first post comes from Rev. Louise Howlett of Middleton, Del., who was a first-time attendee nominated by fellow sojourner and changemaker Louise Coggins, with whom she serves on the board of VISIONS-Inc.
My first Sojourners Summit was a powerful experience. I was not sure if I belonged there at first, and expected to be intimidated by the fervor and zeal of other participants. My work is on a small scale and is often more about personal transformation and interpersonal change than large-scale systemic change.
Yet I found the stories told from the podium, the sharing at the tables, the teaching in the workshops and panels, and the music and visual arts in response to be both inviting and empowering. Being with people of faith from all different backgrounds and faith groups bonding in prayer and care for justice — and sharing in fighting racism, war, poverty, and systems of oppression — felt hopeful.
Sometimes care for justice feels lonely and hard, like swimming upstream. But being in a gathering like the Sojourners Summit reminded me that hundreds and thousands of people of faith are out in their communities praying and working together to make change.
One interesting fact about Sojourners history: when we began publishing the magazine, it was distributed for free on several college campuses. For the past two years we’ve renewed that tradition as part of a tour of historically black colleges and universities.
In February, Lisa Sharon Harper, Sojourners’ Chief Church Engagement Officer, spoke with students at four HBCU campuses across the country
I'm grateful for the warm, safe shelter of my home when there are 610,042 experiencing homelessness on any given night in the U.S.
I’m grateful for more than enough to eat when there are 805 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active live.
I’m grateful that I have clean drinking water when over 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes.
I’m grateful that I have good health when so many people do not have access to decent medical care, like the 5,459 people who have died from Ebola this year, and the millions more who die each year from preventable diseases.
I’m grateful I have clothing to wear when in the poorest of places, the lack of proper clothing costs lives, and hundreds of millions still live in conditions of material deprivation.
I’m grateful for my freedom when the U.S. had 1.57 million inmates behind bars, the highest percentage of a population of any developed country in the world.
I’m grateful for my citizenship when there are over 11 undocumented immigrants in the U.S. living in the shadow of constant fear.
But I’m especially grateful for the people I know, and the ones I don’t, that are working for justice and peace; a world where all our brothers and sisters have the basic necessities of shelter, food, clean water, decent medical care, and warm clothing. A world where every human being’s dignity is respected and valued. A world Jesus called the Kingdom of Heaven.
This Advent I am grateful for the gift of hopelessness. Yes, you read that correctly. This past year has been full of heartbreak, suffering, and lament. It follows on the heels of nearly two years of unemployment, financial insecurity, and stress-related health issues. Any hope to which I once clung — any hope outside of God, that is — has been destroyed.
And for that I give thanks.
This summer, as I waited anxiously to hear what was strangely afflicting my father (who had already had several health scares and a heart attack), as I nursed a broken heart and came to grips with personal disappointment, as I watched how a once rosy-outlook turned to a heavy-grey, I learned the true meaning of hope. Everything in this world will break or decay or simply fade away. Nothing here is permanent and even the most seemingly perfect and ideal situation has at least a hairline crack.
I currently serve as Pastoral Associate at a Catholic parish in Buffalo, NY, where our pastor decided to hold monthly Prayer Hours for Peace in response to the violent outbreaks in Syria, the uprising in Ferguson over Michael Brown’s death, ISIS, gang violence — to name a few.
Our November Prayer Hour for Peace offered four rounds of Scripture passages and ten-minute reflection and prayer time, followed with an excerpt from a Pax Christi USA prayer called “Just for Today.”
I read this excerpt aloud:
“Just for today, I will believe that world peace is possible. I will remember that hope is the most important gift I can give my world.”
The next Scripture verse was from Psalm 122:6-8.
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels. For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, Peace be within you.”
For the next ten minutes, I inhaled “belief….possible” and exhaled “hope most important gift.” Physically, my body relaxed, and I watched my hope flow out into my immediate surroundings.
After the monsoon, after work, I catch
you with your face in the hot laundry,
the syntax of spring held together by sap,
hanging wild and worried and crazy
in the lowest branch. In the ripe country,
salmon fold over the linens of the bay,
and I weep with you from the shore, embodied.
For still you feel the fell of dark, not day.
Like a lot of people, I love giving presents almost as much as receiving them. And the best gifts of all are ones that come with a clear understanding of the recipient in mind — ones that involve thought and care. Maybe a weird record with cover art only your best friend would love, or a necklace that goes perfectly with your mom’s favorite dress.
But spending that much effort on gifts for every single person on your list can be exhausting. Handmade gifts sometimes take weeks to plan and make in advance, and you don’t always have the time (or gas money, for that matter) to spend an entire day driving all over town searching for the perfect present, as romantic as that sounds.
Luckily, there are plenty of great resources out there to provide you with excellent gifts that give back. You can find some of them listed in Sojourners’ Just Giving Guide, which offers options ranging from clothes and jewelry to coffee and pecans (yes, pecans!). And if you just can’t find that special something, there are also plenty of choices for giving a donation in honor of a friend or loved one.
I firmly believe that people of faith can transform the world. Despite the many flaws and failures of the church and her people, Christians have a tremendous amount of power and influence to do good. This campaign is all about harnessing the leadership of churches and clergy, and encouraging people of faith to raise their voices on behalf of women and girls. Through education and empowerment, we can confront gender-based oppressions and change harmful practices, policies, and structures within the church and the broader culture. It’s a tall order, but one that demands nothing less from us if we truly believe in the sacred worth of women and girls.
There’s a place in the cultural conversation for both friars and fools, for those who discern truth through contemplation and prayer, as well as those who seek to reveal it through satire and silliness. But it’s not every day that both come together for substantive (if not always serious) theological conversation.
Aric Clark, Nick Larson, and Doug Hagler, also known online as Two Friars and a Fool, host such conversations on their blog and podcast about theology and spiritual practice, sexuality, and popular culture. They recently combined forces as well for their first book, Never Pray Again: Lift Your Head, Unfold Your Hands and Get to Work. The intentionally provocative title emphasizes the need for Christians to get outside of our own heads and churches, and about the business of being the hands and feet of Jesus in a world in need.
I chatted with the trio recently about their new project, as well as the “Never Pray Again” coloring book, which they crowd funded through a recently successful Kickstarter campaign.
This past year taught me so much about the gospel and caused me to go deeper into my faith. As this new year begins, here are five spiritual resolutions I learned from last year:
1. Return to the gospel. Gordon Cosby, the founder and pastor of The Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C. passed away in early 2013. He was a mentor, elder, and spiritual director to me. I miss Gordon greatly and often have things I would like to talk with him about. But I usually know what he would say to me and it would always be about returning to the gospel. In his last sermon, spoken from his death bed, he spoke of Jesus’ “clear and frightening statement that the last shall be first and the first shall be last.”
I wish that we, as a people, would speak better words to those who have served in our wars. I fear that we do them, and ourselves, a disservice when we call them all heroes without letting them decide which deeds were heroic and which should be left unspoken. When we call everyone who wears a uniform a hero, we diminish heroism everywhere.
I don’t mean we should refrain from thanking those who serve. If anything, we should thank them far more than we do, and our thanks should not just be in words. Our thanks should be sincere and long-lasting, and expressed in things like the best military hospitals we can afford, the best education we can provide, and our best efforts to ensure that their generation will be the last to endure what they have endured. Even if those ideals prove to be unattainable, we should not let that stop us from trying to attain them. As the Talmud says, “It is not your job to finish the work, but you are not free to walk away from it.”