Hope

House of Prayer and Dreams

A rendering of the reconstructed cathedral.

WE WERE LOOKING at cathedrals while others were mourning and burying their dead.

It was the first day of the international design competition that would help choose a few architectural plans that might be used to rebuild Notre Dame de l'Assomption, Our Lady of the Assumption, Port-au-Prince's most famous cathedral. This cathedral was so central to the city that, before it was leveled in the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake, its turrets could be seen from most places in Port-au-Prince, as well as from the sea, where mariners used a light on the cupola of the church's north tower to help bring their ships home.

During the 2010 earthquake, the Catholic archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Monsignor Joseph Serge Miot, was killed inside an administrative building adjoining the cathedral, along with priests and parishioners. It was the images of their crushed bodies and their loved ones wailing around the perimeters of the cathedral's rubble that motivated me, a non-architect and non-Catholic—but a lover of cathedrals—to agree to join a development strategist, a preservationist architect, a structural engineer, a priest and liturgical consultant, the dean and associate dean of two architectural schools, and the editor of a magazine that discusses the dual issues of faith and architecture to help select three out of the 134 moving, elegant, and in some cases totally out-there designs that we had received from architects all over the world. Among the panelists, three of us were Haitian born, and many of the others had either worked in Haiti or in the Catholic Church for years.

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People Get Ready

IT WAS THE first week of November 2012, and Bruce Springsteen was busy helping nail down a few swing states for President Obama. In the process, he expressed more enthusiasm than I could ever muster for the man who put Tim "The Fox" Geithner in charge of our financial hen house. But political quibbles aside, I remain convinced that what Springsteen actually does for a living is more important to the life of our country than the work of any living politician, and I saw living proof that very same week.

On the Saturday night before Election Day, Springsteen and his E Street Band dropped into Louisville, Ky. Of course, my wife, Polly, and I had to go, and we had to take our 12-year-old son, Joseph, who has become the fourth Springsteen-obsessed member of our family. It was my fifth time to see the show, and ever since I've been thinking of the poem in which Allen Ginsberg asked America, "When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?" Paraphrasing Ginsberg, I ask today, "America, when will you be worthy of your E Street Band?"

To me, going to see the E Street Band has become something like going to see a natural wonder, like Yellowstone or Mammoth Cave or, more to the point, the California redwood forests: Like the redwoods, it's growing older. The bark gets rougher by the decade, and some branches break off and fall to the earth. But Springsteen's great tree of American music is still growing in stature and substance. The band has become a cultural institution that spans races, genders, and generations and fittingly represents the sacred American musical tradition that has grown from the work songs, ring shouts, and spirituals of the slaves.

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Storytelling and Social Change

PERHAPS NO FRAMEWORK has impacted my organization, Interfaith Youth Core, more than Marshall Ganz’s approach to public narrative (“leadership storytelling”), best articulated in his March 2009 Sojourners article “Why Stories Matter.” We use it in our trainings with college student interfaith leaders and recommend it in the workshops we do with university faculty. Most famously, it was employed by the 2008 Obama campaign.

Like all effective frameworks, there is both a visceral and a heady quality to what Ganz teaches. Stories are the way human beings understand and communicate our deepest values, Ganz says, and there are three major stories that leaders must tell. The first is the story of self. This is not a selfish activity, or even one just about self-understanding (although that is certainly a piece of it). It’s about interpreting to others your reasons for being engaged in a struggle. This helps them understand your involvement and, more important, gives them inspiration and language to get active themselves.

The second type of story is the story of us. Religions, races, ethnicities, and nations tell such stories brilliantly but often do it in a way that excludes—and makes enemies of—those outside the magic circle. The challenge for the 21st century leader is to tell a story of us that includes people of all backgrounds who are fighting for the same cause. Stories of us build community out of people who would otherwise be strangers.

The third type of story is the story of now—the reason for action, sacrifice, movement, and urgency at this moment above all others.

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From the Archives: February 1987

IN THE U.S., the Cold War has served to justify a permanent wartime economy, blacklisting and surveillance of dissenters, and military interventions against smaller and weaker nations from Vietnam to Nicaragua. In the Soviet Union, it has been used to excuse a permanent state of economic austerity, the imprisonment and torture of dissenters, and military interventions from Hungary to Afghanistan. And on both sides the Cold War has provided the ideological underpinning and political momentum for a nuclear arms race that threatens the future of the entire human family. ...

As Christians our faith, security, and hope for a peaceful world can only be placed in the one true God, who is the creator and sustainer of all life and the Lord of history. The first and most essential commandment forbids us to trust the fate of God’s earth and generations unborn to the creations of finite, fallible, and fallen human beings.

Throughout the scriptures, we are reminded that peace comes not through amassing military strength and technology but through following in God’s ways. Real peace and security can only come through acknowledging the humanity of our enemies, seeking reconciliation with all peoples, and doing justice to the poor and oppressed. Our only escape from total destruction lies in turning from our old ways and going in a whole new direction of peace and cooperation.

Danny Duncan Collum was an associate editor of Sojourners when this article appeared.

Image: Peace and war road sign, Andy Dean Photography / Shutterstock.com

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Advent: Our Christmas Hope

Photo: Advent candles, week 2, © haraldmuc / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Advent candles, week 2, © haraldmuc / Shutterstock.com

This Advent, as we wait for the true light who is coming into the world (John 1:9) we pause and reflect on our Christmas hope. As a friend said last night, we do not linger forever in uncertainty but as an expectant mother who labors in anticipation of the joy her child will surely bring.

Our assurance of salvation — past, present, and future — depends on the unique person of Jesus Christ and our relationship to him, and there's perhaps nothing more central to Jesus and our relationship with him than that he became flesh, was made like us in every respect (Heb. 2:17), so that by grace we might become partakers of his divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

This isn't something the church merely teaches but an event of history, revealed for all men and women in the one-of-a-kind person Jesus is, the human and divine Son of God. From the moment of Christ's conception, eternity himself inhabits time so that events of his life on earth long since past are forever present to us in Jesus. This is one reason our joy at Christmas is so palpable and real ... when we worship Jesus at Christmas, we are once again with Mary and Joseph on that cold, dark night as they swaddle “he who made the starry skies” and lay him in a manger.

Four Questions for Kelvin Hazangwi

Kelvin Hazangwi

Bio: Executive Director, Padare/Enkundleni Men's Forum on Gender in Harare, Zimbabwe
Website: www.padare.org.zw

1. How are women working for gender equality in Zimbabwe? We have a very strong women’s movement in Zimbabwe. We have the Women and AIDS Support Network. We have the Campaign for Female Education, an organization doing wonderful work giving grants to girls so that they stay in school. We have another organization that deals with violence against women; there are no government-provided shelters for battered women in Zimbabwe. There are organizations for young women, for women in rural communities—I could go on and on.

2. “Padare” and “Enkundleni” mean “meeting place” in Zimbabwe’s Shona and Ndebele languages. What does Padare work to do? We are not bringing a new agenda to the table; we are saying, let’s look at all of these women’s organizations and the issues they’re bringing—violence against women, access to education, access to reproductive health, HIV and AIDS. What can men do? Perpetrators of violence against women are men. Men can make a personal commitment of not being violent against their partners. That’s a political statement, but from a very personal perspective. So the feminist slogan that “the personal is political” is equally applicable to men.

3. What else can men do? Statistics now indicate very clearly that women in marriage might not be able to negotiate safe sex; they are at risk of HIV and AIDS. What if married men take a personal commitment of promoting their own health and their partner’s? One of the national campaigns was saying: Let’s keep mothers alive and ensure zero infection of unborn babies. But we also need to keep men alive to support their families.

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Post-Election: Our Hope for the Future

Allison Joyce/Getty Images
People react to election results in New York City's Time Square. Allison Joyce/Getty Images

Whether your guy won or whether your guy lost, do any of us believe that politicians or the political process can unite us or solve our nation's deepest troubles (the most serious of which are not economic)?

If you feel great or you feel lost, is your honest hope in a political messiah? Can our political leaders give us a vision of human flourishing that comes close to the personal and societal transformation available to us right now in the New Creation accomplished by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ?

These idols we fashion, these men and women we are tempted to worship or in which we place our ultimate confidence, cannot heal us or bind up the wounds of America.

The Season to Put on Beauty

“TAKE OFF THE garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God. Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting” (Baruch 5:1-2). We might occasionally hear in church a prayer that makes passing use of the phrase “the beauty of holiness,” but it can’t be claimed that we are helped very often to feel that the contagious goodness of God is absolutely lovely, alluring, and attractive. We are called to be beautiful human beings. Christians who are deeply serious about social justice, who carry the burden of the world’s brokenness in their hearts, who are committed to political dissent, probably need this reminder most of all. We can hardly be agents of change if our faces are disfigured by disgust and anger.

Advent may be an especially important time to listen carefully for the Word who summons us to be walking sacraments of God’s radiant beauty. Paul will speak to us about having joy in one another and clothing ourselves in love. We are meant to fill our imaginations in these weeks with the sight of Mary in the radiance of her final days of pregnancy. Doesn’t her beauty lend all the more power to her proclamation, “[God my savior] has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich sent away empty” (Luke 1:52-53)?

Martin L. Smith, an Episcopal priest, is an author, preacher, and retreat leader. His newest book is Go in Peace: The Art of Hearing Confessions, with Julia Gatta.
 

[ DECEMBER 2 ]
Shaken Powers
Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

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Pregnant with Possibility

THE TASTE OF the election still may be in our mouths—but Advent is breaking in.

Advent is a four-week stomp to Christmas. It is the time when God starts to show. God is pregnant during Advent: pregnant with possibilities that somehow, some way, someday, things will be different. They will taste better. We will know their taste better. We will be able to be engaged in our lives and our commitments and also be at peace. We will be the ones at the birthside, marveling about how God could dare come as a child or send heaven to earth, spirit to flesh, drenching humanity with divinity. The big words for this showing will be “Son of God” and “joy to the world.” The angels will sing, the night will go silent, the people will hark.

This Christmas would be a great time to notice what we have already seen: that when leaders and things get too large, when we put too much trust or hope in them, they revert to a brutal and brutalizing smallness. When we put trust in what we can notice, what we can do and who we can be, we are rarely disappointed. We expect, expectantly, as though we too were pregnant, day by day, with the possible.

For now, there is the waiting, the preparing for an Advent practice that will smell and taste good, that will open doors on more than a calendar.

I am an avid reader of women’s magazines, especially those that have a centerfold of the perfect Christmas dinner. I praise that dinner, hope for it, plan for it, and then eat with vigor what really comes out. A friend has a sign on her refrigerator about the difference between what we usually have and what the magazine announced: “It’s not going to happen that way.” By that sign, she is preparing herself for a day and a life of surprises. She is grooming her “to don’t” list.

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Emerging Hope

I’VE ALWAYS LOOKED forward to Advent. It’s a time each year of expectant hope—the hope brought by the coming of a child, born in an animal stall in Bethlehem, who would change everything. It is the time of year when I am reminded again of the choice we always have between cynicism and hope. That’s ultimately a spiritual choice, and Advent is a formative season that nurtures the choice to hope, which can guide our decisions and actions.

This fall, Sojourners launched a new project called Emerging Voices, and it’s one of the most hopeful initiatives I have been involved with in a long time. It aims to mentor, develop, and promote the most dynamic up-and-coming communicators—speakers, preachers, and teachers—who are called to lead and publicly articulate the biblical call to social justice.

The vision for this project is exciting and something to be celebrated. It also calls to mind a critical observation: Our world often wants saviors, not prophets; new messiahs, not leaders. We want heroes with superhuman strength who save the day, not mere mortals who speak the truths we typically don’t want to hear. Even the modern-day giants of social justice—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, and Mahatma Gandhi, for example—were at best prophets, but never saviors.

It’s easy to slip into the mentality that one person, one voice, will rise up in a generation, and that she or he will change the world as we know it. Dr. King spoke of this temptation as the “drum major instinct.” It is the basic desire of humans to lead the charge and, ultimately, reap the recognition—or, at the very least, to place our confidence in a single human being.

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