To the Dying Church: Get Offline and Get Outside

City streets illustration, Mykhaylo Palinchak /

City streets illustration, Mykhaylo Palinchak /

To a Dying Church,

Guess what? It’s not that bad.

You just have to get it together a bit.

Seriously, like yesterday. I mean, we have time. But, seriously, we’re all waiting for you to get it together.

You have the means. You have the ability. You have the know-how.

Actually, you don’t have to do that much. You just have to realize that Jesus has done it all and there is a current of immense possibility right under your feet.

Tap into it. Remember it. Root down.

This happens every so often. We are cyclical people. Every once in a while we forget.

But this time you’ve really done a doozy on your own health by chasing after insane supplements and growth hormones. And you’ve also picked some really lame fights. In the race to grow you’ve forgotten your way a bit and now you’re bloated and punch-drunk in the streets swinging at anyone that’ll ask a sensible question.

Stop it. You’re better than this.

What Type of God Do You Believe In?

Young man doubting, Asier Romero /

Young man doubting, Asier Romero /

Sometimes it's hard to blame people for rejecting God, because many Christians present a God that is ugly, cruel, unfair, and utterly horrific. Thus, when people avoid Christianity, they're actually shunning their ugly perception of it.

When you hear people talk about God, what type of God are you imagining? When you speak of God, what type of God are you communicating?

Unfortunately, society's obsession with success, politics, business, security, wealth, and comfort has hijacked the way we see and interpret God — even Christians are guilty of this.

It's easy to manipulate God to fit our own agendas, to use religion to rationalize our actions, to wield spirituality as a weapon, and manipulate theology to rationalize our sins.

The Politics of Palm Sunday

Palms fashioned into a cross, Ricardo Reitmeyer /

Palms fashioned into a cross, Ricardo Reitmeyer /

Make no mistake: the Gospel is political.

Politics refers to “the affairs of the city” and “influencing other people on a civic or individual level.”

Throughout his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus is political. He influences people to live into the Kingdom of Heaven. For Jesus, Heaven is not essentially some place off in the distance where you go after you die. No, Heaven is a way of life to be lived right here, right now. We see this clearly in the prayer he taught his disciples:

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a donkey on Palm Sunday, he was performing a political act. But it was a political act unlike any other.

Cine-Monastic Disciplines

ONE OF THE paradoxes of writing about film is the application of one form of language to interpret another. The medium we’re discussing here is visual, and despite the relevance of the word “poetic” to the great works of cinema, to interact with the movies means, as writer-director John Sayles says, to “think in pictures.” In an age with multiple ways to consume films, and the pressure to respond with the immediacy of social media, to think deeply about movies is a countercultural act.

I noticed this again after being given a record player a few weeks ago. I’ve listened to Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks more than pretty much any other album over the past 20 years and now on the vinyl recording I can actually hear instruments I’d never noticed before. I can’t deny the superiority of the medium, at least in terms of what we might call “musical richness.” But digital transmission makes the sound crisper and more available.

There’s a parallel paradox with cinema, in that the experience of watching films has both diminished and expanded over most of our lifetimes. There are more portals than ever (you can watch Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story or Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo on your phone, for goodness’ sake). Yet the opportunity to see films in optimal settings (decent projection, focused audience, without 25 minutes of commercials for soda mingling with threats of prosecution directed at the people who have paid to see the film by the industrial complex that depends on them) doesn’t come often for most of us. Without conscious resistance, the flattened culture of entertainment globalization is going to continue to dominate.

So, as a modest proposal, I’m considering some contemporary cine-monastic disciplines for the renewal of the cinematic mind:

Hospitality: I’m trying to watch one non-English language film (or one from the U.K., Canada, or Australia/New Zealand) for every U.S. one.

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When Leaders Let You Down

Disappointed young man, Katarzyna Wojtasik /

Disappointed young man, Katarzyna Wojtasik /

Editor's Note: This post was adapted from Sunday's message at The District Church in Washington, D.C.

Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck writes in his book The Road Less Traveled that one of the stages of growing up is “giving up the distorted images of one’s parents” — in other words, realizing that they’re not perfect. This also holds true for other leaders in our lives. We learn that our political leaders, our youth group leaders, our mentors, our teachers aren’t perfect. This isn’t always a bad thing, because sometimes we feel like our leaders let us down, but it’s actually because we had unrealistic expectations of them — such as being perfect, such as never making mistakes, such as not doing everything you want them to do.

(Pretty much nobody I know does everything I want them to do. That doesn’t make them failures; that makes me have to examine what kind of expectations I’m putting on them!)

So I’m not talking about that kind of let-down. I’m talking about those situations we’ve all experienced where we’ve been let down by some kind of failure on the leader’s part. Just this week, Pastor David Yonggi Cho, the founder of one of the largest churches in the world — 750,000 people, and he’d been pastor there for almost five decades — was found guilty of embezzling almost $12 million . I’m talking about that kind of let down. I’m talking about:

  • a father who wasn’t present—physically or emotionally,
  • a pastor who had an affair,
  • a youth leader who ended up turning away from God.

Those are the ones that are most devastating, right? But it doesn’t even have to be that dramatic. It could be a small group leader who wasn’t present when you were going through something, a supervisor or boss at work who doesn’t listen or seem to care.

Five Spiritual Resolutions for 2014: What Elders, Suffering, and Loss Have Taught Me About the Gospel

Beginning a new year. Photo: canonzoom via Shutterstock

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.”

A Very Cheney Thanksgiving


At Thanksgiving, childhood rivalries often live on, even when we’ve grown. Auremar/Shutterstock

I sympathize with the Cheney family this Thanksgiving. Siblings arguing with each other and claiming that Dad is on their side — geez, sounds too familiar for comfort. I have four siblings and when we were kids we were a rough and tumble pack, openly vying for our parents’ approval. We relished ratting each other out. The fickle finger of accusation waving wildly, we’d shout things like “She started it!” “It was his idea!” or “I told her you’d be mad!” Oh, we had a million ways to stay in our parents’ good graces.

You’d think it all might have been about avoiding punishment, and I guess that was part of it. But even though our parents can’t ground us anymore, we tend to search their faces as if we were contestants awaiting our score on Dancing With the Stars. Now we tease each other about who is in the No. 1 spot at any given moment, and how it shifts with a good deed done or misstep in our duty as loving offspring. (FYI, I am taking my parents to see A Christmas Carol at the Drury Lane Theater near Chicago and making them a prime rib dinner afterwards. That should vault me to No. 1 for a week or two!)

The holidays are a perfect arena for this sort of combat and we can take some small comfort that even the Cheneys are not immune. But their problems are not quite like ours, because they are a public family and their disputes have political ramifications. Who wins the Cheney dinner table argument about marriage quality is not just about their family. It resonates through Republican politics and if Liz Cheney becomes their next senator, it may be about Wyoming families as well. But in another way, this family rivalry is like any other because it’s not just about politics. Mary Cheney and her wife, Heather Poe, who have two children together, feel betrayed by Liz. As Heather posted on Facebook: “Liz has been a guest in our home, has spent time and shared holidays with our children, and when Mary and I got married in 2012 – she didn’t hesitate to tell us how happy she was for us.” 

In Search of the Real Alec Baldwin

Photo courtesy of TMZ

Alec Baldwin chases down a photographer. Photo courtesy of TMZ

Alec Baldwin was caught on video venting his rage against a photographer and using a homophobic slur. I actually don’t follow Alec on Twitter or keep up with celebrity news on TMZ, but apparently he’s put similar slurs in writing. In this case, however, he denies using a homophobic slur, saying he is being misquoted. And as proof that he is not homophobic, in fact just the opposite, he points to his work on behalf of marriage equality with GLAAD. In defense of his actions in the video, he insists he was only defending his family’s privacy — in the video we can clearly hear him shouting at the photographer to stay away from his wife and his baby. Here’s a brief excerpt from his blog post in which Baldwin expresses his desire to protect his family and neighbors from media harassment:

I am concerned for my family. In Bloomberg's New York, forty or fifty paparazzi are allowed to block streets, inconvenience homeowners, workers and shoppers, and make life miserable for my neighbors. Photographers have tripped and fallen on babies in strollers on my block. They have nearly struck my wife in the face with microphones. They provoke me, daily, by getting dangerously close to me with their cameras as weapons, hoping I will react. When I do, the weapon doubles as a device to record my reaction. And then, apparently, I lose every time. 

And here’s what the prominent blogger Andrew Sullivan had to say. He is among many who called for accountability from Baldwin, GLAAD and his current employer MSNBC. (At this writing MSNBC has suspended Baldwin’s show for two weeks.) Here’s what Sullivan said:

Look: Baldwin’s anger… was thoroughly merited. But he continually resorts to this kind of homophobic poison when he’s angry. Just as Mel Gibson revealed his true feelings about Jews in his drunken rant, so Baldwin keeps revealing his own anti-gay bigotry. These outbursts reveal who he actually is. (Emphasis in original)

So which is it? Is Baldwin a raging (literally) homophobe or is he a decent guy protecting his family and neighbors? Whenever I encounter an either/ or choice like this, I know I am in the presence of a possible scapegoating incident for three reasons.

Rapper Shad Wrestles with Humanity and Humility

Album art for Shad's "Flying Colours."

There is no mistaking it: Shad Kabango's music is authentic and tenacious. With incredible humility, he speaks from his heart, with no fear of calling out the inconsistencies he sees in the world.

In the recent release of his 4th studio album, Flying Colours, the critically acclaimed Canadian emcee, better known as simply "Shad," hopes his music speaks for itself.

"It’s not easy to summarize or convey, I don’t think," Shad said of the theme of the album, in a recent interview with Sojourners. "Some sort of … feeling of hope, I guess, but hope within the complexity of real life and the challenges of real life."

Pope Francis Fires Warning Shot at Church’s ‘Top-Down’ Bureaucracy

Pope Francis I in Rome, Italy on September 4, 2013. Photo via Shutterstock, by Iacopo Guidi

Pope Francis has once again given a startlingly candid interview that reinforces his vision of a Catholic Church that engages the world and helps the poor rather than pursuing culture wars, and one “that is not just top-down but also horizontal.”

The pope’s conversation with Eugenio Scalfari, an atheist and well-known editor of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, took place at the pope’s residence in the Vatican guesthouse on Sept. 24 and was published on Tuesday.

His newest bombshell come just two weeks after the publication of the pope’s lengthy, groundbreaking interview with a Jesuit journalist in which Francis said the church was “obsessed” with a few moral issues, like abortion and homosexuality, and needed an “attitude” adjustment if it hopes to strike a “new balance” in its approach to the wider world.