journey

Converted, But Still Wrestling

SOME BOOKS MAKE you want to sit down with the author on a sunny afternoon for a nice cup of tea. You would be excited to talk about how the book resonated with your own journey. For me, From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart: Rekindling My Love for Catholicism, by Chris Haw, is such a book.

Haw, a young, passionate, and deeply self-reflective theologian, shares his spiritual memoir. Part one recounts Haw's faith journey from a childhood as a lukewarm Catholic to teenage years at the evangelical megachurch Willow Creek, to college—including brief but powerful months in Belize, as well as days of protest against the Iraq war—and eventually to his present life in the apocalyptic landscape of Camden, N.J., where he returned to the Catholic Church.

Part two presents Haw's theological reflections on a variety of questions he has raised along his journey. He also focuses on common objections against the Catholic Church, such as the nature of the Mass as a sacrifice, the church's reliance on human tradition over the Bible, its hierarchical system, alleged ritualism, embellished architecture and ornaments, devastating scandals—including child molestation—and so on. Haw explores such challenging issues thoughtfully and courageously, while humbly accepting that he still struggles with them. Despite it all, Haw longs to see beauty and hope furthered through the Catholic Church.

I am a Catholic convert. I was raised in a Methodist family and trained in Protestant seminaries. By the time I decided to convert to Catholicism, I was starting my first year in the doctoral program of theological studies at Emory University. Feminist theology played a central role in both my theological education and spiritual formation, and it continues to today.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

A Tropical Quest

A FEW YEARS before American naturalist John Muir heeded the call of the California mountains, the boggy swamps and towering palm trees of a much flatter territory beckoned him south to the Gulf Coast states. As for many young travelers before and since, a journey into exotic lands was a path toward vocational and spiritual enlightenment for Muir.

In Restless Fires: Young John Muir's Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf in 1867-68, Whitworth University emeritus professor James B. Hunt explores how that trip forever changed Muir's perspectives on humans' relationship to the natural environment. Digging deep into Muir's childhood, Hunt details how Muir's theological transformation shaped his environmental stewardship.

It's a wonder Muir maintained any divine belief system. Muir's Scottish father, a strict practitioner of Campbellite Christianity, nearly beat faith out of him, combining forced Bible memorization with harsh physical punishment. Hunt contends an unfortunate twist of fate may have opened the door to Muir's escape from suffocating under zealous religion and monotonous factory life. He lost an eye while working as a machinist, which caused temporary sympathetic blindness in his other eye. As soon as Muir was able to see again, he left the Midwest in a southward walk toward what he imagined was North America's Eden.

Hunt's appreciation for Muir is reflected in his writing style which, much like his subject's own journal entries, is academic but poetic, philosophical but purposeful: "The walk gave him the time and experience to define life in his own terms rather than to subscribe to the ones prescribed by society. In so doing, he helped the American public and his readership to see nature as he did, with new eyes," writes Hunt.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Tigers By the Tale

IT'S A STORY that promises to make you believe in God.

A boy, shipwrecked on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, repeatedly cheats death and eventually discovers his own self. It's a typical coming-of-age tale, really—except for the whole tiger part.

Life of Pi centers on Pi Patel, the son of a zookeeper, who grows up grasping to understand God. His open heart and willingness to learn lead him from Hinduism to Christianity to Islam. While stranded at sea along with a few escaped zoo animals as company, he continues to explore the meaning of God as he's thrust into dramatic—and at times inconceivable—situations.

Anyone who has read Yann Martel's best-selling book can understand how near impossible it seems to adapt the larger-than-life story into a film—none more so than the person who did just that, screenwriter David Magee. The largest chunk of Pi's journey is a solitary one, save the aforementioned Bengal tiger (named Richard Parker).

In an interview with Sojourners, Magee said he wrote the scenes without any lines for Pi at all, only inserting them where necessary after the fact.

"We didn't want to have some strange conversations with the tiger that he would never have," Magee said.

To work out other ways to move along the story, the filmmakers met with Steven Callahan, an actual survivor of a shipwreck who spent 76 days at sea.

"While he was on his journey, [he] wrote in the margins of a little notebook that he had with a pencil in the tiniest lettering he could, and he tried to keep track of his thoughts and his observations in order to keep himself from going insane," Magee said.

Magee did the same thing in the film and used Pi's journal entries, jotted in the margins of his survival manual, to delve into the character's inner dialogue. Through the written word and the slow dissolving of his one pencil, the days and nights pass as Pi becomes ever more weary.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Ramadan Karim: Sojo Staffer Joins Imam for Islam's Monthlong Fast

EDITOR'S NOTE: Ramadan's first day of fasting began today at dawn. This year, Sojourners' Director of Mobilizing, Lisa Sharon Harper, has chosen to keep the fast during the Muslim holy month alongside our friend, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Both Lisa and Imam Feisal will be blogging regularly during the coming days and weeks of Ramadan, sharing with our readers their personal reflections on what the holy month, the fast and journeying together as a Christian and a Muslim means to them. To learn more about Ramadan and its sunrise-to-sunset monthlong fast, click HERE.

LISA SHARON HARPER:
In 2004 I led a group of Intervarsity students on a journey through Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia on a Pilgrimage for Reconciliation. For four weeks we traveled throughout all three countries investigating the roots of conflict and seeds of peace being planted between the Catholic Croatians, Muslim Bosniaks, and Orthodox Serbs. Along the way, we met with Miroslav Volf, who was vacationing in his home country of Croatia at the time. One of my students asked Volf the same question I asked my mentor years before: “How do you engage in interfaith activity without watering down your own faith?” Volf answered with one word: “Respect.”

He explained that Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Love requires respect. We may not agree with our neighbors, but we must respect their minds and their ability to choose the faith they will practice...

That is why I have chosen to embrace my Muslim neighbors by practicing the Fast of Ramadan this year with a spiritual leader who I admire and look forward to learning from, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.

Sister Joan Chittister's Stanford Baccalaureate Address

Sister Joan and Bono, 2008. Photo by Gold Wong/FilmMagic)/Getty.
Sister Joan blessing Sojo friend, Bono, at the '08 Women's Conference in California. Photo by Gold Wong/FilmMagic)/Getty.

Editor's Note: Sister Joan Chittister, the Benedictine Catholic sister, author and social justice stalwart, delivered the Baccalaureate address at Stanford University a few weeks ago. Below is the text of her address. 

Bertolt Brecht, German dramatist and poet wrote: "There are many elements to a campaign. Leadership is number one. Everything else is number two."

And Walter Lippmann said: "The final test of a leader is someone who leaves behind themselves – in others – the conviction and the will to carry on."

But how do we know what it means to really be a leader and how do we know who should do it?

There are some clues to those answers in folk literature, I think. The first story is about two boats that meet head on in a shipping channel at night.

As boats are wont to do in the dark, boat number 1 flashed boat number 2: "We are on a collision course. Turn your boat 10 degrees north."

Boat 2 signaled back: "Yes, we are on a collision course. Turn your boat 10 degrees south."

Boat 1 signaled again: "I am an admiral in her majesty's navy; I am telling you to turn your boat 10 degrees north."

Boat 2 flashed back immediately: "And I am a seaman 2nd class. And I am telling you to turn your boat 10 degrees south."

By this time, the admiral was furious. He flashed back: "I repeat! I am an admiral in her majesty's navy and I am commanding you to turn your boat 10 degrees north. I am in a battleship!"

And the second boat returned a signal that said: "And I am commanding you to turn your boat 10 degrees south. I am in a lighthouse."

Point: Rank, titles and positions are no substitute for leadership.

Snake Handling, Stigmata and Testing God

Snake handler W. R. Tinker standing beside sign for his 1948 revival meeting. (Photo by Francis Miller/Time Life/Getty Images.

A recent piece on the Huffington Post's Religion page described the death of Pastor Mark Wolford, a Christian minister known for handling venomous snakes during his worship services to demonstrate the power of his faith. The stunt went south, however, after he was bitten on the thigh during worship and died at a hospital not long after.

The practice, though rare, is employed in a handful of Christian congregations in response to a literal interpretation of verses 17 and 18 in the 16th chapter of Mark:

And these signs will follow those who believe. In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.

There are several dangers this story raises, not the least of which, of course, is death by venomous snake bite. Such communities require public displays of faith that are meant to test the resolve of the faithful. And such practices are not restricted to backwoods protestant churches; some Catholics (and others) are enamored with the phenomenon on stigmata, where people exhibit physical signs of crucifixion, such as wounds on their hands or feet.

There’s the more obvious danger of putting someone in harm’s way by expecting them to perform a dangerous act to prove their faith. But there’s also the undercurrent of religious one-upsmanship, wherein folks are forever striving to be more daring, graphic or otherwise attention-grabbing. In addition to the potential physical danger, there’s the risk of pressing people to be deceptive in their faith practices, simply to enjoy the validation or admiration they seek, and which is held in such high esteem in these particular circles.

Hearts in the Trash (Day Two)

The Piatt Prius, overloaded. Photo by Christian Piatt.
The Piatt Prius, overloaded. Photo by Christian Piatt.

It turns out that packing all the belongings you need for at least three months into the back of a Prius is a challenge. Of course, being a guy it’s the kind of challenge that makes life worth living. Anyone who has ever been a Tetris junkie can appreciate the exhilaration of fitting forty-seven differently shaped items into a space made for about half the volume. Yes, I had to jump up and down on the back hatch, and several keepsakes are undoubtedly smashed beyond recognition. But by God, I got it all in there.

While I was basking in the glory of being a master packer, my family was busy feeling. Amy kept up her “four cries an hour” regimen, while three-year-old Zoe melted down whenever she realized this toy or that piece of furniture was not going with us after all. It’s a strange feeling, leaving most of our valuables behind, but for me, it’s kind of liberating. I love the idea of grabbing what I can carry and heading west until I reach the edge of the earth.

Apparently my family doesn’t share the same romantic bug. They like stability.

“This is the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere,” said Amy, wiping tears aside. “This is home.”

“Yeah, but we’re taking home with us,” I said, trying in vain to employ the typically male strategy of emotional deflection.

“Taking it where?”

“Good question.”

Life Under Empire

“THE WORLD will be watching,” runs the tagline above a determined Katniss Everdeen, her arrow at the ready, on a teaser poster for The Hunger Games film. The phrase describes well the popularity of The Hunger Games trilogy, young adult novels headed to the big screen. The world has been watching, and reading, voraciously. Suzanne Collins’ dystopian tale of young Katniss Everdeen’s struggle to survive under the totalitarian government in Panem (the United States of some post-apocalyptic future) has captured readers’ attention, as evidenced by the continued dominance of the books—The Hunger Games (2008), Catching Fire (2009), and Mockingjay (2010)—on bestseller lists.

The country of Panem is ruled by a central Capitol known for its luxury and obsession with fashion and entertainment. Surrounding it are 12 fenced-in districts whose people exist in dire poverty—on the brink of starvation—and labor to supply the insatiable demands of the Capitol. To assert control, the Capitol demands that each district must send two children (called tributes) each year to compete in the Hunger Games—a televised survival game where they must kill or be killed in the fight to be the last one standing. Dreaded in the districts, the Games serve as the height of entertainment for the citizens of the Capitol.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Knotted Celt

Chains, Malin Head, Co. Donegal. Photo by Cathleen Falsani.
Chains, Malin Head, Co. Donegal. Photo by Cathleen Falsani.

Howling wind whipped my long, unruly hair in penitent lashes across my face as I stood in the rain, staring at the churning sea at the northernmost point of Ireland. This place, Malin Head in County Donegal, for some mysterious or mystical reason — perhaps because it is such a broody, dramatic place, or maybe it’s got something to do with ancestry, or both — is the spot I love most in the world.

It is a wild land, the kind of place where myths are born, where giants and saints might come bounding over the next hillock followed by a troupe of little people or a herd of magical sheep.

Whatever the reason, I feel at home here and have returned time and again over the last 15 years, drawn to stand on its rocky cliffs like water to the shore.

Passages and Pilgrimages

WE ARE ALL on a journey, it seems—the butcher, the baker, participants in reality shows from The Bachelor to Pit Bulls and Parolees, those with chronic or terminal illnesses, the grieving, the people in pink walking for three days to raise money to fund breast cancer research, and, of course, actual travelers moving from one geographic point to another. A movie about a pilgrimage, The Way, even enjoyed a grassroots-fueled, quiet-but-steady success this fall.

As Jack, a character in The Way, exclaims, in an enthusiastic monologue on travel-related metaphors to warm the hearts of English majors everywhere, “The road itself is among our oldest tropes!” And more popular than ever, if our cultural rhetoric is any indication.

This plays out in how we describe important emotional and spiritual events or challenges: Counselors often use journey language to describe grief, for example. Many who’ve suffered the death of a beloved can describe how loss casts a person into unfamiliar territory, and how the process of working through raw emotion and “finding our way back” to accept new realities takes us to, and through, different emotional or spiritual places.

“Journey” is now the go-to word in today’s pop psychology lexicon for most any kind of personal process or narrative. This is seen to mixed effect on reality shows, where the term is ubiquitous—sometimes used poignantly, bearing real freight as people attempt to deal with life-and-death issues such as addiction or morbid obesity. Other times it can seem laughable—earnestly used to describe the search for “true love” in an audition-selected pool of carefully pruned and polished contestants or for purported wisdom gained between Real Housewives smack-downs and party planning. Alas, just because you say you’re on a journey doesn’t mean you’re really getting anywhere.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Pages

Subscribe