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School of Love

WHEN FATHER THOMAS PHILIPPE brought philosopher Jean Vanier on a tour of asylums, institutions, and psychiatric hospitals, Vanier discovered “a whole new world of marginalized people ... hidden away far from the rest of society, so that nobody could be reminded of their existence.” A year after this realization, recounted in The Heart of L’Arche, Vanier founded the first L’Arche community in his new home in France. Vanier shared meals, celebrations, and grievances with Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, two men who had lived in asylums ever since their parents passed away.

Vanier was inspired by life with these friends, and motivated by a new understanding of Luke 14:12-14: “‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’”

In the words of Vanier, “L’Arche is a school of love.” It is a “family created and sustained by God,” and it is an embodiment of the belief that “each person is unique, precious, and sacred.” In practice, L’Arche is a global network of communities: People living with and without developmental disabilities sharing meals, prayers, work, and advocacy efforts.

Eileen, an artist and a member of the L’Arche community in the Washington, D.C. area, explained to Sojourners that through L’Arche she can explore museums, create and share art, cook and host a pork-chop dinner, or stay in and watch television with friends. She’s learned much over her decades with L’Arche and, she explained, “I teach people how to pray.”

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Beyond the Wheelchair Ramp

Baloncici / Shutterstock
Baloncini / Shutterstock

RECENTLY, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH moved toward beatifying Archbishop Óscar Romero, who was martyred while presiding at a Mass in El Salvador in 1980. Romero preached that, for the love of God, soldiers and paramilitary forces must stop murdering their brothers and sisters—and he paid with his life. Many have since honored his witness during El Salvador’s civil war as “a voice for the voiceless.” Without a doubt, more of us should take on that mantle.

And yet. Sometimes we are notcalled to be a voice for the voiceless. Sometimes we are called to listen carefully and discover the voices in our midst. Sometimes we are called to consider whether weare the ones preventing voices from being heard.

We are almost 25 years beyond the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and while access is still not all it should be, we need to move beyond the wheelchair ramp. We need to listen to those living with disabilities—as fully human, as fallen and holy, as friends of Christ, as people with abilities, as disciples on the Way.

What is disability? This simple question is not easily answered. There are people living with impairments, a loss of expected physiological form or function. A person missing a leg. A person whose optic nerve did not develop correctly. A person who has sustained a brain injury. The disability refers to the consequences of an impairment: loss of walking, blindness, memory issues. Handicap, in turn, refers to the societal disadvantage resulting from an impairment.

But when talking to people living with disabilities, those clear-cut categories become muddy. Some embrace the term “disability” as a simple aspect of who they are, a way of describing their lives and advocating for societal change. Others reject the term, saying they perceive no negative consequences from their impairments, only positives. Others fear the term and simply do not use it.

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Listen to the Silence: Thoughts on World Vision and the Pitfalls of Modern Communcation

A-R-T & LuckyDesigner/Shutterstock
A-R-T & LuckyDesigner/Shutterstock

These are important conversations we are having. Where do we invest our money responsibly in organizations who do the work of justice? How do we interpret Scripture regarding sexuality and marriage, and how does that intersect with church and parachurch employment practices? In what ways can we truly love our neighbors — gay, straight, rich, poor, Christian, Atheist? These are questions that matter to real life people in our world, and we must talk about it.

But we are talking too fast.

What is troubling about the events of the World Vision Reversal last week is not just the divisive and contentious nature of the voices coming from different sides of deeply entrenched ideological lines, but the speed with which it happened. So much of the hurt came not from the impact of actual punches, but from the whiplash of sudden, rapid reactions.

Telling the Forbidden Truth

THE WOMEN IN Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith aren’t just frank. They are courageous, clever, and wildly passionate.

This anthology, edited by Erin S. Lane and Enuma C. Okoro, asks 40 women under 40 to respond to the question, “What taboos remain in the church at the intersection of faith and gender?” The result is a collection of stories by women of faith (Baptist, Presbyterian, Mennonite, Catholic, Unitarian Universalist, and more) in a variety of roles (pastor, mother, writer, teacher, student, and more).

The women share times they have felt shamed, alienated, discouraged, or alone as women seeking a home in the church. From addressing domestic violence to lust to pregnancy to the role of a woman pastor’s body, the stories are raw in the way first-person narrative calls upon honesty and vulnerability to trump perfect prose or style.

Anthologies often stick to one structural extreme: Either they are rigid and theme-driven, or loose and nomadic. Talking Taboo follows the latter. Lane’s introduction promises no arc of narrative, no solid take-away message. The stories are here, she writes, because women are agreeing to “speak for ourselves.”

The prompt “taboo” itself calls for a loose interpretation, for what is defined as taboo ultimately depends on both the writer’s and the reader’s cultural references and relation to faith. One reader may find Amy Julia Becker’s struggle to understand headship within marriage familiar, but Patience Perry’s call for faith-based menstruation rites shocking. Another reader may affirm Kate Ott’s understanding of sexual pleasure as divine, yet wonder why Amy Frykholm feels more empowered when she conceals her body behind a monk’s cloak.

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What If We Listened?

Yuriy Rudyy/Shutterstock
How about if we put down our dukes and listen? Yuriy Rudyy/Shutterstock

“The less engaged people are, the more they tend to criticize. The more engaged people are, they have far less time [and] energy with which to criticize.”

She might as well have completed the above statement with the dismissive wave I heard in her voice. But she didn’t.

She’s a pastor’s wife. Her bread and butter (and heart and soul) are wrapped up in the local church. I have been there. Perhaps the mile I walked in those shoes helps me understand the sentiment. And I think there is a place for tempering unjust criticism from sources that seem negatively biased. That protects people, sure.

But I can’t let it go at that.

Subverting the Myth

I MET PASTORS Harvey, Alton, Charles, and Joel in Houston’s 5th Ward, a black neighborhood that in 1979 earned the title of “the most vicious quarter of Texas.” I was drawn there by a sermon I’d preached on Psalm 23 called “An experiment in crossing borders.” In it I asked my congregation, “What border is God leading you to cross? And who is waiting for you on the other side?”

Little did I know the profound impact that sermon would have on me.

Nearly five years later, I remember when these men stopped being “pastors at black churches on the other side of the 5th Ward border” and became “my people,” deeply connected as members of the body of Christ.

It was a moment of profound truth-telling, when I realized I was controlled more by the values of Western “racialized” culture than I was by the liberating gospel of Jesus and the alternative community to which I had given my life. It became clear to me that I’d affirmed myself and my identity through the lies of racial privilege, and done so at the expense of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Michael Emerson, a sociologist from Rice University, provides us helpful language to understand how race works. Rather than analyzing racism (concretized for most of us through powerful images of slavery, hooded white supremacists, separate drinking fountains, and individual acts of hate), he invites us to analyze how our society is racialized.

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