Christian Piatt 02-07-2013
Ikea photo: JuliusKielaitis /

Ikea photo: JuliusKielaitis /

A man buys two dogs to live with him in his apartment. They drive him and his neighbors crazy. They bark at all hours, get sick all over the place and cause rifts between him and his neighbors. And yet he insists that, despite the tremendous amount of work and inconvenience they present, he loves them.

So the question is: does he do all the work and put up with the nonsense because he loves them, or does he love them because he’s invested so much of himself in them?

Researchers looked at this question, particularly with regard to the wild popularity of the DIY furniture store, Ikea. Basically, you pay them to give you some furniture in a box that you have to take home and build. Sometimes you screw it up. Sometimes it takes a lot longer than you expected. Sometimes you scrape the skin off your knuckles and call the furniture names that would make your mother blush. In the end, if most of us assessed the value of our time against the money we’re saving by buying the furniture unassembled, it’s a net loss for us.

So why do we do it?

Julie Polter 01-08-2013

ReFocus: Living a Life that Reflects God's Heart. Zondervan. / Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious. Beacon Press.

Gareth Higgins 01-08-2013

Here's my list of the best films released in 2012.

Christian Piatt 12-20-2012
photo   © 2011   Mark Taylor , Flickr

Pastor Terry Jones leads a Islamaphobic march. photo © 2011 Mark Taylor , Flickr

Many will remember pastor Terry Jones as the champion of the “Burn a Quran Day” event, intended to fan anti-Islamic rhetoric on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Though many shouted him down and criticized his motives, he continues to have somewhat of a national platform for his agenda.

In this video produced by the New York Times, we get to witness what I consider a momentary intervention of God’s spirit in a beautifully, creatively nonviolent way. As Pastor Jones condemns Muslims and their religion, a man in the crowd pulls up the lyrics to the Beatles song, “All You Need is Love” on his phone. He stands next to jones and begins to sing, inviting the crowd to join in. It is beautiful because his hate is repaid with song, and the sting of his venomous words is neutralized without a hand or another voice being raised in anger (though I could do without the “idiot” sign, thanks).

Tom Ehrich 11-28-2012
Jaren Jai Wicklund / Shutterstock

Photo: Baby asleep on his father's chest, Jaren Jai Wicklund / Shutterstock

NEW YORK — In the afterglow, I give thanks for Thanksgiving Day.

It might be our most spiritual holiday, dealing as it does with that most spiritual of experiences: feeling gratitude.

Despite the commercial drumbeat for the aptly named "Black Friday," Thanksgiving Day itself tends to be about family, food, and free time. On Facebook, people shared recipes for stuffing, answered questions posed by nervous first-time cooks, told stories about traveling to be with family, and flooded the web with photos of people just being together.

I realize that those are ambiguous realities. Not everyone is blessed with healthy families, not everyone has enough food. Many work hard to prepare food and cheer for others to enjoy. But the promise is there — and unlike the promise of material hyperabundance that has come to dominate Christmas, the promise of Thanksgiving Day seems worth pursuing and attainable.

Rose Marie Berger 11-02-2012

Hildegard von Chicken, with Mexican blanket.

With a warm hen under my arm, I remembered Jesus' plea over another empire-ridden city.

Gareth Higgins 11-02-2012

Philip Seymour Hoffman, center, in The Master.

It's a mark of the moral complexity of The Master that it can critique the damage done by demonic religion while honoring the best hopes of its angelic shades.

Sheldon Good 11-02-2012

Ex-offenders confront the for-profit prison industry.

Brandon Hook 10-31-2012
John Chillingworth / Getty Images. Looper poster design by Ignition Print

John Chillingworth / Getty Images. Looper poster design by Ignition Print.

As the credits rolled after Looper in a packed Chinatown movie theater in Washington, D.C., I simply sat in reverent silence. Moviegoers on all sides began to rise and quietly leave the theater, but for a brief moment all I could do was just sit there. Quite simply, the movie blew my mind.

When I snapped out of it my thoughts started racing, analyzing the ending, which I won’t ruin for you, and the movie as a whole. It wasn’t a question of whether it was “good” or captivating — those were givens. Rather, I started mining the film’s rich themes and questions, particularly what it said about love.

While sitting there, lost in my mind, I began to notice the music accompanying the names moving onscreen. The song’s chorus sang something like, “I loved you so much that it’s wrong.”

I don’t think the song choice was an accident.

That lyric, I think, illuminates the crux of the film: can something like “Love” — not just romantic love — become perverted? Or, in other words, can our love for one person lead us to do horrible things to others?

Kateleigh Hewins 10-16-2012
Cloud image, Yurchyks /

Cloud image, Yurchyks /

In a world that seems completely and irrevocably divorced from the teachings of Christ, where in contemporary society is there a place for the Christian voice? Politicians shamelessly use Jesus’s name to justify their authority and gain influence without bothering to unpack the full depth of theological and ethical implications of their words. Corporations are granted the rights of individuals, but some individuals are denied the resources they need in times of crisis to support their families and livelihoods. And the public debate is so full of vitriol and hyperbole that dehumanization and outright hatred of those with whom we disagree has become the norm. In light of the situation in which we find ourselves, how then should Christians behave? 

While it might seem appealing to remove ourselves from secular society altogether and forsake the world in all its brokenness in favor of a uniquely Christian ethic that appeals and applies only to us, Christians have an obligation to serve as active participants in public discourse— elevating the conversation rather than abstaining from it so that we may try to live the truth and convictions of our faith. 

Martin L. Smith 10-03-2012

Reflections on the Common Lectionary, Cycle B

What would our faith look like if we really put it on the line?

Sarah Johnston 10-02-2012
"Honja." Photo by Cathleen Falsani.

"Honja." Photo by Cathleen Falsani.

My neighbors signed my report card.

Having had the same conversation countless times in my life, I have learned that one sentence sums up a cacophony of explanations.

It is tricky, I have found, trying to explain why friends are listed as my emergency contacts, why I wake up Christmas morning in the home of people to whom I am not related, and why my parents — both living — have been anything but.

The separation started so long ago that I struggle to remember exactly when it began. When I was starting middle school my mom’s depression hit hard and fast. My dad, who understands love as a finite commodity, could not muster any for me. Loving her meant giving all of it to try to save her. His attempts and inability to do so created a stress that amplified his MS from inconvenient to disabling.

In a moment, it seemed, they were gone.

We were wealthy and Southern and had everything that went along with both: a close-knit community, punctilious social obligations, and money to stay afloat. In the world in which I grew up, everyone surely knew everything about everyone, but damn if they weren’t polite enough to pretend it was all OK. It was a magnificent masquerade.

But the truth remained: I was an orphan.

Trevor Barton 07-24-2012
Sticks and stones saying, Vepar5  /

Sticks and stones saying, Vepar5 /

"Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me."

I was sitting outside on the playground bench wiping the tears of a child when this proverb came to mind. It isnt true, of course. Nancy was a second-grader going through an evaluation process to help us understand why she couldn't read. Kayla was one of her classmates. As they were climbing the ladder of the slide, Kayla yelled out, "Nancy is retarded!"


Words can break our hearts.

Jessie Choi 07-23-2012
Sunday School image,  joyart /

Sunday School image, joyart /

A couple of years ago, I remember speaking to a middle-schooler about his worries of the world. During our conversation, he told me one of his biggest fears centered around Muslims. When I asked why Muslims generated so much fear in him, he said they were scary and are out to hurt people.

"Look at 9/11," he said. "Terrorists may take over the U.S. and then the world."

Around the same time I heard similar concerns from a 10-year old in my Sunday School class who joked about the terrors of Islam and how Muslims were going to take over the world. Again, I asked him where he received these ideas, to which he responded, “from my church back in Southern California.” 

Both times, I had to remind my students that sometimes churches get it wrong. All people are created in the image of God. Every person is a child of God. God’s love brings understanding, reconciliation, and peace among one another. God’s love casts out all fear.

Jennifer Grant 07-20-2012

Love, we read over and over in the Bible, casts out fear.

The angels to Mary: Do not be afraid. To the shepherds: Do not be afraid. Do a search on that phrase and you’ll find it numerous times from 2 Kings through Revelation. When he appears to humans, our God of love is always prefacing his messages with, “Do not be afraid.”

As a mother, I want to raise brave kids who hear that message and know it to their toes. Everything is going to be all right. Love wins, as they say.

I want them to be people who know that there is a bigger picture, a spiritual promise of hope and redemptive, even when life circumstances feel frightening.

I don’t want them to lose sight of it or fail to see God’s gifts of love around them because they are afraid of what, ultimately, cannot harm them.

It’s not always easy, however, for me to be brave.

Joshua Witchger 07-17-2012
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. Image via the band's website.

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. Image via the band's website,

This summer I’ve been a little lax on monitoriing my musical radar as closely as I usually do, but one album that’s been in constant rotation around my turntable is Here, the first of two albums that Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros –  a 10+ member collective from Los Angeles – plans to release this year.

As I listen to Here,  flowery vibes flood my mind with peace and goodwill. It's the psychedelic dream of a bygone era I never knew. But as a Millennial pursuer of peace, justice, and equality, these tunes perfectly fuel my endeavors and also, I believe, the larger work we do at Sojourners. And they’re pretty damn catchy, too.

Debra Dean Murphy 06-27-2012

“The spirit that enables one person to overleap the boundary of the body in knowledge and love and to incorporate the other in the self is matched by the same spirit in the other.”
~ Luke Timothy Johnson, Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel

“He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’”   
~ Mark 5:34

After several days of renewed public debate about health care, we hear this weekend the familiar healing stories from Mark chapter 5. By Sunday we will know the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision regarding challenges to the Affordable Care Act. So politically charged is this discussion, so designed is it to distort, divide, undermine, and confuse, it’s easy to forget that the issue, at its core, is a simple one: how ought a humane society tend to its suffering ones and aim for the well-being of all?

We will also hear this passage on a day when many will be anticipating the Fourth of July, and perhaps expecting their Sunday worship to kickstart the holiday’s celebration. In hearing the text from Mark, such worshipers might well wonder: What does Jesus’ encounters with a desperate, suffering woman and a young girl believed to be dead have to do with America’s love of freedom and fireworks?

Cathleen Falsani 06-08-2012
Photo by Araya Diaz/Getty Images.

Anne Lamott at the 2010 California Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Photo by Araya Diaz/Getty Images.

Author Anne Lamott, one of our favorite Jesus-loving subversives, recently delivered the undergraduate and interdisciplinary studies commencement address at the University of California at Berkeley.

Lamott's funny, irreverent, and yes, profound, words of wisdom for the Berkeley graduates included the following, about what she thinks the "truth of their spiritual identity" might be:

Actually, I don’t have a clue.

I do know you are not what you look like, or how much you weigh, or how you did in school, and whether you get to start a job next Monday or not. Spirit isn’t what you do, it’s … well, again, I don’t actually know. They probably taught this junior year at Goucher. But I know that you feel it best when you’re not doing much — when you’re in nature, when you’ve very quiet, or, paradoxically, listening to music....

Eugene Cho 05-23-2012

No matter where you stand on the issue of gay marriage, there are some boundaries of human decency that should never be crossed.


Even in the name of free speech, some boundaries should never be crossed. Pastor Terry Jones crossed that line in burning the Koran and making a global media spectacle. Pastor Wiley Drake crossed that line in suggesting that he was praying for the death of President Obama. And then, of course, there are the folks of Westboro Baptist Church. 

But this…?!#@

Wow, this takes the prize for the most idiotic, insane, stupid, asinine, cruel, ungodly, foul, inexcusable, heinous, and disgusting comments by any person – let alone someone that calls himself a pastor and shepherd.