Prophet in a Cracker Dress

Nora Howell modeling her dress made of crackers

ONE RECENT WINTER day, Nora Howell stepped out of her house in the Sandtown neighborhood of Baltimore and took a walk down the street. People in the predominantly black community did double takes as this white woman promenaded past them in a sundress made of saltine and oyster crackers. Some stared in disbelief. One man doubled over laughing. In the corner coffee shop, one of the regulars warned Howell not to walk by any homeless people because they might just eat her up.

Later Howell, a community artist and director of the neighborhood Jubilee Arts program, set the video footage taken during her walk to Mister Rogers’ classic refrain, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” The piece, which emerged out of Howell’s ponderings on what it means to be white living in a black neighborhood, became another part of her answer to a call: to use art to address systemic racism and bring about the kingdom of God.

From Race Riots to White Suburbia and Beyond
In 2001, Howell was an eighth grader living in a biracial community in urban Cincinnati. When race riots erupted after a young black man was shot fatally by a white police officer (sound familiar?), her family took to the streets on a prayer walk through the riots. Howell remembers being shocked and terrified, thinking, “Why do we still have race riots? Cincinnati is so far behind the times.”

In the aftermath, Howell talked with peers at school on the reality of racial tensions and observed with curiosity how white and black churches throughout the city responded. She realized race riots weren’t just a relic of the ’60s. “When you lived in a place where different racial groups interacted daily, [racial tensions] could no longer be denied or ignored,” she said.

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On Scripture: It Is About the Land. It Is Not About the Land

Neighbor illustration, Rolf E. Staerk /

Neighbor illustration, Rolf E. Staerk /

Our relationship to place is so conditioned by our life experiences. When I moved to North Cambridge, Mass., from the expansive West Coast, I got a lesson in the meaning of “near” and “far.” Walking around my new neighborhood, I greeted an old woman sitting in front of her house.

“Did you grow up around here?” I asked.

“Oh no,” she assured me, “I grew up way over on Sherman Street.” Sherman Street is about three blocks from where we were talking, but it is a different neighborhood. So in the language of her personal geography, Sherman Street is not “around here.”

When I traveled to Israel this summer with a group of seminary students from Andover Newton Theological School and Boston University School of Theology, what struck me most was another lesson of geography: If you live in a country the size of New Jersey, your sworn enemy might literally be your next door neighbor. 

Boo! It's Jesus!: Halloween and Evangelization

Is Halloween a prime time for evangelism?

Are religious tracks passed out along with (or in lieu of) "treats" really the best way to spread the gospel message?

Or do the roots and practices of Halloween run so deeply counter to Christian tradition that Halloween is best ignored by believers?

At times such as these, the church often finds itself wrestling with the big question H. Richard Niebuhr posed in his seminal 1951 work, Christ and Culture. That is, to what extent should Christians engage in and interact with the world around them?

St. Francis, Pray for Us

Today (Oct. 4) Christians around the world celebrate the life of St. Francis of Assisi, one of the bright lights of the church and one of the most venerated religious figures in history.

The life and witness of Francis is as relevant to the world we live in today as it was 900 years ago. He was one of the first critics of capitalism, one of the earliest Christian environmentalists, a sassy reformer of the church, and one of the classic conscientious objectors to war.

Jon Stewart on 'the Poors': Fridges & Microwaves & TVs, Oh My!

Did you know 98 percent of poor households in the U.S. (those with an income of about $22,000 or less for a family of four) own a STOVE or OVEN? Or that 84 percent of poor households have AIR CONDITIONING?

Shocking! An outrage!

At least that's what some of our colleagues in the media appear to believe, as Jon Stewart documents in the following "Daily Show" report:

Red State Wins: Take a Bow, Silent Bob

Don't believe most of what you'll hear about Kevin Smith's new movie, Red State.

It is not an angry tirade against religion, nor is it an attack on Christianity guised as a horror flick laden with gratuitous violence.

Smith has described Red State as a horror film, and it is that, but not in the conventional Nightmare on Elm Street iteration. There is violence for sure, but nothing approaching the unrelenting bloodbath of, say, The Passion of the Christ.

I Am the 9/11 Generation


For every American student, September starts a new year. September was a time to put away the suntan lotion and refocus on studies -- on more serious pursuits. Gone were the carefree days of summer, and in came the weather that lives perfectly in my memory -- those almost orange leaves, crisp blue skies, and the faint smell of autumn in upstate New York.

I remember it like this 10 years ago. Fourteen and gearing up for a Varsity volleyball season, I had it all. I had only one worry -- that my dad would forget to pick me up from practice, which he never did.

My class had just finished homeroom -- it was my friend's 15th birthday. I don't remember singing, but I'm sure we did. I moved into my world history class, I think we were on the Greeks. And then, it changed. My choir teacher rushed in and frantically told us to turn on the television. We saw the hallways fill with teachers.

Take a Walk on 9/11

As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, many of us are wondering how best to honor the many victims of that tragedy and its aftermath.

Here in Cincinnati, my wife Marty's answer is inviting some of our friends to join us on a walk with some Muslim and Jewish families she invited by simply calling their congregations. She got the idea from my friends and me at Abraham's Path, who are sponsoring to help people find or pull together their own 9/11 Walks all over the USA and around the world. The goal of these walks is simple: to help people honor all the victims of 9/11 by walking and talking kindly with neighbors and strangers, in celebration of our common humanity and in defiance of fear, misunderstanding, and hatred.

More than 1,000 Arrested Protesting Keystone XL Pipeline

As of yesterday, more than 1,009 Americans have been arrested to bring national attention to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. This is what church looks like. Liturgy means "the work of the people" in service of the common good.

If President Obama permits the Keystone pipeline, thousands more will sit on his doorstep and in front of bulldozers. This movement doesn't have money to match the influence of oil companies, lobbyists, or politicians with conflicts of interest, but we do have our bodies and we are putting them on the line.

Here are what people of faith -- Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Quakers, Unitarians, and more -- are saying about why they have been or will be arrested to stop the Keystone XL pipeline: