Spirituality

Will He Find Faith?

Black and white magnolia, Gregory Johnston / Shutterstock.com
Black and white magnolia, Gregory Johnston / Shutterstock.com

 C.S. Lewis described himself as a dinosaur as he lived in a cultural landscape that seemed to change before his eyes.

I don’t feel like a dinosaur, but I do feel like a disembodied voice crying in the wilderness as I struggle, like a fish swimming upstream, to believe that the Gospel is real and solid and still matters.

It’s not that cynics and agnostics have convincing arguments – though some do.

And it’s not as if Faith itself has lost its power and edge – because it hasn’t.

Perhaps it’s true in every age, but it certainly seems more true now, that many of those who call themselves believers, believe and live as if they believe a different Gospel altogether.

The contradiction is so thorough, it must be deliberate.

Obama Extols a Biblical Vision of Equality for All in Second Inaugural

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
President Barack Obama is greeted by Rev. Luis Leon as he arrives at St. John's Church. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

A presidential inauguration is by tradition the grandest ritual of America’s civil religion, but President Obama took the oath of office on Monday in a ceremony that was explicit in joining theology to the nation’s destiny and setting out a biblical vision of equality that includes race, gender, class, and, most controversially, sexual orientation.

Obama’s speech, his second inaugural address, repeatedly cited civic and religious doctrines — namely the God-given equality extolled by the “founding creed” of the Declaration of Independence — to essentially reconsecrate the country to the common good and to the dignity of each person.

It was a faith-infused event that recognized both the original sins as well as the later atonements of America’s history, especially on race, which was front and center as the nation’s first African-American president took the oath on the holiday commemorating the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

And Obama and other speakers vividly traced the nation’s tortuous path from slavery to civil rights — from the Emancipation Proclamation 150 years ago to the March on Washington 50 years ago, the latter presided over by King.

Citing Religion, Some Health Workers Refuse Flu Shots

 Marlon Lopez / Shutterstock.com
Syringe preparation by a female doctor. Marlon Lopez / Shutterstock.com

Unlike patients who have a choice about getting the flu shot, many health care workers didn’t have a say this year.

For the first time in Rhode Island, hospital and nursing home workers were told to roll up their sleeves, and hundreds of hospitals in other states have similar policies.

“No one likes to be coerced, and there were some people who objected,” says Virginia Burke, CEO of the Rhode Island Health Care Association, which provides skilled nurses and rehabilitation workers to the state’s nursing homes. “My fear when the mandate came out was we’d lose workforce. To my delight, that hasn’t happened.”

But more than 1,000 workers filed a petition to oppose the directive.

Obama’s Use of Scripture Has Elements of Lincoln, King

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Microphone stand where the President will swear his oath on Monday. Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call

President Obama will publicly take the oath of office on two Bibles once owned by his political heroes, Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. One Bible was well read, but cited cautiously, the other granted scriptural sanction to the civil rights movement.

When Obama lifts his hands from the Bibles and turns to deliver his second inaugural address on Monday (Jan. 21), his own approach to Scripture will come into view. Characteristically, it sits somewhere between the former president and famous preacher.

His faith forged in the black church, Obama draws deeply on its blending of biblical narratives with contemporary issues such as racism and poverty. But like Lincoln, Obama also acknowledges that Americans sometimes invoke the same Bible to argue past each other, and that Scripture itself counsels against sanctimony.

Obama articulated this view most clearly in a 2006 speech, saying that secularists shouldn’t bar believers from the public square, but neither should people of faith expect America to be one vast amen corner.

“He understands that you can appeal to people on religious grounds,” said Jeffrey Siker, a theology professor at Loyola Marymount University in California who has studied Obama’s speeches. ”But you also have to be able to translate your case into arguments that people of different faiths, or no faith, can grasp.”

‘Virtual’ Public Schools Draw Interest of Religious Families

RNS photo courtesy Jennifer Bell.
Sadie Bell studies at a desk. RNS photo courtesy Jennifer Bell.

Worried about exposure to foul language, immodest dress, peer pressure, and other inappropriate behavior, Susan Brown didn’t want her two daughters attending public schools — even though she’s a substitute teacher in a public school in Minnesota.

Brown initially home-schooled her daughters until a friend told her about the Minnesota Virtual Academy, an online public school that is fully accredited. She liked the curriculum, and as a single mom relying on substitute teaching income, she preferred how the school provided the supplies instead of having to buy supplies herself as a home-school parent.

“You can’t give your kids an effective moral and religious upbringing if you only see them a couple of hours a day,” said Brown, a Catholic whose daughters, now in the 10th and 12th grade, started virtual school in the second and fourth grade. “When you’re at home with them, you can incorporate your beliefs into the day.”

Since Florida became the first state to try them in 1996, virtual public schools have enjoyed dramatic growth, with at least some of it coming from religious families. Like home-schooling parents, parents of virtual public school students like having their children home so they can integrate religion and values into the school day.

VIDEO: The Spiritual Practice of Bread-Making

Many congregations lament that young adults are leaving church these days. So we asked former Sojourners interns Anne Marie Roderick and Joshua Witchger to share what keeps them in the pews. Find out what these two 20-somethings have to say in “‘Relevance’ is Not Enough (February 2013) as they reveal some of their most treasured spiritual practices, including bread-making.

Expand your own understanding of Christian faith and practice. Try this bread recipe, compliments of Sojourners magazine associate editor Elizabeth Palmberg.

Step 1: MIX
-4 cups bread flour (or whole wheat flour, or all-purpose white flour)
-1.5 teaspoons salt
-heaping 1/2 teaspoon yeast
-2 to 2-¾ cups water

  • In a large bowl, stir together dry ingredients. Then mix in water; start with 2 cups and add more as needed (if you have strands of dough covered with flour, you are almost there).
     
  • Cover loosely and let sit on counter (or in warm, turned-off oven) 8 to 12 hours. Amazing flavor develops now! Read “‘Relevance’ is Not Enough" while you wait.



Step 2: FOLD

  • With a spatula, fold the dough over on itself firmly a dozen times. Dough will deflate.
     
  • Re-cover loosely and let rise an hour or more.



Step 3: BAKE

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Risking Depth and Passion

"EVEN IF I OWNED Picasso's 'Guernica,' I could not hang it on a wall in my house, and although I own a recording of the Solti Chicago Symphony performance of Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring,' I play it only rarely. One cannot live every day on the boundary of human existence in the world, and yet it is to this boundary that one is constantly brought by the parables of Jesus." So wrote a great New Testament scholar, Norman Perrin, in his book Jesus and the Language of the Kingdom. I often think about his frankness as I prepare for the transition between Epiphany and Lent. We must soften and make bearable the intensity of the scriptural story to face it every week in church. We can't dive to the depths every single week, and we are right to keep our child-friendliness going.

But we need to risk depth and passion, or run the danger of making the gospel seem boring and predictable. Our churchly betrayal of God lies in our willingness to make the Word seem banal. So perhaps the thing we need to give up for Lent is our avoidance of depth. The scriptures this month will speak to us of faith as the experience of being stressed almost to a breaking point. They will plumb the depths of divine frustration and disappointment. We must clear a space for these wounding and thrilling themes and suspend our strategies for making worship palatable and safe.

Martin L. Smith, an Episcopal priest, is an author, preacher, and retreat leader. His newest book is Go in Peace: The Art of Hearing Confessions, with Julia Gatta.

[ February 3]
Making a Prophet
Jeremiah 4:1-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30

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Getting to Green

IN THE FOREWORD to Sacred Acts: How Churches Are Working to Protect Earth's Climate, prolific scholar-activist Bill McKibben recalls a time not long ago when many people of faith regarded environmentalism suspiciously—conservatives saw it as a cover for possible paganism, while liberals considered it less of a priority than problems such as war and poverty. Now, however, theologians and religious leaders discuss the environment almost as much as ecologists and Nobel prize-winning scientists do. As this book shows, moreover, the environmental movement now includes religious organizations such as Earth Ministry, Interfaith Power & Light, and GreenFaith, which are working at the grassroots level in congregations and communities.

Edited by Mallory McDuff, a lay Episcopalian who teaches environmental education at Warren Wilson College near Ashville, N.C., Sacred Acts boldly focuses on climate change. McDuff believes that momentum is building among Christian communities worldwide as they call for just climate solutions—much like a modern Pentecost moment. The book addresses both skeptics and those who know climate change is real but feel overwhelmed by the problem's magnitude and despair of finding and implementing solutions.

The contributors to Sacred Acts include clergy, teachers, activists, directors of nonprofit organizations, and a farmer. Its 12 chapters are divided into four sections on the themes and strategies of stewardship, spirituality, advocacy, and justice.

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God is Alive and Well in America, Says Gallup Chief

 Jim Lopes / Shutterstock
Jim Lopes / Shutterstock

Despite a deep drop in the number of Americans who identify with a particular faith, the country could be on the cusp of a religious renaissance, says Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of The Gallup Poll.

Grounded in more than a million Gallup interviews, Newport's new book, God is Alive and Well, argues that the aging of the baby boomers, the influx of Hispanic immigrants and the links between religion and health could portend a bright future for faith in America.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

In Praise of Holding One's Religion Lightly

Photo: Woman reading Bible, © Jacob Gregory / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Woman reading Bible, © Jacob Gregory / Shutterstock.com

There will be, I assume, a thousand different ways to dismantle what it is that I am about to say. I get that. I respect it. I invite it. This is a conversation that we need to have and, thankfully, are having at a national level. That said, sometimes I wish we still lived in a time when talking about one's faith in public was considered inappropriate or rude. Sometimes, that is. Only sometimes.

Lillian Daniel has a new book coming out. I'll refrain from sharing my opinion about the book until after I have read it. You can read Robert Cornwall's review here. The book is entitled WHEN "SPIRITUAL BUT NOT RELIGIOUS" IS NOT ENOUGH: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church. There are some handy quick reviews on the amazon.com page. My favorite is from Shane Claiborne. 

Lillian is as fed up with bad religion as anyone else, but she's also careful to celebrate good religion and good spirituality that brings people to life and makes the world a better place. May her book invite us to stop complaining about the Church we've experienced and work on becoming the Church we dream of.

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