struggle

A Miracle of Resilience

MY GREAT-GRANDMOTHER, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Johnson, was born in 1890 in Camden, S.C., with a different last name from all the other people in her household. Three generations later, we have no idea where the name Johnson came from.

Lizzie grew up working plantation land owned by her grandmother, Lea Ballard. Lea received the land in the wake of the Civil War: We don’t know how or why, though one theory speculates that Lea, who was listed as a 42-year-old mulatto widow on the 1880 U.S. Census, may have been the daughter of her slave owner. He may have given the land to her after the Civil War. We don’t know. We only know that Lea owned it, that she had 17 children who worked that land, according to family lore, and that the city of Camden eventually stole the land from her by the power of eminent domain. This we know from records I hold in my possession.

Lizzie married a railroad man named Charles Jenkins. Lizzie and Charles had three children; Charles later died in a railroad accident. Lizzie had a choice: endure the brutality of the Jim Crow South alone with three kids, or move with the stream of black bodies migrating north. Lizzie migrated to Washington, D.C., and, eventually, to Philadelphia and took her lightest-skinned child with her.

Both mother and child were light enough to pass for white. My caramel-toned, straight-haired grandmother, Willa, and her brother, Charlie, were too dark. So they were left behind in the care of their elderly great-grandmother. Willa and Charlie joined others on the plantation and earned their keep working the fields.

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July 2015
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Parenting and Resistance

SOME PEOPLE (I was one) will initially read this book to learn what it was like for the author to grow up in Jonah House, a faith-based community of peacemakers in Baltimore, with internationally known activist parents Phil Berrigan and Liz McAlister providing strong ballast when not spending time in prison for nonviolent civil disobedience. I wanted to know what formed the vibrant Frida Berrigan, with whom I work on the National Committee of the War Resisters League. I learned about Frida’s birth in a basement, about Jonah House folks reading the Bible before days of work as house painters or being arrested at protests, about Frida and her sibs watching television on the sly, about the nitty-gritty of dumpster-diving at Jessup Wholesale Market.

But I learned much more from It Runs in the Family, and the “more” is at the heart of this fascinating book, which blends memoir, parenting advice, and connections between the questions parents ask about their children and the questions we should ask about the world. Phil Berrigan and Liz McAlister taught their children about the woes and warfare of the world; in this book, Frida also gently teaches us, while describing both her life as a child and her life as a mother to Seamus, Madeline, and stepdaughter Rosena.

For example, when Frida talks about the visits she and Seamus make to their “Uncle Dan” (Phil Berrigan’s brother Daniel Berrigan, a priest, poet, and activist) and the special bond between the nonagenarian and his lively great-nephew, she also tells us of ONEgeneration daycare in California, where toddlers garden, read, and play with seniors. Then she comments on the increasing number of grandparents who have primary responsibility for their grandchildren and the economic structures that contribute to this phenomenon.

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New & Noteworthy

THROUGH THEIR EYES
In 2011, Raul Guerrero provided 100 Kodak disposable cameras and taught basic photography skills to nine young students in the Newlands area of Moshi, Tanzania. The Disposable Project book brings together their images of their community, with text by Guerrero. the-disposable-project.com

JOURNEYING
“Migration has been, for centuries, not only a source of controversy but a source of blessing,” Deirdre Cornell writes in Jesus Was a Migrant. Inspired by ministering among immigrants in different settings, this is a beautifully written set of deeply humanizing reflections on the immigrant experience and Christian spirituality. Orbis Books

FAITH AND STRUGGLE
The New Black is a documentary film on how the African-American community is grappling with gay rights. Focusing on the campaign for marriage equality in Maryland, it shows activists, families, and clergy on both sides of the campaign, with special attention to the role played by the black church. newblackfilm.com

OUTSIDE THE BOX
Some Christians happily become “non-goers” to official churches. In How to Be a Christian Without Going to Church: The Unofficial Guide to Alternative Forms of Christian Community, Kelly Bean explores the reasons and the channels some have found (or founded) for service, pastoral care, and discipleship. Baker Books

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Five Years Later, Mother of Virginia Tech Victim Wrestles With God, Finds Peace

hand image via shutterstock

hand image via shutterstock

CENTREVILLE, Va. -- It's been five years since Celeste Peterson's only daughter was killed in a shooting rampage at Virginia Tech and she's finally made peace with God.

Which is not to say it's been easy.

The five-year anniversary of the nation's most deadly shooting spree -- which claimed the lives of 18-year-old Erin Peterson and 31 other victims on April 16, 2007 -- is still too fresh.

"Whether we're talking year one or year five, it still feels like yesterday," said Celeste Peterson, noting that it's been five years "since I heard her voice or held her hand."

Our Dark Night

They say at some point in their lives great leaders experience a "dark night of the soul," or a period in life when your feet, knees, and face scrape and stick to the proverbial bottom." It is a time when even your soul feels forsaken. Ultimately, the dark night is not about the suffering that is inflicted from outside oneself, even though that could trigger it. It is about the existential suffering rooted from within. St. John of the Cross, the 16th century Carmelite priest, described it as a confrontation, or a healing and process of purification of what lies within on the journey toward union with God.

"Whenever you face trials of any kind," explained the apostle James, "consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing." (James 1:2-4)

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