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The Professor Who Taught Us What a Real Evangelical Looks Like

Glen Stassen by Danske Kirkedage / Flickr.com
Glen Stassen by Danske Kirkedage / Flickr.com

What is the best meaning of the word “evangelical?" Perhaps this: a deep belief in Jesus, a consistent commitment to follow Jesus, and a real love for Jesus — one who applies Jesus’ life and teachings to their everyday lives. By that definition, Glen Stassen was an evangelical — the best kind. If more evangelicals were like him, the term would have an enormously better image in our society.

Glen Stassen died on April 26 from an aggressive cancer. He leaves a great deficit in the church’s integrity and our nation’s ability to think and act ethically, as he influenced countless believers’ understanding of the gospel of the kingdom of God. I count myself among them. Glen was a dear friend, a kindred spirit, a key ally, and beloved member of Sojourners Board of Directors.

A Resurgence of the Real?

I’VE BEEN thinking a lot lately about technological obsolescence. This isn’t because I’m a classroom teacher and professional writer—two occupations widely expected to meet the fate of John Henry. My musings have mainly been prompted by the hours I just spent weeding through my family’s extensive collection of cassette tapes. From 1992 to about 2005, my wife, Polly, and I made a sizeable investment in that doomed medium, mostly in the form of children’s audiobooks and home-school educational programs that our kids (now ages 14 to 21) have outgrown. We still have three functioning cassette players in our house, but then we still have a 22-year-old tube television, too. I don’t expect that anyone who has young children today would be willing to take on our collection of cassettes. Even Goodwill may refuse them.

Some things, like the cassette tape, deserve to become obsolete. They were always an inferior product. But, all the logic of the market economy to the contrary, newer is not always, or even usually, better.

That’s why it’s been heartening to witness, in the past year or so, the beginning of a small backlash against our forced march toward a future that is all-digital, all the time. The first sign of a revolt was the return of the vinyl record. Of course, I held on to my vinyl through all the transitions of the past 30 years, and we’ve always had a functioning turntable in the house. But now it is my 21-year-old son who actually buys vinyl. Of course, my son also has an iPod and does most of his listening through headphones, like the rest of his peers. But he and thousands of other young music buffs have learned that vinyl delivers a better sound than any of the digital formats currently on the consumer market.

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Yoga As a 'Connection to God'

Morning meditation, Vinogradov Illya / Shutterstock.com
Morning meditation, Vinogradov Illya / Shutterstock.com

Class began at dusk in a dimly lit studio facing Pacific Coast Highway as the yoga teacher appeared, adjusting the shawl draped around his shoulders, and took his seat on a quilted meditation pillow.

Because the sun was setting behind him, the teacher appeared in silhouette. I could only hear his voice as he guided us through the 90-minute Kundalini yoga class – a series of meditations, chanting, vigorous breathing exercises, and asanas (or postures).

“I want you to know that this is a safe place,” the teacher, Cole “Raahi” Jacobs, told us midway through class. “You can feel whatever you need to feel. You are safe here.”

I did. I was.

At the beginning of the year, I embarked on a two-month sabbatical to recover from a rough 2012. I needed to recharge, and resolved to rest, spend time with the people I love most, and find some kind of physical practice that would be restorative.

Vehicles for Grace

Francisco X. Stork

BORN IN MEXICO, Francisco X. Stork moved to Texas with his parents when he was 9. After college he studied Latin American literature at Harvard. Stork then decided to get a law degree, planning to make a living as a lawyer while writing fiction on the side. Many years later, he published the first of his five novels, The Way of the Jaguar. He continues to balance his vocation as a novelist for young adults with a "day job" as a lawyer for a Massachusetts state agency that helps develop affordable housing. Former Sojourners editorial assistant Betsy Shirley, now a student at Yale Divinity School, interviewed Stork last spring at Calvin College's Festival of Faith and Writing.

Betsy Shirley: On your blog you say that every author has a bone to which they return again and again to gnaw. What do you gnaw on?

Francisco X. Stork: The question that characters in my books keep asking themselves is, "Why am I here?" I keep coming back to trying to find some kind of meaning to life and to suffering that keeps people going. All my books center on young people who are questioning themselves in that vein. My first book had a person on death row, the second had a young man with someone out to kill him, and the third one had a boy, Marcelo, who was questioning how he could possibly live in a world of suffering. Those questions of mortality make you a little bit more aware of the preciousness of life.

What have you observed about faith and spiritual curiosity in young people? What scares me about a lot of the young people that I meet is that there's a lot of living on the surface—trying to achieve and to do well on tests and to make sure that you get into a good university to get jobs. So I see a lot of less significant questioning in many young people. Then you get to know them, and you know that those questions still exist. But there's a greater need to conform than there was in the past.

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