A Better Monk Would Know

Shutterstock / lestyan

Shutterstock / lestyan

I WAS IN A MONASTERY the other day and got to talking to a monk who, when I asked him why he was a monk, why he volunteered for a job liable to loneliness, a commitment to an idea no one can ever prove or document, a task that entails years of labor in the belief that somehow washing dishes and cutting grass and listening to pain and chanting in chapel matters in the long scheme of things, said, because it’s hard.

I was startled; sure I was. You would be, too. Rarely do people say with a grin that they do something because it is hard to do it. But he said it again, still smiling, and then he talked about it for a while, haltingly at first, as he felt for the words, and then with a lovely flow, like something let loose from a dam after a long time pooling behind the dam.

Because I am not sure I can do it at all, let alone do it well, and do it for years and years, perhaps for my whole life, he said. I cannot think that way. I try to be a good monk for a week at a time. Walking helps greatly, I find. Also birds. We have a resident heron here who has been a great help to me. Sometimes he or she is right there by the reeds when I am in pressing need of a heron. I have come to think that the birds are shards of faith themselves in mysterious ways. You could spend a whole life contemplating birds and never come to the end of the amazing things they do. There are many swallows here and I spend hours at a time watching them conduct their intricate maneuvers. They have the loveliest gentle chitter with which they speak to each other in the air. Remarkable creatures altogether. When I was first a monk I was of a mind to adopt one as a pet, and I actually got a ladder and climbed to one of their nests, but when I loomed into view there, surely a great horror to the parents and the young ones, I could not find it in myself to reach in and steal a child. I went back down the ladder and went to the chapel.

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Dean Smith: Amazing Grace

Nothin' but net. Image courtesy Derek Hatfield/shutterstock.com

Nothin' but net. Image courtesy Derek Hatfield/shutterstock.com

An early fellow Sojourner, Perk Perkins, reminded me this week that not long after we started Sojourners as a new Christian magazine for justice and peace, I came running into our little office one day and exclaimed, “Dean Smith is a Sojourners subscriber!” 

Here were young Christians in Washington, D.C., saying our faith called us to racial and economic justice, opposing the nuclear arms race, ending the death penalty, and supporting the equality of women. And the greatest college basketball coach in the country was reading Sojourners?! 

Dean Smith died on Saturday. He was 83 years old. 

Monday’s front page New York Times story — not just in the Sports section — was titled, “A Giant of College Basketball And a Champion of Equality.”  

ESPN and everybody else ran the numbers. But all the tributes and comments on the death of Dean Smith have quickly moved on from the numbers. Current UNC coach, Roy Williams, said his predecessor "was the greatest there ever was on the court but far, far better off the court with people." 

Player after player who were coached by Dean Smith, as famous as Michael Jordan to those who barely walked on to the team and hardly ever played, testified in the last few days to how much more than a coach he was to them — their “mentor,” “teacher,” “second father,” “role model,” life-long inspiration and guide.  

Sojourners Internship: 'What Are My Professional Opportunities?'

Screenshot via Ted English / Sojourners

At Sojourners, our interns have the chance to meaningfully put their faith into action for social justice. Placed in entry-level positions throughout the office, interns are given significant responsibilities that range from writing for the blog to managing relationships with donors to collaborating on mobilizing initiatives.

These full-time jobs are combined with mentorships that help connect each intern’s professional development with their vocational discernment.

If you’re interested in what brought this year’s interns to Sojourners, click here. If you’d like to see their bios, click here.

And for complete information on the program and application, visit sojo.net/about-us/internships. Apply by March 1, 2015

A Beloved Guest at Inn-Sanity

An inn's reception counter with bell. Image courtesy Dmitry Kalinovsky/shutterst

An inn's reception counter with bell. Image courtesy Dmitry Kalinovsky/shutterstock.com.

I’ve become a big fan of author Anne Lamott. How can you not love someone who says her thoughts about others are sometimes so awful "they would make Jesus "want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish?”

And when she screws something up — which would be often, of course — she has a “Bad Mind” that starts telling her she’s such a loser. Always has been, always will be.

know that voice. A couple of weeks ago, we talked about that voice at church. Our reading was the story about Jesus getting baptized in a muddy river and how he heard a distinct and unmistakable voice talking to him as he stood there dripping. The voice called him beloved. Reassured him that he was loved, deeply and passionately. In our discussion after the reflection, I mentioned Anne’s "Bad Mind" and how it’s often my mind too, screaming to be heard and believed. Our pastor — who also likes Anne — asked if anyone else hears that Bad Mind voice. Everyone raised their hand. Nodded, too.

Yep. We all seem to be on a first-name basis with that voice. At least I’m not the only one.

'Does Your Work Interfere with Your Life?'

Chalkboard for work. Image courtesy Brt/shutterstock.com

Chalkboard for work. Image courtesy Brt/shutterstock.com

I was once asked to participate in our organization’s "Take Your Daughter to Work" celebration, and found myself both amused and challenged when one of our young participants queried the panel, "Does your work interfere with your life?"

My initial reply was that my work is a very important part of my life — something that is central to it, and that adds meaning, structure, and texture. Since the time of that panel discussion, I’ve thought a lot about what else I should have said. So I want to use this opportunity to share some additional thoughts — about how to have a youth work career that enhances your own life as well as the lives of others.

Here are what I regard as a few guiding principles. 

Compassion in the Stacks

ON A RECENT Friday afternoon, Joe Bank makes his way quietly through the stacks in the San Francisco Public Library’s main branch. Books aren’t on the 33-year-old’s mind. He’s on the lookout for people in need—people who might need the same social services he once did, when he was homeless and living in a city park.

Bank isn’t just a concerned fellow citizen—though he certainly is that. He’s also on the job, as part of the country’s first in-house, library-specific social work team. Officially, he’s known as a HASA, one of six Health and Safety Associates employed by the library in partnership with the San Francisco Department of Health. The public library HASAs are all formerly homeless, thereby possessing an innate ability to notice the telltale signs of unhoused people in need of a helping hand. Bank’s boss is Leah Esguerra, the country’s first full-time psychiatric social worker employed in a public library.

Esguerra’s small outreach team is tasked with more than answering questions or offering help to clients who need assistance locating or securing social services. HASAs also train library staff on how to respond to patrons in need and how to diffuse and de-escalate tense situations with calm, collected compassion. Furthermore, working as a HASA is a six-to-12-month vocational training program, after which the outreach workers can graduate to other social service jobs. (Bank is currently the only HASA who has stayed on longer than a year.) Esguerra says that because her staffers are all formerly homeless, they find a special purpose in their ability to give back to people in situations similar to their own. “They love the routine and their contribution,” she explains.

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New & Noteworthy

In Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good, Steven Garber writes eloquently of the challenge "to see with the eyes of the heart, to see oneself as responsible for the way the world is and isn't" without succumbing to cynicism. IVP Books

Just months before civil war erupted in Syria, a small group of Syria Sufi musicians known as NAWA were recorded peforming nearly lsot melodies, songs, and poems on Ancient Sufi Invocations and Forgotten Songs from Aleppo. This is the first album in a planned four-part Sacred Voices of Syria series. Cowbell/Lost Origins

The oral histories gathered in Invisible Hands: Voices from the Global Economy, compiled and edited by Corinne Goria, give a too rare chance to hear from manual laborers around the world and learn of the dangers and abuse they face daily. Voice of Witness

The historical novel Jacob's Choice, by Ervin R. Stutzman, follows Jacob Hochstetler, an Amish settler in the 1700s who endures the killing of family members and captivity in the midst of the French and Indian War, all putting his pacifist beliefs to the test. Based on actual events. Herald Press

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10 Personal Decisions for the Common Good

WE LIVE IN an age in which we are encouraged to make decisions that further our personal benefit. This attitude is so pervasive that it extends even to our spiritual lives.

There is a danger in making our faith so personal and inward, so focused on the first commandment to love God with all our hearts, minds, and strength, that we forget to keep the second commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Though our culture would tell us to look out for number one, Christ’s upside-down kingdom offers a different and subversive message: Lose your life and you’ll find it. The church was designed to display the “manifold wisdom of God” by creating a community full of people who, like Jesus, put others before themselves and seek the common good. Christian community is intended to be a living witness, to demonstrate and to anticipate the future of the world that has arrived in the person of Jesus Christ.

In other words, it’s impossible to keep the second commandment without loving God with everything we have, but it’s also impossible to keep the first without loving our neighbors as ourselves.

A thriving common good and the quality of our life together are deeply affected by the personal decisions we all make. The commons—those places we come together as neighbors and citizens to share public space—will never be better than the quality of our own lives and households.

But what does that look like on a practical level? How can the choices we make as individuals reinforce the common good and promote human flourishing? As I’ve asked myself these questions, I’ve come up with 10 personal decisions we can make to further the common good.

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