91 PETE HOLMES | RICHARD ROHR | KB | GRETA GERWIG THE LONE BELLOW | CHAD VEACH | ATLAS GENIUS JESSIE WARE | BULLY | THE WELCOME WAGON F A I T H , C U LT U R E & I N T E N T I O N A L L I V I N G
Russell Brand The comedian and activist opens up about addiction, sobriety and how the message of Jesus changed his life.
JAN-FEB 2018 // $6.95 US
T H E M A G A Z I N E O N FA I T H , C U LT U R E & INTENTIONAL LIVING
JAN-FEB 2018 // ISSUE 91
January-February 2018, Issue 91 Our most on-Brand issue ever.
Publisher & CEO | CAMERON STRANG Brand Director | JESSE CAREY Managing Editor | ANDRE HENRY Contributing Editor | TYLER HUCKABEE Production Editor | KATHY PIERRE Senior Writer | TYLER DASWICK Editorial Assistant | LESLEY CREWS Contributing Writers: Jemar Tisby, Stephanie Granada, Seth James, Matt Adkins, Devin Jones, Julie Perkins
Creative Director | JOHN DAVID HARRIS Designer | ALEXA MENDEZ Contributing Designer | LAUREN HARVILL
Director of Web Development | DANIEL MARIN Director of Audio and Visual Media | NATHAN GRUBBS Audio Producer | CHANDLER STRANG
Contributing Photographers: Eric Ryan Anderson, Mary Caroline Russel, Nate Dumlao, Tom Beard, Nedda Afsari, Ben Zucker, Steve Schofield, Alyssa Gafkjen, Andy Barron, Nate Shuls
Director of Business Development | AME LYNN FUHLBRUCK
Russell Brand has figured out how to fix the world: getting everyone to start taking the message of Jesus seriously.
Account Manager | HEATHER VOORHEES Account Manager | KAYLEE SANFORD Marketing Director | CALVIN CEARLEY
3 8 // THE LONE BELLOW Joy? Pain? Loss? Contentment? The folk trio finds inspiration in it all.
Support Coordinator | MIKAYLAH ROUCHARD
4 2 // THE OTHER RUSSIA SCANDAL
6 8 // 6 CHURCHES CHANGING IT ALL
Russia is clamping down on religious freedom. Why isn’t anyone noticing?
A look at some of the churches in the U.S. that are really breaking the mold.
4 6 // PETE HOLMES
7 2 // WHEN LIFE ISN’T GOING TO PL AN
The creator and star of Crashing reveals the personal faith journey driving the series.
5 0 // E XPERT NE W Y E AR ADVICE A few tips on how to make 2018 a year you look back on fondly.
5 4 // KB: THE NE W REBEL-IN-CHIEF The Lecrae protege has big plans for the hip-hop industry.
5 6 // THE UNITED STATES OF PRIVILEGE The reality of racial and gender privilege, and what we can do about it.
6 6 // JESSIE WARE How one of England’s best-kept secrets found the courage to make her music real.
Circulation and Traffic Manager | CAROLINE COLE Brand Experience Coordinator | MORGAN HICKEY
Chad Veach on what to do when we feel like we missed God’s will for our lives.
7 6 // DECONS TRUCTION ZONE Sarah Bessey, Father Richard Rohr and others on how to question your faith well.
8 0 // ATL AS GENIUS The indie hitmakers on how wrestling through depression has taken them higher.
8 2 // BE BET TER AT FACEBOOK Don’t post that hot take on Facebook until you’ve read this.
8 4 // THE MOS T DANGEROUS SERMON Brian Zahnd on why one of history’s most famous sermons needs to be re-examined.
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1 2 // FIRS T WORD
8 8 // RELE VANT SELECT S Our favorite new artists, and the books,
1 4 // CURRENT The 18 best movies of the last 18 years, dress your own hipster pastor, an interview
music and movies you should be adding to your collection this month.
with the director of Lady Bird, Bill Gates’
9 6 // L AS T WORD
new vision for paradise, a brand new robo-
Brian Houston opens up about the secret
religion and much more.
that’s made him a better communicator.
Issue #91 January/February 2018 (ISSN: 1543-317X). RELEVANT is published 6 times a year in January, March, May, July, September and November for $26.99 per year by RELEVANT Media Group, Inc., 55 W. Church St., Suite 211, Orlando, FL 32801. Periodicals postage paid at Orlando, FL, and at additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to RELEVANT Magazine, P.O. Box 531147, Orlando, FL 32853.
MILLION LIFETIMES THE NEW ALBUM FROM RIVER VALLEY WORSHIP
available march 2
DEBUT SINGLE “WORLD NEEDS JESUS” AVAILABLE ON APPLE MUSIC & SPOTIFY TODAY 05
LIVE ALIVE A Podcast about Discovering Life as it Should Be
Tired of going it alone? Let’s experience more of God together. Last year we buried our prayers in a time capsule. This spring we’re going back to open it. We’ve invited Bob Goﬀ to join us.
Podcast Coming Spring 2018
ONLINE M.A. AND M.DIV. PROGRAMS JAN-FEB
FIRST WORD a letter from the publisher
politicization of the current brand of evangelical Christianity. No matter what triggered it, we’ve all been there. Questioning everything. Is there a God? If so,
WE MAY NOT
Planning the Unplanned
What should following Him actually
Sometimes in our lives, things don’t work out like we expected them to, but God’s plan is always bigger than our own.
because He keeps pulling us toward
A LOT OF WHAT
and have a purpose for my life?
For some, the wrestling lasts for a season. For others, it’s a lifelong quest. Many of us know God is real Him. He keeps revealing Himself to us through His Word, His Spirit,
we know a relationship with Him matters. That changes everything. So, with an open heart, shedding
The reason, aside from the fact I hate writing, is that
best we can), we begin our spiritual journey anew. Eyes wide open, not
plan, of course, but we’re always making changes—pulling
knowing what’s on the other side,
stories, expanding others and making adjustments late into
we stare into the abyss. It’s in that posture of
initial lineup, and I like to see the issue in its final form
vulnerability and genuine desire
before writing the introduction.
that God reveals Himself. It’s there we know He’s real. We know we
Faith, culture, life, justice—it’s a wide spectrum of seemingly
need Him. And we know that we’ll
unconnected topics. Each time, though, unexpected threads
never have it all figured out.
In this issue, we talk to Pete Holmes, Russell Brand, Sarah Bessey, Father Richard Rohr, KB, Chad Veach and many
That’s what you’ll keep hearing throughout this issue. It wasn’t planned; it’s just what revealed itself. In life, faith and magazine
others. In each conversation, no matter what the interview
publishing, things rarely turn out
was initially about, you’ll notice they drift toward a similar
how we thought they would, but the
theme: rethinking our faith.
new story always turns out better
Not walking away from it, per se. But being OK with stopping to ask questions. So many times in this issue, the
our cynicism, naiveté and pain (as
each issue is a moving target until it’s finished. We have a
narrative of what God might be saying becomes clearer.
WITH HIM THAT CHANGES
RELEVANT. Ninety-nine pages are sent
emerge. As the final pieces fall into place, the bigger
WE KNOW A RELATIONSHIP MATTERS.
the last thing I do on a new issue of
The collection of articles in RELEVANT is always unique.
all the answers, and we may not seeing in the Church today, but
the process. The finished issue looks far different from the
IN THE CHURCH
even His creation. We may not have
itting down to write this column is always
frustrates our project managers to no end).
look like? Does He really love me
connect with a lot of what we’re
to the printer, and then I start (which
HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS, AND
have we been told the whole truth?
WE MAY NOT
than anything we could have ever planned.
topic of wrestling with belief and doubt—and what led to it—comes up. There’s a moment in all of our lives when we start to rethink why we believe what we believe. Maybe our worldview is turned upside down because we experience tragedy and wonder how God could let it happen. Or maybe we grow disillusioned after being hurt by the Church. Or maybe we have a scientific and academic awakening.
C A MER ON S T R A NG
Or maybe we just want to distance ourselves from the
Publisher & CEO
CURRENT A B I M O N T H LY L O O K A T F A I T H , L I F E A N D C U LT U R E
Are Christian Millennial Political Beliefs Getting More Centrist?
All told, evangelical millennials are significantly more conservative than their peers on almost all issues, but when you put a magnifying glass over their individual beliefs, they’re trending toward a more diverse view than their elders. And just as interesting, they’re doing all of this without a
The generally held consensus is that younger Christians tend to be more liberal than older Christians, but the truth is more complex.
significant change in party affiliation. About half of all evangelical millennials identify as leaning Republican—only slightly fewer than older evangelicals.
ON’T LOVE THE recent uptick
Fifty-five percent said stricter environmental
in political divisiveness and
laws are worth the financial cost,
partisan extremism? You’re
whereas only 43 percent of older
not alone—especially if you
happen to be a younger
But it’d be a mistake to say
evangelical Christian. As it turns out, the current generation of
that young evangelicals are drifting more liberal in general.
While millennial evangelicals are a little
MILLENNIAL EVANGELICALS HAVE A NUANCE IN THEIR POLITICS
evangelicals has a far more diverse spectrum
In fact, they’re more conservative
of political beliefs than their parents, and
than the previous generation
it’s turning them into a more nuanced voting
when it comes to pro-life issues.
bloc than current evangelicals.
Pew found that 65 percent of
According to Pew Research Center,
millennial evangelicals believe
millennial evangelicals’ opinions on some
abortion should be illegal in most
topics are drifting more toward what’s been
or all cases. Sixty-three percent of older
more likely than their parents to identify as
generally pegged as being “liberal.”
moderate, this means that if the Republican
In the case of immigration, 27 percent
That’s only a slight difference, but it shows
Party wants to continue to rely on their
of young evangelicals said an increasingly
that millennial evangelicals have nuance in
vote, they’re going to have to start evolving
diverse population was good for the country,
their politics that has often been lacking in
their platform to keep up with the rapidly
compared to just 13 percent of their elders.
the partisan views of older Americans.
changing views of voters.
THAT HAS BEEN LACKING.
2. ANGELINA JOLIE
She gives to every cause from HIVaffected children in Africa to, of course, refugee organizations.
Beyonce’s mindful of how she uses her wealth—donating to various causes around the world.
4. IAN SOMERHALDER
The Vampire Diaries star established a foundation to advance environmental conservation efforts.
The 6 Most Charitable Celebrities
5. GEORGE LUCAS 1. TAYLOR SWIFT
IN THE WAKE OF last summer’s hurricanes, celebrities
like Beyonce, Justin Bieber and Oprah lined up to offer relief for affected areas like Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Houston. It’s a reminder that celebrity charity isn’t as rare as you might think. Here are some of
Maybe you’ve heard of her. While more famous for her music and her love life than her generosity, Swift is mighty free with her checkbook, having donated to Louisiana flood victims, public schools, and even quietly chipping in to help fellow pop starlet Kesha with her legal woes.
When Lucas sold Star Wars, he gave almost all the money away, investing it in education causes.
6. MILEY CYRUS
Cyrus is focused on fighting teen homelessness, investing a ton in at-risk youth.
the most consistently generous.
China Continues Its House-Church Crackdown
IN JANUARY OF LAST YEAR, government
security forces in China raided homes throughout the Xinjiang region, rounding up and arresting more than 80 Christians affiliated with a network of house churches. It’s a crime to engage “in religious activities at non-religious sites,” which in China, means worship outside of a state-sanctioned church,
and crackdowns in the country are becoming increasingly common. On July 30, dozens more Christians were taken into custody in a series of raids. For Jesus followers, not even public spaces are safe in the country that will soon be home to the most Christians of any nation on Earth.
Created to Serve
SERVING AS DISCIPLES. SERVING AS LEADERS. At Truett Seminary, our students are committed to Christâ€™s call to aid those in need. Engaged in opportunities to work with local non-profits and undergraduate students, the Truett community embraces an attitude of joyful service.
JULIANNA MARRACCINO, RESIDENCE HALL CHAPLAIN
Visit Truett Seminary March 22-23, 2018 baylor.edu/truett/preview RELEVANTMAGAZINE.COM 017 Baylor University admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin, sex, age, disability, or veteran status.
THE HOT LIST Bimonthly Culture Power Rankings
TA I KA WA I T I T I [Hottest]
With Thor: Ragnarok, the kiwi filmmaker delivered the best-reviewed superhero movie ever.
R EA L N EWS [Hotter]
The New York Times hit a record number of
Can Uber’s Flying Cars Save L.A. From Its Massive Air Pollution Problem?
subscriptions in 2017.
RIDE-SHARING COMPANY UBER recently
with a network of flying vehicles that could
P O P S O N GS
announced a new partnership with NASA
bypass roads—and potentially make a huge
called the “Space Act Agreement” for the
difference in traffic-clogged cities like Los
Does your movie trailer
two companies to create a never-before-
Angeles, where it will debut. With uberAIR,
have one yet?
seen air traffic control system. The system
a typically 90-minute trip from LAX to
will support Uber’s vision to get cars off the
the Staples Center would take about half
road by offering a cheaper—and potentially
an hour. For a city that’s known for being
cleaner—solution than driving: flying “cars.”
choked by smog, getting cars off the road
COV E RS O F ’80 S
Uber envisions improving urban travel
would be a huge step in cutting air pollution.
VA N S WA R P E D TO U R [Cold]
After 24 years, it’s shutting down. Thanks for the memories.
S K I N N Y J EA N S [Colder]
The U.S. Will Accept Only 45,000 Refugees Annually
Update your hipster
IN WHAT MARKS the lowest
wardrobe jokes. Full legs
number of individuals fleeing persecution welcomed to the United States in nearly 40 years, President Donald Trump plans to limit the number of refugees resettled in the U.S. to just 45,000. By comparison,
are back, baby.
V E R I F I E D ACCO U N TS [Coldest]
Apparently, Twitter’s blue check marks either mean you’re famous or
throughout the ’90s, that number averaged well over 100,000. The low cap comes at a particularly perilous time for vulnerable communities: There are currently more refugees around the world than any time since World War II.
55 PERCENT: DECREASE IN NUMBER OF
REFUGEES ADMITTED TO THE U.S.
SINCE THE 1990S.
accomplishments are almost too many to name at this point. It’s
the highest-grossing superhero origin movie of all time. It’s the highestgrossing movie of last summer. And most notably, it’s the highest-grossing female-directed movie of all time, having been helmed by Monster director Patty Jenkins. All that means Jenkins and Wonder
Pope Francis may have a solution to Brazil’s dwindling priesthood: allowing married men to join. The Catholic Church is considering “an experiment for the
Woman herself, Gal Gadot, had a lot of
leverage when it came to the inevitable
sequel, and they used that leverage to establish some bragging rights, as well as help make Hollywood a better place for women in general. First, Jenkins was able to net herself a reportedly record-setting payday, but she had to fight for it. Her request was supposedly pretty simple: She wanted pay equity with fellow DC superhero film director Zach Snyder, whose own Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, did not perform up to Wonder Woman’s
A New Era for Hollywood Women Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins are ushering in a fairer film industry.
box office standards. That’s a big step forward for women in Hollywood, but that’s not all. The first movie got a production assist from Brett Ratner, the notorious lothario who’s been accused of sexual harassment by numerous women. But
president of Facebook (the one Justin Timberlake played in The Social Network) is opening up about his discomfort with the site. In an interview with Axios, Parker said Facebook “literally changes your relationship with society,” which, like, duh.
has found a way to make flying even worse: They are extending their in-concert series, in which singers perform for non-consenting audiences literally trapped in their seats.
for the sequel? Ratner won’t be able to touch it with a 10-foot lasso.
SEAN PARKER: FACEBOOK TRIES TO EXPLOIT YOUR ATTENTION SEAN PARKER , the first
But then he said this: “The thought process that went into building these applications … was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?’” Yeah. Cool. Thanks for the heads up, Sean.
CERN scientists revealed they don’t think The Big Bang makes sense. After observing particles in new ways, they said according to current thinking, “The universe should not actually exist.”
Thrive in the Entertainment Industry Gain the business acumen you need to achieve success in the music business with Azusa Pacificâ€™s Master of Arts in Music Entrepreneurship, or cultivate your storytelling skills with the Master of Arts in Screenwriting. Freely integrate faith and creativity, and collaborate with expert faculty in an innovative arts community, just 30 miles from Hollywood. Online programs with summer intensives in Southern California J O I N U S T O D AY
[ H O W T O]
Dress Your Own Hipster Pastor
Help him ask a little more Yeezus into his heart.
“THE WORLD HAS YET TO SEE what God
can do through one man who never leaves the house without looking hype AF.” D.L. Moody said that, we think. Long gone are the days of monastic
robes or the old suit and tie your mom’s pastor wore. Don’t even try to walk the straight and narrow in 2018 if you’re not doing it in a pair of tan Gucci boots. To what do we owe this trend? Hard to say. To some extent, spiritual leaders have always had a certain look to them, so maybe we’re just seeing another evolution in pastoral garb. But if that’s the case, it’s a pricey one. Some of today’s most prominent pastors are spotted draped in Yves Saint Laurent, the latest from Fear of
God and, of course, Yeezys. Can’t forget about the Yeezys. If your pastor isn’t in a rare tax bracket (or on a first-name basis with some high-profile designers), these clothes are probably out of their ministerial price range. But the first step to full hipster pastordom is to walk in the footsteps of those who have gone before. See what your pastor could look like with RELEVANT’s handy paper pastor and essential hipster accessories.
A. MAN BUN & BEARD Imitation of
C. WHITE CHUCKS These should
Christ game = strong.
basically be handed out in seminary.
B. AVIATOR GLASSES How else are you
D. CHELSEA BOOTS Popularized by the
supposed to keep your eyes on heaven?
Beatles. Sanctified by Hillsong.
E. MOTORCYCLE JACKET Cool
G. LAYERED NECKLACES Unleash
I. JOGGERS No better look for
K. COPY OF RELEVANT Yeah, yeah.
pastors get chilly under stage lights.
their inner ... uh, Macklemore.
dunking on the devil.
We know, we know.
F. DENIM SHIRT To unleash their
H. KNIT CAP Useful for keeping evil
J. RIPPED JEANS Give the Holy
inner Idris Elba.
Spirit some room to breathe.
Books That Will Make You Uncomfortable [In a Good Way]
At an event with Cardinal Blase Cupich, Mark Wahlberg said he asked God’s forgiveness for Boogie Nights. No word if he received absolution for
LAST FALL, A SCHOOL DISTRICT in
Mississippi announced it would be
removing the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird from its eighth-grade curriculum, claiming the language “makes people uncomfortable” even though that’s the entire point of the book about standing against racial injustice. If you haven’t read Mockingbird, do so now—along with these three other titles. They’ll help you feel “uncomfortable” about broken systems—and be inspired
to change them.
bizarre online cryptocurrency
JUST MERCY: A STORY OF JUSTICE AND REDEMPTION
RESCUING THE GOSPEL FROM THE COWBOYS
RICHARD T WISS
This powerful autobiography tells the story of a man who was falsely imprisoned because of racial bias. It exposes systemic racism in the U.S. legal system.
The book examines the heartbreaking treatment of Native Americans by earlyAmerican Christians and provides a theological outline for redeeming the legacy.
Bill Gates Is Building the City of the Future ... in Arizona
MEN EXPLAIN THINGS TO ME REBECCA SOLNIT
Both funny and cringe-inducing, academic, author and activist Rebecca Solnit’s takedown of “mansplaining” offers an all-too-relatable look at modern gender dynamics.
into five years ago, topped $10,000 for the first time last November. Which means your nerd cousin might have actually been onto something.
FORMER MICROSOFT CEO Bill Gates is investing
a ton of money—around $80 million—to build a “smart city” in Arizona. So, the future is definitely on its way. According to CNN, “The community in Belmont will be designed around high-speed networks, autonomous vehicles, high-speed digital networks ... and autonomous logistics hubs.” Whatever those are.
that your nerd cousin got really
have asked Christians in Yunnan county of the Jiangxi province to replace their pictures of Jesus with photos of You might say
it’ll be a Gated
John Legend and Jesse Williams Are Doing a Movie About the 1968 Olympic Protests
Inmates pitching in to make a difference.
Doing Good on the Inside Inmates have risked their lives to fight wildfires. But that’s not all.
HARVEY RELIEF Inmates in Texas pooled nearly $54,000 from their commissary accounts to help victims of Hurricane Harvey.
THOUGH ATHLETES TAKING
LAST SUMMER, WILDFIRES RIPPED through
part in demonstrations during the national anthem to protest racial injustice dominated headlines last year, it’s not the first time sports protests have caused a stir. John Legend is teaming up with actor Jesse Williams for a new film about the Olympic protests of 1968. The documentary With Drawn Arms will tell the story of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who famously raised black-gloved fists while on the podium during the XIX Olympiad in Mexico City. The movie will release this fall.
major parts of California, taking lives
HELPING AT-NEED ANIMALS A program in several prisons around the country has inmates care for stray, abused and neglected dogs—inside the walls of prisons.
and causing billions in damage. But one unexpected story from the crisis was that many of those on the front lines battling the blazes were actually inmates in the state’s prison system. In fact, nearly 4,000 inmates volunteered to fight the wildfires—that’s almost 40 percent of the forest firefighters in the state. Though the low-level felons made only $2 a day while clearing flammable brush and doing manual labor—and another
SAVING A POLICE OFFICER When a Georgia deputy sheriff officer collapsed in the heat due to complications from a brain surgery, instead of escaping, the six inmates on work detail rushed to his aid. They each got reduced sentences.
$2 an hour while on the fire line—they were able to learn skills that can help them when they eventually get out of prison. And as prison officials have noted, the program breaks down racial barriers (prisons are often highly segregated). But that’s not all— look at these other positive inmate works:
ASSISTING VETERANS At Enfield Correctional Institution in Connecticut, inmates work with the nonprofit organization America’s VetDogs to train service animals that will be given to wounded veterans when they return.
Time to brush up on your Elvish, Tolkien
Nutella, the cult-classic hazelnut spread
According to WalletHub.com—which
nerds. A Lord of the Rings prequel TV
your little brother eats out of the jar
factored in giving and time spent on
series is headed for Amazon. Not
with a spoon, is under fire for discreetly
“volunteering and service”—Utah is the
much else is known, but it may delve
changing their recipe, swapping out
most charitable state in the U.S. and
into some of The Silmarillion stories.
some cocoa for plain old sugar.
Hawaii is the least.
ACCURATE. READABLE. SHARABLE.
Learn more at CSBible.com. 027
20somethings & Purpose INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS: Set in the
1960s, the Coen brothers film about what it’s like to be a young artist trying to make it is a breezy—yet moving— look at talent, drive and persistence. LOST IN TRANSLATION: In this anti-ro-
mantic comedy, Scarlett Johansson captures what it’s like to be isolated and misunderstood in a young marriage, and how to keep life in perspective, even in difficult times. THE SOCIAL NETWORK: The story of
Mark Zuckerberg’s rise and the invention of Facebook has all the themes you’d hope for in a film about success in the millennial era: betrayal, luck, entitlement and, yes, trying to connect.
The 18 Best Movies of The Century (So Far) WARDS SEASON CAN BE overwhelming. Thankfully, you don’t have to
be a film buff to appreciate Oscar-worthy movies. Now that the 21st century is 18 years old, we figured it’s the perfect time to get you up to speed on the century’s 18 greatest flicks. Here are our picks:
SPOTLIGHT: 2016’s Best Picture winner tells the
TREE OF LIFE: Terrence Malick’s
true story of a team of journalists who would stop at nothing to expose corruption and the coverup of sexual abuse in the highest levels of the Catholic Church.
masterpiece, which features an amazing depiction of creation, is a deep meditation on grace. HER: Sure, the concept is funny,
THE OVERNIGHTERS: The documentary profiles
a North Dakota pastor who opens his church to desperate people looking for work in the oil fields.
but the film’s messages about loneliness in the interconnected era are profound.
PAN’S LABYRINTH: Guillermo del Toro’s fairy
THE DARK KNIGHT: The comic
tale is a visually stunning and emotionally stirring metaphor for faith and standing up to darkness.
book epic offers a haunting look at post-9/11 morality.
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE: Danny
Boyle’s Bollywood-inspired epic about an Indian teen whose life changes while appearing on a game show is funny, entertaining and an emotional roller coaster— in a good way.
Social Issues 12 YEARS A SLAVE: Based on the
true story of Solomon Northup, the movie is a shocking—and important—depiction of one of America’s great sins. HOTEL RWANDA: The winner of
three Academy Awards, the story of a hotel manager who risks his family’s lives to save victims of the Rwandan genocide is a historical masterpiece. WALL*E: Don’t let the cute robot
fool you: Pixar’s story about the cost of consumption and humanity’s addiction to stuff is a message adults need to hear just as much as kids do. CITY OF GOD: Call it a movie about
the rise of organized crime in Rio de Janeiro, or call it an intimate portrait of how our environments shape us in ways beyond our control. Whatever you call it, this Brazilian film is a masterpiece.
Comedy THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS: The film about a dysfunctional
family and their father’s attempt at redemption is where filmmaker Wes Anderson honed his cinematic-meetsstorybook style and hilariously dry dialogue. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND: By blending
sci-fi, comedy and romance, Michel Gondry creates a truly unforgettable movie about grief and the power of memories that manages to be heartfelt and moving and also really funny. ADAPTATION: A unique mind-bender, the movie tells the story
of a depressed writer attempting to adapt a book into a film. It takes so many unexpected turns that experiencing it for the first time is an unforgettable movie-watching experience. JUNO: Not only are Ellen Page and Michael Cera the perfect
combination of awkwardly lovable, the story of teen pregnancy and ultimately choosing life is one of the more redemptive movies of the decade.
Science Proves College Students Aren’t Part of a ‘Narcissism Epidemic’ DON’T BELIEVE THE
4 Non-Instagram-Clichéd Cities You Need to Visit AS COOL AS SELFIES from the Brooklyn
We’ve assembled a list of places for
Bridge or California coastal cliffs are, there’s
whatever kind of adventure you’re seeking
a lot more in the world than just the handful
next—from getting back to nature and
of places that constantly fill your Instagram
hitting the beach to a historical journey to
feed. But planning your next lifelong
experiencing some fine dining. Each place
memory-making (and picture-worthy) trip
offers an option that you’re probably not
can be overwhelming. Thankfully, we’ll help.
going to see in your friend’s next post.
Shop and Unwind CASABLANCA, MOROCCO
A charmer with its fascinating architecture and cool markets, the city also has a pretty happening surf scene.
Reconnect with God MOAB, UTAH
Want a spiritual retreat? With tons of trails and outdoor activities, it’s perfect for connecting with God in nature.
Experience High Culture BRITTANY, FRANCE
The city has everything from Gulf of Morbihan oysters and cycling in salt marshes to a night at Opera de Rennes.
Widen Your Perspective TRINIDAD, CUBA
An artifact of the colonial era, its historic plantations hint at the lives of enslaved people who once lived there.
haters, millennials. The journal Psychological Science published a report that compared the results of thousands of Narcissism Personal Inventory tests, which are designed to measure narcissism and have been issued to select college students for decades. Guess what? According to University of Illinois psychology professor Brent Roberts, “The kids are [alright]. There never was a narcissism epidemic, despite what has been claimed.” In fact, when they look at the numbers, they observed “decreases in narcissism from the 1990s to the 2000s to the 2010s.” Whew.
If you’ve been thinking about
George Clooney’s organization, The
Pollution isn’t just gross, it’s a human
volunteering more and getting
Clooney Foundation for Justice, has
rights issue. A study from The Lancet
healthier, you can kill two birds
donated a million dollars to help
medical journal found pollution kills 9
with one stone. A new study says
investigate and shut down corruption
million people every year and costs
volunteering is good for your health.
among war criminals in Africa.
roughly $4.6 trillion.
White Christians Are Now More Forgiving of Politicians ARE SO-CALLED “moral Ryan Gosling is not a robot god.
The Church of AI Wants You to Worship a Robot God. Seriously
ANTHONY LEVANDOWSKI KNOWS a lot about
artificial intelligence (AI), and he wants to share that knowledge. The well-known Silicon Valley engineer—who formerly worked at Google, Waymo and Uber—has set up a website with his findings at wayofthefuture.church. That’s right, “.church.” Way of the Future is actually registered as a nonprofit religious corporation. Levandowski believes that a time is rapidly approaching when AI will become so intelligent, it will overpower humanity, so his solution to the problem is not to fight against it. No, he says we should just make peace with the idea—and start to worship AI pre-emptively. In the paperwork filed with the IRS, he explained that the group is based on “the realization, acceptance and worship of a godhead based on
A Silicon Valley veteran believes a dark revolution is coming, so he’s built a church to worship it.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) developed through computer hardware and software.” The reason he’s decided to “worship” the technology is even darker than the idea of the church of AI: He believes unless we appease the technology, it might decide to destroy us. Sweet dreams.
conservatives” becoming more OK with immoral conduct? Following the widespread support of Alabama politician Roy Moore among Christians and even some pastors following allegations that he molested a 14-year-old girl, it’s a startlingly relevant question. Now, a PRRI/ Brookings poll found that there has been a massive shift in how “forgiving” some Christians can be of politicians’ personal transgressions. They found that 72 percent of white evangelicals said that “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.” That number represents a dramatic shift. In 2011, just 30 percent of white evangelicals were willing to see past a politician’s misdeeds and allow them to serve. What’s behind the jump? One reason could be that in 2009, a Democrat held the highest office. In 2016, a Republican was elected. WHITE CHRISTIANS WHO SEE PAST POLITICIANS’ MORAL FAILINGS
A Genocide Is Exposed in Myanmar EVEN AFTER ACTIVIST Aung
San Suu Kyi took office in 2016, Myanmar remains extremely isolated, and now, an unimaginable horror has been exposed. A report from
the Holocaust Memorial Museum and the nonprofit Fortify Rights found that 1 million Rohingya—a religious minority—have had to flee their homes as military
forces engage in systematic campaigns of rape and genocide. Now, the U.N. is attempting to find ways to end the ethnic cleansing and allow the refugees to return home.
72% 30% 2016
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[Q + A]
Meet Greta Gerwig—the Director The actress garnered major acclaim for her work behind the camera on indie hit Lady Bird.
HIS AWARDS SEASON,
a young filmmaker just might establish herself as one of Hollywood’s next
big directors. Though she’s an established screenwriter and actress (most notably starring in the title role of 2012’s Frances Ha), Greta Gerwig’s latest film, Lady Bird—which she wrote and directed—has become one of the season’s most critically acclaimed movies, garnering the almost unheardof 100 percent critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film tells the story of a freespirited teen navigating a series of difficult relationships while trying to finish her senior year of high school. We recently spoke with Gerwig about making the film and how Hollywood is changing for young female filmmakers. YOU’VE DONE A LOT OF WRITING AND ACTING. WHAT WAS IT LIKE DIRECTING LADY BIRD?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer-director, but because I didn’t go to film school, I’ve really used 10 years of filmmaking in different capacities—both in front of and behind the camera—to learn my craft. So when I was on set the first day, I felt like, I’ve got 10 years of learning under my belt occupying different positions on film sets, and I don’t know how I could be more prepared. IT FEELS LIKE THINGS ARE CHANGING AS FAR AS THE OPPORTUNITIES WOMEN GET. HAVE WE ENTERED A NEW ERA?
I think we have a long way to go in terms of giving a diverse set of filmmakers a chance to tell stories—and that is women and
minority filmmakers. It’s very important that we’re having these discussions and giving them a platform, but I am very heartened by what is going on right now and the spotlight that’s being shone on filmmakers, female filmmakers and filmmakers of color. When I think of Patty Jenkins directing Wonder Woman or Sofia Coppola [who] won best director and Kathryn Bigelow, who I’ve had the privilege to meet and talk to, and younger newer filmmakers, it feels like there is something changing and there is a desire for that change and that is just as big of a deal. HOW MUCH DOES THE AUDIENCE HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO CHANGE THINGS?
It’s a huge relationship between the audience and change, because successful films about women and with women at the helm and women at the center, once they stopped seeming like aberrations and started seeming like a good business bet, that’s when change [happened]. I remember when Bridesmaids came out and everyone was like, “Whoa, this is really successful,” and the same thing happened with Wonder Woman. The truth is, there’s such a huge market. Women go to movies and want to see themselves reflected on the screen. I think, vote with your dollars. If that’s the kind of thing you want to see, go to the movies and buy a ticket.
[ T H E C H E AT S H E E T ]
A Beginners’ Guide to Ethical Cooking There comes a time when every child must put away their Hot Pockets and learn to be responsible with their resources (and health).
WE’VE ALL BEEN THERE: a moment of clarity
your head, and it looks great, but next week,
while staring into your refrigerator, where
you’re probably back to preheating the oven
you determine that from now on, it’s no
for another DiGiorno pizza.
more leftovers and frozen meals. You’re
Truth be told, what you’re trying to do is
going to become a real cook, make healthy
a good thing. Part of being mature with your
meals and start buying groceries from that
resources is knowing how to buy and cook
cool little bodega over by the yoga studio.
You’re going to be one of those people who
It’s not as hard as you think. It just takes a
sprinkles exotic seasonings on your seared
few easy steps to get you started on the right
salmon and harvests fresh herbs from your
path. You’ll be grilling salmon like America’s
little backyard garden. You can see it all in
Next Top Chef in no time.
START WITH THE BASICS
Food waste is a massive problem. In fact, 40 percent of the food supply is thrown away every year. But you can do your part to waste less. Start simple. Try recipes that take 30 minutes or less, and stick to meals with fewer than 10 ingredients.
Remember to spend sustainably instead of wasting money on fancy gadgets you don’t need. If you keep your recipes simple, you won’t need to invest a fortune in an immersion blender. Buy a good knife, a big cutting board, a frying pan, a pot and a strainer.
MAKE A LIST FOR THE WEEK
At the beginning, limit yourself to cooking one meal a week while you get your bearings. That will give you a manageable grocery list and will keep you from getting too overwhelmed. As you start improving, work your way up to two or three meals a week.
There’s no shame whatsoever in resorting to trendy, new meal delivery services like Blue Apron or HelloFresh. They provide all the ingredients and simple instructions. It’s like training wheels for cooking at home. You can’t mess it up.
We look inside their new mission to inspire hope when people need it most.
BY TYLER HUCKABEE
“ARE WE STILL ENJOYING THIS?” Zach Williams asks this question about
We don’t think people are always paying
referring to themselves as a country band
The Lone Bellow, the band he has been at
attention to the lyrics, and then maybe a few
by way of New York City and, to be sure, you
the front of since 2012. At the time of this
months down the road, they’re humming it
can hear a lot of Waylon Jennings and Hank
conversation, he’s just a few days shy of
to themselves, singing it, and they’re like,
Williams Jr. underneath the band’s muscle-y
the release of Walk Into a Storm, the band’s
‘Wait a minute. What is this talking about?’
third studio album. It’s another terrific
So I’ve always really strived for that in
achievement in a relatively brief career full
of them, but for Williams, it’s not enough to
The band has thrived in the five boroughs and made it as much a part of their identity
Take the first single, “Time’s Always
as Snoop made Los Angeles a part of his, so
simply be good. He wants The Lone Bellow to
Leaving.” If the song is playing and your
eyebrows were raised when they announced
foot isn’t tapping, you should seek medical
they were relocating to Nashville.
“We don’t want to just go through the
attention. It’s a boot-stomping, hand-
“I mean, I consider [us] a Brooklyn
motions,” he says. “We really want to make
clapping, grin-inducing riot. It’s so much fun,
band forever,” Williams says. “That’s the
sure we’re doing this, and doing it right.”
in fact, that you could be forgiven for not
foundation that was built for us. That’s
realizing just how forlorn the lyrics are.
our initial family-base. [Famed NYC radio
By almost any definition, Williams is doing this right. Their 2013 self-titled debut album
station] WFUV was one of the very first radio
landed on the Billboard charts along with a
Time’s always leaving, sneaking peeks at
slew of “best of the year” lists. Their follow-
her watch / Always whispering sweet little lies
up, Then Came the Morning, was produced by
about her thoughts …
famed indie-rock kingmaker Aaron Dessner of The National. They’ve made the late-night
I’m afraid of the morning, morning / And I dread the sunset.
was our thing.” But while Brooklyn can be a great place for music, it can be tough for families. That’s a tension Williams and the rest of The Lone
television rounds and were nominated for an Americana Music Award. It’s hard to
stations to believe in us. You know, like that
Bellow started to feel as children came into “It’s kind of wrestling with that thing
imagine many bands in their position taking
that’s on all of our backs,” Williams explains.
time for self-reflection, but The Lone Bellow
“Is time passing too fast? Am I living with
heart, but kids grow up fast. I want to be
isn’t most bands. They go to great lengths not
my eyes wide open and my heart wide open?
home as much as possible,’” he explains,
Did I just go through the motions today? You
describing the conflicted decision to move
know, just that ancient, old fear humans
from the city he loved. “And I basically, I
have always had.”
was like, I can’t just stay in New York just
A DARKNESS UNDERNEATH
“I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible
For Williams, that fear is a little closer
“I was like, ‘I love New York with all my
because we love New York so much if that is
things.” Tom Waits said that, and it’s an ethos
than usual, and it’s led to some big changes
actually taking away time. I couldn’t argue
Williams carries with him.
for the band.
good at for a long time,” he explains. “It’s
GO WEST, YOUNG BAND
He likes the “creative energy” of his new
just a nice kind of dichotomy of sorts; it
If you know anything about The Lone
home and how it’s brought him into contact
has the good with maybe the not-so good.
Bellow, you know how fond they’ve been of
with famed country music hitmaker Dave
“That’s what country music has been
The move has been good, Williams says.
“I WOULD LOVE IT IF THIS ALBUM COULD BE KIND OF LIKE A STOP SIGN IN SOMEONE’S MIND ... JUST PAUSING FOR A MINUTE TO THINK ABOUT THE THINGS THAT RE ALLY MATTER TO THEM.”
WALK INTO A STORM
cooperation on the album. “There were definitely some times
However, the couple clung to hope, and miraculously, Stacy eventually recovered.
The album is an
[when] we were, you know—just like
creating anything with humans—there’s big
much of his writing. If you listen to his
indie-rock fusion of
arguments or whatever,” Williams recounts.
songs, and really dig into their meaning,
“But when conflict is handled the way it’s
you can begin to hear that Williams has a
supposed to be, it’s a beautiful thing.”
deeper perspective and sees beyond the
catchy choruses and deep lyrics.
All this seems to have helped provide a measure of stability to the rest of Williams’ Cobb, the man behind the work of artists
“He’s got these couches set up and this
circumstances. For years, he served as a worship pastor
life—but that’s something not everyone is
at Trinity Grace Church in Brooklyn’s
Park Slope neighborhood. Maybe it’s those
like Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton.
It’s hope, not darkness, that now inspires
spiritual roots that have led him to lean not THEY SHALL OVERCOME
on tragedy for inspiration, but instead look
Stability, it seems, is a good fit for his band.
for the light at the end of tunnels.
beautiful record player and these like
There’s a popular notion that all great art is
incredible sounding speakers, and a table
rooted in tragedy, and it’s a notion Williams
can breed an unhealthy pursuit of chaos,
and notepads,” Williams says of Cobb’s
Williams says, noting that he has seen first-
recording studio on Music Row, sounding
“I remember in like 2010 I was talking
The mentality of just focusing on darkness
hand what pushing artists to actively seek
genuinely awed. “And you sit at the couches
to some punk at a label,” he says. “And he
out negativity in hopes that it will result in a
and basically tell him why you want to
was like, ‘Well, I don’t want to have to wait
new creative spark can do to people.
record the song that you’re about to record.
around for the next tragedy to happen to you
“I’d met a lot of musicians in particular
And then you all just kind of wrap your
for you to be able to write another song that
that, after the shows, we would just kind of
heads around [it] like, here’s what it’s gonna
I like.’ I was just like, ‘Screw you.’”
go a little dark together,” he says. “Whether
There’s a reason the comment elicited
it was like hanging out playing pool at a bar
such a strong reaction. Some of the original
or whatever. I think that there’s just like this
ago by Chet Atkins and has served the likes
songs Williams wrote for the band were
monkey on our back, this pressure.”
of Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton. Given
inspired by journal entries he’d written in
that pedigree, the members of The Lone
the Shepherd Center, a spinal cord and brain
a pressure Williams has seemed to have
Bellow were justified in feeling fortunate
injury rehabilitation facility.
kicked, and he writes about it on “Between
Cobbs’ studio was built half a century
to record there, too. Williams speaks of
Back in 2005, his wife, Stacy, was
Cobbs’ production skill with a reverence
temporarily paralyzed after breaking her
that transcends politeness, but he’s also
neck in a horseback riding accident. Doctors
appreciative of the rest of his band and their
first thought she would be a quadriplegic.
However, for the latest album, that’s
the Lines”: What I’m here to tell you / You don’t need the hurt / To make something you love / To tell
L-R: Brian Elmquist, Zach Williams, Kanene Pipkin
you what you’re worth / And you don’t need
Bellow knows their fans live in a stressful
and providing a bit of respite from the rest
regret / To guide you through the night
era. “It’s at the place now where I don’t think
of the world is a pretty enjoyable job, and it’s
you can dodge it and be honest with yourself
helped Williams answer in the affirmative.
“I wanted this album to say that ... to whoever is standing in front of us
at the same time,” he says. The question then, is what The Lone
“I love the record,” he says. “I believe that music is a really weird, mysterious thing;
listening, you know, ‘May your heart be
Bellow has to offer to these people and when
like why do humans like certain sounds and
open. Whatever changes the wind might be
it comes to that, Williams has one goal: hope.
noises and notes? I think the three of us
blowing,’” Williams says. And if there’s something that’s defined
“I would love it if this album could be kind of like a stop sign in someone’s mind,” he
singing together, I hope it can be inspiring,” he says.
Williams’ stance so far in his journey with
explains of Walk Into a Storm. “Just pausing
The Lone Bellow, it’s just that: keeping an
for a minute to think about the things that
hope in difficult times—Williams is finally
really matter to them. That’s my hope at the
able to answer his own question.
shows, so it’s [the] same thing in the record.” HOPING FOR HOPE
“I love this work we get to do.”
Which brings us back to the question
The world is chaotic, and Williams is
Williams started out with: “Are we still
mindful of that, particularly at the band’s
live shows. Whether dealing with the stress
And with that idea—inspiring people to
Offering hope to people, getting them to
of day-to-day life or the divisiveness of a
consider deeper, more important truths,
contentious political climate, The Lone
working through tragedies, seeking healing
T YLER HUCK A BEE lives in Nashville and is a contributing editor at RELEVANT.
PUTIN’S UNTOLD WAR ON CHRISTIANITY When will the world start taking Vladimir Putin’s unprecedented crackdown on religious freedom seriously?
BY TYLER HUCKABEE
LET’S S TA R T WITH
If you are a Russian citi-
knack for propaganda and a healthy dose of
zen in 2018, it is current-
good, old-fashioned fake news. But as Russia’s
ly illegal for you to share
aims become clearer and the fortunes of its re-
the Gospel with a friend
ligious minorities less certain, experts are saying
in your home. It’s illegal
it’s imperative for Christians—and fans of reli-
for you to invite others to
gious liberty in general—to start paying attention
your church. VKontakte—
to what’s going on. And, they caution, what’s hap-
the Russian equivalent of
pening in Russia could happen elsewhere.
Facebook—can’t be used to
It already is, if you know where to look.
spread anything that might be
THE LAW OF THE LAND
lism.” In fact, all religious
In the early summer of 2016, Russia passed a
dialogue has been banned
little-noticed pair of laws broadly billed as “an-
outside of churches and
ti-terrorism” in their nature and intent.
other religious sites.
The laws became known as the Yarovaya Law,
On the street. Online.
Even in your own home.
named for Irina Yarovaya, the hawkish head of the Parliamentary Committee for Security and
This is not the most re-
Anti-Corruption. The laws increased the scope of
cent or even most brazen
Russia’s already vast law enforcement agencies,
of Russia’s recent attempts
expanding their legal surveillance capabilities
to curtail religious freedom within its borders,
and data mining operations.
but it is illustrative of the Kremlin’s new attitude
Those measures were concerning enough,
toward religion. The Russian Orthodox Church
reportedly causing discomfort even among the
is deeply intertwined with Russian identity,
Putin-friendly parliament. But they were able to
closely connected to national politics and given
pass a vote, riding on a wave of national unease
broad legal preference over minority religions
after ISIS downed a Russian commercial plane
in the country. While the Soviet Union famously
over Egypt in 2015.
attempted to stamp religion out completely, Rus-
Tacked onto the Yarovaya Law was the provi-
sian President Vladimir Putin has embraced the
sion against evangelism or “missionary work”
Russian Orthodox Church and, critics say, trans-
outside of specific, designated spaces. The law
formed it into another arm of his infamous pro-
defined missionary activity as: “The activity of
a religious association, aimed at disseminating
By granting it liberties either restricted or flat-
information about its beliefs among people who
out denied to other religions and sects, there is
are not participants (members, followers) in that
strong suspicion Putin has embraced the state
church solely because he’s able to remake it in his own likeness.
“It would be fair to say that various actors have been seeking for quite a long time to get some
But how did we get here? How did a country
so-called ‘anti-missionary’ package through and
that seemed to be bucking decades of Orwellian
that this turned out to be the convenient way of
control slip back into authoritarianism, and why
pushing it through,” John Kinahan says.
haven’t more churches in the West spoken up on behalf of their fellow Christians abroad?
Kinahan is the chief editor at Forum 18, an organization that monitors religious freedom in
The answers are twisted up in a murky web
countries like Russia, Belarus and some central
of politics, nationalism, Putin’s aforementioned
Asian countries. In his view, the Yarovaya Law is
a significant step in a slow, steady trend toward the complete restriction of religious freedom.
Some of the indifference can be attributed to the lack of a vocal minority in Russia to sound
“Putin is clearly not somebody very comfort-
the alarm. Estimates vary since there is no of-
able with people using their freedom,” Kinahan
ficial census of religion in Russia, but the most
says. “And given the legislative moves that he’s
recent Pew Research Center study found that 71
made, given the actions of state officials, not only
percent of Russians consider themselves Eastern
racial freedom and religious belief but other hu-
Orthodox and another 15 percent say they’re “re-
man rights too, it’s very hard to come to any oth-
ligiously unaffiliated,” meaning atheist, agnostic
or “spiritual but not religious.” Between 8 and 10
Organizations found in violation of the law can be fined up to a million rubles, roughly $17,000.
percent consider themselves Muslim, with the rest affiliated with some other religion.
The government’s newly heightened surveil-
Religious minorities did attempt a campaign to
lance capabilities drew the bulk of what little
change Putin’s mind. Head of the Advisory Coun-
international attention was paid to the passage
cil of the Heads of Protestant Churches in Russia,
of the laws. The passage of new laws against mis-
Sergei Ryakhovsky, posted a letter to Putin that
sionary work did not even warrant mentions in
read, in part:
write-ups from The Economist or Reuters.
“The obligation on every believer to have a special permit to spread his or her beliefs, as well as hand out religious literature and material
outside of places of worship and used structures
officers patrol on
is not only absurd and offensive, but also creates
the Red Square in
the basis for mass persecution of believers for vi-
central Moscow on April 2, 2017, as Russian opposition promised protests after police
olating these provisions.” The letter ended: “Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin], on behalf of thousands of evangelical Protes-
tants, we ask you not to allow this repressive and
of people during
unconstitutional law to be adopted.”
The protests on behalf of religious minorities were sincere, but had even less visible of a presence than protests focusing on the Yarova-
ya Law’s digital surveillance legislation. And they’ve had just as much an impact. That is
to say: none. A LONELY MISSION
David Curry. “It affects our morals, our family
I S T H AT
So those kinds of laws, which say, ‘Keep your
Curry is the CEO of Open Doors USA, an
U LT I M AT E
Russia’s threat to religious freedom seriously.
GOAL IS TO N AT IO N A L I Z E
Nevertheless, the United States has largely kept mum on the subject. It’s an odd position for a country as famously protective of religious freedom as the U.S., both within its own borders and around the world. The U.S. sends
freedom ironically coincides with American opinions of Russia actually improving. A Pew
tisan divide (34 percent of Republicans have
sia compared to just 19 percent in 2014. Much of that rise can be attributed to a par-
among their tier one “countries of concern”
like Iran and North Korea.
The lack of international awareness of
percent of the U.S. has a positive view of Rus-
threat to the spiritual health of the country.”
tors of religion freedom, alongside countries
study in the summer of 2017 found that 29
in Russia,” Curry says. “And I see that as a great
on their annual list of the world’s worst viola-
more specialized agencies, like the bipartisan
to nationalize the Christian movement entirely
International Religious Freedom listed Russia
contentious media narrative fell solely to
the Kremlin’s brazen roll-back of religious
“My concern is that Putin’s ultimate goal is
In 2016, the United States Commission on
All of this meant awareness of another
United States Commission on International
organization that advocates for persecuted Christians and is one of the few places taking
Russian legislation. Russian scandal on top of the already hotly
faith limited to ... ’ [are] the ultimate threat to freedom of a religion.”
Hillary Clinton was generally too busy shielding her own campaign from Julian Assange’s email leaks to pay much attention to
life, and you just can’t keep authentic Christian faith within the boundaries of a building.
the summer demurring on his opinion about what the Kremlin may have been up to.
“I think Jesus has been clear in Scripture that faith needs to be part of our social life,” says
to look overly partisan, and spent most of
a positive view of Putin, compared to just 13 percent of Democrats), but at least some of
MOVEMENT E N T I R E LY I N R U S S I A .”
it can also be chalked up to a general lack of information. With the White House currently toeing a fine line with the Kremlin and much of the U.S.’ attention focused on religious controversies at home, Americans tend to have a more favorable view of Putin’s actions than his actions warrant. “The urge to control is quite a strong part
by far the most missionaries to other coun-
of Putin’s approach,” says Kinahan. “He is,
tries (127,000 annually by the most recent
after all, a former secret policeman and such
estimate; Brazil is a distant second at 34,000).
people don’t normally become very keen on While religious freedom is a human right in
freedom in any kind of way.”
every country, few nations have made it a
And for people who are keen on religious
cornerstone of their national identity in the
freedom, Russia is trending in a truly worri-
same way the U.S. has.
some direction—and it shows no sign of slow-
Part of the reason the Yarovaya Law failed
ing down. Last August, Russia said Jehovah’s
to gain much attention in the U.S. was be-
Witnesses violated the country’s anti-extrem-
cause at the same time it was being passed,
ism laws, effectively outlawing the religion.
Russia was making U.S. headlines for differ-
“It certainly would be our view that based
ent reasons: hacking the 2016 U.S. presiden-
on the evidence that the trends of free be-
lief for wider human rights in the region
News that U.S. intelligence believed Putin had masterminded an immense campaign to
are downwards,” Kinahan says. “[There is] a seemingly increasing climate of fear.”
sow chaos into American democracy paralyzed national politics and sucked all the media attention. Now-President Donald Trump was then trying to cast Russia as unfairly maligned, expressing admiration for Putin’s strongman tactics. Then-President Barack Obama was loathe
T YLER HUCK A BEE lives in Nashville and is a contributing editor at RELEVANT.
For Pete Holmes, losing everything was the fastest way to find it.
BY A L E X A E D WA R D S
“ W H AT I S F I R E ? ” A S K S P E T E H O L M E S .
that are hard to express. He’s a comedian—a
It sounds trippy, but it’s not. Not to Holmes
successful one by any definition of the term,
“I have no problem thinking of myself in
anyway, who’s been asking the question for
with his show Crashing gearing up for its sec-
Christian terms,” Holmes says.
a while—so much that it’s become sort of
ond season on HBO and his You Made It Weird
That probably comes as no surprise to any-
his shorthand for the big, esoteric questions
podcast consistently ranking as one of iTunes’
one who’s paid much attention to his career.
about the universe.
Holmes can discuss the evangelical subcul-
“Someone would be like, ‘Well, it’s the rela-
And like any successful comedian, bru-
ture and its attending worldview nimbly. He
tionship of this and this and oxygen,’” Holmes
tal honesty is his bread and butter. And the
was raised in a Christian church. He went to
continues. “And I’d be like, ‘No. What is fire?’
brutal, honest truth is that Holmes is laying
a Christian college, even briefly wanted to be
You know what I mean?”
his life bare with his comedy—be it podcast,
a youth pastor—the whole deal. But then life
You probably do. The feeling Holmes is
stand-up or HBO show—and for every one of
threw him a curveball via the disintegration
talking about is not uncommon, but it is hard
the many laughs his work provokes, there’s
of his marriage.
to describe. But that’s a big part of how he’s
another moment that profoundly aches.
become one of the most popular comedians of his generation—by giving words to things
As often as not, the two moments are linked; even simultaneous.
Holmes married young and moved to Chicago in an attempt to break into comedy. At first, he had almost no luck. Meanwhile, his
then-wife started having an affair (If you’ve
“It’s not that I thought, ‘There is no God,’”
“I felt really, really sad and afraid,” he says
seen the first season of Crashing, you’ve seen
he explains. “I didn’t have a conclusion. But
of the first time he saw the movie. “Not of
the only slightly fictionalized depiction of all
certainly, without being able to articulate it,
hell. Just kind of like, ‘Oh, no. The tragedy of
this.). Their marriage ended shortly thereaf-
I went, ‘What I knew clearly isn’t the case.’”
life took something from me.’”
going back to his office and weeping alone.
ter, and his faith wasn’t far behind. “You protect yourself by saying, ‘She was never [the one], and she wasn’t,” he says of
After seeing the movie, Holmes remembers Holmes has this story about The Book of
“I just sat at my desk and just cried a little
his ex-wife. “This is true. She wasn’t the one for me. But it would be wrong to say that when I went in—kind of like the way I went into my faith, which ended up not being right for me either—both endeavors were very earnest and well-meaning, and I thought they were going to last forever. The two of them ending at the same time was ... it felt a little cruel, but it was also kind of appropriate.” Holmes talks about the time in his life
“G O D I S T H E N A M E O F TH E BLAN KET WE PUT OV E R T H E M YS T E RY TO G I V E I T S H A P E .”
when he was enchanted by the positive vibes of megachurch prosperity preacher Joel Osteen’s best-seller Your Best Life Now, saying it had “changed [his] life.” And after the divorce? Not so much. “After my wife left me, I tried to listen to Your Best Life Now again, and it might as well have been in Aramaic,” Holmes says. “I couldn’t hear it because I experienced pain
Comedians Dov Davidoff and Rachel Feinstein with Pete Holmes in Crashing
for the first time in my life. “I put on this guy going, ‘Just go out there and be good and God will give you what you
Eli. Maybe you’ve seen it. It’s a middling
bit and sat there, really allowing ...,” he says.
want.’ And I’m like, ‘Buddy, I did everything I
post-apocalyptic flick in which Denzel Wash-
“Well, there’s a lot of things to miss. I missed
was supposed to.’”
ington spends a lot of time rescuing Mila
God in that moment, and I was like, ‘S***.’ It’s
To hear Holmes tell it, he gave atheism a
Kunis. To get at why this story matters, we’ll
like waking up from a dream, remembering
half-hearted go, but it didn’t take. “I read part
need to venture into some spoiler territory, so
that that was so important to you.”
of The God Delusion,” he says, referring to
consider yourself warned.
Richard Dawkins’ infamous atheist tome. “I couldn’t finish it. It just wasn’t for me.” Instead, Holmes started dabbling in other
The Book of Eli sparked a renewed spir-
The Book of Eli is actually about Washing-
itual odyssey that inspired Holmes to ex-
ton’s character protecting Earth’s last copy of
plore the works of famed mythologist Joseph
Campbell, spiritual author Ram Dass, Fran-
communities. He started making friends with
Holmes doesn’t defend the movie’s quality
ciscan friar Richard Rohr and Rob Bell, who
atheists and dating non-Christians. He didn’t
(“It’s like a 38 percent on Rotten Tomatoes,”
has since become a close friend and frequent
reject his faith entirely, but the substance of it
he says), but he can’t deny that it started
colleague of Holmes’.
became fair game for interrogation.
something fresh in him.
So what is Holmes certain of now? Less
“ W E ’ V E T U R N E D G O D I N TO S O M E T H I N G T H AT YO U C A N A M A ZO N P R I M E .”
than ever, to hear him say it.
“I think what you realize is the point isn’t
How much of this will the
having something concrete,” he says, and
second season of Crashing
then relates a conversation he had with Bell
get into? Holmes hesitates
about the historicity of the Bible. “I said, ‘Is
to respond. “This is the sort
the Bible true, or is it a metaphor?’ And [Bell]
of interview that if [Crash-
ing producer, Judd Apatow]
If you’re familiar with Bell’s work, that
were here, he’d be kicking
answer probably doesn’t come as a shock to
me under the table,” Holmes
you, but Holmes found it enlightening.
says. “He’s like, ‘When you do
“It’s like, that’s the correct answer!” he says. “If we’re going to read a Semitic book,
press, please just talk about how funny the show is.’”
we need to look at it through Semitic eyes,
The show is funny and,
and that’s a perfectly Semitic answer. We’ve
according to Holmes, the sec-
turned God into something that you can Am-
ond season is funnier. It also
continues Holmes’ charac-
So Holmes isn’t looking at God as some-
ter’s spiritual and emotional
thing you order on demand anymore. A bet-
journey, as he experiences
ter metaphor might be that he’s looking at
what Holmes calls “that elas-
God as a forest to be explored. Or maybe that
tic thing where it’s not just, ‘I don’t believe
God is the metaphor.
now.’ It’s kind of like, ‘I want to believe. I
“A great quote that I love is, ‘God is the
Holmes seems to know how to believe—or,
to give it shape,’” Holmes says. “We’re trying
at least, he knows he doesn’t believe he needs
to talk about something undiscussable, and I
to know how to believe. This would have frus-
love it. Ram Dass says the truth isn’t in these
trated his younger self, but that’s not some-
discussions. It’s in the spaces between the
thing he’s overly concerned about. Given
words that we get a transmission. Christians
the hypothetical opportunity to go back and
call this grace, where something is happening
warn his young, believing self about what
beyond our thinking mind, and I became fas-
was to come, he says, “I wouldn’t interfere,
cinated with that.
because it’s beautiful.”
“A virgin birth or a physical death and res-
“Jesus says, ‘Don’t lay up your treasure
urrection is not that wild for me to toy with,
where dust and moth can corrupt,’” Holmes
but then what?” Holmes asks. “What is your
says. “That’s what he’s talking about. That
goal? Ram Dass says our goal in the West is to
breaking point of my wife turning my world
know and to know that we know. But the mys-
upside down and then losing my faith was the
tics say, ‘Lay that down, dude. You’re missing
best thing that could happen to me. I wouldn’t
the point. It’s not knowing and knowing that
go back and stop that.”
yond your brain.’”
performs onstage with Rob Bell.
don’t know how to believe.’”
name of the blanket we put over the mystery
you know. It’s basking in something that’s be-
It’s a little hard to explain but then, that’s Holmes’ specialty.
ALEX A EDWARDS lives in Austin and writes about faith and culture.
N E W Y E A R â€™S A DV I C E That Actually Works SIX EXPERTS ON HOW TO MAKE 2018 YOUR BEST YEAR YET
BY STEPHANIE G R ANADA
There’s a lot of pressure that comes with the start of a new year, which is
relationships WHAT’S ONE THING EVERY
If we could begin applying
HEALTHY COUPLE SHOULD DO
that communication model to
making resolutions to make
ON A DAILY BASIS?
our conflict, we’d all be better
their lives better.
Communication is the lifeline
for it in the end.
why everyone seems to be
Losing 10 pounds and
of a relationship. Once you
reading a book a week sound
stop talking, you start moving
WHEN DOES A COUPLE
like great goals, but are
backward in your marriage.
KNOW IT’S TIME TO GO TO
we really focusing on the things that will make lasting positive change in our lives? We tracked down six experts and asked them for their best advice on a variety of topics—from career and relationships, to making a global impact to getting more involved in a church. Here are their suggestions for making 2018 your best year yet.
DEBR A FILETA is a licensed professional counselor and speaker, Fileta is the author of the books True Love Dates and Choosing Marriage: The Hardest and Greatest Thing You’ll Ever Do.
In a recent survey I took
of over 1,000 married people,
Most couples actually begin
the majority said they spend
the process of counseling far
only 15-30 minutes per week
too late. They start counseling
in quality conversation with
after something really harmful
their spouse. I find that statistic
happens in their marriage,
concerning and a reflection
but we need to start thinking
of the struggles I’m seeing in
proactively about counseling.
marriages all over the country. With our demanding
Couples need to be looking for “patterns” of behavior
schedules, time can quickly
regarding how they interact in
slip away, so couples need to
their relationship and how they
make it a priority to set aside
feel toward their spouse. Those
a few minutes per day—at the
patterns of interaction and
very minimum—to connect and
emotion are either going to be
converse in a meaningful way.
mostly positive or negative.
WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO
caught in a continual cycle
RESOLVE CONFLICTS THAT ARISE
of negative behaviors and
IN A RELATIONSHIP?
responses toward one another
What makes a marriage healthy
(isolating, yelling, withdrawing,
isn’t a lack of conflict but rather,
how conflict is resolved. There
passive-aggression, etc.), and
are so many techniques a
conflict continues to get pushed
counselor can offer a couple for
under the rug, rather than
If a couple finds themselves
resolving conflict in a healthy
actually dealt with, then I would
way, but let’s hone in on God’s
say it’s time to seek the help of
Word (James 1:19) for three
a professional counselor to help
really simple but important
you identify and then break
steps: Be quick to listen, slow to
those patterns of interaction
speak and slow to become angry.
before it’s too late.
WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO ACTUALLY GET NOTICED
FOR A PROMOTION OR LEADERSHIP ROLE THIS YEAR?
Telling your boss you need to pay off credit card bills or you simply feel like you deserve more money isn’t the right way. Paying extra attention to the things your employer cares about and trying to improve those things is a pretty good place to start. If you do not only what is required but also a little something extra, you will make it very easy for your boss to give you that promotion. HOW DO YOU KNOW IF IT’S TIME FOR A JOB CHANGE?
A quick, easy way to know it’s time to jump is to talk to
JEFF GOINS is the best-selling author of five books including The Art of Work and Real Artists Don’t Starve. He is also a speaker, entrepreneur and blogger at goinswriter.com.
your most cautious friend. We all have one really kind friend who just agrees with whatever we say. Instead, find the cautious friend who wants you to go slow and be careful. Get feedback from them. When even they tell you it’s time to go, it’s time.
WHAT’S THE BEST WAY FOR SOMEONE TO GET INVOLVED WITH AN ORGANIZATION WORKING ON A CAUSE THEY’RE PASSIONATE ABOUT?
Everyone wants to go “to the field”—whatever that means in the context of what you care about. “I want to sit in the tents with refugees in Iraq! I want to rescue JEREM Y COURTNEY is the founder of relief organization Preemptive Love Coalition, which serves people in Iraq and Syria. He’s also the author of the book, Preemptive Love.
girls from trafficking in Bangkok!” That stuff is usually
CARLOS WHITTA KER is the author of Kill the Spider: Getting Rid of What’s Really Holding You Back.
reserved for the highly trained insiders. Raise your hand to clean out the warehouse. Write thank you cards to donors. You might be worth hundreds of dollars an hour
WHAT’S ONE SPIRITUAL PRACTICE
as a designer, editor, coder, etc. But if it’s about figuring
CHRISTIANS SHOULD DO EVERY DAY?
out how to get involved, consider offering your high-
This is going to sound so elementary,
value skills for free—and be honest: “I’m just trying to
but prayer is the one spiritual practice
add value and get my foot in the door.”
we should be practicing every day. I don’t know when it happened, but at
IF SOMEONE DOESN’T HAVE A LOT OF MONEY OR EXTRA
some point “prayer” became us giving
TIME, HOW CAN THEY MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
a speech to God. That is not the type of
It’s easy to buy into the myth that we have to have “a
prayer I’m talking about. I’m talking
lot” (whatever that is), in order to make a difference. If
about conversational prayer. Talking to
everyone said, “My part is so small, I’ll just stay home,”
God and Him talking back.
the whole thing falls apart.
This sort of prayer is meant to be
There are only a few people out there giving million-
normal. And this sort of prayer is the
dollar gifts. The rest is up to the rest of us. The same is
type of prayer that literally changes
true with time. Only a few people volunteer a majority of
everything in your life ... This is the
their time—the rest of us write thank you cards or serve
sort of spiritual practice that turned my
a meal or hold a hand at someone’s bedside as we can.
relationship with God upside down in
That makes a difference, in that moment. Period.
the most beautiful way possible.
WHAT’S AN EASY THING
Drink a lot of water and make
SOMEONE CAN DO TO START TO
sure you are eating lots of fruits
GET IN SHAPE (EVEN IF THEY
and veggies every single day.
DON’T LIKE WORKING OUT )?
Try to eat five small meals a day,
Walk around the block. Increase
instead of three large ones.
the distance of the walk over A NGELA DAVIS is a Nikesponsored athlete, the founder of Urban Fitness 911, a former member of the USA Track and Field Team and renowned SoulCycle instructor whose students include Usher, JAY-Z, Chris Paul and others.
time, then a walk can turn into a
WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO STAY
jog. A jog can turn into a run.
MOTIVATED TO STICK TO YOUR
Do a circuit of push-ups,
sit-ups and squats when you
Get an accountability partner.
wake up or before you go to bed.
Be willing to hold yourself
Increase the number of reps and
accountable if that partner is
sets over time.
IS IT WORTH IT TO INVEST IN A
definition of accountability that
FITNESS TRACKER THIS YEAR?
I love: “Account to your own
The motive and incentive to
ability.” Begin to visualize the
achieve more than you did the
change you’d like to see and in
time before—that in itself is a
every workout, focus on that
reason to have one.
My mother gave me a
WHAT’S THE EASIEST WAY TO START EATING HEALTHIER
WITHOUT STARTING A FAD DIET?
ASHLEE EILA ND is a motivational speaker, content producer and minister at Willow Creek Church Chicago, the nation’s fourthlargest church. She teaches and works in engaging the local community there.
WHAT SHOULD SOMEONE DO
isolation, but a lavish banquet
THIS YEAR IF THEY DON’T FEEL
enjoyed in transformational
LIKE THEY’RE GETTING MUCH
community as we experience
OUT OF CHURCH ANYMORE?
Christ in one another.
Keep meeting together with
God’s presence is ubiquitous
other members of the body of
enough to meet you in your
Christ. Whether you believe
place of need. Keep stewarding
this about yourself or not, you
your gifts, even when you don’t
reflect a part of God’s character
feel like you’re getting much, so
to other people.
other people don’t miss out on
Church was never meant to be a spiritual buffet enjoyed in
what God wants to accomplish through you.
STEPHA NIE GR A N A DA is a freelance writer based in Seattle, where she lives with her dog, Jack.
KB WANTS TO CHANGE H I P-HO P Meet Christian hip-hopâ€™s new rebel-in-chief.
TO DAY W E R EB EL
KB’s third studio album is
Always a dissenter, KB’s story began in
a bold takedown of both
a rough neighborhood in St. Petersburg,
Florida, where drugs and violence were a
and white evangelical
part of daily life.
Lit that’s immeasurable, new intellectual, BY A N D R E H E N RY
yeah / I was the Oreo; I was the Oreo comin’ up / Told ‘em, “At least I’ma get my degree,” he raps on the song “Monster,” alluding to his aspirations to break out of the hood. Again, he uses another intentionally
all mankind,” he explains. “When He comes and does good, it affects everyone. That
loaded turn-of-phrase: “Oreo” is a pejorative
means if I, as an American, am experiencing
that kids use against black kids who “act
a freedom and a sort of goodness that my
white,” that is, they live outside of black
neighbors in Syria or Iraq or any given
stereotypes by doing anything from listening
country are not, then we, as a human race,
to classical music to wanting to pursue
are in trouble.” For him, rebellion is also bigger than
higher education. Young KB was guilty of both as an honor
identity politics and partisan affiliations.
student and concert trumpeter who enrolled
“Your allegiance does not belong to your
in Trinity College at the age of 16 to earn
nation,” he says. “It does not belong to your
a degree in theology. Bible college is also
political identity. It belongs to the Kingdom
where KB founded the hip-hop group His
Glory Alone (HGA) with fellow spiritually
Even though his words convey that the
minded rappers. They eventually caught the
endgame of rebellion is unity, it doesn’t
defiant Kevin Burgess, better known as “KB,”
interest of Lecrae and earned a spot on the
mean the journey there will always be
announces over the glass-rattling bombast
roster at Reach Records.
pleasant. KB spits some uncomfortable
of “DNOU (Don’t Nobody Own Us),” Radio
Since then, KB has consistently pushed
truths on this album. His boldest, most rebellious moment
hasn’t bought this / Way, way too exhausted /
back on the expectations of mainstream hip-
to tap-dance for your profits.
hop and evangelical Christian subculture,
comes in a takedown of Christian white
earning a sizable following in the process
supremacy on the song “New Portrait.”
Those unaware of the history of minstrelsy may miss the racially charged
(his recent releases have more than 20
historical reference stitched into those bars:
million spins on Spotify).
How can an African like me get the vision / When these preachers owned slaves / But taught that freedom was Christian? he raps.
It’s a callback to a racist and dehumanizing form of American entertainment from the
CHANGING THE CONVERSATION
19th century that depicted black people as
KB believes that rebellious conversations
of chilling creedal proportion: Brown Middle
thick-headed buffoons who tap-danced for
about faith and justice begin with personal
Eastern, definitely wasn’t white / ... committed
the enjoyment of white audiences.
His life to a interracial bride / ... God of the
Then he responds with a verse about Jesus
oppressed, even in it, He still thrives.
KB is pulling no punches. Even if he has
He says it begins with “understanding
to make some people uncomfortable while
that justice and compassion are a part of
doing so, he’s on a mission to change the way
the character of God—His heart for those
“Peace is not merely the absence of tension,
Christians talk about faith and justice.
who are hurting, those who are broken,
but the presence of justice.”
“Our lives should be reflections of the
those who are experiencing injustice and
character of God, which is where I think
oppression—spending lots of time on that,
a lot of this conversation has to start,” he
letting that get deep into who we are.”
explains. “When we talk about race or injustice on every level, [we care about it because] it is not a reflection of who our God is. He is a just God.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that
On his album Today We Rebel, KB boldly insists on the latter. No tap-dancing.
In that way, the righteous insurgency he intends to lead is as spiritual as it is societal. “One thing I wanted to make very clear on this album is that Jesus is the Savior of
A NDRE HENRY is the managing editor of RELEVANT. Follow him on Twitter @andrehenry.
S Christians need to change the conversation about privilege in our nation.
BY J E M A R T I S BY
SAY Say a space alien teleports into a classroom on a college campus. “Greetings,” he says to the
Conversations about privilege
The key to understanding
to her racial status.
“As far as I can tell, my
almost always elicit strong
privilege is realizing these traits
stunned students. “I’m interested
are not earned. They are usually
friends and acquaintances
in studying life on your world
to guilt and confusion.
present because of someone’s
with whom I come into daily
birth and circumstance.
or frequent contact in this
and want to stay here a while.” Then he asks a question. “I
The volatility of the topic
makes exercises like this helpful
Usually when people hear
particular time, place and time
want to enjoy my time here, so
in spurring dialogue that
the word “privilege” it is affixed
of work cannot count on most
what features should I have to
wouldn’t happen otherwise.
with the adjective “white”
of these conditions,” McIntosh
be successful on your planet?”
They can help create new
before it, but there are kinds of
awareness about the way society
privilege that go beyond race. In
answers. “You should be tall.
functions and how benefits are
a society that statistically favors
You need to speak English. You
unequally distributed among
men, someone’s gender can be a
national heritage or about
have to go to a good college. You
different groups of people.
privilege. Inherited wealth can
‘civilization,’ I am shown that
be a privilege. In America, being
people of my color made it what
WHAT IS PRIVILEGE?
a Christian (a religious majority)
by Christina Edmondson,
In their book on counseling and
can be a form of privilege.
Dean of Intercultural Student
cultural diversity, Counseling
Development at Calvin College.
the Culturally Diverse, Derald
composed one of the most well-
minority communities, “I am
Wing Sue and David Sue
known explanations of privilege.
never asked to speak for all the
process the activity by asking
explain that privilege means
“I was taught to see racism only
people of my racial group.”
them questions such as what it
possessing certain traits that are
in individual acts of meanness,
would mean to be the opposite
considered more desirable in
not in invisible systems
was white, “I can worry about
of what they just described and
a certain community and thus,
conferring dominance on my
racism without being seen as
whether the alien would then be
give a person easy access to the
group,” she wrote. McIntosh
self-interested or self-seeking.”
at a disadvantage.
rewards of that community.
then composed a list of things
The students begin to toss out
should be a man.”
So begins an activity led
Edmondson helps students
“It sounds to me like there’s a privileged way to be,”
As Edmondson describes it, “Privilege is unearned social
In 1988, Peggy McIntosh
Some examples include:
“When I am told about our
She also explained that unlike
some prominent members of
She added that because she
Although written almost
that she, as a white person, had
30 years ago, the examples
the “privilege” of assuming due
remain relevant today. Putting
the culture and norms of white
afford health insurance or find
people at the center of society
employment and adequate
brings advantages that people of
educational options, in the same
color do not have.
way people of color do.
THE TROUBLE WITH PRIVILEGE
mean white people don’t
There are some white people
struggle. Rather, it says that in
(though they are few) who
all those struggles, race was not
would readily acknowledge that
an additional obstacle.
PRI V ILEGE D OES N’T ME A N W HITE PEO PLE D O N’T STRUG GLE. R ATHER, IT S AYS R ACE WA S N OT A N A D DITIO N AL O B STACLE.
Privilege, however, doesn’t
racial minorities face certain
“White privilege doesn’t
obstacles. But the majority of
mean your life isn’t hard,” Ken
white people struggle to concede
Wytsma writes in his book, The
that they—being a majority
Myth of Equality. “It means that
group—may have an easier time
if you are a person of color,
maneuvering in society.
simply by virtue of that, your life
White people experience poverty; they endure chronic illnesses; they struggle to
might be harder.” Others often object to the concept of “privilege” because
of its origins. Privilege, they say,
don’t like or don’t like the way
comes from a secular mindset.
they make us feel.”
It’s not a term found in the Bible,
For people of color, though,
therefore, Christians should not
white racial privilege is an
use it. Wytsma argues believers
everyday reality. Recent data
OF WHITE PEOPLE
can employ the term, though.
from the Pew Research Center
S AY T H E Y B E N E F I T
accurate terminology for
of white people say they benefit
something,” he says. “And if that
from advantages black people
F R O M A D VA N TA G E S
terminology is getting confused,
do not have, 92 percent of black
then we need to go back to the
people say white people gain
T H AT B L A C K
roots of the word and strongly
benefits due to their race.
PEOPLE DO N O T H AV E .
“I’m a fan of using the most
define what we mean by it.” Alexander Jun, a professor of
shows that while only 46 percent
This difference is even more pronounced along partisan lines.
higher education and co-author
Among those who are Democrat
of the book White Out, agrees.
or lean Democrat, 78 percent
He wonders if the painful
say white people benefit from
feelings the concept of privilege
their skin color. Only 27 percent
evokes may play a role in some
of Republicans or Republican-
Christians rejecting the word.
leaning people agree.
“Perhaps it is just part of
our sinful human nature to
WHAT TO DO ABOUT PRIVILEGE
attribute negative meaning to
What can be done about
certain terms in order to justify
privilege? A first step may
the removal of words we either
simply be to mourn. “We need
to lament the past sufferings before trying to fix them—or
Or you could work in your
else we’ll never feel or truly
school or organization to
empathize with the human toll,”
make sure power is equitably
distributed among people of
The Bible admonishes believers to weep with those
diverse backgrounds. involved, one key piece of
weight of the grief of racism can
advice: “Don’t get overwhelmed
create a burden to change the
by the fact that you can’t fix it
all,” Edmondson says.
P E O P L E S AY WHITE PEOPLE
But it’s not just about
people with privilege should
stewarding privilege for the
leverage their advantages for
benefit of others. Christians
the good of those who do not
should also lay down their
have such privileges. “We should
privileges for the sake of
reframe our perspectives, and
righteousness and justice.
use the term to acknowledge
However you choose to get
who weep, and feeling the
Another response is that
to find alternative consequences.
GAIN BENEFITS DUE TO THEIR RACE.
Just as Jesus emptied Himself
that we have it, not so that we
to become a human being and
would feel guilt or shame, but
save those who believe in Him,
to leverage it for good. To whom
believers should release their
much is given, much will be
social advantages, often due to
required,” says Jun.
sinful realities like racism and
offers to sinners. If Christians
embrace solidarity with the
can accept the idea that they
unwieldy as privilege can seem
marginalized (Philippians 2:1-8).
have done nothing to earn
impossible. How can one person
Admittedly, this process can
Tackling an issue as
God’s gift of the Gospel, then the
or even a group of people
be agonizing for those who
concept of unearned advantages
change what an entire society
have social privileges. Learning
may be easier to grasp.
values and how it treats people?
that people can unintentionally
While such effective movements
benefit from racism or other
is purely good. “We merited
are rare, that doesn’t mean
forms of oppression can upend
nothing, but are saved by grace
Christians are powerless in the
one’s perception of the world.
alone by faith alone,” Wytsma
face of privilege.
This is why addressing it must
explains.” In that way, we ought
be done in community.
to celebrate and acknowledge
If you are committed to
But God’s grace in Christ
undoing injustice, it helps
“It’s not easy for people to
to start small. The experts
experience life getting more
only by the merits of the death
recommend focusing on a
complicated or difficult without
and resurrection of our savior
specific issue or topic where
someone mentoring, teaching
you can practice self-sacrificial
or coaching them through it,”
For example, you could be
the privilege of election, earned
It is this grace that frees believers to surrender any social benefits they may have due to
part of discussions about health
PRIVILEGE AND GRACE
race, wealth, education, location
disparities and how infant
The Christian understanding
or any other factor.
mortality rates are higher for
of grace helps dismantle the
African-American babies. You
various injustices caused by all
believers count others as better
could observe what’s happening
forms of privilege.
than themselves. In this context,
in your local school district
Christian community is where
social privilege loses its appeal
around suspension rates for
comes to believers through
and the only true privilege
students of color and join efforts
Christ and the salvation He
comes from serving others.
JEM AR TISBY leads “The Witness,” a black Christian collective of activists.
THE SECOND COMING OF
Russell Brand Fifteen years after embracing sobriety, he’s now talking about how culture can stop its destructive patterns: by following Jesus.
BY JESSE CAREY
y personal feeling is the teachings of Christ are more relevant now than they’ve ever been.” If you have even a surface-level knowledge of comedian, actor, writer and allaround provocateur Russell Brand, this is a shocking statement. Though in recent years he’s become more and more vocal about social justice issues, for much of his career, Brand has been known for his uniquely raunchy brand of shock comedy (This is the guy who once brought his drug dealer to work with him when he was an MTV VJ.). He continues: “When stripped of the cultural inflection of the time when it was first written and is variously being translated, there is an undeniable truth.” Yes, Russell Brand, that Russell Brand, believes the world needs Jesus’ message now more than ever. It’s something he thinks a lot about. Brand feels the world is profoundly broken. Technology, pop culture and social media have accelerated the worst impulses of human nature, and, in his view, never has there been a time in history that humanity has more desperately needed the message of Jesus. “There’s a famous quote: ‘Every man who knocks on a brothel door, he’s looking for God,’” he says. “Crack houses and these dens of suffering and elicit activity, they’re all people trying to feel good, try-
ing to feel connected. People are trying to escape. People are trying to get out of their own heads. To me, this is a spiritual impetus.” This is at the core of why he believes the message of Jesus Christ is so important right now: Humanity is (metaphorically), knocking on a brothel door, in that they are looking for fulfillment in things that will only leave them empty. And because instant, but quickly fleeting, gratification is always at our fingertips—Amazon Prime, Instagram likes, pornography, text messages and other modern trappings—we have become addicted. And addiction is something Brand knows a lot about. In his new book, Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions, Brand not only further delves into his own struggles with addictions to drugs, sex, alcohol, food and fame, but also how he’s found a pathway to healing. Recently, this journey has taken a surprising turn. Brand now feels the answer to breaking out of this vicious cycle—not just as an individual struggling to get clean from drugs, but as a culture—is a spiritual one. It’s one he thinks can be found in Jesus. A CHARACTER WE ALL KNOW
For many Americans, their first introduction to the comedy stylings of Russell Brand was the 2008 hit comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall. In the film—and subsequent
“My personal feeling is that the teachings of Christ are more relevant now than they’ve ever been.”
spinoff Get Him to the Greek—Brand plays a famous, constantly philosophizing British rock star known for dating a famous American celebrity and going sober after years of drug-fueled antics. In other words, there’s a lot of similarities to the real-life Brand, who was famously married to pop star Katy Perry for about two years in 2009. But before becoming an American movie star, Brand was a well-known celebrity in the U.K., famous for his controversial stand-up comedy, being an MTV VJ, serving as the host of the reality show Big Brother’s Big Mouth,
but as a way of seeing the world. The experience radical-
hosting his own radio and TV talk shows and acting in
ly changed him, and he’s since become an advocate for
various popular series.
what’s known as the 12-step program, an addiction recov-
He was also known for struggling with drug addiction,
ery method based largely on Christian principles that is
often in extremely public fashion. He’d become a fixture
centered on a reliance on a higher power, self-reflection
of British tabloids, and in his darkest moments, would
even cut himself. In the years since Brand has gotten clean, he has written openly about his troubled upbringing and becoming addicted to alcohol, hard drugs and sex. Fifteen years ago, he decided something in his life needed to change.
The program transformed Brand’s life. And in the years since he discovered it, Brand began to see everything through the lens of the 12 steps. “I’ve been in recovery from drugs and alcohol for 14 and a half years,” he explains. “The longer I’ve been clean
Already having been arrested a dozen times for
from drugs and alcohol, the more I’ve noticed that [our]
drug-related incidents, Brand was caught shooting up
own addiction—and perhaps addiction in general—is af-
heroin in the bathroom during an office Christmas party
fecting our behavior in ways that we wouldn’t previously
by his agent, who knew that Brand’s life was now legiti-
mately at risk. After an intervention orchestrated by his agent, Brand embraced recovery—not just as a means of getting clean,
A SOBER VIEW OF THINGS
The 12-step program takes time, because ultimately, it
isn’t about changing behavior, it’s about changing oneself. The first three steps are based on the ability to recognize the depths of our own circumstances and to begin to understand how we can free ourselves from them. “We admitted that we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable,” he says. “We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” Brand explains the steps in more modern—more profane—terms, essentially, getting “unf***ed up.” The program caused him to think about the powerlessness people have over their addictions if they refuse to recognize the depths of their own brokenness—even if the addictions aren’t drugs or substances. “Everything we do can be colored by this unconscious belief that we can make ourselves feel better with external stuff, be it behavior or chemicals,” he says. “So what I’ve kind of come across mentally is that either we are working an unconscious program or a conscious program. So if we’re not consciously running a program, we’re running on the unconscious program of our past and of our culture. That’s what I wanted to understand an alternative to.” Essentially, Brand believes that instant-gratification culture has led to a culture of addicts, and the 12 steps— which include things like “humbly [asking] God to remove our shortcomings,” “making a list of all persons we had harmed and [being] willing to make amends to them all” and “… [seeking] to improve our conscious contact with God as we [have] understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out—can help free people.” However, when he was first introduced to the program—by an atheist, ironically—he had one problem: all of the religious talk. He was known as a bohemian cultural figure with a taste for dirty jokes, and the whole “God” thing didn’t seem natural. So, instead of becoming traditionally “religious,” he changed how he thought about religion. “My understanding of what religion means altered,” he explains. “Because when I think about the aim, the purpose of religion, I think it becomes—when you put aside the social institutions that spring up around religions in all their strains and various forms of strands—I believe that the purpose of religion is love and connection, to feel connected to one another and to feel at ease with who we are … a kind of oneness, a kind of wholeness. So, as I began to understand that, this sort of superficial language of religion seemed less relevant.” It took a while, but after stripping away the “superficial language of religion,” Brand decided to connect with the
higher power at the root of the 12 steps. Brand became fascinated with spirituality as a way of escaping the pull of physical vices, and his struggles with addiction—and their root causes—framed his way of viewing faith. “My route to spirituality comes through addiction, so it comes from desperation and fear and this sort of defeat, destruction, annihilation of self in a very humiliating way, I suppose,” he explains. “So, I had no choice but to embrace spiritual life, but now I am grateful for this. It makes sense of my life.” Brand realized that cultivating a spiritual life could help free himself from the strongholds of addictions by treating the root causes of the pain he’d attempted to dull with drugs. And being raised in the U.K.—a traditionally Christian country—he turned to the Christianity. He began implementing spiritual practices every day. “Because I come from a Christian culture, a lot of the language of prayer that I use is Christian,” he explains. “I say the Lord’s Prayer every day. I try to connect to what those words mean. I connect to what the Father means. I connect to what wholeness means to me. I think about the relationship between forgiveness and being forgiven and the impossibility of redemption until you are willing to forgive and let go.” The practice of embracing spirituality, prayer and digging into the teachings of Christ has helped keep him on the path to personal recovery. But while discovering his own unique spiritual path, he also uncovered a message that could be the key to transforming culture. RECOVERING THE WORLD
Brand says reciting the Lord’s Prayer made him start thinking about what Jesus really meant by the words. One phrase in particular began to jump out at him: “Thy kingdom come … on Earth as it is in Heaven.” What does that idea mean for a world crippled by addiction to superficial fulfillment? “I think continually about what Christ meant by the afterlife,” he explains. “And for me, it’s that when you are disavowed of the illusion that the material will fulfill you, you enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven is spread upon the Earth.” He references Jesus’ command to the rich young ruler in Matthew 19 who asks, “What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” Brand says, referencing Christ’s response, “Give away all your possessions and follow me—that’s a pretty radical thing.” Brand says the reason why this idea is so radical is because it strikes at the core of the values so many people secretly hold: that money and materialism can cure our unhappiness. “I think the reason that the economic arguments Christ offered are not promoted is because they are deeply at odds with the way we live,” he explains.
got a wife and a child and live in a capitalistic society and would just be vulnerable and exposed and torn up by reality. But no, of course, the spiritual perspective is, ‘No, you would be carried there by grace.’”
“Unless Christ is right here, right now, in your heart ... then what is Christ?”
Brand frequently interjects that he’s “not a theologian,” and, at times, has trouble remembering specific Scripture references or using typical “Christian” language. But after studying religions and writings from across the philosophical spectrum, the teachings of Jesus have helped him understand modern cultural addictions—and how to free ourselves from them—in much deeper ways. One of these ways is, in his words, seeking “Christ consciousness”—a concept that Paul refers to as, and many Christians would call, achieving “the mind of Christ.” Essentially, becoming more Christ-like ourselves. “If Christ consciousness is not accessible to us, then what is the point of the story of Jesus, you know?” he asks rhetorically. “He’s just a sort of a scriptural rock star, just an icon. Unless Christ is right here, right now, in your heart, in your consciousness, then what is Christ?” To Brand, this is key to not only changing a person struggling with addictions, but also to recovering a culture. It must be a spiritual change; a change of values. “I do think a spiritual and transcendent change is required for people to be free from addiction,” he says. “And by spiritual change, I mean the transition from one’s life being predicated on self-fulfillment to a life predicated on service, which for me is a moment-to-moment struggle.” Fifteen years ago, Brand embraced sobriety and started a journey to learn about why he sought relief through drugs, sex, alcohol and fame. Today, he sees a world that suffers from the same addictions on a cultural level. And after exploring faith, the teachings of Jesus have
Instead of focusing on unhealthy patterns centered on
led to a revelation: The Kingdom of God can be ushered
self-fulfillment, the message of the Gospel offers an alter-
in on Earth, but only if we free ourselves from all of the
native: caring for others and helping those in need.
trappings that distract us from it—the same ones Jesus
“I’ve seen in many formats now—because I’ve played
Himself warned us about.
out the same pattern many times—the attachment to
For Brand, attempting to do that is what recovery is all
physical things, physical behaviors or people, will never
about. It may seem like a difficult task, but perhaps his
make me happy,” he explains. “But service of others and
most profound revelation is that it is not something that
values that are certainly found in Christianity will make
should be attempted alone. A higher power is here to help.
me feel peace or make me feel happy. It’s a lesson that’s very hard to learn.”
When asked about taking the first step to recovery, Brand, a man who has thought about recovery every day
The reason he says the lesson is hard to learn is because
for more than a decade, offers this advice for those want-
even when people are free from drugs and alcohol, there’s
ing to get clean spiritually and physically: “Admit you
always the pull of a society focused on self-gratification
have a problem. Believe it’s possible to change, and ask
instead of selflessness. That struggle—consistently ques-
Him for help. Invite Him in … Capital H’s, of course.”
tioning our attachment to material things instead of eter-
nal ones—is the tension of a journey to actual recovery. “I question what would happen,” he says. “‘Russell, if you had the strength of character to give up everything and just live in the service of love? Would you?’ I sort of rationalize why I don’t do that. I don’t have to. I can’t. I’ve
JESSE CAREY is the brand director at RELEVANT. You can find him on Twitter @jessecarey.
T H E H O N E S T B R I L L I A N C E
JES S IE
WA R E
How motherhood, her fans and Ed Sheeran helped her embrace honesty.
BY SETH JAM ES
“I don’t think I’ve been losing my mind,”
and Glasshouse is no exception. But this
Jessie Ware jokes while reflecting on
time around, not only did Ware’s well of
the buildup to the release of her hyper-
inspiration grow even deeper, but her music
anticipated new album, Glasshouse. “But
also got a lot more honest.
it feels like this kind of thing that, you’re working toward a date, and it feels really
bizarre and unreal.”
Ware became a mother while recording
If she seems flustered, it might be because
transformed her in ways both expected and
nothing new for the singer—she’s spent the
unexpected. Far from creating newer and
last five years as one of the more up-and-
harder demands on her artistic life, she felt
coming of pop’s up-and-coming stars.
energized to start creating again.
“Now [the album] is here, and it reminds
“I think actually that my brain being so
you why we do this,” she says. “It feels like
scattered and having to think about a lot of
a celebration ... Just to be in touch with the
different things, this became a place where
fans, with them tweeting me. It feels like
I could go to fix my head a little,” she says
reality now, not just a hypothetical release
of the recording studio. “That was kind of
date, you know what I mean?”
an escape for me too, but behind that was a
Well, no. Ware is in a rare state of creative energy, and not many people could really relate to her process. That’s how she’s able to release such consistently excellent music,
parts of Glasshouse, an experience she says
Ware’s schedule is stacked. Though that’s
fierce drive to make it work.” Instead of distracting from her passion as an artist, the new stage in life galvanized it. “I think I’ve got more of a reason now to
GL AS SH O U S E Ware is inviting listeners to a new level of intimacy, in a way only she can.
be an artist,” she says. “I’ve got somebody to kind of impress and inspire. I want to show [my daughter] that if you work hard, things pay off. I think my work ethic is far more driven and focused since I have a baby.” NICEHOUSE
That work ethic shows, as Glasshouse is, in many ways, Ware’s most successful effort yet. It mixes the tempered patience her fans have come to know her for with a newfound bracing of honesty that feels like a relief after a career built on tension. It’s so honest, in fact, that Ware admits she was a little hesitant to record one song, “Sam.” It took the encouragement of her writing partner, pop superstar Ed Sheeran, to talk her into it. “He kind of settled me by just saying, ‘I think if it makes you feel uncomfortable it’s a good thing, and people haven’t heard you speak like this before, so maybe take the risk and see how it happens,’” she remembers. “I think that risk has actually paid off. I think people—from what I’ve gathered—enjoy hearing something a bit more personal and more direct.” She’s right. “Sam” is one of the greatest achievements in Ware’s career, and points to a new, thrilling direction. With her first two albums, Ware felt like an artist on the rise. With Glasshouse, it seems like she’s here to stay—a confident artist who has come into her own. But Ware’s real fans know she’s earned her new sense of confidence. “They’ve been there from the start,” Ware says. “They’re ready to ride or die. I’d like to think that my music invites the kind of people that I’d like to hang out with. They’re really fun, my crowd, and we have real laughs at shows. I give a lot of myself in my shows. Maybe that’s made them devoted.”
SETH JA MES is a music writer who lives in the Hollywood Hills with his family.
Meet some of the faith communities breaking the mold of what it means to be a church.
you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a hundred times: “We don’t do church the same old way here.” It seems to be a statement memorized
CREATING A COMMUNITY HUB
IMPACT CHURCH: ATLANTA, GA
Impact Church’s slogan is “Doing Church Differently,” and they’ve worked hard to earn
by most aspiring church planters and trumpeted with
it by creating a church that puts more focus on the other
pride from the stage. You know, the stage—the same
six days of the week than they do on Sunday mornings.
stage with the same artsy decor, led by the same cool
With Pastor Olu Brown at the helm, Impact has become
white guy pastor with skinny jeans, Warby Parkers and
one of the fastest-growing churches in the United States,
a bit of scruff just before he launches into the same
and they’ve done it all while maintaining a commitment
Sunday morning programming.
to improving the lives of their
Now, none of this is bad. In fact, a lot of it is really good. Churches can accomplish a lot using tried-and-
congregants inside and outside their walls.
true models, and utilizing tested programming isn’t necessarily laziness—it might be called smart. So where are the churches truly doing something
In addition to offering Bible studies, Impact fosters communities to teach things like
different? We wanted to highlight some trailblazing faith
financial responsibility, dating
communities rethinking what church can look like in a
advice and even estate planning.
modern context, whether in terms of how they engage
The next stage in their
their members, how they reach out to their communities
journey is refurbishing a
or how they champion justice. Some of them are big and
warehouse into an eco-friendly space that will serve
well-funded, some of them are small and struggling, but
not just as a church, but also a sort of community
all of them are setting a new bar for what church can be.
center. The new space will feature hygiene centers for Atlanta’s homeless population, after-school programs for area youth, office space to serve as incubators for
startup businesses, a community garden and creative
CONNECTING IMMIGRANT FAMILIES
NACO CHRISTIAN CHURCH / IGLESIA CRISTIANA DE NACO: NACO, AZ
Naco Christian Church is one church with one pastor in two different locations—with a large, taxpayer-funded fence between them. The church is just a few blocks
programming and coding classes.
LEAVING THE BUILDING
WE ARE CHURCH:
SAN FRANCISCO, CA
In 2013, famed author Francis Chan stepped
from the Mexican border and
away from his huge church platform to try something
offers services on both sides
very different: a church planting network with no
of it. There’s an early-morning
building, no overhead and
service in Naco, Arizona,
minimal structure. It’s called We
followed by one just across the
Are Church, and it’s made up
border in Naco, Mexico, later in
entirely of small communities
that meet in homes. The rules
The church is pastored by
are straightforward: Each
Jesse Wood, while his wife
home has two unpaid pastors
Jessica works as the church’s
and members are placed
children’s coordinator. They’re a binational couple,
within a church in their local
making them uniquely fit to lead a church that serves
two different cultures. And the church is no gimmick. By
With no building costs and no paid staff, the entirety
operating close to the border, Naco Christian Church is a
of church tithes and donations can be spent on
lifeline between children and their parents who’ve been
charitable work, missions, relief aid and other causes
deported back to Mexico.
the various house churches find meaningful. There’s
also less fear of trying something new or different, since
that transcends nominal lip
there’s so little overhead and, therefore, virtually zero
service to “diversity” to offer
a truly radical integrated
community of people who
depict something that more
CROSSOVER BIBLE CHURCH:
closely approximates what the
actual body of Christ might
Crossover Bible Church isn’t just a church; it’s
look like rather than the usual
a nonprofit organization. Actually, it’s four nonprofit
organizations, a dream brought to reality by two men in
The church has doubled down on its focus on
two different fields who found their visions overlapped.
combating racism since the events in Ferguson, Missouri,
The Rev. Philip Abode was a pastor who wanted to plant
in 2014. Cho was deeply moved by the death of Mike
a church in North Tulsa that would have a real impact
Brown and what he perceived as the Christian Church’s
on the impoverished area. He
lack of compassion about the realities of systemic racial
met up with Justin Pickard,
injustice in modern America.
a Harvard graduate who had a vision of a housing and economic revival in North Tulsa. The two realized they could do more together than separate, and out of that partnership
HOUSING DALLAS’ HOMELESS
CHURCH OF THE INCARNATION: DALLAS, TX
This Anglican church has been around for
Crossover Bible Church and its
a long time, but its approach to ministering to one of
affiliate Crossover Community
Texas’ larger cities has remained cutting edge for every
Impact was born.
one of its more than 100 years. Under the leadership of
Crossover Community Impact operates four
the Rev. Anthony J. Burton, the
different LLCs (limited liability companies). There’s
church has set the bar for what
Crossover Sports Association, which runs after-school
it looks like for a church to take
sports programs. There’s a family medical clinic
Jesus’ concern for the homeless
called Crossover Health Services. There’s a housing
development nonprofit called Crossover Development
Whether it’s volunteering at a
Company, and Crossover Preparatory Academy, a private,
nearby home for the low-income
tuition-free all-boys school. By minimizing the scope
elderly or cooking hot meals for
of their reach (if you’re going to work for the church,
a nearby shelter, there are few
you have to live in the neighborhood—no exceptions),
ways the Church of the Incarnation isn’t involved in local
Crossover has deepened the extent of their impact.
homeless work. Maybe most notable is their Incarnation House, an area for homeless teens and teens in unstable
housing situations. Incarnation House provides a real,
TAKING AIM AT RACISM
concrete place for teenagers without anywhere else to
QUEST CHURCH: SEATTLE, WA
go, and provides them with physical, educational and
Eugene Cho was already a rising pastor, author
spiritual resources to take the next step.
and speaker when the aging, mostly white
congregation of Interbay Covenant Church agreed to merge with the young, mostly Asian-American congregation of Quest Church, gifting them a large, upscale debt-free building in the process. The church had the usual generational bickering at first—arguments over the volume of the music and the type of food
DEVIN JONES is a freelance writer who lives in Denver with his wife and daughter.
served at potlucks—but what’s emerged is a new vision for a multi-ethnic church in the United States, one
When Life Isn’t Going as ‘Planned’ Pastor and author Chad Veach looks at what happens when things don’t work out like we thought they would.
BY JESSICA STEPHENS
rowse the Christian aisle
WE’VE GOTTEN WRONG?
at any bookstore or look
I think the easiest way to simplify [it] is
at sermon titles from big-
to say, “Stop holding on to your history at
name pastors and there’s
the expense of your destiny.”
a good chance you’ll find
So many people are holding on to their
some of the following words: purpose,
past and are rehearsing things that God
forgot about a long time ago. So they’re
Many Christians are taught God has a
punishing themselves for things, and
unique plan for their lives and a purpose
God is like, “I will remember your sins
just for them.
But after moving to L.A. (a place he
I don’t think that God has a plan B for
calls a “city of broken dreams”) to plant
any of our lives. He’s not on the fly like,
Zoe Church a few years ago, Chad Veach
“You messed that up, so now I have to
realized that many Christians have come
change my plans.”
to a place in life where they believe they missed that plan. Veach wrestles with the question of what happens when things aren’t going
God has a plan no matter what we do. God has a plan no matter what our behavior or sin or failure is. It doesn’t change His heart toward our lives.
as planned in his new book Faith Forward Future. It’s a question anyone whose life
FOR SOMEONE WHO THINKS THEY
didn’t pan out like they thought it would
REALLY MESSED UP AND THAT IT’S TOO
has likely found themselves asking.
LATE, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO THEM?
We recently spoke with Veach about what the Bible says about our individu-
I don’t think any of us can go too far out or too far away from God’s grace.
al callings, what to do if we’ve veered off
I heard someone say that God’s view
of God’s plan for our lives and the mis-
doesn’t change the way He sees your life,
conceptions too many Christians believe
but people’s opinion, that’s what chang-
about their “callings.”
es. We hold so much weight on what man sees and their opinion, so we think God
YOU’VE RECENTLY EMBRACED A
feels the same. But He doesn’t.
MESSAGE THAT CHALLENGES WHAT
It doesn’t matter how far you’ve
MANY CHRISTIANS BELIEVE ABOUT
gone—God [stayed] faithful to Peter
PURPOSE AND CALLING. WHAT IS IT THAT
when he [denied] Him.
“I don’t think that God has a plan B for any of our lives.”
God did not do that. We live in our own
out of my cynicism, out of my failure.
fallen universe. We live in a world with
What is the future? None of us know,
a sinful nature and free will. That’s why
and the future could change.
the hope of heaven is such a great idea.
The plan is not doctor, lawyer, teach-
There’s no more sickness or sorrow or
er, pastor. It’s not. The plan is in His Son.
And the adventure in that takes faith
We calm fear by declaring who God
is in His word and His promises. And
I think it’s hard for us to wrap our mind around the idea that in spite of how bad I am, God still loves me and has a plan for my life.
everyone goes, “Oh yeah, God said this
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST REVELATION
would happen. Oh, right, this is not my
YOU HAD THROUGHOUT THE PROCESS?
home. I’m going to be good.” That’s the
I couldn’t stop this thought: God really
comfort, and that’s what God does. He
has a plan for every single person.
revives us. He said His Word will heal us. It’s a lamp unto our feet in the midst of dark-
The more I studied it, the more I understood that the gifts and callings of God are irreversible.
The majority of people are not con-
ness. That is our greater citizenship. I
We think that we messed up God’s
vinced that there’s greatness on their
think right now we have an opportuni-
plan, so surely He can’t still be com-
life. I don’t think a lot of people are feel-
ty to get people’s hopes up to a greater
mitted to us, but the more I study these
ing like they’re called to do these great
place. This is not our home.
Scriptures, the more I realize that God
things for God. That’s why you have to go to God. And once you have a relation-
If we don’t have those truths, then
is so committed to our lives even when
people get very lost.
we’re in our worst place.
eyes a little bit, and you start to see that
IT SEEMS LIKE THE REASON A LOT
for most people here in L.A., they’re like,
you can actually make a difference in
OF PEOPLE HAVE TROUBLE WITH THE
“This is not what I envisioned. This is
other people’s lives and that He wants
IDEA OF GOD’S PLAN FOR THEIR LIFE
not what I planned. It’s broken.”
to do something in and through you.
IS BECAUSE THEY THINK THE PLAN IS
ship with God, He starts to open your
Ephesians 3:20 [talks about] the idea
I live in a city of broken dreams. And
A DESTINATION. CAN YOU EVER REALLY
I think that’s a huge space for God to walk in and say, “I’ve got a better plan.”
that God is able to do things exceeding-
BE OUT OF HIS PLAN?
ly and abundantly—far above anything
That’s just it. We see “plan” as destina-
a man have in his heart, but the Lord di-
we could ask, think or imagine.
tion, geography, occupation. It’s not.
rects his steps.” I get excited that some-
Most people can’t imagine or think
The only way to discover God’s plan is
that God uses ordinary people to do ex-
through following His Son, Jesus. And as
you follow, His plan unfolds—that was
Proverbs 16:9 says, “Many plans does
one could say, “OK, I made it. I’m going follow Jesus and see what happens.”
one thing that became very evident. The WHEN WE READ ABOUT TERRIBLE THINGS HAPPENING IN THE WORLD
We think the plan is an office with a
THAT SEEM LIKE THEY ARE OUTSIDE
corner view or X amount of money or
OF GOD’S PLAN, PEOPLE START
X amount of followers. No. God’s plan is
QUESTIONING WHY GOD WOULD ALLOW
His Son. So that’s why we need faith and
SOMETHING LIKE IT TO HAPPEN. WHAT
Jesus to move forward.
WOULD YOUR RESPONSE BE?
ultimate plan is just following His Son.
Jesus called me out of my addiction,
JESSICA STEPHENS is a freelance writer living in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her terrier, Buffalo.
HOW TO DECONSTRUCT YO U R FA I T H WITHOUT LOSING IT S A R A H M I K E
B E S S E Y ,
M C H A R G U E
R I C H A R D F A I T H
R O H R
B E G I N S
A N D O N
F A T H E R
W H Y
W I T H
R E A L
D O U B T .
BY TYLER HUCKABEE
“My husband and I had lost one
these questions without really
structure in their community
of our children before birth,”
We’re talking about a process
says Sarah Bessey, author
Every now and then, she’d
So says Mike McHargue,
of Jesus Feminist and Out of
feel doubt like a brush of cold
academic term for the
broadly known as “Science
Sorts. “And the experience of
fingers in her soul, but she
systematic pulling apart of the
Mike” to fans who relate to his
walking through that meant I
successfully avoided facing them
belief system you were raised
“Christian turned atheist turned
didn’t really have the option to
in. It’s what happens when the
follower of Jesus” journey.
questions you’ve pushed down
McHargue started blogging
choose the intellectual spiritual
“I think the thicket of
dishonesty of pretending that I
questions, doubts, problems
your whole life finally bubble
about his experience online and
and wondering were all well
over the surface, and you’re
was surprised at the response.
and fine until I actually started
forced to stare honestly at your
she hadn’t been fine for quite
experiencing grief on a really
doubts. The infallibility of the
of emails a month from people
some time, even before her
personal level,” she says.
Bible. The omniscience of God.
saying, ‘I’m experiencing that,’”
The finality of hell.
he says. “And then I started
The truth, Bessey says, is that
tragic miscarriage. She’d felt some questions
The devastation held her face to her doubts, and she realized
This is all more common
“I started getting hundreds
podcasting and then I got
bubbling up in her faith—the
the system of beliefs she had was
than you might think. “There
thousands of emails a month.
sort of questions good Christians
no longer adequate.
are a lot of Christians—millions
There [were] so many people—
in the U.S.—who are deeply
primarily in a post-evangelical
aren’t supposed to ask about
“So that meant I went in the
their beliefs. Like a lot of
direction of feeling like I needed
fearful and traumatized by their
context, but also from the
people, Bessey says she sensed
to burn it down,” she says.
own curiosity, because of the
mainline and also from the
mainline denomination to
that keeps people from starting
universalism or spiritualism or
the process of deconstruction.
McHargue interested in the idea
a different mainline product of
Fear of the unknown. Fear of
of deconstruction—how beliefs
rejection by your community.
All the attention got
can shift over time.
“So that fear comes from how
“Sociologists tell us that—and it varies a percent or two year
For some people, there can
high the fence is around your
be fear of losing work and, of
course, depending on what
by year—but 43 to 44 percent
A big reason, according to
exactly you’re questioning, fear
of people will go through a
McHargue, is the level of fear
of eternal damnation. That’s
major faith transition at some
involved. The more rigid your
why many people’s process of
point in their life,” he says. “And
faith structure, the more drastic
deconstruction begins with an
that’s any faith transition. So
the leap of faith required to start
inciting incident—a personal
that can be from one Christian
asking questions surrounding it.
earthquake that shakes them
denomination to another
loose from their moorings.
“You’ve got a very high
denomination; that can be from
fence—a very high level of
belief to atheism; that can also
required belief—of fear that
incident was her miscarriage,
For Bessey, that inciting
be—and this happens—from
asking one question will lead to
but the grief didn’t stop
secularism to some form of
a lot more,” he says.
there. If anything, she says,
religiosity. But 44 percent is a
deconstruction opens the door
huge number.” Indeed it is, and it’s a number that gets even more interesting
for an even deeper struggle with
“People are very afraid of what
W I T H R I G H T
. . .
B A S I C A L LY
P E O P L E
P E R F E C T
G E T T I N G
According to McHargue, people raised in more
T H E
C E R T I T U D E
D E S T R O Y E D
when you start to pull it apart.
T H E
. . .
B I B L I C A L
Father Richard Rohr, friar and
sense of grief that comes along
founder of the Center for Action
with deconstruction,” Bessey
says. “I think a lot of times, we
“You go back to the first 1,300
have that sort of feeling that we
Southern Baptists, for example—
years of Christianity, and faith
only have one of two options,
are among the least likely to
is defined as a combination of
which is to either double down
experience a faith transition.
knowing and not knowing. Of
and pretend everything’s fine
That may not be terribly
a willingness and readiness by
and stuff your questions down
surprising, but what is
the grace of God to live with a
and your doubts and things
surprising is that when
certain degree of unknowing or
where you feel like maybe it
people raised in conservative
what the mystics call darkness,”
doesn’t add up or you feel like
belief systems do have a faith
Rohr says. “Now with that out of
you don’t belong anymore.”
transition, it tends to be a
the picture, and people getting
the impression that they have
move to the next level of
“So when very conservative
Rohr agrees. “You don’t
a right to perfect certitude
faith without going through a
religious people go through
and perfect clarity and perfect
necessary period of darkness,”
a faith transition, they
order every step of the way,
he says. “When you’ve never
tend to leave faith behind
you’ve basically—I’m gonna say
had that in your background
completely,” McHargue explains.
it strongly—you’ve basically
and it’s all about building this
“People of a more moderate
destroyed the biblical idea of
coherent, consistent system
theological background tend
faith to begin with.”
where you actually love your
to make a transition from a
“I think there is always a
looks like deconstruction,” says
Fear is one of the major things
understanding of faith. This is
not the love of God anymore,
soon as you lose sight of where
this is an idol called certitude.”
you started. Deconstruction is a
and ideologies and political
necessary part of many—if not
views that I have now that will
most—spiritual journeys. But
probably be very different in
it was never intended to be the
five or 10 years from now,” she
says. “And that doesn’t scare me
And certitude is a hard thing to leave behind. “So now when bits of darkness or actual faith journey [are] asked of people, they think
“There are a lot of opinions
“The trick is to find some—
anymore, as much as it does feel
they’re losing their faith. When
what I’d call—consensus of
like this is sort of a journey. If
in fact, the great ones would say,
epistemology,” McHargue says.
we’re not growing and changing,
‘You’re finally finding it.’”
“Something you can hold loosely,
we’re missing it.”
just to facilitate conversations
McHargue went even further
with people. For me, that’s a
on Twitter recently, when he
It took Bessey a while to allow
scientific worldview. Most people
said he was of the mind that
herself to embrace honest
can agree that what we observe is
every believer should be an
questions but when she did, the
real and we can make conclusions
atheist at least once in their life.
experience wasn’t as frightening
about what we observe.”
“After you’ve been really
as she thought it might be.
certain that God is real, and you RECONCILIATION
lose that, it’s kind of hard to be
doubts and things I had been
“I feel like everything is
full of yourself and your ideas
fighting for so long ended
different in a lot of ways,”
again,” he explains. “It becomes
up being a really beautiful
Bessey says, sounding delighted.
impossible to have your ideas
invitation from the Holy
“I can’t really think of any part
about God become an idol. The
“The very questions and
I M P R E S S I O N
T H AT
E V E R Y
I D E A
S T E P
F A I T H
T H E Y
T H E T O
H AV E
Y O U
B E G I N
H AV E
W I T H .
Spirit,” she says. “And I found a
of my life that was untouched
biggest thing I got from being a
third way, which is something
by everything. I unlearned and
fundamentalist evangelical and
between doubling down and
relearned who God is.”
then a fundamentalist atheist,
burning it all down. ... It’s kind
It’d be a mistake to say this is
was I was fundamentally wrong
of an invitation from God that
the goal of reconstructing your
about how the world works
there is goodness in here, there
beliefs, because the goal can
twice. I’m determined to not
are good people, and you may
look different for everyone.
make that mistake again.”
not have all the answers, but the journey is good.” People get stuck in a phase
“I look back at who I was 20
Bessey feels the same way.
years ago, 10 years ago and even
“There’s not just one story or
five years ago and we are always
one thing that’s happening,” she
of deconstruction, partly out of
growing,” Bessey says. “And I
says. “It’s so generous and big
a fear of being hurt again. It’s
think that’s part of the point. If
and inclusive and all of a sudden,
difficult to pull apart a belief
you’re not growing, changing
you end up finding your tribe
system you’d grown to trust,
and evolving, you’re not paying
and your people and finding
so some people never trust
attention to what the Holy Spirit
a path when you used to feel
one again and never create a
is wanting to do.”
really alone. ... You have that
real worldview again. This has
Bessey’s realistic about the
seamlessness now to your life.”
the sheen of intelligence—it’s
fact that this changing and
easy to feel smart when you’re
evolving process isn’t something
nitpicking flaws in other
you can rush through, and she’s
people’s epistemologies—but it’s
under no delusions about being
like giving up on a journey as
at the end of her transformation.
T YLER HUCK A BEE lives in Nashville and is a contributing editor at RELEVANT.
ATLAS GENIUS BY
M AT T A D K I N S
Overcoming depression gave the band a new perspective on their music—and their lives.
Keith Jeffery understands how hard it is to have a song truly break out. “You have publicists, you have managers, you have labels, you have a whole team of people who try and create a certain buzz and then that song just did it all on its own, which is pretty remarkable.” Jeffery is talking about “Trojans,” a song that is the true genesis of his band, Atlas Genius, as much as anything else is. You’ve heard the song—an insidiously addictive little pop earworm that remains a true mark of the sea change that’s taken place in the industry in the last few years. Jeffery and his brother Michael recorded the song and uploaded it on a blog, no different than any of the other thousands of anonymous, unsigned performers do every day. But unlike those uploads, “Trojans” caught on, and currently has nearly 50 million Spotify plays. No managers. No labels. Just a good song. “I’ve thought about it a bunch,” he says. “And as time
goes on, I realized just how lucky
back now, it was depression.
yourself; then you’re on a bus
we were with that. We had no
At the time, I don’t think I
and then you’re using alcohol
idea anybody was gonna hear it.
diagnosed it. But looking back, it
or drugs or sex, these things
When the lyric and the melody
that are very temporary mood
match the music, and you throw
Depression affects people
enhancers and then they go
in a bunch of luck and good
from all walks of life, but there
timing then something like
has been particular focus
‘Trojans’ can happen, I guess.”
on it in the music industry
over hypotheticals here—
But that was then. These days,
away. It’s unnatural.” Jeffery’s not just musing
recently, with the tragic deaths
he’s speaking from personal
Atlas Genius has a publicist, a
of people like Soundgarden’s
experience. His time on the road
manager and a label, and while
Chris Cornell and Linkin Park’s
did something to him, he says. It
this might diminish the need
Chester Bennington, both of
forced him out of his own head.
for luck in the future, the band
whom took their lives over the
isn’t using success as a crutch.
summer of 2017. Cornell’s death,
the crowd, it gets you through,”
They’re committed to their
in particular, had a profound
he explains. “On the tour, I’d be
craft, churning out solid albums
impact on Jeffery.
extremely tired from the work,
chock-full of the sort of songs
“For me, [Cornell] was one of
“You get that feedback from
my two heroes as a kid,” Jeffery
stage where you might have—
says. “Kurt Cobain, who sadly
like at Lollapalooza—10,000
went the same way, and Chris
people giving you that instant
great music look easy but, as
Cornell, who seemed to have
feedback. That keeps you going.”
Jeffery will tell you, it’s been
escaped it. 52. Lived healthy.
Wife and kids. Seemed to have
LIKE A HUMAN BEING
everything sorted. And one of
Where’s it gotten him? To
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
the most respected musicians
making music that’s more
“Cabin fever in the studio is
out there. The fact that he lost
representative of his state of
very real,” says Jeffery. “You’re
the battle, I think a lot of people
mind: a bit more buoyant, a
working on something, and you
who suffered from depression
bit more optimistic and, if you
can lose perspective or just plain
are like, ‘If he wasn’t happy how
ask him, a lot better. “I think if
lose your mind.”
are we supposed to be happy
I’m in a happier place I tend to
with our lives?’”
be more able to see the bigger
Jeffery is frank about his love of touring—being on
Jeffery pauses here, thinking.
picture with the art that we’re
stage, getting the immediate
“I was kind of fascinated for
creating,” he explains. “People
feedback from the crowd. He’s
a bunch of reasons,” he says.
who have been in depressed
less enthused about the studio,
“What caused it?”
states have written great music,
where he’s the first to admit that THE SADHOUSE
style, and I don’t think it’s the
“It is a hard life,” Jeffery says
best way to go about it.”
of being out on the road. “And
upbeat dance-rock with smart guitar-driven indie pop.
The result is a new lease on
he says. “Doing the second
I think there is a fine line. As
music, and a better perspective
album was mentally an extreme
a musician, I know when I
on the industry in general.
challenge.” He explained that
hear about rich and famous
“When I’m feeling good, there
after 18 months on the road for
musicians complaining about
tends to be a bit more of an
their first tour, they jumped
their depression, as a fan, you’re
awareness of the other aspects
right back in the studio.
like, ‘What are you talking
of a song,” he says. “Like if I’m
about? You live this privileged
writing, it’s not just one thing
months before we played
life ...’ But it is a real thing
I’m writing. It’s the lyrics, the
another show,” he says. “And in
because it’s such a bulls***
melody, the instrumentation
my lifetime, I’ve never had that
existence. Because you play on
that fields the production. All
much time away from the stage.
stage, you have a thousand or 10
those different things. I’m better
There were some long periods of
thousand people giving all this
at doing all of that when I’m
depression as a result. Looking
love, then you’re in a hotel by
feeling like a human being.”
“It ended up being like 15
The album smartly fuses
but it tends to be of a certain
he can get a little trapped in his “For me, it wasn’t healthy,”
but those hours you spend on
that put them on the map in the The band makes creating
I N A N I M AT E
M ATT A DKINS is a freelance writer who lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and son.
How to Know Your Facebook Post Is About to Go Very, Very Wrong A handy guide to not embarrassing yourself. BY JESSE CAREY
qualify with how not racist you are, maybe
can declare a leading Christian pastor to be
take some time to try and understand why
an irredeemable heretic because they didn’t
you feel it’s necessary in the first place.
like a two-minute YouTube clip of a sermon.
Then, instead of lecturing friends on your
Obviously, there’s a problem here.
own hot take—or shouting into an echo chamber of your own making—engage in
YOUR PRIMARY ARGUMENT IS MADE IN THE
real, face-to-face conversation with people
FORM OF A FUNNY PICTURE WITH WHITE
who see the world differently than you do to
BLOCK LETTERS ON IT.
challenge your biases instead of just trying to
As anyone who has mastered the time-hon-
have them affirmed.
ored art of argumentation and the Socratic Method can tell you, nothing will favorably
YOU’VE NON-IRONICALLY LINKED OFF TO A
end a debate quicker than a picture of Willy
WEBSITE THAT QUESTIONS THE VALIDITY OF
Wonka saying something snarky about Beng-
THE MOON LANDING.
hazi. It’s the intellectual equivalent of a Mor-
e’ve all seen it happen.
We live in a time when fake news has become
tal Kombat finishing move.
A Facebook post, Instagram caption or series
a real problem. There are sites and media
Actually, it’s literally the most nonproduc-
of tweets starts innocently enough, and sud-
companies whose entire business models are
tive contribution you can possibly make to a
denly your social media “friend” is ranting
predicated on completely fabricating current
debate. Memes are funny, but no person in
about Starbucks cups, burning bridges with
events (Pro tip: Most actual news stories don’t
the history of the internet has changed their
their own family members or making prob-
contain quotes about the Illuminati.).
position on a political or social issue because
lematic “observations” while sharing a local news story. Social media gives us all the ability to express our ideas—and our opinions—about
One of the ugliest characteristics of the fake
they saw a picture of that guy from Lord of
news trend is the tendency for conspiracy
the Rings saying, “One does not simply give
theorists to turn actual tragedies into click-
300 million people free healthcare.”
If you are going to engage in nuanced de-
whatever we want, and gives us the sense of
Don’t let your posts contribute to fake news
bates about complicated issues, be respect-
security of doing so right from our phones
and the conspiracy epidemic: If you’re linking
ful, thoughtful and let actual dialogue—not
while waiting in line at the deli counter.
to an article, make sure the site doesn’t also
sarcasm—guide the conversation.
But just because you can say something,
have content that makes the case that lizard
doesn’t mean you should. And as the old ad-
people are running the pop music industry
THE IMAGE YOU’RE ABOUT TO POST
age goes, the internet never forgets. Nothing
and the body of Elvis has been cryogenically
COULD HAMPER FUTURE EMPLOYMENT
is ever really deleted.
frozen under the Vatican.
So, before you limit your future employ-
Not only does it damage your own credi-
Here are a few questions you should ask
ment options, deeply offend elderly members
bility—it also perpetuates the cycle of misin-
before posting that “hilarious” picture you
of your family or burn bridges with lifelong
snapped during a church retreat prank, a late
friends with a single late-night Facebook
night during summer vacation or while wear-
rant, here are a few red flags to watch out for
YOUR POST ATTEMPTS TO DEFINITIVELY
ing what you now realize was a problematic
DECIDE IF SOMEONE HAS BECOME A
costume to a Halloween party: Will posting
HERETIC AND SHOULD THEREBY BE
this give the next business/nonprofit/church/
YOU STARTED WITH THE PHRASE
school that wants to hire me any pause? If so,
“I’M NOT ______, BUT …”
Debating theology can be a fruitful exercise.
maybe just keep this one on the camera roll.
If you have to preface what you are about to
But if a thread turns from a friendly discus-
Look, showing up as “Adam” in an ex-
post with a warning that—despite the forth-
sion about an interesting book to a Spanish
tremely/unsettlingly realistic flesh-colored
coming comments—you are not racist, bigot-
Inquisition-style determination of the eter-
bodysuit and a single fig leaf seemed like a
ed, closed-minded (or fill in the blank), then
nal resting place of the soul of some blogger
funny idea at the time, but your future HR de-
we’ve got some unfortunate news: You’re
you’ve never met, things may be escalating a
partment may think otherwise. Use Facebook
probably about to write something racist,
little too quickly.
to grow in your faith, not just to try and dis-
bigoted or closed-minded.
In AD 325, the Council of Nicea featured
Everyone has their own personal biases,
weeks of debates between hundreds of the
and sometimes social media has a tendency
world’s foremost bishops tasked with choos-
to reveal and then amplify them. Instead of
ing writing to be canonized as holy Scripture.
expressing an opinion you feel you have to
In 2017, some rando with a Facebook account
JESSE CAREY is the brand director at RELEVANT. You can find him on Twitter @jessecarey.
Brian Zahnd shares how a Jonathan Edwards sermon in 1741 still shapes the Church today.
BY JULIE PERKINS
the summer of
St. Joseph, Missouri. He had long been
You understand that some sort of legal
fascinated and compelled by Edwards’
agreement had been worked out between
startling prose. But something happened to
God and Jesus that involves us sinners, but
published a sermon
Zahnd as he began to grow in his faith. He
does God really love us?
that would go on to reshape American
began to question the core idea of Edwards’
culture. Not only did “Sinners in the Hands
legendary work: Is God angry with creation?
YOU ONCE OWNED A FRAMED
of an Angry God” help fuel the religious
It’s a question he tackles in a new book.
COPY OF THE SERMON AND PERSONALLY
revival known as The Great Awakening, but
We recently caught up with Zahnd to
REVERED IT. WHAT LED YOU TO LATER
more than 250 years later, its impact is still
discuss how Edwards may have gotten it
QUESTION THE CORE PREMISE OF IT?
reverberating in the Western Church.
wrong—and what the implications are for
Just staying on the journey with Jesus over a
Christians today still living in the shadow of
very long period of time and coming to the
the most dangerous sermon ever preached.
conviction that the clearest revelation of God
There are multiple stories of Edwards delivering the sermon at churches throughout the American colonies, and
we have is Jesus Christ Himself—that God is
afterward there being fingernail marks
CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE IMPACT OF EDWARDS’
like Jesus. God has always been like Jesus.
indented into the back of the wooden pews,
SERMON ON EARLY AMERICAN LIFE?
There’s never been a time when God wasn’t
left by terrified congregants.
This is a Puritan sermon, and I don’t think
As the title suggests, the sermon depicts
there’s been any sermon in the history of
So I began to see that God being portrayed
an angry, vengeful deity: “The God that holds
America that has more shaped our collective
as violent, vindictive and full of wrath
you over the pit of hell, much as one holds
religious imagination than “Sinners in the
seemed to be incompatible with the person
a spider, or some loathsome insect over the
Hands of an Angry God.”
of Jesus Christ.
fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked:
America, because of how it came about,
I understand that if you want to paint God
His wrath towards you burns like fire; He
has a Puritan soul. Atheists are Puritans in
as angry, violent and retributive, you can
looks upon you as worthy of nothing else,
America, by which I mean the God they don’t
use the Bible in such a way to do that. Those
but to be cast into the fire.”
believe in is the Puritan God.
portraits are there, or at least you can cobble
Edwards warns that the only escape
So the sermon, even if a person has never
from this punishment is through Jesus’
encountered it—though a lot of people have
portrait, but you can do a lot of stuff like that
work on the cross, though it ends on this
through school, where it’s given as a stock
with the Bible.
note: “The wrath of Almighty God is now
example of creative writing often times—
undoubtedly hanging over a great part of
they’ve been influenced by it.
this congregation.” A copy of the sermon once hung on the
It’s just part of the zeitgeist of the
Bible verses together in a way to create that
What the Bible does is point us to Jesus—that’s the thing I’d say the Bible does infallibly, it points us to Jesus. And do we see
American religious imagination that there
Jesus as one who would delight in dangling
walls of the office of Brian Zahnd, a writer
is a very angry God from which Jesus can
sinners over a fire as one dangles a spider,
and the pastor of Word of Life Church in
possibly be the one that would save us.
from Edwards’ phrase?
CHURCH TWO THOUSAND YEARS AGO, WHAT DO YOU THINK THEIR RESPONSE WOULD BE?
I think, at least for the well-trained elders, bishops, pastors and leaders, they would
America has a rather peculiar obsession with retributive justice, and no doubt some of that is connected with our theology that goes back to colonial times, when it was Puritan revivalistic preaching.
have an instinct to recognize that as some form of paganism. I think they would say, “I’m afraid you are confusing the God revealed in Jesus Christ with some of the pagan deities of the gentile world.” I think that would be their initial inclination—to be very suspicious of it, and say, “It seems that you’ve imported some pagan ideas in.” BASICALLY YOU’RE SAYING, “GOD LOVES US,” AND NOT JUST “WE GET TO BE SAVED FROM HIS WRATH THROUGH JESUS.”
When Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” Jesus is not asking the Father to act contrary to who He is. He isn’t inviting the Father into a transactional agreement. Rather, He is revealing who the Father is. I think of it this way: When the Son says, “Father forgive them,” the Father says, “Of course, Son, this is who we are. This is what
WHEN YOU HAD A TRANSITION OF THINKING,
punishment, and it colors the way we even
we do.” And so the cross is where the sin of
HOW DID IT PERSONALLY IMPACT YOU?
hear the word.
the world is absorbed by Christ and recycled
What it did was it made me more passionate
When the average American hears the
into nothing but love and forgiveness.
for preaching the Good News than ever
word “justice,” I think very often—unless
because it really is good news. It’s not cheap
they’ve been taught otherwise—the first
unique. It’s going to strike people as such,
good news—it’s not saying there are no
idea they have is punishment, and that’s
because they’re unfamiliar with it. But I’m
consequences to sin … but the truth is we’re
unfortunate. Biblical justice is always
drawing heavily upon that which has always
more punished by our sin than for our sin.
restorative. The point is never simply
been the theology in the Orthodox East.
It is this God of love supremely revealed in
punitive; the point is to set the world right.
Jesus who wants to save us from that. So without hesitation, I can preach the
There are three types of nations that
What I’m saying is not terribly novel or
In the West, we have thought what we really need is a lawyer. “We have a legal
actually practice capital punishment [today]:
problem, so what we need is a lawyer to get
Gospel as good news, and not engage in
totalitarian states, Islamic states and the
us out of a jam.” There are all these forensic
this good-cop/bad-cop routine where God
and legal metaphors dealing with salvation.
is dreadfully offended at you—hates you
So who we’re in unison with is North
even—but Jesus gives you a way out. I
Korea and Saudi Arabia in practicing capital
don’t have to play that game anymore, and
punishment. Why is that so?
there’s a freedom in that. There’s light and
I think it’s because America has a rather
And in the East, the thought is more like, “We are sick, and we need a doctor.” I’m always suspicious of legal metaphors, but thinking of Jesus as a kind of physician
no darkness at all in the way I can preach
peculiar obsession with retributive justice,
is very natural. What is Jesus doing all of the
the Gospel now. I don’t need a stick to beat
and no doubt some of that is connected with
time? He’s healing people.
our theology that goes back to colonial times,
WHAT IS THE MODERN LEGACY OF THE SERMON?
rather Jesus is healing us and bringing us
and some of that bitter fruit is still among us.
We seem to be suspicious as a nation:
It’s unfortunate that Jonathan Edwards has
We’re suspicious of mercy. We’re suspicious
been so deeply connected with this one
of kindness as public policy. We don’t think
single sermon. Edwards has had other things
that will work, and that seems to be very
to say that are wonderful and beautiful.
incompatible with what I see in Jesus Christ.
I will say this: I think America, in a unique sort of a way, has an obsession
IF YOU WERE HYPOTHETICALLY TO SHOW
with retributive justice. That is justice as
THE SERMON TO SOMEONE IN THE EARLY
And so it isn’t that Jesus is saving us,
when it was Puritan revivalistic preaching,
JULIE PERKINS is a writer and photographer in Brooklyn, New York.
R E L E VA N T SELECTS
FILM/TV MUSIC BOOKS
NEW RELEASES YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT
Bully They’re here to save punk. They just don’t know it. THE FIRST TIME you listen to Bully, you’d
be forgiven if you thought you stumbled onto a band from the glory days of ’90s alternative rock. Frontwoman Alicia Bognanno, 27, sounds like she’s turning her vocal cords into mincemeat without ever losing her knack for a catchy melody, infusing the grunge-type proceedings with a punk flavor, though “punk” isn’t something she’d ever considered herself creating. “Everyone called us a punk band, but I’ve never thought of us as being a punk band,” she says. “I’m not complaining about it. But it’s funny to hear.” Maybe that’s because Bully samples a little from a huge variety of alt-rock acts, from the Pixies to Nirvana. All of that means Bully is something all to their own. And with startling honest songs about the inability to ever really fall out of love, their passionate sound isn’t afraid to get personal. Sometimes, getting this real takes a lot of work, and in Bully’s case, it was worth the effort.
Bully combines indie-rock charm and old-school grunge attitude in the breakout LP.
Chris Stapleton For anyone who’s ever said, “I don’t like country music, except for Johnny Cash.”
AVING TO LIVE UP TO the expectations created
by the acclaimed debut of Traveller isn’t easy, but Chris Stapleton is up to the task. His duo of albums, From a Room (Vol. 1 & 2) not only
live up to the hype, in many ways they exceed it, with Stapleton doing what he does best: creating a soulful fusion of blues and country. Instead of trying to reinvent himself to overcome the sophomore slump, Stapleton digs in his heels, further establishing himself as culture’s outlaw songwriter. FROM A ROOM VOL. 2 [MERCURY NASHVILLE]
Stapleton’s ballads about the pitfalls of success and the dangers of indulging vices are more concerned with real honesty than just tapping into trends.
Marshall serves as a
writers, with research
into authenticity and
[OPEN ROAD FILMS]
of the legacy of the
Supreme Court’s first
vulnerability that has validated a way of thinking that, for years,
black justice—and why
(of Marvel’s upcoming
his work remains as
Brene Brown is one
has existed only as a
relevant today as it
of her generation’s
gut feeling. This book
depiction of Thurgood
was in his lifetime.
continues her vital work.
Beautiful Eulogy MOST WORSHIP MUSIC sounds pretty similar—like Dashboard Confessional passionately covering U2. But the guys of Beautiful Eulogy know that worship isn’t a genre, it’s a direction of the heart. And by blending hip-hop influence with meditative melodies, the band creates a sonic
WORTHY [HUMBLE BEAST]
Even in a genre as flooded as hip-hop right now, it’s still possible to hear something that makes you sit up and
experience unlike anything else out there. It
pay attention. Worthy deliv-
was high time someone broke the worship
ers on that and much more.
music mold. Beautiful Eulogy is delivering.
St. Vincent MANHATTAN BEACH
Annie Clark’s masterpiece is finally here.
JENNIFER EGAN [CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS]
Jennifer Egan is one of
VERY WRITE-UP about St. Vincent has
her generation’s finest talents, and she crafts a
to include a lot of grandiose
nimble tale of love and
language. She’s a genius.
crime in New York City.
She’s a superstar. She’s the voice of her generation. The truth of statements like this are largely in the eye of the beholder, but here’s what we can say for sure: Annie Clark—the woman the world knows as St. Vincent— has finally actualized the potential or greatness that
JULIEN BAKER TURN OUT THE LIGHTS [MATADOR]
On her latest effort, the Memphis singersongwriter delivers an album of softly
she has clearly always had inside of her. Masseduction, the singer-songwriter’s fifth album, is everything a St. Vincent album should be: catchy, dazzling, danceable, disorienting and so, so good.
It solidifies Clark’s place
mining her most painful
in the pantheon of great
moments for studies of profoundity that will take your breath away.
American musicians, To listen
to Masseduction is to take
a trip through the mind of a
On each of Masseduction’s 13
dizzying talent and is enough
tracks, St. Vincent explores the
to suggest that she may just
neurosis and apathy of modern
be getting started. One can
American life like no other
OWN THE MOMENT
[SIMON & SCHUSTER]
In his first book, the pastor of
Taylor Swift is smarter than you
Hillsong New York City breaks
think. She knows you think you’re
down the importance of engaging
sick of the drama. She knows
culture, standing against injustice
you think you’re tired of the
finding hope in the midst
and creating real community while
schtick. But she sold 1.28 million
of poverty while living in
“owning” the moment God has put
albums in the first week. Taylor
Swift knows you’re wrong.
PROJECT SEAN BAKER [A24]
Both funny and heartbreaking, the drama follows a family
a run-down hotel.
NEŌ WAX BLOOM
THE SPACE BETWEEN
Toronto’s buzz-garnering R&B duo
The acclaimed film tells the true story
returns with synth-driven ballads that
of a pastor who risks his church to
play as well in the club as in the car
help a group of Burmese immigrants—
with the windows all the way down.
who end up saving it.
A lot of EDM is aggravating noise pollution, but Irish producer Seamus Malliagh crafts soundscapes that both soothe and delight.
Aha Gazelle Crafting a new sound to ask old questions. NEW ORLEANS-BASED singer-
from R&B to soul to trap. But
it’s not enough to be a gifted
talent Aha Gazelle understands
musician, although he is. Gazelle’s
his city’s vast and varied musical
also interested in questions of
history, and it informs his present.
how his faith relates to social
But he’s also got an eye on the
justice. He’s not just looking to
future, anxious to be part of a
ask uncomfortable questions—he
musical evolution that will involve
wants to give some even more
grappling with his
his unique blend of everything
The final chapter in a trilogy finds Gazelle
WHOSE STREETS? SABAAH FOLAYAN [ MAGNOLIA]
From the outside, the
seemed like they came from nowhere. But this
SOUL TO TRAP.
the decades of systemic racism that led to Michael Brown’s death.
SOONISH KELLY & ZACK WEINERSMITH [PENGUIN]
This look at the “10 emerging technologies that’ll improve and/ or ruin everything” is a fascinating (and, at times, terrifying) look at modern innovation.
Wolf Parade WOLF PARADE GOT THEIR START opening
for Arcade Fire, and while they share their fellow Canadians’ love of big anthemic sounds, they tread some darker waters. These guys create ominous tones, suitable for gray days and late nights, when you might feel more inclined to join them. But don’t be surprised if you find yourself singing along, regardless.
WE WERE EIGHT
the Obama years aren’t
YEARS IN POWER
about politics: They’re
TA-NEHISI COATES [ONE WORLD]
about the impact the
Wolf Parade showcases their mastery of driving rock, bracing lyrics and oddly impressive vocals.
racism, the power of
first black president had
CRY CRY CRY
about social issues and what it takes to overcome
on American culture, and
Though it takes place in
them is a stirring look at
why the lessons learned
the days after WWII, the
the power of love and,
journalist’s essays from
must not be forgotten.
film’s messages about
The Welcome Wagon The New York duo adds another masterfully pastoral album to a catalog full of them.
HOULD YOU EVER find yourself in New York City, don’t hesitate to stop by the Brooklyn church pastored
by the Rev. Vito Aiuto and his wife Monique, otherwise known as The Welcome Wagon. Their music is deceptively simple, with layers that open themselves up to you upon repeated listening,
LIGHT UP THE STAIRS
“I love being a pastor, but I also love
[TOOTH & NAIL]
being a musician,” Aiuto says. “I love being with Monique when we’re making dinner, but I also love being with her when we’re
A lovely meditation on Scripture, love and the ways they mix in life.
singing.” It shows.
APPLICATION DISCOUNT CODE: DUKERELEVANT www.divinity.duke.edu
LAST WORD A Thought Before We Go
was indicating that so often a
Yes, Jesus died to save you
sense of complacency and our
from your sins, but He also died
inability to hear can rob us of
to bring heaven to Earth and for
the measure God intends when it
you and me to live surrendered
comes to fulfilling His promises
to His cause. If you lose sight
in our lives.
of the “more” the apostle Paul
What awakens in you the
The Power of Receptivity God might be trying to speak to you, but are you listening?
of my many weaknesses lies in my
speaks of in Ephesians 3:20, you
simplicity of a little child? What
will become familiar, jaded,
sparks that innocent faith that
and perhaps even critical and
the circumstances of life can
cynical, which is no way for
rob from you? Do you have a
anyone to live.
vision exciting enough to get you
In Acts 13, Paul speaks
up early or a dream inspiring
directly to people with that
enough to bring anticipation
attitude: “Watch out, cynics; look
so deep down in your soul that
hard—watch your world fall
it makes you smile every time
to pieces. I’m doing something
you are reminded of it? Are you
right before your eyes that you
ready for more?
won’t believe, though it’s staring
What I mean by that is, have
you in the face” (verse 41).
you prepared for all that God
Without receptivity, you can
has planned for your future?
live just like this. Things can be
It’s a big question and perhaps
staring you in the face that you
ability to zone out in the middle of
is followed promptly by, well,
just can’t see. Familiarity and
a conversation and get lost in my
what does God have for my
presumption will rob you of
future? I may not be able to
wonder, and cynicism or lack of
answer that specifically for you,
expectancy will keep you from
but He has good plans, big plans.
the more that God has for you.
thoughts. At times, I can be oblivious
whisper became a shout? Life
He knows your heart’s desires
to those around me. There have
itself presents us all with so
and is poised to fulfill them, but
been many times when one of
many distractions, worries and
are you ready to receive?
my kids would be calling me as
concerns that can fill up our
I watched the news, and even
hearts, block our ears and dim
are past all that now. You have
though I could hear them, it
our vision. The noise of life can
become a “realist” and are
so easily drown out what God is
settled into living quietly for
trying to say.
the Lord and placing all your
My daughter, Laura, would be calling, “Dad ... Daaad ... Dad!”
Jesus often said, “If anyone
Perhaps you believe you
expectation in spending eternity
Then, in frustration, she would
has ears to hear, let him hear”
change tack and shout, “Brian!”
(Mark 4:23). On one such
at which, I would swing around
occasion, He went on to say
it’s a pity, because no one is
and ask her what she wanted.
to His disciples, “Take heed
saved for heaven alone. Praise
Not a good habit, I know.
what you hear. With the same
God that heaven is our final
measure you use, it will be
reward, but you are saved,
BR I A N HOU S T ON
how switched on are you to the
measured to you; and to you
called, purposed and graced to
is pastor of Hillsong Church
world around you?
who hear, more will be given”
make a difference here on Earth
now, among your friends, family,
But how wide-eyed, how alert,
If the Holy Spirit is speaking to you, do you have the ears
I believe that when Jesus was
in His presence. If that is the truth, then I say
neighbors and coworkers and
and author of the new book There Is More, from which this column is adapted. Excerpted by permission
to hear His whisper, or would
speaking to His disciples about
through every opportunity God
of WaterBrook. All rights
you not hear Him even if His
“measure” in Mark 4:24, He
brings your way.
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