Nov 13, 2015

Baptist Sunday School in 1943

Women gathered at a Baptist church in San Augustine, Texas in April 1943 to learn how to be Sunday School teachers. John Vachon, a photographer working with the United States Farm Security Administration to document American life during the Great Depression, was there to capture the scene:

The instructor is identified in the archives only as Miss May, a "visiting Baptist leader." 

Vachon also returned to the church that same month to document its Sunday School. There, he turned the lens from the teachers to the children:

These photos were among the more than 8,000 Vachon took for the United States Farm Security Administration. Many of these photos are made publicly available by Yale.

Nov 9, 2015

Poco a poco

"I wonder whether I will ever finish this book. And of course I'll finish it. Just work a certain length of time and it will get done poco a poco. Just do the day's work."

-- John Steinbeck, in the journal he kept on his writing process for Grapes of Wrath.

Nov 3, 2015

Tim Keller on Christians in politics

Tim Keller, pastor of a major evangelical Reformed church in New York City, says Christians should be politically engaged, but carefully:

"Get into any party you think you can do the best job in, as Christians, and be very critical. Don't sell your soul."

Oct 7, 2015

Baptist hats in 1940

The vestibule of a Baptist church in Gadsden, Ala., in Dec. 1940. The hats belong to steel and cotton mill workers.

This photo was one of more than 8,000 taken by John Vachon, documenting American life during the Great Depression for the United States Farm Security Administration. Many of these photos are made publicly available by Yale.

Oct 2, 2015


A mural at a "Western City," Dasing, Germany.

Sep 24, 2015

"one of those witnesses who testified to the joy of the Gospel"

Pope Francis canonizes Junipero Serra, a Franciscan missionary to California during Spanish colonization:

The recognition of sainthood is not without controversy. As Sarah Pullman Bailey writes for the Washington Post, many hispanic Catholics are thrilled. But, she writes,
For many Native Americans, however, Serra is no saint. The Indians who joined the missions that Serra built were forced to shed their own culture, including their religion, dress and food. Thousands of them died prematurely from diseases common in Europe ... 
Treated as a hero by many in California, Serra established Catholic missions along its coast as he marched north with Spanish conquistadors. A statue of him stands in the U.S. Capitol, where each state is allowed two statues. Some historians and the Catholic Church focus on Serra’s dedication to Native Americans, while others say he oversaw and even contributed to a system that mistreated tribes.
In the mass, Francis spoke of Junipero Serra as an embodiment of the church that brings the "reconciling tenderness of God" to the world. He also talked about the missionary's efforts to protect the natives from the violence of the colonizers, from the mistreatment and wrong "which today still trouble us."

Serra is the first saint to be canonized in a mass celebrated in the US. The last North American to be recognized as a saint was Kateri Tekakwitha, an Algonquin-Mohawk woman born in what is now New York. She was canonized by Pope Benedixt XVI in 2012.

Sep 21, 2015

A pentecostal foreign policy

Cartoon by Charles Ramsay, a cartoonist for the Pentecostal Evangel for 43 years.

Sep 18, 2015


Photo booth, seen in Berlin.

Sep 17, 2015

Marilynne Robinson on the freedom of a Christian:

Sep 15, 2015

Baptist wrestling in 1940

In May 1940, a Baptist church in Jefferson City, Mo. was offering Bible classes, a special "Roger Williams" class for men -- and wrestling:

Evangelical outreach programs that adapt secular entertainments are frequently critiqued as a modern "dumbing down" of Christianity. They're not that modern, though. The old days, it turns out, were a lot like the present.

This photo was one of more than 8,000 taken by John Vachon documenting American life during the Great Depression for the United States Farm Security Administration. Many of these photos are made publicly available by Yale.

Sep 14, 2015

How Hillary Clinton's faith is a catch-22 on the campaign trail

Speaking from a Methodist pulpit on Sunday morning, Hillary Clinton explained her political vision with a reference to the classic Sunday school song “This Little Light of Mine.”

“Too many people,” she said, “want to let their light shine, but they can’t get out from under that bushel basket. It is way too heavy to lift alone. And that’s where the village comes in.”

It is the 200th anniversary of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, where the Clintons worshiped regularly when Bill Clinton was president. Hillary Clinton spoke during the bicentennial celebration Sunday about how her faith and faith community have shaped her.

She spoke of her mother, who she said taught her the wisdom of John Wesley, the 18th-century founder of the Methodist church, who believed in putting faith into action. She spoke of her youth pastor. She spoke of her college church, her church in Arkansas when her husband was governor of the state, and of walking to Foundry through the snow from the White House in 1993.

“In place after place after place,” Clinton said, “the Methodist church and my fellow Methodists have been a source of support, honest reflection and candid critique.”

Talking about her religious commitments has presented a bit of a quandary for Clinton as she runs for president. There is no obvious way for her to talk about her faith on the campaign trail. But avoiding the topic doesn’t seem like a good idea, either.

Voters consistently say they want politicians to have faith, yet they often don’t believe them when they talk about it. For Clinton, this seems especially true.

Read my latest essay at the Washington Post: Hillary Clinton showed up for church today. Will faith help or hurt her on the campaign?

Sep 12, 2015

Off to a little Bible College in Missouri

Bible College occupies a pivotal place in the single from Josh Ritter's new album:

Mama got a look at you and got a little worried
Papa got a look at you and got a little worried
Pastor got a look and said, 'Ya'll had better hurry'
Send her off to a little Bible College in Missouri  
And now you come back sayin' you know a little bit about
Everything they ever seemed to hope you'd never figure out
Eve ate the apple 'cause the apple was sweet
What kinda God would ever keep a girl
From getting what she needs?

Sep 11, 2015

Free religious practice requires conversation, accommodation

Religious pluralism requires real work. It can only be sustained with careful, studied, face-to-face negotiations, adaptations and accommodations. It depends on pragmatic judgements.

To make religious pluralism work -- freely allowing robust religious practices from diverse minorities that variously offend and befuddle the majority while at the same time disallowing any group's imposition of its beliefs and practices on others -- a society has to be willing to make pragmatic judgements. Judgements have to be made case-by-case. The principle calls for compromise. The ideal, in practice, values actual humans and life and its messiness over the clean and clear pronouncements of ideological abstractions.

US law, as it currently stands, does this.

For example, as Eugene Volohk recently explained in the Washington Post, the law since 1972 has required private and public employers to exempt employees from rules they find religiously objectionable, except when the exemption would cause the employer undue hardship.

The law says, essentially, "work it out."