Evangelicals out of the box.

Given my long absence, I'm sure no one but spambots checks this site anymore. Thus, I will begin my return to the blogosphere unceremoniously, with a list of links, for old times' sake.

Since last year's election, the mainstream media have been obsessed with evangelicals--first the conservative red-staters supposedly responsible for keeping Bush in office, and now the ones who squawk that not all evangelicals are conservative red-staters. (I use the word "squawk" with affection, of course--I'm a squawker myself, as you'll see if you scroll down to the bit about Calvin College.) This phenomenon is not a new one, it's just getting more publicity lately. And being a squawker, I can't say I'm disappointed in this trend in media. Aside from the ill effects it might have on various The Daily Show segments, I fully support dispeling the aura of googily-eyed crazy-pants Falwellism that has previously accompanied reports on evangelicals. Here are a few people doing their part:

James K.A. Smith, appearing on PRI's Speaking of Faith last Sunday. In addition to being a first-rate scholar, Jamie is also my next-door neighbor (an equally venerable distinction, I assure you). He gives you the one-two punch right off the bat: "There are days when the last thing I want to do is call myself an evangelical, and it's usually after I've... read some editorial that James Dobson wrote." (Hmm, perhaps I should have previewed this interview before sending the link straightaway to my mother-in-law, a big Jamie Smith fan as well as a former Dobson devotee.) But Smith goes on to say why he thinks the term "evangelical" can be reclaimed and redeemed: "For all the times that I've been absolutely frustrated with and maddened by what happens under the banner of evangelicalism, I've never felt released to not be identified with that and to not be a part of that community, and probably have felt more impassioned to say, 'I need to sit here and stick with this community, and if I think it can be something different, try to be part of the solution and not just part of a nitpicking problem or pointing out the problem.'" You can see why I lucked out having Jamie and his family right across the driveway.

Justin Zoradi, blogging from Northern Ireland. Justin was the intern in my office at Calvin last year, and now he's working with Steve Stockman and a dormful of Presbyterian students in Belfast. He writes about daily life in the midst of a historic and ongoing conflict with the insight of an on-the-ground observer, the awed reflection of an American non-native, and the passion of a Jesus revolutionary. Each entry is poignantly illustrated with photos from his travels in local neighborhoods. My favorite entry so far is about the boys he works with after school. All is not well in Belfast, but Justin testifies to another way: "Aslan is on the move... Hope isn't lost, another world is possible, and God is at work 'beating swords into plowshares.' This website is a symbol of allegiance to the Kingdom in a country burdened by conflict." Boy am I glad that people like Justin exist. He shames the rest of us with his clear-eyed hope and the fire in his bones for justice.

Jars of Clay. No, seriously: Jars of Clay. You may remember Jars as the soundtrack to youth group roadtrips in the mid-nineties, as I do. In those days, I was a fan, such a fan. I could tell you embarrassing stories about my exploits, cringe-inducing ones that involve repeated responses to altar calls and desperate attempts to meet the band. Those days are long over, which makes the above recent interview with Dan Haseltine hilariously ironic. Since shaking the CCM dust from my feet, I've become a writer for publications like Sojourners magazine--and yet, here I am, a decade later, chatting up the icons of my CCM heydey. My 16-year-old self would have died and gone to youth-groupie heaven. She also might've been appalled that her favorite band has taken up such "liberal" causes as poverty and AIDS relief. Actually, Haseltine says that Jars has always been interested in issues of justice--they just weren't allowed to talk about them from the stage back when "Flood" was a hit. Toto, I don't think we're at DC/LA '97 anymore...