Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming The Faith by Diana Butler Bass presents a multidimensional portrait of mainline churches that, contrary to public perception, are experiencing a renewal. Bass, an author of five books on religion, notes: “Spiritual vitality lives in human beings; it is located in the heart of God’s people and the communities they form. At the edges of mainline institutional decay, some remarkable congregations are finding new ways of being faithful—ways that offer hope to those Americans who want to be Christian but are wary of the religion found in those suburban megachurches.”
The book reveals the results of a three-year study of 50 centrist and progressive American churches (Lutheran, Episcopal, United Methodist, Disciples of Christ, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ). They ranged in size from 35 to 2,500 members, with the average just below 300. Bass found that flourishing churches have one thing in common: “All the congregations have found new vitality through an intentional and transformative engagement with Christian tradition as embodied in faith practices.” She identifies 10 signposts of renewal: hospitality, discernment, healing, contemplation, testimony, diversity, justice, worship, reflection and beauty (HarperSanFrancisco).
Freedom Writers is an ambitious drama based on the true story of an idealistic teacher who took on the challenge of educating a diverse group of high-school students classified as “unteachables” in Los Angeles in 1994 shortly after the beating of Rodney King and the subsequent riots. Erin Gruwell’s (Hilary Swank) commitment to transforming her students’ attitudes and opportunities undergoes many shocks and setbacks until she comes up with a creative way of connecting what they have known in their gang-ridden neighborhoods to the lives of other people who have experienced violence, suffering and inequality. Her teaching plan involves studying the Holocaust and having the students write in journals about their experiences, ideas and ideals.
Not only does this film pay tribute to a real teacher who makes an enormous contribution to the lives of her students, it also celebrates the unity that can arise out of diversity when individuals break down the walls that separate them from others. In one of the most powerful scenes, Erin draws a line in the center of the classroom and divides the students into two groups. She then asks a series of questions, telling the students to step up to the line if their answer is “yes.” Even those who come from different races discover they have much in common. Freedom Writers offers a profound meditation on prophetic Protestant clergyman William Sloane Coffin’s thought: “Diversity may be both the hardest thing to live with and the most dangerous thing to be without” (Paramount Pictures, PG-13—violent content, some thematic material, language).
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers