A few years ago, I spent some time in Williston, North Dakota, to witness the social effects of the oil boom on this small town. While I was there, I went to Concordia Lutheran Church and talked with then-pastor Jay Reinke about his Overnighters program. This was an attempt by Reinke—we can’t quite say it was an attempt by the church—to provide a space where people could sleep.
In Williston, I learned that Jesse Moss was working on a documentary about the program. Recently I finally watched that award-winning film, The Overnighters. I have been haunted by it ever since.
Early last summer, the Obama administration opened a detention center in the remote town of Artesia, New Mexico, in order to detain Central American women who cross the southern border with their children. The facility was a centerpiece of the administration’s policy of family detention, which aims to “send a message,” as Department of Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson said, that asylum seekers from these countries are not welcome.
This summer I am going to be teaching at a Kenyon College writing workshop designed for clergy who want to hone their writing skills for conversations beyond their congregations and denominations. The program, Beyond Walls, is envisioned as an interfaith conversation with writers and clergy from both Jewish and Christian traditions. I will be teaching essay writing along with Rodger Kamenetz, and he and I each have an essay in this month’s Beyond Walls e-mag.
At the end of Marilynne Robinson’s latest novel Lila, the title character envisions heaven in an intensely communal way. In light of that communal vision, Century associate editor Amy Frykholm gathered together three avid Robinson readers—Rachel Stone, Peter Boumgarden, and Amber Noel—for a conversation about the novel.