The Clerestory Podcast S1 E25

The Oklahoma Tenant Farmer and Me
Loading... 00:00:00 / 00:08:14

On Community

In Clerestory Magazine’s second issue, we examine the meaning of community and liberating possibilities for collective life

Listen to this issue’s playlist on Spotify.

Dear Reader,

Two weeks ago, the United States celebrated the inauguration of President Joe Biden. Amanda Gorman, the National Youth Poet Laureate, recited her luminous work, “The Hill We Climb”:

“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew;
That even as we hurt, we hoped;
That even as we tired, we tried;
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious…
then victory won’t lie in the blade;
But in all the bridges we’ve made.”

We bring you the second issue of Clerestory Magazine in the midst of ongoing injustice, uncertainty and isolation, coexisting hope and despair, interwoven joy and grief.

In our inaugural issue, we focused on faith, asking questions like: What is faith? Is faith relevant in an increasingly secular world? What does faith require of us, as human beings, in a suffering world? Our brave writers and contributors mined faith for its meaning in their own lives and for wisdom on a life well lived. Faith is neither easy to confront nor easy to write about, not because religion is taboo or antiquated, but because faith determines and shapes the way we see everything. It affects how we see ourselves, each other, the purpose of our existence, and our actions.

In our second issue, we’re focusing on community and will ask questions like: Why do we need each other? Who are we, together? What is human flourishing? What are beautiful visions for collective life? What is communal responsibility? What would community look like if the rights, dignity, and humanity of every person were truly respected and valued?

The lines between these two subjects – faith and community – are not stark. We will hear from faith leaders about subjects like racial justice, belonging, and welcoming the stranger. Writers will examine the role of church and faith in building identity and community. But beyond that, faith and liberation; spirituality and justice; contemplation and action (the principles which ground Clerestory’s work – are inextricably woven.

Contemplatives and community leaders, for centuries, have drawn bridges between inner and outer work. Meister Eckhart, the great thirteenth century philosopher and mystic, writes, “What we plant in the soil of contemplation, we shall reap in the harvest of action.” The virtues we cultivate within ourselves through contemplation and inner work spill over and course throughout the work we do in the world to make communities, community spaces, and systems more just and humane. Contemplation leads us to compassion.

Compassion, by its very definition, means to suffer with. If we truly took compassion seriously, how would our world be different? Family separation, mass incarceration, police brutality, homelessness, educational inequity, poverty, militarism… wouldn’t exist. We would not be able to dissociate from the suffering of others. To take compassion seriously would mean to take justice seriously, for as Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, “My humanity is bound up in yours for we can only be human together.”

In our series on faith, we looked at faith in non-dualistic terms: faith as a way of seeing, instead of faith as a litmus test for who's holy and who isn’t or who's saved and who isn’t or who's loved and who isn’t. Dualistic thinking not only drains the meaning from and destroys faith. Dualistic thinking also destroys our communities. Around the binaries we’ve built, we create manifold ways to distance ourselves from, forget about, otherize, and dehumanize human beings, forming the foundation of our forgetting that we are, in fact, bound to each other, that we, in the words of Mother Teresa, “belong to each other."

Several years ago, in a lecture on compassionate communities, I heard Tara Brach – the Buddhist psychologist and teacher – recount a common parable about porcupines. The porcupines, with their tens of thousands of quills, needed to be close to each other during the winter to keep from freezing to death. By as they drew closer to each other, they would poke each other with their sharp quills. They had to choose between freezing and dying alone, or being hurt, being poked, being uncomfortable but warm, together.

We need each other, to be fully human, to live fully, to share life’s beauty and meaning, but it’s not all roses. It’s painful, too, for some of us far more than others.


Join us, dear reader, as we sift through the complications and invitations, the bleak history of and the liberating possibilities for collective life.

In hope, solidarity, and love,

Thank you for being here,

Sarah James


Clerestory Magazine

Sarah James is the editor-in-chief and founder of Clerestory Magazine. A graduate of Yale and Middlebury, Sarah is a biracial South Indian-American woman of color and a writer. You can find her work elsewhere in The Porch, Darling, and Relevant, among others, or on her website.

Discover more from Sarah James.
essay Alone, Together

I stand alone by the lakeside, music spilling out of my headphones into my ears and out across the water, the notes rolling through the air like wisps of smoke dancing from the tip of a newly extinguished matchstick.

interview Cultivating Hope and Healing with Rev. Kyndra Frazier

Rev. Kyndra Frazier is a community healer, pastor, clinical practitioner, leader, founder, writer, and teacher. A graduate of Emory’s Candler School of Theology and Columbia School of Social Work, Rev. Frazier combines clinical practice and pastoral care in her work with individuals, families, and communities.

essay The Beauty of Intersecting Stories

A few years ago, I travelled to Sydney, Australia where I particularly enjoyed going on scenic Australian bush walks.

essay On Influence

Late one night in 2011 I attended a reading by W. S. Merwin...I was a senior in high school and, though I had only known he existed for one week, already zealous about his genius. 

photo story Borderlands

Our environments must be stewarded to effectively create a healthy, flourishing ground for community. This photo essay showcases the moments where rest is the foundation for winter’s ecosystem.

essay Four Prayers for a Friend

Every time I read Dante, I think of my friend Rishi, since it was the last thing we spoke about before he took his own life.

essay A Mother’s Village

Pregnancy should not have taken me by surprise. As the daughter of a nurse, and the granddaughter of three doctors – one of whom set up a reproductive health clinic in the 1960s – I was well versed on everything from anatomy to childbirth.

interview On Revolutionary Love: A Conversation with Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis

I have in my own way, tried to create the Beloved Community. The world really needs that. 

essay Who Is My Neighbor?

To say that the pandemic slowed life is uncontroversial. Across the world, many people ceased travelling, commuting, and disposing of their leisure time freely.

essay Redefining “My Village”: Community as a State of Being

Who do you want to be? And what does “being in community” entail for you?

essay American Dependence: Epistemic Trust and the QAnon Conspiracy

The Covid-19 pandemic has made it clear just how much we depend on one another. We count on those around us to take the public health precautions that will curb the spread of the virus; on essential workers to care for our health, to provide us with food, to keep public spaces clean.

essay Coconut

The familiar bell pierces the dewy March air and everyone rushes into the gymnasium, sneakers and sweatbands at the ready. I pull my thick hair up into a ponytail, wincing as I touch the burn on my left ear, another casualty from my daily standing appointment with my straightener.

essay Pittsburgh: In Place

When I run into Ron, we speak from a distance, both masked, over six feet apart. Today, the greater the distance from new people, the safer I feel.

interview Recovering Compassion with Center for Council’s Jared Seide

Jared Seide is the Executive Director of Center for Council. Center for Council administers programs which encourage compassion, repair communal ties, and teach presence, speaking truth, finding resonance without judgment, and listening.

essay Immersed in the Crowd: Celebrating Holy Week in Community

I’m a Taiwanese American Episcopal priest who is on her third career and living in her eighth state. Trying to describe “my community” can get complex and messy.

poem It Was My Grandparents’ Table

It was my grandparents’ table that made me insist the engagement be a family event.

essay Turning Rage into Gentleness

Hold my hand, dear reader, and accompany me to the realm of childhood— that place that is both real and imagined. 

essay Gestures of Worship

Because I had not attended regular church services during my childhood, I had previously viewed communal worship as nonessential to living the Christian life. I envisioned it as helpful to some, but not a requirement of Christianity, a personal relationship with God, however, was.

essay Finding Community in an Old Mexican Church

I was a tanned and bright-eyed college freshman at an evangelical university in Southern California when I first heard the phrase “building community.”

essay Confessions From a Catholic Who Isn’t Sure She Wants to Recover

After moving out of my parents’ house, I stopped going to Mass every week. But whenever I found myself struggling, I’d always find my way back to the Catholic Church.

essay The Practice of Belonging to America

“What do you think people see you as when you walk on the street?” my mom asked me rhetorically on the phone a few weeks ago. “They see a Chinese person. And people here can be so discriminating,”.

interview Living, Doing, Being: An Interview with Theos Director Elizabeth Oldfield

Theos Think Tank, based in the UK, explores the intersection of faith and society. Elizabeth Oldfield has served as Theos’ director for ten years and hosts Theos’ popular podcast,The Sacred.