On the Lived Theology Reading List: Last Works: Lessons in Leaving

The Significance of Endings

Reflecting on the retirements of noted writers like Søren Kierkegaard and David Foster Wallace, Mark C. Taylor considers the intellectual and emotional importance of reaching the end of one’s career and later, their life, in Last Works: Lessons in Leaving. Careful to reckon with cultural conceptions of retirement, Taylor describes the various attitudes of authors on the edge of life – ranging from deep sadness to exhaustion to resounding joy – and gently leads his readers into a nuanced conversation with death. Ultimately, Taylor argues that the agreement one must come to with dying is deeply valuable to recognizing and appreciating the present circumstance of life. Bursting with creativity and emotion, Taylor employs his masterful knowledge of religion and philosophy’s most prominent figures and works to build a powerful case for the spiritual purpose of leaving.

Mark C. Taylor is currently a professor of religion at Columbia University and also taught at Williams College from 1973-2007. He is the author of many books, including Speed Limits: Where Time Went and Why We Have So Little Left (2014), Journeys to Selfhood: Hegel and Kiregaard (1980), and After God (2007). His research interests include the intersection between religion and art, philosophy of religion, and artificial intelligence. He writes frequently for the New York Times and appears often on NPR.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“Last Works is a dazzling tapestry of reflection on the final works of writers Mark Taylor has loved through his many transformations. This is Taylor’s intellectual autobiography, his relentless and moving quest to understand religion in its many engagements with literature.”

-Kevin Hart, The University of Virginia

“As Mark Taylor’s brilliant meditation on last works moves towards its own end, it folds one writer’s life and language into the next to thicken the strange meanings of thought time: knowing that we die.

-Siri Hustvedt, author of The Blazing World

“Modern life is a map of realms or worlds, intellectual and cultural as well as geographic that abut without necessarily connecting. The thinkers whom the larger world needs most are those who have ventured farthest from their starting points without sacrificing intellectual rigor. Such a thinker is Mark C. Taylor.”

-Jack Miles, author of God: A Biography

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On the Lived Theology Reading List: My Body, Their Baby: A Progressive Christian Vision for Surrogacy

Celebrating Surrogacy Through a Feminist Christian Lens

As both an accomplished ethicist and surrogate mother herself, Grace Kao offers a perspective on modern surrogacy that draws on both the philosophical and the emotional in My Body, Their Baby: A Progressive Christian Vision for Surrogacy. Kao weaves her unique experience into her conversation of the complexities and nuance of surrogacy, where she also invites and elaborates on vital queer, feminist, and non-White perspectives. All the while, Kao centers her argument around a Christian framework that not only permits, but honors the generosity of, a person becoming pregnant for someone else. Emphasizing the shared importance of experience to both feminist and Christian understandings, she breaks down prevailing objections to surrogacy with the cogency and conciseness of a practiced theologian while at the same time sharing deeply emotional stories of joy surrounding her own surrogacy journey. In My Body, Their Baby, Kao offers an essential resource for progressive reproductive ethics that speaks directly- and accessibly- to the Biblically engaged.

Grace Y. Kao is a professor of ethics at Claremont School of Theology and is also a founding co-director of Claremont’s Center for Sexuality, Gender, and Religion. In addition, Kao has taught at Claremont Graduate University and at Virginia Tech. She is the co-editor of Encountering the Sacred: Feminist Reflections on Women’s Lives (2018) and Asian American Christian Ethics (2015). She currently serves as the Bishop Roy I. Sano and Kathleen A. Thomas-Sano Chair in Pacific and Asian American Theology and is the first Asian American woman to receive tenure at Claremont School of Theology.

Grace Y. Kat was a participant in the SILT 16/17: Can I Get a Witness? The SILT celebrates scholars, activists, laypeople, and religious leaders whose lived theologies produced and inspired social justice in the United States, and produced a volume entitled Can I Get a Witness? Thirteen Peacemakers, Community Builders, and Agitators for Faith and Justice. Grace contributed a chapter on Yuri Kochiyama, a life-long activist at the forefront of issues in the black, Latino, Native American and Asian American communities.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“The world needs more scholars like Grace Kao. With thoughtful rigor and deeply human tenderness, she provides a faithful framework for understanding surrogacy. Her cogent, compassionate arguments illuminate a practice that is often consigned to the shadows, and her work shines with creativity, empathy, and care.”

-Jeff Chu, author of Does Jesus Really Love Me?

“This book provides an expansive Christian vision for surrogacy that bravely probes complex social ethics questions surrounding it. Kao’s accessibly articulated and social justice–oriented guidelines offer a roadmap for decision-making that contributes fresh, thought-provoking analysis to feminist reproductive ethics”

-Traci C. West, Drew University Theological School, author of Solidarity and Defiant Spirituality

“Drawing on her own experience both as a surrogate and a Christian theologian, Kao makes a powerful and rigorously argued Christian ethical case for surrogacy. An invaluable resource for parents, pastors, and all concerned with reproduction and its ethical implications.”

-Susan A. Ross, Loyola University Chicago, author of Anthropology: Seeking Light and Beauty

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On the Lived Theology Reading List: Understanding the Past, Facing the Future, Living Faithfully Now

Appreciating Then and Now

Taken from a theologically driven and culturally minded perspective, James K. A. Smith’s How to Inhabit Time: Understanding the Past, Facing the Future, Living Faithfully Now combats one of the most pressing issues in Christian life today: the tendency to see the current generation, as Smith says, as a ‘clean slate.’ In How to Inhabit Time, Smith explores the theological importance of time and history, and makes a case for temporally contextualized living. Discussing both Biblical and cultural history in this volume, as well as delving into his own experience of reckoning with the reality of time’s movement, Smith argues that time is a gift to be savored and that its passage is ripe for deep reflection. Both philosophically deep and playfully light, How to Inhabit Time serves as a vital resource for Christians seeking to make sense of the past, present, and future.

James K.A. Smith is currently a professor of Philosophy at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has also taught at Loyola Marymount University, Fuller Seminary, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Regent College. He is the author of many books, including You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit and On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts. His research interests include the intersection of church communities and culture and the impacts of postmodernism and the Enlightenment on the church.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“In this arresting and elegant book, Jamie Smith gives us a profound and beguiling meditation on time (and therefore death), on embodiment (and therefore love), on creaturehood (and therefore our orientation toward God). Philosophically rigorous and creatively daring, this original and provocative exploration summons each of us to diligent thinking and unflinching honesty, to (in Smith’s own phrase) ‘shared vulnerability’ and deep prayer.”

-Charles Marsh, PLT Director

“James K. A. Smith shows us that time is a gift waiting to be redeemed, and a central conviction of this book is that ‘the Lord of the star fields’ is intimately attuned to our haunted, beautiful histories. Dwelling with these lucid, winsome meditations on ‘spiritual timekeeping’ was like listening in on a lively conversation between St. Augustine, Gustavo Gutiérrez, James Baldwin, and Marilynne Robinson, while Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon played in the background.”

-Fred Bahnson, author of Soil and Sacrament

“James K. A. Smith’s inspired work examines time not as hourglass sand running hopelessly through our fingers but as a divine gift that we can capture just enough to recognize the pearl of life that time shapes. A thoughtful and engaging book.”

-Sophfronia Scott, author of The Seeker and the Monk: Everyday Conversations with Thomas Merton

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On the Lived Theology Reading List: A Brief History of Heaven

Picturing Heaven Through the Ages

In one concise and accessible volume, scholar Alister E. McGrath considers the history and societal implications of the concept of heaven. McGrath begins with the earliest Biblical accounts of heaven and makes his way throughout history, along the way consulting theologians, scholars, artists, and poets. McGrath specifically explores heaven’s utility as a concept in theological thinking: including viewing heaven as a garden, city, or place for meeting lost loved ones. McGrath Drawing upon the works of Dante, Bunyan, Herbert, Marx, and Freud, among others, McGrath considers diverse perspectives in Christianity’s complex relationship to the afterlife. Delightfully readable, while at the same time thoroughly researched, McGrath sketches out the origins of our modern heavenly understanding and describes the necessity of heavenly yearning in early and modern Christians alike.

Alister E. McGrath is an Anglican priest and theologian who has taught at a variety of British universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, and King’s College London. He is the author of over fifty books, and is known for his work in apologetics, systematic theology, and historical theology. A former atheist, McGrath promotes evolution and is particularly interested in the intersection between Christian faith and science.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“Though clearly a scholar, McGrath transcends the drone of the academic dissertation, offering an accessible and thorough narrative. Using the rich visual imagery of heaven, McGrath has created a fascinating kaleidoscope for viewing the evolution of Christian worship.” 

Publishers Weekly

“Alister McGrath invariably combines enormous scholarship with an accessible and engaging style. This book is no exception – a splendid survey of a centrally important subject, covering theology and the arts with equal grace and clarity”

-Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

“Bringing together literature, theology, politics and the arts, this fascinating book traces the remarkable influence that the idea of heaven has had – and continues to have – on western culture.”

Publishing News

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On the Lived Theology Reading List: The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir

Ethics, Motherhood, and Geopolitics

A Pulitzer Prize winner and human rights activist, Samantha Power’s The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir is a deeply personal account of her incredible life. Committed to the cause of interventionism, Power’s career as a member of the United Nations and on the Obama Administration has been met with a number of highs and lows, which she recalls with unflinching candor in The Education of an Idealist. From her immigration from Ireland to the United States, to her early activism, to stepping onto the global policy stage, to raising two children, Power offers meditations on ethics through the lens of a myriad of diverse experiences. Throughout her vibrant life, Power continues to emphasize her focus on human dignity and global interconnectedness and concern. She describes in The Education of an Idealist how she juggles everything at once- and confesses her shortcomings in the path of leadership with goodness in mind.

Samantha Power is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, government official, and diplomat. She previously served as the youngest ever U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, as well as the chair of the Atrocities Prevention Board under President Obama. She currently serves as the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development under President Biden. Further, she was the Founding Executive Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University. She is known also for her book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, which explores the United States’ relationship to genocide across the world.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“Problem solving in a complex world can challenge idealism. Samantha Power’s compelling memoir provides critically important insights we should all understand as we face some of the most vexing issues of our time.”

– Bryan Stevenson, Founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just Mercy

“Power writes with heart about her upbringing — in Ireland, Pittsburgh and Atlanta — and she is especially poignant when recounting a few traumatic episodes… Still, the book is suffused with humor, and [President Obama] furnishes the funniest anecdotes that don’t come from her charming children…The Education of an Idealist is a moving account of how to serve righteously, or at least how to try.”

-The Washington Post

“In this gripping and revelatory memoir, Power chronicles, with vibrant precision and stunning candor, her best and worst moments navigating the obstacle courses within the White House and the UN, daunting global crises, and personal struggles. She is utterly compelling in her eye-witness accounts of violence and political standoffs and shrewdly witty in her tales about balancing diplomacy and motherhood.


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On the Lived Theology Reading List: Love Your Mother: 50 States, 50 Stories, and 50 Women United for Climate Justice

Women and the Fight for Climate Justice

Mallory McDuff understands the urgent situation that the world, and particularly women, face with the global climate crisis. Women are disproportionately impacted by climate change, with a majority of the world’s impoverished population being women and with social expectations keeping them from migrating to places free of climate-related disaster. In Love Your Mother, McDuff tells the stories of fifty women- one from each U.S. state- who have stepped up to lead their communities and the world in climate action. Bringing together women from a variety of fields and backgrounds, Mcduff uses their stories to inspire the next generation of climate activists. By elevating stories from across the nation and across vocations, McDuff offers stories of women that feel familiar to readers from all sorts of places and all walks of life.

Mallory McDuff is a professor of environmental education at Warren Wilson College, a Christian school in Asheville, North Carolina. She is the author of four other books, including Our Last Best Act: Planning for the End of Our Lives to Protect the People and Places We Love, and has published numerous articles and essays in prominent newspapers and academic journals. She is particularly concerned with the study of how people relate to places, and how these relationships can build a better world.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“Women have been at the forefront of the climate battle from the start, and this book is proof of it. If we have a fighting chance of coming through these decades, it’s because of them!”

-Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature

“This book is a mighty collection, a great read for anyone who cares deeply to care about Earth, community, and the climate crisis. Dr. McDuff offers up bite-size stories of inspiring climate action from across all fifty states, from a spectacularly diverse and accomplished group of women

-Leah Stokes, Professor of Environmental Politics, University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of Short Circuiting Policy

“Through vivid, thoughtful storytelling, McDuff’s profiles emphasize a timely truth: climate leadership isn’t a monolith. Matriarchs, farmers, writers, rebels, scientists, doctors, innovators, influencers, teachers–all of us, in short–have a home in this movement, if we choose to seek it.”

-Georgia Wright, co-creator of the podcast Inherited

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Introducing Theologian and Pastor Diana Guzman Lugo

The Project on Lived Theology (PLT) congratulates UVA Fourth Year Diana Guzman Lugo on her acceptance to the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, where she will be pursuing a Masters in Divinity. Diana hopes to become a pastor one day so that she can eventually foster a church community that emphasizes vulnerability, curiosity, knowledge, and love.

PLT Research Fellow Emily Miller had the opportunity to sit down with Diana and learn more about her incredible life story. Diana’s dream to become a pastor is a result of her unrelenting inquisitiveness and faith. In her entire life she has only ever seen two female Hispanic pastors, and seeks to increase representation with her own entrance into ministry. Already having experience preaching at youth services, she has a rich passion for church history and understanding the Bible. All the while, she emphasizes the importance of remaining humble and always continuing to ask questions. In addition, she feels that she wants to see mental health issues addressed more openly in a church setting. Through her time at her home church and especially during her time at UVA, Diana says that she often found herself asking, in her own words, “How can I say God is my strength when I take antidepressants?”

Diana describes her mental health journey as something that has deeply informed her career and life path. Having dealt with the death of her father and losing her home to a fire, both when she was very young, Diana says that she learned to compartmentalize her emotions instead of feeling them. “I stopped crying.” she said, “In college, I realized that I needed to cry.”

Diana dealt with a depressive episode during her undergraduate career that almost uprooted her: having lost hope and struggling academically as a result, in retrospect she believes that her faith and community are what kept her going. Diana ended up switching from computer science to a religious studies major, finding that she thrived in spaces that reckoned with spiritual and philosophical questions that she’d always had. She names History of Christian Ethics and Modern Theology as classes that she found particularly invigorating. In addition, she particularly enjoyed PLT Director Charles Marsh’s class, Anxiety: Religious and Theological Perspectives, saying that seeing “God and mental illness seated at same table” in the class themes was refreshing and comforting for her.

Marsh describes Diana as an excellent student and one of the people who kept his Anxiety class invigorating: “Diana engaged the readings as if her life depended on them. Her written work reflected a facile mind, undaunted by complex ideas and ponderous arguments, alert to the ways they might invigorate a more generative relationship between theological and psychological life… Diana was a joy to teach for a more pragmatic reason as well – and this is worth noting. If the room fell silent during a class discussion, she was the one I could turn to for a deft insight efficiently conveyed. What professor is not ever grateful for the reliably insightful interlocutor.”

Diana was also an active participant in Chi Alpha at UVA and was the co-president of Yahweh Night at UVA. She credits both Christian communities for helping her, in her words, “get out of bed in the morning.” As vice president of Yahweh Night for one year and co-president for two years, she has coordinated the bi-annual multicultural worship night which includes words of encouragement, music, and praise dance. In her Chi Alpha community, she has found invaluable support from her peers and realized through this community that God fights for and with her in her struggles.

Her religious studies advisor, Janet Spittler, first encouraged Diana to pursue graduate school. Diana describes this as a realization that instantly felt right for her and was immediately something she knew she wanted. She received full scholarships from Duke University and from Candler School at Emory, and decided to go with Candler- her dream school. In the future, Diana hopes to write a book on death and eternity- topics that she’s relentlessly curious about- and looks forward to engaging in deep dialogues about these and more during graduate school.

The Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia is a research initiative whose mission is to study the social consequences of theological ideas for the sake of a more just and compassionate world.

On the Lived Theology Reading List: This is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality

The War on Information

Combining elements of memoir and exposé, Peter Pomerantsev’s explosive book, This is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality, transports readers from Soviet-era Russia to the political landscape of the 2016 United States Presidential Election. Pomerantsev describes in the book his own family’s escape from Russia after his father’s arrest by the KGB in 1978, and from this reference point draws comparisons to the propaganda tactics employed in the ‘disinformation age’ we now find ourselves in. Recounting his own conversations with “Twitter revolutionaries and pop-up populists, ‘behavioral change’ salesmen, Jihadi fanboys, Identitarians, truth cops, and many others,” Pomerantsev takes a deep dive into a grim reality: that raging disinformation has swept not just communist regimes, but the entire world. This is Not Propaganda explores the weaponization of truth and the steps necessary to combat it, which begin at understanding how we and our personal relationships are impacted everyday by propaganda. Informative and shocking, Pomerantsev demonstrates through his book the global movement of misinformation tactics in their many changing forms.

Peter Pomerantsev is a Soviet-born British journalist and TV producer, alongside being the author of this and another book, Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia. He is currently a Senior Fellow at Johns Hopkins University’s SNF Agora Institute, and was previously a Senior Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science. His interests include what he calls “post-modern politics,” information warfare, and English identity.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“The truth was supposed to set us free. But Peter Pomerantsev’s brilliant This Is Not Propaganda shows how the very idea of truth has been weaponized by dictators and other enemies of liberty. These techniques, first used against us in Russia, have spread around the globe like a toxic cloud. Taking us from the Philippines to Ukraine to MAGA-land, Pomerantsev is an unparalleled tour guide of our post-truth world-and what we all must learn to survive in it.”

-Garry Kasparov, chairman of the Renew Democracy Initiative and author of Winter Is Coming

“In this moving, unusual, and carefully reported book, Peter Pomerantsev reminds us that propaganda is not just a political tool: it can also shape individuals, their relationships with their children, their friendships, their marriages. Far more than just another take on today’s chaotic information wars, this book argues that we will have to understand how propaganda seeks to shape our deepest thoughts and feelings before we can confront it.”

-Anne Applebaum, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gulag and Red Famine

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On the Lived Theology Reading List: We Will Be Free: The Life and Faith of Sojourner Truth

An Intimate Account of the Life of One of History’s Most Powerful Women

In Nancy Koester’s We Will Be Free: The Life and Faith of Sojourner Truth, Koester crafts a stunningly detailed portrait of the life and faith of Isabella Baumfree, who would later become legendary abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth. By traveling herself to notable place’s throughout Sojourner Truth’s life, Koester is able in We Will Be Free to bring together an array of dictated letters, eyewitness accounts, speeches, and sermons to paint a clearer picture of this human rights maverick. Koester’s book recalls in vivid detail Truth’s activism through the Antebellum period, Civil War, and Reconstruction, describing her interactions with U.S. presidents, notable activists, and enslaved people. Koester also makes a point to describe the evolution of Truth’s personal perspective and motivations for justice: from being enslaved from the age of nine, to her urgent mission to rescue her own five year old son from slavery, to her call from God to begin preaching the Gospel in her forties. Having overcome a number of unimaginable challenges, Truth built resilience throughout the course of her life that Koester captures with eloquence in We Will Be Free. Weaving throughout the entire story, Koester describes Sojourner’s faith and joy in the promise of heavenly salvation, which lives in the heart of her activism.

Nancy Koester is the author of several books, including the award-winning Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life. She is an ordained Lutheran preacher and has taught at both the college and seminary level. Her research interests include 19th century American history and particularly the untold stories of women who shaped the period.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“In We Will Be Free, Nancy Koester helps us move beyond the superficial knowledge we have of Sojourner Truth and takes us into the spirit of a woman whose life should inspire and inform us all. This is more than the biography of a single, remarkable woman, it tells the story of the whole nation—halting steps toward freedom, the risk and rewards of speaking the truth and, most of all, the unflagging hope that change is possible.” 
– Dr. Jemar Tisby, New York Times bestselling author of The Color of Compromise and How to Fight Racism

“Nancy Koester’s We Will Be Free: The Life and Faith of Sojourner Truth uses Sojourner Truth’s words, along with firsthand accounts from the people around her, to narrate the icon’s journey from enslavement to the national stage amid racial violence and extreme poverty. The result is a biography animated by the activist’s wit, ideas, and affect. Adding to the corpus of knowledge about nineteenth-century freedwomen’s lives, Koester’s book amplifies Truth’s extraordinary contribution to our nation’s history.” 
– Dr. Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh, Stanford University 

“This biography of Sojourner Truth carefully and thoroughly documents her astonishing life, paying particular attention to the varying religious contexts that shaped her. From her early years of enslavement to her years fighting for abolition and the rights of women and freedpeople, Truth bravely crossed swords with the powers that be and occasionally with her own allies. Koester writes in a style that will appeal to broad audiences and incorporates the best historical scholarship and research. Sojourner Truth’s life receives a graceful and illuminating treatment here.” 
 – Dr. Paul Harvey, University of Colorado

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On the Lived Theology Reading List: You Shall Not Condemn: A Story of Faith and Advocacy on Death Row

Faith to the Last

A story of redemption and perseverance, Jennifer McBride recounts the life, work, and death of Kelly Gissendaner. Gissendaner entered a Georgia prison after orchestrating her ex-husband’s murder in 1997. There, she converted to Christianity and began to minister to other imprisoned women and to study theology up until her execution in 2015. She had a particular interest in the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Rowan Williams, and during her incarceration began to correspond with theologian Jürgen Moltmann. Seamlessly weaving Gissendaner’s story of faith and commitment to fellowship with a relevant critique of the American criminal justice system, McBride highlights through You Shall Not Condemn the importance of the prisoner’s story in understanding the scope of God’s grace. A lesson on transformation, McBride’s book offers a beautiful and important example of God’s mercy entering broken places.

Jennifer McBride is an associate professor and dean at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. She holds a PHD from the University of Virginia in Religious Studies and is also the author of the books Radical Discipleship: A Liturgical Politics of the Gospel and The Church for the World: A Theology of Public Witness. She is particularly interested in studying Dietrich Bonhoeffer the practice of lived theology.

Reviews and endorsements of this publication include:

“For those of us who worship a Savior who was executed by the state, death row is a place for theology. Yet, the church has had little opportunity to hear and learn from the God talk that happens among the condemned. Jenny McBride has given us a gift in You Shall Not Condemn. . . . May we receive it and let its truth change us.”

-Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, author of Revolution of Value

“Jenny McBride narrates the powerful story of Kelly Gissendaner, a condemned occupant of death row forgiven and transformed, . . . inspired by her exchange of beautiful letters with Jürgen Moltmann, upheld in hope by a community of love, full of God’s power of resurrection. Entering this story will be a blessing, urging you to stand up against unjust legal and prison systems and shaking you to the core by our self-imprisonment through our condemnation of others.”

-M. Douglas Meeks, Vanderbilt University Divinity School

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