1. Does child sponsorship work?
It’s no secret that international development organizations love child sponsorship, and based on anecdotal evidence as a former industry insider, so do soccer moms. What’s been less certain is the degree to which sponsorship programs actually do what organizations claim they do. A new study from the University of San Francisco shows that children sponsored through one faith-based organization in particular – which focuses its sponsorship programs specifically on the child, rather than on community development as a whole – are at a statistical advantage when it comes to higher education and future salary, compared to their unsponsored peers. Other organizations, meanwhile, take a more holistic, community-focused approach, making their impact, in the words of the researchers, “more difficult to assess.” If you want my two cents, I’d point out that sustainable community development depends on community flourishing (not simply hand-picking certain kids for success), and the indisputable fact that community-wide impact is trickier to gauge doesn’t negate its unavoidable importance in the long run.
2. The Sistine Chapel
Whenever Mako Fujimura writes one of his occasional essays, I know I’m in for an intellectual and imaginative treat. His most recent one, posted last week during the papal conclave, is a reflection on the Sistine Chapel, where the conclave was held. It might challenge the way you think about the world-famous room:
The Sistine Chapel is one of the most awkward worship spaces one will ever enter. While I have no problems calling the fresco a grand masterpiece of humanity, it is not the most transcendental worship space. The Sistine Chapel overwhelms, but not as a mysterious gaze into the heart of God. By all accounts, Michelangelo was a devout man, but the space does the opposite of what Wallace claims; it does not bring one to a transcendent experience of “one’s eyes drawn inexorably to the heavens.” On the other hand, the work is a masterwork of confession. Though our eyes lift up to the ceiling at first, they will eventually focus on the grand Last Judgment wall. But our gaze does not end up on the figure of Christ at the center-our eyes are drawn to a man crouched in terror at the bottom of that wall. This figure is caught between heaven and hell, and it is central to understanding the Sistine Chapel.
3. Good literature and pastoral ministry
Wheaton College president Philip Ryken thinks pastors especially should read Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, which I’ve raved about before. Ryken has this to say:
I can’t remember who recommended Gilead to me, but I fell in love with the book right away. It was partly the writing, of course, because Marilynne Robinson is among the world’s most gifted authors. Gilead “is so serenely beautiful,” wrote one reviewer, “and written in a prose so gravely measured and thoughtful, that one feels touched by grace just to read it.” I was also captivated by the novel’s premise. Gilead is a fictional memoir in which a dying pastor writes a long epistle to his young son, telling the story of his ancestors, reflecting on his calling as a minister, and sharing the lifetime of fatherly advice he knows he will not be around to give the child he loves. The result is an intimate portrait of a life in ministry that captures the joys as well as the struggles of the pastorate.
4. Bob Dylan’s debut, 51 years later
Bob Dylan released his self-titled album 51 years ago this week, and to mark the occasion Matthew Horton shares 20 facts you probably don’t know about it, like the fact that it flopped.
5. Liturgy, Music, and Space
When Nicholas Wolterstorff, Derek Webb, Sandra McCracken, Mako Fujimura, The Welcome Wagon, and Sufjan Stevens are all part of something, it’s wise to pay attention. I just learned about Bifrost Arts, “a sacred music non-profit that exists to enrich the church and engage the world with beauty and truth.” They’re getting together in Philadelphia next month (Pennsylvania friends, take note!), and have made their “Liturgy, Music, and Space” curriculum available for free.