Sunday, August 30, 2015

#RNA2015 Day 2: What's trending in religion?

Russell Moore, President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, repeated his call Saturday to evangelical Christians to embrace "the church in all its strangeness."

After all, he said, most of the time in the pages of the New Testament, people's response to the teachings of Jesus and His disciples was, "That's insane." A dead guy coming back on a white horse in the sky? Yup, that qualifies as strange.

Maybe that's why evangelicals grab so many headlines – or acts of violence that have been mobilized or motivated in part by religion.

Because as Tim Henegan of Reuters' FaithWorld blog reminded journalists on the last full day of the 2015 Religion Newswriters Association Conference, "Journalism is about news ... things that are different and out of the ordinary." The old axiom is true: If it bleeds, it leads.

Here is a roundup of tweets, articles and other resources on various topics trending in religion right now, including what Muslims are talking about, religion and violence, urban churches (which we've discussed on this blog) and the upcoming papal visit:

Photo: Anton Ittlinger via Unsplash.

#RNA2015 Day 1: Happy Pope Day!

Is anybody surprised to hear we can expect to be surprised by Pope Francis next month during his visit to the United States?

This is the pope who embraces small children who wander up to him during Mass. The pope who kisses the disfigured man and invites the children with Downs Syndrome for a spin on the popemobile, who invites journalists to their own personal AMA aboard the papal plane and gives them the gift that keeps on giving: "Who am I to judge?"

So you can't predict what he might say or do, panelists told journalists on the first full day of the Religion Newswriters Association Conference.

That didn't stop them from trying.

Here is a roundup of tweets, articles and other resources including those predictions, details of the papal visit and background information:

Photo: Wikimedia.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

#RNA2015 Pre-conference: That's just science

What does it mean to be human?

Plato once defined man as a "biped without feathers," in Robert T. Pennock's telling. Pennock is professor of Philosophy of Science and Computer Science & Engineering at Michigan State University. That definition held until Diogenes plucked all the feathers from a chicken and plunked it down at Plato's school, saying, "Here is Plato's man."

Others have defined man in terms of his ability to make tools. But some animals can make and use tools. So can robots, which also increasingly can learn and evolve.

And so the moral of the story, Pennock told attendees over lunch at the Religion Newswriters Association's 2015 pre-conference in Philadelphia, is this: “We're going to be changing definitions as we learn things as we go along.”

Pennock and several other speakers explored those changing definitions of what it means to be human Thursday, Aug. 27, at the pre-conference, "Forefront Science for Religion Reporters," sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. That included the implications of artificial intelligence and robotics, genetic engineering and life beyond the universe.

Here is a roundup of tweets, articles and other resources about those implications from each of the pre-conference sessions:

Photo: Religion Dispatches.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Is the pope Catholic? (Crux)

Is the pope Catholic?

Usually, that’s a rhetorical question. Unless you’re one of the conservative few who think Pope Francis may be an antipope and a schism in the Church is looming, given there remains another living pope.

Or unless you’re The Times of London.

For the rest of the story, read Is the pope Catholic?

Photo: Screen grab.

Monday, August 3, 2015

What I'm Into {July 2015}: All of the summer fun

From the second half of our road trip to Wisconsin and another Hope Camp on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota to hosting our third annual house concert and spending a day at Lollapalooza to sweating through Yoga in the Park with one friend and scheming about the future over coffee with another to stumbling into free tickets to a Cubs game and taking long bike rides along the lakefront and listening to the confessions of another religion reporter at Theology on Tap to... well, you get the idea, this month has been quintessential summer fun.

It's also been redemptive. When I first found myself in a period of searching for a job after college, I was paralyzed by the fear of what would come next. I spent a lousy season cloistered in my apartment, unable to enjoy myself or think of anything other than finding a job and not messing up my entire future career trajectory by picking the wrong one.

And I probably needed the break. I've been working hard with little vacation (I just took my first two-week vacation as an adult last fall) since I first joined Sun-Times Media as an intern seven years ago, and I threw myself pretty hard into freelance life and nonprofit work after getting laid off from the Chicago Sun-Times. I was pretty exhausted after that week leading Hope Camp earlier this month. It's all been amazing, and it's paid off in some pretty sweet gigs, but, man, freelancing is a hustle.

Still, like every summer vacation ever when I was a kid, I'm starting to get restless.

Life can't be all hustle; neither can it be all flow. I'm the weirdo who always loved school, and I love working, too. I'm ready to get back into the routine of weekdays spent working hard and lazy Saturdays spent watching cooking shows in my pajamas.

But before I get back to my real life, let's recap all the summer fun.

Music and Podcasts

The Way of Least Resistance (and our third annual house concert) by Lewis Knudsen. Our friend Lewis Knudsen put out his second studio album this month, "The Way of Least Resistance," and it's even better than the first. "Death and Cats" is made for the Internet, and "Crumble Under You" and "The Law of Love" both pack some lyrical punch. But then, when your album takes its name from an obscure German philosopher, that's to be expected. Joel and I hosted a wine and cheese (and chocolate and meat and whatever else seemed like it would pair well) party for its release, a favorite tradition that got started three years ago when I asked Lewis what he wanted for his birthday, and he said he wanted to play a house concert at our apartment.

Super Ape by Lee "Scratch" Perry & the Upsetters. Once again Vinyl Me Please surprised me this month with something I never would have picked out for myself, and something I utterly enjoyed. "Super Ape" is a 1976 reggae/dub album that somehow manages to be both upbeat and foreboding, full of layered, interesting sounds. As always, if you're interested in learning more or joining Vinyl Me Please, you can use my link for an invite, and we both can get free vinyl.

OUTCRY Tour. OUTCRY, a concert tour seeking to reflect and empower the local church this summer in 12 cities around the country, kicked off this month in Chicago. The tour features artists like Jesus Culture, Hillsong United, Passion, Crowder, Trip Lee – and me, the not-nearly-so-cool writer managing its blog behind the scenes and wondering how on Earth this gets to be is my real life. I hung out backstage during the kickoff, and the hashtag for the evening was #jesuschangeseverything. Can confirm. Who would've thought two months ago when I was laid off from my job at the Chicago Sun-Times I'd be covering the religion beat, the very thing I dreamed of doing when I started studying journalism, for so many of my favorite news outlets, hanging out backstage on a major concert tour, watching the sun set over my magnificent city? Jesus really does change everything. Even when you don't think you want Him to, apparently. But it turns out you can trust Him. It isn't always easy, but you can trust Him.

Lollapalooza. My unpopular opinion after one day at Lollapalooza: Lolla is about 10 percent some of the best music in the world and 90 percent suburban kids smoking pot and talking about how they snuck into the festival OVER the best music in the world. But now I can say I've gone. And next year I won't feel bad sticking to the live stream and after shows.

Sorry, guys. I'm old.

Here are a few thoughts on the acts I saw on the first day of the festival (the only day I went):

  • Hot Chip. Hot Chip is another one of those bands Vinyl Me Please introduced me to, and it introduced me at a time I really needed candy-colored vinyl, upbeat music and infectious joy. So it was great to see that all come to life onstage at the band's Lollapalooza after-show? pre-show? Thursday night at The Vic. My friend Kristin had won tickets to the show because winning tickets to shows is her spiritual gift. Also, she has been to shows at just about every venue in Chicago, so she has the gift of always knowing exactly where to sit/stand for the best view/sound. No two people on that stage looked like they belonged onstage together. There was Totally 80's Keyboard Guy and Elijah Wood-Dressed-As-Bono Lead Singer Guy. There was Super Preppy Rad Drummer Chick and Guy Who Might Have Just Wandered Off The Street and Dad on Percussion. And every single one of looked completely comfortable and confident and on top of his or her game. So let that be a lesson to you: Own your weird.
  • Mighty Oaks. I hadn't heard of Mighty Oaks until I started investigating all the bands that were playing Friday at Lollapalooza, and I liked the band right off the bat because it has that folksy-rock sound I like and it's based in Berlin, my other favorite city on the planet. It was a chill way to start the day at Lolla, full of gratitude from a band playing its first ever festival in the U.S. and devoid of self-promotion because it hadn't been able to bring any merch overseas.
  • St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Probably the most blissful part of my day at Lollapalooza was rolling out my beach towel in a shady spot between two stages and listening to St. Paul and the Broken Bones take it to church while I watched the clouds float by and the trees clap their hands overheard.
  • Father John Misty. I'm so ambivalent about Father John Misty and his album "I Love You Honeybear" in the real definition of the word. The album is shocking in its honesty and profanity and, as uncomfortable as it can be, it's endlessly listenable. In performance, J. Tillman's "Father John Misty" persona was deliberately cool and mysterious, railing about skywriters and corporate beer signs and singing ballads at an outdoor festival, asking audience members if they'd accepted Jesus into their hearts and dancing provocatively with his microphone stand. One friend described it as a big joke on the audience. And it is, but it's part mask and part vulnerability, and what's more true to life than that?
  • Paul McCartney. What convinced me to finally shell out for tickets to Lollapalooza? Two words: Paul McCartney. Even he stopped the show a few songs in to say, "This is so cool, I need a moment to drink it all in." It mostly was the same show I saw him play at Wrigley Field several years ago (to the day!), but those songs don't get old. Neither does Sir Paul, I'm pretty sure. 

TV and Movies

True Detective: Season Two. Joel and I are doing our best to keep up with "True Detective" on HBO Go, but like everybody else, we're sort of underwhelmed with this season. The characters remain flawed, but they're not necessarily deep, and there's no chemistry between them like there was in season one. Plus, this incoherent sex addict-smalltown mobster murder mystery plot isn't nearly as interesting as the weird religious cult thing.

The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns. That "Young Nuns" documentary that was making its way around the Catholic Internet this month led me to this Lifetime series on Amazon, and now I feel like I sort of understand the allure of reality TV. Christie, if you are reading this and you still are moving to Chicago to join the Daughters of Saint Mary of Providence, let's be best friends.

God's Not Dead. And then I fell down a rabbit hole of watching bad Christian films. This one would be laughable in its stereotypes of Muslims and atheists if it wasn't so awful that people apparently believe said stereotypes and that it's Christians who are the ones furthering them. On the bright side, my Netflix recommendations now are all kinds of awesome.

Birdman and The Imitation Game. Joel and I finally got around to Redboxing a few of those movies we actually had wanted to see in the theater. He liked "Birdman," but I'm not really feeling up to somebody else's existential crisis right now.


I've been suffering from book indecision again this month, so I'm partway into all these books:

The good news is this means I should have a ton of book reviews for you next month.

On the InterWebs

Here are my favorites from the blogosphere this past month:

How to Survive and Thrive with Big Change by Tim Grahl. “Sensible people reinvent themselves every 10 years,” according to Irish author Charles Handy. Change indeed has found me, right on schedule, even if I wasn't looking for it. And it's good to hear, even when you've chosen change, it's still hard. Don't fight it, Tim Grahl writes. Open your arms to it, and make it yours.

Why Every Woman Should Know Her Prompt by Karen Swallow Prior via A Holy Experience. This is a beautiful reflection by Karen Swallow Prior on what it means to be a woman and the woman who have shaped her life. "There are as many ways to be a woman as there are women."

Breaking Up with White Jesus by Kaya Oakes via Killing the Buddha. Kaya Oakes quickly is becoming one of my favorite Catholic writers to follow on Twitter.

Her.meneutics has been knocking it out of the park this month. Some of my favorite posts: What Having Millions of Followers Taught Me about Christian Dialogue, They Shall Know Us by our Parties and Sin Gone Viral.

And finally – just for fun, because apparently I read and share a lot of really heavy stuff – 21 Signs You Might Be An Ambivert via Buzzfeed. I've been referring to myself all these years as the "extrovert to the introverts," but the older I get, the more I think I might just be an ambivert. No. 16 on this list pretty much seals it.

Oh, and the hashtag #TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter gave me life this month.

On the blog

I wasn't lying about bringing back Get the 'Net, my monthly TinyLetter for those of us who read the comments. I sent another one this month; this one about thinking before sharing online and not going numb to the graphic photos and tragic headlines and injustices we encounter there.

I also shared my thoughts on "Monster Hunters," the new book by Milwaukee-based journalist Tea Krulos, and "A Lily Among Thorns: The Mohawk Repatriation of St. Kateri Tekakwitha" by Darren Bonaparte. What's on your summer reading list?

In other publications

Like I mentioned before, I've been maintaining the blog for the OUTCRY Tour that kicked off this month in Chicago. Most gratifying has been spotlighting churches in the cities the tour visits, continuing the work of telling the good stories you don't always hear about the church that started with this RELEVANT article.

I also wrote up a fascinating interview for the Washington Post's Acts of Faith blog with a woman who left the Amish (spoiler alert: it's not all sweetness and simplicity).

And I finished another article for an upcoming issue of RELEVANT Magazine about social entrepreneurship. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the topic: What are your favorite businesses that give back? Does that encourage you to buy a product?

What have you been into this month?

Linking up with Leigh Kramer.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Also, I received one or more of the books mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Photos: For more photos of my everyday adventures, follow me on Instagram.
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