Friday, April 24, 2015

Jewish, Muslim, other faith communities reflect on 'huge loss' of Cardinal George (Chicago Sun-Times)

The Very Rev. Thomas A. Baima remembers Cardinal Francis George’s first public appearance after having cancer surgery for the first time.

George had attended an interfaith Iftar dinner, the evening meal where Muslims break their daily fast during the month of Ramadan.

He had accepted an invitation to the yearly Iftar immediately after he was named archbishop of Chicago in 1997, Dr. Shakir Moiduddin, of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, said during an interfaith service remembering the cardinal Wednesday at Holy Name Cathedral. And he continued to attend every year during the 17 years he led the city’s 2.2 million Catholics.

Baima, vicar for ecumenical and interreligious affairs for the Archdiocese of Chicago, also remembered the dinner given in the cardinal’s honor by the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago last April. He remembered the keynote speech he gave last August to the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

But, mostly, he remembered, “how happy he always was to be in a group with people, whether they were wearing Roman collars or turbans.”

“He had really a great deal of experience not so much with interreligious dialogue, but with intercultural encounter. That was a real gift he brought us.”

For the rest of the story, read Jewish, Muslim, other faith communities reflect on 'huge loss' of Cardinal George.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. 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."

Photo: Archdiocese of Chicago.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Searching for Sunday: Confirmation

On our Confirmation Day, my friend Jill said I was glowing.

I still remember that because, well, it was sort of a strange thing to say. Jill and I weren't terribly close – we were the kind of close you get when you're the only two the same age at church, and so it's been the two of you together through first communion and confirmation and Sunday school classes for years, even if you've never really seen each other outside the four walls of a sanctuary. We weren't the kind of close where you just blurt out the weird stuff because you have that kind of understanding. I still have no idea what that meant: glowing in a "Lives of the Saints" sort of way or glowing like an expectant mother, happy and sure of the decision I was making?

I remember my parents gave me a lamp as a confirmation present because I thought that was kind of weird, too. My grandparents gave me a Bible with my name stamped in gold foil on its burgundy leather cover and my grandpa's calligraphy on the inside. My name has changed, but it's still the Bible I use, the one I read and cart absently from nightstand to coffee table as I move through my day.

Mostly I remember how seriously I took confirmation. I took two confirmation classes, even, though not by choice: one at my church, part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and one at my school, part of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. At school, the pastor preached the gravity of the commitment to my eighth-grade class and gave everybody except for me a copy of Halley's Bible Handbook because I didn't go to that church and wouldn't be getting confirmed with them. At church, the pastor helped us pick confirmation verses; mine was Matthew 18:20, a verse that shocked me with the radical idea that Jesus might want to come and be with me. I pretty much had Luther's Small Catechism memorized by the end of that year.

If becoming a Christian is being born again, mine was a textbook delivery.

I was baptized as a baby in the Lutheran church and went through 11 years of Lutheran schooling. I went to Lutheran church every Sunday, pancake breakfasts on Easter at my grandparents' church in rural Ohio and potlucks in ordinary time at our wood-beamed church with the sign over the door: "You are now entering the mission field." I took my first communion in the Lutheran church in third grade and was confirmed in the Lutheran church in eighth, everything according to plan. I lived the rhythms of the liturgical calendar, the rise and fall of the language in the green hymnal and the New International Version.

It's a pretty boring story, but it's my story.


Do you renounce all the forces of evil, the devil and all his empty promises?


There's a line in a Quiet Company song that haunts me: "Are you smart enough to have your doubts?"

I like to think I'm smart. I listen to NPR. I graduated cum laude from a prestigious university. I have tassels and trophies and awards and with my name on them that would appear to back me up on this.

I just don't really have a lot of doubts.

That's not to say I don't think to myself at least once a day, "This is all craziness." Or that I don't understand the wounds the church has caused through the centuries. Or that I don't recognize those parts of Scripture that seem to contradict themselves. That life hasn't given me occasion to weep and gnash my teeth or that I haven't thought deeply about these things.

I just haven't doubted God was there in the midst of it all, that He was real.

I haven't always viewed this as the gift it probably is. After all, Paul E. Miller writes in an excellent chapter about cynicism in "A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World," "Cynicism is, increasingly, the dominant spirit of our age." And I don't want those who do doubt to be afraid of sharing their stories with me. I need to be reminded to sit with and not rush toward, to listen and not try to come up with an answer for everything, to wrestle with the questions others raise, to simply love.

I need those stories.


Do you believe in God the Father?


It was on a mission trip at a Full Gospel church and Pentecostal campground a couple years after my confirmation when I first heard the words "personal relationship with Jesus," and I was shocked again that Jesus might want to come and be with me. That praying and singing hymns and reading the Bible weren't just things that could be done corporately at church or school, but also personally. That Jesus wasn't the cool kid who sort of tolerated my presence because of all our mutual friends; He genuinely wanted to spend time with me.

So I started reading Christian books and listening to Christian music with lyrics about churches full of people who stare into nowhere / and can't feel the chains on their souls.

And I started worrying about the salvation of all those people staring into nowhere in the pews next to me.

When I moved to New York City, I started worshipping at a nondenominational church that met in a theater and had a band and a big screen and fill-in-the-blanks and readings that followed the rhythm of The Purpose-Driven Church rather than the lectionary. I led a small group that was supposed to be for church members, but everybody ended up confirmed Catholic or Episcopal by the time I was done with them, and I invited my Mormon friend.

I was supposed to be baptized again as an adult, too, to make a public profession of my faith, but I politely declined. In my confirmation, I already had affirmed the work God had started in my baptism: I didn't think I understood that work any more as an adult than I had when I was a baby. I didn't doubt whatever He did in the mysterious, spiritual part of baptism was enough, that it had "taken." The pastors said that was OK, but I don't think they really meant it.

I started to miss my liturgical roots and started cheating with midweek theology classes at an Episcopal church and services there on Sunday morning before our services met at night.


Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?


It was a spring day in Minnesota. Three of us had driven up through a snowstorm and were sitting on a screened-in porch of a friend's home on the edge of the White Earth Reservation, wearing thick sweaters and smoking cigarettes through numb fingers. I joined the conversation, but not the cigarettes, and somebody blew a cloud of smoke in my face and made a comment about how I always was a "good kid" in high school and never smoked or drank or fooled around with boys, and, in a moment of self-pity, I thought, I'm 30 years old and I'm still getting teased about this.

That doesn't mean I don't struggle, I said, finally. I just struggle with different things.

We were in Minnesota, the three of us, for the funeral of a friend who had left us almost as quickly as she had been diagnosed, all of us us reeling and questioning God in her sudden absence. I'd gotten an eye infection on the way up and a splinter in my foot the size of the tree as soon as we'd arrived, but I didn't want to trouble anybody, so I sat by myself at the funeral, squinting through crusted eyes and a borrowed pair of glasses. I didn't cry.

Not even when somebody offered to pull out the splinter, and I sat unflinching in the middle of the floor and swigged a handle of vodka that was handed to me long and hard before she dug into my heel with something sharp and metallic I couldn't see.

Not until we were on our way home, and it all poured out: What kind of a boring story was I living? How was anybody supposed to relate to that? How could God possibly use it?

My friend thought about this for a moment.

"We need to hear those stories, too," she said.


Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?


When I graduated and moved back to Chicago for an internship and then an internship and then a job, I tried going to a new megachurch campus that had opened in the city, but the pastor cried every Sunday.

I tried an Episcopal church, too, which I actually really liked. There weren't really any other people my age, but there was a singles group advertised in the bulletin, and I read that as code for That Time When All The 20-Somethings Get Together And Hang Out. Actually, it was something of a support group, and everybody still was older than me and also cried.

I tried, during a year-long sojourn to the suburbs, just about every church within an hour's drive, sometimes forgetting which denominations had closed communion and messing up the lines and eating and drinking when I wasn't supposed to and just generally making it really obvious I was a visitor.

I tried not going to church for a while when that got too disheartening, searching for both tradition and a tribe in a single Sunday.

Finally, I moved back to the city and tried the Presbyterian church my friend Joel and some of his roommates attended. Three years later, Joel and I were married there, and not long after, I officially became a member. It felt good to finally settle down, and I mean with a church – to confirm no church was perfect and neither was I, but we'd stick it out together, for better or for worse.


I do, and I ask God to help and guide me.


In her book "Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church," Rachel Held Evans quotes Madeleine L'Engle:

"The great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been."

"I think the same thing is true for church," Evans writes. "Each one stays with us, even after we've left, adding layer after layer to the palimpsest of our faith."

There was a moment this past week when I found myself anointing a room full of artists and visionaries with water I'd brought back from the miraculous well at Santa Maria in Via in Rome and laying hands on them in prayer, the way I'd learned at the Pentecostal campground. I spent a long time preparing for a discussion with my small group at church with Halley's Bible Handbook and the Bible my grandpa had calligraphed. I threw in Jana Riess' not-quite translation "The Twible: All the Chapters of the Bible in 140 Characters or Less" for good measure.

I finished reading "Searching for Sunday," a memoir about Evans' own relationship with the church – through ups and downs, faith and doubt, Baptist youth groups and Episcopal liturgies. It's personal and universal, essay and psalm, history and theology; rooted, as the church is, in the sacraments, those illustrations of God's invisible work on earth.

And I can confirm that's absolutely true.

I don't worry as much now about the salvation of the people sitting next to me in the pews. I've realized I probably have become the kind of person I once worried about, the kind of person that seemed too relaxed about this whole thing. That my mainline Protestant church wasn't holding out on me with this "personal relationship" thing, that the megachurch taught me to live in community. The Pentecostals taught me to pray and the Catholics, to wonder. That our faith builds in layers – one church, one revelation, one next right step at a time.

It might be a pretty boring story, but it's my story, and I'm starting to believe we need to hear them all.


Father in heaven, for Jesus' sake, stir up in us the gift of your Holy Spirit; confirm our faith, guide our lives, empower us in our serving, give us patience in suffering and bring us to everlasting life. Amen.

For more information about "Searching for Sunday," or to order a copy from your favorite bookseller, visit You also can read my (extremely rare) five-star review on Amazon or Goodreads.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I am a member of the "Searching for Sunday" launch team and received a copy of the book 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.”

Photo: "Confirmation" by Ruth Meharg. View her entire series of illustrations inspired by the seven sacraments in "Searching for Sunday." I'll see if my parents don't have a photo of my confirmation for a future Throwback Thursday post.

Also, check out Amanda Opelt's companion album musing on the sacraments, "Seven Songs." One of the best parts of being on the launch team for this book has been seeing the way one work of art has inspired others. Creativity begets creativity.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Pope Francis on Cardinal George: a 'wise and gentle pastor' (Chicago Sun-Times)

Pope Francis has sent his condolences on the death of Cardinal Francis George, calling the late cardinal “a wise and gentle pastor.”

The message, addressed to Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich and signed “Francis PP,” was delivered by telegram, Vatican Radio announced Saturday.

Here it is in full:

Saddened to learn of the death of Cardinal Francis E. George, Archbishop Emeritus of Chicago, I offer heartfelt condolences to you and to the clergy, religious and lay faithful of the Archdiocese. With gratitude for Cardinal George’s witness of consecrated life as an Oblate of Mary Immaculate, his service to the Church’s educational apostolate and his years of episcopal ministry in the Churches of Yakima, Portland and Chicago, I join you in commending the soul of this wise and gentle pastor to the merciful love of God our heavenly Father. To all who mourn the late Cardinal in the sure hope of the Resurrection, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of consolation and peace in the Lord.

In his statement Friday on the passing of Cardinal Francis George, Cupich had noted his successor “served the Church universal as a Cardinal and offered his counsel and support to three Popes and their collaborators in the Roman congregations.”

“In this way, he contributed to the governance of the Church worldwide,” he said.

George had been named archbishop by the first of those popes, Pope John Paul II, in April 1997.

He then participated in the conclaves that elected Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, two pontiffs worlds apart in style, though the cardinal drew comparisons to both.

For the rest of the story, read Pope Francis on Cardinal George: a 'wise and gentle pastor.'

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. 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."

Photo: Archdiocese of Chicago.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Archbishop Cupich to speak at Boston College graduation (Chicago Sun-Times)

Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich will be the commencement speaker next month at Boston College’s graduation, the university announced Thursday.

Cupich also will be presented with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree May 18 at Boston College’s 139th annual Commencement Exercises, according to the university.

After speeches in past years by Secretary of State John Kerry and Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, university spokesperson Jack Dunn said, “Boston College was looking for a notable speaker who could impart wisdom to our 4,000 [graduating] students.”

“We chose Archbishop Cupich because of his role as a champion for the economically and socially disenfranchised and his role in leading the third-largest Catholic diocese in the United States.”

For the rest of the story, read Archbishop Cupich to speak at Boston College graduation.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. 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."

Photo: Archdiocese of Chicago.

Monday, April 6, 2015

What I'm Into {March 2015}: The heartbeat of the frozen lake

I spent a long weekend at the end of March working with my nonprofit, Hope for the First Nations, on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota.

A day or two into the trip, my neck was so stiff and sore I barely could move my head and my whole body ached. I'm not sure what that was. Maybe I just was still long enough for the constant motion of the past month to catch up to me. That seems entirely likely given the month I've had – not a bad one, just a very busy one.

And that's OK. I've known I've been in an exceptionally busy season the past | few months, and busy is just that: a season. I'm learning balance doesn't always come in a day or even a week; sometimes it's in seasons – busy seasons and slow seasons, times to pour into others and times to let others pour into you. One thing we've been reminding each other recently in my women's group at church is that Jesus hardly lived what we would consider a balanced life. He always was stealing away to get some alone time, always grabbing naps when He could in the bottom of the boat, always interrupted by somebody who needed His help. And so we keep grabbing sleep where we can and stealing time to ourselves in the margins and trusting in The One With Whom All Things Are Possible.

Here are a few of those things that kept me busy this past month.

Life Updates

Hope for the First Nations. That trip to the rez this past week was my first one as president of HFtFN. We took nine students from Lincoln Christian University in Lincoln, Illinois, mostly to volunteer in the schools for their Restoration Week project. We visited old friends and made new ones. We saw wolves and shooting stars and a halo around the moon. We listened to the heartbeat of the lake and the wind whistling above the Old School. We shared meals and prayers and life together. And everyone was so willing to be challenged and to love without agenda. It all reminded me why what we do is important and why I love it so much.

March Feast. It was a small but dedicated crew at the monthly artists meet-up I host in Chicago, but Katie, our resident visual artist, brought a bunch of paints and papers, and I led us through creating wisdom cards, an exercise in Christine Paintner's excellent book, "The Artist's Rule." This was my second time creating wisdom cards, something that seemed like this woo-woo, seeking-enlightenment-from-my-inner-goddess thing at first. It's not. It's this really helpful tool for thinking through any big questions I might have. This meet-up is a regular thing now, and I'm really happy about that.

Best thing I made/ate: My friend Kristin and I had dinner at the Girl and the Goat after another one of her friends had to bail on her reservation. We ate kimchi pierogi and escargot ravioli and pig face, but the show stopper was the confit goat belly with bourbon butter and lobster and crab. I told my husband Joel we have to go back for cocktails some time just so he can try it because whoa. Completely different: We took a field trip to the "rez-taurant" in White Earth while we were in Minnesota, and I had a spicy rez burger on fry bread that was so good it was absolutely worth all the yoga and smoothies it's going to take to make up for it.

Things I Love

The Family Arcana. I love collaborations between artists and new ways to tell stories. This one is a story about a haunted family, published as a poker deck and written to be read an infinite number of ways. With recipes. And a soundtrack. What? I know. I backed that Kickstarter immediately.

Speaking of awesome collaborations, who wants to send me this set of words + prints for Eastertide?

Popbasic. I introduced a colleague this month to Popbasic, a clothing and accessory company that designs limited edition, high quality basics and trend pieces to help you create your style one micro collection at a time. Which is how I heard about the website in the first place. I'm not much of a shopper, so that suits me just fine. Also, I've loved every piece I've gotten (so far, the Wanderlust collection and white polka dot blouse, and I have my eye on the Isla collection and a Le Breton). Use my affiliate link, and we both can get $15 credit.

Awake the Bones' Indie Seminar (and The Coterie!). Elora Nicole of Awake the Bones is hosting a free, monthlong Indie Seminar in April for those who want to learn more about indie publishing, and I'll probably be throwing out some social media knowledge in there somewhere. For those who want to go deeper, she also is opening up The Coterie for a limited time. This is the online writing group I am a part of, something I like to think of as my light in the Internet darkness. And we're doing something new starting in June: we'll be taking a year to focus on our individual publishing projects, with classes, coaching, editing and the support of a cohort. I have an affiliate link for this one, too. It won't get you a discount, but I probably can think up something pretty awesome and social media-related for you as an added bonus if you join through me.


"Carrie and Lowell" by Sufjan Stevens. Hahaha, like there was any other music that mattered this month besides this beautiful and brutal album. I drove all the way to Indianapolis to listen to a sneak peek before it released, and now I'm waiting for my clear vinyl to arrive.

I also got a ticket to the first day of Lollapalooza because Paul McCartney – even though I'm starting to feel too old and uncool for these sorts of things.

And I signed up for Vinyl Me Please, a subscription service that delivers a new record, art print and cocktail recipe to your door each month, because Menomena. (I'm sorry I missed that Sisyphus record, though, one of my favorite albums of 2014.)

It's a little late for St. Patrick's Day, but this song from my friend Lewis Knudsen still is pretty great.

TV and Movies

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Tina Fey, you get out of my head with your ridiculously specific ideas for TV shows!

The Jinx. I binge-watched all but the finale in one sitting and, wow, what a strange story.

The X-Files. I had to go back and start re-watching the first season of The X-Files once it was official: the show is coming back for a six-episode series with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson.


Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are by Shauna Niequist. Kristin and I drove out to the suburbs the weekend after "Savor" released for a book signing and question-and-answer by Shauna Niequist. I don't think I've bought a devotional since I was in high school, which is longer ago than I care to admit, but it was a St. Patrick's Day weekend, which always is a good time to get away from the city. (This Modern Mrs. Darcy post also may have had something to do with it.) But "Savor" has surprised me, and already it has worked itself into my daily ritual. It's a beautiful book that invites you to sit awhile and savor in form as well as function, packed with short readings, thought-provoking questions and good reminders – like the recipes that remind you we're not meant to walk this faith journey alone with a devotional in hand, but together around a table hand-in-hand with other people. It's just what I needed right now (also: Niequist is even more generous and gracious in person than I had imagined, in case you were wondering).

Embracing the Body: Finding God in our Flesh and Bone by Tara Owens. I've been looking forward to reading these words from Tara Owens since she first shared a few of them around a table at a reading at the Festival of Faith and Writing last year, and they did not disappoint. This is a beautiful and thought-provoking book that encourages Christians to get out of our heads and live fully. Get a taste in the synchroblog.

The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands (audiobook) by Lysa TerKeurst. I hate to say Lysa TerKeurst really understands the issues all women face because I don't think all women are a monolithic entity, but I will say she gets the issues I face, even if some of her mom life examples don't always connect. And I face a lot of decisions, a lot of stress, a lot more demands than I have time. This latest book is a great reminder "saying yes all the time won't make me Wonder Woman, it will make me a worn-out woman."

A Lily Among Thorns: The Mohawk Repatriation of Káteri Tekahkwí:tha by Darren Bonaparte. I wanted to learn more about North America's first Native American saint. In fact, I wanted to write about her for The Mudroom's celebration of women's history last month until life intervened. But I didn't want to hear her story filtered through the lens of the miraculous or from the white missionaries who viewed her as "a saint among savages." Darren Bonaparte's book puts these narratives within the context of history, archaeology and Mohawk culture to tell a fuller story about St. Kateri Tekahkwitha.

"Searching for Sunday" (ARC) by Rachel Held Evans, "The Art of Work" by Jeff Goins"Walking with Jesus" by Pope Francis, "Wearing God" by Lauren Winner and "So You've Been Publicly Shamed" by Jon Ronson all landed in my mailbox in the past week(!), and I can't wait to start reading.

On the InterWebs

Here are my favorites from the blogosphere this past month:
  • There were a lot of insightful and delicate reviews of Sufjan Stevens' new album and interviews with the artist this month, and I read them all. But I was most enamored with Sara Galactica's attempted Sufjan mind-meld through cocktails, history and memory. I already was planning to mix her Meadowlark cocktail and color when the clear vinyl finally arrives in my mailbox, and then she published her (Unofficial) Carrie & Lowell Listening Companion. Apparently, what she succeeded in was an Emily Miller mind-meld.
  • Dorothy Day: Saint with Thorns by Julie Armstrong via The Mudroom. I took a break from writing for The Mudroom this month because of the business, but my fellow Mudroommates crushed it with a monthlong series honoring women. There were so many incredible posts, it's hard to choose just one, but Dorothy Day is one of my heroes.
  • You Don't Have to Care About Everything and The Transition Time by Addie Zierman. Addie Zierman traveled with World Vision to Armenia this past month and wrote about how she possibly did the whole thing wrong. And yet I already have referenced her post "You Don't Have to Care About Everything" eleventy-billion times in conversation. And I had to stop and think what it was about "The Transition Time" that had me teary-eyed. Nailed it.
  • Behold! What Shakespeare’s words on mercy can teach us about Internet shaming by Matthew Lee Anderson via Acts of Faith. The Washington Post's Acts of Faith blog is pretty much the best new thing on the Internet. I especially loved this post reminding, "We are most God-like when we are most merciful." (I also really needed this post: 10 inspirational quotes to help you feel better about not getting anything done.)
  • A Little Life Update from my friend Grace Kim of Lean Girls Club, who is an inspiration on so many levels. If you don't follow her fitness and lifestyle blog, you should.

In the paper

Here are a few of the things I've written this month for the Chicago Sun-Times:

In other publications

My article in the March/April issue of RELEVANT is one of my favorites: "Do Miracles Still Happen?" I'd love to hear your thoughts on the topic!

What have you been into this month?

Late as usual, or I'd be 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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