Monday, November 9, 2015

The American Orphan Crisis (RELEVANT)

If you're visiting today from RELEVANT, welcome!

It was January 2005, the 32nd anniversary of landmark abortion ruling Roe v. Wade, and Randy Bohlender, his wife, three sons and thousands of other pro-life supporters turned out on Capitol Hill. They were there to pray for an end to abortion.

Not surprisingly, they were met by strong vocal opposition. And one person actually yelled a question that changed Bohlender’s life: “They said, ‘If you had your way, if Roe v. Wade was overturned, what are you going to do with all the babies who would be born?’

“And, you know, that’s valid,” he says. “Sometimes your critics are right.”

During the past decade in the United States, thousands of Christians have come to the conviction that being pro-life means being more than pro-birth. And they’ve embraced adoption and foster care.

“The Church at its best has been known as a people who care for orphans,” says Jedd Medefind, president of the Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO), a network of more than 150 Christian organizations and churches.

The early church was known for taking in children Romans had abandoned in a practice known as “exposure.” But many modern American Christians first came face to face with adoption in the early 2000s as the world began to shrink and the speed of technology and ease of travel introduced them to children in crisis all over the globe.

That’s when a number of prominent Christians began to speak about—mostly international—adoption, including musician Steven Curtis Chapman, pastor Rick Warren and theologian Russell Moore.

“International adoption became a big catalyst for many other expressions for care for orphans, including both international service and engagement with foster care,” Medefind says.

Since international adoption peaked in 2004, scandals and politics have forced countries to close or limit adoptions. The number of international adoptions reported by the U.S. Department of State in 2014 is less than a third of what it was then—down from 22,991 to 6,441.

In the meantime, the number of children waiting to be adopted out of the U.S. foster care system has held steady around 100,000. (More than 400,000 total remain in the system, according to the most recent numbers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.)

And there are more than 300,000 churches in the country, points out Kelly Rosati, vice president of community outreach at Focus on the Family.

“If just one family in every third church would welcome home one of these kids, we would have no more orphans in foster care,” Rosati says. “It would be the most powerful witness ever to the love of Christ.”

That’s exactly what the Bohlenders did.

For the rest of the story, read The American Orphan Crisis.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

What I'm Into: This is your brain on grad school {September/October 2015}

So far, fall has found me in a sweat lodge at a weekend retreat for Indigenous Spirituality class in Portland, Oregon; watching Pope Francis swing by in the popemobile while covering the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia; at a paranormal investigation at a historic mill in the Chicago suburbs; and on my first day of school in nearly a decade.

Which is a pretty eclectic mix, even by my standards.

Things I Love

Kayaking on the Chicago River. Joel found a Groupon for a sunset kayak trip a few days before my birthday on the Chicago River that ended with dinner from a food truck, a bonfire and s'mores. It was pretty much my perfect day.

Eloheh School. I started my first semester of grad school in the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies at George Fox Evangelical Seminary with a weekend at Eloheh Farm outside Portland, Oregon, hosted by my advisor, Randy Woodley. I was part of the first class of Eloheh School. We discussed how spirituality is tied to land. After all, one co-learner pointed out, at one point, we all saw Creator in everything. If we all remembered our cultures, maybe we wouldn't feel like we had to co-opt Native American culture, she said. I've been thinking about that ever since. We also got our hands in the dirt on the farm, feasted together, feasted some more and were welcomed into the sweat lodge. And more s'mores.

The Festival of Families and papal Mass in Philadelphia. The nice thing about being the B-Team that covered the World Meeting of Families before the A-Team arrived in Philadelphia to cover Pope Francis' visit is that by the time the papal events started, my work there was done, and I just got to enjoy the festivities. Also, I got to meet Vanessa Johnson, one of the women in the online writing group I joined, and crash with her family. I wandered down to the Festival of Families early Saturday because I wasn't sure what to expect, and I ended up staking out a spot along the barricade on the papal parade route for something like four hours. If I had known at the outset I would be standing in one spot without moving for four hours, I might not have done it. But it turned out to be a great experience, bonding with little old women who only spoke Spanish and small children who only spoke Italian and a large family from Philadelphia that tried to convince the security guard nearest us to lob a newborn baby at the pope. And I couldn't believe how close I was to the pope when he zipped by in the popemobile.

House hunting. Joel and I started house-hunting this fall after our landlord informed us he'd be turning our apartment into a religious library or pagan temple, depending what day you ask him. It's been a little heartbreaking because the first place we liked had some major structural issues and the second went contingent the morning we were scheduled to revisit and had hoped to make an offer. I'm still praying the folks who made the offer find something they like even better. So if you or somebody you know recently made an offer on a cute little two-flat in Chicago, you should know it comes with a weird neighbor who bikes past now and again gazing forlornly at the house and imagining her future inside. And probably a ghost. Not that anybody told me it was haunted, but nobody told me it wasn't either.

Soups and Scary Movies. This year for our annual Soups and Scary Movies party, we went with a "Left Behind" theme. Joel made wild rice, rabbit and avocado soups, and I showed both the Nicolas Cage and Kirk Cameron versions of "Left Behind." Pro tip: Watch these movies with a large group of hilarious friends. Also, watch the Nic Cage version first, because it makes the Kirk Cameron version seem TOTALLY action-packed.

Best thing I made/ate: Joel took me out for sushi at Arami on my birthday. The server caught on pretty quick we weren't afraid to try new things and started making suggestions like, the chef only has two pieces of skate wing left, should I just bring them out? Yes, absolutely. It was warm and buttery and melted in your mouth. Also, MONKFISH LIVER. In Philadelphia, I wound my way through the deserted zombie apocalypse that was downtown after I finished working Friday to try two of the special beers local craft breweries had made for the occasion on tap at City Tap House: Papal Pleasure and Holy Wooder. Also, while Vanessa, her family and I were caught up in the apocalypse after Mass on Sunday, we ducked into a restaurant called Vernick, and, wow, was that ever good. Umbrian wine, sweetbreads and radish and avocado toast.

Music and Podcasts

"No No No" by BeirutNew Beirut album and SERIOUSLY WHAT MORE DO YOU NEED TO KNOW?!

"I Love You, Honeybear" by Father John MistyI've written before about my love-hate relationship with this album. I can't stop listening to it.

"Covers" by Sleeping at LastFor my birthday, my mom got me tickets to see author Ransom Riggs and musician Ryan O'Neal, a.k.a. Sleeping at Last, at an event in Naperville for the release of the final book in Riggs' Miss Peregrine series. Sleeping At Last played a few songs, Riggs answered a few questions about the series and the two interviewed each other about the creative process. I picked up Sleeping at Last's "Covers" album on vinyl afterward for all the autographs.

"Pink" by Four Tet and "There Will Be No Sad Tomorrow" by Blessed Feathers. The last two Vinyl Me Please selections were a hit and a miss. I didn't love the W Hotel-lobby sound of Four Tet, but I'm glad to have met Blessed Feathers, which is perfect writing music – and the accompanying artwork may be my favorite yet. 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. This month's album is Black Sabbath!

"Song from Earth" by Lewis Knudsen. Somehow I keep convincing my musician-friend Lewis Knudsen to turn my crazy ideas into songs. First, it was a series of songs about | conspiracy | theories. Last month, it was this song using space sounds released by NASA.

TV and Movies

The X-Files. Joel and I are hopelessly behind on the 201-day rewatch, but we're still checking in on the episode of the day when we can. This past month we hit one of my all-time favorite episodes: "Bad Blood." Speaking of, I made a totally hilarious GIF with sound for one episode, and I don't think the Internet was old enough to get it.

The House Hunters Collection. House hunting is stressful. Judging strangers makes me feel better, I'll just say it.

The Ghost Adventures Collection. Of all the shows about paranormal investigation teams, this is the most ridiculous, but that also makes it compulsively watchable.

Goosebumps. I drove downstate to see the new "Goosebumps" movie on Halloween (and go trick-or-treating!) with my sister and nephew. It was a fun movie, not just because I had every single one of those books when I was a kid, but also because it essentially was a movie about reading and writing and the power of books to bring whole worlds to life.


The Monastery of the Heart: An Invitation to a Meaningful Life by Joan Chittister. In "The Monastery of the Heart," Chittister writes what she's learned in more than 50 years of life in a monastery, following the Rule of St. Benedict. She writes how others outside the monastery can join what she calls "the rhythm of a better life." She writes about "a new way to live a meaningful spiritual life in the center of the world today, rather than withdraw from it." I've been blogging through how this applies to our digital lives (more about that, below).

One Church, Many Tribes: Following Jesus the Way God Made You by Richard Twiss. I'm not exaggerating when I say this book changed my life: it's one that shaped Hope for the First Nations and one that we continue to recommend to our volunteers. So I was honored to write the discussion post about it last month for The Red Couch Book Club.

The Tweetable Pope: A Spiritual Revolution in 140 Characters by Michael J. O'Loughlin.

Jesus, Pope Francis and a Protestant Walk into a Bar: Lessons for the Christian Church by Paul Rock.

The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk (audiobook).

Hollow City: The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (audiobook). I didn't quite catch up before "Library of Souls" was released in September, but this book preached to me right when I needed to hear it: “But you can't feel bad every second, I wanted to tell her. Laughing doesn’t make bad things worse any more than crying makes them better. It doesn't mean you don't care, or that you've forgotten. It just means you're human.”

Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future (audiobook). "Rise of the Robots" starts out strong with an interesting discussion of how technology has changed and is changing the workplace, but it gets too bogged down in politics as the author discusses ways he believes this will affect the future and how that could or should be legislated.

Other books I read/am reading for grad school:

On the InterWebs

Here are my favorites from all over the InterWebs so far this fall:

Who'd Be A Journalist? by Hector Tobar via the New York Times. "To enter journalism these days you have to be a true believer. If you can find an entry-level job — and newspaper staffs declined by 10 percent last year — you will more than likely take a vow of poverty worthy of a monk." When I was starting out as a journalist, I heard Ben Bradlee in an interview refer to journalism as a "holy profession," too. I still haven't found a better analogy for what it is we do.

Thank you for reading. Please, for the love of all that is holy, help me build my personal brand by Alexandra Petri via the Washington Post. "I also invite you to subscribe to “THIS ISN’T FUN ANYMORE CAN WE STOP." This about sums it up.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Whiteness by Kenji Kuramitsu of A Real Rattlesnake. This was an extremely helpful definition of terms for me.

When You Don't Have the Rights to the Story by Marvia DavidsonThis is so important to consider. I think Marvia is indeed wise when she says, "Perhaps there is wisdom in holding space with one or a few rather than with the many. Maybe in the letting go with a one or a few, we find freedom to overcome those parts of our stories that could potentially wreck us and the way we relate to others or find healing."

Alone with Siri by Ben Moberg of Registered Runaway. "If the sci-fi like characteristics of our changing don’t disturb you, the selfishness they foster within us should." Sit with that for a while.

Also, can we talk about how on point Zach Hoag's TinyLetter has been lately? It's like he's reading my mind. STOP IT, ZACH, THAT'S CREEPY.

On the blog

In October, I rather ambitiously signed up for the 31 Days writing challenge, blogging my way through Sr. Joan Chittister's "The Monastery of the Heart" and looking for ways her advice for living a meaningful life also applies to our digital lives. I made it through the first two sections of the book, which is only about 10 posts – not quite as good as the 21 I knocked out during the challenge last year. But then, last year I wasn't in grad school.

Don't worry. I'll keep up the "Social Media Monk" series until we finish the book. I just can't promise how long that will take me.

Remember the time author Emily P. Freeman recommended the series?

In other publications 

September was a whirlwind of articles, flying to Philadelphia to write about the World Meeting of Families for Crux and live-tweet the conference for the Religion News Service. Then in October, I wrote exactly two articles. Have I mentioned I started grad school?

So, you know, it all evens out.

I also just realized my tweets from Philadelphia made it into articles on, the Washington Post and the San Diego Union-Tribune, even though I wasn't technically covering the event for any of them.

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.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Red Couch: One Church, Many Tribes discussion (SheLoves Magazine)

If you're visiting today from SheLoves Magazine's Red Couch Book Club, welcome!

My friend Leigh Kramer invited me to write the book club's discussion post about "One Church, Many Tribes: Following Jesus the Way God Made You" by Richard Twiss. I'm not exaggerating when I say this book changed my life: it's one that shaped Hope for the First Nations and one that we continue to recommend to our volunteers. I hope you'll join the discussion over on The Red Couch.

I was a teenager on a high school mission trip when I first encountered the book "One Church, Many Tribes: Following Jesus the Way God Made You" by Richard Twiss at an Anishinaabe cultural center near the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota.

My Lutheran high school had been invited to lead a Vacation Bible School at a Full Gospel church just on the edge of the reservation several years earlier. I signed up not because I particularly liked kids or felt called to missions at the time, but because my family always has spent its summers near reservation land in northwestern Wisconsin. Growing up, I was interested in Anishinaabe culture and read widely about the people’s history, but knowing about something is one thing.

Knowing people, hearing their stories, being part of their lives – that’s another.

The cultural center isn’t there any more, but more than a dozen years later, our summer Hope Camp still is. That’s probably because we picked up One Church, Many Tribes there all those years ago, and while we’ve made plenty of mistakes, we’ve remained committed to its message and to constantly learning and doing better.

For the rest of the story, and to join the book club discussion, read The Red Couch: One Church, Many Tribes discussion at SheLoves Magazine.

Bonus: Get a sneak peek of the new Hope for the First Nations website, which developer Becca Nelson and I just soft-launched yesterday.

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. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to 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: SheLoves Magazine.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Social Media Monk: Retreat and Reflection

This post is Day 8 of my "Social Media Monk" series, thinking through what it might look like to use social media in a meaningful way. You can follow along with "The Monastery of the Heart: An Invitation to a Meaningful Life" by Sr. Joan Chittister in e-book or paperback, but you won't need the book for the series to make sense or to join the discussion.

Sometimes, you wake up Monday so exhausted you have no appetite and make it through Friday only having managed to eat a bowl of noodles.

Sometimes, you think you've finally found your home and all the house-hunting is over. And then you wake up that morning, and the property is contingent, and your heart is broken a little bit.

Sometimes, grad school is cray and you're overwhelmed, too, and you fall even further behind in the 31 Days writing challenge.

Sometimes, you find yourself praying the words of the Divine Mercies chaplet: "Have mercy on us and on the whole world." A lot.

Sometimes, your family is in town, and you spend the weekend with your 4-year-old nephew at a suburban pumpkin farm. And you wear ridiculous matching Halloween sweatshirts with your sister. And you drink a glass of wine to celebrate your dad's birthday.

And you needed that retreat.

Sometimes, retreat looks like pulling away from the world for a time to rest.

Other times, it looks like pulling away from the world for a time to reflect on the great questions of life – to go "into that space where we look, first of all, at what we set out to be, and then look consciously at what we are now doing to get there," as Sr. Joan Chittister puts it.

Getting some space from our everyday life and spiritual practices can show us more clearly the distance between who we say we are and who we actually are, Chittister said. It can strengthen our resolve to close that gap.

Taking a retreat from social media, whether it's for a few hours or a whole day or the full length of a vacation, can look like rest, too. We can relax away from all the noise, away from the constant pressure to feed the beat and measure up to the highlight reels of others' lives and like all the pictures of your high school friends' babies.

It also can show us more clearly the distance between who we say we are and who we actually are online.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself during a social media retreat:

  • Why are you using social media?
  • What message do you want to send? When you look over your past posts, profile photos, cover photos and bios is that the message you appear to be putting out there? What can you do to close that gap?
  • How is your message being received? Take a look at your analytics. Are you reaching the audience you want to reach? Are there different social networks you could use instead? Are there words or topics that seem to get more engagement that you could use more often, or a different time of day when you seem to get more engagement when you could post more often?
  • Which networks do you enjoy using, and which aren't fun anymore and can we please stop? (Answer: Yes, you can.) Which ones are bringing you what you are looking for? This goes back to your why, and can include building awareness for you and your message, getting clicks on a link or selling a product.
  • Who do you admire on social media? Take a look at their profiles. Study what they do that seems successful and what they do that you like. Could any of those things work for you on your social media profiles?

Take a few minutes to retreat from social media today, and, when you get back, share your answer to one of these questions in the comments.

I'm linking up with The Nester's 31 Days... writing challenge.

Read all posts in my "Social Media Monk" series here. Sign up to get every update in your inbox or favorite feed reader and exclusive monthly tips on using social media without losing your mind – or your soul, or find even more inspiration on my "Get the Net" Pinterest board.

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. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to 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.”

Monday, October 19, 2015

Why Nadia Bolz-Weber is baffled by how churches became so squeaky clean (Acts of Faith)

CHICAGO — It’s Monday evening in September, and Nadia Bolz-Weber admits to feeling “low-key” as she unwraps a cough drop in the lobby of her hotel. The Lutheran pastor is scheduled to speak that evening — the sixth city she’s visited in seven nights on her book tour for “Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People,” released in September.

And that’s not counting church the day before.

Hours later, though, she is energetically lofting a ham over her head in the city’s stately Fourth Presbyterian Church and proclaiming in language as colorful as her tattoos, “That is a big-a– ham.”

The ham is for a raffle to benefit several of the church’s ministries, the kind of unexpected move that has become the norm for Bolz-Weber, former stand-up comic and alcoholic, current CrossFit devotee and Lutheran pastor.

Close-cropped hair and sleeveless shirt showing off her tattoos that show the church year? Check. An open door to the drag queens, the addicted and the others who feel out of place at church? Check. Love for ancient liturgy and Lutheran theology? Check.

The combination is at least a good chunk of what has made her a popular speaker since her memoir, “Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint,” hit bestseller lists in 2013.

Photo: Follow my everyday adventures on Instagram.
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