A Glimpse into Catholic Social Teaching (by some super rad nuns)

12/22/16

I've been friends with the Dominican Sisters of Hope for about a year now and I'll tell ya what, these ladies are the real deal.  They make me proud to be Catholic and inspire me to continue pressing on towards a more just world.  It is with eager fingers and full heart that I introduce you to them today.  Consider it your Christmas gift from me.  ;)

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Google Catholic Social Teaching and you’ll get pages-long responses talking about justice as it relates to everything from the Earth to solidarity. No doubt, Catholicism’s relation to justice is important, but it’s not the most succinct teaching of the Church. That’s because living a just life —treating every individual with respect, caring for the Earth, and ministering to the poor and marginalized— isn’t clear-cut or formulaic.

According to Pat Jelly, OP, a Dominican Sister of Hope, Catholic Social Teaching focuses on the concept “that we are not here alone.”

“We have a responsibility to each other,” Sister Pat explains, “And not only those immediately around us. We have a responsibility as members of a community, whether we are speaking about our family or a larger community that we happen to be a member of: our family, our congregation or parish, our town, our world.”

Catholic Social Teaching calls us simply to ask what we can do or plan to do to bring God’s reign closer for our community at large.

Chicago Daily News photo, courtesy of the Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Marquette University Libraries.

As a congregation, the 150+ sisters spread throughout fifteen states and Puerto Rico that comprise the Dominican Sisters of Hope have a dynamic perspective on this. Our mission is to preach the Gospel of Hope to the world, especially to the poor and marginalized. But, as each sister pursues her own unique skills and talents, the practice of Catholic Social Teaching plays out in a myriad of ways.

Sister Pat Jelly advocates for education rights, immigrant rights, and victims of human trafficking.

As a retired professor of Philosophy, Sister Ann Stankiewicz lists tuition costs or themes of study as her take on Catholic Social Teaching.

Sister Monica McGloin is devoted to workers’ rights. 

Sister Nancy Erts, who traveled to Iraq in 2001 in order to get a view of true life there and share it with American media, now ministers in eco-justice and eco-spirituality, which means she leads retreats and serves on multiple boards to help protect and preserve the Hudson Valley area.  “Catholic Social Teaching relates to what Jesus taught in the Gospels: practicing equity and mercy, and living collegially,” Sister Nancy Erts explains.

Sister Mary Feigen, who serves as the community’s Justice Promoter, shares petitions, marches, and other activism opportunities with the community at large.  

“We ourselves, and all of creation, are the Universe unfolding and revealing itself,” Sister Mary says. “We respond as Dominican Sisters of Hope to the call to a right relationship with all. We stand together against the named injustices and global concerns.”

Sister Pat Jelly, center

But how are these “named injustices” chosen? And who chooses them, specifically? In 1891 Pope Leo XIII wrote an encyclical letter called Rerum Novarum, raising the issue of the common person and his/her inherent dignity.  Pope Leo XIII highlights seven themes on which workers for peace and justice might concentrate: Life and Dignity of the Human Person; Call to Family, Community, and Participation; Rights and Responsibilities; Option for the Poor and Vulnerable; The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers; Solidarity; and Care for God's Creation.

Rerum Novarum doesn't stand alone. Our community has frequently used documents from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops such as Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and Directions and even a document on Faithful Citizenship, both of which have served as foundations for us in our years of teaching.

Over one-hundred years later, these teachings on caring for the poor, solidarity, protecting and preserving the Earth, believing that we belong and are responsible to a global community, standing for economic justice, family support, workers’ rights, and overall human rights are more pertinent to our world than ever. 

We have this expansive teaching, beginning with a single document but branching out to centuries of history, that calls us to work for global justice. Where do we begin? 

In this way, perhaps the Dominican Sisters of Hope are most instructive in their example. Dominican Sister of Hope Lois Dee summarizes Catholic Social Teaching by saying: “It’s not so much a topic that I study, it’s the way I live.” 

This fall alone, Sisters Sharon Yount and Diane Trotta went down to New Orleans to help build houses for folks who lost their homes in Hurricane Katrina. Sister Bette Ann Jaster is on the front lines of the fight to stop the Algonquin Pipeline, a major fracking threat in New York. Sister Mary Headley traveled to Haiti to deliver goods to help rebuild and get people food, water, and medical care after the hurricane. As a community, we collected stamps and stationery for families in detention so that they can communicate with family members back home over the holidays. And, we’re currently working with local parishes and Cardinal Dolan to change the local landscape for refugees.

Right now, Sister Beth McCormick is seeing hope in prison. Sister Debbie is finding hope in Nicaragua's poorest communities. Sister Beth Jaspers is discovering hope in the persistence of the people of Appalachia.

Sister Bette Ann Jaster

How might you get involved in a way that’s genuine to you? 

The best way is to simply get started: find a cause that speaks to you and attend meetings, participate in online activism, join a community, reach out to others. Joining an active group should give you a sense of particular issue for you and what needs to be done. Our Cultivating Change page has a multitude of justice stories outlining causes that are always seeking support. 

Beyond just getting involved, of course, it’s crucial to consider the attitude with which you’re getting involved. Are you acting prayerfully? Are you acting humbly? 

And, as Sister Pat Jelly reminds us, “we’re called to not be overwhelmed by it all,” but to approach these issues with daily prayer as well as action.

“We’re called to be touched by the pain of others [including the environment] and to see what we can do,” Sister Pat says. “We can’t fix the world, but we can do something. And we should pray everyday to become aware of that which we can change. We have a responsibility today, and all we have is today.”

That’s the thing about Catholic Social Teaching: even though it’s a big, bulky concept, it makes it clear that, however you want to do it, the time to start working for justice is now. Pray. Research. Commit to some sort of volunteerism or activism, no matter how small. Commit to, as Rerum Novarum reads, “loving God and [each other] with a love that is outstanding and of the highest degree.”

Indeed, in a fragmented world, Catholic Social Teaching just might be the answer to alleviating suffering and achieving justice. What would happen if we further inculcated ideas of solidarity, of caring for the poor, of protecting the Earth, of defending each individual’s human dignity into our daily lives?

As Rerum Novarum asks: Would it not seem that, were society penetrated with ideas like these, strife must quickly cease?

The Dominican Sisters of Hope 150+ Catholic Dominican sisters who are committed to living and preaching the Gospel message of hope. We now live in fifteen states and Puerto Rico where we serve largely in justice, social, healthcare, and education ministries. We’re excited to share with you the ways we bring hope to it all: www.ophope.org

Muslim in 2016 America: An Interview

12/13/16

I try to be intentional about listening carefully to the voices of minorities and really, in this age of social media that's easy to do.  I have black, latino, gay, and transgender friends whose feeds I am constantly seeking to learn from because there is no way for me to truly know what their experience is like unless I listen to them.  

But I'm going to admit something to you today that feels like eating humble pie: I can't think of a single Muslim American whom I follow closely.  Now that I've realized that, you can be sure I will be remedying it, but that's the truth of it today.  I thought that maybe some of you might be in the same boat, so we find ourselves here with this interview.

Kristin Hassan was my housemate and close friend in college, though she wasn't a Hassan back then.  ;)  Two years ago she married a loving, gentle Egyptian Muslim man named Mahmoud and they live in the Washington D.C. area. I have absolutely loved hearing about their tender relationship and I have appreciated the unique lens that Kristin offers as an American-born now in a Muslim family. 

I asked Kristin if she and Mahmoud would be willing to do an interview for the blog, and she enthusiastically agreed.  The answers are written in her voice, as he is not as comfortable addressing these types of questions in his second language, but they worked on them together and her answers are meant to speak for them both.

Grab a cup of something warm and settle in with an open mind to hear about a reality likely quite different from your own.  Join me in giving Kristin and Mahmoud a very warm welcome!


Tell us about how you two met!

I had begun working full time in refugee resettlement in Texas and was enamored by the beauty and resilience of each person I encountered. I wanted to learn all the vibrant languages that made up an enchanting symphony in our office on the daily. I decided to start with Arabic. Mahmoud and I were fatefully matched as online language partners and a friendship blossomed right there in the interwebs. I visited Egypt, met Mahmoud in person, and set out on a larger journey than I was expecting; we’ve been married now for a little over 2 years. For me, the biggest challenge and gift has been experiencing that ache that I’ve heard described by others but never understood; that ache to create and see a world realized that is good enough for this man that I love so much and for the family that we hope to have one day. I want a world that is fair, unapologetically open, and safe for all.


Kristin, you worked professionally with Muslim refugees for years before marrying Mahmoud. I saw how emotionally invested you were in the lives of your clients/friends even then, but your marriage has surely made the Muslim experience in America even more personal to you. How has being married to a Muslim man shaped your perception of religious prejudice here?

My time working directly with refugee clients all occurred in post-9/11 America. I think the implications of that really informed my emotional investment in my Muslim refugee clients. In many ways, my Muslim clients seemed like underdogs; they were fighting to build a life in a country that was increasingly more suspicions of them and certainly more suspicious of them than of the Christian refugee clients I encountered. I saw religious prejudice or preference as well as the reality of the immigrant experience long before Mahmoud arrived to the U.S. I can say for certain that all of these things became more personal to me once he was here trying to carve out his own place in our society. Would he be treated well? Would he find meaningful work? Would he be able to be himself without shame? Suddenly, the questions that I asked myself often about my refugee clients became heavier as they became real questions bouncing off the walls of our own home.

It is hard to describe exactly how overwhelming it can feel to suddenly feel immersed in the minority experience. As a white, college educated, middle class girl, I have never had to worry. Not once. Not about whether my name would cause others to judge me. Not about whether my capabilities or ability to learn would be called into question. Not about whether others may be suspicious of where my loyalties lie. But now, I do worry. I worry about all of it for Mahmoud. He is the best, he takes it all in stride.

It is no secret that we are living in an era of distrust of the Muslim community. I don’t really know what to say about how it has impacted our lives, but I can say without doubt that it hurts my husband. I’ve seen him watch the news defaming Islam or engage in conversations with those unwilling to entertain the idea of Islam being a religion of peace, and watched the light within him dim. His faith is personal to his very core and to live in a society that does not always value his faith is exhausting.


In the few years that Mahmoud has lived in the U.S., has his experience been more positive or more negative than he originally expected?


Mahmoud does a great job of avoiding the chatter, which likely contributes to his ability to remain calm, warm, and open to others. He does not have a single social media account. Mahmoud is a very ‘mind your own business’ type of guy; he desires to go about his daily life without bothering anyone and hoping to find others offering cordial exchanges. Although he makes conscious efforts to stay away from drama, he is not oblivious to the rhetoric around him. 

He is keenly aware of who offers a safe space for him and who may not. Overall, on the micro level, where he meets with individual coworkers or perfect strangers, the experience is typically positive. It’s in those macro level, national rhetoric type conversations that certainly feels more negative than he expected. The main confusion lately has been this overwhelming feeling that these cordial individuals, who engage with Mahmoud in an open, friendly manner, go home and nod their heads in agreement with the larger negative rhetoric. Even if not nodding in agreement, failing to say “no way, this is utter foolishness” amounts to the same thing—passive agreement. 


In the past year-long election season, when the idea of a ban on Muslims entering the country was initially presented, and of course ultimately with the shocking election outcome, have you felt the general attitude of Americans change towards Muslims? Or does it feel about the same as it did a year ago?

America is the greatest experiment on the face of the Earth. We are a nation of immigrants, utilizing the ingenuity and strength of diverse individuals to build a strong and cohesive society. Somewhere along the way it just feels like we have forgotten that we belong to one another. We’ve been personally hurt this election season as we have seen those we love fail to stand up to the bigotry.

In terms of American attitudes changing toward Muslims, there are numerous examples of this. Failure to call crimes against Muslims hate crimes, such as the Chapel Hill shooting that took the lives of three promising young American Muslims. A knee-jerk response to all crimes committed by someone with a Muslim sounding name or Arab decent to be labeled as terrorist acts, while angry white men on shooting rampages are called mentally disturbed. Calls by some to only admit Christian refugees into our country, as if Muslim refugees will certainly plan to hurt us regardless of the fact that they too are running from terror. Numerous hate crimes which are on the rise since the election season began. Some examples of hate crimes targeting Muslims include a tourist in NYC with a hijab on who was set on fire, a teacher told to hang herself with her hijab because it “isn’t allowed” in Trump’s America, and relentless threats of deportation for those that appear Muslim regardless of their citizenship, including a NYC cop. The Muslim community has reported that they feel less safe since the election season began than they did in the aftermath of 9/11. That is scary.


Have you or other Muslims you love experienced any acts of hate or xenophobia in the past month?

I have not and I have not heard Mahmoud talk about experiencing that in the last month. He has had the luck of being out of the country visiting family during the final stretch and immediate aftermath of the election. We also have the distinct luxury of living in a bubble. We live in the greater DC area where we walk outside our front door every day and see a mosaic of humanity. Frankly, I chose to move here shortly before Mahmoud arrived to the U.S. for this very reason. This is not to say that acts of hatred do not exist here. However, when we are in parts of the country that do not feel so diverse, I do sense personally and from Mahmoud a tense feeling. We know the xenophobia is out there, and of course we will do what we can to avoid meeting it in a dark alley.


After the election, were there certain responses from friends or family members that were particularly comforting to you?

To be perfectly honest, I did not really hear from friends or family unless they had some reason personal to them to be stressed about the election results, be it a mom friend raising a dark-skinned child, a mom raising a child with disabilities, a friend who identifies as a minority ethnicity American, a friend who is in a same sex marriage, or a fellow Muslim. From these friends, I received encouragement that I am not alone in my worries and that we will at least have each other for the next 4 years. I wish I could say that I received any comfort from others, but sadly that’s just not the case.


Were there responses that were particularly hurtful?

I can’t say that we received intentionally hurtful responses, but there has been this sense of dismissal of our concerns and worries which is so very hurtful. We’ve been encouraged to “wait and see”, “don’t take it personal”, and maybe it won’t be as bad as we’re expecting. It feels like our concerns fall on deaf ears. I was even told not to worry about a Muslim ban or anything of the sort until someone showed up at our door with a deportation order. I was floored. Should I not worry and just let this thing ride out until there is nothing left to be done? No way. I will fight this tooth and nail. Elie Weisel once said that “The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.”


I know you – and others like you – are hurting. What do you need from us, maybe specifically from your Christian friends and family?

There is a real need to get back to the true teachings of your faith. Jesus stood by the outcast, the poor, the oppressed. What do we need from others? Every child learns it from very early on—treat others as you would like to be treated. That includes standing up for others when they are knocked down. That includes standing with them to ask for their rights, even when their beliefs or lifestyle differ from what you would choose for yourself.

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Thank you to the Hassans for this vulnerable glimpse into their lives and hearts! I hope it doesn't need to be said, but any negative or hypercritical comments (either here or FB) will be immediately deleted.  There is a time and place for civil discourse, but this is not it.  This is simply an invitation to listen to your neighbor.  Thanks for understanding and respecting that!

Advent, and What We're Waiting On

12/6/16


It's been awhile since I sat down to write with no agenda.  It looks like the best time to do it is 10:51 pm with my husband crashed on the couch and little boys grunting in their sleep up creaky stairs.  The darkness is the best time, of course, to birth something you hope to be light.

It's Advent now, but my world doesn't feel hushed like I wish it did.

Advent, they say, is a "little Lent": a time of examen, of preparation, of waiting.  I make pathetic attempts at waiting, and then sneak Christmas music in on the side.  This year I just can't bear to wait in the darkness.

We wait, we say, for the baby.

Or we wait, we say, for the Second Coming.

I gather my children, pull all those Y chromosomes in tight, and we light purple candles and sing Emmanuel and we sing for Him to come and I wonder if they can make heads or tails of it.  They just like to watch the beeswax drip and we'll be working on proper execution of the sign of the cross until they graduate high school.  Their utter lack of self-consciousness is refreshing.

They're screwing up Advent, and they don't care one bit.

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Back in May, I was waiting for labor; I searched for it every day, my swollen feet making laps around the neighborhood.  I logged in miles trying to will that baby out.  I drank castor oil first thing in the morning on my very own birthday.

Come, baby, come let me adore you.

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Fr. Richard Rohr notes that we love to worship Baby Jesus.  Man, we love to wait for that Baby.  I know I do.  Advent and Christmas are easy.  The Baby elicits awe and gratitude from us.  The Baby requires nothing from us.

It is so embarrassingly easy for me to love Baby Jesus.

Baby Jesus doesn't tell me to pick up my instrument of torture and follow Him.  Baby Jesus doesn't tell me that whatever I do to my fellow human, I have done to Him, and he SURE doesn't tell me that whatever I don't do for my fellow human, I haven't done it for Him.  Baby Jesus doesn't tell me that the first will be last or that the poor are the blessed, or that I'm supposed to turn the other cheek.

Baby Jesus comes to tell me that I am loved and that I am lovable.  And -just as importantly- that you are too.

And I will spin myself in circles for two months with euphoric, pine-scented zeal over that fact and rarely (more rarely than I'd ever want you to know) think about the rest.

The Baby who demands nothing of us, we all so clearly know, becomes a Man who asks everything.  Jesus the Man lays before us a path of action, a path of justice, a path that requires discomfort, heartache, loneliness, and fear.

O come let us adore You.

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Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

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My sister teaches second grade in an urban elementary school in Nashville.  Her kids aren't lighting Advent candles with their families at night.  Her kids are coming to school scared, coming to their safe teacher asking impossible questions about the country that is supposed to be theirs but they know is not. They know it isn't.

Children in Aleppo are burning while my boys watch flames on our dining room table, and I didn't want to write that any more than you wanted to read it.

{Can't we just have Christmas? Can't we just have a break from caring about the pain of the world?}

Can't we worship the Baby and not the Man?

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We wait, they say, for the Baby.

Or we wait, they say, for the Second Coming.

The children of the world call our bluff.  The children of the world sing loud through their eyes, sing tidings not of comfort and joy, but of begging and pleading.  Wake up.  They don't wait for our apologetics, they wait for the restoration of all things.

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I may await the Baby by lighting candles in the darkness around the table with my family, but I await the Christ by reaching out my hand to the foreigner, the alien, the refugee, the homeless, the imprisoned, the handicapped, the poor, the hungry.

If there be any tradition I hand down to my children when all year is Advent, all year we wait for restoration, may it be that.

Fighting to Normalize Diversity for Our Children (and a Barefoot Books giveaway!)

11/21/16

In the past few weeks the word "normalizing" has kept itself on my radar, coming at me from various channels that I take seriously.  Normalizing is a social process through which ideas and action come to be seen as normal and taken-for-granted in everyday life.  Extreme examples of would be witch hunts, slavery, and the Holocaust.  Have you ever wondered how on earth the people who lived in those times could be so incredibly immoral?  The answer is normalization.  It's like the old analogy of the frog and the pot of water: if the frog jumps in to already boiling water it will jump right out, but if the water only gradually increases to boiling the frog won't notice. It will stay in there and die.

{I have no earthly idea if that's true or not, but it's a good analogy.}

Sure there are some people in the world whose hearts are hardened and have given themselves over to darkness.  But that's not most of us.  Most people who lived in the times of these historic tragedies  and did nothing were merely products of their time.  You might even say they were victims, in a sense, of normalization.  (It sounds weird to call a privileged group "victims", but if we're talking seared consciences and separation from the heart of God/human experience than yes, they were victims indeed.)

But how does that apply today?

Currently there are many in our country who are hoping and trying to change it's landscape, to the detriment of minorities.  This is not a finger-pointing post at those of you who voted for Donald Trump.  I know you're good people.  But whether or not Trump is a misogynist, racist, and/or xenophile (which we may disagree on), it cannot be denied that these dangerous ideals have been brought out where they were once kept underground.  Like it or not those who hold such ideals feel they have been given a voice in this election.  They are gathering.  They are hoping to expand their influence.  And they want to change the culture of this county.  The alt-right believes that races should not intermingle.  They believe families like mine should not exist.


If the water was already boiling, we would hop out and reject it.  But what if we don't even notice when the temperature rises and the liquid rolls?

I know, this is a real peach of a post.

So what do we do?

We fight.

We fight hate with love.  We fight injustice with action.  We fight segregation with integration.

No matter how we each voted, it is up to us to preserve the spirit of acceptance and diversity that makes America beautiful.  We step it up by diversifying our friendship circles.  We step it up by educating ourselves and then advocating in our communities.  We step it up by calling our local representatives and making our voices heard.  We step it up by being teachable, by listening to the marginalized, and by seeing a need and meeting it.

And for those of us who are raising the next generation, we fight the normalization of racism in our culture by normalizing diversity for our children.

We raise children who will be utterly baffled at the thought of separating human beings based on the color of their skin or the way they worship.  We raise children who see every person they meet as an image-bearer of God.  We raise children unafraid of those who are different than them, whether by physical appearance or by language or by religion.  Not just when they're 3, but when they're 13 and 23 and 73.

And this doesn't just happen because we hope it's going to.  It happens when we're intentional; when we widen our circles to include those who don't look, talk, or worship like us.  

Real-life relationships are far and away the most important factor.  But taking a look at what's inside your home is a small step too.  Moms and dads (and grandparents and other relatives!), be intentional about representing different skin tones and cultures in your kids' toys, games, tv shows, and books.  I wrote a post about some of my favorite book recommendations here, but since then I've discovered Barefoot Books and let me tell you, I'm a customer for life.

Blog reader Elizabeth Walton sent my kids the Book of Children and a Children of the World matching game a few weeks ago, just because she knew I gravitate to that kind of thing.  Both big boys liked both gifts, but for whatever reason Moses (almost 3) has latched on to the book while Alyosha (6) prefers the game.



Barefoot Books has an intentional focus on promoting diversity and inclusivity, while also putting out fabulous content that inspires creativity and curiosity.  Our family loves this company and I think yours will too. (and psssst I hear there might be some sweet Black Friday deals coming!)


And good news!  Elizabeth is generously giving away a free copy of the Barefoot Book of Children to one lucky winner!

I have never seen a book encompass the rich tapestry of humanity the way this one does.  It represents virtually every skin tone, dozens of world cultures, various disabilities, transracial families, military families, foster families, and gay and lesbian families.

(I know this last one is touchy for some, but I personally really appreciated the way it was done. These happy families are depicted in just a few pictures but with no text to boss you around about how to present it. You can address it with your kids in your own way and in your own voice.)

The book is all about our similarities even within our differences.  And I think that's a message we could all use more of these days. Enter the giveaway by simply commenting here or on the FB or Instagram post!  Oh and if you're doing a little Christmas shopping anyway, using the links in this post will send a slice of the pie my way. Thanks in advance!


*I was not financially compensated for this post.  I did receive a complimentary book and game in exchange for my honest review, and links are affiliates. 

Justice For All: Vote With Your Life

11/11/16

Let's all take a collective whew, shall we?  That was a doozy of an election with, as everyone is saying, two of the most disliked candidates in U.S. history.  We're now left with a nation terrifyingly divided, and I think we're all freaking out more than a little bit over that reality.  But no matter how you voted or how you feel about the results, the fact is that the vote you cast every single day of your life counts a heck of a lot more than what you write on a ballot every two or four years.

Can I say that again?  You never stop voting.

You vote with your life, as do I.  Every day we wake up and breathe and eat and interact and buy and listen and talk and are moved to action... every day we cast a vote for the society we want to live in.  That hasn't changed and it never will.

If you are concerned about the implications that this election will have on minorities and the marginalized, you're not alone here.  I'm burdened too.  But as I told my black son (who knew I was troubled over the outcome but didn't know details of why): there are still a LOT of good people in this country.  So I think we're going to be okay.

Below I've compiled a list of ways to keep casting your vote to make this a nation of justice for all.



Abortion

Becoming a foster care provider - the need is so great that in some states children spend several nights in the CPS office before they can be placed in a home. Every state is in need of more families to stand in the gap until reunification is possible.

Adopt - there are over 100,000 children waiting to be adopted in our nation. There are 5 million Christians.  Let that sink in. Visit adoptuskids.org for information on both adoption and foster care.

Volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center - ask the staff what they need most and take it upon yourself to make it happen. (The part about asking about the need is key.)

Relationships - intentionally build a friendship with a single mom in your neighborhood or church, offer to give them a break now and then, offer your resources to help with the needs they may have.


Immigrants and Refugees

Learn a new language - I'm still embarrassed that I can't speak Spanish and I'm determined to remedy that in my lifetime. Try to learn the most used second language of your area: Spanish, Arabic, etc. Even if you never get fluent, the effort is a powerful statement.

Spend time at a refugee center - many cities have one; listen to someone's story, eat a meal with them, seek to understand and offer solidarity to them.  My friend Erica does this in South Texas and I'm always moved to love when she writes about it.

Start a parent welcome center at your kids' school - extend a gesture of open arms, teach a weekly ESL class, offer community resources they may not know about.  D.L. Mayfield put feet to this idea.

Give financially - We Welcome Refugees is a wonderful way to do it, as is International Justice Mission who investigates and protects the treatment of migrant workers.


Muslim-American Advocacy

Build relationships - strike up a conversation with the mom in the head covering.  Talk to Muslim students on your college campus.  Attend any Muslim/Christian dialogue event in your area - universities are popular places to find them.  My son's school has an annual Multicultural night, and the Muslim families in particular pull out ALL the stops to share the beauty of their heritage.  If your school doesn't have something like that, why not organize it?

muslimadvocates.org - end profiling, strengthen charities, counter hate.


LGBTQ Safety

Listen - you know someone who is gay. Your aunt? A guy you went to high school with?  Initiate a conversation with them ONLY to hear them out, not to convince them that they're wrong (if you think they are).  Listen to their experience and to their feelings.  Ask them if they've ever been harassed or bullied; ask them if they feel safe.

Make your church a safe space - because all people should be safe and welcome in a church. Heaven knows us straight folks don't agree on everything, but we generally manage to still be warm and welcoming to each other despite our differences. My parish, like many, has brochures for parents called "Always Our Children" on display, containing a pastoral message for parents of LGBTQ children that reinforces the importance of their parental love and commitment.  The presence of a gay-straight parishioner alliance can send a positive message of welcome and inclusion.  And for mercy's sakes, if you know someone who is LGBTQ in your church, make it your personal mission to make them feel included and loved.

Volunteer - with or donate to Trevor Project, which works toward suicide prevention among LGBTQ youth.

Speak up - this should go without saying, but just in case: don't let anyone speak condescendingly or homophobically about LGBTQs in your presence.  Interrupt them, correct them, tell them you don't find that funny, accurate, whatever.  It will be awkward, but it will also combat a slow fall into a culture of hate.  I'm not saying defend the homosexual act if its against your conscience; I'm saying defend the dignity of your fellow human beings.


Capital Punishment and Mass Incarceration

Read - Executing Grace (on capital punishment), The New Jim Crow, and Just Mercy (mass incarceration)

Watch - the documentary 13th (on Netflix now), Women and Mass Incarceration (on YouTube)

Donate - through the Equal Justice Initiative you can give financial donations to help the wrongly accused have access to attorneys that they can't afford


Black/White Relations

Find (or start!) a local group to be involved in - chapters of Black Lives Matter can be found in many states, as can chapters of Showing Up For Racial Justice, where whites are mobilizing against white supremacy.  Join the NAACP (yes, whites can join).

Host a roundtable discussion - invite black and white friends to your home, discuss the concerns of the black community, address questions of the white community, and have a time of safe and respectful dialogue and learning

Follow black bloggers and influencers - like Austin Channing Brown, My Brown Baby, and Pass the Mic podcast

Read anything by Dr. John M. Perkins - here's one to start, Dream with Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win

Speak Up - Racist jokes aren't funny.  Trivializing the expressed Black experience isn't funny.  Don't let anyone get the impression that you allow those sentiments in your presence.  Don't stay silent or avert your eyes.  You care too much about people made in the image of God to not speak up.


Torture

Sign petitions and take action - with Amnesty International


More Justice for Marginalized

Get involved in soup kitchens and homeless shelters - providing meals is great but more importantly, get to know people. Spend time there, sit down and eat dinner together, let your kids run amok and bring people joy.  All too often our efforts in this area are restricted to meeting the physical need of hunger, when dignity and human connection are equally as (if not arguably more) important.

Advocate for fair housing in your community - start by reading the book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.  This piece by D.L. Mayfield in Portland is a helpful read too.

My friend Lindsy is rallying around this cause in Miami and is doing an inspiring job speaking up for her community.  If the cycle of eviction and/or gentrification is hurting the marginalized in your community, I know she'd love to be a resource for you.  Follow her journey on Instagram.

Call your local representatives - we've lost a sense of impact here, not because it's not powerful but because we stopped believing it to be. Let your voice be heard. Find out how here. (Calling is apparently much more effective than writing, I'm told.)


Other Resources

Be intentional about the voices you surround yourself with.  There is so much noise online, so much input from every source under the sun.  The sites below are ones I have found helpful, inspiring, and give me a sense of hope in the fight for justice.

wagingnonviolence.org

sojourners.com

Keep voting, every day.  Our country is already great because of you.

Tips for Supporting a Friend's Adoption

11/7/16

So you have friends who are adopting a child soon! You want to celebrate with them and help out in any way you can, but what exactly doe they need? What might be similar to a traditional baby scenario and what might be different? In honor of National Adoption Month, let’s take a little crash course in supporting your friend’s adoption.


1. Organize a fundraiser

Depending on the route taken, adoption can be very expensive.  Ask your friends if they would like you to organize a fundraiser to help alleviate the cost.  You can go the old fashioned route with a multi family garage sale or utilize modern technology by gathering donations from artisans and hosting an Instagram auction.  The internet is full of other fundraising ideas as well, from GoFundMe accounts to t-shirt sales.  Find an avenue that you have vision for and run with it!

2. Throw a baby shower

She won’t show up with a large belly for everyone to oooh and aaah over, but chances are your friend will enjoy receiving a baby shower every bit as much as a pregnant woman does.  A communal gathering is a meaningful way for an adoptive mother-to-be to feel validated and celebrated by the people in her life.  Certain tweaks might need to be made (gender neutral themes if they don’t know the sex of the baby or a nontraditional registry for a toddler or older child), but a new life in the family is always something to celebrate!

3. Read an adoption book

Going the extra mile to invest time and energy into understanding your friends' new family dynamics will speak volumes to them about your love and commitment to the friendship.  There is no lack of excellent adoption literature available, but be sure that the book you select is tailored to their circumstances: a book about infant adoption after infertility will obviously speak to a different experience than a book about adopting a teenager from foster care.  If you don’t know where to start, find out what book their adoption agency recommended (a good agency will likely have some required reading).

4. Offer a listening ear

The adoption process is an emotional and often overwhelming one.  Some couples find that the grief of infertility they thought they had resolved unexpectedly returns during this time.  Others may experience depression as they are forced to live their daily lives while their child is stuck in an orphanage.  One of the greatest gifts you can give a waiting parent is to simply listen (without judgment) for as long as they need to talk.





1. Remember the new mom basics

Many of the gestures people offer towards women who have just given birth are equally as appropriate for a mother who has welcomed a child through adoption.  Organize a way for friends to sign up to bring hot meals throughout the first few weeks. Stop by and confiscate their laundry, returning it clean and folded in a few hours.  Drop off a latte or a bottle of wine.  Although your friend isn’t physically recovering, her life has just been turned upside down.  New motherhood is new motherhood, no matter how you slice it.

2.  Understand attachment and help spread the word

This is where your friends' experience differs from the typical course.  If they have just adopted a newborn straight from the hospital, mom, dad, and baby have still missed 9 months of bonding.  The baby is still learning her parents' voices and her mother's rhythms, which are new and different than what she experienced in the womb.  This is a sacred time for the three of them, so respect that.  If your friend has just adopted a child beyond the newborn stage, this point is every bit as important.  Human attachment is a tender thing, and children who have been through the trauma of biological separation often need help learning what it means to belong to and trust their parents before anyone else.

Ask your friends what they have learned about the topic and what their preferences are.  Many adoptive parents will ask that you refrain from holding the child for some months while he is learning exactly who he belongs to.  Be a good sport, even if you feel disappointed, and know that your cheerful compliance proves your committed friendship.  Your friends will no doubt be facing criticism from some friends and family members about being stingy with the baby, so be sure to support their wishes and help educate those who complain.  If you are active in the same faith community or other group, give the other members a heads-up on your friends' wishes (and the reasons behind them) so that the couple doesn’t have to personally explain it to everyone they encounter.

3. Offer a listening ear

From bemoaning her sleep deprivation to musing about how best to navigate birth parent relationships, your friend has a lot to get off her chest.  Once again being a reliable, non-judgmental, safe place to confide in will be the greatest gift you can give.  You don’t have to be educated on the issues she’s discussing; simply open yourself up to learning without necessarily offering advice. And don’t forget to bring chocolate.






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10 Myths About Catholicism, Busted

10/24/16

Not long ago I started a little podcast with some dear online friends.  Coincidentally the other four co-hosts of the Upside Down Podcast are all various forms of Protestant, and since we launched a month ago some of them have reported some raised eyebrows from a few blog readers about collaborating with a Catholic.  (A very, very few! Most have enthusiastically been down with the ecumenical aspect of the show.)  But it came as a good reminder to us all that there is still quite a bit of confusion out there about Catholicism, so I thought maybe I should clear it up a little.

The historic Second Vatican Council (or what we generally refer to as "Vatican II") opened from 1962-1965 under Pope John XXIII and positively resulted in a lot of updated clarification on Catholic practice and relation in the world. It has since resulted in great progress for the individual Catholic's catechesis and lived practice.

I've noticed that the Protestants most skeptical of Catholicism are generally of that generation or earlier, as they are more likely to have encountered Catholics who at best struggled to articulate their beliefs, at worst struggled to even understand them. There's room for all of us to grow here, and a great example of the need for ecumenical dialogue and relationships in all our lives.  I thought I'd volunteer to start by dispelling a few of my least favorite myths.  This is obviously not a comprehensive detailing of every Catholic belief, but I tried to hit the biggies.


1 - We Worship Mary

Nope.  We worship Jesus.  Or more specifically, we worship the Triune God.  We do hold Jesus' Mother in high esteem and do have pronounced "Mariology" that might seem foreign, confusing, and downright unnecessary to you.  Believe me, I had all those thoughts too.  But I believe you'll find that if you do some digging in the right places (I recommend Scott Hahn's Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God), you will see that all of our beliefs about Mary serve to glorify Jesus Christ and the beauty of His holiness.  You don't have to agree with us on everything, but please trust that we reserve our worship for God alone.  (Certainly there are those who take veneration of Mary much too far, but it's not fair to judge the rest of us for it.  It's just bad religious education.)

2 - We Worship Saints

Again with the worshipping God and only God.  The point of confusion probably lies in two places: our prayers and our icons.  First, the prayers.  Catholics often say we "pray to" a certain saint, which can be confusing for a non-Catholic when what we really mean is that we are asking them to pray for us.  We talk to them like family members because, hey, they ARE family members.  It's comparable to you calling up your Aunt Bertha and asking her to pray for your troubled marriage because she herself had a troubled marriage and you respect her faithfulness to God in the midst of it.  To be blunt, wouldn't you be kind of crazy NOT to call her?

Icons carry a similar reasoning: if the communion of saints is real (and I think most Protestants assent to the Nicene Creed), then these are family members.  If you love Aunt Bertha, are thankful for her life, and are inspired by the way she glorified God, you might frame a picture of her even after she's passed away.  We see the icons that way: pictures of family members who inspire us, remind us that faithfulness to God is not only possible but worth it, and enhance our spaces with beautiful works of art to boot.

3 - We Don't Have a Personal Relationship with Christ

Well that's just silliness.  But okay, we're talking about 1.2 billion people so sure, not all of us do, any more than all Americans who identify as "Christian" do.  Historically, Catholics have tended to practice their faith somewhat privately, at least in our culture.  Although we see this changing in our generation as more and more become vocal about their faith and active in discipleship, it could still fairly be called part of the culture of Catholicism.  This might be partly a pushback against dark periods like the Crusades and Inquisition: We're not like that!  We'll keep our religion our own business, we promise!  Whatever the reason, don't judge a book by it's cover.  Some of our grandmas never spoke of religion to anyone but had a deeper intimacy with Jesus than we ever will.

4 - We Are Obligated to Have 10 Children

There is no "right size" for a Catholic family.  Large families are welcomed, small families are welcomed; it is strictly up to the discernment of the couple (and, well, nature).  We don't use contraception, which I wrote about here, but there are natural ways to prayerfully manage family size.  There are no medals for having more than two kids at mass.

5 - We Believe We Have to Earn Salvation

We have a word for that in the Catholic Church.  It's heresy.  Salvation is only and ever a gift of grace from God.  We believe that we are saved by faith, and we believe James when he says that faith without works is dead (James 1:14-26 no seriously, read it!).  If you're living a true Gospel life of faith, there's going to be some good works.  This really shouldn't be controversial.  What we might disagree on is in the fact that, unlike many Protestant denominations, Catholics don't believe salvation is "one and done".  Catholics like to say we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved.  We can still be confident in our salvation, because we trust that His grace will remain with us.

6 - We Think Priests, Not God, Forgive Our Sins

Did you know that we use the word "confession" interchangeably with "reconciliation"?  The priest is there to aid you as you reconcile your relationship with God after a sin.  As we all know, sin damages that relationship.  Well the priest is simply there to help you get it back on track.  Us Catholics love earthy, tangible faith.  We love a faith that we can taste, hear, feel, smell, and see, which is why we're always using odd stuff like incense, rosary beads, kneelers, and all those icons.  We believe that matter is connected to spirit, that the physical world is not separate from the spiritual.  Having a priest as a sort of "stand in" for God helps us see and hear - and ultimately, believe - the forgiveness we long for.  My family's priest has explained that the sacrament of confession is not for God- God has already forgiven you!  Confession is for us, the sinners: it's a chance for us to be healed and feel fully restored to God.

7 - We Don't Believe Protestants Are True Christians

Nope. You're in the club! You're family.

This actually was a thing, some time ago, but it has since been corrected.

8 - We Believe the Pope Doesn't Sin

Wrong again.  We know they're men who sin just like everyone else.  What we call "papal infallability" applies only to solemn, doctrinal teaching on faith and morals.  It doesn't apply to their personal lives or even to their own theological musings per se.  It is a very formal addressing of doctrine, and we trust that the Holy Spirit will lead the Church into right doctrine.  It's a trust placed in the Lord, not in the pope.  We've had a few horrible popes over the course of history, but doctrine has remained faithful.  What a beautiful testimony to the steadfastness of God over man's waywardness.  So basically, we listen when he teaches on faith and morals.  But as Stephen Colbert once perfectly said, if you're sitting around with Papa Francis and he attests that Godfather III was a worthy follow-up to I and II feel free to call bullshit.

9 - We Are Obsessed with Abortion

Catholics are possibly the most vocal supporters of the sanctity of life and yes, that includes abortion.  But it does't begin and end there.  Our pro-life views have long included standing firmly against the death penalty, euthanasia, war, unjust working conditions, and emphasizing caring for the poor.  (In fact, the Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world.) You really can't pigeonhole us into political party lines.

10 - We Don't Mingle with Non-Catholics

{buzzer noise} Wrong.  We are fascinated by science, by the arts, by scholars, by other world religions, by pretty much anyone who is saying anything important at all.  The Catholic "tent" is a broad one and a lot of different kind of people fit under it, but when I was beginning to learn about Catholicism I was inspired to find how highly it values the intellect and how ready it is to take into account different areas of expertise, which frankly was not always my experience as an evangelical.  And not only do we love secular thought and research, we appreciate ecumenicism and learning from our Protestant sisters' and brothers' expressions of faith.  We like to party with everyone.

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I hope this is helpful!  If you have more questions you can leave them in the comment box. (She says with great fear and trepidation.) I absolutely love how ecumenical this slice of internet has become.  You guys each bring something fresh and thoughtful to the table, and you are always so kind even when you disagree.  Love you all, my sisters and brothers!
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Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)

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