Friday, October 17, 2014

What NOT to Say to People with Adopted Children

Filters make life better for everyone. Particularly when they're applied to your thoughts.

Just think about all of the outrageous things you almost said. The jokes that seemed funny in your mind. The questions you thought were appropriate. The ideas that didn't seem so stupid at first. Gratefully, that invisible filter in your brain prevented these outlandish things from actually making it to your lips.

But, have you ever noticed how many people don't seem to have any filter at all?

My wife and I discovered this uncomfortable epidemic after having a bunch of kids. I shared some of the hilarious and outrageous questions we've been asked in a recent post on the subject. And it was a blast laughing along with others who shared similar experiences in the comment stream. However, in the midst of this, I discovered that there's another type of family that has it worse than we do. Who is it?

Families that adopt children.

Even though my wife and I haven't adopted any kids (yet), I'll gladly dive head-first into this one. Consider my list below a public service announcement on behalf of those who adopt. Oh, and special thanks to Pastor Jason and Sue Kreider, and blogger Jeni Flaa for their contributions to this list of things not to say to those with adopted children:  

  • "Can't you have your own babies?" Yes, you read that correctly. Not only is this question hurtful and offensive, it's just plain weird. I mean, do you really want to know about another person's ability to conceive? You know, all the intimate details about sperm, eggs, and a uterus. I didn't think so. 
  • "Everyone I know who adopted, got pregnant." The last time I checked, there's only one way to get pregnant. You'll also be hard pressed to find anyone who chose adoption as a fertility strategy. Of course, God has worked some amazing miracles for couples who were previously unable to have kids. But let's not forget that adoption is an intentional choice. For some, it's a calling. Reducing adoption to a superstitious child bearing strategy devalues kids, and the families that adopt them. 
  • "Are they your real kids?" Nope. The real kids are locked in the basement. But don't worry. I see what you're doing here. You're trying to ask whether the kids you're looking at are biologically related to the parents. Fair enough. Just remember that in adoptive families, kids aren't divided into "real" and "adopted" categories. They're all just "my kids". 
  • "His birth mom must have been on drugs or really young." Sadly, our culture has created a strange caricature of parents who make an adoption plan for their child. Sure, some choose adoption due to addictions or young age. But not everyone. Many people make mature decisions for the future of their children. Bottom line - any assumptions about motives will be hurtful. Don't forget that in open adoptions, kids have a relationship with their birth parents. So your premature conclusion about their parents would be offensive at best. 
  • "Where did you get him? How much did he cost?" Walmart had this great deal on kids. Really cheap. Want one? Anyway, you've clearly got some legitimate questions about adoption, and this child. First, I'd suggest consulting this resource for some better vocabulary choices. Then, take some time to consider personal boundaries. It's typically considered abnormal to ask complete strangers about their personal finances or ethnic background.  
  • "Are the birth parents going to try to get them back?" Again, this question firmly fits into the "off limits" category for strangers and casual acquaintances. But, it represents a legitimate fear for those who don't know much about adoption. The media loves to share heart wrenching stories about birth parents returning to demand custody of their kids. While these situations are tragic, they're actually quite rare. When it happens, the agency and/or lawyers that made the adoption happen didn't do their jobs correctly. That's why it's so important for those seriously considering adoption to know adoption law. And spend time investigating agencies and attorneys.  
  • "Did you cheat on your husband?" Yes, a real human being actually asked this question. Out loud. To a complete stranger. Why? Because the race of the child didn't visibly match the race of the parent. There's really nothing else that can be said here. Just let all of the awful ignorance soak in, and move on to the next point. 
  • "Are you raising them white?" Even though my wife and I haven't adopted any kids, adoption is closely connected to our family story. My mom was adopted. At that time, interracial adoption was virtually unheard of. Today, we've gratefully reached a point where interracial adoption is both acceptable and commonplace. However, this bluntly stated question is jarring to some. Confusing to others. Ultimately, the intent is to determine whether a child's ethnic and cultural background will be honored. The good news is that many families who adopt are sensitive to this issue, and take time to instill a proper sense of ethnic identity. But, we'd all benefit from some more sophisticated and sensitive language when asking this particular question. 
  • "How will she learn to speak English?" Wow. There's so many layers of ignorance here. Keep in mind that someone said this to a white couple with a Korean infant. Sadly, it appears that some people think language is assigned genetically by race. And that adopted babies acquire language differently than biological babies. Wow. 

Sometimes, the best thing we can do is laugh about questions like these. At the same time, it's blatantly clear that our society has a warped view of adoption. It's my prayer that posts like this will creatively raise awareness, and motivate Christians to take orphan care more seriously. When that happens, more kids will get the love and support they deserve. And the rest of us will be spared from hearing these weird questions.

photo credit: Phae via photopin cc

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Random White Guy's Vision for Racial Reconciliation

Complainers are annoying. But we need them.

Most people would rather ignore problems. It's less stressful. And more fun. But throughout history, the consistent laments of various people groups have forced humanity to finally address injustices. So in that sense, complainers are irritatingly necessary.

Over the last few years, I've been intentionally annoying about racism.

As a 35 year old white guy, I really shouldn't care about race issues. My passions in this area are admittedly accidental. After moving to the South Side of Chicago, it became impossible to ignore racism. So I started writing.

I've expressed my frustration about the apathy of white people. I've explained why we can't ignore racism. I basically proved that racism is an issue using only two words. But in the end, I keep getting the same question:

What do you suggest we do about it?

That's a fair question. So I'm going to cross the fine line between lamentation and leadership. While complainers identify and expose problems, leaders try to solve them. This is my attempt to speak constructively into one of the most important problems of our time. It's also my call for Christians to lead this cultural change. The unifying power of the Gospel has fully equipped us for the challenge.

I'm not a student of racial reconciliation theory, nor am I an expert on race relations. But I'm a white guy who has lived for a number of years in a black community. This experience has provided me with a truly unique perspective of both sides of the racial divide. 

So, how can followers of Jesus foster racial reconciliation in America? Here's my 12 point vision: 
  • Remove the phrase 'color blind' from your vocabulary. While the idea of being 'color blind' sounds nice, it's actually incredibly counter-productive. Why? It forces the subscribers of this perspective to intentionally ignore cultural differences. While all people share common ground as human beings, we also have dramatically different cultural experiences. And cultural variety is a good thing. I can confidently tell you that whites and blacks in America have distinctly different cultural experiences. If you don't agree, you've clearly never spent meaningful time with people from another race. And ignoring these differences by being "colorblind" is unhelpful at best. More likely, it's ignorant and insulting. Let's celebrate our cultural differences rather than pretend they aren't there.
  • Acknowledge that racism happens among and between all races - There are racist white people. There's also racist African Americans, Latinos and Asians. In fact, anyone who has studied cultures around the globe knows that racism isn't uniquely an American problem. It's a human problem. And this particular point is an obstacle for many white people when talking about race. While racism is experienced much more frequently and severely by minorities in America, this doesn't negate the fact that white people have experienced it as well. So, when white people raise this point in conversations about racism, it would be best to simply acknowledge the point and move on. Remember that acknowledging the existence of racists in every ethnic group isn't a commentary about the proportion or severity of the problem therein. 
  • Move On from "It's Not My Fault" - I've heard many white Americans say things like, "My ancestors didn't own slaves, so this isn't my issue." Others say, "I wasn't alive during legal segregation, so I didn't create this problem." Still more proclaim, "I'm not a racist, so this isn't my fault." While all of these statements may be true, they aren't helpful. Regardless of whether your ancestors were slaves, slave holders, segregationists or civil rights activists, you're left with the mess. We're all living in the consequences of a long history of institutionalized racism in America. We can choose to either absolve ourselves of blame, or be an agent of change. Why not determine to make our society better for our children?
  • Set Aside Politics - Everyone should exercise their civic duties. But let's stop making political party affiliation a litmus test for faith. Nothing divides us more as followers of Jesus than partisan politics. Embarrassingly, black and white Christians continue to stare at each other in disgust across the political aisle. Stop it. Now. Are we really in a place where we've put politics ahead of faith? I hope not. Let's start focusing on the Savior that unites us, rather than the political issues that divide us. I'd like to believe that unity in Christ may even serve to foster some civil political discourse among believers of different races. Maybe we'd even find some new common ground. 
  • Have an uncomfortable, yet gracious conversation. Many white people are scared to have serious conversations about race. Why? They're afraid of being called a racist. Or unintentionally offending someone. That's why everyone needs to extend an abundance of grace when talking about racial issues. And we need to stop feeling offended so easily. Enter conversations about race expecting to be uncomfortable, and prepared to be hurt. At the same time, assume that others aren't intentionally making you feel that way. Their honest dialogue is likely born out of curiosity, ignorance, frustration, fear and a wide variety of other sources.
  • Re-integrate Neighborhoods - It's an embarrassing phenomenon. It may have happened on your street, just like it did on mine. We call it "white flight". Many neighborhoods across the South Side of Chicago used to be predominantly white. When African Americans began moving into the area in the late 1960's, white people fled as quickly as possible. Hence the name "white flight". When it's time for us to move, we should explore all neighborhoods. Consider moving to an African American neighborhood with beautiful homes and wonderful people. Wouldn't it be a powerful witness if followers of Jesus made it normal to cross cultural boundaries when buying a home?  
  • Dare to stay - It didn't used to bother me. But now the phrase makes me shudder. Whenever people in a suburban area start talking about their neighborhood "going downhill", they aren't usually talking about crime. They're typically talking about diversity. As African Americans, Latinos and Asians move into a community, white people leave. Someone has to break this pattern. Why shouldn't it be Christians? In fact, since white people are the ones fleeing residential diversity in America, I believe we have the responsibility to reverse the trend. When diversity enters our neighborhoods, we need to stay.
  • Don't Assume that diversity within a congregation is the answer. It's naive to assume that the presence of diversity automatically eliminates racism. We also can't forget that there are some areas where diversity isn't practical. What do you do with the rural community in South Dakota that's primarily white? Should they feel guilty for their lack of diversity? What about the African American congregation on the South Side of Chicago? Should we expect people to drive for hours just for the sake of diversity? That isn't practical. Instead, Christians from all cultural backgrounds should prioritize cross-cultural friendships. Casual acquaintances at the office don't count. Make the effort to invest time in a real friendship with someone that doesn't look like you.
  • Drop the 'Savior Complex' - This one is delicate. So let's dive-in head first. Black, Hispanic and Asian people don't need white people. At least not any more than white people need them. So let's get our minds out of the colonial era, and into the 21st century. Why? The 'savior complex' is a dangerous ideology that creates a false sense of superiority shrouded in good intentions. Dare to consider the opposite approach. Find a mentor of a different ethnicity. Study a Black or Hispanic theologian. Join a church with Black leadership. Bottom line - strive to be the student instead of the teacher. 
  • Honor Cultural Differences - My college anthropology professor was quick to teach us that normal is relative when examining cultural traits. It's a simple, yet profound truth. That means that almost all cultural attributes aren't a matter if right and wrong. They're a matter of traditions and norms. Food, family relationships, holidays, and child rearing can be dramatically different when comparing ethnic groups. So accept that your way isn't the only way. Then celebrate this truth. Maybe you'll even learn something. 
  • Do Good Together - Concerned about disagreeing on issues? Worried about cultural differences? Forget about it. Just start by uniting across cultural boundaries to address universal problems. And do so in the name of Jesus. Every community battles poverty, violence, dwindling resources, marital problems and a more. Think of the good we could do in these areas if we simply worked together! And our unity in Christian service would speak volumes to a culture divided by race.
  • Acknowledge the problem - Recent data indicates that most white evangelicals don't want to talk about racism. As I've written before, problems cannot be solved by ignoring them. This is certainly the case with racism. All Christians must accept that it exists, and that it's a problem. Our churches need to clearly acknowledge and speak against racism from the pulpit. Furthermore, sermons should be regularly preached about Biblical justice. Nothing can be accomplished until we stand in agreement that racism still exists, and that it's a problem worth confronting.

We know that God loves justice. We also know that the road toward racial reconciliation will be hard. May God grant us the courage to lead the journey.

photo credit: vanherdehaage via photopin cc

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Two Words that Prove Racism Exists in the Church

It blows my mind that people don't see it.

After almost 2 weeks of protests in Ferguson, African Americans across the country continue to shake their heads in frustration. Another unarmed black teenager was killed. The media is focused on the bad behavior of a few protesters, the details of the shooting, and the character of the victim. But as Christian blogger Jelani Greenidge eloquently stated, the outcry from African Americans isn't really about Ferguson. It's about racism.

And yet many white Christians still don't see it.

We blame the victims. We dismiss the frustrations of African Americans as hyper-sensitive overreactions. We assume that the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 effectively erased racism from our culture. As I've written before, racism isn't gone. It's alive and well. It just looks different today.

Why can't white followers of Jesus see the injustice of racism deep within the fabric of our society? Where's the righteous anger? Why do we ignore its ugly presence in our churches? Perhaps situations like we're seeing in St. Louis are too dramatic for some to believe. 

photo credit: Leo Reynolds
via photopin cc
Fine. Then let me prove the existence of racism among Christians with one ugly, two-word phrase.

I'm proud to work for radio station that's boldly moving forward with diversifying our music. We desperately want to reach across cultures and generations with the Gospel, and music is a means to accomplish that goal. Even though most Christian stations never play Gospel music, we're blazing a new trail. Since a large percentage of the community we serve is African American, why not play Gospel music? So we've lightly sprinkled Fred Hammond, Donald Lawrence and Hezekiah Walker among Chris Tomlin, MercyMe and Casting Crowns.

We've received some great feedback for this subtle shift. However, not everyone is happy about it. Shocking conversations with some of our white listeners reveals the truth about racism in the church. I keep hearing the same disgusting two-word phrase:

"Jungle Music"

Musical preferences are a reality for everyone. But the use of this particular phrase for Gospel music sails past any lines of appropriate language. And it's not a phrase that can be taken multiple ways. Without a doubt, it's a hateful and disgustingly racist thing to say.

I wish you'd stop playing all of that jungle music!
Why are you playing so much jungle music?

Yes, real Christian people in 2014 are saying this. Out loud. To our staff. And I'd ignore it if the incidents were isolated. We've heard this specific phrase multiple times.

So maybe you want to ignore the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. Perhaps you'll dismiss the painful stories of racism from African Americans in your own community. But now you've got me. I'm a 35 year old white guy. And I'm telling you that white Christians are calling Gospel music "Jungle Music" to staff at a Christian radio station.

What else will it take for white Christians to feel righteous anger about the existence of racism in our culture?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Secret to Sanity for Young Families

We're all pretty good at faking it.

If you know us from casual conversations and Facebook posts, it seems as if we've got it all together. Our kids are smiling in matching outfits. The latest family outing was a smashing success. Our yards are perfectly manicured, and our homes are spotless. Books could be written about our marriages. We all basically look like 1950's sitcom families.
photo credit: DennisSylvesterHurd
via photopin cc

But this is nothing more than a fragile caricature of the challenging and humorous reality facing young families today.

What's really going on? Our toddler just ate dirt, and picked-up dog poop with his bare hands. It takes all of our energy just to keep the kids from fighting constantly. The house is a complete disaster, and the bathroom hasn't been cleaned in weeks. The kids behaving themselves in public feels as miraculous as Moses parting the Red Sea. We can't remember the last time we went on an actual date. It feels like all we do is wipe butts and try not to drive each other crazy.

You get the picture.

Gratefully, my wife and I have discovered a secret. Without this one simple thing, we'd quickly slip into despair and insanity. In fact, it's made such a difference for our family that we've become evangelists for the cause. Convincing someone to give it a try feels like we've won the lottery. What is it?


But not just any type of community. Through my wife's experiences, we've found immeasurable peace knowing that our struggles as a young family are perfectly normal.  She's found meaningful connections with other women in the exact same life place. We've gleaned ingenious parenting strategies, and have been inspired by the small victories in other marriages. We've found deep friendships in the midst of a lonely phase in life. 

For us, the rescuing peace of true community came through an organization with chapters all over the country. It's called M.O.P.S. (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers). My wife's diverse group of moms from across the South Side of Chicago has been our lifeline (Check out M.O.P.S. of Beverly). These educated, intelligent and inspiring women support each other in ways that make life with little ones manageable. Even though husbands aren't allowed to attend, we've all greatly benefited from the experiences of our wives.

Surviving everyday life with small children is too difficult to endure alone. If you're doing so, stop it. If you know a young family, convince them to get the support they need. Even though we all love our kids, the support of a community that understands our unique struggles is the best way to find peace. And stay relatively sane.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Parenting Advice from an Average Dad

If you're looking for an "expert", you've come to the wrong place.

Many well intentioned people make the false assumption that having five children makes me a parenting expert. If anything, having a bunch of little ones only serves to accentuate a brutal reality: I have no idea what I'm doing.

But who cares! Admitting my lack of control over the future is actually pretty freeing. It makes focusing on the complicated demands of today a little easier.

So when it comes to being a dad, I'm somewhere in the "average" category. And that's not false humility. I've seen plenty of guys doing it better. Their triumphs and my fumbles have resulted in these lighthearted, yet practical tips for parents:

  • Eat pie. But not just any pie. A big, fat, juicy slice of humble pie. And smear it all over your face in front of everyone. Parenting humblebrags aren't helpful, and are just masking significant struggles. Want to look like an awesome parent? Remember that true wisdom starts with genuine humility.

    • Be a follower. Mentorship isn't just for kids. Every parent needs a mentor. So get over yourself, and find some relatively normal parents that are further along the journey than you. Tell them about your struggles and failures. If anything, you'll figure out quickly that you're not alone. And you might even get some helpful ideas.

    photo credit: Enokson
    via photopin cc
      • Accept failure in advance. You're gonna fail. Way more often than you'd like. Make it a point to expect mistakes, and own them when they happen. That will make it a little easier to recognize the wins, and take the occasional victory lap.

        • Put your kids third. Your marriage is way more important than your kids. I think I'd collapse and die if I had to do this alone. My admiration for single parents is indescribable...but I don't want to be one. So put your spouse before your kids. Then put Jesus in front of them all. Why? Following Him will give you invaluable parenting advice. And eternal salvation is an obvious bonus.

          • Ignore all of the "experts". They have interesting ideas, and they've made lots of money on them. Some of their advice can be adapted, but most of it is completely worthless. Why? Because each kid is completely different, and each family is unique. No expert knows how your culture, genetics, finances, circumstances and faith intersect to create the environment where your kid exists. So instead of listening to experts, try listening to your kid. Give them what they need. Not what someone who doesn't know them says they need.

            • Let go of your ideals. It's good to be a dreamer. But sometimes hanging onto your ideals can do more harm than good. That amazing parenting theory you idolize might not work at all for your kid. And selfishly sticking to it will damage your family. We had visions of rocking and snuggling all of our babies to sleep. But one of them hated it. He'd actually scream until you put him down. I know - super weird. But we learned something from it. Don't give your children what you want. Give them what they need.

            • Assume everyone else is a better parent than you. Why? Because arrogant and overconfident parents are super annoying. Their condescending looks and theoretical assertions about how they're planning to raise their kids five years from now makes the rest of us throw-up in our mouths. So start by looking for ways other parents are better than you, instead of scoffing at their decisions.

              • Believe that your ideas won't work. Don't get me wrong, your ideas will likely work really well. For you. But that doesn't make your ideas directly applicable to any other families. In fact, your specific parenting strategies are shockingly awful when applied to others. So get rid of any superiority complex before it starts. Encourage others to take the spirit of what you're doing, and make it better. And assume that they will. 

                You're not going to win any parenting awards following my advice. If that's what you're aiming for, there's plenty of parenting books out there with depressingly unachievable suggestions. But you're welcome to join me in the "average" club. We take it one day at a time, do our best and pray a lot. And when it's all over, we're aiming for more wins than losses.

                  Sunday, July 13, 2014

                  A New Role on a New Show

                  Christian radio needs a facelift.

                  For far too many years, Christian radio has been filled with terrible book interviews and meaningless banter. Gratefully, I have the opportunity to be part of the change that is so desperately needed.

                  Tomorrow morning, Moody Radio Chicago will launch an innovative new morning show featuring Karl Clauson and June Felix. These two talented and passionate followers of Jesus will join listeners in an ongoing conversation about life and faith. The priority will be honest discussion resulting in transformed lives. Interviews will only happen when it enhances what they're already doing. For more information, check out the press release here. You can also connect with the show on Facebook and Twitter.

                  I have the privilege of serving as the show's Executive Producer.

                  Please keep us in your prayers, check out the introductory video below, and listen live every weekday from 5-9AM!

                  Saturday, April 5, 2014

                  9 Questions Not to Ask Large Families

                  You think my large family is a little weird.

                  Don't worry, I understand. And I'm not mad at you. Technically speaking, the average American household is only 2.61 people. When it comes to childbearing, 52% of Americans think it's ideal to have two kids. So my family of five children would certainly be considered above average.  

                  But once we had our third kid, it got weird...for other people. And many suddenly felt compelled to say really awkward things. Out loud. Right in front of us.

                  So, I've put together a list of questions not to ask people with large families. Take note, and enjoy:

                  • "Don't you know how that happens?!" I'm not really sure what possesses people to actually ask this question. Most probably think it's funny. But any normal thinking person knows it's just plain awkward. Are you really asking me about my sex life? I hope not. But if you decide to ask this question anyway, I'll be sure to make you uncomfortable with my favorite response: "Yes! In fact, she can't keep her hands off me!"

                  • "Are you trying to be like the Duggars?". I'm not going to make fun of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar. I've met them. They're really nice people that love Jesus. But let's check our math here. I have 5 kids. They have 19. Apparently that's pretty much the same thing.

                  • "How in the world can you afford to have so many kids?" This is an inherently flawed question. You're assuming that we live our lives like you do. We don't. Our lives are actually very different from yours, and that's okay with us. You see, we don't eat at restaurants as a family. Ever. We make cheap home-cooked meals. We also don't go on fancy vacations (unless someone else pays for it). Our lives are simple, and yet exceedingly happy. We honestly don't understand how you can afford to eat out so often, buy new cars and go on so many vacations. But we wouldn't ask you to explain. 

                  • "Are they all yours?" No. We kidnapped two of them. But seriously, my wife was shocked to get this question frequently as she ran errands with our first three kids. Is she a nanny? Is she babysitting? No - those are our kids. All of them.

                  • "Is that your kid over there? He's about to fall off the slide!" Our kids love the playground, but we rarely enjoy the experience. Why? Hovering parents stare at us in disgust while we sit on a bench. They glare as they follow their kids onto ever piece of equipment. You may think we're neglecting our children, but we're not. While you're playing man-to-man defense, we're playing zone. Why? Because they outnumber us. Different strategy, same game. We just need a wider view if we're going to win.

                  • "Are you Catholic?" No, I'm not. But do you even know what you're asking? You see, this question is rooted in the Roman Catholic position that all forms of birth control are sinful. So you're basically asking me if my wife and I use birth control. Most well adjusted people would consider that topic off limits for casual conversation. Let's keep it that way.

                  • "Do you run a day care?" I know you're just trying to make conversation. But what are the odds that I run a day care full of kids that look so much alike? And so strikingly similar to me? Either I'm a racist day care provider that only accepts white kids that look alike, or they're mine. 

                  • "This is the last one, right?" Through your leading question, you've made it blatantly clear that you think this should be my last child. How nice of you to insert yourself into my family's decision making! Perhaps you're worried about overpopulation. Or kids just make you nervous. As I've written before, we'll be consulting God about that decision, not you. But thanks anyway.

                  • "Wow. Another kid? Life must be really complicated for you." No, it's not. This is a common misconception. We're actually quite satisfied with our existence. Our kids don't need playdates, because they have each other. We also have enough people in our house to play virtually any game imaginable. And my oldest loves to help with the baby. Bottom line - I love all of my kids. They make life infinitely more enjoyable. In many ways, it's actually easier to have a large family.

                  It may be hard to believe, but we're not crazy. We actually meant to have five kids. And I can't think of one that I'd want to give back. How about you?