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?

                  Monday, March 10, 2014

                  Baby Boy!

                  My wife Sara and I are thrilled to announce the birth of our fifth child, Theodore Gregory Dahlen! He was born on Sunday, March 9th at 7:13AM, weighing in at 9 pounds, 6 ounces and 23 inches long. By God's grace, both mom and baby are healthy and happy. And I didn't faint.

                  Names are very important to us. We have strategically named all of our children in such a way that exemplifies God's hand in our family story. We fully acknowledge that we are nothing without Jesus, and wouldn't be where we are today without His divine guidance, peace, grace and mercy. May God do a mighty work through our children, and bless us with a legacy of Christian faith.

                  A little over four years ago, Sara and I endured a tragedy that almost ended her life. Not knowing whether we'd be able to have any more children, we see our son's life as truly miraculous. In honor of this precious gift, we name him Theodore, meaning "gift of God". It's also no coincidence that my faith hero is named Rev. Theodore Asare. In fact, the two of them even share the same birthday! We pray that our son would embrace his miraculous existence, and that God would give him a bold vision to impact the world for Christ, just like Rev. Asare.

                  Our lives have also been immeasurably touched by Sara's Uncle Gordon and Aunt Sarah Gregory. They possess contagious faith in Christ. They exemplify unconditional love. They model the importance of service to others. Their generosity and humility are overwhelming. Their loyalty is unwavering. So, we give our son the middle name Gregory in their honor. We pray that God would give our son an extra measure of their faith, love, generosity, humility, loyalty and heart for service.

                  Please join us in praising God for our son Theodore Gregory!  

                  Wednesday, February 26, 2014

                  The Struggle No Father Dares to Discuss

                  photo credit: Zach Klein via photopin cc

                  I almost fainted while my wife was giving birth to three of our kids.

                  Go ahead. You can laugh.

                  I thought I had a pretty good excuse the first time. The anesthesiologist instructed me to stand facing my wife while she sat at the edge of the bed. This was apparently his favorite technique for administering an epidural. I think he was setting me up. Either way, as my wife leaned forward and squeezed my waist, my knees locked up against the bed. I suddenly found myself staring directly at an enormous needle sliding into her spine. Before I knew what was happening, the edges started closing in, and I heard someone say "Dad is going down!" In my defense, I never completely fainted. But it was close.

                  You can't blame me for that one. But when I almost fainted during two more births for no apparent reason, I found myself without a good excuse. Clearly, there was no legitimate physiological reason for passing out. And I've never fainted before or since. So what's really going on here?

                  I believe there's a deeper psychological issue involved that all fathers go through. But none of us dare to discuss it.

                  Before we get there, a caveat is necessary. I fully acknowledge that no man will ever understand the physical and emotional pain women endure during pregnancy and childbirth. Many of us are lovingly reminded of this fact frequently. And we collectively agree that we'll never get it. However, one of the consequences of this truth is that men are fearful of discussing the difficulties we endure as our wives struggle through pregnancy and childbirth. Clearly, our issues will never be equal in value or intensity. But they exist nonetheless.

                  So what's our biggest struggle? Powerlessness. 

                  The average Christian husband wants nothing more than to make his wife happy. We'd bend over backwards to comfort her, solve her problems, and give her what she wants. We'd basically do anything to make her life as pleasant as possible. That's why pregnancy and childbirth are so hard for us

                  My wife and I are only a few days away from the birth of our fifth kid. That means her back is killing her. She can't bend over. Sleep is elusive. Her internal organs are being punched. And there's nothing I can do about it. Sure, I can buy her ice cream. I can let her rest while I do chores around the house. But those things don't remove any of her discomfort. I'm completely powerless to make her feel any better.

                  Then there's the delivery room. She's in excruciating pain for hours, and all I can do is stand there and look like an idiot. Holding her hand doesn't stop the intense anguish. Any lame attempt at encouragement or "coaching" is annoying at best. I'm basically unable to do anything of any substance or value. For any normal guy, being powerless to help the woman you love is absolutely unbearable.

                  Your husband may not hang on the edge of consciousness like I did, but there's no doubt that he's having a hard time dealing with your pain. He's frustrated, angry and overwhelmed. He isn't experiencing anything even remotely as difficult as you. But he's a wreck watching you suffer. He'd do anything to help you, but he can't. So he's standing quietly on the sidelines admiring you for your courage, strength and endurance. His love for you is growing exponentially by the second.

                  In the end, I believe God uses pregnancy and childbirth to remind men that we are powerless. And that's a good thing. The more we embrace our inability to control the direction of our families, the more we'll surrender our lives to God and let Him lead.