The First Step To Orphan Care is Family Preservation

November is Adoption Month and many churches remember Orphan Sunday (this year it was November 8) during the month. In the Old Testament, God is often described as a father and defender of the fatherless and many commandments ensure justice and care for those who do not have parents, such as Isaiah 1:17 which states “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”  In the New Testament, James states, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”(1:27)

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There is not many things closer to my heart than foster care and adoption and this month, I will be doing posts on both of those topics in honor of Adoption month, however the very first thing we can do as Christians is prevent children from becoming orphans, whether legally or by poverty.

Most children that are adopted out of foster care in the United States are not true orphans; one or both of their parents are generally still alive. However, because of the parent’s inability to care for the children due to a variety of reasons such as substance abuse, mental health issues, poverty, developmental disabilities, and domestic violence, they are unable to safely care for their children. Many of these problems are generational and parents have not been safely parented themselves as children, so have no idea how to be a safe, healthy parent.

Internationally, many children are true orphans due to preventable diseases, lack of clean water or food, AIDSwars, and women dying in childbirth. Many more parents internationally feel they cannot care for their children due to extreme poverty, lack of resources, and cultural concerns.

As a church, we have the resources and the command to preserve families by providing the care both locally and internationally to prevent parents from having their children removed or from being forced to give them up for adoption because of the lack of resources.

Here are specific ways the church can help prevent children from becoming either legal or true orphans. Locally, Christians can provide a space for NA/AA meetings, reach out to people who are struggling with addictions, create spaces where it is safe to ask for professional help for mental illness, speaking positively about necessary psychotropic medications, help people with transportation to and from mental health and substance abuse treatment appointments, provide food and volunteer at food banks and pantries, volunteer to teach parenting (ABC Pregnancy Care Center has a peer parenting program), come alongside a young mother or father and mentor them regarding healthy child care, create a space where non-violent parenting is taught, validate father’s raising children, teach child development, teach budgeting skills, teach youth bystander skills to prevent rape and domestic violence, teach employment skills, teach sexual education including topics such as consent and contraceptive use, offer free contraceptives, offer affordable child care, teach that domestic violence is not to be tolerated, offer or support a safe space for victims of domestic violence to stay with their children, pet sitting for victims of domestic violence (often abusers will threaten children and animals of the victim and shelters often don’t accept animals), offer healthy relationship classes and marriage counseling, allow a parent with a developmental disability and their child/ren to reside with your family to care for both the parent and the child, and create a homeless shelter or housing network.

Internationally, the church can provide communities with wells for access to clean water, sustainable horticultural skills for families to grow and raise food; micro loans with financial education for families to start small businesses; hygiene, nutrition and basic health training; disease prevention; educating girls and women; providing vaccinations; providing  quality prenatal and childbirth health care including training local midwives; providing access contraceptive; providing sexual education including topics of consent and contraceptive use; prevent child marriages; and education to men to prevent domestic violence and rape.

Some of these these things are pretty huge but some are fairly simple and wouldn’t cost much in the amount of time or money. If the church works to prevent children from becoming orphans, more families could safely and healthily care for their own children. There would be less trauma to children and less broken hearts of parents and there would be more resources and families to adopt true orphans. We could be doing so much more to create healthy families and communities. Until we get there, we will have many legal orphans that need homes. I will be discussing that next week.

What are other specific ways the church could prevent children from becoming orphans?

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It’s Friday! November 6, 2015

Drink of the Week:

Crush by Dave Matthews (no, I didn’t mix up the song and the drink this week. I actually can’t believe I haven’t featured Crush yet, since it is the most often wine opened in our house. It is a solid red wine blend but isn’t too sweet.

Blog of the Week:

One of my friends and an awesome adoptive mother is posting about adoption every day through the month of November to celebrate adoption month and also collecting new duffle bags and backpacks for kids in foster care so their belongings don’t have to be put in trash bags when they move. How awesome is that! This was her first post of the month and it was amazingly spot on.

Rethinking Some Common Foster Care Concerns by Jason Johnson

Song of the Week:

Home” by Phillip Phillips

So… I googled “adoption songs” and was surprised to find “Home” on everyone’s list, but when I re-listened to the lyrics to this incredibly familiar song, it all made sense.

It’s Friday! October 30, 2015

At my house we are getting all the costumes ready for Halloween tomorrow. I absolutely love the makeup, hair and costumes that I get to experiment with on Halloween and dressing up every year appeals to my usually well concealed dramatic side.

Drink of the Week:

Not Your Father’s Root Beer. This tastes like a well done small batch root beer, but includes an unexpected (and almost undetectable) 6% alcohol. This would be amazing in a grown up root-beer float.

Blog of the Week:

In Praise of Roots by Addie Zierman at How to Talk Evangelical. Addie speaks of her time in the mission Teen Mania and how the charity’s headquarters is now in foreclosure and its leader, Ron Luce is evading a warrant. She compares teens involved in that program to apple trees that haven’t developed roots and couldn’t support the fruit they were expected to bear.

Song of the Week:

“Time Warp” from the Rocky Horror Picture Show performed by the cast of Glee.

When I was a senior I took an American Prizewinners literature class at the local community college. Coming from a tiny private school, what an eye opening class that was! After reading Angel’s in America:A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, our professor led a discussion about what “campy” meant and to illustrate, she showed us clips of Rocky Horror Picture Show. I had never seen anything like it, but I developed a secret love of camp. So in honor of Halloween, here is the cast of Glee performing “Time Warp”. You can’t really get more campy than that! (Also, what high school allows Rocky Horror Picture Show as their school play?!?)

An Answer to a 2:00 am Facebook question that was deleted: “What is sin and why does God tell us not to sin?”

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At 2:00 am a question popped up on a Facebook discussion on a book review that I had posted about the changing Evangelical view of marriage equality. The question, which was unfortunately promptly deleted by the poster, was “What is sin and why does God tell us not to sin?”
I was disappointed that the person deleted the question (although I am guessing they didn’t want to get in the middle of Veldstra family debate and I don’t blame them), because that question is the heart of the issue. Is same sex marriage encouraging two people to engage in sin or is it the blessing of a healthy, loving committed relationship? I have often stated my opinion and it directly related on how I interpret the definition of sin.
For the first question part of the question, what is sin, one could have multitude of answers. One answer could be a sin is disobeying a Biblical command. This list would include things mentioned in both the Old and New Testament such as not eating pork, circumcising male children, not getting tattoos, not mixing fabric types, not trimming your beard, not eating blood, covering a woman’s head while praying or prophesying, not wearing gold jewelry and not braiding one’s hair. While there are a (very) few people who do believe that a Christian should follow both the Old Testament Law and the New Testament, most Evangelical Christians would say that this was a very legalistic standpoint and that Jesus came to give us freedom.
But what about the New Testament Laws that most churches don’t follow and why do we follow some Old Testament Laws and not others? Many Christians believe that the dietary restrictions were lifted when Peter had the vision where he is commanded to eat previously unclean animals and a voice spoke to him saying “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:9-16) however, even after Peter’s vision, there is a apostolic command to all Christians not to consume food sacrificed to idols, from blood, and from the meat of strangled animals (Acts 15:23-29) however this commandment is rarely followed by Christians today, even though it is stated more often than commandments against gay sex, and blood has just as much symbolism in the Bible as marriage. (I haven’t seen a lot of blogs condemning the blood sausage industry, or Franklin Graham or John Piper tweeting about how Andrew Zimmern from Bizarre Foods, who frequently eats foods made with blood, is living an abominable lifestyle). Conversely, many Old Testament Laws are still followed by Christians who classify them as moral teachings. For example, the prohibition against finding lost property and lying about it (Lev 6:3) and giving your children to be sacrificed (Lev 18:21) and cursing the deaf and abusing the blind (Lev 19:14) are still seen as important teachings that should still be followed today. So why do we follow some commands and not others. Many Christians believe that head coverings and prohibitions against eating blood are “cultural” and prohibitions about sacrificing, children, lying about found property, and abusing blind and deaf people are “moral” commands.
That raises the question however, how does one distinguish a “moral” teaching and a “cultural” one? After all, Leviticus doesn’t delineate between “moral” and “cultural” edicts. Laws about mixing fabrics in clothing (19:19) are right next to seeking revenge or bearing a grudge (19:18). Why would most Christians call one moral and one a cultural edict? In the New Testament, the prohibition against eating blood, food polluted by idols, and meat from strangled animals, which most would consider cultural is in the same verse as what most would consider a moral prohibition from sexual immortality (Acts 15:20). But how should we discern the difference?
While I was never taught this in Sunday School or even at my Christian College, most Christians seem to uses Jesus’ words when asked what the greatest commandment was “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it. “Love your neighbor as yourself’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” Matthew 22:37-40. Jesus showed throughout his ministry that breaking rules in order to show love to someone was not sinful, such as when he healed on the Sabbath and touching the leper when he healed him (both break Old Testament Laws).
Paul later confirms that the law of love is what we are to follow. When there was a controversy about whether Gentile believers should be circumcised to follow the law, Paul didn’t mince words in Galatians 5 when he stated “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery…. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” One of my favorite Paulisms comes in this chapter when he wishes the agitators who are trying to force others to be justified by law would go “emasculate themselves” Galatians 5:12.
If we look at a moral dilemma in light of whether it is loving toward God or loving toward our neighbor, all the morality laws fall into place. Laws that prohibit idolatry are moral because they separate us from a right relationship to God by putting an object in the place of God. Laws that prohibit us to lie to or mistreat our neighbor are moral laws because they are not loving to our neighbor. Laws that prohibit mixing of fibers don’t seem to fall under either category, so they are seen as “cultural” or as part of the Levitical Law that was meant to create an obvious strikingly visual separation between God’s chosen people and the people in the surrounding areas.
That brings us to the question “Why does God tell us not to sin?” In the Old Testament there seems to be further layers. In the Levitical law, some of the laws seem to be moral laws (still apply today because are about loving neighbor/loving God), some appear to be laws that were health based (which tend not to apply today, because of modern sanitation and cooking), and some appear to only to exists to separate the Israelites from their surrounding neighbors. For example “thou shalt not kill, that shall love the Lord your God” are moral laws. Prohibitions against touching dead animals, bodies, not eating animals that tend to carry parasites, and hygiene laws, kept the Israelites healthy, but most Christians would say it wasn’t a sin to eat pork, and modern meat processing and cooking methods tend to eliminate trichinosis. There is a layer of further commandments that separated the Israelites that didn’t seem to apply to either but caused them to look very different and be obvious as a people set apart. This included not shaving, not cutting the sides of their hair, not getting tattoos, and circumcision (though both of those have some health implications as well) not wearing mixed fiber clothing, and adding tassels on the four corners of their coat (Deuteronomy 22:12) These things serve to set the people apart as a Holy chosen people.
Thus it appears in the Old Testament, laws seem to have three purposes: 1. to create and maintain a healthy relationship between a person and God and a person and other people 2. to keep people physically safe and healthy 3. to set the Jewish people apart from their neighbors. If one broke a law, it was a sin. If one broke a law against loving one’s neighbor, it caused hurt to that neighbor. If someone elevated a thing above God, the whole system broke down (why should a person listen or want to obey God if something else is more important?).
In the New Testament, the reasons that God doesn’t want us are similar, however they are simplified, giving Christians freedom to express God’s love without legalistic restrictions. Jesus said that the two greatest commandants were to love God and love people. The church in Acts dropped restrictions that made it difficult to evangelize and to socialize with Gentile Christians and kept rules that made it difficult for Jewish people to socialize with Gentiles . The rules regarding meat and blood that seem to change throughout the New Testament, from do not eat blood, strangled animals, or animals offered to idols in Acts 15, to eat anything sold in the meat market in I Corinthians 10, were a call to be culturally sensitive, since the first instruction in Acts was made to a church in Jerusalem that was primarily Jewish and the second was to the Corinthians which was primarily Gentile. The instruction easily fell under the command to love your neighbor enough to be sensitive to his conscience regarding dietary restrictions. The same would be true today if one was to serve a Muslim family, it would not be loving to serve pork nor meat to a vegetarian Hindu Family. However in Christianity, we are given the freedom to eat whatever is served to us, without the specific food itself being sinful. The same was true of other commands that were deemed cultural throughout most of Christianity, such covering a woman’s head when praying or prophesying in church, or the command to be silent in church (these seeming to be contradictory commands were actually given to different cultures the first to the Corinthians, the second to the Ephesians, who previously had a female dominated religion). While it is not often explicitly stated, the commands in the Bible that are most often deemed cultural do not harm a person’s relationship with God or with other people, outside specific cultural contexts. It is also why things that aren’t specifically prohibited in the Bible, such as slavery, are deemed today as immoral because they do negatively affect people’s relationship to each other.
So to summarize a very long blog, a sin is anything that harms one’s relationship to God or to other humans. We are created for relationship and one of the main ways we express love to God is by showing love to others. Whatever harms our relationship with another person or prioritizes a created thing above God is therefore sinful. Because God loves us and sin harms our relationship with him or with other people, he commands us not to sin.

It’s Friday! October 23, 2015

Drink of the Week:

Barrel Aged Statny Stany by Kassik’s Brewery, limited run and only available at the brewery. Miranda was insistent that she be in the picture.
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Blog(s) of the Week:

These are three solid blogs about different aspects of why a “certificate of purity” signed by a bride’s gynecologist and presented to her father is an incredibly sexist, hurtful, and a wildly inaccurate determination of purity.

Homeschoolers anonymous posted What do Certificates of Purity Communicate to Sexual Assault Survivors

Spiritual Sounding Board posted Let’s Make Jesus Famous Hype About Her Hymen

And Jade T. Perry Posted On Benevolent Sexism & Purity PR

Song of the Week:

Get Ready to Get Down by Josh Ritter.

It Smells Like Jesus.

A person is standing in the back of your church, clearly intoxicated. They reek of cheap beer and whiskey, their eyes aren’t focusing, and they are swaying slightly but they aren’t making noise or a scene. What does your church do?
In the case of one local church, they asked the person to leave. When I was told about it, I was completely shocked and dismayed. Isn’t this the person that Christians should be welcoming the most? Isn’t this the reason why we are here, to show love to those who need it? I could understand if the person was yelling, swearing and interrupting the sermon, that perhaps a congregant could invite the person to the lobby for some coffee or even better, offer to have lunch at a local restaurant and spend time building a relationship, but to ask a person to leave because they were intoxicated seems like the direct opposite of Christianity.
It seems that the Church has always struggled with excluding the very people Jesus included. We want people to clean up and  present a pretty, put together, 1950’s, faux Christian life before we will even considering accepting them. Kicking them out the door or not letting them in to begin with seems to be a common reaction to people the church deems “not good enough”. Libby Anne from Love, Joy, Feminism recently wrote in Jesus the Enabler about Pat Robertson’s praise of a grandfather who told his gay grandson that his friend was not welcome at their home for Thanksgiving because his friend was likely from “that so-called lifestyle”. Robertson said that if the grandfather let his grandson bring his friend to eat with the family, he would become an “enabler”. If a family believes that gay sex is a sin[1][2], then in fact, the best way to imitate Jesus would be to welcome their grandson’s friend with open arms, sitting with him, and eating with him as Jesus did. As it says in Mark 2:13-17 “While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners where eating with him and his disciples, for they were eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” NIV

Instead of loving people where they are and accepting them for who they are, we expect people to “play the game of church” and make sure that their appearance is upholding the “reputation of Christ”.  Really this is only about appearances, since we all have things in our lives, that if exposed, would probably get us kicked out of that church or family Thanksgiving. The person who has had five shots of vodka before they could enter the church because it was so triggering to them because of past abuse, can politely sit in a pew and suck on mints, and be every bit as intoxicated as the person in back, but because they know how to “behave” in church because they were taught how to since infancy, they can sit there and be accepted but the person standing in the back gets kicked out because they haven’t learned that appearances are what matters. Should the person in the pew start speaking up about the abuse, they would likely be kicked out as well, as that isn’t playing church nicely and might damage the church’s reputation.
A friend said that he frequently thinks about the song lyric by Todd Agnew, in which he states “Cause my Jesus would never be accepted in my church/The blood and dirt on His feet might stain the carpet”. How true is that of our churches and if it is true, how can we change it?
Shouldn’t the church be a place where those who are outcasts and marginalized by society be accepted with open arms? Shouldn’t it be a place where AA/NA/SA meetings are regularly held? Where the homeless can find food and take a hot shower? Where skateboarding kids can ride in the parking lot and be offered snack and a soda? Where parents who have had their children removed due to abuse and neglect can find healthy parenting classes? Where LGBTQ couples who have been disowned by their family can find a new family in the body of Christ?
My favorite time of the year at my church is when we have the Share the Love Christmas Store, where local families with few resources can shop for their children for free. When I walk in to the church it smells of cheap beer, stale cigarettes, and body odor. It smells like church should. It smells like the people who Jesus would have ate with and associated with. It smells like Jesus.

I wish it smelled like this all year long instead of just once, around Christmas. As a church we can do better at accepting those who are marginalized and outcast, at not turning away imperfect people, not focusing on appearances, and eating with and associating with those who do not conform to “church standards”.  What ideas do you have to be more accepting and inclusive of people who have previously been excluded from the church?

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[1] I do not hold the belief that homosexual sex in a conventional, respectful, and loving relationship is sinful. See my blog Now it Gets Personal for the reason.

[2] If they believe the orientation of being gay is a sin without the person ever engaging in any behavior or dwelling on lustful thoughts, to be consistent, they would also have to believe that any orientation is a sin. For instance, a person with a biological predilection for becoming an alcoholic would be living in sin, even though they have never touched alcohol, or a person who is heterosexual has a biological response to engage in sex with people they are not married to, yet does not dwell on the thought nor engage in extramarital sex, would also be living in sin.

Laugh With Me

file000346276799A couple Sundays ago, I was out with a group of friends, when something unexpectedly and ridiculously hilarious occurred and we laughed until we cried. We spent the rest of the night laughing together and intermittently throughout the week, I still kept laughing whenever I thought about it. I felt somewhat self conscious about bursting out laughing while I was alone, or even laughing that hard when I was with friends and then it struck me, when did I stop laughing loud and even alone, subsequently making myself aware and self conscious about it now?
I have a loud, what I would consider obnoxious, laugh. In my dorm in college, my friends would listen down the long corridors for my laugh to find me. When I get together with my female relatives, who have similar laughs, the volume can be ear piercing. I hate hearing recordings of my laugh and try very hard not to laugh when leaving a voicemail. I laugh constantly when I am nervous and as a response to most social interactions, however that laugh lacks the joy and the uninhibited nature of true laughter, so it tends to annoy me.
That is not why I stopped laughing though. I think I mostly stopped because I grew up and became an adult. And adulting is hard. There are bills to pay, mouths to feed, a boss to please, a house to clean, and teenagers to piss off with my mad parenting skills. In my job, I see horrendous things. On the news, I see even more horrendous things. I am bombarded by the media with messages that I am not thin enough, pretty enough, homemakery enough, or rich enough. I feel the pressure of trying to help with the Syrian refugee crisis, planning a weekly menu of Whole30 compliant meals, and wondering how far past its expiration date almond milk is still good to drink, and if I choose to throw it away, afterwards I feel guilty about wasting the milk because of the Syrian refugee crisis.
In addition, there are so many things to be outraged about: the lack reporting child abuse by churches, pastors supporting pedophiles and not victims; people putting pro-life fetus pictures on their Facebook walls touting the importance of every life, next to suggestions that we should torture and kill innocent family members of ISIS leaders; and anything Donald Trump says. Outrage can be addictive and soon it can become the only emotion that one feels.
In a healthy childhood, there is so much joy in the world. There is wonder, discovery, fun, imagination, and silliness. I was watching Inside Out with my family and was reminded how much joy there is in childhood. In adolescents, ones is constantly on the roller coaster of high and low emotions, feeling everything with an intensity that can be terrifying and hard to cope with. While I wouldn’t go back to my teen years for anything, I realized I missed feeling something other than cynicism and outrage.

When I started laughing that week, it also seemed to unlock other emotions. I sobbed during sad movies, was excited when something great happened at work, was hopeful about future budding friendships. Just as the movie Inside Out demonstrates, sadness isn’t the enemy of joy, nor is anger, disgust, or fear. They are all necessary, healthy emotions.
The enemy of joy is cynicism, exhaustion, lethargy, and depression. All these things keep us from finding the joy in simple things. I don’t notice the sunlight filtering through the autumn leaves on my drive home if I am exhausted. I don’t dance around the living room to my favorite new album if I am lethargic. I don’t find joy in spending time and having beers and watching a movie with my friends if I am cynical.
So this week, I my goal is to laugh more and choose to find joy. It may be a loud, obnoxious laugh, but it means I can still find joy in the little things. It means I haven’t quite lost my sense of wonder in the world, even through all the hard grown up stuff. It means I am still alive. And since I find it so awkward to laugh alone, I invite you to laugh with me.