Is Gender Equality Killing Women?

Gender equality, mypokcik /

Gender equality, mypokcik /

I consider myself a feminist, which means (to me at least) I support the elimination of barriers to access for all people, regardless of their gender. But in spite of that, the equality that follows such efforts comes with its own consequences for the culture, and sometimes even for the woman herself.

My wife, Amy, pastors a prominent church in downtown Portland. She has office hours, late-night meetings, and weekend commitments that keep her away from home quite a bit, sometimes more often than she’d prefer. I work most days from home as a writer, which means I have greater flexibility in my schedule to take the kids, pick them up, and sometimes make dinner or even put the little guys to bed. It’s not often that Amy gets home after both kids are asleep, but it happens. And when it does, I see the pain on her face.

Zoe, our four-year-old, had a dad’s night at her preschool this past week, at which they presented us with the requisite finger paintings and other artifacts of her classroom time. But my favorite thing was a letter that she dictated to her teacher for me. The very first sentence in the letter was as follows.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch Changes: News from Our Bloggerina

Dear Sojourners friends,

I have some news to share with you that is difficult (for me at least) but wanted you to hear it from the horse’s (or mama bear’s) mouth: Today is my last day as Sojourners' Web Editor and Director of New Media.

Change is hard. There is always a certain lamenting that comes with it, even when the change is, on many levels, a good thing. This was a difficult decision but one I felt I had to make in order to follow the lead of the Spirit. Our CEO Jim Wallis received the news of my impending departure with great grace, love and support. For Jim's friendship, I am ever blessed and thankful.

See the thing is, as many of you know, I didn’t become a mother until about four years ago when my husband, Maury, and I welcomed home our boy, Vasco, whom we adopted from Malawi. Vasco, is now 13 and, as any parent of teenagers will tell you, they need their mamas during these transitional boy-to-man/girl-to-woman years perhaps more than ever before, even as they are sprouting their independent wings and pulling away from their parental units.

Jazz Fusion — Like It Or Not

Musical notes, graph /

Musical notes, graph /

Jazz is an embodiment of creative tension; it is essentially a medium that is expressed through creativity and change. It’s also a wonderful metaphor for what my life often feels like. There is beauty that often emerges from the tensions of life’s unpredictable rhythms. I have never resonated so deeply with this idea than in the last five years since I became a parent. 

When I was pregnant with my son Javier, I read stacks and stacks of books on parenting: nurturing your child, building your child’s faith, raising a baby in the city, saving for college, and organic cooking — you name it, I read it. I conducted informal focus groups with all of my parent friends. I was prepared (I think you already know where this is going…). I was so proud of myself, I gave birth to this beautiful boy and I even graduated with (informal) honors from the nursing class at the hospital. So there I am, confidently pushing my newborn in his new stroller out of the Lenox Hill hospital, when I see the nurse smiling at me.  I naturally think she is just as smitten with this beautiful baby boy of mine. But then she stops me and with a tone superiority tells me that my baby is backwards in the stroller: “you need to turn him around.”  And it was at that moment that I realized I had no idea of what I was doing and that this creative process of raising a child was going to also going to involve a lot of not knowing, unlearning, and a surrendering of what I could not control or anticipate. 

Raising Sons and Raising Men

This past Saturday, on a brilliant fall morning, my eight-year-old son came bounding downstairs for breakfast. I reached into the refrigerator, grabbed a cold Diet Mountain Dew from in between glass-bottled organic milk and tomato juice, and served it to him with farm-fresh eggs, feeling the part of a drug dealer.

We had a long day ahead, and I wanted to see what happened.

I smiled to myself, imagining some upcoming event, the mothers’ conversation all about peanut-free this and local that, when I’d pipe above the crowd to say, Hey sweetheart, how about your Mountain Dew?

The arrival of Diet Mountain Dew in my house is only the first in a cascade of little experiments we are now undertaking as a result of neuropsychological testing in August indicating that my son has a form of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Our house has never lacked order or discipline, and yet now we are thinking about how to structure everything more explicitly.

Diet Mountain Dew, with its massive amounts of caffeine, is our initial effort in our goal of avoiding, for now, giving him any stimulant medications: Did you know that caffeine actually calms down a hyperactive person, allowing them to focus? Maybe that’s why I’ve drunk eight cups of coffee every day since around 1985.

I tried the coffee with my son first, hoping I could cultivate a new bond with him over a shared habit. He detested the stuff. You could always give him Red Bull, one of my brothers said. I couldn’t bring myself to do that, hence the Diet Mountain Dew.

Maternal Mortality, Birth Control, and What God Desires

Crib image by photomak / Shutterstock.

Crib image by photomak / Shutterstock.

I find myself thinking a lot about maternal mortality (and the issues that surround it, like access to contraception) lately, partly because I’ll soon be moving to a country with one of the world’s most dismal maternal mortality rates, and partly because my husband and I aren’t planning to have more biological children, which means that we’re contracepting for the duration.

Also, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky movement is gaining even more visibility — PBS’s Independent Lens is creating a series of short films and some longer features on issues raised in their bestselling, well-worth-reading book even as birth control reemerges again and again as a point of contention between Catholic bishops and nuns, between government policy and religious conviction, and even, as Amy Frykholm as suggested, among evangelicals.

Recently I’ve become aware that unwanted pregnancies are nothing new — certainly not the product of a culture that’s “anti-life” or anti-children, as the new-ish evangelical suspicion of birth control has it. In the 1850s, Mathilde Shillock, a German immigrant settled on the Minnesota frontier wrote,

“God has entrusted us with a seems that his father is happy over it, I myself do not wish for any more children, as I look upon life as a heavy burden. [...] pity is all I can offer [this child]. Pity and a feeling of duty towards him to lighten his blameless fate.”

I Am My Mother's Daughter (Thanks Be to God)

Cathleen and Helen Falsani in 1973. Photo courtesy of the author.

Cathleen and Helen Falsani in 1973. Photo courtesy of the author.

“My mother... she is beautiful, softened at the edges and tempered with a spine of steel. I want to grow old and be like her.” ~ Jodi Picoult

When asked to describe my mother, Helen, my usual answer is: Queen Esther in espadrilles and a matching purse.

Esther comes to mind when I think of Mom because she was fiercely loyal, smart, determined, brave and deeply faithful. The sartorial descriptors capture my mother’s somewhat less spiritual side – always put together with a classic sense of style (although these days she leans more toward head-to-toe matching ensembles from Chicos and alligator flats, now that her penchant for wearing pointy-toed heels in the ‘60s and ‘70s have caught up with her poor feet.)

Mom has impeccable style and staggering grace, particularly in the midst of trials and tribulations. She is flinty (think Katharine Hepburn) and has an abiding, deep-in-her-DNA faith [think St. Therese of Liseux.]

Helen is a force with which to be reckoned and woe to you who would make the mistake of messing with anyone she loves.

Justin Bieber Thanks His Mother for Faith, Strength (and Helps Single Moms While He's At It)

Justin Bieber and his mom, Pattie Mallette, in NYC last year. (Getty Images)

Justin Bieber and his mom, Pattie Mallette, in NYC last year. Photo by Getty Images.

You might not be a fan of Justin Bieber, but I'm willing to bet there's at least one young person in your life who is.

And while it may be hard for us adults to believe, young Bieber, the Canadian pop superstar, has brought the Gospel -- of social justice and otherwise -- to millions of fans (who call themselves "Beliebers") around the globe.

Today -- just in time for Mother's Day -- Bieber, 18, released the new single "Turn to You" from his forthcoming album BELIEVE. It's a love song -- a tribute to his mother, Pattie Mallette, who gave birth to her only child when she was just 17 years old. Both Bieber and Mallette are devoted Christians (evangelicals, in fact) and neither is shy about speaking about their faith publicly.

“God is the one that is orchestrating all of this and giving [Justin] such incredible favor,” Mallette said in an interview with the Hollywood Prayer Network last year. “And he knows that it’s for a purpose and a plan. And he’s not sure what all that entails yet and how he fits into that, but he knows that it’s by God’s hand.”

Listen to the new song inside the blog ...

Mother's Week: My First Mother's Day

pregnancy illustration, Pim /

pregnancy illustration, Pim /

This is my first Mother’s Day as a mom, and you know what the best part is? I get to celebrate and sleep through the night. 

I’m currently 25 weeks pregnant with the first child for my husband and me. I am enjoying the beautiful rite of passage many women are fortunate enough to experience. Even though every time I experience a belly twitch, leg cramp, or pain in my back I acknowledge that I already am a mother, celebrating without a baby in my arms still seems a bit hasty.

Initially, I told my husband that the only Mother’s Day celebration I wanted was to have my dessert of choice on Sunday (I angle for this on most days, though, so it isn’t too unique). But the more I thought about it, I decided we could do something better. 

Motherly-ness: Shaping a Woman's Soul

Mary, Mother of God. Image via Wylio/

Mary, Mother of God. Image via Wylio/

A few years ago, I guest-lectured in a Women’s Studies class at Bethel University. My topic was How Motherhood Shapes a Woman’s Soul, but I ended up talking more about how motherhood sort of mirrors God, how being a mom (or hearing from moms) helps us understand God, his relentless love, his willingness to forgive and his patience with the whiney little complainers that we are.

Frankly, I was amazed at how engaged the women (and man) in the class were. I’m used to talking about issues maternal, but usually it’s to moms. Not to 21-year-old college seniors. But either these students were actually interested or exceptionally polite. I prefer to assume the former. After my lecture, we even had a lively round of Q&A. They asked lots of great questions, but two have really stayed with me.

The first that stuck was: “Why would anyone want to have kids?”

And the other was: “Why haven’t we ever heard this before? Why is it that I’ve gone to church my whole life and never once heard that moms might have special insight into God that should be shared?”

The first question made me laugh (and made me realize perhaps I ought to be guest-lecturing in abstinence classes!). The second question made me want to cry.