Brandon Ambrosino 09-13-2016

Image via RNS/NBC/Ron Batzdorff

This Is Us is tough to describe because the last few minutes of the first episode contain a major game-changing surprise. But without giving too much away: Several characters from completely different walks of life are turning 36. Each of them feels stuck and knows it’s time for a change: An overweight woman determines to lose the weight, and a sitcom actor quits his series. As you might expect, their paths begin to cross in unexpected ways, and we learn just how connected these strangers really are.

Religious themes:
Sure, the whole “show-how-these-strangers-are-connected-even-if-they-don’t-realize-it” device isn’t new — but the show succeeds anyway. In today’s fast-paced, competitive, fragmented world, it’s always a good reminder that we’re all connected to each other, even, and especially when, we aren’t aware of it.

Jim Wallis 09-01-2016

Image via /

Most importantly, I got to put my boys to bed most nights of their lives. Almost every night, we would say a prayer and goodnight with quick conversations about the day, the next day, or baseball. That’s why it was hard to turn off the bedside light when we came home — without being able to say goodnight.

Cindy Brandt 06-23-2016

Image via /

Why is it so difficult for people of faith, who manage to structure their community and life around the belief of an unseen God, to not able to believe the very visible, tangible words and cries of their flesh-and-blood neighbors? Who forget that the very image of God is imprinted into these bodies?

O you of little faith, why don’t you believe?

the Web Editors 04-15-2016

1. Trump’s Bible Fail: He Names His Favorite Verse But Doesn’t Understand It
He named a concept, not so much a verse in particular. And other problems …

2. What Does Freddie Gray Mean to You?
“One year after the death of Freddie Gray, The Baltimore Sunasked city leaders and residents what Freddie Gray means to them.”

3. Why Didn’t Houston Face Backlash for HERO’s Repeal?
“… the fact that Houston skated away from any kind of meaningful backlash [for repealing Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance] is surprising. Residents of Charlotte are being punished because of the actions of their governor and state legislature, but the people of Houston are not being singled out for their own vote.”

Kirsten Lamb 01-04-2016

When a picture from my first daughter’s first year pops up, when I was in the throes of postpartum depression, I long for a re-do. To relish the tiny baby snuggles and keep a level head with the all-nighters, knowing it truly does pass. I so wish I would have had the capacity to feel the fullness of the love and terror I felt, instead of putting on the shroud of numbness and apathy that comes with depression.

But there is grace. In an effort to forget what is behind, I will push forward clinging to hope and understanding that regret will be part of this journey too. Regret can be just a tiny shadow in a landscape of laughter, messiness, tears, and living.

Kirsten Lamb 11-18-2015

OK, I get that sin is an issue and I am despicable and Jesus is my only hope. God the Father loves me just as I am, but too much to let me stay that way.

However, I think about sin with the same ease as I do cancer. I either avoid it at all costs, or it becomes the center of my dark thoughts. I’m struggling with grasping the concept, and I hope someday I’ll arrive at the place where my theology and belief in a good God shelter me when I get the Tuesday afternoon call that the tumor is cancerous. The shit hits the fan, but I’m saved. Death is coming, but I’m unafraid.

I’m not there yet. It’s messy and anxiety-inducing. For each step I take forward in understanding the fall of humankind, my other foot takes a step toward grace that is so sweet and life-giving. I wouldn’t mind camping out at grace for awhile.

Suzanne Ross 05-15-2015
 BNMK0819 /

BNMK0819 /

Unless you change and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom heaven. (Matt. 18:3)

Jesus spoke these words as a response to a question from his disciples. Which of us, they demanded to know, was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus must have been struck by the contrast between his rivalrous disciples, so-called friends bickering and vying for attention, and the children who were playing nearby. He could have said, “I am, you silly gooses! Don’t compete with me – follow me!” But he had tried words before to no avail. So he summoned the children to show that greatness in the kingdom means playing joyfully in the moment with a humility that is heedless of rank or position. Only such as these, he explained, are able to know me and follow me.

Suzanne Ross 02-20-2014
Members of the cast of NBC's Parenthood, DFree /

Members of the cast of NBC's Parenthood, DFree /

The writers of Parenthood, the popular NBC family drama, use an interesting device to dramatize conflict. When two characters have a difference of opinion their exchange begins in measured, even tones. One person talks, while the other listens. Then the second person talks, while the first one listens. But as their disagreement heats up, the exchange gets faster and faster until no one is listening and both characters are talking over each other so loud and fast that it’s difficult to understand exactly what they are saying. This clip is typical. It’s an argument between Sarah and her boyfriend, Mark, over whether or not she will be able to keep her promise to attend a weekend getaway with him.

Sandi Villarreal 02-19-2014
The author's daughter. Photo by Brandon Hook

The author's daughter. Photo by Brandon Hook

I became a mom for the first time in November. Insert here all of the cliché observances about life-changing experiences and never knowing love before and having a better understanding of God and whatnot. Of course, they’re all true, but so are most clichés.

There are also things no one tells you, instead using above clichés to paper over the less desirable realities of parenthood. No one told me about that feeling — the feeling that the word “overwhelming” doesn’t even begin to describe. No one told me that feeling that makes you weep inconsolably and go off the rails at the thought of leaving the house is actually what it means to love your child. That size of love is truly overwhelming.

While I was pregnant, I tried really hard to avoid all of the parenting books — how to raise well-behaved children, the countless “methods” for getting your child to sleep, how to master breastfeeding (“the most natural thing in the world!” ugh, wrong) — in favor of being a “go-with-the-flow” type parent. In fact, the only book I really read and still lives in a stack by my nightstand is The Sh!t No One Tells You: A Guide to Surviving Your Baby’s First Year.

And being the future mother of a girl, I had grand ideas about “protecting” her from human-made gender norms. I ordered the “Forget Princess; Call Me President” onesie. I shunned head-to-toe pink (for about a week). I created a collage wall in her nursery of black-and-white photos of all of the badass women in her family she has to look up to.

And then this week I caught myself doing something that has the potential to harm my daughter more than being drenched in pink and purple for the next 18 years ever could.

Joy Carroll Wallis 02-06-2014
Child hand inside a parent's, mickyso /

Child hand inside a parent's, mickyso /

Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from Joy Carroll Wallis' chapter of the book Faith Forward: A Dialogue on Children, Youth and a New Kind of Christianity.

“Offering your child to God is a way of offering yourself to God again, and it felt that way to me. For the religious and not, there is a powerful spirituality in the birth of a child. Already, we’re learning a little about the unconditional love of God for us in the way we feel about our own child. Through one of the most universal human experiences, parent after parent is taught the lessons of love and life. And all is grace.” Jim Wallis, following the birth of his son, Luke

Jim and I grew up in Christian families, which brought with it both advantages and disadvantages. My father was a clergyman in the Church of England in the inner city of South London. Jim’s parents were the founders and leaders of a Plymouth Brethren congregation in Detroit. We both rebelled and returned and our stories are well documented in the books we have written.

One of the best gifts that we experienced as the children of Christian leaders was that of an open home. Exposure to family, and friends from many different cultures and walks of life helped shape us. But, more importantly, it allowed us to grow up participating in the ministry of hospitality – and that has stuck. The Wallis home is known to be an “open house.” Our guest room belongs to many people: from a professor teaching a course in town, to a church leader participating in a fellowship program or conference; from a patient recovering from major surgery or illness, to a summer intern visiting from a far-flung part of the world. To add to this, the basement and boys’ rooms are often filled with teenagers or most of a baseball team, and our dining table is full to capacity on a regular basis.

One day when just the members of our family were sitting down to eat dinner, Jim asked who would like to say grace. Jack, who was about four at the time, looked around and said, “But we don’t have enough people!”

Stephen Mattson 05-10-2013
Couple with negative pregnancy test, Monkey Business Images /

Couple with negative pregnancy test, Monkey Business Images /

Moms should be celebrated, and they deserve all the flowers, spa days, pampering, and gifts given to them. I love my mom and I can’t thank her enough for all she has done for me and my family — Mother’s Day doesn’t even begin to cover the gratitude I have for her.

But for many, Mother’s Day is the most painful day of the year. For women who have experienced miscarriages, have had children die, have had abortions, who want to have kids but are struggling or unable to, have had to give up their children or currently have broken relationships with their kids, the holiday serves as a stark reminder filled with personal sorrow.

Christian communities can be especially harsh because of their tendencies to show favoritism to the idea of motherhood — as if mothers are somehow more holy and righteous than non-mothers. In an effort to praise and empower marriage, healthy parenting, families, and the sanctity of life, Christian subculture often mistakenly and unintentionally alienates those around us — especially women.

Christian Piatt 10-24-2012

Zoe Piatt, at age 2.

Don’t ever kill me, OK? Killing me is not safe.
—Mattias, 3 years, 0 months

“What’s your greatest fear about having another baby?”

I don’t think Amy was just goading me when she asked me this back in the early stages of impending double fatherhood, but she knows we’re both pretty good worriers (though I’d argue she’s better at it than I am, and since I’m the one writing this book, we’ll assume she’d agree with me).

Talk about an open invitation to worry! I don’t spend a lot of energy worrying about day-to-day matters; I’m more of a saver. But when something comes along that’s really worth worrying about, you can bet I’ll draw down that worry account a bit.

After Amy asked me the fateful question, I started compiling a mental list. I figure I’ll lay out at least my top ten here for your edification, or at least for simple amusement:

#10. We could have twins...

the Web Editors 09-04-2012

Don't make me stop this beat. I'll do it. I'll pull this beat right over...


(L-R) Sam and Anne Lamott, the cover of "Some Assembly Required," Michelle Van Loon, and Jennifer Grant and family.

Twenty years ago, author Anne Lamott was ambushed by her unexpected pregnancy. Her best selling 1993 memoir, Operating Instructions, describes her tumultuous first year as a single mother after her son Sam’s birth.

When Sam turned 19, he told his mom that he and girlfriend Amy were about to become parents, a life-altering event for the young couple. The news did some serious upending of Anne Lamott’s life as well. Anne and Sam together agreed to tell the story of the growing up that all three generations of Lamotts did during baby Jax’s first year.

As Anne Lamott notes in the book, Some Assembly Required: A Journal Of My Son’s First Son, “…I’d always looked forward with enthusiasm to becoming a grandmother someday, in, say, 10 years from now, perhaps after he had graduated from the art academy he attends in San Francisco and settled down into a career, and when I was old enough to be a grandmother.”

Not long ago, I had an opportunity to have a different sort of conversation about Some Assembly Required with God's Politics contributor Jennifer Grant, mother of four children between 10 and 16, and author of the new memoir Momumental: Adventures In The Messy Art of Raising A Family .

Who doesn’t love eavesdropping? Take a few moments to listen in as Grant and I chat about Some Assembly Required and a few of the lessons our own children and grandchildren are teaching us...

Christian Piatt 05-07-2012

I wrote a story a while back about a family in our church back in Pueblo whose baby was due just after we left town. Early in the pregnancy, doctors diagnosed little Avery with HLHS, Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. There was a good chance he’d need surgery in utero or immediately after being born, and there was a formidable chance that he wouldn’t survive the procedure. There was also, of course, a higher than normal risk to Lyndsay, the mother, too.

It was hopeful watching the church family rally around the Vigils, praying for them, bringing them meals, visiting and doing what they could to offer support in what I’m sure felt like a time of emotional free-fall. It was also weird to know that, when Avery actually came, we wouldn’t be there.

Avery's first day as an oxygen-breathing member of the human race.

That day was today.

Stacy Barton 05-07-2012

By Stacy Barton

Suddenly you are there,

the smell of womanhood about you.

    Hi Mom.

Ripe with dance,

your body moves like words on a poets tongue.

Christian Piatt 03-02-2012
PregMANcy: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

PregMANcy: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

We're delighted to share with you an excerpt from Christian Piatt's forthcoming (April 1) memoir, PregMANcy: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date:

“Screw it.”

These two words are what started the baby ball rolling in the Piatt household, back in January. After months of counseling, discernment, weepy nights and sleepless mornings, I submitted, succumbed, caved in like the roof of a Geo convertible.

I know “screw it” is an ironic choice of words, considering the circumstances. I also think it’s sadistically ironic that we men are biologically tuned to love sex so much, yet we’re usually the ones who freak out the most about the byproduct. I’m a typical male, visually aroused by anything vaguely resembling a boob or a booty. Also, working from home and sharing responsibility with my wife for the daily development of our four-year-old son, Mattias, makes me somewhat abnormal. And it’s this shared responsibility, I think, that makes having another kid such a big deal for me.

Brian McLaren 09-08-2010

A lot of contemporary movies picture American suburban life as banal, hypocritical, and morally bankrupt -- a deceitful place where manicured landscapes and plastic surgery cover up empty, desperate realities.

Marque Jensen 08-10-2009
Early next Saturday morning I will board a plane with my daughter to spend a week in Honduras.