by Cathy G.

At church, is one still the loneliest number?

This post is for all my fellow unmarried Christians out there. You know who you are, and you know life can be difficult, both inside and outside the church. That’s why I’m glad the good people at the Englewood Review of Books gave me the chance to review Gina Dalfonzo’s new book, “One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church.” I enjoyed it and hope it reaches a wide audience.

For a lighter look at what it’s like to be single in the church, check out Jon Acuff‘s classic “Surviving Church as a Single” scorecard. Thankfully, I only scored a five. How about you?

(Addendum, Nov. 15: The satirical site The Babylon Bee has a hilarious but all too true take on this issue. I’d be thrilled if the “Marriage is the only thing that can make you a better Christian!” heresy was never preached again!)

Thoughts for my 5th “Jeop-iversary”

At the Northern Virginia History Bee and Bowl at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in February.

This Tuesday, March 21, marks five years since my first “Jeopardy!” episode aired.

At the time, I had only lived in the D.C. area for a couple of months, was still getting used to my new job and was excited for my family and friends to see how I did.

Today, I’ve got the same job, many more great friends (thanks in large part to my church) and still like living here, despite all the political and other upheaval.

I don’t usually bring up “Jeopardy!” when I meet someone for the first time. Often, they can figure it out by looking at my Facebook profile picture, which is still the one of me with Alex Trebek (although, as you can see above, I now have shorter hair and different glasses). But I’m still happy to talk about the experience.

One of the biggest upsides from being a contestant was getting to join a cool community of other smart, trivia-minded people — many of whom have been on “Jeopardy!” and other game shows, but some of whom haven’t. Whether I see them in person when we get together for bar trivia in D.C., Virginia or Maryland, or whether I only know them through several Facebook groups, I’m grateful to have people who can relate to this particular aspect of my life. Even when tragic things happen, such as the untimely death of six-time “Jeopardy!” champion Cindy Stowell last year, it’s comforting and inspiring to see the community rally to show support.

Another benefit for me was getting involved with the National History Bee & Bowl and the US Academic Bee & Bowl, started by 19-time “Jeopardy!” champion David Madden. I’ve been a reader and scorekeeper at two tournaments so far, and I love interacting with the middle and high school students who compete and seeing how much they know (and finding out what I should learn about). I hope some of them make it to “Jeopardy!” someday.

People often ask me if I want to be on another TV game show. My answer is no — although I would love to try NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” since I think its questions are pretty similar to the ones on “Jeopardy!” But otherwise, I’m content — thankful for the totally undeserved opportunity I believe God gave me five years ago and what I was able to do with the money and exposure it provided. I look forward to seeing what else comes of my three days of fame in the future.

(P.S.: I am attending the American Copy Editors Society’s annual convention this week in St. Petersburg, Fla. It’s my first time at ACES, and if you’ll be there, I’d love to meet you!)

Lent 2017: Forty days of Facebook — and Instagram, and email

Extra, extra!

Happy almost-March! I’ve been enjoying the summer-like weather the past few days in Arlington — hope it lasts.

Lent starts next week, and I wrote an article for Religion News Service about how more churches and other Christian organizations are using social media to help people mark the season. Let me know what you think. If you are observing Lent, I hope it is meaningful for you.

Go, Cubs, go! Here’s why

Another World Series has begun, and sadly, once again my Nationals and Orioles failed to make it, although they did get to the postseason. I take back all the nice things I said about the Toronto Blue Jays last year, although I do accept their fans’ apologies for one person’s particularly egregious behavior (and I appreciate Canadians’ nice thoughts about America leading up to our wild and crazy presidential election). I was also happy to see Nats fans getting more into the playoff games and telling our beleaguered transit system to get its act together if the District ever wants to entertain the thought of hosting a World Series.

But if I can’t have a Beltway Series, I’m at least glad that this year features the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians, the teams that beat the teams that beat my teams (a “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” sort of thing). The Cubs may be down one game so far, but I’m rooting for them to come back and win it all, for several reasons:

  1. I went to grad school in the Chicago area, spent a lot of time on the North Side and loved going to Wrigley Field and seeing it from the Purple and Red Lines as I rode the El back and forth between Chicago and Evanston.
  2. My friend Matt Paolelli and his brothers, lifelong Cubs fans, made the awesome video at the top of this post.
  3. I really, really don’t like Chief Wahoo or other offensive Native American-related names, songs, etc. etc. (It’s good to see Cleveland also using the letter “C” logo, but I wish they’d go even further.)
  4. Bill Murray.
  5. A Cubs win would be a greater boost for baseball fans as a whole, who’ve had kind of a depressing year, what with the retirements of Vin Scully and David Ortiz, and especially with the tragic death of José Fernández.

No matter who wins, the Cubs’ season will be one to remember. And come next month, I’ll get my baseball fix by watching “Pitch” until spring training rolls around.

#FFWgr16, Part 2: “Media work that’s missional”

The perfect glassware for journalists' favorite beverages.

Some more souvenirs from this year’s FFW.

As I mentioned in my last post, journalism was a major topic at this year’s Festival of Faith and Writing. In fact, for the first time in all the Festivals I’ve been to, there were so many journalism-related sessions that I couldn’t make it to all of them — and even the ones that weren’t explicitly about journalism still touched upon it. (I appreciated Sarah Pulliam Bailey of The Washington Post and my fellow Medill grad Kate Shellnutt of Christianity Today explaining in their session on how to pitch to online editors how the realities of the digital age shape how they respond to inquiries from writers.)

Religion journalism was a big topic, as it has been at previous Festivals, but the future of the industry as a whole was also discussed. As I reflected on my past journalism jobs and experience in journalism school, I took note of the following:

  • Jaweed Kaleem said coverage of Islam by the U.S. media vastly increased after 9/11. (He was in high school at the time, only 20 minutes from the Pentagon, and wrote for his school newspaper.) “We have to cover bad news, but also be accurate and balanced” and “proportional,” he said. He likes to report positive stories, such as interfaith dialogue and “positive solutions to the world’s problems.” Kaleem noted that “It’s not just Islam that has coverage problems,” and “there should be more people of all kinds in the media,” although they don’t necessarily need to share the faith of the people they report on. In fact, he noted that as a Muslim, he learned a lot about Catholicism by covering it. (I found that to be true for me as well, as a Christian who did stories on Islam and Buddhism in graduate school.) He also wanted journalists to pay attention to diversity among American Muslims regarding race and their level of observance.
  • Patton Dodd and Bob Smietana shared how Facebook and blogs have changed how people consume and create news and also emphasized the need for neutral mainstream coverage of religion (as opposed to publications affiliated with particular religious groups). Dodd called Facebook “our front page,” where audiences see stories selected by algorithms as well as curators. Smietana said Facebook is “a great sharing mechanism,” and he noted that the Internet and blogs make information on religious scandals much more available to journalists and the public now than in previous decades.
  • Maria Ebrahimji said she did not tell her newsroom colleagues about her Muslim faith until after 9/11, and that others also didn’t discuss their own beliefs until she started doing so. Since “religion intersects so many aspects of life,” she wants to “make faith part of the conversation” and believes “people want to talk about their faith.” I’ve found that to be true when I’ve interviewed people of various religious backgrounds. And although I’m younger than Ebrahimji, I usually felt relatively comfortable discussing my own faith with my colleagues and classmates, and many of them were not shy about mentioning theirs as well.
  • It’s no secret that the news business is in dire straits financially and has been for some time. (Who knows how the latest news will play out?) That affects what gets covered, and how. Dodd made a strong case that nonprofits such as ProPublica could be part of the solution by encouraging “media work that’s missional,” protecting not just “the integrity of journalism” but the role of journalists as “curators of the attentional commons, what people give their time and minds to.” He did note that there is sometimes “a challenging exercise to keep independence” with nonprofits, and that “great journalism should be the goal.” He cited sports journalism as one area that could benefit from a nonprofit approach that puts more distance between news outlets and the major college and professional leagues.

Looking ahead to FFW 2018, I hope there is even more fruitful discussion of journalism. No matter what happens in the industry in the next two years, there should be plenty to talk about.

#FFWgr16, Part 1: Anglicans, Muslims and social media

When you're Anglican, "reader" has multiple meanings.

When you’re Anglican, “reader” has multiple meanings.

When I was telling a friend who’s never been to the Festival of Faith and Writing about this year’s lineup, she replied, “What kind of conference is this?!”

After reflecting (and sleeping) for a few days, I have an answer: “Crowded, challenging, beautiful, funny, spiritual, sad, exhausting, diverse, overwhelming — and above all, awesome!”

There was so much good stuff this year, in fact, that I’ve decided to do a separate blog post later just on the discussion around journalism. Meanwhile, here are my other highlights:

  • Zadie Smith gave a brilliant plenary lecture on the nature of creativity and the difference between product and art. “It’s possible to both be skeptical and to possess knowledge,” she said, adding, “The art of writing remains one of the key ways of stating our human capacity” and “Books are not just well-designed products; they’re experiences.”
  • Nadia Bolz-Weber was just as hilarious and inspiring as I had hoped. Several lines from her lecture (sermon?) hit home with me and will influence how I write in the future: “I try to preach from my scars and not my wounds” and “The things we say in church are true, but rarely honest.” She also insisted she’s not really a writer, just “a talker with a laptop,” but I would beg to differ.
  • Social media has transformed the FFW, both in terms of the sessions offered and the way people discuss them. Since I couldn’t possibly make it to everything I wanted to go to, I appreciated reading other people’s tweets to see what I missed. Social media was also a predominant topic of several sessions and factored into other ones. I was fascinated by Jaweed Kaleem‘s examples of how he uses Facebook and Twitter in his work as a reporter to identify stories to cover (he cited #MuslimApologies — example: “Sorry for trigonometry, aerodynamics and astronomy!”) and to ensure he’s being fair. And, Sarah Bessey made us all laugh when she said, “Nobody needs to talk to me about Snapchat — I’m too old for that crap.”
  • Speaking of Islam, that was also a huge topic at this FFW, which I appreciated. I counted at least five Muslim speakers on the schedule, who discussed both their own faith and how it intersects with others. I was disheartened listening to Bob Smietana and Maria Ebrahimji describe their experiences covering hate crimes and other bigotry against Muslims in the U.S., but I was encouraged by how many people at Kaleem’s individual session sought to learn more about Islam and wanted to educate others about it, and by Dennis Covington‘s appeal for understanding as he recounted his time alongside Muslims — and secular European aid workers — in Syria helping those who’ve suffered horribly during the conflict in that country.
    While I was chatting with Doug Kindschi, who introduced Kaleem, I found out that Grand Rapids now has five mosques. I’m glad my old church is making an effort to reach out to that community, and I hope other Christians do the same.
  • I made a point of attending sessions by Tish Harrison Warren and the hilarious Preston Yancey because we all belong to the same denomination: the Anglican Church in North America. Considering the ACNA is only seven years old and still relatively small, it was remarkable to me to have that big a contingent. (I laughed a little when I got my FFW name tag saying “Reader,” since that’s a role I sometimes play at my church: reading Scripture out loud during the service.) I’m sorry I missed Laura Turner, who is not Anglican, but who wrote a great article about someone who is. I also have quite a few friends at my church who are Calvin grads, which isn’t surprising: I think the Reformed and Anglican traditions both appeal to intellectual-type Christians, of which I hope I am one.
  • There’s something special about hearing writers read their own work aloud. Covington’s Southern accent perfectly matched his accounts of snake handling, and Joshua Max Feldman cracked me up with his reading of the encounter between Jonah and a Hasidic Jew on the subway in “The Book of Jonah.” I’d also listen to Chigozie Obioma read just about anything in his beautiful Nigerian accent.
  • There’s also something special about print books as opposed to e-readers. No. 1, you can have authors sign them, as I did several times. And No. 2, you can see what other people are reading. I overheard a young woman tell Bessey that she likes to read “Jesus Feminist” on airplanes because it sparks discussions — which I think all good writing should do.

For more takes on the FFW, check out The Twelve, The Post CalvinSick Pilgrim and Aleteia.

It’s Festival time!

books

Some of my pre-Festival reading. I recommend both.

If it’s April in an even-numbered year, that means it’s time for the Festival of Faith and Writing at my undergraduate alma mater, Calvin College. I attended my first Festival as a freshman, way back in 2000. I loved it so much that I served on the event’s student committee my junior year, in 2002, and I’ve been to most of the Festivals ever since. I’m always excited for three days of seeing old friends and professors, hearing authors I love and discovering new favorites, and being re-inspired to write and read.

However, I know this year’s event will be a little sad for me because it’s the first one since Dale Brown, one of my favorite Calvin professors — and the co-creator and longtime director of the Festival — died in 2014. The event really wouldn’t be what it is today without him, and even amid my sadness, I’m happy to see his work continue. I’m especially excited for the launch of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing — one of those things that when I heard about it, I thought, “Why didn’t we have this already?” But, now we do — and I can’t wait to see what comes out of it.

This year, besides Joshua Max Feldman and Nadia Bolz-Weber (whose books are pictured above), I’m particularly looking forward to hearing the following folks:

Those last five are all journalists (past and/or present), which, if you know me, shouldn’t be a surprise. But, I expect all these speakers to be great, regardless of genre — and to come home with an even longer reading list.

If you’ll be at the Festival too, drop me a line! I’d love to meet up with you.

Blizzard reading: Iowa, immigration and an “Idyl”

The view from my home this morning.

The view from my home this morning.

As I spend this weekend enduring a blizzard along with my fellow Eastern Seaboard denizens, I’m taking my cues from the great Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier in his poem “Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl“:

The Almanac we studied o’er,
Read and reread our little store
Of books and pamphlets, scarce a score;
One harmless novel, mostly hid
From younger eyes, a book forbid,
And poetry, (or good or bad,
A single book was all we had.) …
At last the floundering carrier bore
The village paper to our door.
Lo! broadening outward as we read,
To warmer zones the horizon spread
In panoramic length unrolled
We saw the marvels that it told.

One “panoramic” article that I came across this week is from the Des Moines Register, headlined “How a conservative bastion grew to embrace immigrants.” It’s especially timely since the Iowa caucuses are just about a week away. The “bastion” in question is Sioux Center, a town of 7,389 in the northwest part of the state. As Daniel Gonzalez writes,

For decades the demographics of this bastion of Reformed Christians of Dutch ancestry could be summed up in three words: White. Conservative. Republican.

Mitt Romney won 83 percent of the vote here in 2012.

But like many small towns in Iowa, this once homogeneous community is quickly changing. The Hispanic population in Sioux Center has more than tripled since 2000. One in seven Sioux Center residents is now Latino.

Agricultural companies in the area welcome the new arrivals, saying they’re necessary to keep their businesses flourishing:

“I would really like you to quote me on this,” [dairy owner Darin] Dykstra said. “I want the American people to realize that Latino workers aren’t stealing their jobs. They are doing the jobs that American workers do not want to do.”

But, the welcome isn’t just for economic reasons. Gonzalez notes that the town’s Christian values also have a lot to do with it:

Visitors also can’t help but notice all the churches in town. There are at least 20, most affiliated with the evangelical protestant Dutch Reformed Church, as is Dordt College, a private Christian school with 1,400 students.

“It goes back to some of the religious backgrounds of people,” [Sioux City city manager Paul] Clousing said. “They do want to reach out to others.”

(One correction I’d like to make: Dordt, like my alma mater Calvin, is affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church, not the Dutch Reformed Church — that was an older name of what is now the Reformed Church in America.)

I’m encouraged to see Sioux Center be welcoming and to see journalists like Gonzalez recognize that evangelical Christians aren’t as politically monolithic as they’re often portrayed. Immigration is a complex issue, and the article highlights some of the challenges it presents as well. Still, I hope the multiple parties involved can talk about it civilly and seek to understand each other.

On a lighter note, The Onion also mentioned Iowa this week:

“As both proud Iowans and patriotic American citizens, we have a right to know the exact row and column of our star [on the flag],” said [Gov. Terry] Branstad, voicing concerns that it “better not be on the bottom or way off to the side.”

Whether you live in the Hawkeye State, the D.C. area or somewhere else, I hope you stay warm and safe!

When baseball gets epic

 

Happy almost-Halloween! I’m back from a hiatus to weigh in on the World Series, which starts tomorrow night between the New York Mets and the Kansas City Royals, and on the overall baseball season.

The World Series match-up isn’t what I had hoped for — I was rooting for the Chicago Cubs to meet the Toronto Blue Jays, the Cubs in large part because I knew my friend Matt Paolelli, a lifelong Cubs fan, and much of the great city where I went to graduate school would be thrilled, and the Blue Jays because, well, Canada has a new prime minister (like me, a literature student in undergrad!) who seems cool, so why not? But, I will probably tune in, if only because I like a few of the Mets players.

All joking about Justin Trudeau aside, the seventh inning of Game 5 of the ALDS should’ve been enough to make anyone like baseball. And no, I don’t think Jose Bautista was out of line at all with his bat flip — in a big moment in a big game like that, I’d be celebrating a little too. (As USA Today points out, perhaps the cultural differences between baseball players contributed to the negative reaction — or maybe people just don’t like to lose. Interesting tidbit from that article: “In Korea, for example, bat-flipping is commonplace, without negative repercussions.”)

Of course, the only reason I’m even discussing these teams is because the Nationals and Orioles both failed to even make the playoffs. The letdown seemed especially bad for the Nats, who had such high expectations, although Max Scherzer had great moments. My friend and colleague James daSilva weighed in on what the team needs to change, apart from firing manager Matt Williams.

Soon enough, it will be time to think about the Super Bowl and college bowl games (go Wildcats!). Until then, I’ll try to enjoy the last few days of what has become my favorite sport — and hopefully see some more memorable highlights.

 

 

“Xennial”? That’s me!

The hilarious Jessica from "Fresh Off The Boat."

The hilarious Jessica from “Fresh Off the Boat.”

One thing I’ve noticed about this decade — the “teens” — is how old I suddenly feel.
This year and last year, I’ve realized that many of my favorite movies and albums are five, 10 or 20 years old, and I wonder, “How on Earth did THAT happen?!”
I’m also stunned when it’s the 10th or 20th anniversary of a pivotal moment in my childhood or adolescence. I’m both moved by remembering how things such as the Oklahoma City bombing affected me as a 14-year-old and disheartened by thinking about what 14-year-olds today — and their parents! — have to deal with.

I suppose that’s part of the plight of being an “Xennial” — a term I wish I had come up with that describes people born in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Not quite Generation X and not quite Millennial, we Xennials managed to make it through much of our childhoods and even our college years without a lot of technology beyond TV and early video games. We had computers at school but not necessarily at home, and if you’re like me, your first cellphone was a college graduation gift from your parents. (I didn’t own a smartphone until last year, and I didn’t join Facebook until I started graduate school — it wasn’t even an option when I was in college.)

As Anna Garvey astutely writes, growing up before the dawn of social media definitely had its advantages:

Those born in the late 70s and early 80s were the last group to have a childhood devoid of all the technology that makes childhood and adolescence today pretty much the worst thing imaginable.  We were the last gasp of a time before sexting, Facebook shaming, and constant communication.

She notes that our relationship to technology is also more nuanced than that of our older and younger siblings:

Because we had one foot in the traditional ways of yore and one foot in the digital information age, we appreciate both in a way that other generations don’t.

My newest favorite TV show, “Fresh Off the Boat,” which takes place in the mid-1990s, does a great job of helping me appreciate my middle school and early high school years, when people still read print magazines and books and used electric typewriters and when families still watched TV together in the same room. (Of course, it also offers some fantastic social commentary on race and the immigrant experience while being utterly hilarious, so you should be watching it if you aren’t already.)

Don’t get me wrong: I’m thankful that I can write papers on a laptop now, rather than a bulky desktop, and I’m also grateful for being able to send e-mails from my iPhone instead of the standalone computer kiosks that I had to rely on in college. But, it’s also good to remember the pleasures of life away from a screen — and to encourage the younger generations to experience them too.

(Image courtesy Tumblr)