Where Is God In the City?

October 23, 2014

I'm delighted to have Shawn Casselberry guest posting today. He is Executive Director of Mission Year, the volunteer ministry so near and dear to my heart. Also, he recently released a book sharing stories of God's presence in the city. Spoiler alert: Billy makes a cameo in this book, so you should definitely get a copy!

Image Credit: Hernan Seoane
When I went to Chicago, I never expected to encounter God.

I relocated to the Chicago in response to a call. A physical phone call for a job offer for my wife and I to work with Mission Year, and a two-year inner calling I felt to move to the city after reading John Perkin’s book Restoring At-Risk Communities.

I wanted to do something about the pain and injustice I had learned was deeply embedded in our country’s urban cities. I wanted to contribute. I wanted to be a light. You know, all the things us Christian do-gooders want to do. After a decade of living and working in the city, I can honestly say the city has done more for me that I have done for it.

In actuality, the city has done something to me.

I have been changed inalterably. I have been transformed by the city, the neighborhoods, and the people I’ve met in urban communities across the country.

For the last decade I have lived in Chicago. A beautiful, historic American city. We are known as “the city that works.” Yet we are also known for political corruption, failing schools, high violence, and the notorious distinction of being the most racially segregated city in America.

Seeing these grim realities has led me to ask the question, “Where is God in the city?” Sure, we can imagine seeing God in the developed downtown areas, lakefronts, and nature preserves where, “God is good!” so effortlessly slips off the tongue. But I have found that God can be experienced in the neglected parts of the city too.

Too often, news outlets give us a daily rundown of crimes across the city’s struggling areas without reporting any of the good that is going on in those neighborhoods. Although poverty, violence, and injustice abound in the city, that is not the whole story. There is also deep faith, authentic community, and courageous struggle.

When we look at the city with new eyes, we see that grace is present under the surface, on the margins, in the background, and sometimes right in front of our faces. Developing new eyes helps us see potential where others only see problems. When we develop new eyes, we see that God is in the city – and if God is in the city – the city becomes a sacrament capable of transforming us.

I now see that God is present in the city and in everyday people, places, and events. I don’t see urban communities as hopeless places to be avoided but places full of people with heroic faith with much to teach us. I see that God is not distant or outside of our everyday experiences, but accessible and ever-
present, ready to be encountered in the city.

I see that God is in Chicago.

Shawn Casselberry is an advocate for justice, author of God is in the City: Encounters of Grace and Transformation. He is Executive Director for Mission Year, a leading Christian ministry dedicated to bringing hope to the city through faith, community, solidarity, and justice. 

Shawn’s book, God is in the City, is available now. You can follow Shawn on twitter.

Interested in sharing your own travel post? I'm accepting submissions to be published in November. You can learn more and register here.

Everything You Need to Know About Flying Babies

October 21, 2014

Gabriella was on 14 flights in her first year of life. Her initial assent into the clouds was at six weeks. We flew to San Francisco for work meetings. She got her first passport stamp a few weeks later on a 10-hour, overnight flight to Buenos Aires.

So when a friend emailed me recently about tips for flying with babies, I was remembering those days. I can't say that I'm the best person to ask for advice. After all, it was just me and Ella on that 10-hour red eye. I swaddled baby girl, laid her in the seat next to me, and promptly fell asleep!

But there were several helpful ideas I read or have experienced, so I thought I'd share. Have a good time with your baby in the friendly skies!

People Won't Yell at a Cute Baby

One of my strategies for flying with infants is to dress them in their cutest little outfits. I have no proof that this earns us favor with flight attendants and passengers, but I figure it can't hurt!

Packing Tips

I make sure to put lots of extra diapers and change(s) of clothes in the carry-on. I don't want to be caught without if there's a delay or unexpected layover or anything. Also, I put a few of the jingly toys and bottles in my purse so I don't have to stand up anytime I need something.

My understanding is that you can always check a car seat for free and it doesn't count as one of your luggage. I believe you can put it in the plane seat if you buy your child a ticket. A kid under 2 can be a "lap child" or you can choose to purchase their own seat.

We always checked strollers planeside, and it was no biggie.

International Baby Tickets

Domestic flights are free for kids under 2 who sit in your lap. Not the case for international flights! They are deeply discounted, but you do pay a portion of the ticket price.

Also, you may need to check in with the infant at the ticket counter. This process is sometimes very lengthy for no clear reason.

And sometimes, because a person flying with a baby has nothing going on, they will give you the baby's return flight ticket when you check in for initial flight. If you lose it, they will make you re-buy the second ticket. Don't even ask me how I know this!

Choose Your Seat.

You can't sit in a exit row with a baby. They seem to think you'll be less-than-helpful in an emergency. (Go figure!)

However, if you talk with the agent at the gate, you can request a bulkhead. On large planes, they may actually have a little basket that's attached to the wall in front of the seat. It's like a little floating, pod crib with a cover. Kinda creepy, but I used it once. Ella didn't love the cover closed (which I understand), but it was handy.

Talking to the agent, though, is key. One on of my flights, the bulkhead was not available. Still, she changed my seat assignment so I had an open seat next to me. Score!

Little Baby Ears

You may have already heard that babies ears can pop during take-off and landing. Go-to strategies are to encourage babies to suck during this time. Nursing, bottles, or passies can help them transition.

Naturally, my kids were always famished during boarding. They'd gobble their milk and finish just as we'd start rolling down the runway. Thankfully, neither one has seemed to be particularly bothered by the pressure changes.

Bathroom Surprise

No, I'm not going to get gross. But until I had a baby, I never knew that some of those airport bathrooms actually hide a changing table. It pulls down over the toilet. It's not spacious, but it works!

Lamaze for Flying Babies. 

I've always had pretty good flying experiences. And people are generally kind and understanding. If the babies do start screaming, I just remind myself that the people around me will survive.

They may shoot me dirty looks or complain. But in reality, the situation is more painful for me than for them. And if I get too panicky or worried about what people are thinking, it only amps my kids up more. So I have to breathe deeply and relax. Usually, that act alone helps the kiddos calm down.

Have you flown with babies? What's your secret?

7 Celebrities You Didn't Know are Half Latino

October 16, 2014

My ears always perk up when I learn that someone in the public eye is half Latino. I'm the mom of two half Latino kiddos who most assume are white based on skin tint. So I love to discover others rockin' a similar multicultural background.

Here are a few that surprised me:

James Roday

We are big Psych fans, and I was intrigued to learn that the lead, James Roday, is half Mexican. "My father is Jaime Rodriguez from San Antonio, Texas, and I've got one whole half of my family that's Mexican through and through," he says.

Roday changed his last name because another actor in the Screen Actor's Guild had the same name. He joins our white Latino discussion, saying, "They just think I'm a white dude. Every once in a while someone thinks I'm Jewish. I get a lot of stuff, but never Latino."

Sarah Ramos

I recently found myself Googling "What happened to Haddie Braverman on Parenthood?" and learned more about actress Sarah Ramos. She is of Spanish, Jewish, and Filipino decent.

Alexis Bledel

Gilmore Girls is on Netflix! (Raise the roof, my friends!) So get this - Rory's first language is Spanish!

She was born in Houston, and her father is Argentine. Her mother was born in Arizona, but raised in Mexico. Bledel learned English during school, and then I suppose she learned to speak it like a speedster on the GG set.

Vanna White

Who knew Vanna's dad was Puerto Rican??? She was born with the last name Rosich, but eventually took her step-father's name, White. Can I get an ñ, Vanna?

Aubrey Plaza

Turns out deadpan April on Parks and Rec actually is half-Puerto Rican as well. She says, "I was like the only diverse kid in my high school, and I'm half-Puerto Rican. But yeah, I have a huge family and tons of cousins in Puerto Rico."

Jessica Alba

Alba was born in California. Her father is Mexican, and her mother is of Danish and French Canadian decent. Remember that movie Honey? Classic. I just love it.

Nicole Richie

There is possibly no better way to complete this list than Nicole. She was born with the last name Escovedo and has Afro-Mexican, Creole, and Spanish ancestry. She was later adopted by Lionel Richie and changed her last name.

So there you go! Seven celebrities you may not have known are half Latino. Who surprised you? Who did you already know? Who should be added to the list?
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