Food for Thought, from a City that has Fed Me Well

Walking down a busy street in downtown Portland at rush hour, a man stops me at the corner. “Can we be friends?” he asks. I reply, “I think we already are” (after all, the light was red and I knew I was going to hear him out).

It was clear by his outfit that he was soliciting donations for a cause. He asks me my name, if I’m from here, and a few other strategic questions. The final question was “what do you do for a living?” I knew this answer was likely going to prolong our conversation, but I couldn’t think of anything better to say.

“I’m a minister,” I said. He smiled. “A minister?” (with a little chuckle). “Really?”

I assured him I wasn’t lying.

“You do know that Portland is the least religious city in the country, right?” I told him I had heard that.

From there he said, “well next I usually ask people if they like kids, but since you’re a pastor I know what you’ll say to that so I’ll keep going.” He proceeded to tell me about the non-profit organization that he works with that supports kids and the development of communities in other countries. He was surprised to hear that I had been to two of the countries they work in- Malawi and Uganda, and even more surprised to hear that we had adopted two kids from that region. He explained in detail why the organization was not religiously affiliated, but told me I could use my personal correspondence with my sponsored child to “spread the good word, or whatever you like to do.”

I told him the program sounded great, but that we are supporting a family in Uganda already and also a couple other kids through World Vision. I wished him luck and thought I’d be on my way.

My non-religious, philanthropic friend had one more question. “Can you tell me what Jeremiah 22:16 says?” he asked. “I have meet a lot of Christians and I always ask them if they know this verse.”

I stood silent and thought for a moment. “I know Jeremiah 29:11” I replied. “Is that the one you mean?” “No!” he said. “That’s what Christians always say.”

He proceeded to recite the verse.

“(Your father) defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the Lord.”

I smiled, told him I wish that I had been able to give that answer, and told him that’s really what all of this whole “Christianity” thing is supposed to look like- love for God, and love for other.

We shook hands and I continued walking to my dinner destination. I kept moving, but I was still stuck on that street corner mentally. As I ate my meal (I was alone, because I’m currently traveling for work), I began to pinpoint what was frustrating me.

I was bothered that I didn’t know the verse, not because I think I should have all of scripture memorized, but more so because I had memorized (and thought he was referring to) a verse a few chapters later. In fact, most of evangelical Christianity could probably quote the same verse I mentioned. You know it (or have seen it on a bookmark or bumper sticker)- it’s the one that talks about God’s plans for us being plans to prosper us, not to harm us. Plans to give us a hope and a future. Beautiful words for sure. Important words. But why is it that the verse we are quick to memorize is about our own future and prosperity? That is not the heart of the Gospel I read. The other verse, the one my friend quoted, that’s the one that we should be memorizing. The one that says that defending the cause of the poor and needy is what it means to know God. What about that? In fact, that’s not the only verse in the Bible that says this is what “true religion” is… caring for the poor and oppressed, loving God & others, and laying down our own lives. True religion is not supposed to be about our own security, but that is so often what we make of it.

It made me sad that no one could quote the obscure text that my friend had asked about, but even more sad that we all were so quick to admit that we had memorized the verse about our own prosperity and well being. I wish that the “religious folks” (myself included) had a reputation for caring more about the people of the world than about ourselves. Which brings me to my next musing & this note I jotted down while at dinner.

Portland, for being so non-religious, you sure do challenge my own spirituality. You care about the earth and its resources. You take care of the poor. You give yourselves away to fight against injustices of all sorts. You value all people equally, and you treat them all with dignity and respect- whether on the street, or at a table. You befriend the stranger. You are comfortable in your skin, and you free others up to be the same. I’m not saying you are perfect at these things, but they are clear cultural values that I have felt and experienced and appreciated while spending time here. You have challenged and refreshed me, and you have welcomed me on numerous occasions as if I were your own. Thank you.

And I have to say, though you do not claim to be religious, you might be closer to the heart of God than you think.

With admiration,


portland watercolor

what dad thinks (guest post by David Ludwig)

When people hear that we are inviting in two kids from Africa to join our family, the response we frequently receive is either a look of compassion (typically not for the kids we’re adopting but for Jess and I and our apparent inability to make rational decisions on behalf of our family), and/or a look of unmistakable curiosity.

To make things worse, when the person finally asks “why” we are adopting, as an internal processor, I typically resort to as brief of an answer as possible.  Something like “it’s gonna be fun…” which usually doesn’t give people the type of insight into my thought process they are looking for.

So here it is…

There are three things that have been the primary influences on my decision to adopt two kids from Africa.  First, my three years of teaching Jr. High math/science in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), and second, two guys who, if you saw them walking toward you on the sidewalk, you’d think they were twins: Rob Bell and Kid President.

For 3 years after college I taught for an LAUSD Jr. High school that was 70% black and 30% Hispanic.  Over the course of those 3 years as I became more familiar with my students, their lives, and the struggle they routinely had to overcome that I didn’t even know existed (because I never had to or never will have to face), Jess and I began a conversation about what it might look like to bring a child in as our own who typically wouldn’t be able to experience stability, support, and consistency in a home environment.  So the conversation of adoption between Jess and I started over 13 years ago as a result of my teaching experience and has just resurfaced in this last year as we have been talking about our future as a family and if there were any more “Ludwig children” to come.

Post teaching I began to spend the better hours of my day in ministry to students, and like every other Youth Pastor during the early 2000’s, I became very familiar with Rob Bell’s Nooma films.  The teaching in the film Rhythm had a profound influence on not only my decision to adopt, but also my attempt to understand God. Rob Bell begins the film by stating that we can’t know God fully (this resonated well with me b/c I’m convinced you couldn’t explain to me how my car works in the same amount of pages as the bible let alone fully reveal a God we cannot see). He goes on to say that although we can’t fully know God, He can be compared to a song that has been “heard” all throughout human history through acts of love, downward mobility, justice, righteousness, compassion, and mostly through Jesus.  And so at the end of the day, as his children, we are best off orienting our lives around the “song” of God, keeping rhythm with what he is doing in the world. In my mind, the idea of adoption is something that is in rhythm of what God is up to in the world- extending a community of love and grace and peace to those who do not have it.

Finally from the endless wisdom of the cultural icon that is Kid President… “if Robert Frost is correct and there really are two roads that we can travel… I want to go down the road that leads to awesome.”  Jess and I know it will be difficult at times, but we feel that adopting children who don’t have a family fits into the category of “awesome” and we are excited to be heading down this road.


Sign this (please).

I often look at the magnitude of the brokenness in the world and feel that there is little I can do about it. I am passionate about living a life of love that leaves people, places and things better off and more whole than when I came across them, but still, my potential impact can seem so small in comparison to the size of the problems in the world.

Every once in a while I come across small things that actually make a big difference, and this is one of them. Conservative estimates say more than 10 million children around the world live outside a family setting, in institutions or on the street. In reality, that number may be much higher. 

Adoptions into the U.S. have fallen by more than 60 percent since 2004, due in large part to a broken system filled with delays, bureaucracy, discrimination and staggering costs.

By sacrificing a small amount of time (it took me about 1 minute to fill it out) we can be advocates for these children and these families who are waiting around the world. To me, it seems like a small sacrifice for a potentially big impact. I hope you will join me.

Here’s to bringing kids home and to ending the false assumption that we can’t make a difference in the world at large.

victor becomes a braverman


I don’t watch Parenthood, but not too long ago I was told I should. So, when Dave and I were sitting down in front of the tv (a rare occurrence) looking for something fun and lighthearted to watch and we came across this show, I remembered the recommendation from a friend and suggested we watch it. For some reason I had it in my head that this was going to be a funny show, so I had high hopes of a good laugh and a mindless viewing experience. Turns out my expectations could not have been more wrong. I was crying by the first commercial break- disturbed and yet comforted by this very real look at the “messiness” of family life. The episode wrapped up with this scene, and I have not been able to get it out of my head ever since. To me, this is a beautiful picture of “family” and also a beautiful picture of the Gospel. It came up again today at a conference I’m at for work, so I thought I’d share it here. This has implications for both my personal and my professional life right now- adoption seems to be a theme that is being woven through every facet of my life these days. I am both nourished and challenged by it all. This is crazy stuff. Enjoy!

(Note: I do not mean this is a good picture of the Gospel because these parents are doing such a good thing by “rescuing” this boy who has no family. That is cool, but it is not the point. It is a picture of the Gospel because we, too, are that boy who has been brought into a beautiful and quirky family. We are loved completely and given an identity and full rights as children that we do not otherwise deserve. Something deep within me comes alive when thinking about this. Yes. This is the type of love and family I want to define my life and my work. More on this in a later post…)