Three in a casket

One Month Old Quadruplets Leave Tongji Hospital

Anyone concerned about America’s fertility industry should ponder “21st Century Babies” being posted in installlments on the the New York Times website. Writer Stephanie Saul is doing an excellent job of revealing the moral dilemmas and, frankly, distress and suffering that may occur when potential parents decide to try in-vitro and intrauterine insemination.

Here’s the first story, about the dangers of bearing twins.

As a person who struggled with infertility, but never had to go the hormone injections route, I read the second article with a disturbing question– why didn’t I know this already? Although she includes many quotes from parents and doctors enmeshed in the business of fertility medicine, Saul’s main focus is the heartbreaking story of Thomas and Amanda Stansel :

For more than a year the Stansels had been relying on Dr. George Grunert, one of the busiest fertility doctors in Houston, to produce his industry’s coveted product — a healthy baby. He was using a common procedure called intrauterine insemination, which involved injecting sperm into Mrs. Stansel’s uterus after hormone shots.

But something had gone wrong. In April, an ultrasound revealed that Mrs. Stansel was carrying not one but six babies, and Dr. Grunert was recommending a procedure known as selective reduction, in which some of the fetuses would be eliminated.

The Stansels rejected Dr. Grunert’s advice and, since then, their vision of a family has collapsed into excruciating loss: the deaths of four children after their premature births on Aug. 4, including one who died late Sunday night. The two other infants remain in neonatal intensive care, their futures uncertain.

When I first read this story, three of the babies had died — now the story has been altered to reflect the death of a fourth child.

Generally speaking, Saul doesn’t mince words in delineating the awful choices that patients and doctors may have in balancing one life against others. Yet in that context is it is very odd that she places a few religious ideas so deep in her story that they almost seem to play lesser roles. And yet it is likely that they are actually quite important.

Sauls carefully notes that causing the death of some fetuses (any word choice can’t capture this) is “known as” selective reduction. But the pro-life movement, as Sauls comments later in the story, call the same procedure elective abortion. The words “selective reduction” dance in and out of quotes in a way that seems to signal either ambivalance or poor editing. And the fact that this procedure has ethical and religious implications should have been closer to the top.

More crucial is where Saul mentions the faith that affected the
Stansel’s decision to attempt to carry the babies to term — near the article’s end.

Turns out the Stansels are Mormons.

For the Stansels, the decision was influenced by their membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church generally opposes abortion. After learning that Mrs. Stansel was carrying sextuplets, the Stansels decided to meet with church elders and consult with a reduction specialist.

“It just never felt right,” Mr. Stansel said. “We prayed many nights. A lot of sleepless nights. Originally we thought we might do the reduction. We chose to carry all six and, we believe, let God do what he’s going to do.”

In a long article, replete with details, placement means a lot. Was I the only one who read the first Thomas Stansel quote, about holding the babies before they died and thought — boy, this guy is a bit narcissistic? After all, they “rejected” their own doctor’s advice.Whether readers end up feeling empathy or not, this quote gives them more of a sense of the family’s own suffering, and the discernment process they went through.

It’s hard to finish the article without being aware of the suffering on all sides of some of these terrible decisions — and that’s a witness to Saul’s thorough reporting. But while religion isn’t a ghost here, it’s more of an appendix. Throughout the story I was asking: what where they thinking? Why did they behave the way they did? Finding out at the end makes the Stansels rather two-dimensional.

Where are the voices of counselors, ethicists and clergy? Given that, as Sauls says, religious convictions are a part of what motivate many couples, they could have been threaded throughout the story.

The fertility field, supply and demand on steroids, is virtually unregulated. Thus we would be naive to expect that these stories would leave us with easy heroes and villains — but given that so many potential parents are harnessing fertility treatments to produce babies, they really need to be told. At least then patients will have a better idea of the possibly ghastly decisions that may lie ahead.

The man from hope?

Over the past few days, I’ve been wondering about the significance of religious or quasi-religious words in a culture in which a shared understanding of these words appears to be disappearing. My curiosity was first piqued by a column by Gene Lyons in Salon. The critic argues that an interview (not so much the act?) sex offender Roman Polanski (here’s Mollie’s take from last week) gave should get a “special place in hell.” His column is sprinkled with words like “holy writ”, “sins” and the most definitely not complimentary “professional Christian” (applied to Nevada Senator John Ensign.

We have reached a new phase in devolution away from Christian cultural dominance when words formely associated with specific doctrines become fodder for a cynical riff on the misdeeds of politicians and Hollywood denizens.

So if Polanski, in this new paradigm, is a sinner, (except to some French philosophes and Hollywood types) then who is one of the sometimes sacred, sometimes secular anointed — or son of Satan?

It’s no secret that President Barack Obama has been viewed in quasi-Messianic terms by some on the left — and as quite something else by some on the right. And when he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize by five Norwegians yesterday, journalists had to find a secular language which embraced the semi-religious fervor of liberal expectations — and the equally zealous antipathy of some opponents.

It’s a dynamic that Eli Saslow captures really nicely in an article posted on the website:

This is how it has always gone with Obama: His latest coronation, this time as Nobel Peace Prize winner, inspired a dozen different reactions that were similar only in their intensity.

Instead of the universal tribute that often accompanies a Nobel Prize, Obama’s award resulted in a deluge of response that included all the divisiveness of the presidential campaign. The reactions Friday to Obama’s winning the prize tended to cast him as either a savior or a fraud, with little conversation in between. There was bewilderment and cynicism, hope and pride. Debate raged about who Obama is and what he will become.

Some called the prize the ultimate endorsement of a great president; others called it evidence that, once again, charisma had trumped results. Some called it a miracle; others called it a joke. Some believed Obama had earned the prize by uniting the country, rewriting black history and redeeming America in the eyes of the world; others said Obama had earned — and accomplished — nothing.

Is Obama a savior, miracle-worker, redeemer? Or is he a fraud, a man who is all charisma and no substance, a suit who shows up work but doesn’t get the job done? Interestingly, here the Messianic language comes from the left — and those quoted on right seems to echo the benchmarks of the business world (but in New Jersey they may feel differently about the President). But although many of the phrases might be cribbed from a theological thesaurus, the meaning is is often ambiguous. Does the secular left attach religious expectations to the President? Or are their hopes for a secular reformation more in line with many Europeans perhaps like those who awarded Obama the Nobel Prize?

Saslow continues, later in the article:

Even the committee was summoning hope, a word used so regularly on Friday that it felt reminiscent of Obama’s campaign. He spent 18 months drawing record crowds at campaign rallies, inspiring supporters to chant “Yes we can” and plaster red-white-and-blue HOPE posters on street lamps across the country. It was then that Obama started to become the man to whom people attached their own aspirations and definitions, a candidate not of accomplishment, not yet, but of an ever-growing mystique.

Americans have often seen their Presidents as divinely led men of destiny. But in the past, even if one disagreed, there was some agreeement on what that meant. I think Saslow is on to something here — but in a country in which many citizens don’t believe in God or Satan, and many define those entitites in ways that have little to do with tradition, it’s difficult to find the right way to describe the intensity of the emotions that whirl around this President (and certainly swirled around the second George Bush).

Sometimes journalists and commenters, may veer in one direction (can you really compare Obama to the Dalai Lama?) and sometimes in another (wicked? really?).

I predict that journalists will continue to struggle, using traditional language broadly to describe quasi-religious feelings — and letting readers draw their own conclusions.

Got news? Democrats’ house divided

It’s fair to say that nine-term Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak is not a poster boy for conservatives, even for conservative Democrats. An opponent of the Iraq war, active on environmental issues, watch him being skewered above by radio host Rush Limbaugh for his criticism of advertising by the pharmaceutical industry.

But Stupak, a former police officer, does represent the bread-and-butter, working/middle-class constituencies which once provided the backbone of the Democratic Party — and included many who strongly opposed abortion. Remind you of someone else? It sure does the Wall Street Journal’s Main Street columnist Willam McGurn.

Someone ought to tell the president and the speaker of the House that they are creating a new Bob Casey problem for their party. And his name is Bart Stupak.

The Bob Casey in question is the late governor of Pennsylvania, so famously humiliated at the 1992 Democratic convention. Party officials who denied the podium to the pro-life Democrat somehow found speaking slots for several pro-choice Republicans. That moment helped tar the Democrats as a party of abortion intolerance — a problem the party thought it put behind it in 2006 when the governor’s son, Democrat Robert Casey Jr., was elected senator as a pro-life Democrat.

Now party elders are making the Casey mistake all over again. A nine-term congressman from northern Michigan, Mr. Stupak is the kind of Catholic who once constituted the heart of the Democratic Party. Just like Gov. Casey before him, Mr. Stupak’s stand for life — in this case, his fight against tax dollars for abortion — is making him a thorn in the side of a Democratic president.

It’s not that Stupak hasn’t been in the news — Terry praised an article by the New York Times’ David Kirkpatrick last week that noted Stupak’s crucial role in pushing for restrictions on federal funds in the House. It’s not even that Stupak is one of a tiny handful of Democrats — though they are still very much in the minority, last year’s elections added more anti-abortion Democrats to the rolls in the House.

What McGurn picks up on is the Casey connection — and the relative silence from the Congressman’s normal allies on topics that include life issues on the religious left. That includes “progressive” (oy, can’t we find another word?) Catholics who both supported Obama and are anti-abortion. The question, of course, is why. We’ll have to wait to hear from some of them to find out — or someone in the media will need to ask!

Given that the White House has been relatively silent on the issue, that the House and Senate are so polarized, and that the Hyde amendment banning Federal funds for abortion is debatably being challenged, McGurn focuses on what may turn out to be a crucial moment for both the Obama administration and anti-abortion Democrats. Good get.

A few more comments.

I’d be very surprised if the coming debate on these bills in the Senate and House doesn’t bring increased focus on abortion, and other controversial parts of the bill (want to talk Medicare?) from the American public. For an interview with Stupak that explains some of the fiendishly complex issues around the health care debate, read Dan Gilgoff’s God & Country blog.

But one moral angle that McGurn doesn’t discuss (Got business?) is that the health care bills under discussion effectually subsidize policies hawked by the mega-insurance companies — which is an issue that I would think would concern those on the religious left. Almost half of private insurance companies provide insurance for elective abortion.

To only provide access and government money to those who don’t insure abortions, or to ask insurance companies who want to compete to stop insuring them, would be government regulation in private industry. Republicans classically are loathe to do that, and, when push comes to shove, so are many Democrats. I wonder why so few, on the religious left or right, are talking about that angle? Any guesses?

The prince of piece?


Let me own up to being on the losing side of the great American dialogue about guns. Linked to my pro-life beliefs is a deep skepticism that the answer to violence on American streets is owning guns to use in self-defense. Thus I find it unsettling when pollsters, as Pew did last spring, track a rise in anti-abortion sentiment — and a call for less regulation of guns. Is there a connection?

The way the media covers the “keep your laws off my guns” disputes that roil Congress periodically (and are now heading to the Supreme Court again) and gun violence tragedies often leaves out voices that really ought to be heard in these debates. We don’t often get good quotes from shopkeepers and other workers striving to make a living in communities plagued by gun violence, and bystanders traumatized by the aftermath of it. Those who witness shootings may be asking some pretty fundamental questions: why did this happen on holy ground? Why was that man or woman killed or hurt? Why was I spared?

Underneath our belief that a place of worship is sacred space (that makes it so shocking when that space is torn asunder by violence) is another narrative — that many Americans subscribe to the Second Amendment as a secular article of faith. In the following story, it helps to be aware of both. A writer for the Associated Press takes a look (I cribbed from their punny headline) at how some pastors are coping in high-crime Detroit: bringing their guns to church with them. The AP story puts the incongruity of having clergy bring a gun onto sanctified ground right up in the lede:

The Rev. Lawrence Adams teaches his flock at the Westside Bible Church to turn the other cheek. Just in case, though, the 54-year-old retired police lieutenant also wears a handgun under his robe.

Adams is one of several Detroit clergymen who have taken to packing heat in the pulpit. They have committed their lives to a man who preached nonviolence and told followers to love their enemies. But they also say it’s up to them to protect their parishioners in church.

“As a pastor, I’m referred to as a shepherd,” Adams said. “Shepherds have the responsibility of watching over their flock. Do I want to hurt somebody? Absolutely not!”

Hurting someone isn’t a theoretical conundrum for Adams, who has already shot a would-be burglar.

This is one of those articles where readers get more strung-together facts than a cohesive story. Are we talking about a trend or a few maverick Detroit clergy? Are clergy taking another look at what it means to “shepherd” the flock as a result of the highly publicized fatal shootings of the past few years? How about quoting a clergyperson who has theological reasons for not bringing deadly force into the sanctuary? I have no idea why the writer brought in the national statistics, since he or she doesn’t use them to explore other facets of the story.

In comparison, last week’s Washington Post ran a beautifully written, tragic story by William Wan that illustrated, from many angles, the plight confronting many congregations who fear an eruption of violence in their sanctuaries. Wan begins his story by recalling a fatal shooting in a Maryland suburb — and its aftermath in the eyes of a parishioner who tried to help a dying woman.

Months later — long after the ambulance rushed her to a hospital, long after the 52-year-old legal secretary was pronounced dead — Fuller found himself constantly replaying this scene in his head. He had lost patients before, but this was different.

He had known this woman, exchanged greetings with her at services for years before her blood came to be smeared on his hands, mouth and suit.

Plagued by the vision, Fuller asked God to restore peace at his church and in his heart. But just as peace seemed within grasp, Kelly’s trial and conviction this month and his approaching sentencing this week have stirred everything back up.

The doctor still doesn’t understand why God let Patricia die, why He had placed Fuller so nearby if not to save her.

“I’ve prayed and asked,” Fuller said. “I haven’t received an answer yet. I don’t know if I ever will.”

There isn’t any neat ending here — no comforting resolution. Just the stark, naked questions of theodicy (why God permits, or doesn’t always intervene, in suffering and evil). Wan includes some evocative quotes from the pastor of New Life Church, where a gunman killed two people. It’s compelling, unsettling reading — particularly in light of quotes from those who believe that church shootings are rising across the country.

One caveat — Wan doesn’t present much evidence that the culture wars incite shootings. That’s a provocative enough assertion that readers should get a more detailed examination.

But generally the writer is doing what journalists with some religious savvy do so well after a tragedy — honoring the pain and courage of survivors as they try to get on with living while asking — where are you, God? Their question becomes, if but for a painful moment, your question, the human question.

Abortion: new data, new controversy

yellowcrossbabyfeetIs the U.S. public moving towards a more conservative, or perhaps a less generally permissive, attitude towards legalized abortion?

There’s some really fascinating new information out from the Pew Research Center, suggesting such a shift. But not so fast, mes amis. As soon as the data arrived, so did the deconstructionists. I found reading this different pieces both helpful and troublesome — some media outlets accepted the new information as solid evidence that a significant shift has occurred without question, and others immediately challenged its significance.

Read the Pew summary before you jump into the articles. Here’s a fuller version. I found these opening paragraphs most helpful when viewing the article — and again, found it odd that most of the stories didn’t lead with what seem to be the most significant results.

Polls conducted in 2009 have found fewer Americans expressing support for abortion than in previous years. In Pew Research Center polls in 2007 and 2008, supporters of legal abortion clearly outnumbered opponents; now Americans are evenly divided on the question, and there have been modest increases in the numbers who favor reducing abortions or making them harder to obtain. Less support for abortion is evident among most demographic and political groups.

The latest Pew Research Center survey also reveals that the abortion debate has receded in importance, especially among liberals. At the same time, opposition to abortion has grown more firm among conservatives, who have become less supportive of finding a middle ground on the issue and more certain of the correctness of their own views on abortion.

So are we really seeing a big change, some general movement towards a more conservative stance, more polarization among white guys and the more observant or — let’s not get our knickers in a twist yet? Prominent among the skeptics is New York Times pro Laurie Goodstein.

For most of the last two decades, a clear majority of Americans has supported the right to abortion. A new poll, though, suggests that support for abortion may have declined, with the public almost evenly divided over the issue.

The apparent shift, which contradicts some other recent polls, appears in a poll by the Pew Research Center released on Thursday. A 2008 poll by Pew researchers had found that those in favor of keeping abortion legal outnumbered opponents, 54 percent to 40 percent. In the new Pew poll, the gap has narrowed: 47 percent of those surveyed said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 45 percent said it should be illegal in all or most cases — a difference within the poll’s margin of sampling error.

Note Goodstein’s use of the words “suggests”, “apparent” and “contradicts some other recent polls.” Goodstein goes on to look at data from some previous polls, that support her assertion that the data is “inconclusive.” That’s fair, although it is possible, given the ever-shifting sands of the health care debate and other hot-button issues, that indeed attitudes have shifted since last spring, when some of the previous polls were taken (note that even last spring Pew found a move towards more conservative attitudes towards both guns and abortion). I wish she’d done more analysis of the Pew data — and her use of the word “complacent” to describe current liberal attitudes towards abortion seemed to imply that liberals better wake up and smell the coffee. Goodstein is right on about the sensitivity of questions on the issue of abortion.

Count “The Pollster” at the Washington Post among those who question the import of this new data. The writers do use a very recent Virginia poll to support their argument for restraint — but it’s also possible that the shift isn’t occuring in Virginia, as swinging a state as it is. But take a look at Dave Cook over at the Christian Science Monitor website. He reports the data without question.

I really don’t like the lede on the story by Richard Allen Greene. I have tremendous respect for Pew, and Pew data, but is this really a “dramatic shift?” However, I was intrigued by some of the revealing quotes he gives readers later in the story — particularly the one from N.O.W. President Terry O’Neill.

But Terry O’Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women, firmly rejects religious opposition to abortion.

“Abortion is a blessing when it is chosen freely by a woman who needs it. It is a blessing,” she said, citing the Rev. Katherine Ragsdale, dean of the Episcopal Divinity School.

O’Neill has been in that position herself, she said.

“When I was in my early 20s, I thought I needed an abortion. I was escaping a very violent marriage that lasted about eight months,” she said. “The young man I was married to exploded and severely battered me.”

Wow. Does the language of “blessing” represent the religious left’s (far left) new language on abortion? Readers, keep your eyes open.

So, how about some stories that don’t lede with questions about the reliability of the data, but take a closer look at the results, get some quotes from analysts, not partisans, and then contrast apples and apples? Do you have to either buy the new results hook link and sinker, or question their importance without engaging them? Ah, the disappearing middle ground — the Pew researchers may be unto something.

But what would Father(s) want?


Let’s return to one of my favorite hot-button topics, the role of religion in the public schools. Whether it sets a precedent or not, the question of how to teach religion in the Texas schools is roiling the State Board of Education, schools, and activists concerned either that religion isn’t getting a fair shake or that a certain viewpoint (read: Christian) is being promoted.

So, under the circumstances, it seems that reporters could give readers clear explanations of the issues and opinions. After all, many readers pay taxes for these schools and send their children to them.

Or maybe not. Maybe we could just have another spitting contest with the eeeevil conservatives on one side and the rabid secularists on the other.

Cynicism aside, as I’ve said, every time you push the church-state button, from local boards of education to the United States Supreme Court, you are getting into the realm of opinion, in which there isn’t a clear consensus. So it’s not easy for a reporter to mark out the landscape of battle. But adding to the confusion isn’t a great idea, either, as did this recent, uneven piece from the Houston Chronicle.

Texas schoolchildren should know how God and religion greatly influenced the country’s Founding Fathers more than 230 years ago, say some of the experts reviewing the state’s social studies curriculum.

It is a viewpoint that troubles others who worry that a controlling majority of conservatives on the State Board of Education may go too far in pushing Christianity in public schools.

To characterize the origins of this country as a Christian nation would be wrong, said Steven Schafersman, who routinely attends SBOE meetings as president of Texans Citizens For Science.

“It is absolutely false,” Schafersman said. “That kind of belief is dangerous.”

He is among several who argue that many of the Founding Fathers actually were deists — they believed in God as creator, who permits the universe to operate according to natural laws rather than continued intervention. As such, they did not believe the Bible or Jesus were divine.

Eh, this really isn’t about “God and religion.” To date, it’s apparently been focused on whether there is or can be a Judeo-Christian perspective (emphasis on the Christian) in teaching materials. Look at the Peter Marshall quote later in the article, and you’ll see that seems to be his perspective.

“Controlling majority” — is that another way of saying that this is a group of conservatives who have the votes? Who are they? Are they all in agreement or do they represent diverse points of view?

And Schafersman isn’t one of “several” who believe that many of the Founding Fathers were deists. Many of them were deists. Or is Gary Scharrer saying that Schafersman only one of several in the state of Texas who believe that? Some Christians believe that the Bible is without error, but they don’t believe it is divine.

And then we have Marshall, head of Marshall Ministries. I’d have a lot of questions as to how a clergyman and the head of a ministry organization got appointed to review curricula for a school board.

That’s not addressed here.

For some reasons there are scare quotes around “expert reviewers when Marshall is being quoted, but the lede mentions experts without the quotes. It’s possible that the reviewers all reflect Marshall’s point-of-view (I can’t believe that anyone is still teaching that Columbus “discovered” America), but it’s also possible that some of them could have added light to the controversy as well as heat. The Schafersman quote right after Marshall’s doesn’t explain what he means by “live and let live.” Or is he just spitting back?

And, by the way, is this Founding Father story only about the guys who signed the Declaration of Independence and crafted the Constitution, or does it include influential men like the Puritan Cotton Matther (see picture above)? It is certainly possible to argue that American exceptionalism is as strong a strain in public life as is the predominant deism of our founding documents.

Interesting that the end of the article is so much clearer and more compelling than the beginning. Readers might not agree with Cynthia Dunbar or Richard Hughes, but at least they might gain some greater understanding of the profound questions here. From what I can tell, the religion wars in the Texas schools are being fought on many fronts, and reporters are trying to keep up with changing battlegrounds. This week it’s the Founding Fathers — next week, it might be the faith of Abraham Lincoln.

Another, less concrete idea — I have the sense that the entire framework in which these stories are reported (secularists versus religious, right versus left, conservative Christians versus liberal Christians) really needs to be evaluated, and possibly tossed out — in the interest of truly educating readers, rather than titillating them. I’m not sure what would replace it, but I do think that as the American religious culture changes, journalists need to find ways to keep up with how to write about it.

Picture of Cotton Mather from Wikimedia Commons

Shameless plugs for Godbeat pros

picture-21In an era in which the definition of journalism itself seems to be up for grabs, it’s a pleasure to praise Godbeat journalists recognized for superior writing by their own colleagues in the Religion Newswriters Association. Troll the list of the 2009 RNA awards, and you will see a few names you may know, either because they comment on the blog, or we often praise them for being examples of accurate reporting — Julia Duin (who won in multiple categories!), and Bob Smietana. Another award recipient was Sarah Pulliam, the younger sister of our own Daniel Pulliam.

Here are a few highlights:

Selected as Religion Reporter of the Year, Moni Basu, now with CNN, wrote an ambitious, multi-faceted series about Fort Stewart Chaplain Darren Turner and his work here and in Iraq. Read “Chaplain Turner’s War” for yourself. Basu also won the Suplee Religion Writer of the Year Award.

Jeff Brumley of the Florida Times Union won first place among reporters for mid-sized papers for stories on how faith meets modern life. Melanie Smith of the Decatur Daily was elected Reporter of the Year from publications with workday circulations of 50,000 or below.

The Salt-Lake Tribune ,edited by Lisa Carricaburu, won an award for its religion pages, which we here at GetReligion have often found a good source for reporting on the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints.

Religion & Ethics Newsweekly Special Correspondent Kim Lawton won Television Religion Reporter of the Year for a piece she did on the continuing legacy of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And the radio religion Reporter of the Year award went to Stephanie Martin of KQED in Northern California.

I have to admit that I wasn’t familiar with all of these names. Were you? All over the nation, reporters in media both large market and small continue to work to bring us religion news. That gives me hope for the profession! Please let us know what you think of the stories (some of the content is subscription only, however) and which others ones you might have nominated.

The anti-Gosselins

800px-Genova-Staglieno-IMG_2034Sometimes religion stories are about what happens at the sweeping level of doctrine, traditional and denominational controversy. And sometimes journalists have the chance to inspire readers to ponder the question –could I do that?

A story about a Chicago family of eight who has recently adopted two children from Ethiopia is another home run for Chicago Tribune religion writer Manya Brachear, and a sensitive exploration of the realities of what can happen when believers take their faith seriously.

Behind the doors of a modest Rogers Park frame house, Pete and Patty Mueller are acting out their own reality show of “Pete and Patty Plus 8.”

Home-schooling all eight of their children and surviving on one income, the Muellers have not sought the reality show spotlight that helped pop culture icons Jon and Kate Gosselin raise their brood and eventually broadcast the end of their marriage.

Still, there has been a fair share of drama surrounding the Muellers’ adoption of two children from Ethiopia — a process that started four years ago before anyone could have guessed Pete Mueller would lose his job.

The Muellers could have backed out of the adoption. But they didn’t. They believed they were answering God’s call in the New Testament to look after orphans in distress.

The Muellers have truly chosen a countercultural path — but also, apparently a sometimes messy one. There’s a lot that is wonderful about this article. Brachear examines the real life problems (job loss, home repairs, lack of time) that plague not only the Muellers, but many families. But she also highlights the qualities that impelled them to make decisions which many others might not have made.

I wish that she’d explained the normal meaning of “epiphany” (its not lightning bolt) but that seems like a quibble. Particularly interesting is the way Brachear reveals the way in which Muellers view their commitment to social justice as an expression of their faith –readers too often see the faith-works divide. It would have been interesting to have Brachear widen her article a bit to tell readers about the Mueller’s church (this one?) and denomination. I’d like to know- how do the other children feel about two new additions?

Brachear portrays a couple facing many real challenges, but forced, in Patty Mueller’s words “to live by faith, forced to need God.”

Pete Mueller’s evocative end quote, as does the whole piece, invites the reader to look at the families’ ordinary choices and Patty and Pete’s extraordinary sense of divine calling and ask themselves not “why?” but “why not”? To this reader, that’s a real achievement.