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No more swimsuits in the Miss Teen USA pageant

In this Saturday, June 18, 2016 photo, Miss Missouri 2016 Erin O'Flaherty is being crowned by Miss Missouri 2015 McKensie Garber and the new 2016 Miss Missouri's Outstanding Teen Christina Stratton, her arm seen, in Mexico, Mo. Missouri has its first openly gay Miss Missouri, and she will represent the state at the Miss America pageant later this year.When you think of a Miss America contest, or any of the other pageants like it, what's the first thing that pops into your mind? Is it the interview portion? The evening gowns? Some other part of the show? For most people, it's probably the swimsuits. However, that will no longer be the case for the contest to determine the next Miss Teen USA. As Maeve McDermott writes for USA Today, "one of America's highest-profile beauty pageants just traded bikinis for athleisure."

For those unfamiliar with the term "athleisure"—as I was before googling it—it essentially refers to workout clothes that are also designed to be worn outside the gym. As such, they still give contestants the chance to demonstrate their athleticism, but hopefully do so in a less exploitative way—something that's of particular concern considering the age of the pageant's contestants—fifteen to nineteen years old.

While it's unclear if the other pageants, such as Miss USA and Miss Universe, will adopt the change as well, it might make financial sense to do so. As Nancy Redd, the former Miss Virginia, pointed out, "Teens are spending point one percent of their life in a bathing suit and fifty percent in athleisure. The pageant is following the trend of who can sponsor them." The same dynamic would likely apply to the other contests as well.

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Millennials: Four things to consider for this election

Credit: SIPPL Sipa USA via APThere are over 60 million committed Christians in the United States, but only half of them vote. This is both a problem and an opportunity.

Of all eligible millennial voters, only 46% voted in the last Presidential election according to Pew Research. These numbers are staggering, and yet they continue to dwindle with each election. In the last five presidential elections, the highest percentage of young adult voter turnout was 50% in the 2008 election between Senator John McCain and now President Barack Obama. The voting percentage then dropped back to 46% in the 2012 election.

Christian millennials must start taking advantage of their privilege to vote in order to engage in the culture, to have a voice in who represents them, and most importantly, to fulfill the lifestyle Christ calls us to.

Nearly three-quarters of young voters say they do not vote because they do not believe their one vote can make much of a difference, according to Harvard's annual Institute of Politics Survey. So they would rather retreat from the privilege of voting rather than jump at the chance to exercise their right. Undeniably, the political process can be overwhelming, ever-changing, and just plain daunting at times. Millennials have grown up in the age of "quick-fixes." Accessing On-Demand television instantly, asking Siri for the answer with the press of a button, and even ordering their Chick-fil-a through an app has made life easier and voting look tougher.

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National Cathedral's fight between tradition and reason

Credit: GettyImages via CNNWashington, D.C.'s National Cathedral has a rich history within our nation's capital. Since its charter was signed by President Benjamin Harrison in 1893, the church has hosted a number of important events, including President Wilson's thanksgiving service after the end of World War I, the funerals for Presidents Eisenhower, Reagan, and Ford, and the national prayer services for a number of presidential inaugurations. It's in the news today, however, for a different reason.

Like so many other churches and buildings of prominence around the country, the National Cathedral recently announced that it would remove the Confederate flags from its intricate stained glass windows. The flags currently adorn a relatively small portion of the eight-by-four foot windows that honor the Civil War generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, though the church decided to leave those Confederate figures up for the time being in order to help facilitate a broader discussion on race and racial justice.

As the Cathedral's former dean, Rev. Gary Hall, described, the windows were created in 1953 to "foster reconciliation between parts of the nation that had been divided by the Civil War." And while the decision to remove the images is not without its detractors, those who want the windows to remain unchanged are left in the rather difficult position of arguing against the very reason they were created.

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A mother's letter to the doctor who advised abortion

Credit: Courtney Baker via parkermyles.com

Have you ever had something that you knew you had to say but couldn't quite find the words? Courtney Baker had dealt that problem since long before her daughter, Emersyn Faith, was even born. You see, Emmy had been diagnosed with Down syndrome while still in the womb, and Courtney's doctor suggested that she terminate the pregnancy. And, as she told ABC's Genevieve Shaw Brown, the pressure from her doctor to abort continued well after the initial diagnosis.

So when Courtney finally found the words and courage to write her letter, it seemed only fitting that Emmy, now fifteen months old, help her drop it in the mailbox. As she described, "Every action, from opening and closing the mailbox to raising the red flag, was closure for me . . . I have no idea how the doctor might have reacted to my letter, but I do have faith that God can work any miracle and change any heart."

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Authentic Faith Creates Authentic Lives

Credit: Halfpoint via Fotolia

To what extent do people's religious beliefs impact the way they live? That's the question a new Pew Research Center study intended to answer. The research demonstrates that "people who are highly religious are more engaged with their extended families, more likely to volunteer, more involved in their communities, and generally happier with the way things are going in their lives." While those conclusions probably shouldn't shock us, it is interesting to see them validated by a scientific study.

It's worth noting that they defined "highly religious" as those who pray every day and attend religious services weekly. The people this study had in mind were, in most cases, those whose actions demonstrated that their faith was an integral part of their daily lives rather than something they did when circumstances allowed for or demanded it. Essentially, it's those who took their faith seriously.

This distinction matters because it shows that a marginal or circumstantial faith really doesn't make much of a practical difference in our quality of life. God doesn't like to be put second (Exodus 20:3), and we shouldn't expect him to bless a life where he's not that first priority in the same way as one in which he is.

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