Thursday, May 1, 2008

Just a little something

"One of the oddest questions I get asked in interviews, and I get asked a lot of questions, is: Is faith important to your politics? It's like asking someone whether their health is important to them or their family. If you are someone 'of faith,' it is the focal point of belief in your life. There is no conceivable way that it wouldn't affect your politics."

- former Prime Minister of the UK Tony Blair, in a speech detailing the role of faith in his political career. (Source: Los Angeles Times)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

pope John Winthrop?

For this final blog, I actually want to turn away from national news and toward The Cowl. In particular, I was struck by a “Tangents and Tirades” article written by Mark Scirocco entitled pope Reminds us of the Foundation of Our Nation. In discussing Benedict’s recent trip to the US and his message for the Church, Scirocco came to the conclusion that “Benedict’s visit has served as a great reminder of American exceptionalism and the important role that God plays in American life.”

Really? The last time I checked Benedict was not a modern John Winthrop. Somewhere in his condemnation of aggressive American wars, the relativism that is taking root in the country and his feeling ashamed of the American clerics who abused their calling by acts of pedophilia, Benedict proclaimed America as exceptional, the pinnacle of world civilization. Sarcasm aside, I’d like to make a couple comments regarding Scirocco’s statement. It seems Benedict’s trip to the US was by no means a journey to affirm the goodness of its culture and political institutions as ends in and of themselves. Simply, he came to tend the flock, a flock that is part of a global church, the Roman Catholic Church. He came to challenge a Church that is not American, and thus to challenge members of the Body of Christ, the Kingdom of Heaven… not the Kingdom of American Democracy.

Yes, Benedict and the Church may have some things to affirm in the US regarding its political system. But, it is by no means a praise of America that focuses on the nature of the country’s institutions – it is not praise for them inherently or as ends of themselves. Rather, this nation’s institutions and culture are good only insofar as they align themselves to what is good – American policies and its democratic institutions are good so far as they respect human rights, provide religious freedom, etc. They are not exceptional because they are.

If anything, he came to challenge the American Catholics and their relationships to the American political system. It seems his trip to America was to remind American Catholics of their membership in a global church, one that knows no borders. Yes, they are American citizens, but the Body of Christ is universal, regardless of gender, nationality, or race, all its members are the children of the Lord. If anything, then, he seems to be undercutting American exceptionalism. For clearly, there are some good things about this country, but there are some bad things as well. Thus, American democracy is not a self-justifying, exceptional good. He simply came to remind American Catholics they are part of a global church that transcends the borders of the US, members of a Kingdom called to the reconciling love of the cross. A church called not to the American dream, per se, but to the cross.

Friday, April 25, 2008

You can call me Hillrod

I just lost some respect for our exemplary candidates. I mean, really...really.

Take a look.

Dating - A Vocation?

Dating - a strange phenomenon today - has taken on a new meaning for some dedicated Christians. Through conversations with friends I have become aware of some strange motivations for dating. It's important to understand how the world of dating is exercised for individuals in college. The basics are that there is no "dating". You meet someone, go to lunch with them, have dinner with them, study together, realize you like each other and decide to "date", but really you jump into a relationship. All of  a sudden, instead of taking time to get to know this person through various interesting encounters, you spend all your time with them because they have become engrained into your daily schedule. Not that spending time with a significant other isn't important; however, you must remain aware of how we are called to answer a vocation to marriage. Why should Catholic's date, and what should be there motivation?

I want to share a story:

Today at lunch I was sitting with a good friend who shared that she was interested in getting this boy, let's call him James, to ask her out. She was seeking guidance from me and another male involved in the conversation. She expressed that the important "faith" aspect was missing from his qualities. Instead of saying, I want to be friends with him and encourage him to come with me to Church, the statement was more like: By dating I want to bring him the truth revealed through Jesus Christ. Now, this is not bad, it should always be our goal to bring Christ to people through our actions and words. However, as Catholics, we are called to experience dating as a preparation for marriage. If we are not willing to marry a non-catholic, then dating one isn't proper preparation. In my opinion, I feel that strong friendship and a good effort at sharing faith and your motivation for living a Catholic life is the more appropriate response to this situation.

I'm hoping that my friend prays over this decision and understands that yes, God had brought you into this persons life for a reason, but also realize the beauty of dating and learning about other people. Don't enter into a friendship or potential dating opportunity with the mindset of already changing a person. Your lack of appreciation for who they are and the choices they could prevent a solid friendship. Be open to differences and be aware that we are meant to struggle with faith and acceptance of God's will. 

The Wrong Direction

The Philadelphia Inquirer carried an editorial today that pointed out the frightening direction that "justice" is turning. The April 16th Supreme Court ruling re-opened the door to allow states to use lethal injection and ended the temporary national moratorium on the death penalty. This, in and of itself, is frightening. Lethal injection is not a perfected means of execution. In an NPR article from last week, we learned that
In Florida, no one has been executed since a lethal injection went wrong in 2006. Sterling Ivy, spokesman for Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, says "the inmate did not pass away for 16 minutes after the execution had started."
But within hours of the Supreme Court's decision, several states had signed death warrants in order to get the process rolling again for those inmates on death row.

Before the sun went down on the Supreme Court ruling, officials in several states — including Mississippi, Oklahoma, Virginia and Georgia — took steps to move ahead on executions.
The okay to torture, the rush to execute inmates on death row, and now another case that could extend capital punishment to non-homicide crimes? It's downright scary. Where are we heading as a country? Just when I think that we're getting something right (most Americans' disapproval for the Iraq war or New Jersey's repeal of capital punishment), there's a whole bunch of evidence to the contrary.

The editorial from today's Philly Inquirer mentions the fact that several people are wrongly convicted and then executed in this country. They cite an organization called the Innocence Project, a non-profit law firm that works to get inmates freed from prison, based on DNA evidence. I had the privilege of knowing some folks from IP-NO, as it was called for short in New Orleans. The agency has done a tremendous job granting release for 12 innocent, wrongly-convicted individuals since its inception 7 years ago. The other organization in their building, the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center's A Fighting Chance program works on the flip side of the coin. They work to reduce capital punishment sentences to life imprisonment. They work with the guilty, but recognize that no matter how heinous the crime, that a life is worth saving. I also knew an employee at this program, and he had to read case files full of the gory details of these crimes. He was invited into the homes of the families, as he tried to piece together the case and work toward releasing these individuals from death row. Talk about commitment to all life. Neither of these agencies are faith-based, but they embrace the church's teaching on life and human dignity. And they are saving lives each day. This gives me just a bit of hope within this "justice" system that is embracing the culture of death.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

peace and common humanity

In the opening sections of the Dalai Lama's How To See Yourself As You Really Are, he discusses the importance of the recognition of our common human desires, and their connection to the potential for world peace.

He begins:

"Happiness is a combination of inner peace, economic viability, and above all, world peace. To achieve such goals, I feel it is necessary to develop a sense of universal responsibility, a deep concern for all, irrespective of creed, color, sex, nationality, or ethnicity" (5-6).

I really love this idea of universal responsibility, because it necessitates treating the people around us like community members rather than the "public," which is a distinction made in Wendell Berry's Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community. Being a community means issues of like "justice" and "rights" ("I have a right to this cookie!") rarely come up, because, like in a family, sharing and being generous come naturally. As we discussed in class when Meg used the example of the stolen camera in New Orleans, it is also through conversation that this community is built, not through fighting or worrying about "just" distribution of goods. Justice becomes unnecessary when its advantages come naturally.

As we discussed after my presentation on just war, it is also conversation that begins to prevent the necessity of war. The Dalai Lama continues,

"If the twentieth century was the century of bloodshed, the twenty-first has to be the century of dialogue" (9).

He recognizes that it is through discussion that people work out their differences, acknowledging them without needing to reconcile them. We don't need to combine our religions in order to prevent problems, we simply need to listen. Also, by noting similarities, most importantly the recognition of the humanity of the other, we open the door to peace.

The Dalai Lama writes,

"Every being wants happiness and does not want suffering" (6).

He says our ignoring this fact is what allows for such suffering, because we forget that we are all human, and to thus treat each other as we want to be treated. The Dalai Lama writes, "we really are part of one big human family" (7). Thus, we must recognize our oneness to begin to converse about our similarities and differences, so that rather than falling into a trap, the pattern of war, we can instead live in peace, a hope of the Dalai Lama and of Jesus Himself.

Cost of Living

One of themes that I have noticed being mentioned a great deal on the news programs is the cost of living and the devastating effects it is having on those of lower means. I saw this reported on three different news programs in the past four days. I had trouble finding news articles that outlined the same points, but I took some notes on the programs I saw and will base the post on those notes. One of the things I will mention, gas prices, was taken from a ProJo article I read yesterday.

The Providence Journal reported yesterday that gas prices hit an all time high in Rhode Island with the average price being $3.48. This price is staggering, especially considering that I can remember a time when gas was under a dollar. With the price of gas at such a high level, it is only one contributor to an increasing problem of the sky-rocketing price of living. It is not a mistake that in America our cost of living is rising and our percentage of those categorized as living in poverty simultaneously increases. Gas prices are only one part of the picture. The price of education is increasing out of control. In order to attend Providence College this year we had to pay about $30,000 in tuition and roughly $1o,000 for room and board if we lived at school. These numbers are extraordinary. Even for an instate education at University of Rhode Island the tuition for last year was $7,000, only a fraction of our own tuition, but still a large amount of money for a person living in poverty. The problem of education is also exacerbated by the fact that lower education is vastly unequal based on neighborhood. The school systems in lower income neighborhoods are often inadequate and provide little opportunity for advancement, academic or otherwise. Clearly, the cost of private schools is out of the question for these families, so they have no choice accept to send their children to these inadequate schools.

Along with gas and education the cost of social services and programs is also on the rise. The costs of health-care, insurance, and social services are all either too expensive or too difficult to obtain for those without proper means. The heath-care crisis is one that we are all aware of, and the situation is an economic one. If health-care is going to be so pricey, wages need to increase, otherwise, families are going to continue to go on without health-care, living in fear of health problems. If a family is forced to choose between groceries for a week or health-care, they will choose the groceries, and we can't blame them for that.

The cost of housing is another crisis at the moment. The cost of renting an apartment is incredibly expensive, and the cost of buying one's own home is even more difficult. It is nearly impossible to rent or buy with only one income, making the situation of single parents that much more difficult. Of course the only apartments that are available for a reasonable cost are those in poor, rundown neighborhoods, causing the cycle of problems that I alluded to above. Once a family is forced into these neighborhoods their problems are doubled due to poor education, poor neighborhood efficacy, and lack of social resources and services.

The cycle of poverty is one that is almost impossible for many families to overcome. This cycle is exacerbated by the steadily rising costs of living which encompasses a variety of factors including gas price, social services, health-care, and cost of housing. This is not even including the steady inflation that causes the increase of prices of everything, including food, clothing, and the like. As inflation takes place, minimum wage does not make the proper adjustments to keep up with it. Therefore, everything costs more but people continue to make the same amount of money. America is one of the richest countries in the world, we need to learn how equalize this wealth and give all people the the same opportunities for success.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


After doing a little more research I found that the Yale Student's project was all a hoax. It was "creative fiction." The article brings into question whether or not we should believe that this was a hoax. Legitimate concern, I think.

Senior Art Thesis at Yale

I was quite disturbed when I heard about the senior thesis project of a Yale undergrad. She artificially inseminated herself as frequently as possible and then induced miscarriages. The article I found most relevant was from the Yale Daily News.

Whether or not this senior wanted her project to shock people the way it has, she has raised questions that Americans didn't really face before. Both "pro-choice" and "pro-life" Americans alike are upset about this situation. The fact that both sides are up in arms about this is significant to me. Life is life and creating it just to destroy it is absolutely horrendous.

I don't know what else to say other than the fact that I am disgusted by the whole situation. I pray that this situation will not be acknowledged and let go, but that the intrinsic problem that we are faced with here will be addressed.

Benedict and politics

If this election has revealed anything about the state of the American political community, it that it is stricken with division. Republicans and democrats, pro-lifers and pro-choicers, those for and against a continuation of the war…the division is seemingly endless. Yet, despite the claims of hope that each candidate brings, is there really any hope for change with the current rules of the game? Simply put, all the candidates say they are offering a new approach, but is it really enough to change the political community? Their campaign tactics have largely been the same, their voting records in the Senate are nothing “revolutionary”, and, after the release of their tax records, they in reality are the proto-typical multi-million dollar candidates. I’m beginning to doubt that these same old rules and norms in the campaign and political community can really bring about any substantive “change”, at least the type that the American people are looking for.

This said, pope Benedict XVI’s visit has been a remarkable witness to the true path to reconciliation and change, for this essentially is what the nation’s political community is looking for. Earlier in the week I saw a clip on CNN of the head of an American Atheist group saying she would be picketing the pope’s arrival. Her argument was that his trip was purely political (is she that unimaginative?) and that he was trying to push the “Catholic agenda” on Bush. At first I wrote her off, but I think in a lot of ways she was right…

However, she was right in a different way. Nearly mirroring the division of American society, there really is a split in the Catholic church between its various communities. People are becoming evermore “cafeteria-ized”, and due to the sins of some of the clergy’s past, there are incredibly deep wounds that need to begin the process of healing. Where American politics seems to be in the habit of offering an “alternative” when there is an obvious problem in the community to heal it (take Obama’s campaign centered around a new hope or change, or even McCain’s “Straight talk express”), Benedict offered a new path to reconciliation, to unity.

He listened; he wept; and he prayed. Simply, he loved. Three abuse survivors shared their stories with Benedict after his Mass in Washington D.C., and their reactions on CNN were testament to the healing power of reconciling love. The were all three moved at his understanding, his incredible listening skills, and his concern. Publicly, the pope has denounced these priests who have forsaken their calling. His response to the division is love, not confrontation. Christ commands us to love, and Benedict truly showed the love of the Church this week in his engagement of these survivors. For reconciliation comes in this mutual recognition of humanity, in an affirming love that shows the concern for the other with more than merely words. Thus, as the American political community is fraught with division, Benedict did offer an answer – a way of living. A radical love that reaches out, reconciles, and heals. Yes, he was political, but in no way most protesters could have ever dreamed. His largest challenge to not just Catholics but all Americans in the political arena is the challenge of a reconciling love. Instead of offering different policies, as American politicians do so well, he offers a different way of living, the love of Christ crucified.