Plastic, Time, Cooperation

Healthcare is an industry that uses a lot of plastic. That use is necessary to save lives, prevent the spread of illness, and make it possible to provide better care. Plastic cups are an exception as there are other options that are equally safe and less toxic to the environment. There is little I can do about the amount of plastic used in a hospital, but it serves as a reminder to do all I can in my personal life and that as a society, we could do to reduce the use of plastics. The grocery store is a prime example. It might be the first step in saving our environment and all beings.

However innumerable beings are, I vow to save them.

I shop at three grocery stores on a regular basis. Krogers is a big corporation that caters to all manner of shopper and is highly unlikely to make any changes without a massive community effort. Earth Fare attempts to be conscious of their impact on the earth but does a poor job with all manner of plastic containers.  Three Reivers Coop is much better but still falls short on plastics, but is the most likely to be willing to make changes.

Step 1: Do What is Easy

I would like to imagine a world where when I go to buy a bicycle lock it isn’t packaged in plastic and where all plastic is recycled. When I examined all the single-use plastics in my house it was easy to figure out that the majority of them actually came from the grocery store.Plastic_objects

Plastics Easy to Avoid

  • Milk in plastic bottles
  • Soft drinks in plastic bottles
  • Water bottles
  • Drink cups (except at sporting events or concerts)
  • Plastic forks for lunch
  • Plastic tubs of lettuce
  • Plastic produce bags
  • Plastic grocery bags (though I grab these for kitty litter and don’t know an alternative)

There are things that we can all do to help, but we must remember to help within our means and not expect all people can do the same. I buy milk in glass bottles and then return the bottle for a deposit. Without the deposit 64 ounces of milk cost me $6. A half gallon in a carton is about $2.89. However, I realize that a family of four with an income at or slightly above the poverty line would never be able to afford the milk in glass bottles and it would be a poor use of their money. God help them if they had four teenage boys. They could, however, avoid plastic by using a carton.

I buy my ginger ale in cans. I haven’t bought a bottle of water in almost a year and carry my Hydro Flask with me everywhere. The $20 for the hydro flask seems expensive until you count how much one spends on bottled water. I actually prefer my mesh reusable bags for fresh produce to the plastic ones. I suspect if everyone used mesh bags the cost savings to the stores would be enough they could lower prices though it isn’t clear they would. 

Step 2: Work on What is Hard

There are things that I haven’t figured out where to buy without the plastic or how to avoid without taking a considerable amount of my time. Time is a valuable commodity to me. I’m much more stingy with my time than my money and probably because I feel like I have less of it.

Plastics Hard to Avoid

  • Plastic containers for prepared foods (yogurt is the biggest one, pimento cheese 2nd)
  • Things wrapped in plastic like cheese, veggie burgers, veggie sausage, etc.
  • Pill bottles
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Laundry detergent
  • Shampoo and Conditioner
  • Condiments almost all now come in plastic
  • Bread

Today I bought a yogurt maker. It is one step to reduce my use of plastic and at the same time reduces sugar. Unfortunately, it is time-consuming though appears it will be cheaper than buying the yogurt. I make my own bread at times, but it is also time-consuming and so unrealistic to do it all the time. I love to buy crumbled goat, feta, and blue cheese, but it comes in plastic containers. Even if I buy it in a block it is still wrapped in plastic.

Step 3: Work Local

I think that the local coop could do more to promote reduced plastic use. Why can’t I bring containers for prepared products the same as I do for produce? Rather than putting the deli product in a plastic container, they could put the portion in my reusable container. How hard would it be to bring a shampoo bottle to refill or refillable laundry detergent?

I have neither the time or knowledge to make all of the things I use on a regular basis, but it seems like the coop could do more to make options available. If I can bring a spice jar to refill why not laundry detergent bottles? There must be like-minded people that want to significantly reduce the use of plastic in my community and think that we are losing the battle fight the government so maybe we start local and grow.

“It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.”
― Ansel Adams

How Do You Feel About Evaluations?

I have copies of every evaluation I ever had as an officer and none as an academic. I took them seriously. I set goals and worked hard, too hard, to excel. It wasn’t enough just to do my job, or be above average I wanted to walk on water. Then one day I realized I can’t work harder and I have never been told anything I didn’t already know either good or bad.

My first duty station as a nurse was at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, DC. The first day my supervisor ask me for my ID, slapped it on her desk face down with her hand over it and ask me for my ID number. Fortunately, the one thing I don’t forget is numbers. It is stored in the part of my brain that has my first home phone number, my credit card number, and all sorts of other numbers I no longer need. We were immediately on the same page.

I worked 30 days before asking for a day off. As a person who has now supervised for 25 years, I don’t know how that is allowed to happen, but when the Chief Nurse found out she immediately sent me home. When I returned I went back to showing up early, staying late, and never taking leave. By the time I had reached 3 years of active duty I had maxed out the amount of leave I could carry over and started losing leave every year.

I carried the same drive into my off duty time volunteering at shelters, working on special projects, and being involved in my professional organizations. My evaluations reflected my efforts and so did the three below the zone/exceptional capability promotions to LT, CDR, and CAPT. Then one day I met a man that didn’t give me an evaluation that said I walked on water. It was an above average evaluation, but not perfect. When I quested it he replied, “I’ve evaluated people that won Nobel Prizes and they didn’t get perfect evaluations. When you get one let’s talk.” He was smiling and so did I. I realized that I was now competing in a different league. I was fine with it but realized that a Chief of Staff will never get a Nobel Prize and so the evaluation really didn’t matter.  My motivation needed to be intrinsic. I had to stop competing.

I’ve never had a bad or even average evaluations so why do I hate them? I think they are anxiety producing. I would have worked hard with or without evaluations. I worked hard because I cared for my patients and loved my country. I volunteered because I wanted my community to be for others what it was for me. I didn’t need a piece of paper to tell me what was a good or bad performance. I knew when I succeeded and when I screwed up. Yet for about a month a year, I had to spend time documenting what I had done all year. It took time away from my patients and job. It also made me obsess about what else I could have done. It felt like shameless self-promotion and the harshest examination of conscience every. It didn’t make me a better nurse. It just made me obsess. The only thing worse was evaluating others.

I’ve evaluated some amazing people and few that fell short of expectations and a few others that were not good people. I had one person threaten violence with a knife for waking him up when the person should have been caring for patients, another that was ordering supplies and then selling them, and another that didn’t know the liver from the spleen. I’ve also had people that changed national policy and made the world better for all of us.

When I do evaluations I’m still a good officer. I will follow orders, but I no longer pretend that I agree with the process or think it makes the organization or the employee better. I think they are harmful to moral. That is not to say I don’t think employees need feedback. We all do. If someone needs feedback I will give it to them at the time it will be helpful, not a year later. I think praise should be offered freely and correction only when it is something the person doesn’t recognize. If a nurse made a medication error and reported it I don’t need to call that person in and lecture them on the error. I need to make the necessary reports, but in most cases, the person is already chastising themselves. When we made a huge mistake on a grant award the Secretary didn’t call us all in or write it on an evaluation. We were all horrified by the error and he knew it and worked with us to fix it.

I could tell you horror stories of good, excellent, and exceptional evaluation that people grieved because the comments weren’t glowing enough or there was one area for improvement. As much as I have tried to make them useful most people come into my office looking nervous and I know that I am about to give them something that may make them feel valued, but may also make them question their worth.

Is there evidence that evaluations improve outcomes? The growing body of literature is that they do not. According to Ryan Williams, “There is compelling new research that shows performance reviews actually don’t improve performance, and may actually cause a decline in performance.” Knowing that, why do we continue to do them? When I ask I almost always get the same answer about the need to document poor performance. Rephrased that says we do harm to the majority who do a job so we can fire the few that do bad jobs. That just seems wrong.

I’m willing to admit the staff member that threatened violence with a knife when I was still in my twenties may have forever skewed how I feel about evaluations and negative feedback. It could also be twenty-five years of supervising brought me to the realization that most people don’t need a supervisor. They need to be trusted to do a good job. It is simply not true that the only one that cares about success, outcomes, and the mission is the person in the administration. Maybe we would be better off to have quarterly meetings to discuss as a team what we are doing well, what we could do better, and what we should stop doing because it is ineffective. It seems more collaborative than one person evaluating many others.

Compassion Should Guide Our Discussions

This weekend I entered into a twitter conversation with some people that expressed fear of those that are Muslim and spoke in a disparaging way about the Qur’an. It always seems that fear of others leads to the great evils in our society. We then use that fear as justification to attack the other. Some attack physically and other with words. Yet there is something particularly worrisome to me when the words used to attack are from sources meant to be our guides to faith. I’m always struck by people who choose to pick a single verse and interpret it in the most negative possible manner. In truth, Christians also do that with Bible verses. We take them out of the context of the time or the situation and we use them as evidence of our own views most often that the other is wrong.

Rather than approaching  the Bible or the Qu’ran with fear, embrace it with compassion and love.

In my conversations, I always try to remember what imprint I will leave on a person. Even if the person leaves the conversation thinking me a fool, too liberal for my own good, or merely misguided, I hope they also leave the conversation believing me to be compassionate, kind, and patient.  I hope they see my faith and my love for humanity.

Today in Mass we were challenged to remember that the Shephard left his imprint on the sheep and so they will always be able to find him. It is important for us not to fill the air with so much foul discourse that the sheep loose the scent of the Shephard because of our actions.

Can we loose the strident denunciations of the other and be a littler closer to Shephard? – Fr. Brown

I choose not to measure any human being by their neighbor, relative, fellow citizens, or co-religionist. It is your words and your deeds that matter to me. I will always first reach for what is Holy in you.

Sad Divisions Cease

I was reminded in Mass to bid our sad divisions cease and to seek the God of Peace.  Maybe this year we should sing all verses of O Come O Come Emmanuel and meditate on the words.


Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!


Can a picture reveal one’s spirit as a symbol reveals God? The flowers remind us of the gift of life, the water blesses life, and the fire reminds us of God’s presence.

And then, as fires like jewels germinate

Deep in the stone heart of a Kaffir mountain,

So now our gravity, our new-created deep desire

Burns in our life’s mine like an undiscovered diamond. (Freedom as Experience, Thomas Merton)



My Catholic Faith and Politics

The beauty of the Catholic faith is visible in the love and charity shown by the faithful. It is in our openness to all that seek and share our path that we grow into one body and spirit.

I refuse to buy into the rhetoric that there are good, bad, or nominal Catholics. We are all one, and we are all flawed, yet we seek God and strive to understand our path.  As we enter the final months of the election season, there is one Catholic on the ticket and yet by my count two. One can choose to worship elsewhere, but does that mean the person’s Baptism into the faith is invalid, or his confirmation is null? Our searches for faith, spiritual partners with whom to share our path, and meaning in life should be encouraged and embraced with love.

I left the Baptist faith I embraced as a teenager to become Catholic and in the process grew stronger in faith and love. I sit at a Zen center and as a result am more aware, focused, and able to hear. Life is a spiritual journey. I embrace the joy of the journey and embrace those that are on the path even when they don’t seeing the same things.

One would think that we would celebrate when we share something in common with those that are willing to stand up and lead. However, there are vocal groups that started hate filled attacks on the faith of not only Tim Kane or Mike Pence, but also Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  It is unfortunate when in our musing we even take a moment to consider the validity of the faith of people we do not personally know or worship with, but it is a tragedy when we speak those thoughts and malign the faith of another.

The richness of our faith allows for the exercise of conscience. We need to trust that in the search for God and meaning that people are being led by the Holy Spirit. Your path is not mine, and mine not yours, but we share the path just as we share 99.9% of our DNA. As Pope Francis said, it is boring walking alone. For me, it is the most natural thing in the world to be able to lift up in prayer anyone that seeks to find meaning in faith, spiritual wholeness in God, and enlightenment through understanding. I am happier by looking for the joy in their path and trusting that it is their path inspired for their needs. Our paths are like our DNA. They are 99.9% the same as every other human being and 0.1% different. Let us accept the blur that exists and embrace the reality that at any given moment the path that is clear to us may appear blurred to others.IMG_1551

Photographing True Self and No Self

Last week I set out on a journey to be a better photographer or at least that is how I sold it to myself. In reality, I was trying to find a calming activity that helped me to focus on something other than the stresses of work. In a very short two week period, I submitted my first two IMG_0803photography assignments and realized that my journey was more about finding my spiritual center. It began with the image of and in the empty grotto. Is a grotto every empty or is what is there always present even when one sees it as empty? Or, is it telling me to empty self.

I can imagine myself kneeling to pray and losing myself in what is visible and invisible. I can see the love and passion of the creator. And, I can feel my spirit as it is quite and at peace.

The next week arrived, and I went in search for a new picture. I was still focused on the skill with the camera rather than the meaning. I went for a walk in a nearby park that I had never visited. It was a beautiful sunny day, and I was on a mission for a picture that would allow me to practice, but what was I practicing?

Not far into the park I came upon a statue of children. Because the statue was under a tree, it appeared as if the children were planning tIMG_0816o climb the tree. It was what I expect of a sunny Sunday afternoon – children at play, trees to be climbed.

I liked the first picture. It was technically pretty good, especially since I was shooting in program mode and making manual adjustments.

The assignment required me to work the scene and find a second picture that captured a different perspective. I was at first amused by the optical illusion that the boy could almost reach the limbs as he was sheltered in the shade of the tree and looking up toward the elusive limb.

I probably made 30 pictures and in the end had to select the best alternate perspective. As I sat on the ground and looked up it appeared as if the boy could reach the limb, but now it was as if he was reaching for the blue sky. Aren’t we all reaching for something? How often does it feel that what we seek is just out of reach?

The tragedy is that our consciousness is totally alienated from this inmost ground of our identity. And in Christian mystical tradition, this inner split and alienation is the real meaning of original sin. – Thomas Merton

I believe that in my photography I’m recognizing how hard I’ve been reaching for spiritual meaning and in recognizing my reaching it is allowing the emptying of self.

The Spirit of Higher Education Should be Equality

Equality (1)

Once a month I speak with a spiritual director. Today he was rather insistent that I am where I am supposed to be and am her for a reason. This came after a discussion of a need to see the mission as greater than any one individual and the need for a spirit of unity within any organization.

I am opposed to class systems that separate people. The separation in our culture is largely based on wealth, occupation, social network, and education status. While wealth in the United States is either earned or inherited and social networks are frequently associated with birth into a community, education should be available to all.  If one is so fortunate to be born with the necessary intelligence to pursue a university education, the person should not be treated unequally in any educational institution. We know that private schools sometimes offer preferential treatment for those who have parents that are alumni or sufficient wealth to influence the admissions process. This should never be the case in public institutions. It is the role of a public institution to eliminate even the perception of bias. Once enrolled it is the responsibility of the professors and leadership – legal, ethical, and moral – to ensure that system is equitable.

Allowing inequality in education, and establishing a system that rewards the privileged increases the likelihood that class bias is carried into our general society and perpetuated by graduates who had it reinforced in school.

Universities should be doing all possible to educate the whole person. Let us endeavor to educate students in a manner that demonstrates that God-given gifts do no justify preferential treatment.  By our actions, we should model our espoused values and implement policies and practices that make us stronger as a whole by respecting the individual and honoring equality.

Perhaps we lost our way when we forgot that the heart of leadership lies in the hearts of leaders. We fooled ourselves, thinking that sheer bravado or sophisticated analytic techniques could respond to our deepest concerns. We lost touch with our most precious gift-our spirit. To recapture spirit, we need to relearn how to lead with soul. How to breathe new zest and buoyancy into life. How to reinvigorate the family as a sanctuary where people can grow, develop, and find love. How to reinfuse the workplace with vigor and elan. Leading with soul returns us to ancient spiritual basics reclaiming the enduring human capacity that gives our lives passion and purpose [Bolman and Deal, 1995, p. 21 in Arthur W. Chickering;Jon C. Dalton;Liesa Stamm. Encouraging Authenticity and Spirituality in Higher Education (pp. 35-36). Kindle Edition].

Dharma Body and Body of Christ

As a Catholic, I’m always striving to understand the concept of the Trinity. Three and yet one God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is to me explainable and incomprehensible. In Buddhism, there are three bodies – Dharma body, enjoyment body, and the physical body. I can try to discover each and yet each is already in me.

I will wake in the morning to Ash Wednesday and will have all tree bodies and acknowledge three in one God. By accepting the ashes, I accept my impermanence. During Lent, I hope to spend time discovering my dharma body, my body of bliss, and my body of transformation. In Buddhism, this is done by practicing and letting go of misperceptions, cravings, and attachments. In Catholicism, I prepare myself the resurrection of Jesus through 40 days prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Can I discover my dharma body and at the same time strengthen my commitment to the Body of Christ?IMG_0124


  • Prayer
  • Rasting
  • Almsgiving


  • Meditation
  • Letting go of cravings
  • Letting go of attachments

Ash Wednesday a Time for Contemplation

Ash Wednesday is one of my favorite days of the liturgical year. It is the beginning of Lent when I can reflect on the year and make a sincere effort to examine my conscience and practice the acts that help me to grow as a spiritual being. The ashes remind of the impermanence of existence and the need to join mind and body each day in meditation. It is a time to notice what is around me – sight, sounds, and my environment and all sentient beings that occupy that environment. It is often too easy not to notice the person that is homeless, the veteran that suffered injuries, or to take for granted clean air and water.

IMG_0124I hope to begin Lent by choosing a church home for the next year. I’ve visited all the churches listed in the table and some for extended periods of time. I am always hoping to find a parish that is as peaceful and mindful as the Zen Center and is as concerned about not just humanity, but all life and the environment that makes life possible.

As I visited parishes I considered my first impressions and wondered why I felt so much more comfortable and welcomed at the Missouri Zen Center. I think it is the same reason I found Sts. Claire and Francis, which is an Ecumenical Catholic Church, welcoming. In both places everyone introduced themselves at each gathering and there is no judgment and no doubt that we take refuge in the community and in our shared practice. Yet, my heart calls me to a Roman Catholic Church where all are welcome. How would you decide?

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 2.56.17 PM

*The women that cook meals at Immacolata are welcoming and kind, but it didn’t make up for the man that insisted I move to another seat.

Key to smiley faces:

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 4.47.01 PM


Tomorrow I Will See What Is Beautiful

This morning the sky was a beautiful rippled pink. I smiled. When I sat in my office, the squirrels were playing outside, and I wondered why I don’t stop and just enjoy watching them for a few minutes. Nature provides us so many things to make us slow down and smile and yet too often I don’t slow down and sometimes barely even notice.

The beauty quickly passed into daily frustrations. Most of what is ugly in the world is related to uncontrolled desires. We let those desires drive us to take what we want rather than what we need. We ask others to sacrifice while we claim our privilege and too often are silent. Letting frustration in closes the door on what is holy, to inspiration, and to sound guidance. Soon the pink sky was gone, and the squirrels disappeared. The day had gone from inspired to a task and not one I was facing by giving it my undivided attention.

Version 2Happy voices in the hall stirred me and in the conference room were three beautiful rosaries. I didn’t expect to find rosaries in a public university. A physician had given them to the Dean and asked that we get them to patients who may want them and along with the rosaries left a donation.

Frustration is far from being mindful. It blocks faith and trust and yet it can’t keep God out. A Muslim physician brought three rosaries to a public university and in so doing quietly reminded us to strive for what is just and to do good for those that suffer.

Sanctus Sanctus Sanctus

IMG_0027Brothers and sisters: As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. Now the body is not a single part, but many. You are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it. – LK 4:18

As I entered Mary Queen of Peace parish carved into the marble above the altar was Sanctus Sanctus Sanctus. The signs flanking the altar were reminders to come to God and come together as a community. Is it through the community with God that we are Holy or is it a community that provides the refuge we need to approach holiness?

I seek community, as a place to cultivate a joyful mind open to experience the way the world should be. If only for an hour, a week, or short period each day it reminds me to practice mindfulness, holiness, and tolerance of the way each person approaches the holy.

As I left I wondered how those who heard and saw the same things as I interpreted them. We are all different and yet we are all part of the same search.

The brain is wider than the sky,
For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include
With ease, and you beside.

The brain is deeper than the sea,
For, hold them, Blue to Blue,
The one the other will absorb,
As sponges, buckets do.

The brain is just the weight of God,
For, heft them, pound for pound,
And they will differ, if they do,
As syllable from sound – Emily Dickinson





I love snow. Shoveling snow relaxes me. The lines are straight. There is a beginning and an end. The finished effort is clean, white, and with outlined paths that allow me to see where I want to walk.

Unlike so much of my life I can see what is accomplished and getting there silences my thoughts. Focusing only on the task and keeping the lines straight is like a walking meditation. The physical effort results in naturally deep breaths filling my lungs with the clean smell of snow.

For a time the world is clean and beautiful. I am the snow and the snow is all.

I Vow Not To Kill

I seek peace from my faith and my meditation. I am always hoping that one day there will be a moment when all is clear to me, and I listen to my inner voice. Too often I worry about what troubles the world. Today, as with many days, I see our trouble as caused by fear and mistrust of our neighbors. In our efforts to relieve our fears, we forget that we have a responsibility to save all beings.

In my practice in Zen Buddhism, saving all beings extends broadly. I have a responsibility to the unborn and the elderly, but also to the animals of the earth, the fish of the sea, and the birds in the air. I am a holistic protector of like. In Catholicism, there is also a responsibility to protect life, but the loudest voices tend to focus on the unborn and certainly there isn’t the same holistic focus. What I take from both is the responsibility to seek peace and avoid violence. I, therefore, decline the right to bear arms. When Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13) he did not say anything about killing another to save a life. I prefer to strive for compassion that is free of judgment and without limit.

all the beautiful things (1)

I ask people to consider declining the right to bear arms. It is a right granted to us by the Constitution, but not one that must be exercised. Instead, seek freedom from fear and model the peace we seek in prayer and meditation. Let’s make violence rare and compassion the norm.

I Love Being Catholic and Practice Zen Buddhism

I love being Catholic, from the ritual of the Mass and the beauty of the churches to the focus on social justice. Each word has meaning, and each gesture brings mind, body, and spirit together. The Priest enters in procession, sometimes with incense and other times not. There are candles, songs, bells, recitations, readings, a homily, standing, kneeling, bowing, and a recession. Always at the center of the Mass is the Eucharist and that moment when I let go of myself and am fully open to being one with the body of Christ. We are in one moment a community with the entire Church and with all creation.

I love Sōtō Zen Buddhism for many of the same reasons. What is significantly different is the absence of music and the extended periods of zazen (silent meditation). Silencing my mind isn’t always easy, but it brings peace.Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 7.22.34 PMAs I sat Saturday night and tried to quit my mind of all the external distractions I recalled the meditative qualities of the rosary. Many people don’t like rote prayer, but I find them a way to calm my mind when I enter into prayer and meditation. I have frequently used it to shut down all the thoughts and words running through my mind. One might ask how a rote prayer shuts out words. Imagine having an annoying song stuck in your hear and the only way to get rid of it is to play music to change one’s focus. That is what the rosary does for me. It shuts down thoughts and words, worries and desires, and allows me to sit in silence. It is the silence that that I am at one time the most free and the most connected.

Why I Am a Catholic that Takes Refuge in the Sanga

“All you have to do is take care of your posture and breathing with a kind, considerate, and thoughtful spirit.”
Dainin Katagiri, Each Moment Is the Universe: Zen and the Way of Being Time

Religion and spirituality are both old and new to me every day. I recently posted a picture of my Sōtō Zen Buddhism lay ordination but provided little information about the reason or the journey to incorporated the practices into my life as a Catholic. The lay ordination would be similar to confirmation without the requirement to believe in any specific teaching or a deity, as Buddhism has no deity. As a Catholic, there is nothing in the practice that conflicts with my faith. The vows one takes are simple.

Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 9.51.41 PMI have been interested in Zen Buddhism since my first courses in religious studies too many years ago. It wasn’t until I fully embraced Catholicism that I again remembered why I found Zen Buddhism intriguing. Zen means meditation. When I sit and meditate, I clear the clutter from my mind. Zazen isn’t about learning new ideas or beliefs, but about becoming free. It is in those moments of freedom from desires that I am most open and can hear clearly.

I hope to sit twice a day this year and say more about the journey. Along the way, I hope to find Catholics and others that practice and take refuge in the community.


Love-Hate Relationship: Congress, USCCB, and the Affordable Care Act

I have a love-hate relationship with both the Congress and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).  I sometimes think I grew up in the government and that I love it like a parent and yet hate it like a teenager.  As a U.S. Public Health Service officer working in a federal prison I experienced bad policy.  I saw a practice that disturbed me on both moral and health outcomes levels.  Later, as a senior officer I worked on a project with Catholic Charities, USA and realized that Catholic Social Teaching was the foundation of many of the best policies I had encountered.  It is therefore no surprise that I do not look at policy implications in isolation.  I weight them against the moral implications.  As much as one may try to take an analytical approach sometimes emotions overwhelm reason.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), the real name of what is inappropriately called Obamacare, has been a great concern for many Catholics and those of other faith traditions because of the perception that it funds abortion, abortion causing drugs, and contraception.  These issues are opposed for both theological and philosophical reasons.  In essence, it is because of the nature of our relationship as human beings to God.  Explaining the Church teaching is beyond the scope of what I want to say, but would recommend Contraception and Chastity, by G.E.M. Anscombe as an excellent explanation.

 In contrast, those that do not share this faith or reject the specific teaching on contraception will point to the woman’s right to control her own body.  It is easy to find information on unplanned pregnancy and the long-term impacts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or to explore the Supreme Court rulings and arguments in favor of contraception at the Center for Reproductive Rights.   A simple Google search will reveal that the vast majority of Catholics and the nation support the contraceptive mandate of the ACA and do not agree with the Catholic prohibition on contraception.

The Controversy

On Septermber 26, 2013 two Bishops sent a letter to Congress.  It expressed there concerns about the ACA and requested:

We have already urged you to enact the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (H.R. 940/S. 1204). As Congress  considers a Continuing Resolution and debt ceiling bill in the days to come, we reaffirm the vital importance of incorporating the policy of this bill into such  “must pass” legislation.

The result was that the House included this in the continuing resolution with absolutely no hope of it passing.  Many Catholics posted the letter from the bishops on Facebook and other social media saying the USCCB supported the shutdown of government.  This caused a minor public outcry against the bishops.  The majority of women, and indeed Americans, are opposed to the contraceptive mandate being removed.  It is highly unlikely that the Democrats would be willing to alienate women and there is no doubt that this would alienate many women.  And so, the bishops found themselves in the middle of the shutdown debate and being partially blamed by their flock.

The USCCB responded that they did not support the shutdown of the government.  Clearly, no large organization can control what every member, bishop or otherwise, may say, but it was not their intent.  Sr. Walsh then made a blog post clearly stating the USCCB concern about conscience, but that they do not support a shutdown which harms the poor.

 Some have falsely interpreted this as a call for the government shutdown or a default on our nation’s debts. The bishops have done nothing of the kind. The bishops have been urging Congress to enact legislation like the Health Care Conscience Rights Act for two and a half years. Since July 2012, the bishops have been asking that this protection be included in “must-pass” bills such as the appropriations bills funding the government, which have long been vehicles for a number of important federal policies on conscience rights.

The bishops clearly stated that the work must continue and the needs of the poor and the rest of the nation needs to be meet.  Unfortunately, intent, interpretations, and outcomes are not always the same.  What is said and what is intended can sometimes be a distinction without a difference. That is why it is vitally important to be precise when interacting at a national policy level.

What Went Wrong

Here is what went wrong with the USCCB messaging.  If one attaches a contentious issues to a piece of “must pass legislation” then that attached issue can cause the “must pass legislation” to fail.  The result can be disastrous as it was in this case.   The bishops failed to say how far they wanted to push the issue.  Nor did they address the underlying moral issue of a government closure and the impact on the poor in their original letter.

Good people tried to do what they perceived as the morally right thing.  It was taken up by people who are not as good and not as interested in the moral as they are the purely political issues. Congress took the bishops letter as supporting the delay of the ACA mandate and the shutdown.  The not so good people do not share the view of the bishops about the poor.  Consequently, it didn’t bother them that the poor are adversely impacted.

In my experience the moral and the policy outcome must be considered in unison.  When the moral is pushed without considering the reality of the world in which we live  and its appropriateness and an unrelated piece of legislation it can have unintended consequences on the overall policy outcome.

What happens when a contentious moral issue and the political collide in a “must pass” piece of legislation is predictably – stalemate.  It is also predictable that those with the least power – the poor – are the most adversely impacted.  It is good that bishops work to protect the faith, but they need to realize that their actions may have adverse impacts on those that are vulnerable.  If they are going to use the power of their position, which they should, then they absolutely must work to better understand that not all people mean well and they will use any vagueness without hesitation to advance a purely political agenda.  They will not for a moment care that their actions harm the poor or anyone else.

Policy is a precise business where words matter.  What isn’t said in a letter and a policy statement can be every bit as important as what is said.  In the end our good intentions matter very little because it intentions don’t feed the poor, pay the workers, or provide healthcare.

 Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 11.36.40 AM

Access to Cost-Effective Care is Limited by Turf Battles

Have you ever wondered why healthcare is so much more expensive in the United States than other similar countries?  Let me propose that it is partially the fault of Congress, physicians, and other health care providers that are more interested in protecting turf than caring for patients.  In the 1960’s Dr. Loretta Ford and Dr. Henry Silver developed the first Nurse Practitioner (NP) program at the University of Colorado, now referred to as Advanced Practice Registered Nurses.  The purpose was to expand healthcare to those in under served areas and fill gaps.  Nurse Practitioners do this by combining some practice aspects of medicine and some of nursing.  This holistic approach to patient care has been adopted in other countries and has greatly expanded access to care.

What has been shown in repeated studies is that Nurse Practitioners provide high quality and cost-effective care.   There are over 100,000 nurse practitioners in the U.S. and the number is growing.  The problem is that some states significantly limit their practice and require collaborative agreements with physicians.  The impact of this is that it increases cost and decreases the number of nurse practitioners.

There is currently a petition on the White House We the People website that request the barriers to advanced practice registered nurses be removed.   There are only a few days left to sign the petition.  If you care about access to affordable health care then this is important to sign the petition.

We petition the Obama administration to:

Remove barriers that prevent advanced practice registered nurses from practicing to their full scope.

Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) have provided safe and effective care in the United States for over four decades. When the Affordable Care ACT (ACA) is fully implemented in 2014 over 30 million Americans will gain coverage under the law. APRNs currently have barriers to practice which include requirements for being supervised by or having a collaborative agreement with a physician, inability to admit patients into hospice or home health and restrictions on prescription of controlled drugs.There is currently a shortage of primary care physicians and the restriction to APRN practice limits patients access to care. Advanced practice registered nurses should be allowed to practice to their full scope of education and training.

Beware of Subject Matter Experts

The “subject matter experts” come out to play after any disaster or terrorist event.  Many are well known figures and true experts and others are not.  It is important to approach what they say with a lot of caution and some skepticism.  As I tell my students, just because someone wrote it in a book and said it on the news doesn’t make it true.

In the days following 9/11 I was asked to work in the Secretary’s Command Center and later asked to be the director.  It was probably six months after 9/11 before the daily routine began to normalize.  We were still working around the clock and consultants who touted themselves as “subject matter experts” (SMEs) were coming out of the woodwork.  Not all of them were qualified and some were what my husband refers to as “lookie lous”.  They are the people that chase disasters, cause the traffic backups at car accidents, and like to see tragedy because it gives them some perverse pleasure.  One  such person managed to get himself hired by a government contractor that was associated with the Command Center.  He called the Command Center every night, and believe it or not at that time the phones were all transferred to me at night.  That meant every night he woke me up with what I can only describe as drunken craziness.  Fortunately, the Acting Assistant Secretary stepped in when he found out who the “SME” was because he recognized the name.  The calls ended.  The contractor was embarrassed and very apologetic, but it forever made me approach SMEs with some degree of caution.

In 2007 I voiced my concern about supposed SMEs in an article titled, Said Another Way: Subject Matter Experts: Facts or Fiction?  I do believe that SMEs can be valuable resources, but there remain no clear standards for what constitutes an SME or for the selection criteria.  Having worn a uniform or looking sharp in one is not one of the criteria.  Many people market themselves as SMEs and lack any actual experience.  In the article I and my coauthors guide the reader through finding, selecting, and validating an SME.  The media have an obligation to ensure their SMEs are actual experts and not just a pretty face that once wore a uniform or a former political appointee that was never an actual expert.

As a consumer of the news each of us needs to all be cautious about the information that is provided as factual.  In the era of blogs, like this one, and other forms of social media remember that all opinions are not well founded or factual.  Do a little research.  Be a little skeptical.  If something sounds unbelievable it probably is. It is a good idea to do a little fact checking of your own.

Caring for Children Who Are Victims of Violence

Today bombs went off at the Boston Marathon.  Men, women, and children were indiscriminately killed in a senseless act of violence.  It is hard to comprehend such acts of violence and most are especially when the victims include children.  They are our innocence and in them we see the future.  When we loose a child we see a promising piece of our future lost.

We know that children are approximately 25% of our population, that they cannot be treated like adults, and that special emergency supplies are needed for their care in a disaster.  In 2010, the National Commission on Children and Disaster produced a report on the needs of children in a disaster.  The full report can be found at

Recommendation 4.2: Improve the capability of emergency medical services (EMS) to transport pediatric patients and provide comprehensive pre-hospital pediatric care during daily operations and disasters.

  • Congress should provide full funding to the Emergency Medical Services for Children (EMSC) program to ensure all States and territories meet targets and achieve progress in the EMSC performance measures for grantees, and to support development of a research portfolio.
  • As an eligibility guideline for Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services reimbursement, require first response and emergency medical response vehicles to acquire and maintain pediatric equipment and supplies in accordance with the national guidelines for equipment for Basic Life Support and Advanced Life Support vehicles.184
  • HHS and DHS should establish stronger pediatric EMS performance measures within relevant Federal emergency preparedness grant programs.
  • HHS should address the findings of the EMSC 2009 Gap Analysis of EMS Related Research.185

The full list of recommendations are available at

In the coming days we will also need to address the mental health needs of children.  It will be necessary to remember that children are not little adults and they will respond differently to the trauma they see on television.  You can find age specific tips for talking to children after traumatic events at

Tonight let us pray for peace.

Prayer for Peace


Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace;

where there is hatred,

let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is discord, union;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

and where there is sadness, joy.


O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

to be consoled as to console,

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love;

for it is in giving that we receive,

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born

to eternal life.




A Tank, A Wood Cross, and a Gay Son

Humility of a Servant

Humility of a Servant

I will always remember the image of the young man in Tiananmen Square who stepped in front of a tank and stopped the Chinese military and caused the entire world to watch in awe. I will always remember the election Pope Francis who chose to wear a wooden cross and bow for the blessing of the people.  Today Senator Portman, an Ohio republican, stated a change of heart on marriage equality because his son is gay.

How courageous it was for that young man in Tiananmen square and how inspiring to the rest of the world.  He may never know how many people were willing to stand for human rights because of his actions.  Likewise, Pope Francis sent a powerful message this week when he wore a wooden cross, bowed for the blessing of the people, took a bus, and paid his own hotel bill.  The symbols did not require the courage of stepping in front of a tank, but did require the humility that is so rare today.  The trifecta was today when Senator Portman publically discussed his desire for his son to have equal rights.  He put aside his judgmental beliefs about sin and embraced the forgiveness and compassion that are signs of God’s Divine power.

What if one person chooses to lead with concern for the suffering of others and let that concern guide his or her actions without any concern for self? What if that leader chose not to take on a judgmental attitude about the sins of others?  I think we would follow, just as people followed Jesus.  I hope and believe that Pope Francis has the humility that is needed today to approach policies that are desperately needed.

It is clear that we must address poverty and violence.  There are currently 28 pieces of legislation that have been introduced in the 113th Congress related to guns and an additional 46 that address poverty.  The sad fact is that gun violence has a greater impact on people in poverty and not just in the United States. The trafficking in guns has a devastating impact in Africa and not just is lives.

Knowing the impact of guns and violence on poverty, today the increase in the minimum wage was rejected in the House of Representatives.  The current minimum wage is 35% below the poverty level.  One must ask, how is that we can set a minimum wage below the poverty line when we know it is not a livable wage?  Likewise we must ask businesses, especially large and profitable businesses with excessively rich owners, how it is that they do not voluntarily pay higher wages.   If we know that those in poverty are at grater of violence what are we saying when we pay low wages?  How much is a life worth?  How do your justify your greed and what do you tell yourself to make it acceptable?

I look to Pope Francis with hope.  I look to him because he voluntarily took a vow of poverty.  He chose wood over gold.  He chose to pay his own bills, to live in modesty, and to cook his own meals.   As a Cardinal he said,“…the duty “to work to change the structural causes and personal or corporate attitudes that give rise to this situation (of poverty), and through dialogue reach agreements that allow us to transform this painful reality we refer to when we speak about social debt.”   Cardinal Bergoglio said the challenge to eradicate poverty could not be truthfully met as long as the poor continue to be dependents of the State. The government and other organizations should instead work to create the social conditions that will promote and protect the rights of the poor and enable them to be the builders of their own future…” Chris Nunez, said “maybe he’s reiterating, in his own words, exactly what the late and much loved Dom Helder Camara (Brazil) said about the nature of violence. #1 violence is structural violence that inhibits the ability of the people to participate in the economy in a way that helps them escape poverty.”  Violence is not just gun violence.  Domestic violence, war, and terrorism all keep people in poverty.

I choose to be close to the poor and the victims of violence.  I choose to be close to them because the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and where I find the poor and where I find the victims of violence I will also find my Lord.

The LORD confronts the evildoers, to destroy remembrance of them from the earth. When the just cry out, the LORD hears them, and from all their distress he rescues them  (PS 34:17-18)

Thanks to Chris Nunez for the inspiration

We Can Do It Without “Bitch Status”

From Rosie to Title IX We Have a Long Way to Go to Do It

From Rosie to Title IX We Have a Long Way to Go to Do It

Today is International Women’s Day and we have certainly made much progress since I was a child and my father told me I didn’t need to go to college because I could marry my boyfriend and he would take good care of me.  I’ve always wondered if the Suffragists, Rosie the Riveter, or Title IX had the greatest impact on women’s equality.  Is the vote more powerful than economic independence or is equality in education more important than the others combined?  What I do know is we have a long way to go and I hope we don’t loose our compassion in the process.

During the Presidential election a conservative female friend asked me if I thought there was a war against women.  I replied no, but have more than once jokingly commented, after obnoxious comments like the one about legitimate rape, that I was glad there wasn’t a war on women.  I should have qualified my answer to my friend.  I do not think there is a war on women, but I do believe there is a lot of ignorance that unfortunately adversely impacts women.  It comes predominately from a small minority of religiously conservative men and women.  Unfortunately, there are those who are more progressive, that in their attempts to help, also harm women.

The conservative impacts are obvious to most people.  It is easy to point at the Republicans that didn’t sign the Violence Against Women Act, the ones that wrote laws proposing vaginal probes (a totally unnecessary and invasive procedure), comments about legitimate rape, and a plethora of regressive laws and sexist statements.  What are less obvious are groups like Emily’s List.  They are a progressive group that supports democratic women for office who absolutely must be pro-choice.  To me this is no less an attack on women.  It says the only good woman is one that absolutely agrees with their agenda.  In other words, if one believes for religious reasons that abortion is wrong, then that woman is not worthy to be in leadership as a democrat.  This benign attack on qualified women may be more harmful than the obviously ignorant comments about legitimate rape.  If to reach equality in elected office we require women to deny their conscience then what have we gained?  We have then only said equality applies to a subsector of women.

A female supervisor once told me that I would never be truly successful until I reached “bitch status”.  As I progressed in my career I figured out what she meant.  Essentially, one had to adopt a take not prisoners mentality to be taken seriously by both male and female colleagues.  One day I looked around and saw the people I considered the greatest leaders.  They were intelligent, hard working, and exceptionally kind and compassionate and they were all men.  Men did not have to prove themselves in the same way.  Kindness and compassion was not seen as weakness or lack of intelligence nor did men attack each other in the way women did.  The people who had been the most undermining in my career were all women. I examined the person I had become in the drive to succeed and realized that wasn’t the person I wanted to be.  If it took “bitch status” to succeed, the price was too high.  We must be able to be successful without feeling the need to exclude other women.

In the search for my soul I found the success I had sought.  I found it in a loving environment of Sisters that had succeeded as women and helped young women to succeed for over a hundred years.  They did it without ever reaching “bitch status” or feeling the need to exclude other women.  They succeed through freedom, education, charity, and justice.  They did it without equal pay and without equal status in the Church.  They did it with love and compassion and they taught thousands of young women how to do the same.

Success and equality as a woman should not be perceived as competition with men and it certainly shouldn’t be competition with other women.  We should be making every effort to bring other qualified women up with us.  Equality requires that people see us as equal and that should mean that without thought we are paid the same, promoted the same, elected at the same rates, and granted the same access to education.  In the mean time we do not have to be like men to be successful and we do not have to compete under their terms.  We must be careful that as we succeed we do not eat our young and harm women in the workplace.  We can continue to push equality in education, work, religious life, sports, and politics without loosing our compassion in the process.  We can lead and at the same time allow alternative work schedules, freedom of conscience, and freedom choice in more that just reproductive health.

On International Women’s Day I salute all the women that are working to enhance equality.  I look forward to the day that our government is inclusive, our religions are inclusive, and worldwide education is inclusive.  Until then, I hope all women will lead out loud.

The Fiscal Cliff Heated to 375°

I spent much of the weekend thinking about the fiscal cliff, which I think is misnamed.  Fiscal cliff implies that the problem is related to money.  The problem may end up being a financial one, but certainly the real problem is elected officials that have forgotten to check their egos at the door.  They seem to believe they were elected so they can run for office and be reelected, rather than being elected to lead the country. When Zell Miller wrote Corps Values there was no lesion in the book about taking your toys and hiding in the closet.  There was also no lesson about jeopardizing the economy or the reputation of the United States for self-interest.  Most of the lessons seem to represent God, Country, and Family.  There was no I in the equation.

Sending our country over the cliff that was created by the egos of Democrats and Republican is irresponsible.  It is time to for all the politicians to remember what their mothers taught them about playing nicely with others.  Maybe, Mr. President you should have the First Lady and Dr. Biden bake Congress some cookies and lead them in the Harlem Shake (since they are already acting like clowns) and then tell them play time is over and that they can’t come out of their offices until their work is done.

We need a budget.  It needs to protect the least among us (the poor, children, our wounded warriors, the sick, and the elderly).  It needs to ensure that we have an adequate defense budget, but one that is not loaded with planes and ships that the military says they do not need while sacrificing training they do need.  We need a budget that protects our environment, encourages job formation, maintains or enhances the safety of our country, and ensures an educated workforce.

We do not need lower taxes, tax loopholes for people who are already millionaires and billionaires, or even for me.  I will pay a little more to make sure others have health insurance, social security, and the other necessities of life.  We do not need to subsidize oil companies, or corn growers, or sugar, or any of the many other things we still subsidize while they get richer and richer.  In other words we do not need corporate welfare – the big takers.  We also don’t need large discretionary funds, slush funds for governors (you know what I mean), and large travel budgets.  The days are over when one must meet face-to-face.  Government travel could be significantly reduced, as could lucrative contracts to beltway bandits.  Let the federal employees actually do their jobs and stop insisting things be contracted out.  It is no longer cheaper and everyone knows it.  It is a way to make one’s friends and contributors rich.

We must also get beyond the mentality that small budget items do not matter.  Small amounts added together, over time, can be substantial amounts of money.   More importantly, the lax approach to small amounts puts Congress in the mind frame that a little here and a little there does not matter.  Over time the concept of what is “a little” has changed significantly.

Finally, if you are going to furlough some people and not others that is not helpful.  It allows Congress and the White House to pretend they are not adversely impacting the country and families, because the wages lost and the services are not “critical”.  Not critical to Congress maybe, but to the people that are impacted it is critical.

If you are thinking it is the other side that is at fault consider this, it takes two to tango.  You need to be friends.  It is much harder to be unkind to friend, but you will not get to friendship if you don’t go to Church together, let your children play together, and break bread together.  Life can be filled with joy, but Congress and Mr. President; you are making it unnecessarily stressful and unhappy for all of us.

Write your Senators and Representatives and tell them it is time to shake hands, share the toys that make up our economy, and play nice.  Or, just mail them some of your favorite cookies and send me the recipe.  Maybe it will sweeten their dispositions.

You can find your Senator or Representatives contact information at the link below.

Congressional Contact Information

Cookies for Congress

Cookies for Congress

Faith Meets the 2nd Amendment

“Non-violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our being.”  Mahatma Gandhi.

Mask by B. Brecht

Do you hear the screams of the 16,000 murder victims each year?  Do you hear the crying of the 1.8 million assault victims?  Do you see the bloodstain on the carpet when you close your eyes?  Are you still traumatized by the one you lost?  Are you still blaming Cain for the violence or do you have the ability to look inward at your own violence and your own fears and see that violence and fear as part of our culture.

The United States is suffering from a culture of violence.  We blame the victim, but not just the victim of violence.  We blame the poor person for being born into poverty and not pulling himself or herself up by the bootstraps.  We blame the mentally ill who are more often victims of violence than perpetrators of violence.  We blame the rape victim for not being cautious enough or not fighting back hard enough.   We blame the abused spouse for a poor choice or for not seeking a divorce.  It is so much easier to blame than it is to address the issues we have created as a culture.  Our culture of violence did not occur on its own.  It occurred because our hearts changed; and, as our hearts changed we changed laws and policies that allowed the wound of violence to fester and spread.

We have allowed our fear to control us and drive our policy and personal decisions.  Consider some of the recent issues we have faced.  We fear poverty and the mere appearance of poverty.  Consequently, we spend ourselves into debt on an individual and national level.  We purchase bigger homes, cars, and social programs.  We are willing to steal, sell drugs, and swindle others rather than appear to be poor.  We fear other nations and terrorism so we build a more powerful military and enough bombs to annihilate the world’s population.  We build interior security measures that significantly limit our freedoms and make travel unpleasant, even if safer.  We spend enough on defense to eliminate malnutrition.  We fear competition so we cheat on tests, undermine our colleagues, and pass tax codes to lure big business and while they get richer the people get poorer.  We fear the other political party being in power.  Rather than working together for a better society the political parties have become increasingly hostile to compromise and cooperation. We fear pregnancy (both being pregnant and not being able to be pregnant) so we make contraceptives free to delay birth and limit the number of children, promote abortion, use fertility specialist to have children later in life, or use in vitro fertilization when one has no partner at all or can’t conceive otherwise.  We fear death and spend endless amounts of money to delay it and consequently we live well beyond our intended age and grow ever more alarmed at what the end of life is like when it is no longer natural.  We fear people who murder so we murder them with a death penalty.  We fear violence and so we buy weapons of violence and put ourselves at ever-greater risk of dying a violent death.   What we seam to fear are the imperfections of life and suffering.

America Magazine published an article recommending the repeal of the 2nd amendment.  The editors showed courage in writing and publishing the article, but is it wise and is it practical?  When I teach health policy I tell students not to define the solution into the problem and always have clear criteria to evaluate a way forward.   The America Magazine editors define the problem not as violence, but as the inability to enact stricter gun laws.  They admit that this is not the sole solution, but it is the one they address.  To be clear they did not recommend an absolute ban on firearms.  As the editors pointed out, the repeal of the 2nd amendment will not repeal original sin, but it may make a safer world.

Setting clear criteria for evaluation of a policy is critical.  The criteria should be based on legality, political acceptability, respect for human dignity, and the ability to implement the policy.  Any graduate health policy student would tell you that the repeal of the 2nd amendment is not going to happen in the foreseeable future and the attempts to repeal it may derail the legitimate work that needs to be taking place.  As Senator Ted Kennedy learned when he rejected the health care plan President Nixon was willing to support it took 40 more years to negotiate his way back to less.  Let’s not make that mistake with the 2nd amendment.

First, any policy with a reasonable likelihood of success must not violate the constitution, statutory, or common law.  Challenges to the 2nd amendment have lost in the Supreme Court and there is ample case law to support the right to bear arms.  Second, the repeal of the 2nd amendment is not politically feasible at this time.  While the majority of Americans support closing the loopholes on background checks and taking large magazines and assault weapons off the street, they do not support the repeal of the 2nd amendment.  The political will is absent and there is not strong public support for such an action.  Third, would the repeal support human dignity?  That is harder to answer. Doing away with implements of violence clearly promotes human dignity provided they are taken away equally from all and do not leave some powerless.   Finally, is it implementable?  The answer is clearly no.  There are too many people that love their guns.  They clearly love them more than their children, more than their neighbors, and more than peace.  Their fear is so great that they are unwilling to trust that peaceful existence is possible without implements of violence.  Unfortunately, the same acts that the repeal is meant to eliminate are the acts that fuel the fear that will cause people to fight the repeal.  It is highly unlikely that any southern state would vote for the repeal and thus it would not pass.

We do need to explore the policy alternatives and address the culture of violence – the culture of death.  Yet, picking a battle that will only make people more resistant to any effort to make improvements is not necessarily prudent even though it is clearly the most morally responsible action.  If repeal of the 2nd Amendment would end our culture of violence I would support it immediately.

Let’s begin by defining the problem and collecting evidence.  This requires that we come to some consensus on what the problem is and is not.  The laws blocking any collection of data on violence or gun violence must be eliminated.  The people that promote such laws should not fear the truth whatever it turns out to be.

Antonin Scalia, writing following the 2008 Supreme Court Decision striking down the DC gun law said “constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table.”  Therein lies the problem, and to address this problem it is either necessary to address the Constitution, address policy we can change, or address our culture.  Before we change the Constitution I would recommend that we look at the policy and the cultural issues that have resulted in the current culture of violence.  If, after we have researched the actual cause of our cultural shift we find that it is indeed due to guns, then we should explore a change to the Constitution and a revision of the 2nd Amendment.  I highly recommend reading the very thoughtful and well written article in America Magazine located at Repeal the Second Amendment.

The Pope Resigned and I’m Still Thinking about Contraception Policy

I am a supporter of the Affordable Care Act as a move in the right direction.  I have never understood why health care is for profit, why it doesn’t appear to be treated as a human right in the U.S., or how anyone can proclaim to support human dignity and yet not be in favor of universal health care.  Health care adds to productivity and labor and has derived value.  If anything, I think the Affordable Care Act fell short on supporting human dignity.  Yet, the contraceptive mandate bothers me and I’ve been trying to figure out why.  It is not because I think the contraceptive mandate is an attack on religious freedom – I do not think that was the intent.  It is also not because I have a personal objection to helping pay for anyone’s “health care” or “preventative” services (though I fully believe the Church should be exempt).  I recognize my faith as mine and that others don’t share it.  I may hope and pray that others agree with me, but believe in conversion by persuasion and not force.  It isn’t even because it is against the teaching of the Catholic Church; though that clearly prompted my consideration of the issue.  The Catechism states:

  • 2399 The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).
  • 2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil: Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality. . . . The difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle . . . involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality.

Common forms of contraception

I have concerns about the long-term impact of the policy that makes all FDA approved forms of contraception and sterilization available without a copay.  It is unclear to me whether this covers natural family planning. I fully understand the positive benefits of contraception and its use in treatment of medical conditions.  I can understand why one would want to limit family size.  I even understand the various forms of non-hormonal birth control and the advances that have been made in their effectiveness.  My concern is about how the perception of “free” birth control will change our views on pregnancy and on women who become pregnant.  It is the unintended consequences that disturbs me. 

Human nature being what it is, I wonder if in ten years we will look at poor pregnant women with revulsion.  We already hear the snips like, “why is she having another baby?” We use terms like “welfare mom” and ask people who are poor and need assistance to be drug tested as if poverty is the result of immorality.  Will we be saying there is no excuse for being poor and pregnant now that everyone has access to contraception and sterilization at no cost?  Will it become an expectation that we take oral contraceptives rather than it being a choice?  The stigma of pregnancy may be in our future.  Supporting choice must mean not stigmatizing the choice to have a child. 

As this law moves forward it is going to be important to be vigilant.  For the contraceptive mandate to protect human dignity women must choose to take oral contraceptive because they are using them for family planning or for medical reasons, but not because they are too poor to have a family, fear not being able to feed or care for a child because of economic reasons, or feel they are not valued if they have children – in other words because they feel they have no choice.  The policy does pose the real risk that the use of oral contraceptives will become a social expectation and that those who do not use them will be viewed as irresponsible.  If this occurred it would violate the dignity of women.

At some point the manipulation of human nature must be examined further as policies make it easier for one generation to have power over the next.   We must ask if self-respect and self-worth are protected by the contraceptive mandate?  Does the mandate make women the mere object of action by the government and unintentionally pressure women to reduce the number of children or does it free women to control their bodies, economic prospects, and future?

Violence Should be Rare and Compassion the Norm

I have an almost complete disregard of precedent, and a faith in the possibility of something better. It irritates me to be told how things have always been done. I defy the tyranny of precedent. I go for anything new that might improve the past.”   –Clara Barton

I love teaching because it gives me the opportunity to form compassionate students.  After all, isn’t teaching about the hope that one of our students makes the world better?  Isn’t the goal of research to find something new that might improve the past? I suppose it is human nature to see oneself as in the mainstream of thought.  I have sometimes delighted in being outside the mainstream.  I enjoy thinking big thoughts and imagining something better, more compassionate, and less violent.  It is hard to imagine such a world when a child being held hostage after a shooting.

If we are going to change the way we approach violence it is not productive to say that a policy or law is ineffective when special interest managed to have enough holes in the policy or law that it looks like policy swiss cheese. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 expired in 2004 and there is great disagreement as to whether it had any effect on gun violence.  One problem was that there were so many exceptions as to make the law ineffective.  It starts by stating, “It shall be unlawful for a person to manufacture, transfer, or possess a semiautomatic assault weapon.”  What follows is a full page of exceptions and then a description of what it takes to be considered an assault weapon.  It would be comical if it weren’t for the fact that this legislation was meant to save lives.  Is it any wonder that it is hard to show if it was effective?

Christopher Koper (2004) did a good assessment of the impact of the assault weapons ban.  He stated,

Because offenders can substitute non-banned guns and small magazines for banned AWs and LCMs, there is not a clear rationale for expecting the ban to reduce assaults and robberies with guns.96 But by forcing AW and LCM offenders to substitute non-AWs with small magazines, the ban might reduce the number of shots fired per gun attack, thereby reducing both victims shot per gunfire incident and gunshot victims sustaining multiple wounds. (p.81)

He makes one point on which everyone should be able to agree – there is no single factor that influences violence.  During much of the research that occurred while the ban was in effect there was a crack epidemic that influenced violent behavior.  It also occurred shortly after the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill when funding for and availability of outpatient clinics was completely inadequate for the large number of people who were no longer hospitalized.  In 2004 the ban expired and there is clear evidence the number of mass shootings has increased, but why?

We must examine the culture of violence not as merely a gun issue, or a mental health issue, or a drug issue, or even a moral issue.  We must examine the culture of violence as a threat to safety, security, and well-being.  The politicians and lobbyist had their chance to address the issues and they clearly demonstrated they cared more about their own self-interest than safety, security, or well-being of the citizens of the United States.  What they did went beyond benign neglect.  It was at best apathy and at the worst a lack of respect for human dignity and life.

It is time for academia, health care, and the faith communities to take on the issues that have resulted in the culture of violence.  We need a fresh perspective that is rational, evidence based, and driven by concerned citizens.  It is time to take the box the lobbyists and politicians have put the issue of gun violence in and break it down and throw it in the recycling bin.  It is time to think outside the box.  The people who care about rationality, evidence, and human dignity and are not driven by personal financial gain or votes need to step forward.  It would be nice if our government could be trusted to prevent violence, protect human dignity, and support a culture of life.  I do not think they have the courage to do so.  While politicians continue to talk to the people that stood by an let a culture of violence go unchecked those who view life as sacred need to address the issues with open minds and open hearts.  Finding the root cause of gun violence requires that be willing to accept that life is sacred.  Guns are not.

When Hate Wins, Freedom is Threatened

“The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.”

Charter for Compassion available at .

Open dialogue is essential to a democracy.  We value our freedom to speak our minds.  However, open dialogue does not negate the requirement to be reasonable, thoughtful, and kind.  Our freedom is threaned if we do not exercise compassion in our words and deeds.   “The exercise of freedom does not imply a right to say or do everything. It is false to maintain that man, “the subject of this freedom,” is “an individual who is fully self-sufficient and whose finality is the satisfaction of his own interests in the enjoyment of earthly goods.”33 Moreover, the economic, social, political, and cultural conditions that are needed for a just exercise of freedom are too often disregarded or violated. Such situations of blindness and injustice injure the moral life and involve the strong as well as the weak in the temptation to sin against charity. By deviating from the moral law man violates his own freedom, becomes imprisoned within himself, disrupts neighborly fellowship, and rebels against divine truth.” (CCC 1740)  If we believe that faith guides policy, then we must accept that threats to freedom will negatively impact our policy, our government, and our way of life.

Every day that we, as citizens of the United States, engage in uncivil discourse we are diminishing our freedom.  Do any of us watch what is occurring in the Congress, in the White House, in the media, and through social media and doubt that we are headed down a road that will not end well.  We are headed down the road of intolerance that leads to hate.

“Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility. By free will one shapes one’s own life. …” –(CCC 1731)  When we let our public discourse and actions become filled with hostility, a desire to win at all cost, and no focus on how our actions impact individuals then we have jeopardized freedom.   The difference between the current citation in the U.S., and so many failed countries, is that in the U.S. the government is made up of the people.  We should not be pointing at a few elected officials and saying they are the problem.  They are only in their seats and able to maintain their behavior if we support it.  They are only able to pass laws that do not respect human dignity if we support it.  Therefore, we are the problem.

There are three questions that should be ask before every decision:

  • How is human dignity protected?
  • How is suffering alleviated?
  • Will anyone be made worse off?

Likewise, when we speak publicly, including through social media, we should ask three questions:

  • How could what I’m saying be construed to violate human dignity?
  • Will my statements cause anyone to suffer?
  • Are my words kind, thoughtful, and respectful (not the truth hurts kind or pointing out the error of your ways kind or it is my job to set you straight kind)?

If you can’t respond to these questions in a way that promotes freedom and is compassionate then be silent until you can. Silence can beautiful and enlightening.

Another Great Day for Equality

Today is a great day for anyone who dreams of equality.  We celebrate the Martin Luther King holiday and the second inauguration of our first African American President.  The day I was born my parents could not have imagined a day that an African American would be president, or that the minority leader would be female, or the Supreme Court Justice swearing in the Vice President would be a Hispanic female, or that the President would speak openly about equality for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

As I listened I could not help but imagine the beauty that will exist in 50 more years.  We will be a nation where women make as much as men for the same work.  We will be a nation that welcomes immigrants and gives all those who come here to work a path to citizenship.  We will be a nation that treats lesbians, gays, and transgendered with dignity and all the rights of everyone else.  We will be a nation that doesn’t abort our babies.  We will be nation that doesn’t shoot our children.  We will be a more perfect nation.

It is a great day to be a citizen of the United States.

A Great Day for Women and Equality

What a great day for women and for equality. There are a historic number of women in the Senate and it took both parties to make it happen. The country is speaking in many ways on freedom: freedom to choose, freedom to marry, freedom to get stoned. The country also said fairly loudly, if you hold repulsive attitudes toward raping a woman you will not be elected by either party. We also said, if you try and take away the right to vote we (R’s & D’s) will stand up and stand together and vote to support those that feel marginalized. I’m sorry people had to stand in lines for hours, but wasn’t it great to see them do it!!!

Freedom now requires that we make important decisions and I hope all the passion that went into the election goes into fixing our problems. We voted for freedom, but now comes responsibility. Freedom to choose means we must work to reduce abortion. We must work to reduce violence and ensure that men and women understand what it means to rape and be raped – it is never legitimate. Healthcare for all means we must educate more healthcare providers and we must emphasize cost effective care. If you want to reduce healthcare cost exercise, eat right, get a flu shot, and take time to relax and pray/meditate – it begins with you. We must work to reduce the deficit and that mean not buying things we don’t need or blaming the deficit on X, Y, or Z. If you get Social Security you are part of the deficit, if you enjoy the freedom the military ensure you are part of it, if you enjoy the nice roads you are part of the deficit. If you want to keep it then be willing to pay for it. But, when you think of what you want cut start by asking what benefits I can sacrifice rather than what he or she can sacrifice.

I love this country and the beautiful diversity. Democracy is amazing.