Finding Clarke in All Places

When I went to Clarke University to teach nursing I felt I found my soul. I was able to let go and be the person I imagined I was born to be and not the one forged by 20 years of federal rules and regulations. As I taught nursing I learned how to be a better nurse. When I left the spiritual safety of a Catholic university I feared I would regress or in some way have my faith diminished by not being constantly in the presence of those dedicated to freedom, education, charity, and justice. What I didn’t know is that everywhere I go they are present.

Today I went to the Catholic Worker House to help prepare food. It wasn’t the organized preparation we had in St. Louis for the St. Patrick’s meals, but rather the Zen method of taking whatever has been donated and turning it into a tasty and nutritious meal to take downtown to distribute in the park.

One of my tasks was to find the scissors and in the process found Sr. Mary Dennis. She quickly introduced herself and told me she was from Iowa. As soon as I said I had taught at Clarke she beamed and announced she was a Clarke graduate and a Presentation Sister from Dubuque. We talked about our love for the place and what it means to us and promised to talk more over coffee.

I came home to Knoxville, but Clarke and especially the Sisters that helped me with the transition to higher education continue to touch my life and faith. In every city I’ve lived in since I left Clarke I have run into a Clarke graduate and without exception, the one thing they have in common is their love for the place and the life-changing impact.

catholic-worker-logo-1I feel blessed that God sent a Clarkie to Knoxville to live in the Catholic Worker house, care for those that live there, and provide hope to those that are homeless in Knoxville.
Sr. Mary Dennis and the people of the Catholic Worker reminded me that it is my job to carry with me everything I learned from the BVMs. There will always be reminders along the way that we are a community of love and part of sharing that love is recognizing the dignity of every human being. It is the education we have and share with others that helps us develop our gifts and share them. I learned to be free. I will always be free.

When Feminism Meets Southern Lady

It has been a month since I returned home to Tennessee and I quickly remembered what it means to be a Tennessean and why I loved being a Volunteer. People say good morning and actually, mean it. I still remember the psychology professor from New York that told us how it freaked her out when she first came here. In Tennessee, people make eye contact just because it is considered polite to make eye contact when you say hello and to acknowledge even a stranger when you pass them. And, it isn’t uncommon to have a 10-minute conversation in the grocery store with a total stranger. Men still hold the door and will hold it while you climb the steps as if they have all the time in the world. Plumbers, electricians, and all the workers that have been so helpful with the old home I bought quickly treat me with greater caution when I give them the “my daddy taught me…” when it comes to home repairs. The look on their faces say, she may have lost part of the accent, but she didn’t forget how to fix things.

I love being a powerful woman, but I also love wielding the Southern lady.

I learned how much the South has changed. There was a time when a new woman in a university or corporate gym may have been considered a spouse. Yesterday, an older gentleman in the gym assumed I was in a leadership position. I’m sure part of it was the dress I was wearing that clearly gave me away, but still, I remember a time when people would see me in uniform and ask me if I was a stewardess instead of recognizing me as an officer.

I was dressed for success, but a Southern man didn’t assume whose wife I might be and that is progress.

It is nice to see that the Southern ladies have made great progress in the advocacy of women’s rights and equality. After all, a true Southern lady does not stay long in the company of those that cannot respect her. I am grateful to all the female academics, graduate students, and professional women that have worked so hard for equality. I have seen these women every day and they are doing the things that impressed me as a student so many years ago. They take their mission seriously and they take it to the streets. Almost everyone I happen to have met at the university has told me about their work with the homeless, or in an underserved clinic, or with children who were born into poverty, or their mission trips to serve the poor and spread the Word. Yes, it means something to be a Volunteer and that calling to step up lives here.

This leads me to my thought of the day. We can be polite to others and accept the intention of good manners with graciousness. The woman behind the counter that calls me dear is not being disrespectful nor is the plumber that does the same if their intent is to be polite. Communication is not only the words we choose to use, but the tone with which we use them, and the body language when we are talking. Holding a door doesn’t say I am less than a man. In fact, it is meant to show respect even if in doing so it acknowledges a role that is often linked to gender or age.

I’m glad to be home and happy that I am being reminded on a daily basis that there is much to love about the South. It is nice to slow down and remember that I should never be too busy to greet a stranger with kindness and get to know them. I am a feminist, a Christian, and a Southern lady and I love it that in Tennessee I can be all of those things!

Be Aware and Act: I Am Muslim

What does it mean to be compassionate when we see others in distress and know that proposed policies are causing that distress? President Elect Trump’s team has proposed a policy that would be similar to the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System implemented by the Bush administration, which essentially applied to Muslim countries. It was phased out in 2011, but not because it violated civil liberties, but rather because it was redundant. In other words, we already had systems that did essentially the same thing. The ACLU has promised to bring a legal challenge if such a policy is reinstituted, but reality is that controlling entry to and exit from the country is within the authority of the President. A Muslim registry is clearly discriminatory and clearly draws into question how seriously we take freedom of religion, but it probably isn’t unconstitutional.

I’ve seen petitions and much outrage on social media about a Muslim registry. Sign the petition and say you will register as a Muslim if this policy is implemented. The question is what can you do now that is more obvious than signing a petition that no one else sees? I suggest that if you are serious about standing with Muslims that you change your religion on Facebook, Twitter, and anywhere else you have it publically listed to Muslim until the election. My sad speculation is that for many people religion is so much a part of their identity that despite the moral stand they hope they would take they won’t be able to make this little change to show solidarity with Muslims.

My challenge, can we get 1,430,000 people to change their religion on social media accounts to Muslim and leave it that way until the inauguration? 1.43 million is currently Hillary Clinton’s lead in the popular vote. As a Catholic, I confess that it is easy for me to say, but it was hard for me to change my religion online as Muslim. Try it and see if you have the moral fortitude to stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters, against discrimination, and for religious freedom.



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.