Category Archives: current events

preferential option for #BlackLivesMatter

I’ve been thinking a lot about the “Black Lives Matter” vs. “All Lives Matter” arguments, and for me it again returns to the theological concept of the preferential option for the poor and/or oppressed. Simply put, God’s universal love extends to everyone, but God has a special concern for those most in need of justice and mercy, and that special concern does not diminish or take away from God’s universal love for all of us. If we are people of faith, we are called to also show that preferential love and concern, and sometimes that means taking a side. Or, as this comic illustrates, if there is a house on fire, you don’t prove your commitment to equality by spraying an equal amount of water on a house that’s not on fire and a house that is on fire. Tend to the house that is on fire, where people’s lives could be in danger. It doesn’t mean you care less about the people in the house that’s not on fire. It means you care about helping the ones most in danger at the moment.  #BlackLivesMatter

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Armchair epilepsy experts

Epilepsy is in the news again in Minnesota, after the head coach of the Minnesota Gopher’s football team, Jerry Kill, had another seizure during a game.  Instead of the typical armchair quarterbacking after a game, commentators and fans are weighing in on a neurological condition most know nothing about and calling for Coach Kill to retire or resign.  The comments follow a pattern familiar to anyone who lives with a disability or chronic illness–not because of what will be said, but because of what won’t be said.

What’s said:

“I just think that for the good of the team he ought to resign.  I mean, he has a duty to the fans!  It would be for his own good to retire.  Really, it’s the best thing to do for everyone involved.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with people with epilepsy!  I’m totally not bothered if people have seizures…”

What’s not said:

“…as long as I don’t have to look at them, or be expected to show compassion when they have a seizure.
…as long as they don’t inconvenience me.
…as long as they are perfect overachievers with inspirational stories of how they overcame all obstacles and never have a bad day.
…as long as they don’t expect me to make accommodations for them.
…as long as they don’t get all “politically correct” and expect me to not make jokes at their expense.
…as long as they don’t expect to make up their own minds about how to live their lives.”

Of course the critics are not going to say any of the above out loud.  They might not even be aware of their own bias, and will vehemently deny any prejudice if you attempt to criticize their words.  But for those of us who live with epilepsy (or pretty much any other disability for that matter), we’ve learned how to translate the language of What’s Said.  We can tell the difference between genuine concern and condescending pity.  Their disguised discomfort from having to coexist with us is not as disguised as they think it is.  And just because they saw a man have a seizure does not mean they’re experts on how he should live his life.

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I’m not defending Michele Bachmann, but…

Michele Bachmann will not be running for another term in Congress.  There will be a lot of celebratory posts online today, and I’m bracing myself for a final round of otherwise thoughtful individuals posting lazy insults based on her appearance, gender, and perceived mental health status.  This happens to a lot of women in politics, regardless of political party,* but it seems to be especially vicious with Bachmann.   There are so many ways one could criticize her Tea Party priorities and her conspiracy theory influenced actions.  Yet when it comes to women we find unreasonable, the quickest route is often to make fun of her appearance (and deliberately publish unflattering photos), to attack using gendered insults (witch, b*tch, c*nt) and to demean by using ableist mental health related slurs (batsh*t crazy, insane, nutjob).  It’s continually disappointing to see people I count as friends and allies so gleefully insult her this way, not realizing that these kinds of insults don’t harm Bachmann, they instead perpetuate stereotypes about women and people with mental health conditions.  It reminds women to keep silent, because women who speak up and say the wrong thing aren’t debated on the merits of their argument, they’re just called a b*tch and told to shut up.  And every time someone says “she’s bats*t crazy” instead of explaining why her beliefs are contrary to basic human decency, that person is feeding the harmful cultural narrative that says that having a mental health diagnosis is shorthand for being dangerous, intellectually inferior, and not worth listening to.

So yay, Michele Bachmann will no longer have the power to pass legislation that harms women, immigrants, and sexual minorities.  Hopefully the rest of us can stop using her as an excuse for making cheap insults and opt for more respectful rhetoric when it comes to talking about how we disagree with someone.

*See also Hilary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, etc.

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a plea and a prayer (on hearing of the death of Matthew Warren)

Associated Press, Published: April 6
LAKE FOREST, Calif. — The Southern California church headed by popular evangelical Pastor Rick Warren announced Saturday that Warren’s 27-year-old son has committed suicide.
Warren’s Saddleback Valley Community Church said in a statement that Matthew Warren had struggled with mental illness and deep depression throughout his life.

Please, please may this news bring greater discernment in how we treat those with mental health struggles in Christian faith communities.

May the talk of automatic hellfire for suicide victims cease.  

May the blaming of the victims who take their lives cease.  May the judging of their moral strength or depth of faith cease.

May the poisonous theology of the prosperity gospel cease to be a driving force of Christianity.  May we stop equating happiness, wealth, and worldly success with evidence of God’s favor.

May we stop equating deep sadness, despair, and strong emotional outbursts with demonic spirits.

May expressed emotion, tears, and vulnerability not be dismissed as “womanly” or “unmanly,” but honored as human traits.

May those who cry “My God, why have you abandoned me?” be recognized for who they are: The Christ in our midst, begging to be taken from the cross of mental anguish and anointed with soothing balms of compassion and understanding.

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An obligatory papal election post

A few random thoughts about the new pope:

  • Symbolically, it’s incredibly significant that a non-European/non-North American was chosen, regardless of his views.  It’s about time that the leader of the Catholic Church is from a part of the world (Africa, Latin America, parts of Asia) where the majority of the world’s Catholics live.
  • It was nice to hear that he’s known to regularly take public transit and is critical of clerical displays of opulence.  Also nice to read his remarks criticizing priests who refused to baptize the babies born to single moms.
  • Not so nice to hear were reports that he was sympathetic to a dictator.  I want to hear more details about his actions (or non-actions) during the military junta in Argentina before I say more about that.  I hope against hope that he will be candid and honest if more questions are raised.
  • I’m not surprised about his vocal opposition to marriage equality and other conservative views.  Not much else to say, I’m exhausted from anger about stuff like this and feel sort of numb with resignation about the sexism and heterosexism in the church.
  • My inner lapsed Catholic geek is curious about how the Jesuit vow of obedience to the pope is going to work, now that the pope is a Jesuit.
  • On a crass note, he’s old.  That could mean surprising things (a la John XXIII) or just plain weird things (if he resigns and Benedict is still alive at the time, there could possibly be 3 living popes at once).  Or it could mean nothing.
  • Did he name himself in honor of Francis Xavier or Francis of Assisi?  His actions will give us the answer.
  • On a personal note… days like this remind me just how much my life has changed in the past few years.  And how much is the same.  The last time a new pope was elected I was sitting in the office of the Catholic youth ministry program I was in charge of.  One of the weekly activities I did with the teens I worked with was a mock conclave, complete with needle and red thread to count the ballots.  I was immersed in a Catholic church that I already knew did not fully accept me and my views, but I was still in denial, still thought that there was a place at the table for me.  Now, I’ve come to terms with my outsider status, I call myself a Catholic in Exile and no longer try to hold space in a church that doesn’t make room for dissent.  And yet, here I am, watching the live feed from Rome, curious about the outcome, and still the “token Catholic” that many of my friends turn to when they have questions about this church and its sometimes bizarre traditions. This being Catholic thing, it’s hard to shake.

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when the “crazy talk” starts

Some things to keep in mind as the horrific news comes out of Colorado:

Pretty soon there will be talking heads speculating Why He Did It.  As is the typical pattern for this sort of thing, the mental state of the perpetrator will inevitably be discussed, by people who have never seen his medical records.  They will likely make sweeping generalizations and continue to perpetuate stereotypes about people who are diagnosed with mental illnesses.  They might jump to the conclusion that this horrible act of violence, regardless of what motivated it, is proof that folks with mental health conditions are dangerous people in need of restraint and constant monitoring.

Two things:
A mental health diagnosis does not mean a person is automatically at risk of committing violent behavior.

A psychotic break can happen to anyone.  Anyone, under the right mix of circumstances, can experience psychosis and lose touch with reality and sometimes, sometimes this means that others are hurt.

Stick to judging the behavior.  Killing people is wrong.  Being mentally unstable is not.

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must be the medication

OK, I get that there are people who are upset about the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  I imagine there are reasonable, well-informed people who are disappointed by the decision.  And in their disappointment and even anger they are trying to make sense out of the fact that a conservative justice like John Roberts not only upheld the ACA, but authored the majority opinion for it.  But then there are some who are so full of anger that they’re not being reasonable: they’re willing to take a cheap shot at Roberts and blame his actions on his disability. 

I’m not going to support the particular talk radio personality who started this slander by linking to his words, but you can do a quick search to find the comments at issue.  In short, this radio host can’t imagine how someone like Roberts could possibly come to the decision that he did, so of course the only logical conclusion is that he must be mentally impaired in some way.  So the host latches on to the fact that Roberts has a history of epileptic seizures, and says that the justice must be so doped up on anti-convulsant medication and that explains how he came up with such a wrong-headed decision.  It must have been the medication making his brain into this liberal mush of mistaken thinking.  Of course.

But maybe I’m being uncharitable.  Maybe this radio personality really does have a point.  I mean look at my own life as an example: I used to have very conservative political and religious beliefs when I was a teenager.  I also began having epileptic seizures when I was a teenager, and I started taking anti-convulsant medications.  Then I leave the small town I was raised in and start college in a big city, and pretty soon I’m taking women’s studies courses and going to radical protests and pretty much rethinking most of the moral and political beliefs I thought I knew to be true and right.  And now 20 odd years and who knows how many milligrams of medication later, I’m so far left that I am morally opposed to capitalism and racism and heterosexism and every other lefty “ism” you can think of, and I believe housing and healthcare and bodily autonomy and clean air and clean water are not just nice things but fundamental human rights.

It must have been the medication.

Or, you know, it may have been the dedicated educators who gave me the tools to think critically about the world, or the many people from different backgrounds and life experiences who helped me question my assumptions about the world, or the religious elders who taught me to use reason and conscience instead of unquestioning obedience when learning how best to live my faith.

I can’t speak for Roberts or the rest of the members of the Court who upheld the ACA, but I imagine they used a similar combination of intellect, reason, and conscience to come to their decision.  If only talk radio hosts would hold themselves to a similar standard before they spoke.

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thank you, Sisters

Catholic Sisters in the United States, you continue to be scrutinized and criticized by Vatican officials who claim to speak for the good of the church, but who are putting doctrinal conformity ahead of loving and serving the people of God.  I want to add my voice to the many who are speaking in support of your good work, and name just a few of the dozens, probably hundreds, of women religious who have made a positive impact on my life:

Sister Bernita, you were so kind to my shy kindergartener self.  And I still know the melody and words to your “Put Away Time” cleaning song.

Sister Joyce, you were the first woman I met who had a leadership role in ministry, both as the principal of my Catholic grade school and in leading us in song during so many liturgies.

Sister Rosemary, you made a special trip to be present at my First Communion.

Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, as a teenager I didn’t understand the complex geopolitical realities of Latin American solidarity work, I just knew that the local convent was providing shelter for a family from El Salvador, and that it was a Good Thing.

Sister Ruth, you were a teacher-by-example of what it means to live in radical solidarity with people experiencing poverty and discrimination.

Sister Carletta, I wish I had known you better, both as my great aunt Philomine and as a woman who also studied at a Jesuit university.  I was honored to receive the Franciscan cross that belonged to you.

Sister Brenda, your office was a student lounge where all were welcome.  You helped put me on the lifelong path of acknowledging white privilege and challenging racism, beginning with myself.

Sister Mary Peter, you continued to wear a modified habit and veil and taught contemporary theology with joy in your voice.  You helped show me how to honor the traditional piety of my Catholic upbringing while also embracing new, progressive ideas.

Sister Fran, you taught me yoga and meditation, and ministered to me with wise and gentle counsel when I was in emotional crisis.

Sisters at the Eighth Day Center for Justice, your courage and dedication were an example to me and other student activists as we began to build our skills of political organizing and advocacy.

Sister Gloria, you were the first to read what became the first draft of my master’s thesis, and your affirmation of my topic and method helped keep me going during the difficult process of writing.

I cannot imagine how different my life would be without the positive influences of these and so many other holy women.  Thank you, sisters.

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Chris Hedges, please try again

Chris Hedges recently wrote a painfully ill-informed essay about black bloc tactics and violence in protest actions.  It’s a shame, because I think he does have some valuable wisdom to impart to activists who find themselves engaged in confrontations with law enforcement (regardless of how the violence starts).  Unfortunately I didn’t see any of that wisdom evident in his tirade.  Here’s what I wish Hedges had spent some time writing about.

Hedges wrote about the effects of war and violence on the human psyche in his book War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, and I wish he’d applied some of his insights from that book to his critique of black bloc tactics.  His book reflected on his years hopping from war zone to war zone as a journalist, and how those constant brushes with death turned him into a sort of adrenaline junkie, always needing a new fix of danger.  He convinced himself that it was necessary to continue to expose himself to dangerous situations, arguing that he was doing it for a noble, greater good and not out of a desire to experience an emotional rush that proved his life held greater meaning.  This constant exposure to violence and trauma took a toll on him, and caused him to rethink his work as a journalist.  I think his experiences have some some definite parallels for activists to examine.

These are not easy to questions to bring up, but I think activists need to candidly and honestly examine what kind of meaning we each attach to violence, whether done to us or for some, done by us.  For example, has it become the case that for some of us, violence can feel at once terrible and yet also exhilarating?  Have we begun to judge our actions not by how much social transformation happens, but by how hard the police clamp down on a protest?   Is there an unacknowledged desire to experience violence as a way to validate our cause, as proof that we are part of Something Important?

Again, these are questions that are difficult to raise, and they are even more difficult to talk about when folks are on the defensive because of condescending and inaccurate essays like the one Hedges wrote.  The left is in serious need of inter-generational dialogue and frank discussion about tactics and long term goals, but rants like the one Hedges wrote are not going to help.  We need to hear from veterans of protest movements and from those who have experienced trauma in their work to create a better world, we don’t need blame-tastic lectures on The Right Way to Protest.  Chris Hedges, please try again.  Folks pissed off at his rant, try to not dismiss him entirely.

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two executions, two murders

“You can’t fight murder with murder.” – Ross Byrd, son of Robert Byrd, Jr

I am opposed to the death penalty.  I believe it is murder.  I was opposed to last night’s execution of Troy Davis.  But I was also opposed to the other execution that took place.  I’ll be honest, I shed tears over the death of Troy Davis, but I did not cry when Lawrence Brewer was killed last night.  Brewer was an unrepentant racist who gruesomely killed James Byrd, Jr. in a hate crime that still turns my stomach to read about.  Brewer was most certainly guilty.  It was still wrong to execute him.   

Another execution is scheduled for tonight, this time in Alabama.  I know very little about this particular case, but for me, ultimately, the details of the case are not the point.  There are many reasons to oppose the death penalty, such as the disproportionate number of men of color on death row, or the number of people who are wrongly convicted and not guilty of the crime.  But even in a case such as Brewer’s, where there is no doubt whatsoever of the person’s guilt and the condemned shows absolutely no remorse, the death penalty is wrong, period. Even the most despicable murderer should not be murdered by the state.

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