Not a new word, but a word with a whole new embodiment of meaning. “The Oxford Word of the Year is a word or expression that is judged to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year, and have lasting potential as a term of cultural significance. Our data shows that, along with a 45% rise in the number of times it has been looked up on oxforddictionaries.com, over the last year the word toxic has been used in an array of contexts, both in its literal and more metaphorical senses.”
Among the top collocates to toxic in 2018 … toxic masculinity, toxic relationship, toxic culture. As I said in a recent interview, “We all know that toxicity is not good for us.” And yet it spreads, oozing out and choking our happiness like the fog of a group of looming dementors.
But we have a choice my friends. We can be kind, in our relationships, our words, our interactions, our ways of living. Every moment presents a choice. Let’s choose to be kind! Our very democracy and social fabric may depend upon our choices.
Sounds simple, but sometimes the most answers to the most complicated problems are the kind ones.
Last night I was perusing the CNN Exit Polls and discovered that 59% of midterm voters polled support stricter gun control measures. I was sad to see that number so low, especially after all the amazing activism of young people after the Parkland Shooting and countless other senseless mass shootings.
Then today, just after reading about the latest shooting at a nightclub in California, I received a text from my sister. It started out saying that my niece Eileen was dancing at the Borderline last night … the nightclub where the shooting I’d just been reading about happened.
my heart stopped. what if?
I closed my eyes, said a prayer, and went back to reading the text. She and the friends she was dancing with escaped with their lives after the first shots were fired. They have since discovered that at least one high school friend is among those killed.
Active shooter drills were not a thing when I was in school. I guess I should be grateful that my niece and her friends knew what to do in the moment. Eileen told me that she’s not hurt, except for rug burns on her knees from crawling her way out to escape, close to the ground. Of course her spirit is wounded. As should ours be. We allow this to continue to happen.
Yes, it’s a cliche that it’s different when something like this happens close to home. And this certainly did. My other niece lives down the hill from the club. My sister is a professor up the hill from the club. The shooter is from the town where they went to high school and where their little sister goes to middle school.
Given the lack of common sense gun laws, this will happen close to you one day too.
We must pray. We must act. We must join together. We must make gun violence stop. Now. Seriously. Now.
If I haven’t convinced you yet, please read this column written by Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg, two of the students from Parkland, that appeared in the Washington Post the day before election day and a few days before my niece escaped the Borderline with her life.
Over eighteen months before the shooting at our school, 49 people were killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Four months before Parkland, 58 people were killed at a concert in Las Vegas. And on Oct. 27, 11 people were killed at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. In all that time, not a single federal law has been passed that addresses gun violence. Not a single law. Our nation’s leaders have failed to protect citizens where they live, where they learn and where they pray.
As they note in their last sentence: not only must young people (and All people) vote, “the day after the election, the real work begins.”
Be the voice of reason. If you have friends who are part of the 37% who do not think we need stricter more common sense gun laws, tell them about my niece and her friends.
Bother the you know what out of your representatives in Congress, no matter what their party.
My niece lived in Alabama as a child, and her Godmother who still lives there just posted on Facebook that she tried to call her representatives to call them to support gun reform that would have protected her Goddaughter and was HUNG UP ON.
Not ok. But they hang up … we call back.
We write. We text. We march. We become a broken record and a strong loud voice speaking for every man, woman, and child who can no longer speak for themselves.
My latest Global Sisters Report column has been posted. This time it is an open letter to House Speaker, Representative Paul Ryan, sharing my concerns about the proposed federal budget.
Here’s a snippet:
In your conversation with Sister Erica on CNN, you shared your appreciation for the model of Catholic organizations that help the poor. You expressed that they do a “fantastic job in spite of government doing wraparound benefits for the poor to make sure that they get to where they are — from where they are to where they need to be.”
My religious congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, sponsors and supports nonprofit services for low-income women in Jersey City, New Jersey, and Seattle with a similar model. Both the York Street Project and Jubilee Women’s Center provide such wraparound services, treat the whole person, and assist the women they serve on their journey to self-sufficiency.
I found it interesting that you referenced the year 1985 in your response to Sister Erica, because that is around the time my sisters started both these innovative programs.
I agree with you that we need to encourage and support such programs, but as partners with government, not replacements for our civic duty to promote the general welfare. Such programs do not do a fantastic job in spite of government, but in tandem with life-giving government programs like the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), which are in jeopardy in the budget proposals under consideration. At the York Street Project, for example, CDBG funds support the job readiness program at Kenmare High School, helping women who previously dropped out of the public school system to find jobs that will support their families.
I have not posted in this space for quite some time. Life has been busy and the world has been crazy, you know how it goes.
But tonight, with the President choosing climate denial over truth, short term profit for a few over long term sustainability for this little planet we call earth and its inhabitants, isolationism over true leadership … I feel compelled to write.
The past few weeks have been a tough run. Terrorism and hatred in many forms grips the headlines, from Manchester to Portland. Terrorism in other parts of the world, places like Kabul and Bagdahd which have been ravaged by war, we try to ignore.
Then there is the ridiculousness from covfefe to the very probable meddling of a hostile foreign power in our democracy and hints of possible collusion by government officials.
It can all be too much, but in the midst of the swirly nature of life right now, I feel I must proclaim these words.
I believe in goodness.
The goodness of people to stand up to hateful speech in my adopted hometown of Portland, risking all for goodness.
The goodness of folks who stand up for what is right, on behalf of our immigrant brothers and sisters, Earth our common home, healthcare, justice and peace.
Yesterday I had the privelege of being with lay leaders from our csjp sponsored ministries in New Jersey. Day in and day out they provide compassionate care in health care, education and social service to people who are poor and vulnerable. We had the chance to hear stories of how the mission is alive today. In the midst of the challenge and strain of this crazy time, goodness abounds.
There is much we cannot control, but we can believe in goodness and act that way. We can choose to bring goodness into this world, little by little, relationship by relationship.
Pope Francis recently called for a revolution of tenderness.
Let’s be good and tender. Let’s follow that sage advice from Micah. Let’s act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with God.
So for the past two weeks I have been in (a one-sided yet public) 140 character conversation with President Donald J. Trump.
I committed on the first Monday of his presidency to pray for him (and our country/world) every morning and to send him a tweet each day. I also pray with the newspaper in the morning, and so my messages are often focused on a recent policy announcement. And as you may guess, I have been troubled by many if not all of them these first two weeks.
By taking to prayer my righteous anger and disbelief at policies which do not seem to reflect equality, justice, the common good or other American values, I realize something happens within me.
I do not soften my belief in the Gospel or justice or the need to speak strongly on behalf of those who are most vulnerable. I do not soften my resistance to evil or injustice. Those are strenghened.
But I do soften my heart. I relate as a human being to the human being presently holding the highest elected office in this country. I engage rather than disengage. I focus on the heart of the matter. Sometimes I even offer advice. And I always offer my prayers.
This daily practice is not easy, but for me I believe it is important. If I am to talk the talk of nonviolent resistance grounded in the primacy of love as taught and modeled by Jesus, then I need to live that out in my own life, words and actions. My #dailytweet @potus is one simple yet challenging spiritual practice.
Because it is public, I am accountable.I have also heard from various quarters that others have found my daily tweets helpful to them as they reorient themselves in this time. One friend told me how she appreciated that my messages were not soft on policy or on where I disagree with the President, but grounded in the Gospel and respectful.
That is my goal, to be grounded in the Gospel. And to model respectful dialogue, even if the odds of him reading or responding are slim.
Those are my reflections two weeks in. We will see where this journey leads!
Tomorrow I head to Madison, Wisconsin to join the first leg of the 2016 Nuns on the Bus tour. I will join a group of ten Catholic Sisters from across the country. We will stop and visit with folks in Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, and Ohio, ending in Cleveland at the Republican Convention. Another group of sisters will then take the bus through the Northeast to the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia.
Why are we going on the bus? You’d have to have been in a deep sleep these last months to not be aware of the general cynical, polarized, and deeply divided nature of our nation’s political climate. There is such fear and hostility in the air, much of it cultivated and exploited. And of course events from Orlando to Dallas to Baton Rouge seem to have both grabbed the nation’s attention and left a deeply divided society at an impasse. How do we bridge these divides, bring people together, and respond to the very real needs of individuals and families who are struggling?
The Nuns on the Bus will be driving over 2,400 miles this summer to meet with individuals, families, and communities in 13 states and 23 cities over 19 days. We are responding to the unhealthy political climate and divisive rhetoric of this election cycle by engaging in dialogue about how we can mend the gaps in our society. The goal is to bring a politics of inclusion to divided places, change the conversation to mending the vast economic and social divides in our country, and counter political incivility with our message of inclusion at the Republican and Democratic Conventions and beyond.
Truth be told, I’m stepping outside of my comfort zone when I step onto the bus tomorrow afternoon. Many moons ago, when I was a low-level government worker in Portland, Oregon and long before I listened to the call to become a Catholic Sister, I was afraid of public speaking, and here I am embarking on a week long adventure that entails multiple speaking engagements each day! Of course, I’ve gotten over much of that fear since then, learned some skills, and had a decade or so to grow into my nun identity. Moreover, I know that answering the invitation to join the bus is part of my deepening call to serve God and God’s people in need.
Of course, I also find inspiration in the example of Mother Francis Clare (Margaret Anna Cusack), the founder of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace who spoke out for justice whenever she could.
“But it did matter to me a great deal in view of our common humanity and in view of my love for the poor, that I should do all I could for those whom he had loved so well.”
“What misery has been seen–what crime has been committed, even in our time, by unjust pressure on the poor.”
“We read in the holy gospels that ‘Jesus went about all Galilee teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing all manner of sickness, and every infirmity among the people’ (St. Matt. iv. 23). And we also, my pilgrim friends, may go about the Galilee of this world, and preach ‘the gospel of the kingdom.’ It is a gospel of peace, it is a gospel of love, it is a gospel of mercy; it is a gospel for the poor, for the little ones, who live near to the Heart of God.”
I suspect she would have been at home with the Nuns on the Bus!
Please keep everyone involved in the Nuns on the Bus 2016 tour in your prayers this month. I will be writing from the Bus both for the Nuns on the Bus blog on the NETWORK website and for Global Sisters Report.
Last month I finished the work on my 122 page thesis for my Masters of Arts of Theology at Catholic Theological Union. The title of my thesis is “Human Trafficking as Social Sin: An Ethic of Resistance.” It was a wonderful opportunity to apply what I had learned in my studies of theological ethics to one of the most important issues of our time. I was also able to draw upon my ministry experiences with survivors of human trafficking and in human trafficking education and advocacy.
Resistance might not be the word that comes to mind in response to human trafficking. Most often people speak of “combatting” or “fighting” human trafficking, particularly when it is approached as a crime. But when we consider human trafficking as social sin, one in which ordinary persons are complicit and connected, even if inadvertently, then resistance emerges as an appropriate moral response.
She was a prolific writer in her time and used the power of the written word astutely to spread the Gospel, challenge unjust structures, and advocate for people who were poor. She wrote letters, letters to the editor, and many, many books. By 1870, more than 200,000 copies of her works (most published under the names M.F. Cusack or Mary Francis Cusack) had circulated throughout the world. Profits from the sale of her books were used for the Sisters’ work with the poor.
In one of her autobiographies, she tells the story of her audience with Pope Leo XIII, when she was seeking approval for our new congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.
“My audience was entirely private … Mgr. Macchi brought in the whole set of my books to his holiness, who looked at them, I think somewhat surprised at the number. Some of them were duplicated, having been translated into German, French, and Italian. … His holiness specially commended the plan of my new order, and encouraged me in every way to continue writing. He gave his blessing to all the sisters present and to come, and to all those who would contribute to my work.”
Our original 1884 Constitutions, written by Mother Francis Clare, described our mission as being “to promote the peace of the Church both by word and work. The very name Sisters of Peace will, it is hoped, inspire the desire of peace and a love for it.” Word and work. I love that!
I can’t help but think that if she lived in today’s era of social networking, Mother Francis Clare would be tweeting for peace, spreading the good news of the Gospel and be on the forefront of the new evangelization. When our new community Twitter account (@SistersofPeace) went live earlier this year , I imagined her smiling in heaven at this new endeavor by her daughters in the 21st Century.
As someone who has been growing into her own identity as both a Catholic Sister and a writer, I find great inspiration in Mother Francis Clare. This month marks ten years that I’ve been blogging my journey into religious life and experience as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace, first at Musings of a Discerning Woman and now here. It’s also why I jumped at the opportunity to be a regular columnist on the Global Sisters Report. I am very grateful for the gift of writing, and I feel called to share that gift in the hopes that my words can touch hearts and minds in service of the Gospel.
I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit can work through any medium, even the Internet! Actually, I first discovered my religious community online when I was discerning religious life. That’s also why I’ve decided to join a group of younger Catholic Sisters in live tweeting during episodes of Lifetime’s new “reality” show The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns. It’s actually been a fun experience, offering some of my own experience and “#realnun facts” as I watch the show. (You can join the conversation at #TheSisterhood.)
A younger Catholic Sister friend alerted me today that the folks over at the Huffington Post have noticed our live tweeting of the show.
“Social media savvy sisters have been doggedly following — and even live-tweeting — the show. They’ve been paying close attention to any potential misrepresentations, while remaining excited that the topic of religious vocation is getting national attention.”
I appreciated that description, because I think it aptly describes the spirit we’ve tried to embody as we’ve been live tweeting the show. Again, the Holy Spirit can work with anything! Even reality TV and Twitter!
It’s a far cry from Mother Francis Clare’s in person discussion of her writings with Pope Leo XIII, often considered the founder of Catholic Social Teaching. But nonetheless, I feel it is important to be part of the discussion where people are.
And, ok, I’ll admit it …. it’s kind of cool that the Huffington Post article includes a screen shot of one of my live tweets from last week’s show!
In the end, I have to think that Mother Francis Clare would use the media of the day to communicate for mission. Would she be on twitter, blogging, and on instagram? I have to think the answer would be yes!
By the way, be sure to check twitter when #callthemidwife returns to PBS …. a group of us have been live tweeting that as well!