What the World Needs Now Is More Kindness

Today is World Kindness Day. Begun by the World Kindness Movement (a coalition of organizations promoting kindness throughout the world) in 1998, the goal of the day is to promote a kinder world. Organizations and schools plan a variety of events such as handing out cards and flowers, organizing flashmobs or even a giant group hug. It is a day to set aside differences and unite in the common goal of being kind.

I don’t think the world has even been in more need of kindness than it is today. We need to look beyond ourselves. See all people as world citizens. Search for our commonalities. Let go of the past, not hold onto feuds, especially those between our ancestors. We need to be joiners, not dividers.

While setting aside a day to be kind, the goal should be to carry the concept over beyond the day. We need to make a conscious effort to not fall back in to the same patterns, but to continue to be kind. Is important that we see others as having equal value and potential.

Kind acts can be big or small. Some groups are planning large events such as handing out small gifts like candy or flowers to thousands of people, organizing a giant group hug or flash bob dance. Schools may participate by planning group activities involving service or donations or making note of good deeds performed. Those looking for organized efforts can contact a member organization of World Kindness USA, a non-profit organization works to support and encourage kindness in the United States through cooperation with organizations and community groups, local governments and even individuals.

Some suggestions to spread kindness today and every day:

  • smile at someone
  • give a sincere compliment
  • say hello
  • provide assistance or support
  • avoid gossiping, making negative comments
  • pay it forward (feed a meter, pay for the next person at the drive through or toll)
  • let someone go ahead of you in line
  • recognize good service (some companies reward employees  for customer comments)
  • send a “thinking of you” card
  • pick up trash
  • donate gently worn items you no longer need
  • forgive someone (or yourself)
  • visit sick or elderly who can’t get out

Whatever the method, the result is the same. Acts of kindness made people feel good, both the givers and the receivers. Kindness results in people feeling appreciated, understood and loved. Kind acts cost little, but can have great benefits. How are you going to be kind today?

The Year of the Women

A year ago we could sense it coming. Though it looks very different than we anticipated, this has been the Year of the Women. It is very possible that what we are seeing today will be remembered in history books as a “revolution” of sorts.

Many expected to wake up the second Wednesday in November to news that the United States had elected its first female president. Some were shocked, confused and sad that this was not the case. However, that day did mark a big change: last year’s presidential election started a movement, the like of which I have not seen in my lifetime. Women, long a significant force in numbers, made the collective decision to work together to make a difference.

The days following the election saw a flurry of activity. Plans were made to hold a Women’s March to make a statement. Though not everyone had all the same goals, and many observers missed the point of these gatherings (that, as it turned out, occurred not just in the U.S. but around the world ), hundreds of thousands of women made it known that they would no longer sit idly by and watch bad decisions being made. Instead they determined to be a force of change.

Though the steps have been small, there are indications that some progress has been made. After decades of women standing up to discrimination and even assault, we are now seeing some changes. Proposed policies seen as anti-family have been blocked. More people are now believing women when they say they were mistreated. Predators are finally seeing repercussions for their actions. Things like the “casting couch” are longer seen as an acceptable method of conducting “business as usual.”

More women have stepped up to say, “Enough.” They are speaking up and refusing to accept the status quo any longer. There has been an almost imperceptible shift in attitude. I am seeing less tolerance of judging a person on their clothing or appearance. Discriminatory language is being called out and curtailed. Men in particular are starting to not only listen but also to join voices against discrimination.

This is different from other movements though, in that while the overriding issue is Women’s Rights, there is a significant overlap with other issues. Perhaps this is due to a recognition that our lives overlap and intersect those of others. Women are fighting not just for themselves, but for those who cannot or who struggle to fight for themselves. In some cases, it is because women often bear the brunt of the effects,in others, it is simply the right, the human thing to do .

Hollywood also is starting to acknowledge the power of women. We are starting to see more women in major roles and they are delivering at the box office (Hello, Wonder Woman!). Women over the age of 30 today have lucrative acting careers. Women are starting their own companies and getting more involved in politics,  both financially (donating in record numbers this year) and through running for office.

This shift in society is subtle but promising. Like most significant change, it comes with upheaval. It requires a different way of thinking. Change is a constant in life. Society is always evolving. The world is very different than it was only a couple generations ago, yet in some ways very much the same. We are both more independent and interdependent than we have ever been before. Working together is our best option. It looks like women are leading the way.

Sorry, But the Boy Scouts of America Got This One Wrong

Yesterday BSA announced that the Board of Directors unanimously approved to welcome girls into Cub Scouts and that the organization is making plans for a co-ed Scouting program that will enable girls to earn the rank of Eagle. While I am a huge supporter of the Boy Scouts, I think this is the wrong move to make. I feel strongly that while mixed-gender youth programs have value, I also think that there are developmental reasons for keeping some groups single-sex.

Yes, the character-building values incorporated in the Scout Law apply to girls as well as boys, but honestly, those are the same values presented in the Girl Scout program. I understand that there are some girls who have been unable to find a Girl Scout troop that fits their interests, but honestly, that is an issue of leadership, not program. Many Girl Scout troops actively participate in outdoor adventures. Both organizations are volunteer-based and since the announcement clarifies that Cub Dens will be single gender, it is certain that the problem of finding adults willing and able to lead will not be solved. In fact, it may make the situation worse, for both organizations.

Both scouting groups have similar goals, promises and laws. The earned recognitions vary, but the activities are up to the individual groups (at younger ages, this often means the leader). Girl Scouts can engage in almost every activity that Boy Scouts can (with the notable exception of handling guns) and the girls actually have fewer rules about camping at the younger levels (for example parents are not required to accompany girls on every outing). Anyone who wants their daughter to fully experience the outdoors (a common reason given for girls who want to join Boy Scouts), can sign up to be a leader (yes, dads too) and start a troop that engages in those activities.

Separate but equal?

BSA has decided to let existing packs choose whether to include girls in their packs or to form separate all-girl packs (which would keep their existing all-boy packs intact). How exactly then is this accepting girls into the Boy Scout program? If they join existing packs, they will participate in some activities together, but I am certain they will still be seen as separate. If they are forced to create new all-girl packs, I believe these packs will be short lived.

While it remains to be seen how the program will work for the particularly difficult ages of middle and high school, I believe that those ages in particular benefit from single-gender groups, especially when it comes to activities typically seen in Scouting (for both boys and girls) such as camping and outdoor challenge activities. Studies have repeatedly shown (and I have seen firsthand) that adolescents are awkward and shy around those of the opposite sex and in some cases will be afraid to try new things for fear of failure around those they seek to impress. This behavior starts in the upper elementary grades, which includes the higher levels of Cub Scouts. There is also the very charged issue of adolescent hormones and co-ed camping. As a former leader of girls this age, I believe volunteer burnout would be a serious issue.

A co-ed program already exists

A co-ed program already exists, Venture Scouts, which in my area at least, is underutilized. (However I believe this is due more to scheduling demands of teenagers than interest.) Within this program is an opportunity for leadership and earned ranks, which are also prestigious. By having the Venture program separate from Boy Scouts, it would seem that BSA has acknowledged that there is value in having both co-ed and single-gender programming. After 100+ years, one has to wonder why the change now.

I also feel that dangling the carrot of Eagle is disingenuous. While the Boy Scout rank is better known in many circles than the Girl Scout Gold Award, they carry equal weight. Both require a demonstration of leadership and a project that takes many, many hours, both in planning and execution. Especially at the older levels of Scouting, both programs are youth led, so participants have a say in what activities they engage in, and anyone pursuing the highest awards has complete control as these projects come from the individuals themselves, not the leaders or parent organizations.

Rather than making this move, I wish BSA and GSUSA would have gotten together in a partnership to co-host activities and events. This would have helped both organizations who have seen numbers dwindle in recent years, largely due to lack of adult volunteers. At a local level, I have seen examples of the groups sharing space and planning duties. Boys and girls can learn a great deal from each other and I see value in them participating in scouting activities together, but I think they should stick to doing what they do best. Some changes are not an improvement.

Read the F*@%-ing Story Before You Leave a Comment

IMG_5414Sorry for the profanity, but “Read the Gosh Darn Story…” just wouldn’t get your attention. Headlines are meant to grab your attention and get you to react. After all, the best writing in the world is useless if no one reads it. While commenting on a story is your right, and in many cases is encouraged by the publisher, doing so indiscriminately can make you look bad, and people may judge you as being lazy, foolish or just plain ignorant. Taking things too far can even get you banned from your favorite social media sites.

If something you read touches you, or your immediate response is “Me too!” or for some reason you just love the story, by all means go ahead and comment. From a writer’s perspective, some days these morsels of praise are what keep us going.

It’s okay to set the record straight

On the flip side, if you disagree with something you’ve read and feel the need to say so, go ahead and comment, just remember that it is possible to respectfully disagree. Perhaps something the writer said has hit a nerve and you are offended. While it may be wise to first look at why you are offended and whether that is reasonable, go ahead and comment. If writers are thoughtless or cruel or have their facts wrong, this should be pointed out. Few writers are deliberately offensive and many will appreciate the comment, provided it is given in a polite, respectful manner.

People don’t always agree

Remember that opinion pieces are just that — opinions. Writers know that not everyone will share their opinion. Many welcome the opportunity to hear other opinions. All of us are deeply influenced by our own personal experiences and can learn much from the experiences of others. Again, respectfully disagreeing means your words are more likely to be heard.

Before you leave that comment, first read the piece. Headlines don’t tell all (and in some cases, they tell nothing). Realize that headlines are an editorial decision and in many cases are not chosen by or even run past the writer. The best headlines attract attention and reflect the essence of a story, but those headlines are increasingly rare. Even with a good headline, you don’t really know what the writer is saying without reading the story.

Do more than skim

Really read the story. If you feel strongly enough about the content that you must comment, it is not enough to merely skim. Many things can be lost when one reads quickly, skipping sections. While we are taught in school to make our main point in the first paragraph, that is not how stories are always written. There is also the chance that the story is not what is seems. Maybe it’s fiction (remember the debut of “War of the Worlds”) Sometimes writers use special literary techniques such as satire to make a point. Perhaps you and the writer fully agree on the issue, but the first paragraph made you too angry to get to the place in the piece that this is revealed. If this is the case, maybe you shouldn’t comment (at least not now, you can always go back and comment later). Perhaps it is a reported story and quotes someone. You can’t assume that the writer agrees with the speaker, though if you are reading the whole story, the writer’s opinion generally comes through in the rest of the piece. If you’ve read and understand the point made and feel the need to, go ahead and comment (if you don’t understand at all, that may also be a cause to comment). Again, be respectful.

Look at what others have said

Before you comment, read the other comments. If you have a question, it is likely someone else has asked it. This is a challenge if there are already hundreds of comments, but if it isn’t worth your while to at least skim these, is it worth your while to comment (and perhaps be called out for your lack of diligence)? This has the added benefit of seeing what happens to those who comment without reading the story.

Commenting can add value. Some stories benefit from active engagement. We all have something to share and more to learn. Reading the story before leaving a comment reduces the chance of looking ignorant, thoughtless or mean. It also enables you to make a meaningful contribution to the conversation. But please, first read the story and then, if you need to comment, be kind. Besides being the right thing to do, it’s more likely your voice will be heard. And isn’t that the point of commenting anyway?

The Latest Installment of Things That Offend Us

U.S. flag flutters in the wind
The U.S flag flying at Ft. Sumter

The latest item to blow up social media and the news circuits is yet another bizarre controversy. The widespread national anthem protest by NFL players after the president’s comment this weekend has divided people even further, leaving many of us simply shaking our heads. The most noise here is coming from those who object to the protest.

The opinion being strongly presented is that taking a knee is disrespectful. That is perhaps the most puzzling part. Kneeling has traditionally been a sign of reverence and supplication. Throughout history, children have kneeled before their parents, it is used at the holiest moments in prayer and is the position knights-to-be assume while pledging their loyalty to their ruler.

Anti-Flag and Anti-Veteran

People are howling that this action is degrading the flag. If these athletes were burning the flag, stepping or spitting on it, that would make sense, but kneeling before it? Others rage that it is disrespectful to veterans who fought for the rights we hold so dear. (After all, everyone loves veterans, at least until budget time when their need to have food, housing and affordable medical care comes into play.) This discounts the fact that those rights include the power to have and express our opinions as well as to peaceably protest (both protected under Amendment #1). Further, the images seen at many football games yesterday showed many players on bended knee, with bowed head and hand on heart. This is hardly an image of disrespect.

Some have brought the flag code into this argument. The flag code is a U.S. statute that specifically has no provision for enforcement and no penalty for its violation. This is actually a good thing, as most people have violated it in some manner. (See provisions about clothing, accessories and disposable goods.) While I am particularly careful with how I treat the U.S. flag and will always stand for the national anthem, I know that it is only a symbol; our quasi-worship of this piece of fabric is seen peculiar by most other nations. While the U.S. has done great things and as citizens we have much to be proud of, our nation has also been responsible for some terrible actions. Like people, our nation is flawed and unlike God, it and its symbols should not be worshiped.

And Social Media Takes Off

As often happens, people are sharing stories on social media that serve to heighten the controversy, without verifying their accuracy. In this case, one references rules about the national anthem in the NFL Rule Book. Going straight to the source, the downloadable 2017 NFL Rulebook, you will find no mention of the national anthem at all.

Another popular post details a number of battles our brave veterans have served in, challenging athletes to do the same. Unfortunately, it starts with Valley Forge, a national park that has great military significance, (and where many brave souls died) but no battle was fought there.

Keep Politics Out!

Many are outraged that politics has been brought into their weekend entertainment; crying “Keep politics out!” and vowing to abandon the league. However, when politics affects one’s daily life, it becomes personal and cannot be separated. The current social and political climate is a challenging one. No one has been left untouched. Families and friendships have been torn apart. It has become impossible to stay truly neutral.

Sports figures have long been idolized and fans can be rather possessive. Yet, athletes are people, with their own values, beliefs and special interests. Few fans truly know their sports idols. They don’t know their family background and what life experiences they have had off the field. They don’t know what injustices they or their families and friends may experience on a regular basis. They can’t know what drives them and what worries keep them up at night.

Sports heroes are put in a position where they might be able to make a difference and taking advantage of their platform is the right thing to do. While there has been doubt as to what taking a different stance during the two minutes of each game that attention is drawn to the nation’s flag (personally, I didn’t see the point and didn’t think it accomplished much), this weekend has shown that it can make a great difference indeed.

The Truth About Femininity – It’s Not What You Think it Is

old-woman-1077121_1920 crop A fellow writer put out a challenge for March: to “Spring into Femininity.” She has the goal to write daily about femininity. The challenge is to see our femininity, to acknowledge it and to make it work in our lives. Though I don’t plan to write daily about this, I am intrigued by the concept and want to explore my thoughts and feelings about the word and the meaning behind it.

Merriam-Webster defines femininity as “the quality or nature of the female sex.” The Oxford Living Dictionary definition differs slightly: “Qualities or attributes regarded as characteristic of women.” And Urban Dictionary gives us: “Feminine means ‘What pertains to a woman.’ There are no qualifications. Whatever a woman does is feminine, because they are a woman, and they are doing something that pertains to them.” They then go on to add, “The only thing that can really be called “feminine” are ovaries.”

Of course this is not what most people are thinking when they use the word feminine. If pressed to come up with synonyms, most people would use words such as soft, delicate, gentle, and dainty.

But these words don’t really work. Think about women’s role throughout time. The one thing that women can do that men cannot is give birth. Anyone who has been through or witnessed this knows that this experience is difficult and painful and frequently includes sounds and actions that would be seen by most as very “un-ladylike.”

washing-41825_1280Consider jobs that are traditionally seen as “women’s work.” Though smart men do not dare to use this term today, think of the daily lives of our great-grandmothers and great-great-grandmothers. I think it is safe to say that most of them spent their days at hard manual labor: scrubbing – floors, clothing, dishes; hauling – wood, water; and preparing meals (which may have included harvesting and slaughtering). This was all done while also making sure that their children survived to adulthood. Are you picturing a dainty, delicate damsel in distress here?

While I was a child who hated all things “girly,” I grew into a teen who appreciated her softer side and actually enjoyed opportunities to put on a pretty dress. While my early experiences with feminism made me believe that the movement was anti-men and therefore not something I wanted any part of, I have grown to see that true feminism benefits us all.

As defined, femininity is complex, as women (and men for that matter) are. We are much more than what we wear, say or do. We can be both tough and soft, both strong and vulnerable, both adventurous and refined, just not all at the same time.

I think this will be an interesting topic to ponder this month. I hope it will start a conversation. I, for one, am starting to think about it differently already.

Are Readers to Blame for Sensational Journalism?

newspaper-1595773_1920Shortly after the election, a young woman I know requested help with a media ethics class assignment. Her task was to find examples of bias in the news that was of concern to readers. Since this is someone I am fond of and the topic is in my field, I was happy to help. Besides, remembering that I saw quite a few stories that would fit the description, I thought this would be easy.

It wasn’t. The challenge was that the articles in question had to be “news” stories. Opinion pieces didn’t count. I did a quick search on controversial topics and realized this was going to take a while. I tried to narrow things down by thinking back to which stories particularly irritated me and searched those topics. As it turns out, the ones I remembered were opinion pieces.

Undeterred, my next strategy was to go directly to the news sources traditionally thought of as biased: Fox, CNN and the New York Times. (To clarify, I used the online versions of these outlets in my research.) To my surprise, when scrolling through the news departments of these publications (and others as well) all the stories I found were objective and based on solid journalistic principles. The inflammatory, biased statements were in the opinion section or woven into feature pieces.

Having been critical in the past of modern day media and the seeming lack of journalistic integrity today (what happened to the concept of confirming a story with three sources), I was happy to see that this is not in fact the case. So then why the disconnect? Why is the general view that the media is biased and cannot be trusted?

The answer is simple. News outlets are businesses. Sensationalism sells. The more outrageous, the more negative the headline, the more attention the story gets. As readers, we don’t always want what is true, we want the latest gossip. We don’t share the feel-good news (unless we have a direct connection); we talk about the catastrophes, the violence, the scandals.  This has always been the case. I remember as a child hearing, “All you ever hear is the bad news.” Again, why are we certain that the media has changed? Why do so many say it is corrupt?

As I discovered, the big news outlets continue responsible investigative journalism. They search for the truth and report on it. Sometimes they get it wrong; reporters are human after all, and when they do, retractions are provided. Of course with the way we consume news today, sometimes the damage has been done. In today’s world, the responsibility to check facts is more important than ever, since information and worse, misinformation spreads at lightning speed.

Perhaps this is where the problem lies. We simply have too much information at our disposal. This should be a good thing, but we are not using our resources well. We need to be more discerning about what we accept as fact. We need to stop and think before we react. We need to question outrageous stories before we spread them. Although there have been numerous articles that list reliable (meaning objective)  news sources versus right- or left-leaning sources, being selective about the news agency isn’t enough. We also need to look at the section each story is placed in.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees us a free press. That does not mean that it costs nothing. Saying our press is free means that our news is unfettered. The government does not control the press. This is intentional. The press is and should be separate from the government. Of course this has caused consternation and embarrassment for some politicians, but it is part of the system of checks and balances that we have come to depend on.

To maintain the independence of the press, it is not government sponsored. However, someone needs to pay the bills. As consumers, we need to shoulder some of the blame for the state of the media today. Which stories do you click on? Which do you share? Which outlets do you financially support? Sometimes you get what you pay for.

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What Would Our Revolutionary War Veterans Think?

statue of liberty

I am saddened by the fact that many people are willing to so easily accept Friday’s executive order on visas and immigration that dramatically changed the lives of hundreds of people with the stroke of a pen. This is not who we are as Americans. Few of us can claim heritage going back to pre-colonial times. In fact, there are not many who can go even that far back. While I have traced some of my ancestors back to the time of the Revolutionary War, I also have those who immigrated in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. Speaking for those who fought in that first American war, I doubt that they would be proud of the direction our country has gone.

While I agree that we need to keep our country safe, this may very well prove to do the opposite. I am not alone in this opinion, several Iraq war veterans as well as Senator (and war veteran) John McCain have expressed the same view. Further, detaining and deporting people who have spent years working through the proper channels and who have sold everything they have to move to America (as our ancestors did) is cruel and inhumane. Traveling to a place where you are not fluent in the language is intimidating at best. Moving to such a place when you have been assured of your welcome and then being detained, questioned and in some cases put on a plane and sent back into a war zone, with nothing, has to be terrifying.

As of today, citizens of 38 countries can enter the U.S .without a visa and stay here for up to 90 days as a tourist or a business traveler. All other countries are required to apply for a visa for a visit of any length (with some exceptions). The visa process takes time and can be complicated, but I agree it is necessary. (The image below explains the steps involved in obtaining a visa to the U.S..)

The new executive order has suspended all new visas to seven nations without reasonable justification.People already in the process have been told to not schedule nor to attend scheduled interviews.Further, the order has invalidated already issued visas, even to those who have been working or going to school in the U.S. and were traveling outside the country. (A direction to also include green card holders in the ban has since been rescinded.) These people have established a life here (whether temporary or permanent) and are now not allowed to return home. They went through legal channels; they were not a danger a week ago, why are they a danger today?

information on obtaining a visa to the U.S.
Source of image information: U.S. Department of State

 

 

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Why I, as a Catholic Christian, Felt the Need to Attend the Philadelphia Women’s March

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When the idea of the Women’s March was first presented, I was conflicted about the idea. The cause was fuzzy and seemed scattered. I believe in some, but not all of the stated causes. I wasn’t sure I wanted to take a chance I would be labeled and attached to a cause contrary to my personal views.

As the event got closer, things became clearer and though it still didn’t have a single, clear focus, I wasn’t sure I wanted to participate but I supported the idea: we need to take a stand for what we believe in and need to speak for those who for a variety of reasons can’t speak for themselves. Yes, there were too many causes attached to effect rapid change in any one, but the sheer size would get attention, it would be a start. Though we do not all agree on everything, there are some things we do all agree on and our voices are more powerful together than apart.

As of Saturday morning, I still had not made the decision to go. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to take the time. Home was comfortable. If I were to go, I would be going alone as everyone that I knew were heading into the city had already left and I thought it unlikely I would be able to meet up with anyone in a sea of thousands. I spent a couple hours pondering, but couldn’t shake the feeling that this was something I NEEDED to do. After all, the day before, our president took steps that may lead to many vulnerable people losing life-saving health insurance. These include the poor, the disabled, those with pre-existing conditions such as auto-immune disorders, autism, asthma, and mental health issues (all of which in the past have been a cause for denying health insurance completely). There are indications that there are plans to move quickly to make more changes, many of which I feel will be harmful, especially to the disabled and to our environment (which will affect us all).

Many are arguing that I am being alarmist, that the worst won’t happen, but if I have learned anything in the past year, it is that anything can happen; there are no assurances, there is no longer a status quo when it comes to the U.S. government. I also know that rights are much easier taken away than restored. We cannot be complacent and take a “wait and see” approach with the lives of our most vulnerable citizens at stake.

In Philadelphia, the crowds were polite and attentive to the speakers onstage. Mayor Jim Kenney was the first to speak. He affirmed his support for women, and encouraged the crowd to do more than simply show up at a rally, telling people to find a cause they believe in and “go volunteer somewhere.” Donna Bullock, a state representative from Philadelphia, was insistent that “we must continue to listen to each other” that working together and learning from each other is important. Overall, the message of the day was a positive one:  we need to stand together and watch out for each other. We need to be aware citizens and make sure our elected representatives know where we stand on issues.

On Saturday evening, I saw coverage of the many marches throughout the world, both on TV and on Facebook. I was hurt and baffled, then angry that so many misunderstood the point of the day’s gatherings. Friends made angry accusations, saying things like “Get over it, Trump won. Just move on” and stated that the marches were a waste of time, with the assumption that the point of the protest was to unseat Trump. Others condemned the demonstrations as pro-abortion rallies. Some talked about violence and destruction (there was no report of this at any event on Saturday). None of these things are true. I couldn’t understand why so many chose to make assumptions, rather than ask a question or do a little research.

I spent much time thinking about the responses I saw and I wondered how many people were really considering what Jesus would do. I thought of His words, “Whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.” If we turn our backs on the disabled, the poor, the mentally ill, what does that say about us? We cannot just turn a blind eye to policies that dismantle programs that provide assistance. As Christians, we are called to spread His word, not to sit by and watch as others’ rights are eroded.

In last week’s gospel, Matthew told us the story of Jesus calling His disciples to follow Him. In the homily, our priest expanded on that, talking about how extraordinary it was that Jesus called fishermen to come join him in his mission. He could have chosen “experts” in areas such as finance, business and law, but instead he chose men with no experience in public speaking, calling them to be “fishers of men.” We were reminded that there are no special qualifications needed to follow Christ, we need only to look to His example and take action to make a difference in the world.

I have long believed that it is all of our responsibility to work to ensure fair treatment for everyone, not just for those who can afford it. In October 2014, Archbishop Auza said, the “responsibility to protect is a recognition of the equality of all before the law, based on the innate dignity of every man and woman. The Holy See [Pope Francis] wishes to reaffirm that every state has the primary duty to protect its own population from grave and sustained violations of human rights.”

This is not a new concept, in 1961, Pope John XXIII said, “As for the State . . . It has also the duty to protect the rights of all its people, and particularly of its weaker members, the workers, women and children. It can never be right for the State to shirk its obligation of working actively for the betterment of the condition of the workingman.”

“The Catholic bishops of the United States believe building a just economy that works for all encompasses a wide range of issues, including food security and hunger, work and joblessness, homelessness and affordable housing, and tax credits for low-income families, as well as protecting programs that serve poor and vulnerable people throughout the federal budget.”

The Catholic bishops are specific about this and “have established three fundamental criteria for discerning the morality of budget decisions:

  1. Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity.
  2. A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects the lives and dignity of “the least of these” (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.
  3. Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times.”

I argue that given these tenets, we are obligated to speak up. It is our responsibility as citizens to hold our elected representatives accountable. As Catholics, we need to stand up for what is right, to speak up when we see injustice, to do what we can to right wrongs. There is no place for complacency.

As Pope Francis said in his Address at the World Meeting of Popular Movements, Bolivia, The future of humanity does not lie solely in the hands of great leaders, the great powers and the elites. It is fundamentally in the hands of peoples and in their ability to organize. It is in their hands, which can guide with humility and conviction this process of change.”  

The message I heard over and over again on Saturday is that as mothers, sisters, daughters, it is up to us to watch over each other. Traditionally, we are the caretakers. It is our responsibility to speak up and be heard.

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A Final Hail to the Chief

100_1078-1edYou know that list of top people you would want to invite for dinner? The Obamas (and the Bidens as well) would certainly make my list. As we prepare to say farewell to someone who will certainly have more than a brief mention in future history books, I feel compelled to offer a thank you. I have never been prouder of my country than I was that day in November 2008 that a black man was elected to the presidency. I believed in his message, but honestly I wasn’t sure that our country was at the point that they could look past color and see just a man. I consider the nation fortunate that they did.

It is not my job to record his legacy; that I will leave for the historians, but I am confident that future generations will see him in a favorable light, even though his critics are in abundance today.

What I will remember most about the past eight years is the image presented to the world. President Obama has been well respected in other countries and has shown grace in the face of opposition at home. He has a dedication to family that I greatly admire and a willingness to be real, in a city that often isn’t.  He demonstrates a willingness to hear other people’s views and is not above meeting them at their level (even those who are too young to vote) His love and respect for his wife and daughters is obvious as is his genuine concern for all people.

Also unlike many in Washington, he shows respect for others, even when he holds opposing views.  When he spoke on behalf of Hillary Clinton, he was quick to suppress boos or derogatory comments, defending the rights of those who were there to voice their opposition. Likewise, our First Lady refused to trash talk, insisting that “We go high.” Throughout a divisive and at times very ugly campaign, Barack and Michelle Obama maintained standards of decency and showed class and grace.

There has not been a family in the White House in my memory that has had such a complete absence of scandal or for that matter any tinge of social impropriety. After the past few decades, it has been refreshing to have the confidence, especially in this day and age, that our president would not embarrass us on the world stage. It also has been a pleasure to watch the “Dad-in-Chief” interact with his children as well as the antics of the most high-profile bromance in our country.

President Obama has been true to his role, right to the end. He has worked to encourage those who are discouraged or fearful and has continued to express the vision of hope which came to the forefront of our nation almost a decade ago. He has committed to the principles our nation was founded on, calling for a peaceful transition, while reminding us that we are a government “of the people.”

Change is never easy. Dramatic change is even more difficult. To say that I will miss this president is an understatement. President Obama and his family have shown us how those in power can and should behave. They have served as role models for those in public office and hopefully some of our elected representatives are paying attention.

President Obama, thank you, not only for being a good president, but also for being a shining example of a good man.

 

Click here to watch the video of President Obama’s meeting with Kid President.

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