What’s going on in the U.S.? That’s what I want to see from the news

The main news networks and publications are very focused these days on the players: Donald Trump, AOC, Pelosi and all those who love/hate them and whatever he said/she said is buzzing about them.

That’s just my observation–it’s not a study. TIME Magazine did devote nearly an entire recent issue just to the new democratic party hopefuls. The news cycle seems stuck in reporting what this crew says, who is offends, who likes it and what it all means.

But I think that’s a problem. Focusing just on the celebrities makes news disconnected from reality and events and experiences actually happening across the US and the world. Those are the things I wanna hear about.

And to boot: “Local news is dying,” reported the Atlantic, declining rapidly in readership and funds, and we don’t even realize it because none of us read it anyway (I am guilty here too).

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/03/local-news-is-dying-and-americans-have-no-idea/585772/

The loss of local news means that the average reader has fewer and fewer avenues to learn about what exactly is going on cities and towns across the country. I feel that lack. I want to hear about storms that cancel hundreds of flights; I want to hear about protests, strikes, fires, education successes and failures, just the general pulse of America.

And those types of stories are less and less available. The only taste we seem to get these days is the occasional best-selling book from an outsider. I’m thinking here of JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy.

So–from my perfectly comfortable computer chair–I issue this recommendation to newsrooms:

  1. Send correspondents out–pay for their expenses–have them tell the day to day stories of life in America. Where are doing well? Where are average people hurting? Why?
  2. At least hire some freelancers.
    1. Can’t expense 50 correspondents? Okay fine. Call for freelance articles and submissions on different topics; on daily life.

Please, please, let’s get beyond the gossip of the elite, political in-crowd. Let’s talk to each other, learn about each other, and maybe try to understand the issue instead of conveniently labeling and name-calling them.

*soapbox exited*

Question: Where do you get the news? Do you think it’s balanced and insightful? What are your favorite outlets/sources?

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Captain America and Theology

download.jpgAnd here is my fumbling attempt to explain why I think Captain America is so great and a part of what makes the Marvel Universe so very, very worthwhile and engaging.

Captain America: Exemplar of Truth and Love

“In the character of Steve Rogers, it is exactly this type of love–willing the good to another–that brings enemy characters back to the fold, redeeming them. Throughout Age of Ultron, the Avengers, led by Rogers, are kind to the young hostiles–Wanda and Piero Maximov–and by the end of the film, both of them are fighting for the Avengers rather than against them, a notable case of the “bad guys” becoming “good guys.” They learn the truth– that Ultron has nefarious ends–and sense the love that the Avengers treat them with.”

Media Notes- Stub

We live in times where we just aren’t sure whether the news we access is true or not. Sadly, most people assume their own version rather than even looking for what actually happened or might be the case.

That this is true is confirmed by Roger McNamee, a former facebook investor in TIME itself: (http://time.com/5505441/mark-zuckerberg-mentor-facebook-downfall/)

“On Facebook, information and disinformation look the same; the only difference is that disinformation generates more revenue, so it gets better treatment. To Facebook, facts are not an absolute; they are a choice to be left initially to users and their friends but then magnified by algorithms to promote engagement. In the same vein, Facebook’s algorithms promote extreme messages over neutral ones, which can elevate disinformation over information, conspiracy theories over facts. Like-minded people can share their views, but they can also block out any fact or perspective with which they disagree.”

Caitlin Flanagan’s piece in The Atlantic slowly and painstakingly explains the 2 hours over video footage that that exonerate the demonized students of Covington Catholic from the March for Life, and she explains the whole debacle:

“How could the elite media—The New York Times, let’s say—have protected themselves from this event, which has served to reinforce millions of Americans’ belief that traditional journalistic outlets are purveyors of “fake news”? They might have hewed to a concept that once went by the quaint term “journalistic ethics.” Among other things, journalistic ethics held that if you didn’t have the reporting to support a story, and if that story had the potential to hurt its subjects, and if those subjects were private citizens, and if they were moreover minors, you didn’t run the story. You kept reporting it; you let yourself get scooped; and you accepted that speed is not the highest value. Otherwise, you were the trash press.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/01/media-must-learn-covington-catholic-story/581035/

The destroyed credibility of the NY Times, the Washington Post, and CNN as the most-respected news outlets hurts our ability to have real conversations as citizens. And it leaves normal people, like me, feeling hopelessly adrift for the means of even accessing accurate news coverage.

Fr. TJ White on the shifting job of apologetics

From: First Things, “Catholicisim in an Age of Discontent” by Fr. Thomas Joseph White, OP

“In judo, the martial artist learns to use the weight of his opponent against him. Skepticism is the weight that secular culture brings to bear upon the Church today. But this is also its weakness. Our own era is haunted by metaphysical despair. Plenary freedom for identity construction is, in the end, an empty freedom. The same goes for liberal despair over the possibility of a common purpose for political life. The negative peace of nonjudgmental inclusion fails to satisfy the natural desire for real political unity. What is at stake is the question of whether being a human person (and not just a thing the cosmos randomly begot) has any ultimate meaning. In the face of this basic question, we must put forward the very mystery of God himself. Today, Catholic theology should focus on Trinitarian monotheism. Why? Because God is the ultimate source of personhood, the principle of explanation that gives human existence its greatest intelligibility, and the source of enduring happiness.”

https://www.firstthings.com/article/2016/11/catholicism-in-an-age-of-discontent?utm_source=First+Things+New+Master+List&utm_campaign=ccc7c16beb-Two_Essays_Mother_Teresa_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1fcb60f68e-ccc7c16beb-180818573

Fr. White names the problem expertly and states that despair over metaphysical truth and a grounding for a shared, cultural understanding of the good characterizes our current discourse. I would say he’s exactly right; one despairs that it’s even possible to agree about big questions whether it’s worth pondering at all. He posits Catholicism as an answer. With this account, he/we/the Church could do it, if she can live a life that shows true unity and love for others:

“This inclusive triumphalism came to the fore in the Second Vatican Council. In the opening chapter of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, the Church is defined as the “sacrament . . . of the unity of the whole human race,” that is to say, the sign and instrument by which human beings are united in authentic communion with God and with one another. Paragraphs 14–16 are key expressions of inclusive triumphalism. The axiom that there is no salvation outside the Church is stated overtly, but reconfigured positively: All salvation that occurs in human history is in some way always already in the Church, or related to her in an intimate, if hidden, way. The whole world may come to participate more or less imperfectly in the universal mission of Christ and the Church: the Eastern Orthodox churches, Protestant ecclesial communities, the Jewish people, Islamic monotheism, the great world religious traditions that are not always explicitly monotheistic, and even secularists through the workings of the moral conscience by which human beings are led to seek the true and the good.”

On Becoming a Hero: Roles, Rituals and the True Self

Yesterday at the grocery store, a man handed me a wad of cash, saying “Here ya go, ma’am. Merry Christmas.” And the fifty-year-old, tall white man wearing a black baseball hat and backpack, walked away. To be honest, I was rather troubled–I looped around odd places before driving home to make sure no one was following me.

It prompted me to consider “Why me?” I attract a good deal of attention when I’m out with my two kids pushing mini-carts in the store and a baby wrapped to my chest. My guess is that me as “mom with three kids” met some kind of ideal in his head someone working hard and “doing it right,” so to speak.

The irony of me matching someone’s ideal is such an odd thought to me, because, despite how stereotypical we are, I (and my husband) never set out to be a certain way. In fact, we’ve just sort of stumbled and fumbled our way since we fell head over heels in 2006. In truth, I have watched people my age go off, continue their education, travel and do other things that we really couldn’t and I’ve felt so massively and heavily at times that I’m doing everything wrong. Yet through no intention of my own, I align to someone else’s view of “the good life,” a “hero” in a certain sense, someone to-be-admired. Strange.

Roles and Rituals

It got me thinking about our roles in life, the roles we play with each other and the rituals we use to enact these roles and their ontological status–are they real? And quite honestly, the answer is yes. Many a faddish magazine dismisses rituals (religious, family or otherwise) as “play-acting.”  But the jobs we do for each other in our roles actually enact our values: as a mom, I take my kids to the grocery store, I pack their lunch, I help them decorate a Christmas tree and I snap their photo all-the-darn-time. I’m not play-acting. Yes, these jobs come with the territory of the relationship — a mom helps kids do certain things — but they are also rituals. In the words of _________, a ritual is “The story we tell ourselves about out ourselves.” I would paraphrase that to say rituals are the culturally sanctioned actions through which we enact our values.

When I pack a lunch, I am playing a role in the cultural set-up that has designated school as the socializing setting for young children; I am playing a support role to meet the kids’ basic bodily needs of eating within the cultural context of school and what that does for them and me in ordering our lives and relationships. And yes, it is a role. But it is critical, and when I participate, I enact or bring into reality my own approval and buy-in to our value system. These rituals hold our cultural, relational fabric together. To dispense with them is not to be more “real,” but to cut individuals off from relational, cultural unities and isolate them.

The roles we play then are more than empty motions, and I think people become heroes when they learn to play the roles for the good of others, to recognize and transmit the goods of community and culture. Indeed, as Aristotle said, man is a political animal. We exist in and of communities; a person alone is not fully realized. Roles and rituals function to preserve and transmit community, an essential good to human life.

To give an example, a young man to aspires to be a firefighter in order to be thought of as strong and attractive, does it for the wrong reasons. A man who serves in the job (or role) of firefighter and forgets himself as he works to save others, becomes a hero. Without his intention, he draws the admiration of others. And a person who dismisses the role of firefighter as empty, prestige-seeking has lost a sense of the fundamental value of putting one’s abilities to the service of others in a particular way.

Vocation

Whether we pursue it or not, people become heroes or attain to holiness without seeking this directly–to seek it directly would be impossible. But by intending to serve, to play roles and do jobs for the aid of others in the service of goodness, we attain to what the roles and the rituals signify–goodness, unity, love–the holy, spiritual realities immanent to the physical.

Super heroes

This same phenomenon appears in super hero movies. The hero typically doesn’t intend to go out and “be a hero.” Rather, he or she becomes a hero when she starts to use her abilities for the good of others simply because those powers are hers. Captain America, for instance, doesn’t become a hero when he gets super strength. He becomes a hero when he breaks orders to rescue the captured POWs. Peter Parker doesn’t become a hero when he uses his abilities to win wrestling matches; he becomes a hero when he recognizes that “with great power, comes great responsibility,” and he takes up that responsibility.

Heroes and Saints

So I don’t think that any of us can set out to become heroes or saints, in Christian-speak. But I think that people become heroes when we use our abilities to service of others, for the transmitting and caring for the good of others, the unity of our societies and authentic values. And this comes out most often through our roles and rituals: brother, daughter, sister, mother, firefighter, nurse, priest, teacher, planning committee co-chair, mom’s group leader, artist, ball player etc, etc, etc.

Freelance Repost: Black Panther and Unity

This lil piece of mine appeared on Popcultureandtheology.com

Black Panther and Theology: Unity and Our Call to Face the World

Stevens, nicknamed Killmonger, takes to neither unity nor isolationism, but righteous fury at the injustice in the treatment of black people, particularly in the death of his father.  Stevens’ backstory includes the former King, T’Chaka, killing Stevens’s father over the latter’s role in the theft of vibranium from Wakanda. Stevens’s father, like Stevens, was a proponent of the view that Wakandan vibranium ought to be distributed to people of color to assist them overthrowing their oppressors. Stevens tells T’Challa, “There are about two billion people in the world who look like us, but their lives are a lot harder. Wakanda has the tools to liberate them all.” Having lost his own father for the protection of vibranium and having grown-up alone and facing racial injustice in America, Killmonger presents a compellingly sympathizable anti-hero.

….

Killmonger’s dedication to his cause moves even T’Challa himself. When his throne is restored, Black Panther branches out from his father’s policy of isolation and sides with Nakia, who he then asks to be his queen, agreeing that the injustices faced by black folks are formidable and venturing to put the full heft of Wakanda’s resources towards helping them. He founds a center in America to start the work of aiding others, and finally, he proclaims the necessity of seeing others as “one, single tribe.”

____

More at the link. Movies are our mythological stories–and I think it makes sense that our most compelling values as a society play out in them.

The Transformative Purpose of Pain

Michelangelo's_Pieta_5450_cropncleaned_edit.jpgI wanted to re-post an email devotional that I get from Fr. Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation. In just a few paragraphs, it sheds light on and explains something that resonates with my experience over the past few years, the transformative power and purpose of pain.

I’ve highlighted the one paragraph that stood out the most to me:

Transforming Pain
Wednesday, October 17, 2018

All healthy religion shows you what to do with your pain, with the absurd, the tragic, the nonsensical, the unjust and the undeserved—all of which eventually come into every lifetime. If only we could see these “wounds” as the way through, as Jesus did, then they would become sacred wounds rather than scars to deny, disguise, or project onto others. I am sorry to admit that I first see my wounds as an obstacle more than a gift. Healing is a long journey.

If we cannot find a way to make our wounds into sacred wounds, we invariably become cynical, negative, or bitter. This is the storyline of many of the greatest novels, myths, and stories of every culture. If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it—usually to those closest to us: our family, our neighbors, our co-workers, and, invariably, the most vulnerable, our children.

Scapegoating, exporting our unresolved hurt, is the most common storyline of human history. The Jesus Story is about radically transforming history and individuals so that we don’t just keep handing on the pain to the next generation. Unless we can find a meaning for human suffering, that God is somehow in it and can also use it for good, humanity is in major trouble. Because we will suffer. Even the Buddha said that suffering is part of the deal!

We shouldn’t try to get rid of our own pain until we’ve learned what it has to teach. When we can hold our pain consciously and trustfully (and not project it elsewhere), we find ourselves in a very special liminal space. Here we are open to learning and breaking through to a much deeper level of faith and consciousness. Please trust me on this. We must all carry the cross of our own reality until God transforms us through it. These are the wounded healers of the world, and healers who have fully faced their wounds are the only ones who heal anyone else.

As an example of holding the pain, picture Mary standing at the foot of the cross or, as in Michelangelo’s Pietà cradling Jesus’ body. One would expect her to take her role wailing or protesting, but she doesn’t! We must reflect on this deeply. Mary is in complete solidarity with the mystery of life and death. It’s as if she is saying, “There’s something deeper happening here. How can I absorb it just as Jesus is absorbing it, instead of returning it in kind?” Consider the analogy of energy circuits: Most of us are relay stations; only a minority are transformers—people who actually change the electrical charge that passes through us.

Jesus on the cross and Mary standing beneath the cross are classic images of transformative spirituality. They do not return the hostility, hatred, accusations, or malice directed at them. They hold the suffering until it becomes resurrection! That’s the core mystery of Christianity. It takes our whole life to begin to comprehend this. It tends to be the wisdom of elders, not youngers.

Unfortunately, our natural instinct is to try to fix pain, to control it, or even, foolishly, to try to understand it. The ego insists on understanding. That’s why Jesus praises a certain quality even more than love, and he calls it faith. It is the ability to stand in liminal space, to stand on the threshold, to hold the contraries, until we are moved by grace to a much deeper level and a much larger frame, where our private pain is not center stage but a mystery shared with every act of bloodshed and every tear wept since the beginning of time. Our pain is not just our own.

Church puts light on Opioid Addiction

Just a quick post here–A few weeks ago, the diocese of Arlington hosted an conference on Opioid addiction, including approaches from doctors and counselors and from a priest in recovery. I watched the talks online, a Dr. Michael Horne speaks about how addiction begins. Fr. Mark Hushen talks about his experience in recovery and the 12 Steps as a cognitive behavioral and spiritual therapy, of returning to God.

I’m posting two talks because addiction is a tough, multifaceted and pervasive problem that Washington doesn’t talk much about. It’s easier to fight over bathrooms or nominations than face something that isn’t easy to fix or name call about.

After I’ve posted two things struggling with the church, this reflects the Church on the right path–on bringing Christ to people in true need. The Church has two powerful tools: spiritual truth and a community. The Church has people and can bring people together–when she does that with grace and holiness, the transformation could be boundless.

What do you think of this? Are there other issues that the Church could focus on? Have you heard of the 12 steps? Do you agree with Fr. Hushen’s description of them as a true spiritual path?

Reacting to the Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Church

I haven’t said anything yet, but the recent revelations of on-going sexual abuse and its cover up in Pennsylvania since the 1970s in the church has been very troubling to me. The involvement of Cardinal Wuerl, who currently serves as Archbishop of Washington DC, especially bothered me because he is someone who I had admired. Then the even more recent news of the same thing happening Germany came out.

These have disturbed me greatly, and I want to say that I have a “response,” or what a response should be, but I don’t. All I have is a reaction, a recounting of what its been like to watch this unfold.

*First, I was shocked and horrified, heart-broken for the survivors and deeply troubled that the sexual abuses of teens and children could be so systemic among those who are supposed to guide the faithful.

*Embarrassed and ashamed. I was ashamed for the church and embarrassed to be associated with such corruption and hypocrisy.

*Doubt – all sorts of questions arose, questions I thought had been confidently answered:

  1. Could this really be the Church of God, the Church Christ founded?
  2. What if it’s really all a lie?
  3. How could the Holy Spirit really be present here?
  4. How could the Church’s sexual ethics still hold water at all? Haven’t we just discredited ourselves completely?

*Considerations — Sexual abuse may be a bane everywhere, but that doesn’t make it okay. And it’s especially bad in the church; we are called to be an example.

*My Developing thoughts:

  1. Why be Christian anyway? Because I can’t escape the necessity of the idea that there is meaning and a goodness infused into the universe by a Creator. And because the idea of a loving, healing God — the Christian narrative, incarnated in Jesus– changes my life. The historical case and moral philosophy aspects are particularly important to me.
  2. Now what? Well, maybe its time to re-examine certain thoughts, disciplines, unofficial traditions and the way we teach them and live them. For instance, historically, priests have been allowed to marry and Eastern rite Catholics marry today and are still in communion with Rome.
    1. Time to put away inordinate “delicacy” and talk about hard topics–like sex abuse and what sex even is– because they are volcanoes erupting all around us, whether we address them or not.
    2. The role of ritual and the sacraments is pivotal to being Catholic. Let’s keep that and work on making church a truer “hospital for sinners” as Pope Francis has called it. It would benefit the Church, I think, for parishes to welcome people with problems more openly–because we all have them. Too often, the social atmosphere is stiflingly aware of staying within certain boundaries of moral righteousness. (Not that doing bad things, sin, is okay—we just have to be honest and helpful about the fact that everyone needs help and that help is available–rather than always trying to look like we are sinless).
    3. The Church is about Jesus, as Bishop Barron reminded us recently–it’s not about the mistakes of its members. To get through this, we (I) have to keep Jesus in sight.

So what do you think? How has the news affected you?