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Archive for the ‘Social Justice’ Category

John and I were thrilled to hear the announcement of the Supreme Court’s decision on the American Care Act. Well, were thrilled to hear CNN’s retraction of their first statement that the individual mandate was overturned. First because of the implications for our country, second because it is in line with our faith beliefs, and third for how it has already benefited our family.

Studying public health over the past few years has made me realize how important some of the provisions of the act are. We spend the highest amount in the world on health care per capita. And if I remember correctly from my public health classes, we spend some 5% of that on preventative care. As we all know, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Literally – it costs far less to prevent diseases than to deal with them after they appear.

So a bill that focuses on prevention and expands health care to people who can’t afford it by increasing who is eligible for Medicaid? Of course I am for it. Public health and social justice meet. Let’s all celebrate! Academics of how improving the health of a nation benefits everyone aside, the Catholic Church teaches that health care is a human right:

In our Catholic tradition, health care is a basic human right. Access to health care should not depend on where a person works, how much a family earns, or where a person lives. USCCB

(Regardless of where you live – so even if you live in a state like Florida where your Governor wants to turn down federal money, his own taxpayers’ dollars,  you still deserve it).

So I was excited it passed. Even the individual mandate part. Would I have liked to see a different system, such as a public option? Yes, I would have. But what baffles my mind is why more people aren’t for it. It’s about personal responsibility and not passing on your burdens to others – the Republican mantra! And I agree – we should be responsible for ourselves when we can be. Lots of people without insurance do not pay their medical bills, which raises the cost of services on people who do pay to make up the difference. Ironically, the people who are hit hardest are those without insurance. Their bills are significantly higher than when you have insurance. But when everyone has it, everyone pays a fair amount. No screwing each other over allowed.

I digress. The point is – Obamacare has already saved us thousands of dollars. When we started grad school we were 24 and required to buy health insurance. (How come no one points out that public schools already mandate purchasing health insurance?? Socialism!) After the ACA went into effect, we could go back on our parents’ insurance. John did for two semesters, I did for one (my dad’s plan switched and wouldn’t cover anything out here. Little loophole we need to fix, otherwise its really only providing coverage for people living in 100 sq mile radius of their parents!). It didn’t cost my father-in-law a thing to add John, and for my parents, I believe it was much less than what an individual plan for me would have cost.

This saved us about $2400. That might be small potatoes for some families, but that’s about what we have spent out of pocket on my health care costs over the past two years. It’s about 1/6 of what I made as an RA this year. It’s another student loan saved. It’s affected our lives, and we have really appreciated it.

There’s more, of course.

I like that the health insurance companies can’t charge me more because I’m a woman (though this was already law in Montana!)

I like that breastfeeding support, including lactation counseling and breast pumps, are covered by insurance, since that is something we plan on doing. Along with a bunch of other prenatal/neonatal tests.

I like that an insurance company can’t turn me down because of my health problems. (Though I still wish they couldn’t refuse to cover them! But that’s something to work on in the future).

Romney’s plan (the new one, not the one that was the example for Obamacare) centered around making sure people could a) keep their health insurance plan, b) not be turned down for pre-existing conditions, c) give states power. I’m sorry, but a) I never have been so in love with a plan that I would be devastated when it switched. Not to mention no part of the law requires anyone to switch plan. Especially when employers can still switch your plan whenever they feel like it anyway. b) That’s already part of the law. c) As above, I believe people have the same rights no matter what state they live in.

I like this plan. It has helped save our family tons of money. It focuses on preventative care, is in line with principles of social justice, and benefits women. A plan that’s top priority is not switching health insurance plans doesn’t do anything for me. I’m happy with Obamacare. I want to see it improved, of course, but I don’t want to see it disappear.

How did you feel about the Supreme Court ruling?

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Thesis Defense

If you’ve been reading this blog for a bit, you might remember that I’ve been doing this thing called “grad school. Totally forgot, right? Its okay, I sometimes do.

But not this week. This week I defend my thesis (on guard!). To be specific, tomorrow I defend. Tomorrow! I have been slaving away over this puppy for over a year. I took the entire summer off (well, plus working part time) last year to focus on the research. I have spent hundreds, hundreds! of hours researching, interviewing, transcribing, analyzing, compiling, writing, and editing. And it’s almost done.

Hurrah! Sing hallelujah!

I’m getting my degree in a field called Medical Anthropology. If you’re thinking “what’s that?” that’s cool, I think most people related to me have the same question. Anthropology is essentially the study of humans, or more specifically, that which separates us from non-human animals. There are four major sub-fields of anthropology: biological (studies evolution and the body itself. Think Jane Goodall and Bones the TV show); linguistics (language, something again, mostly unique to humans. Think Noam Chomsky); archaeology (that’s the one where you dig up stuff. Think, of course, Indiana Jones); and socio-cultural anthropology (everything else. The study of culture. Think….old white guy studying small tribes in the Amazon).

Cultural anthropology has come a long way since it’s admittedly, somewhat racist roots. (From “Discover the ways of the savages!” to “Preserve this culture before we kill them all off!” to “Hey, every group has a sub-culture. Let’s study white people too!” Medical anthropology, what I do, largely falls under the umbrella of cultural anthropology (though you will have people who argue it’s its own subfield. Overachievers).

Medical anthropology essentially studies diseases, health, and healing in a cultural context. While it does sound super-obscure, it is actually one of the most developed subfields of cultural anthropology. My particular branch of medical anthropology, (or at least what my research is on, I do work for a professor who does medical anthropology with a very different focus and population) focuses on the effects of social stratification on human health. Why are poorer people more likely to get sick and die? What has happened globally as underdeveloped “third-world” countries have shifted rapidly to a capitalist country? How are bio-medical fields and traditional medical practices combining? Why do people who live in inner cities have less access to health care? How do older beliefs of healing persist in rural areas? Those are the kinds of questions we ask. It’s a pretty fascinating field, really, especially realizing how complex health is. We tend to think of it in very black and white terms using our biomedical framework. But what about diseases that exist only in countries like America and aren’t found elsewhere? What about very real, very obvious diseases that occur only in India? Why doesn’t “understanding” what doctors say always result in action?

If you want to learn more about Medical Anthropology, I can’t recommend enough the book: Mountains Beyonds Mountains by Tracy Kidder. It profiles Paul Farmer, a MD and anthropologist, who starts a network of clinics in Haiti and other countries. (His partner, Jim Yong Kim – also an anthropologist, was just named head of the World Bank).

For my thesis, I looked at food insecurity in people who are homeless. It was very enlightening and exhausting research. And I’m happy to share with you the abstract below, in part because it’s arguably the most well-written part of it all, and in part because all 130 pages won’t fit in this blog post.

Another Day, Another Donut: Political Economy, Agency, and Food in a Montanan Homeless Shelter

Despite widespread undernutrition among the homeless, there has been little anthropological research on the experience of food insecurity in this population. Between 20 and 40 percent of the homeless population is undernourished and one third regularly miss meals (Gelberg 1995). This thesis addresses the significant problem of food insecurity in the homeless from a political economic perspective, analyzing how larger social structures influence the individual person. Fifteen residents at a shelter in Missoula, MT were interviewed about their dietary practices and experience of social service programs. The macro-social level influences the diet of the individual in two important ways: first, by creating the environment in which homelessness occurs, and second, by regulating the social measures which address food insecurity. These social measures which are designed primarily for the needs of the housed are insufficient to deal with the unique challenges of food insecurity. An inability to cook and store food limit how effectively homeless people can utilize these social programs. It is necessary for these programs to appropriately adjust their services for the homeless; however, to truly solve the problem of food insecurity, the reality of homelessness must end.

The defense is at noon tomorrow (MST) so if you want to send some prayers/good thoughts/rainbows/butterflies my way then, it would be appreciated!

 

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I support gay rights because I am Catholic, not in spite of it.

I grew up Catholic. Catholicism was early morning and late night masses, hot cross buns on Good Friday, wearing a pretty white dress for my first Communion, confused friends who wanted to know if I worshipped Mary. It was glowing candles on the dinner table during December, and palms folded into crosses in April. It was simple, and it was good. I believed it then, and I believed it now.

But it is not as simple now as it was then. Now I realize being Catholic isn’t defined by whether or not you attend Fish Fridays, but is a complex world of the orthodox and the not-so-orthodox. I am not an orthodox Catholic (used in the sense of one who follows every belief to the letter, not in the sense of the church that became identified as such during the Great Schism). And there is a reason that we have that term “orthodox” or “traditional” (the term my husband’s uncle, a religious, used instead of our term which I believe was “crazy conservatives” at brunch last week). Because despite Catholicism’s call for us to adhere to one set of beliefs, we do recognize, at least popularly, that there is a myriad of beliefs, experiences, and practices that create Catholicism. All this to say, my beliefs here do not reflect the beliefs of the Catholic Church, which opposes the legalization of gay marriage.

But I believe in it, and other gay rights, because I’m Catholic, not in spite of it.

You see, if the Church had wanted to turn me off of supporting the marginalized in our society, it should not have read the Sermon on the Mount to me each year. It should have silenced Jesus’ cry of blessings on the poor in spirit, the persecuted, the meek, the peacemakers, and those who thirst for righteousness.

The Church should not have taught me of the love God has for all of his people. It should have taught me instead that Jesus only came for those who were rich, who were white, who were straight, who were male, who were powerful, who were orthodox.

If the Church wanted me to oppose gay marriage, it should not have taught me that scripture is historical and contextual. It should have taught me instead that it is always literal, but it did not. It should not have taught me that God is love. It should not have taught me about the dignity of the human person, that everyone deserves a place to live, a place to work, a place to eat without being discriminated against.

It should not have taught me about the beauty of marriage. How the love between two people mirrors the love of God and his people. It should not have instilled me with the morals of faithfulness, commitment, and love if it had wanted me to discourage those practices in others.

The Church taught me instead about personal conscience (Catechism) and that “A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself” (1790). It taught me that the conscience is inscribed on our hearts by God.

The Catholic Church taught me not to judge. And not in some trite “love the sinner but hate the sin” (but secretly hate the sinner too because that’s just easier) way, but in a deep, true way.  It taught me to look inwardly to my own faults, not outwardly to the faults of others.

It taught me to fight for the rights of the least among us. It reminded me that those whom society deemed okay to hate, we were required to love.

Of course, some will say that I am a shining example of the fallen American laity. They will remind me that the Church does not conform to the whims of modern society, and instead follows the teachings of Christ.

To which, I would respond that I agree. The Church is bigger than simple societal whims of oppression, of hate, of bigotry, of fear. I would say that the Catholic Church, at its core, preaches love and acceptance, hope and grace. If it wants me to adhere to another belief set, one of prejudice and marginalization, it should have taught me something else.

I support gay rights because I am Catholic. Not because I do not understand the teachings of the church, or because I simply choose not to follow them out of convenience sake, but because I do believe them, because I do follow them. And it’s not just me. A study  in 2011 showed that Catholics are more in favor of same sex marriage than any other religious group, and more than Americans as a whole.

If the Catholic Church wanted me to oppose gay rights, it shouldn’t have told me what Christ taught.

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Money, money, money

Some days, what bugs me about having Interstitial Cystitis isn’t the big things – the pain, the diet, all that jazz. It’s the little things. The little things which add up into a big thing – money.

In one sense, IC isn’t that expensive. I pay about $20 for my directly IC related prescription medicines a month. But the money still adds up.

It’s the $43 co-pay on my sleeping pills I use once every few weeks because my bladder turns to flare when I travel. (I didn’t fall asleep till sometime after three last time I was on the road!) It’s the insurance company which requires a prior authorization because they want me to take the cheap pills that make me hallucinate. $43afterI got them to reduce the number of pills and gave them a $50 coupon. They left me with a “we can try to get you a refund” but I know that I would gladly fork over that muchto be able to sleep next time I can’t.

It’s the $120 co-pay because my pharmacy wouldn’t let me refill a prescription before I went out of town, and so I was left using another pharmacy which couldn’t get my insurance to cover my medicine.

It’s the $100-200 co-pays everytime I see a specialist because the school’s free clinic can’t deal with my problems.

It’s the money spent on supplements, vitamins, over-the-counter pain medicines that insurance doesn’t cover.

It’s buying organic instead of conventional produce. $2 a pound pears instead of 30 cents for bananas. $5 a pound for blueberries instead of $1 for grapes.  Red peppers instead of tomatoes. It seems that IC friendly foods have two things in common – they are low in acid and high in cost.

It’s taking last summer off so that I could concentrate on getting healthy (and getting my research done).

It’s getting take out on days that standing up long enough to cook seems impossible.

It’s buying my own insurance instead of remaining on my parent’s, because I have to see doctors out here too often to just have “catastrophe only” insurance and their insurance won’t cover any out of network providers.

These things all add up. And you know what the crazy thing is?  I have it easy. I have insurance. I don’t have cancer. IC can nickle and dime me all it wants, but we’ll make it through. But there are millions of other Americans without any insurance. Who can’t afford organic produce. Who don’t have the options I do. IC has taken it’s toll on us financially. Don’t get me wrong, we’re keeping up and doing fine (paid for my whole masters degree in cash & scholarships, thankyouverymuch), but it’s still not cheap. But even at the end of the day – we have it easier that millions.

Millions.

The Supreme Court is debating today whether or not the new Health Care reform law is constitutional, and you know what? I don’t care if its constitutional. Because it’s right. And there’s so much left to do. A new insurance company can deny me any coverage for my IC next year if it wanted to. That needs to go. And companies profitting off of my inability to sleep at night? That one can go too. Me crying at the pharmacy counter half an hour ago because the insurance company wanted to deny me coverage again? I’m ready to be done with that.  And even if this health care bill stays law, those things won’t change any time soon.

But we will have planted the seed the health care is something everone deserves. And we can continue to work from there. We can move away from a greed driven system to one that truly works for all Americans.

Because health care is a human right.

Because poverty shouldn’t be a death sentence.

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I am not a slut

“What does it say about the college co-ed Susan Fluke [sic] who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex — what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute.” — Rush Limbaugh

Hi.

We don’t know a lot about each other.

But I want you to know one thing about me – I am not a slut.

I am a woman. I am a woman as God created me, born from a woman, with the ability to have children of my own one day.

But I am not a slut.

I am a woman with a flawed body, as so many of us are. Ten percent of women suffer from endometriosis, a condition where the lining of one’s uterus grows on the outside of her uterine wall or on other organs. I was born this way. It does not make me a slut.

The treatment is prescription birth control, which does not cure,because there is no cure, but it allows women with this condition to have a life. To leave the couch. To love.

We can wax philosphically about how fertility is a natural process, not a disease to be medicated a way. But digestion is a natural process as well, and millions of people suffer from heartburn. Our bodies are not perfect. They are fearfully and wonderfully made, but they can trouble us and they can hurt us.

But that does not make us sluts.

I am a married woman who loves my husband. I am a woman who wants to have children. I am a woman who does not believe in “consequence free sex,” who does not see the birth control pill as a license to sleep around. I am bound by the vows I have freely taken to my husband and my God; I am not bound to fidelity by the fertile status of my uterus.

If my insurer did not cover birth control, for instance, if I had gone to a Catholic school, I would have spent $1200 while in graduate school just for the ability to attend classes not in pain, to cook my husband dinner occasionally, to attend church, to see friends and to volunteer.

That’s $1200 that covered the cost of two classes instead.

Or that allowed me to research my thesis full time this summer.

Or that allowed my husband to take a lesser paying job to fight for the rights of prisoners and the accused.

Twelve hundred dollars that we could put to supporting local farmers instead of large corporations who rely on underpaid workers.

Twelve hundred dollars that covered the cost of flights home for weddings and Christmases.

Twelve hundred dollars that went to my other medications as well.

I think it was money well spent. It was money, however, that did not turn me into a slut.

But many people think otherwise. They think that medicating the body that God has given me so that I can use it to its fullest potential makes me a slut.

A slut.

A prostitute.

In some ways, it doesn’t matter where you stand on this divide. If you take birth control or if you don’t.  If you think it is moral or immoral. If you think government should cover all of health care or none of it. It doesn’t matter, because a reproductive disorder does not make a woman a slut.

Call your representative.  Tell him or her to stand up for women. To not bar women from the discussion on what happens to their organs. To raise the level of discussion to one that respects all Americans, all people. To stop calling your sister, your daughter, your mother, your neice, your friend a slut.

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Sex, Nuns, and Football

I like to put a damper on exciting things, so while I’m just as pumped as anyone (okay, decidedly less pumped than anyone in the Northeast) to watch the Super Bowl this Sunday, I want to talk about a real problem with our nation’s favorite sporting event.

And it’s not concussions. It’s sex trafficking.

I didn’t know anything about sex trafficking until a few years ago when I watched an absolutely amazing movie called Trade. I can’t recommend it enough, even though it’s incredibly heavy and heartbreaking.  You can see for yourself:

The most striking thing about the film is that it brings sex trafficking home. Because while we would like to think of it as a far off problem affecting only places like Taiwan, Haiti or Mexico, the reality is that the US estimates there are 10,000 sex trafficking victims in this country. Some estimates are higher. Miami police estimated that in 2010 there was as many as 10,000 prostitutes from outside the area for the Super Bowl, considered one of the largest sex trafficking events in the country and possibly the world.

I can’t think about it without tearing up. Women, men, boys, girls being brought as an extra sideshow, extra entertainment.

If you think back to Econ 101, most every business operates on a simple premise: increase supply to meet the demand. So what do we need to do to stop sex trafficking? We need to stop the demand.

That’s not what we’ve been doing. According to a 2005 bill in Congress:

According to recent studies –

  • a) 11 females used in commercial sexual acts were arrested in Boston for every arrest of a male purchaser;
  • b) 9 females used in commercial sexual acts were arrested in Chicago for every arrest of a male purchaser;
  • c) 6 females used in commercial sexual acts were arrested in New York City for every arrest of a male purchaser.

There’s something not right here. And Indiana has been rushing through the legislator bills to crack down on sex trafficking. But what can we, as people probably not engaged in the sex trade or law enforcement do to stop the demand?

A group of Catholic nuns has reached out to local hotels training and educating them on how to recognize and prevent sex trafficking. 200 hotels in a 50 mile radius of the city have agreed to or had participated in training or receiving information on local safe houses and help lines. The nuns have enlisted local congregations to pray and take action for those engaged in sex trafficking.

The problem of sex trafficking is large and complicated. It’s not just evil men in back alleys, it’s a world where families are so impoverished selling oneself is sometimes the only option. It’s a culture that turns a blind eye to sex crimes, or even glamorizes it. We can think it’s not our culture all we want, but I go to a school that ignored rapes on campus. We hear about the Penn State scandal every day. Big scandals aside, we watch sexist TV commercials and laugh and them like they are funny. But there’s nothing funny about treating women like they are less than what God created them to be. There’s nothing okay about a culture that refuses to stop the demand.

I can’t rush in to Indianapolis and save everyone, as much as I would like to. But I can be a person who respects life, respects human dignity, and respects sex. I wish I knew how to take a bigger stand than just yelling at the internet. But I can tell you this, when I’m cheering on the Giants (or Patriots? Have we decided yet, John?) on Sunday, I’m going to be cheering on those nuns, and men and women all over the world who are taking a stand against sex trafficking.

Even if it’s just a small voice saying this needs to stop.

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Today I was going to write a post on how Sen. Santorum and Speaker Gingrich’s insistence that their Catholic faith informs their politics upsets me as I believe it is inaccurate, but I got a little side-tracked.  One of the lies I here perpetuated over and over again by Catholics is that it is immoral and a sin to vote for a pro-choice candidate. It’s not. And that’s not just my personal opinion, but that of the Church’s US authority, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops.

So you know where I’m coming from on this: Am I pro-life? Yes Iam. But I don’t believe in most legal measures to address the issue. The Supreme Court has ruled it constitutional, and so voting for a candidate who happens to be pro-life isn’t going to change that. Even if everyone in in the House and Senate were pro-life, they would be unable to pass a law that outlaws abortion because the Supreme Court has decided that would be unconstitutional.

So instead, I think non-legislative avenues are the best for avoiding abortions. Promoting adoption. Providing childcare to single mothers. Not mocking teen moms. Empowering women. Better yet, these are things both sides of the aisle can generally agree on.

Doing some research for my Santorum-Gingrich article (which I will post at some point – stay tuned), I came upon this article on the Catholic TV station, EWTN website: http://www.ewtn.com/vote/brief_catechism.htm that suggested that under no circumstances Catholics may vote for a “pro-abortion” candidate.

In the USCCB’s “Forming Consciences for a Faithful Citizenship” it details the considerations US Catholics should make. While the article suggests that abortion is a trump-all issue, the USCCB says, ” Racism and other unjust discrimination, the use of the death penalty, resorting to unjust war, the use of torture,4 war crimes, the failure to respond to those who are suffering from hunger or a lack of health care, or an unjust immigration policy are all serious moral issues that challenge our consciences and require us to act. These are not optional concerns which can be dismissed.” 

Furthermore, the USCCB says:

There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.While the article suggests that an candidates positions on other issues cannot outweigh their position on abortion, the USCCB says the opposite: 

It goes on to say:“When all candidates hold a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely yo pursue other authentic human goods.”

You may wonder what is considered a “grave reason.”

According to the USCCB it includes:“It is important for our society to continue to combat discrimination based on race, religion, sex, ethnicity, disabling condition, or age, as these are grave injustices and affronts to human dignity.”

The author of the article states that “For this reason, moral evils such as abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide are examples of a “disqualifying issue.” A disqualifying issue is one which is of such gravity and importance that it allows for no political maneuvering.” This is a misinterpretation of the USCCB’s teaching, which states that “a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support.” I emphasize “may” because it is not an absolute as the author suggests.

Furthermore, it says that the issue may lead a voter to decide to not vote for them. It does not say that the Church requires it or considers that person ultimately unacceptable.It is damaging that the author suggests that it is necessary to vote only on a single issue when the USCCB urges the opposite: “As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support.” 

Most conclusively, the USCCB says that Catholics may only not vote for a pro-choice candidate if their attention is to advance that specific cause. They very clearly state that their opposition to abortion cannot outweigh or be used to justify other immoral actions (such as supporting wars, racism, injustices against the poor, sexism, death penalty, etc.):

“A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity.”

This article as it is factually inaccurate, sites no sources other than the author’s personal opinion, goes against Catholic teaching, and is extremely misleading. It makes me sad that we still try to manipulate people to do something out of the fear that they are sinning rather than by following the Church’s teachings.

If you are not a Catholic and reading this, please know that despite what you might here in the media and the things people tell you, our Church at its core does not stand for bigotry, hate, manipulation, discrimination, racism, sexism, favoring the rich over the poor, or the destruction of our environment. Be skeptical when someone (inside or outside) of the Church tells you it does. We believe in a God who loves and forgives, who lifts up and protects. When you hear otherwise, please know that is not what we stand for.

*Sorry for all the wonky font changes on this post. WordPress baffles me.

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The Other One Percent

We were the original protestors. Occupying the streets, the parks, the benches. Barricading sidewalks and doorways. Crying out with our mere presence that there is something wrong, something inhumane, something twisted about the way this all works. But you didn’t notice us then.

We were here before the crash, though there are more of us here now. We were here before the last crash, too, and the one before that. Without Twitter, without Facebook, we made our way to the center of this town, to come together and be. We are the very young and the very old, war veterans and unborn children. We have gathered here to be a voice, a quiet, quiet voice, against an unjust system, a world which finds us unworthy, untouchable, unloveable.

We have not taken up this cause; it has been laid upon us by a world which does not want us. But it is our cause nonetheless. We carry signs that speak of our discontent, our anger, our desperation.

“Will work for food.”

“Anything helps.”

And we have marched, oh how we have marched. We have marched in the streets and along the sidewalks. From back alley to back alley, from dumpster to dumpster. But unlike you, we have tried to go unnoticed, to remain hidden from a world that does not want to see our protest. But we are here, no number of warnings or arrests, tasers or handcuffs, can keep us away.

We are charity cases at Christmas and inconveniences in the summer. But we are not fair-weather fighters. No matter the weather, the rain, the sleet, the snow, we are here, speaking out. Crying out. Or simply crying.

We are not the 99 percent. We are the other one percent, the one percent without a place to go home to at the end of the night. We are the one percent of this country that uses a step for a pillow and a garbage sack for a bed. The one percent in cars and in motels, nowhere to call home at night, nowhere to go during the day.

We are the other one percent.

We are the homeless.

Our voices our soft and, if you do not look closely, our presence melts into the cityscape. Do you even know why we’re here? Is it the alcohol bottles littered at our feet? My feet bloody from traipsing these roads in search of work? Is it the cigarette in our hands? The hands that helped build a house I could not afford?

Do you even know why we are here? What we are fighting against, what we are fighting for?

Neither do we. Just let us go home.

 

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Cleaning out your closet. It’s a monthly, seasonally, annual, or maybe even only when you have to move, necessity. Sifting through old books, toys that haven’t been used in years, clothes that don’t fit, Halloween decorations that were once on sale and now just ugly. Our houses overflow with “stuff,” flowing out of drawers, seeping out of closets, peeking out of beds. And so every once and a while, we load up a few boxes and trash bags and drive it over to Goodwill.

And then we pat ourselves on the back. How generous. How kind of us. How thoughtful. Some poor unfortunate soul now has a new 20 year old London Fog jacket with a broken sipper. Lucky sap.

Let’s go buy something to celebrate.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t donate your used items. By all means, please do. Get rid of stuff you’ve practically forgotten about and give it someone who could actually put it to some good use. But let’s not fool ourselves into calling this charity. Charity comes from within, it is giving of who we are, of ourselves and our resources, of our time and our money and our abilities. It is giving of ourselves, not of our excess and our refuse.

C.S. Lewis puts it well:

I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditures exclude them. – Mere Christianity

Giving away what we have and don’t need, don’t use, don’t want is the minimum.

The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same. Luke 3:11

If you have two coats, one belongs to the poor. – Dorothy Day

Getting rid of what we don’t use isn’t donating to charity. Its giving our things back to those who they belonged to in the first place.

Having worked on the receiving end of donations for a couple years, I can promise you – half the time it’s nothing to pat yourself on the back about. Unwashed hunting clothes? Great. A dog sweater for a homeless shelter? Fantastic. A large bean bag toy with the pellets spilling out? Why wouldn’t we want that?

When we are giving our things back, let’s be intentional in thinking about where to send them. Maybe your child’s old dance recital costumes would do better in a preschool’s dress up box instead of Goodwill. That hideous (but warm) jacket that no one would buy from a thrift store might be appreciated at a homeless shelter. And that stuff that you are pretty sure no one wants? Try posting it for free on Freecycle or Craigslist. You’ll be amazed at the stuff people want that would have otherwise gone in the trash.

I’m writing this to remind myself of it. Our resources are limited and so charity comes second to getting by ourselves. And so I need to remember that doing things like cleaning out my closet is not charity. It’s the minimum. And sometimes doing the minimum is what we need to do to get by and get through. But I need to remember that God is asking us to give ourselves and of who we are. And not just of the junk in our closets.

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The Right to Life

You might know this, but I’m a Catholic.

Which means I believe in the right to life.

“What? Pro-life? You crazy anti-woman person you.”

Excuse me, I don’t think you heard me right. I said I believe in the right to life. They terms generally imply the same things but as we all know the term “pro-life” has been co-opted for use in the ever-gong abortion debate. The right to life goes beyond abortion and means supporting life in all its forms. Fighting against the death penalty, not supporting wars that aren’t considered “just,” believing in living wages, promoting health care for those who can’t afford it, supporting those who are struggling the most to live, be it through disease, poverty, mental health battles or oppression.

It’s not just about abortion.

And before the other half of you who didn’t leave once I made my “right to life” confession head out as well, I’ll let you know that I am not just one of those “crazy liberals who cares about everything except innocent little babies.” I am against abortion, though I haven’t seen anyone suggest a legal means addressing it that I can support with full conscious. Defunding clinics that provide counseling to rape victims and health care to those who can’t afford it? No, thank you. Outlawing the birth control pill? I’d prefer to not live with the debilitating effects of endometriosis, but maybe that’s just me. No, what I support is cultural shifts, moving away from judging single parents, supporting pre and post natal health care for low-income women, promoting adoption, honoring women who choose to sacrifice 9 months of their life so that another family can welcome a child, encouraging sex education, fighting for the equality of women, working on the self-esteem of young girls so they don’t feel the need to find validation through sex. That kind of thing.

I believe in the right to life in all forms. And while it saddened me to hear people cheer for the execution of 234 people in Texas, it saddens me more to here about the lives that are about to be lost. Government sanctioned murder; how can we say this country believes in life when we support that?

Duane Buck is scheduled to die today in Texas at 6pm central time. While no one disputes his guilt, a psychologist at his sentencing trial testified that he was likely to remain a danger to society because he was black. A man scheduled to die because of his race? I thought Harper Lee wrote that story 50 years ago.

If you want to speak up, you can sign the ACLU’s petition here.

On September 21st, Troy Davis is scheduled to be executed in Georgia despite their being no physical evidence in the case against him. Seven of the nine who testified against him have since recanted their stories.

The family of James Craig Anderson, who was murdered in a hate crime in Mississippi, is asking the judge not to seek the death penalty for any of those convicted in their family member’s murder.

What saddens me about the death penalty isn’t the amount of life loss. I realize people are dying in bigger proportions every day from other tragedies. What bothers me is that this is the government that we have elected, that is supposed to be a reflection of who we are and what we stand for, has decided that it is okay to take life into their own hands. Not for the protection of society, but for punishment, for retribution, for vengeance.

That’s not who I am. That’s not what I stand for.

If we want to be a country of life, let us support life in all forms. In the tiny ones, in the old ones, in the disadvantaged ones, even in the ones we struggle to forgive. Let us fight for the right to life.

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