Monday, July 31, 2006

Conservatives and liberals

J. Peter Nixon, a management consultant, a Commonweal contributor and a student at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, wrote this for the Commonweal blog:
The other day I was interviewed by a journalist working on an article on “labels” in Catholic life, i.e. “liberal,” “conservative,” “orthodox,” “progressive,” and so on. I’ll freely confess that I am not a great interview. I speak in long, meandering sentences with large numbers of dependent clauses.

After several minutes of talking to each other, two things became clear: 1) neither one of us liked the current labels very much; and 2) no one has come up with anything better.

Do we need the labels? It’s tempting to say, “of course not, we’re all Catholics, that’s the important thing.” To a certain extent that’s true. Yet the comity we gain by such a move comes at a cost of analytic precision. There are divisions in the Church—as there have been since the beginning—and pretending they are not there does not seem a promising strategy for helping us overcome them.

The rest of his entry is here.

Walter J. Burghardt, S.J.

Theologian Walter J. Burghardt, S.J. celebrates his 75th anniversary as a Jesuit this year. He conceived the Preaching the Just Word program sponsored by the Woodstock Theological Center to assist priests and other ministers of the gospel to be more effective in preaching biblical and social justice. He reflects on courage here:
Some ask how I live with these life-altering changes in my vision and in my hearing. Yes, these seemed “bad” enough until cancer invaded my colon, melanoma nestled itself in my left shoulder, and basal cell carcinoma found the right side of my nose a comfortable cushion. I try to follow my own advice “Live this day,” albeit the only thing harder than commanding a physician to heal herself is persuading a preacher to heed the counsel of his own homilies!

There must be times, will be times, when you, too, are afraid -- afraid to love, afraid to give or forgive, afraid to cry out against injustice, afraid to face an incurable illness. Recognize a basic reality: Courage is not the absence of fear. It is feeling afraid to do something but finding the strength to do it. For courage, reach. Reach into your deepest self and dare to discover the surprise found by a woman living with cancer: “The more courage I used to get through the day, the more courage I had. The more I embraced life -- relationships, nature and the joys of every day -- the richer my life became.”

To learn more about the Preaching the Just Word Program, go here.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Guantanamo Bay detainees

The following is taken from an editorial in the July 20 issue of Catholic New York, the newspaper of the archdiocese of New York. The entire editorial is here.
The recent Supreme Court decision about Guantanamo Bay detainees was strong and clear on two important points-that the Bush administration had overstepped its authority in ordering that the detainees be tried by military commissions, and that the detainees were entitled to the basic human rights and legal protections covered under the Geneva Conventions.

The court did not, however, take the next step. The decision provided no road map for handling the fates of the 450 detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (only 10 of whom have officially been accused of war crimes, and none of whom has been tried), and the estimated 550 other detainees held in U.S. custody around the world.

That leaves the question of how to handle these 1,000 people, most of them al-Qaeda or Taliban terrorism suspects captured by U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001. And it's a question that will have to be answered by Congress-which could give the president authority to establish the military commissions he wanted and risk another Supreme Court intervention, or authorize a trial mechanism that would more closely follow the military court-martial system with its broader defendants' rights. It's not an easy call.

The Year of Father Rother, follow-up

Earlier this year, we told you about Father Stanley Rother, 46, an Oklahoma missionary to Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, who was shot to death in his rectory early Tuesday morning, July 28, 1981. The 25-anniversary of that event was yesterday. Here is some background:
Father Rother was accosted on the street in Guatemala City, in January of 1981, and was told he was on the death list and should leave the country immediately, he knew this was good advice. One of his own catechists had been kidnapped from the rectory porch on January 3. More than 20 of the parishioners of Santiago Atitlan had been abducted and murdered or were missing from the time Guatemalan troops occupied the town on Oct. 22, 1980, until January. Some 27,000 Tzutuhil Indians, are the major part of the parish membership at Santiago Atitlan.

Archbishop Eusebius J. Beltran of Oklahoma City has written:
In honor of one of our faithful priests and a great missionary, it seems right that we, the Catholic people of Oklahoma, should consider 2006, the twenty-fifth anniversary of Father Rother’s death as “The Year of Father Rother.”

Principally during this year, I would encourage all Catholic people of Oklahoma to pray for the canonization of Father Rother. Accordingly, prayer cards will be made available to distribute through the parishes. I also suggest, much as we did last year with the centennial prayer, that this prayer for Father Rother’s canonization be recited publicly at all Sunday Masses throughout 2006.

You can learn more here.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Diocesan grad aids Middle East

The Times Union reported this week on a local connection to the Middle East:
As thousands of Americans were being evacuated from Lebanon during the fierce fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, Troy native Mark Schnellbaecher was planning to return to his office in Beirut.

"I'm not cavalier about the danger, but I also can't wait for a cease-fire,'' the regional director for Catholic Relief Services in the Middle East said Wednesday by cellphone from a hotel in Cairo.

"I don't take sides,'' said Schnellbaecher, 44, a 1980 graduate of Catholic Central High School in Troy. "Suffering civilians are suffering civilians, and we intend to help them.''

The entire story is here. For information how you can involve yourself, your school or your parish in this important work, go here.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Criminalizing the cops

The Times Union editorializes on the power of the gun lobby:
One proven way to reduce urban crime is to choke off the supply of guns on the street. And one sure way to do that is for police to track where the guns are coming from. For example, studies in New York have shown, again and again, that a major source of cheap Saturday night specials can be traced to Virginia. That information helps law enforcement target black market and rogue dealers.

Yet incredibly, a bill in the House could turn the tables on police officers everywhere by making it a federal crime for them to share information about firearms with one another. The proposed legislation is yet another indication of the power the gun lobby wields in Washington.

Read the rest of the editorial here, then write to your representative.

Sunday morning TV

Following is a brief outline of the stories Religion & Ethics Newsweekly will be covering this week. Every Friday evening, new stories are uploaded to the Web site here.

Perspectives: Ethical and Religious Perspectives on Mid-East Conflict
Religious leaders and faith groups around the world continue to voice grave concerns about the spiraling conflict in the Middle East between Israel and Hezbollah. Lebanon's political and religious leaders have urged unity in the face of the escalating attacks, while Pope Benedict XVI called for an end to the fighting and urged protection of holy sites.

Feature: The Jesuits
Now it is one of the largest religious orders in the Catholic Church, with more than 20,000 Jesuits serving the Church in 112 nations on six continents. Judy Valente looks at the legacy of St. Ignatius, reflected in the mission and work of today's Jesuits. According to Father William J. Byron, S.J., "We are men of faith, but we're also men of the world ... doing worldly things to the extent that that's what God wants."

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Nuns fight against poverty

It sounds like the plotline for a reality-TV show: Four young, idealistic women leave their big-city homes to move to the rural South, where they become the only white people living on the poor, black side of town. They try to save the world, or at least their little corner of it.

They work as orange pickers, teachers, translators, radio-show hosts, grant writers and even managers of a Mexican restaurant. One gets beaten, another mugged, and a third nearly dies and has to have quintuple-bypass surgery. They hold children in their arms, dance, lead a massive immigration-rights march and try to solve gang violence.

And they pray.

The rest of the story is here.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

War resister

First Lt. Ehren K. Watada joined the Army after Sept. 11. He was a promising young officer rated among the best by his superiors. Like many young men after Sept. 11, he had volunteered “out of a desire to protect our country,” he said. But now he says he will not serve in Iraq, apparently becoming the first soldier facing the prospect of a court-martial for that decision.
Lieutenant Watada said he also talked to soldiers returning to Fort Lewis from Iraq, including a staff sergeant who told him that he and his men had probably committed war crimes.

“When I learned the awful truth that we had been deceived — I was shocked and disgusted,” he wrote in the letter to his brigade commander.

There were efforts to work things out, Lieutenant Watada said. The Army offered him a staff job in Iraq that would have kept him out of combat; but combat was not the point, he said.

Lieutenant Watada said he had volunteered to serve in Afghanistan, which he regarded as an unambiguous war linked to the Sept. 11 attacks. The request was denied.

The rest of the story is here.

Media bias

Recent years have seen many claims about media bias. This article offers some insight into bias, and where it lies:
Partisans, it turns out, don't just arrive at different conclusions; they see entirely different worlds. In one especially telling experiment, researchers showed 144 observers six television news segments about Israel's 1982 war with Lebanon.

Pro-Arab viewers heard 42 references that painted Israel in a positive light and 26 references that painted Israel unfavorably.

Pro-Israeli viewers, who watched the very same clips, spotted 16 references that painted Israel positively and 57 references that painted Israel negatively.

Both groups were certain they were right and that the other side didn't know what it was talking about.
. . .
The tendency to see bias in the news -- now the raison d'etre of much of the blogosphere -- is such a reliable indicator of partisan thinking that researchers coined a term, "hostile media effect," to describe the sincere belief among partisans that news reports are painting them in the worst possible light.

. . . the hostile media effect seems to apply only to news sources that strive for balance. News reports from obviously biased sources usually draw fewer charges of bias. Partisans, it turns out, find it easier to countenance obvious propaganda than news accounts that explore both sides.

The entire article can be found here.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Free Trade Agreements

Both the Oman and Peru Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) are likely to be finalized by Congress before the August recess. Action is critical.

The Constitution requires that trade agreements be voted on first in the House and then in the Senate. This means that even though the Oman FTA passed the Senate by a 60-34 vote in June, it needs to come up before the Senate again.
The House passage of the Oman Trade Agreement by a vote of 221-205 indicates a decided shift in U.S. trade politics. Why? Congress is feeling the effects of the electorate’s growing awareness of the impact of trade policies not only on our own workers, but also on our trade partners. Trade policies have created our record trade deficit, which is declared unsustainable by many economists, as well as steady job loss in the U.S. These policies are also decidedly responsible for the increase in undocumented immigrants, as workers from other countries come to the United States seeking jobs lost as a result of provisions in the trade agreements with their native countries.

We are working to impress upon senators the fact that becoming a trade partner with Oman, a nation whose record of human trafficking and forced labor has been noted by recent State Department reports, is totally unworthy of the legislative body of a nation supposedly dedicated to freedom and human rights.

Meanwhile the Peru FTA, another CAFTA-like agreement, is expected to be before both houses of Congress. This agreement mirrors the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) in many aspects. In a nation where one half live in poverty and where agriculture is the main source of income, Peruvian farmers of cotton, wheat, rice and corn will be pitted against U.S. farmers whose crops are subsidized, enabling them to sell them more cheaply on foreign markets. Peruvians will be the losers. Oxfam America cites the fact that twenty-five thousand U.S. cotton producers receive $3.5 million in government subsidies while twenty-eight thousand Peruvian farmers receive nothing, decidedly an unfair advantage.

This is a great opportunity for those of us who care about fair trade! Take action here today.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Krishna Das

Kirtan is a call-and-response chanting of Sanskrit mantras that started in India as a path to enlightenment. Practitioners believe the chanting awakens the love of God which is present in everyone's heart. This form of meditation is gaining popularity here in the U.S. Religion & Ethics Newsweekly had a report this weekend on Krishna Das, an internationally known spiritual teacher, led a kirtan workshop in New York.

We have listened to Krishna Das and must report that the chanting is something we like. You can learn more, and hear more, here.

Churches for peace

Church leaders in the CMEP coalition (Churches for Middle East Peace) have sent a letter to President Bush, appealing to him to “work with other world leaders to secure an immediate cease-fire in the violent conflict raging now between Hezbollah and Israel.” The letter was faxed to key officials at the National Security Council, the State Department, Israeli embassy and Lebanese embassy. You can read the letter here.

To download the Church Toolkit for Israeli-Palestinian Peacemaking, go here.

Becoming peace

The Benedictine Monk of Weston Priory know the power of prayer in the work for peace. Their bulletin from Fall/Winter 2001 contains an important article entitled Becoming the Peace We Pray For.
Our present suffering and anxiety can become an opportunity. Our English word "crisis" comes from the Greek word krisis, which means "opportunity." To recognize in the signs of these times an opportunity for a new, humane, and moral response to evil requires the cultivation of vision.

Yet the rush to aerial bombardment and other means of warfare tragically has revealed a lack of moral vision and creativity. Counter-violence will never stop terrorism; it never has. Has the Twentieth Century taught us nothing?
. . .
In order for these times to become an opportunity, we will have to embrace a difficult, soul-searching work, and not shrink back from asking fundamental questions.

Surrounded by so much violence and counter-violence, it is hard to even imagine a world without terrorism or war. But, without a vision of such a world, we can never begin to address the many-layered causes fueling despair.

You can find the rest of the article here. (A tip of the hat to Fr. Dennis Tamburello, who led us to this site from his blog here.)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Sixteen Decisions

Old Chatham Quaker Meeting is showing “Sixteen Decisions ” Monday, August 7, at 8:00 PM, Powell House Quaker Conference and Retreat Center, 524 Pitt Hall Road off County Route 13, Old Chatham, New York.
“Sixteen Decisions” is a documentary about women in rural Bangladesh. We meet Selina, 18, and mother of two children; Dr. Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank; and Gayle Ferraro, filmmaker. Their combined presence and voices reveal a reality of past and present pain, uplifting goals, and the need for resources to move forward.

The real power of "Sixteen Decisions’’" is in the depiction of Selina’’s everyday life. Selina, 18, is like most rural Bangladeshi housewives. She was a child laborer at 7 because her parents were too poor to feed her. Her parents arranged her marriage at 12 and sold their land for dowry, leaving themselves as beggars when her father lost his eyesight. Selina’’s family is not unique. We learn that with a $60 loan Selina has a rickshaw business——and hopes. She reflects on key issues such as dowry, birth control, education, and housing and relates the path her life has taken to what she hopes to learn to provide for her two young children.

Dr. Yunus, founder and president of the 22-year old Grameen Bank, with the experience of loaning $2.3B to 10 million women, acts as annotator for the film describing the need, evolution, impact and hope for women and society through the ‘‘16 decisions.’’

The film shows the effects of a society that practically considers women as property and forbids them to speak or move their bodies in public. Using the courage the women show even leaving their houses, Ferraro builds the story to subtly suggest the viewer look more deeply at their own unexamined views and find meaningful challenges in their lives as well. With Selina and the women of Bangladesh as inspiration, it isn’t hard to do.

Free and open to the public, light refreshments and a discussion will follow and for more information call 518-794-0259.

For directions go here.

A pilgrimage to Burundi

Bishop William Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre writes about traveling to Africa for a meeting of the Catholic Peacebuilding Network in Bujumbura, Burundi.
For about four years now, the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Policy has been involved in a program to develop cadres of Catholics — laity, religious and clerics — who would serve as catalysts for local peace building initiatives. Following the civil war in Burundi, the bishops there were convinced that the church had to play a prominent role in fostering peace.
. . .
The bishops of Burundi have been doing a good job. There are many new social projects that harness the energies of young people and give new hope for productive work in a nation with a very high unemployment rate. I visited a number of places which are like youth villages where young people either live or go to daily. There they study, learn new skills, prepare for entrance into university or receive the kind of training that makes access to employment much more realizable. In addition the programs, including sports and other activities, socialize young people across ethnic lines with a solid grounding in Catholic faith and morals. There is much to be grateful for and even more to hope for the future.

You can read more here.

The Middle East

For some understanding of the Church's position on the conflcit in the Middle East, go here:
Letter to Congress on Cycle of violence in the Middle East
Bishop Thomas G. Wenski, July 20, 2006

Letter to All Bishops Declaring July 23 to be a Day of Prayers for Peace
Bishop William S. Skylstad, July 20, 2006

Break the Cycle of Violence in the Holy Land
Bishop Thomas Wenski, July 17, 2006

Statements of the Holy See and Churches in the Holy Land
July 2006

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Lebanon and Israel

The Washington Post comments here on the use of diplomacy:
As fighting in the Middle East continues, the Bush administration is coming under pressure to launch some sort of diplomatic initiative. These calls sound reasonable; the loss of innocent life in Lebanon and Israel is tragic, the dangers of further escalation are real and U.S. shuttle diplomacy has been instrumental in halting previous conflicts. The problem is this: The usual options in the State Department's playbook would hand to the extremists who launched this war exactly the results they have hoped for.

While the entire article is interesting, each of us can do one thing now, and that is to pray. The National Council of Churches offers Prayers for Peace in the Middle East here. Reverend John T. Pawlikowski, OSM of Catholic Theological Union in Chicago offers the following:
Lord God, we turn to you in these trying hours
when conflict is a daily reality for our sisters and brothers
in Israel and Palestine.

We promise you to work to our utmost
for peace and reconciliation in the region.
But we know we cannot do it alone.
We very much need the strength
of your presence in our midst
if we are to overcome the obstacles before us.

So our prayer at this moment is that
you add your support to our efforts,
that you show yourself as a tower of strength
in those moments when the barriers seem impassable.

Together we can become beacons of hope
for just and peaceful societies in the land so very dear
to the peoples of your covenant. Amen.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Stem cells

President Bush has issued his first veto, which involves federal funding for research using embryonic stem cells.

John Green, Senior Fellow in Religion and American Politics at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, addresses the religious dynamic in stem cell politics here.

Over at American Catholic, the Franciscans offer this item on stem cell research, including a backgrounder on the Pope and the President

Middle ground on abortion

Newsday reports that after a year of planning, the administration of Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi developed a $1 million initiative to provide adoption services, housing for teens with crisis pregnancies and prevention programs that include abstinence education. The county carefully chose eight agencies from both sides of the abortion divide - from Catholic Charities to Planned Parenthood - as well as some in between to deliver the services. The paper notes that "Even Bishop William Murphy, head of the Diocese of Rockville Centre and an ardent opponent of abortion, applauded this effort as a pragmatic approach."
Now, however, legislators who don't support Suozzi's gubernatorial run are balking at approving the contracts. Some criticize Suozzi for making abortion a local issue, but the county already spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on pregnancy and sexual-disease prevention programs, some of its own design and others required by the state. Other opponents say they want the money to be used, instead, to fund youth-group programs. But couldn't stopping kids from having babies be considered the ultimate youth program?

You can read more here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A question of justice

The Question of Justice production team is in the midst of filming the feature length documentary, A Question of Justice. This film shows the lives of four ordinary men who faced extraordinary challenges and made heroic choices.
... what if one morning you awoke to the realization your brother was a serial murderer?

David Kaczynski turned in his brother, the Unabomber, to authorities.

... how would you recover after having half your face blown away by a bomb sent by an unknown assailant?

Gary Wright, the 11th victim of the Unabomber survives to faces his perpetrator.

... could you cope with trying to save your mentally ill brother’s life, only to see him killed?

Bill Babbitt sacrificed his younger brother’s life for the greater good.

... how might you respond after watching a news report on a building destroyed by a terrorist, realizing it was where your only daughter worked?

Bud Welch claimed his daughter’s body from the rubble of the Oklahoma City bombing.

What brings these four men together is a story about overcoming tremendous personal pain and loss; yet it is more than a testament to the human spirit in overcoming tragedy-- it is a roadmap to tapping into the strength of compassion and depth of healing that can be found in each one of us.

To learn how you can help make this project a reality, and to see a trailer, go here.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Violence in the Holy Land

Bishop William S. Skylstad, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, sent a letter to His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, expressing concern over the recent escalation of violence in the Holy Land and calling for a peaceful solution to the conflict.

"Our Conference supports your leadership in rejecting the path of violence and in calling for the negotiation of a just peace that provides security for Israelis and a viable state for Palestinians," Bishop Skylstad wrote. "The cycle of violence must be broken in order to open up the path to justice and peace in the Holy Land."

The text of Bishop Skylstad's letter is here.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Progressive faith blog conference

The first Progressive Faith Bloggers Conference is being held this weekend at Montclair State University in New Jersey.
During the first annual Progressive Faith Blog Con we'll talk about the intersection of religion and politics; the roots and branches of our faith traditions; ecumenical and interfaith blogging engagement; and the challenges and blessings of pluralism. We'll have breakout sessions around faith-tradition, and around meditation, liturgy, and scripture. We'll talk about justice and poverty, about progressive faith activism, and about the religious right.

Here is the link to the conference site. Be sure to check out the conference blog for an update on how it is going.

Picnic for peace

The Capital Region Picnic for Peace will be Sunday, July 30, from 9:00 a.m. to dusk at Grafton State Park.
Join other Capital Region peace and justice activists in a day of relaxation, food and fun. We have reserved the Rabbit Run Pavilion for the day. Bring food and beverages to share and please label food to indicate whether it is vegetarian or not.

North East Peace and Justice Action Coalition will provide plates, cutlery , cups, ice and some beverages. This is a "carry in, carry out" so if folks can bring containers that they can take home and wash rather than anything disposable it would be environmentally friendly and clean up will be a lot easier. Bring your own wine or beer ( and plan to take home the containers). Bring music, live if possible. Sound system will be available after 12. Entertainment will include the Solidarity singers.

There will also be an open mike so bring poetry, announcements and stories to tell. Activities include: children's playground, row boats, canoes, kayaks, volley ball, horse shoes, hiking trails, and a beach for swimming.

Parking is $7 per car. Please car pool wherever possible. Plan to arrive by 10 AM if it is a beautiful day because Grafton allows a limited number of cars in the park at a time and if the parking areas are full, then cars have to wait to get in. Come early and stay for the day!

RSVP if possible to Wendy at 518-78-0071 , Trudy at: or Joe at 518-439 1968. If you are willing to go early for set up or stay till the end for clean up, please let us know and thanks. Sponsored by North East Peace and Justice Action Coalition (NEPAJAC) , Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace, Solidarity Committee, Peace Action, Veterans for Peace and other regional peace and justice organizations.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Conflicts of interest

The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University has a program in government ethics which provides training in local government ethics for public officials. One on-line article deals with conflicts of interest and answers such questions as:

What are conflicts of interest?

What do conflicts of interest have to do with ethics?

What ethical dilemmas do conflicts of interest present?

This is a good read, which you might want to pass along to your government officials, local and otherwise. The link is here.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Lessons on the beach

God is a beacon
in our lives,
the steady light
that always
comes around again.

Send this e-card from, a ministry of St. Anthony Messenger Press.

Why Do You Pray?

William A. Barry, S.J., the author of numerous books on prayer and spiritual direction, is co-leader of the tertianship program for the New England Province of the Society of Jesus in Weston, Massachusetts, writes in America magazine:
So the God in whom we believe wants a relationship of intimacy and partnership with each of us and all of us together. He wants us to be one family. If this is true, then God’s creative desire, which brings the whole universe and each one of us into existence, touches us in the depths of our hearts. We are made for union with God, and our hearts must want that union at a very deep level. Augustine wrote, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Julian of Norwich echoes the same idea: “For by nature our will wants God, and the good will of God wants us. We shall never cease wanting and longing until we possess him in fullness and joy. Then we shall have no further wants.” Why do I pray? I pray because I believe in this God. Not only that, I pray because my heart aches for God even though I also am often afraid of closeness with God. I have met many people who express this longing for God.

All of this brings us to the question of how to satisfy this longing for God. The simplest answer is to engage in prayer. Here is where the hope that I might have something useful to say about how to pray comes into play. If God wants a relationship of intimacy and partnership with each of us (and all of us as a people), and if we have a reciprocal desire for such a relationship, then prayer is similar to what happens in any relationship of intimacy. Intimacy between two persons develops through mutual self-revelation. So in prayer I try to let God know who I am and ask that God reveal himself to me. It’s that simple. As with Abraham, it is a matter of growing mutual transparency. As we grow in trust in God, we reverse the results of the sin of Adam and Eve. We are not ashamed to be naked before God, that is, to be open with all our thoughts, feelings and desires.

May all of us, especially those of us interested in politics and religion, remember the need for prayer. The rest of the article is here.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Centering Prayer on Saturday

The monthly Centering Prayer Mini-retreat at Abba House will be at St. Vincent's Church in Albany because Abba House is closed for July and August.

To get into St. Vincent's, enter the parking lot at the east of the church and come to the back door where the parish office is located.

8:30 -- Overview of CP for beginners; coffee and . . .
9:00 -- Chair Yoga & Centering Prayer
10:00 -- Break
10:15 -- The Method of Centering Prayer (video with Thomas Keating)
11:10 -- Centering Prayer
11:30 -- Adjourn

We ask only a free will offering to offset expenses.

Come when you can and stay as long as you can.

Please let us know if you are planning to attend.

For more information, or to register, call Bruce Gardiner at 518-325-5546.

This Sunday at the Cathedral

There will be a Festival of Faith at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception this Sunday from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. on the topic “How to come to nonviolence in a violent society.” Lunch will be included.

The Cathedral is located at 125 Eagle Street in Albany.

To register, or for more information, call 518-463-4447.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Minimum wage

The Elmira Star-Gazette has an interesting editorial about the minimum wage here :
Most states, especially in the nation's midsection, still base their pay on what the federal government enacts.

The trouble is that the federal minimum has not gone up since 1997.
. . .
Members of Congress tie their own minimum salaries to an inflation factor. Why not the minimum wage, too?

So, we ask, have you contacted your congressional representatives about this yet? It's not too late.

Gathering to Pray for Peace

There will be a Gathering to Pray for Peace, Religious Leaders & Leaders of Nations on Saturday, July 15, from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. at the Oneness in Peace Spiritual Center, 49 Main Street in Germantown.

Prayer gatherings include: Opening Ritual, Hymn, Psalm, Scripture Reflection, Quiet Communal Prayer, followed by companionship and coffee. All are welcome. Registration unnecessary. There will be a free will offering. All are welcome.

For more information, call 518-537-5678 or e-mail:

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Ben Stein

The intelligent and humorous Ben Stein, actor and commentator presents this interesting take on affairs:
A City on a Hill, or a Looting Opportunity

Just for my own bad self, I love living in the United States of America.
. . .
Life in America in 2006 for an upper middle-class person like me — who, although overweight, still has decent health — is just paradise. There is no place like this place, a shining city on a hill, a gift from God every moment of every day.

But still, with all of that, something is seriously wrong. I could put it into statistics, and in a small way, I will, but I'll mostly put it in layman's terms.

When I was a lad, the chief executive of a major public company was paid about 30 or 40 times what a line worker was paid. Now the multiple is about 180. What did they do in the executive suite to become so great? Upon what meat do they feed? Why, as we are being killed by foreign competition, do we need to pay our executives so much?
. . .
We have immense corporations that cry the blues all day long about how their pension costs are ruining them and how they have to freeze pensions or lay off workers or end pensions altogether (can you say "Friendly Skies?") and turn over the pension liabilities to the taxpayers. And the same corporations set aside many millions for the superpensions of the top executives.
. . .
As I endlessly point out, taxes for the rich are lower than they have ever been in my lifetime. (To be fair, taxes for the nonrich taxes are very low as well.) And this is occurring as we accumulate government liabilities that will kill us in the long run. (And cutting spending will not work. Most federal and state spending is for items that are untouchable, like Medicare, education, the military — and, most cruelly of all, interest on the national debt. Every president promises to cut spending and not one of them does it unless a war comes to an end.)

We are mortgaging ourselves to foreigners on a scale that would make George Washington cry. Every day — every single day — we borrow a billion dollars from foreigners to buy petroleum from abroad, often from countries that hate us. We are the beggars of the world, financing our lavish lifestyle by selling our family heirlooms and by enslaving our progeny with the need to service the debt.

I don't see this — except for the taxes — as a Republican thing or a Democratic thing. It's just the way we live today. Drunken sailors from the Capitol to the freeways. Heirs living on their inheritance and spending it fast. The titans of corporate America getting as much as they can get away with and hiring lawyers and public-relations people if there is a problem. It is later than anyone dares to think.

Is this America, where far too many of the rich endlessly loot their stockholders and kick the employees in the teeth, the America that our soldiers in Ramadi and Kirkuk and Anbar Province and Afghanistan are fighting for? Is this America, where we will end up so far behind the financial eight ball we won't be able to see because of mismanagement by both parties, the America that our men and women are losing limbs for, coming home in boxes for?

The entire article is here.


NETWORK, the Catholic social justice lobby, says that fair trade puts human rights first:
Last month, NETWORK members joined millions of religious, labor, human rights, consumer, environmental, business and family farmers who urged Congress to oppose the passage of the Oman Free Trade Agreement (OFTA). Your efforts have begun to pay off. 34 Senators voted against OFTA, despite significant pressure from multinational corporations. This is a sign of growing opposition to NAFTA-model trade agreements which accelerate job loss in this country and have negative effects on our trading partners. Citizens and members of Congress are awakening to the importance of free trade that is fair trade.

OFTA contains the same provisions as the Central American-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and most recent free trade agreements. Like CAFTA, its provisions pit corporate America against our trading partners. OFTA does not guarantee strong labor standards or solid environmental protections; it hampers access to needed medicines, especially for victims of HIV/AIDs; and it fails to focus on improved living conditions. So, again it is time to act!

Now that the Senate has voted on OFTA, a full House vote is possible sometime this week. E-mail your congressperson today urging opposition to the passage of the Oman Trade Agreement here.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Forgiving . . . and remembering

You may recall the story of New York City Police Officer Steven McDonald, shot in Central Park 20 years ago.
The bullet tore into the left side of his neck, followed quickly by another to his wrist and a third that lodged behind his right eye. It was the first shot, the one that entered above the dangling police badge, that changed his life forever.
. . .
"All the evilness that played out that afternoon 20 years ago, so much good has come from that," McDonald says in his home, his eyes bright and his voice full of conviction. "And that's God's plan, you know? To bring the good out of a bad situation.

"The good out of the evil."

His inspirational story is here.

On-line course

Dr. Marv Mich, author of Catholic Social Teaching and Movements, will lead an online course on the history of Catholic social action August 27-September 30 at the University of Dayton Virtual Learning Community. You can take the course for $80.
The Catholic Social Tradition is often identified with the official social documents of the church. As valuable as these teachings are they only tell part of the story of Catholic social ministry. These official teachings have been influenced and shaped by the activism of Catholics around the world, the documents, in turn, have motivated and encouraged various forms of Catholic Social Action and Ministry. This course exposes the participants to some of the highlights of this rich tradition of Catholic Social Action.

Go to this website to develop a "profile" at the Virtual Learning Community and register.

Where do you stand?

War and the Christian Conscience: Where Do You Stand? by Joseph J. Fahey won second place among educational books selected by the Catholic Press Association. It is published by Orbis Books and may be ordered here.
This primer on war and the Christian conscience begins in an imaginary college classroom as students react to news that the draft has been reinstated. “Why can’t I finish college?” asks one student. “Why do I have to go?” These urgent and personal questions offer the entry to a clear and comprehensive outline of the basic Christian responses to the problem of war. As Fahey shows, the Christian tradition has supplied a variety of answers, including pacifism, just war teaching, the ethic of “total war,” and the vision of a “world community.” In the face of these different approaches, how are we to decide which one is right? And more basically, how does one go about forming one’s personal conscience? For all who ponder these moral challenges—whether as young people facing the question of military service, or as counselors, chaplains, or teachers—this book offers an essential and practical guide.

Joseph J. Fahey, a co-founder and General Secretary of Pax Christi USA is professor of religious studies at Manhattan College, New York, and author of A Peace Reader: Essential Readings on War, Justice, Nonviolence and World Order.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

A history lesson

The Washington Bureau of Cox Newspapers reveals:
Beginning in 1864 and continuing for approximately 60 years, whites across the United States conducted a series of racial expulsions, driving thousands of blacks from their homes to make communities lily-white.

In at least a dozen of the most extreme cases, blacks were purged from entire counties that remain almost exclusively white, according to the most recent census data.

The expulsions often were violent and swift, and they stretched beyond the South.

The entire article can be found here.

By coincidence, this item appeared in today's newspaper:
Advocates who say black Americans should be compensated for slavery and its Jim Crow aftermath are quietly chalking up victories and gaining momentum.

Empire's Workshop

Last week we came across the following in Eric Alterman's blog on the MSNBC website. The connection between religion and politics struck us as pertinent to this endeavor of ours. The book is Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism by Greg Grandin. Here is an excerpt from the author's summary of a part of the book (we took the liberty of breaking the text into smaller paragraphs to make it easier to read):
The Reagan White House tapped into this stirring evangelical internationalism to circumvent public and congressional opposition to Reagan’s Central American wars. At the request of the White House, for instance, Pat Robertson used his Christian Broadcasting Network to raise money for Efraín Ríos Montt, the evangelical Christian who presided over the Guatemala genocide.
. . .
In Nicaragua, groups like the Christian Aid for Romania and Transworld Missions used the cover of humanitarian aid to organize Christian opposition to the Sandinistas. In the United States, Campus Crusade for Christ and the Moon-affiliated Collegiate Association for the Research of Principles countered the fast-growing student movement opposed to Reagan’s Central American policy.
. . .
One aspect of the Central American wars largely overlooked is the importance of Liberation Theology -- which Central American evangelical activists described as the "single most critical problem that Christianity has faced in all of its 2000 year history" and a "theology of mass murder" -- in united the New Right.

Well before radical Islam, Liberation Theology, along with the Christian humanism of the domestic solidarity movement, was the “political religion” the Reagan Revolution squared off against. It provided a powerful ethical challenge to both mainstream conservative theologians and fundamentalists, who responded by reestablishing the link between free markets and morality and reaffirming America as a “redeemer nation.” So when Jeane Kirkpatrick remarked that the three US nuns raped, mutilated and murdered by Salvadoran security forces in 1980 were “not just nuns, they were political activists," she was being more than cruel. She was signaling her disapproval of a particular kind of peace Christianity.

The violence of Central America's counterinsurgent war stoked the fires of evangelical Manichaeism, leading Falwell, Robertson, and others to ally with the worst murderers and torturers in Central and Latin America. “For the Christian,” wrote fundamentalist Rus Walton, “there can be no neutrality in this battle: ‘He that is not with Me is against Me’ (Matthew 12:30).” Sound familiar?

Many of the death squad members were themselves conservative religious ideologues, taking the fight against liberation theology to the trenches. Guatemalan security forces regularly questioned their prisoners about their “views on liberation theology.” Others report being tortured to the singing of hymns and praying. Some evangelicals excused such suffering. “Killing for the joy of it was wrong,” a Paralife minister from the United States comforted his flock of Salvadoran soldiers, “but killing because it was necessary to fight against an anti-Christ system, communism, was not only right but a duty of every Christian.”

You can read the entire review here. More information is available here and here.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A peaceful gathering

The Commission on Peace and Justice of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany and Veterans for Peace are sponsoring “The Convergence of Hope and History, Sustainable Solutions for A Peaceful World” on Friday, August 18, 5:30 pm - 9 pm and Saturday, August 19, 9am - 4:30 pm at the National Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine on Route 5 in Fonda.
We come together in hope to restore and renew our spirits and our planet.

We will consider sustainable energy and simple living; what constitutes a workable government and responsible citizens; and how our spiritual values and personal initiative can make more real the Reign of God here and now.

Keynote speakers:

Jim Merkel on A Simpler Lifestyle

Previously a military engineer and arms trader, Jim now devotes himself to environmentalism and world peace. He’ll dialogue with us about practical ways to live a sustainable life.

For more information, please visit

Jim Jennings on Creating Intercultural Dialogue

Jim is founder and president of Conscience International, a humanitarian aid and human rights organization. His dialogue between cultures has brought him to Darfur, Iran and Syria.

For more information, please visit

Also, there will be a variety of workshops and a visit via a vegetable oil diesel bus to a nearby home completely powered by its own solar and wind energy system.

Friday evening - freewill offering.

Saturday - Students and seniors: $10; other adults: $15 - $40 (sliding scale).

Friday dinner, Saturday AM coffee, lunch and afternoon snack included.

Directions: Take Thruway Exit 28 (Fonda/Fultonville). After the exit, turn left, then right over the bridge. Turn left onto Route 5 West for about 1&1/2 miles. Shrine is on the right.

For more information and carpooling, call (518) 453-6695 or (518) 869-6674.

Friday, July 07, 2006


Barry Kosmin, research professor in public policy and law at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., will speak on "Judeophobia and the New European Extremism: Hating Israel, America and the Jews" 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. July 27 at the Albany Jewish Community Center. Kosmin will speak on the coalition of political interests in post-9/11 Europe between elements of the far right, new left and radical Islamists, who despite their ideologies share a hostility against Israel, the U.S. and the Jews.

The cost of the lectures are $12 for center members and $13 for nonmembers. Speakers will sell and sign their books following their presentations.

For more information, call the center at 438-6651, Ext. 112.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


As stewards of God's gifts, we must take responsibility not only for our actions, but also for those of our elected officials. As we have noted in the past, those leaders are not doing a good job on the budget, either on the state or federal level. Three examples on the state level:

a report released in May by state Comptroller Alan Hevesi found that New Yorkers pay the highest local taxes in the nation, 60 percent above the national average.

. . . New York state lawmakers two weeks ago signed off on a record $113 billion state budget that represented a 10 percent increase over 2005 spending. And get this: During the final days alone of the session, lawmakers added $1 billion in spending.

At the current rate, spending in New York is projected to grow by at least 10 percent in each of the next two years, says the Empire Center for New York State Policy.

New Yorkers should keep all of this in mind in the fall as they cash rebate checks averaging $300. The budget crisis that New Jersey's experiencing is on its way.

A big part of the problem lies in the broken spirit of the New York Republican Party. Fearful of losing control of the Senate, Republicans decided that the way to resolution was to become Democrats. In truth, that's nothing new for them; the Senate has necessarily been an integral part of every government giveaway. But the whiff of their current desperation is pathetic.

We’ve been derelict

While we've been busy on other items, we've neglected to mention efforts in Congress to raise the federal minimum wage. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has joined other supporters advocating an increase in the minimum wage. They do so as part of their ongoing concern about the dignity of low-income families struggling to break out of poverty and provide for their families. More information on their position is here. Also interesting is this:
Occasionally in Washington, there are contrasts so stark that they're illuminating. Consider the turf congressional Republicans have staked out on two pocketbook issues. Raise their own six-figure salaries? Absolutely. Raise the meager minimum wage? Absolutely not.

To the cynical it might seem that the key consideration here is whose pocketbook they're talking about. The scrooges in Congress should relent and give the working poor a raise.

Democrats, to their credit, are trying to shame supporters of the skewed, Republican agenda. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said they will block pay raises for members of Congress until the minimum wage is increased. Senators Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and others want to tie all future cost-of-living increases for Congress to minimum wage increases. That may be more politics than policy, but it does hammer home the point that the cost of living rises for the working poor just as it does for well-heeled lawmakers.

Rank and file members of Congress make $165,200 a year. On the table this year? A $3,300 hike to $168,500. In the nine years since the last minimum-wage increase, members of Congress have gotten cost-of-living raises totaling $31,600 a year.

We think it is time to write, call or e-mail your representative and ask him or her to support raising the minimum wage.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Just for fun

If you never saw the humor in government eavesdropping, click here.

Cameroon and New York

Catholic News Service reports on the efforts of Catholic schools to end corruption in the African nation of Cameroon:
Catholic schools in Cameroon, a country known for widespread corruption, are piloting a program to teach students to identify and act against dishonesty in their schools and the rest of society.

"The natural place for the fight against corruption is in the schools," said Sister Josephine Julie Ntsama, principal of the College de la Retraite, a Catholic secondary school in Yaounde, Cameroon's capital.

But the pilot program, Fighting Against Corruption Through Schools, or FACTS, also targets parents. Most civil servants in Cameroon, including teachers, earn low salaries and rely on bribes to feed their families.
. . .
Transparency International, an international nongovernmental organization that specializes in reporting on corruption, consistently ranks Cameroon among the most corrupt nations in the world. It says corruption pervades all sectors of society: Government officials take bribes from business interests; police ask for money from motorists; teachers expect money or even sex from students looking for better grades.

Maybe we are getting cynical in our old age, but imagine if they hired lobbyists to act as intermediaries when they give the money to government officials. Then they could change the name from “Cameroon” to “the New York State Legislature” (or “Congress”) and it would all be legal.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Burn a flag

Times Union columnist Fred LeBrun captured our thoughts on flag burning in his column today:
This Fourth of July, I believe I will burn an American flag.

It's the right thing to do. We brought this particular forlorn flag back home with us after our annual Cape Cod vacation. A windstorm before we arrived on the cape had shredded it. So we carefully folded the flag and set it aside.

I believe I will burn it along with front pages of The New York Times and The Boston Globe in a stack of old newspapers. Front pages with bold headlines about the U.S. Supreme Court destroying the Bush administration's legal arguments relating to its handling of detainees in the war on terrorism.

Fitting companions as symbols of free speech and our Bill of Rights.

The entire column is here.

Magnificat, the monthly liturgical prayer book, has the following in today’s Morning Prayer:
God of all peoples and nations, you have called those who live in this land to pursue your vision of freedom, justice and peace for all. Keep us faithful to your gifts, that we may use them for the world’s good and the good of our own nation, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

You can request a sample copy of this wonderful spiritual aid here or go here to learn more about the magazine.

Monday, July 03, 2006


The New York Times has an editorial, here, about the secret accounts set up by the State Legislature and of which we have written repeatedly:
Maybe it was somebody's idea of a very inside joke. But for some time now New York State officials have referred to a huge pool of hidden money appropriated by lawmakers each year as the "007 accounts." These accounts amount to $200 million each year to finance a long list of pork-barrel projects across the state. The funds are controlled by state leaders and appear in the budget in anonymous chunks, listed under health care, economic development or some other broad category.

. . . Grants are often awarded to community centers, clinics or other enterprises whose payrolls are padded with family members and friends of the local legislators. Last year, one chunk of money found its way to a charity controlled by former Senator Guy Velella, even after Mr. Velella was jailed for taking bribes.

Were they ever to become completely public, the files would surely yield many more conflicts of interest and cases in which state funds are being quietly funneled to friends , families and contributors. That is to be expected when so much public money is handed out in the dark. It's time to blow the covers off Albany's secret 007 accounts.

As we have said before, please contact your State Senator and Assemblyperson and ask what they are are doing to make this information public.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Whose freedom?

In the new book, Whose Freedom?, Democratic guru George Lakoff argues that liberals and conservatives see the republic's core ideal differently.
Conservatives, he argues, believe in a "strict father" morality in which the male parent has unquestioned authority over dependent children, while liberals believe in the "nurturant parent" model, in which a less hierarchical parental authority allows for more empathy, more caring, fewer orders.

With regard to freedom, these two thought-habits lead their adherents toward very different conclusions. To progressives, freedom means the expansion of rights and opportunities; it includes not just freedom to do positive things but freedom from certain negative aspects of life (want and fear, as Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said in 1941).

Conservative freedom, in contrast, is dispensed by the father figure, and it cannot survive without morality and order -- that is, immorality and disorder threaten society so profoundly that freedom cannot be maintained in the face of them. From the conservative point of view, writes Lakoff, abortion and gay marriage "represent threats to the very idea of a strict father family -- and threats to their idea of freedom."

While we believe there are more views than those of liberals and conservatives, we think this looks likes a good read. You can read the rest of the book review here.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Senator Obama at Call to Renewal

Ohio Senator Barak Obama gave the keynote address at the Call to Renewal conference on June 28, where he said, in part:
For one thing, I believed and still believe in the power of the African-American religious tradition to spur social change, a power made real by some of the leaders here today. Because of its past, the black church understands in an intimate way the Biblical call to feed the hungry and cloth the naked and challenge powers and principalities. And in its historical struggles for freedom and the rights of man, I was able to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world. As a source of hope.

And perhaps it was out of this intimate knowledge of hardship -- the grounding of faith in struggle -- that the church offered me a second insight, one that I think is important to emphasize today.

Faith doesn't mean that you don't have doubts.

You need to come to church in the first place precisely because you are first of this world, not apart from it. You need to embrace Christ precisely because you have sins to wash away - because you are human and need an ally in this difficult journey.

It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street in the Southside of Chicago one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany. I didn't fall out in church. The questions I had didn't magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt that I heard God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.

That's a path that has been shared by millions upon millions of Americans - evangelicals, Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims alike; some since birth, others at certain turning points in their lives. It is not something they set apart from the rest of their beliefs and values. In fact, it is often what drives their beliefs and their values.
. . .
But what I am suggesting is this - secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King - indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history - were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their "personal morality" into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

To which we say, Amen. The entire speech is here. By the way, here is some information on Call to Renewal:
Call to Renewal is a national network of churches, faith-based organizations, and individuals working to overcome poverty in America. Through local and national partnerships with groups from across the theological and political spectrum, we convene the broadest table of Christians focused on anti-poverty efforts. Together we work to influence local and national public policies and priorities, while growing and developing a movement of Christians committed to overcoming poverty.

Sex ed.

Gannett News Service reports the following on efforts to provide sex education in New York:
Advocates will return to the Capitol next year to fight for legislation that would fund "age appropriate and medically accurate" curriculum on sexuality.

"We live to work again another year," said JoAnn Smith, head of Family Planning Advocates, one of the lead groups pushing for the law. In New York, sex education is not required.
. . .
The New York State Catholic Conference says students should receive a consistent message that abstinence is best and not have that watered down by information on contraception, spokeswoman Kathleen Gallagher has said.

The entire article can br read here.

The New York State Catholic Conference here states it position, of which we quote just a portion:
Sexual abstinence is the most effective of action for our nation's youth. Indeed, abstinence is perfectly natural, and is practiced and promoted in connection with many spheres of life. Society tells young people to abstain from smoking, drinking alcohol and using drugs. Yet, the media often serves up a contrary message in which premarital sex is accepted and promiscuity is touted as the norm. Sadly, our young people are too often provided the utterly irresponsible message that restraint in sexual matters is not expected.