Friday, August 26, 2016

What are you reading?

By Sr. Laura Coughlin

Several years ago, I was at our motherhouse chatting with the sister who had been the superior when I entered.  She is a highly intelligent woman, sought out for her ability to think both creatively and logically.  For these reasons, I enjoy listening to her analysis of almost any topic.  In the midst of our conversation, she caught me off guard with a very simple question – “what are you reading?”  I was embarrassed because at the time I wasn’t reading anything other than the sophomore world history textbook from which I was teaching.  The book was so lacking in anything that would genuinely interest readers that I felt compelled to turn its banal presentation into a personal song and dance in the hopes that my “performance of a textbook” would make up for the its deficiencies.  This wringing of blood from a starved text was a poor teaching strategy, but it felt like an apology to learners saddled with book-based boredom, a gift of committees holding no value for nuance, challenging vocabulary, or subordinate clauses.  I once ran across a sentence about an American hero that read, “He did it!”  

Seriously textbook factories - Stop color coding the books
and write something interesting!
I think the exclamation point functioned less as a sign of surprise than as an indicator of low expectations on the part of textbook engineers with educational psychology degrees.  At any rate, I’ve never forgotten my superior’s question – it haunts me sometimes when I know I’m not challenging myself with lively ideas that spring forth from worthy texts.

I’m happy to say that I have been reading a lot lately.  To a large degree this is owing to the education I am receiving at Boston College.  Often I reread formerly assigned texts in classes already completed.  For your pleasure, this post offers up two excerpts from recently read texts followed by a little commentary about why they may be interesting to you.  Enjoy!

The Boise Public Library – why the exclamation point?

* * *

From Marshall Berman in All that is solid Melts into Air

“…the sort of individualism that scorns and fears connections with other people as threats to the self’s integrity, and the sort of collectivism that seeks to submerge the self in a social role, may be more appealing than the Marxian synthesis*, because they are intellectually and emotionally so much easier.”  

*Marxian synthesis = the idea that a collective, after having discerned the “self’s deepest resources” through struggle will fight for the “self’s beauty and value”

I’m no Marxist, but the description of the easy choices – individual isolation versus repression of the individual mind in the adherence to a collective – strikes me as an accurate portrayal of the tension evident almost everywhere today.  Berman is writing about modernism and sees the “Marxian synthesis” as a more substantial choice than the easier options.  For me, Christ supplants the Marxian synthesis, but Berman and I agree that the only way out is through.  I just think there’s a person who takes us there, and the person is the God-man, Christ.

Even so, Berman’s book is a wonderful read full of lively description and creative examples.  As an aside, his portrayal of Robert Moses, who built the the Cross-Bronx Expressway, Jones Beach, and several very beautiful parkways in and out of New York City, would likely give readers significant insight into what a Trump presidency would look like.  Berman describes Moses through Francis Perkins, FDR’s Secretary of Labor in these words – “he loves the public, but not as people.”  Sound familiar?

* * *

Pat Summitt in Reach for the Summit…

“Discipline is about more than just punishment.  Discipline is the internal structure that supports your organization.  Used properly, it can help you maintain order without ever having to actually do the unpleasant work of punishing people.  It is the basis of leadership.  But most important, discipline fosters achievement and self-confidence.  Discipline is the only sure way I know to convince people to believe in themselves.”  

You may recognize Pat Summitt as the former head coach of the Tennessee Lady Vols.  By a stroke of luck, she gained this position when she was only 23 and went on to become the winningest NCAA basketball coach in history with 1,098 career wins.  Summitt’s influence extended far beyond her statistics, however.  Many of the players she coached have gone on to become successful coaches themselves – a fact Summitt points to as proof that Tennessee built a system with fruits beyond winning.  

I would recommend this book to just about anyone, but it seems particularly useful for those in the teaching profession who must constantly motivate their students.  The book’s lessons on leadership are clear, inspiring, and based on very high ethical standards.  The text connects analytical thinking with practical examples at every turn so it is usable for both personal reflection and personal action.  

And if you pick it up, keep in mind that you are reading about success from a woman whose brave embrace of early-onset Alzheimers five years ago has powerfully challenged the stigma of dementia and other related neurological conditions.  Summitt died in June, but her influence is powerfully felt in the larger story of her life which speaks of winning and sacrificing and working and loving.  If she were alive and well today she’d get my vote for president – even if I had to write her name on the ballot. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

No Exceptions

By Sr. Andrea Koverman

As the program manager of a small nonprofit education and advocacy center in Cincinnati, you could safely say that I am up to my elbows in social justice issues. Actually, it often seems more like I’m keeping my head barely above the surface! Planning and hosting events around human trafficking, capital punishment, and racism are all a part of my daily ministry, and there is certainly no end of the work to be done in sight. Sometimes it feels as though I am bouncing from one insurmountable injustice to another, and I struggle to stay grounded and peaceful. It’s times like that when a line from a prayer or piece of Scripture serve as a mantra that connects all that I’m doing, making it feel less fractured and overwhelming and reminding me that we really only have one mission. I received an unexpected and very special gift of just such a reminder in the mail a few weeks ago.

IJPC had just held the fourth gathering in a continuing initiative called Rethinking Racism, which is a series of open space community forums that provide a safe place for people interested in having honest but challenging conversations about our continuing struggle with racism. A local reporter joined us that evening and I spent a good bit of time with him after the event talking about how things were going. We shared with each other our frustrations and deepening sadness about what seems like a lack of progress in overcoming systemic and institutionalized racism. He published an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer shortly after, and included a quote from me in which I say that though some of us haven’t realized it yet, all people lose in a racist society. White privilege keeps us from experiencing it in the oppressive, painful, and sometimes lethal ways that our nonwhite community members do, but the lives of white people are also severely diminished as members of a society that keeps us separated, ignorant and fearful of one another. We too, lose out on the richness and vibrancy of a diverse community. We too, are affected by the blatant disrespect and disregard of human dignity when our brown and black sisters and brothers are treated unkindly and unjustly. 

A week or so later, I was preparing myself emotionally to make a visit to Kentucky’s Death Row. A group of religious sisters from different communities have been making an annual trip for years and invited me to join them. They have earned the trust of the prison officials and are allowed a “contact” visit where the inmates are in the same room with the visitors, and not kept behind a glass window as usual. Though I wanted very much to go, there was a part of me that resisted. A voice in my head kept reminding me that I was going to be locked in a room full of people who had committed horrible violent crimes, and I had to wonder a little at myself for doing that by choice. I was clearing off my bed so I could actually get in it to go to sleep that night, and noticed a piece of mail I hadn’t opened. It was a note from one of our long-time Associate members, Liz Maxwell. She had cut out the newspaper article I mentioned above and written to tell me that she was proud of IJPC and of the work I was doing. She also included a colorful artful rendition of a quote by Blessed Frances Schervier (who founded the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor to serve the neediest of the needy). It read, “Love all without distinction.” There was that unifying and edifying intonation I was so in need of at that very moment, and how very grateful I was for it! I could now answer that pesky little voice that was asking me, “Why go?” with confidence, “Because we are called to love all without distinction, and that’s what I’m trying to do!”

In the weeks that have followed, “Love all without distinction,” is the mantra often on my lips. It has helped me navigate from that death row visit to a Black Lives Matter march of nearly 5,ooo people, to the Circle the City With Love prayer event before the Republican Convention in Cleveland, to the memorial we hosted for the victims of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan 71 years ago, as well as the 160 million civilian casualties of war since then. I serve and pray for people who have the same perspective as me and for those who don’t, for both the victims and the perpetrators of crime, war, and racism as I try to live out my call following the way of Jesus to love all I encounter. I even said it as I pulled over to rescue a box turtle in the middle of the road as I left the prison that day, thinking, “All includes you too, little brother!” 

IJPC website:

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

God reminds us to UNITE

By Sr. Carlette Gentle

I was all set with my topic of writing about my experience of retreat this summer.  Then I returned back home and in a couple days we were facing the threat of a tropical storm hitting my home town of Belize.  Of course some of us took it lightly. It might just bring some rains and wind.  We have been faced with hurricanes before, but somehow it seems like it always misses the city.  However this time, the tropical storm was supposed to increase in strength just before making landfall.  The central point where the eye of the hurricane would hit?  You got it - Belize City.  So on Wednesday, August 3, 2016, Belize City was hit by what is now known as Hurricane Earl.  Earl brought winds of above eighty miles per hour along with heavy rains and tidal waves of 4 to 7 feet.  My community and I have the pleasure of living in front of the Caribbean Sea.  Therefore when a hurricane is upon us, we seek safer grounds.  We decided to evacuate more inland since the coast was predicted to get hit.    

We moved inland to Cayo, one of our six districts.  Even inland we had winds hitting us at about 60+ miles an hour accompanied by heavy rains.  At about 12:06pm the TV I was watching to keep up with the storm went out, the fan stopped.  You guessed it power outage.  We were in total darkness. The only thing left to listen to was the sound of the drastic wind, heavy rains on the zinc roofing and debris flying around.  I couldn’t sleep. I laid in the sofa with my ears attuned to all that was happening around me.  I was praying.  And when it sounded like the roof was lifting up in the apartment we were staying in I prayed like mad.  The wind and rain continued for what seemed like forever. Later on I learnt that hurricane Earl was moving 20 miles per hour but slowed down just before hitting the Country.  So it went from twenty miles per hour to fourteen miles per hour.  Around 4:30am the winds subsided and rained eased.  I thought to myself, we made it through and I sighed a sigh of relief.  

When we got back to the City, I realized how much damage was done.  There were down powerlines, houses fell off their foundations or were collapsed, roofing was flung all over the street like paper, homes were flooded with several feet of water and thick layers of mud. Century old trees were down and fruits scattered everywhere.  The population was in shock and wondered what would happen next.  And then the uniting was evident.

People came together to assist each other.  Power saws were borrowed, brooms and energy were lent, water shared, tears were shed, hugs and embraces were given and a huge thank you to God that all lives were spared. It was evident that people were grateful.

So after all of this, my message is that we can unite.  We can be there for our neighbours. We can look beyond the boundaries of religion, race, cultural backgrounds, economic status, family feuds, education levels, age, etc. and see our brothers and sisters for who they really are “Children of God”.  We as a people can look beyond ourselves to reach out to others to show the unity and love that God so wants us to exhibit.  “WE CAN” do this and sometimes it takes a disaster to make us aware of this.  

We in Belize are thankful for your continued prayers during the hurricane and also as we aim to recover some level of normalcy.