Open Letter to Catholic Bishops

Maybe I have reached the age when I no longer care if I’m complicit in evil. I cannot make people behave the way I wish, and I cannot walk away every time they do not act. I worked in a prison where on a regular basis I cared for those I did not think belonged there, but could not change their circumstance. I worked in an immigration detention facility where for too many the crime was crossing a border without permission; they forgot to say mother may I. Was I complicit? Yes, I was complicit, but I doubt they would be better off if I had not been there. I cared passionately about their well-being and ensuring they received quality healthcare. In the same way, I care about the Catholic church, but I cannot get to the same place in my reasoning.

I’m Catholic, and I love being Catholic. I hate it that too many of you (Priests, Bishops, and Cardinals) sexually assaulted or abused men, women, and children and even more of you covered it up and have continued to do so. Don’t bother trying to tell me it is only 1%, or that it is less than in the general population, or that teachers do it too. I know all of that, but I don’t look to any of them to help me grow stronger in my faith or be closer to God, or even to be able to be more compassionate to my neighbor. Sadly, too many of you are apologists for sexual misconduct of all kinds. We see it in our Church, and now we see you doing it in society.

As Bishops, you offered arguments for the coverup and allowed it to become embedded in your culture for too long. It seems every day we learn of some new old case that was hidden while the offender maintained his position and comfortable life as his victims struggled. Making lousy matter worse you tried to blame the scandal on the sexual revolution, which is utter nonsense as the sexual revolution was about consenting adults having sex without guilt and never about rape or molesting children or even sexual harassment. The sexual revolution was about freedom and control of one’s own body while what the Priests, Bishops, and Cardinals did was about power, control, and violence. The sexual revolution and the scandal in the Church had nothing in common. In an attempt to further cloud the issues those of you that disapprove of LGBTQ tried to blame them. It is as if you did not know that a homosexual man is no more attracted to a child than is a heterosexual man. People attracted to children are pedophiles, and they are not attracted to adults. These attempts to deflect blame are easily refuted, but how many of you care what caused them to commit such evil? We can’t fix every broken person, but there are some positions which the broken should not hold. What I don’t understand is how you were so blinded to this evil in your midst and why you still try to blame others for your failings.

Sadly, I have no power to make a change in the Church. I don’t know any of you on a personal or professional level. You don’t know that last week I chose not to attend mass, that I stopped my automatic donations two weeks ago, and told some friends I was leaving the Church because I couldn’t take it anymore. I feel powerless and deeply troubled by the decision to go and desperately wanted one of you to say don’t do it. That would require you to be aware enough to recognize my absence or give damn once you did. As one of the many that have written to my Bishop and never heard back, I hope you heard my vote when I walked out and took my money with me.

I tried to convince myself to leave the Church because I don’t want to be complicit with evil. I don’t want to give money to people I can’t trust, and I don’t know who to trust. I wish each of you would write down what you knew and when, what you did to address it, and how you reconciled your actions with your conscience. I wish you would then personally address an envelope to every member of your diocese and sign the letter you wrote and once they are all sent have as many listening sessions as it took for us to all vent our frustration. I would not want you to answer questions or to say a word. I want you to listen and then take what they hear to heart and know the pain you have caused not just to the victims of their sexual violence, but to all those they have victimized through the harm you have done to the Church we love.

I wondered aloud how all this could happen and the answer was the culture of the church makes it possible. The same culture that I love.

  • It is the culture that says we all have a sinful nature and by that nature will make mistakes, but we are not defined by our worst moments.
  • It is the culture that says for every sin there is forgiveness, and with that forgiveness, there is hope that the person will sin no more. There is hope that we will learn and grow closer to God and be what we were born to be.
  • It is the culture that believes obedience to rules is essential. The same culture that made me a successful officer for 20 years. Rules matter.
  • It is the culture that says when someone confesses a sin it is confidential never to be repeated to anyone. As a healthcare provider and even a professor, I wish I shared that level of protection of confidentiality that is given to priest. I am grateful you have it and that you would never break the seal of the confession, but I think some may have used it with the intent to keep you silent.
  • It is the culture that says we do not recognize the power of the State over us, but instead, we handle issues within our courts, our own rules, and our laws. And it is here where the failure occurred. Because we believe in freedom of religion and separation of church and state, it is here that absolutely must fix our house least we all turn to the state to fix our Church.

Instead of leaving I should have said what I meant. I’m mad as hell, and I won’t take it anymore. I’m the person that will be at every meeting. I will write you letters and I will show up at your office. I will stage a sit-in if I have to, but you will hear about my dissatisfaction with the job you are doing. Consider this the beginning of your 360-degree evaluation. Sadly, I’m not that person. I won’t force myself on people, and I don’t participate in protests. I take my money and my faith and go home.

I feel bad for those that are good, but like me you were complicit, and you remained silent out of obedience to the false god of scandal. I will be back when there is real change, but in the meantime, I’m looking for a church where the people have a voice in the leadership and where the rules don’t result in the clergy being silent in the face of evil. I’m looking for a church that doesn’t support men that sexually assault or harass others or think a man can sexually assault anyone so long as he professes to be “pro-life.” I’m looking to ease my conscience for not taking a stand sooner.


Labor Day

Labor Day honors the American labor movement which focused on a just society including social equality and good citizenship. We celebrate the contributions workers have made to the well-being of our country. Is there any better way to do that than to support the labor unions that helped create our prosperity? Among other things, we can thank unions for weekends, the end of child labor, and fairer and more equal wages.

I have never belonged to a union nor do I generally think they are necessary for professionals. However, there are times when we require assistance to use our skill for the benefit of others. For example, staffing minimums have a significant impact on the quality of care provided to patients. If nurses could negotiate evidence-based staffing ratios, they would. Progress has required the work of labor unions and professional organizations to push legislation making it a reality in sixteen states.

I am grateful for all labor unions have done in my life. My mother was a teamster, and my father was a member of the Atomic Trades Labor Council. I remember strikes and picket lines, but I also remember being firmly middle class, having good health insurance, and parents that worked 40 hour weeks. I support all those that belong to unions and look forward to a just society where they are no longer necessary for equality and a living wage.

If you hire a union worker, there is no doubt the works are paid a living wage. If you don’t then it is a good practice to ask what the workers are paid. If it isn’t a living wage keep looking.


Moving In

This morning as I was going to Mass I passed a mom hugging her son and crying as the father stood by stoically. The son kept reassuring her he would see her soon. It was clearly a struggle to let him go. She had done her job and now she was sending this young adult off to find his way in the world. He will face new challenges and if he embraces the challenges he will grow into a productive member of society that can give others what his parents have given to him.

I love move-in days because it is a hopeful time of the year for students, parents, and faculty. Parents are sending us their greatest accomplishments in life and trusting us to help them transition into adulthood. We will help them build on the foundation their parents gave them. It is our responsibility to help students seek the truth, but not to define that truth for them.

As an instructor of nurses, both novice and experts, it is my responsibility to introduce students to the art and the science of nursing at multiple levels. It is also my responsibility to foster in nurses a sense of duty to those we care for that must sometimes outweigh self-interest. As with any art, nursing requires a passion for the vocation because without passion the skills and knowledge alone will not sustain one when there are too many patients, too few nurses, or not enough resources. Likewise, with students, it is the passion for nursing that will sustain them when there are too many pages to read, too many papers to write, and not enough time to memorize every possible medication.

As a teacher, I strive to recognize students that are having difficulties and help them to find a path to success. I have found in my career that it is those that came to me with the greatest difficulties, that when nurtured, became the most loyal and productive. I know from my own experience that early failures are not always a predictor of future success and thus it is important to look past grades alone and assess work habits, drive, and determination. The student is responsible for embracing his or her vocation, striving to learn, exploring personal motivations, and seeking guidance and assistance when needed.

We began Mass in the presence of new students and their parents singing “All Are Welcome“. It is never more meaningful than the beginning of the academic year.

Built of hopes and dreams and visions… All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

The students enter with hopes and dreams for the future. Some will cling to what their parents taught them and some will choose another path. I hope that in all I do I encourage students to seek the truth through academic endeavors. I always remind myself that students see me in all I do and all I say. Let us all embrace our status as role models and know that parents are looking at us to be the role models in their absence.

It is time once again to help students fill their intellectual toolboxes, but it isn’t our job to ask them to throw out the gifts their parents gave them.


Zen and a New Semester of Nursing

IMG_2195Tomorrow is Saturday and I need to finish painting the hall and then I need to get my syllabus revised and my class online. Tonight I only plan to sit. I need to clear my mind of the all the perfects I’m always seeking.

There was a time when I wanted the perfect briefcase or backpack whichever had all of the things I thought would help to organize my coming and going from work. Then I wanted the perfect purse. It had to be the right size so I didn’t try and put the kitchen sink in it and have pockets so I could find the important things among all the junk. There are many other perfect things I looked for wallets, ladders, gardening carts, and notebooks to mention a few. In reality what I’m looking for is something that brings a little order to my life. The search continues.

The theme of order consumes me at the beginning of each semester and it shows in predictable ways. There is almost always, depending on the time of year, either a gardening project or a painting project the week before classes begin that must be finished. One doesn’t need to look very deep to figure out the psychological roots of the behavior. It is all about order and progress. Whether it is gardening or painting there is a clear beginning and end. I can see the beauty that is added to my environment and it calms me. I pick up the brush and my focus is on a straight line, even color, making every stroke the same. The concentration blocks out all other thoughts. I’m present with the brush, the paint, and the straight lines. Nothing else. I begin my semester with a small accomplishment and a calm and centered mind.

Tomorrow I will take this sense of calmness and order and put it into a syllabus knowing that while I will never create the perfect syllabus for my course I will try to make the lines straight for the students, eliminate the junk, add beauty to the content in a way that engages their minds and spirits, and attempt to make all of the pieces blend together so that the individual strokes are invisible. I hope they will use it to create their ideal of a perfect knowledge toolbox. But tonight I sit.

“I forsake all that thing that I can think, and choose to my love that which I cannot think.” – Johnston, The Cloud of Unknowing

Sitting in the darkness I am able to let go of all the junk. My life is clear and calm when I sit and the desire is extinguished. There is no perfection and no frustration. Though I do not know God’s will, I do know that I am to serve, forgive, and be compassionate to others. I am formed moment by moment with each stroke of the brush. If I sit long enough with enough calmness maybe one day all of the brushstrokes that have formed me will be invisible. Tonight I sit so tomorrow I can serve.


On Retreat: Life, Love, and Spirituality

I went on a retreat to St. Andrew’s Abbey over Thanksgiving weekend. It was one of those things my husband arranged because he thought I would enjoy it and as always he seems to know me better than I know myself. The retreat combined three things often missing from my busy life: beauty, time alone with my husband, and silence.

Beauty is all around me but on most days in my rush to and from work, from meeting to meeting, and from community events to errands I fail to notice. My days, like those of most professionals, have more demands than hours. This academic year I made a decision not to bring unpleasant work home with me and instead spent one hour every evening walking. The more I walked and shut out all the to-dos running through my thoughts the happier I became. I can walk and meditate,  walk and listen to music, or walk and listen to books on tape. Sometimes, I just walk, looking at and listen to my community.

When we arrived at the Abbey one of the first things we did was visit the tree garden. When my husband was a young graduate student he took a course on St. Augustine with Fr. Eleutherius Winance, O.S.B., who was on the founders of the Abbey. He had invited the class out to visit and showed them the tree garden he had planted. At the time the trees were not as tall as my husband. He fondly remembered Fr. Winance and was taken by the beauty of the place. Almost 40 years later the trees are majestic and stand out against the desert landscape. It was easy to see how the memory of this peaceful tree garden had been engraved into the memory of a young man and why it drew him back.

The beauty continued from the tree garden up the hill and through the stations of the cross. Even in the winter, the sun in the desert is intense yet I wanted to stay. I walked the stations two days and a portion of the third day. Each day I noticed something new and yet each day I thought less and felt more.

During the evening someone always built a fire in the large wood burning fireplace. The smell of the wood, the crackle, and the flames flickering has always been something that I find both beautiful and soothing. I love that I can flip a switch and have a fire in my fireplace, but it isn’t quite the same without the smell and the sound. It lacks the ability to take me back to my childhood and time spent at family gatherings around my parent’s fireplace.

Time alone with my husband when neither of us is working is far too rare. I sometimes wonder if work is an obsession or a calling for each of us. I’m sure it is a passion. It isn’t always easy to follow my calling with love and patience when it pulls me away from my bashert and so I have learned to make every minute special. The geography between us is bridged by love and a shared view of the importance of helping those in need, leaving the world with a little more knowledge, and adding as much beauty as possible.

Silence allows the heart to hear. Rustling leaves and the sounds of birds were only interrupted in the morning by the bells calling us to lauds and then breakfast in silence. The silence seemed to slow the beginning of the day and allow us to enjoy the time sitting across the table from each other. As we sat together to share surprisingly superior coffee and a light breakfast the lack of sound was not a lack of communication. It was an opportunity to listen to what can only be heard in silence. The silence was enhanced by the lack of internet, television, radio, and cellular reception. The functioning phone booth should have been a clue. Maybe that phone was a symbol that the world was still present, but it would take an effort to engage with it and in that moment the last thing I wanted was for the world to intrude.

I wonder what most people want and expect when they go on retreat? I thought it would be a relaxing time to let go of the world and explore my faith. Yet when I left it wasn’t my faith or my church that I felt closer to, but rather my husband. He showed me the tree garden that Fr. Winance had planted almost 40 years ago and I understood why it had impressed him as a young graduate student. We shared our love of the desert, the quietness, the simplicity of the surroundings, and most of all the joy of being together free of the world.

Retreats don’t always bring us closer to God. Sometimes God uses them to brings us closer those we love.

When our vacation ended I returned to the mid-west and my husband to northern Virginia. We are physically still in different cities, but now when I am quite I am much closer to him. When I turn off the world he is only as far away as a meditation in a tree garden. In simplicity, we are bound in a space of shared love. It isn’t always God with whom we need to be closer. Sometimes, it is good to remember that we live in a community and in communion with those we love. I left the retreat in love all over again and open to more fully loving those in my communities. My husband knew me better than I knew myself.

I vow:

  • to leave something beautiful in the world for others.
  • to take time each day for silence.
  • to be a guide and not just a purveyor of information to students.

Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure. Henri Nouwen


Liberal or Conservative – I’m Catholic

Is it the nature of human beings to divide ourselves? Race, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and all the other categories we impose in our lives. How often do we want to know a person’s profession and the profession of their spouse? Do you have children? Where do you go to church? Where did you go to high school or college?

I firmly believe that our differences make us stronger. We can do so much more if we have both physicians and nurses; pastors and lay people; and math and art teachers. I don’t know anyone that would think we should only have firefighters and no police. All too often our society seems to believe we would be better off without liberals or conservative or without Catholics or Protestants or Muslims, or whatever it is that isn’t our faith.

What we share is what binds us. What divides us makes us weaker. I am proud of my faith and that I am to the left of center and am ever grateful that I have friends on the both ends of the continuum. They show me daily how one can have very different views and still share my faith and my love for this country. However, I’m saddened by those that use faith and politics as a stick with which to beat others or who profess their bullying as love. I am equally saddened by those that did not learn as children that name calling is inappropriate and never helps anyone. Most of all, I am saddened when people are so enamored by a single perspective that they are no longer willing to see the evidence in front of them. Yes, you can see this as meaning the other person, but until we all spend more time looking inward rather than outward we will be on the wrong path.

I am a liberal that remains politically independent. I thought George Bush was a good man, but didn’t agree with many of his policies. I think Obama is a good man but don’t agree with all his policies. I firmly believe that everyone that spends their career in public life does so with a desire to make us better and to serve our country. Then they get their and rather than serve are so busy making sure the other doesn’t succeed that they forget they are there to serve the people and not a party.

If we look at our politicians, and we don’t like them, then we should look inward. They are us. When they lie, it is because we lie. When they say racist things, it is because we are racist. When they demonstrate no ability to balance a budget, it is because we can’t balance our budgets. When they are more concerned about their success than the country, it is because we are more tied to our parties than our country. If they don’t understand foreign policy, or religious freedom, or the tragedy that is gun violence, or the horror of racism, sexism, and religious phobia it is because we don’t understand those issues and don’t take the time to learn and I mean learn not read social media posts. They are us, and we are them.

If we want to change politics and return to a country of faith, then we must change as individuals. It is easy.

  • Don’t lie.
  • Don’t take what isn’t yours.
  • Balance your budget.
  • Serve your country.
  • Attend your faith-based service regularly.
  • Respect the freedom and conscience of others and don’t impose your beliefs on them.
  • Don’t kill and by don’t kill I mean don’t kill or prepare to kill.
  • Love God, country, family, and your neighbor.
  • Show respect for those that don’t agree with you.
  • Be polite to everyone and not just those that make it easy.
  • Don’t take more than you need.
  • Share the credit with others.
  • Find the goals you share and work toward them even if it is on parallel paths.
  • Don’t question the faith or love of others.
  • Study the Constitution and your faith-based texts.
  • Volunteer in your community.
  • See all children and elders as your responsibility.
  • Love and respect cultural and political differences and put aside labels in your words and your heart.
  • Be willing to lay down your life for another.
  • Let go of fear.
  • Pray or meditate daily.
  • BE A GOOD CITIZEN

 


Faith, Feminism, and Head Coverings

As a proud feminist, I believe in equality of all human beings. Equality is fundamental to human dignity. This week I watched with great sadness as men and women alike criticized women for what they did or did not wear.

Screen Shot 2017-05-27 at 8.20.36 PMI’ve never understood why people get so outraged about what a woman wears on her head. After all, we don’t worry about what men wear. When a man wears a head covering to show respect for God and Judaism we do not question it and know it is done as a sign of respect. And yet, when a woman wears a head covering to show respect for God and Catholicism she is both criticized and praised. However, if she wears a head covering to show respect for God and Islam she is resoundingly criticized.

There are many places where we consider it appropriate to wear a head covering. The most beautiful of head coverings are seen at the Kentucky Derby. People actually enjoy the hats and some of us watch the race just to look for the best hat. Likewise, while a shrinking number, women do still wear hats to church. Certainly, women in the military wear the required cover just as do men.

Screen Shot 2017-05-27 at 8.21.58 PMWe should ask ourselves two questions.

  • Why do we criticize a woman when she covers her head out of custom or respect for religious preferences and yet we do not do the same with men.
  • Why is it acceptable for a man to cover his head at a holy place within Judaism, a woman to cover her head when in the presence of the Holy Father, and yet inappropriate when in a Muslim country?

Whether male or female covering one’s head to show respect for God should not be criticized. Respect is essential in a civilized society.  While I’m sure most of us question how civilized we have been acting the last few years surely we all recognize that we should do better.

If you call yourself a feminist then you should not criticize any woman because she chooses to show respect for God. Nor should she be criticized because her faith or her respect for the faith of another leads her to cover her head.

Let us all show such respect for others that we are at least willing to try and not offend them when visiting.

“Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.” —Hillary Clinton