Monthly Archives: April 2012

What is the Catholic Church Thinking? Nuns on the Run…

I am not Catholic, although more than half the members of my family, including my husband, are and our marriage was sanctioned by the Catholic Church. I firmly believe that organized religion has much to offer in terms of helping people discern what is ethically and morally right and wrong. And I realize that organized religion has helped many people who are struggling and looking for more meaning in their lives.

But I am absolutely baffled by the Catholic Church of late. It seems to keep digging itself into a deeper and deeper hole with each new scandal. First it was the apparent cover-up of sexual abuse of young boys by priests. After seeing the outrage over the scandal at Penn State earlier this year, I was struck by the lack of accountability illustrated in the tepid response of the Catholic Church to these heinous crimes.

Now, the Church has decided to publicly chastise one of its greatest assets: nuns. The New York Times had two excellent opinion pieces about this issue this weekend, one written by Nicholas Kristof and one written by Maureen Dowd. The Kristof article included a link to the public reprimand recently issued by the Vatican, in which the Church proclaimed that Nuns in the United States were getting a little too big for their habits (my words, not theirs).

I am sure all of us have seen the magnificent work that nuns perform daily throughout this country, indeed throughout the world. As a feminist, it is a wonder to me that women are willing to make the sacrifice that it requires to become a nun, when it appears that the Catholic Church has historically had little regard for women.

I truly believe that this could be the beginning, or at least the middle, of the end for the Catholic Church. I know that many will disagree with me, saying that this is just a conservative phase that the church is going through under its current leadership. But the Catholic Church has had a difficult time of late recruiting people to serve as priests and nuns. With displays like this, I can’t help but believe that the pool of people willing to make the significant sacrifice that is required to serve the Church and their higher ideals will only dwindle further – and that is too bad.

My Aunt was a nun who inspires me to this day with stories about her community organizing in low income neighborhoods. And my grandmother did the “holy wash,” cleaning all the church linens for more than 40 years. Both of these strong women significantly helped shape who I am today.

And I know the positive aspects of organized religion and the Catholic Church. My husband and I went to the required pre-marital counseling to enable us to be married in the Catholic Church and it was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life.

But the Catholic Church should play a central role in helping the poor and in comforting the down-trodden. And that is what nuns have been doing, without fanfare or glory, for generations.

I hope the Catholic Church rethinks their reprimand and begins to listen to the stories of these inspiring women. They should try to understand the nuns’ concerns with the current direction of the Church. The very future of the Church could depend on this.

These women are heroes and I have no doubt they will survive and thrive after this recent setback from Rome; I have less confidence in the Church’s ability to do the same.

What do you think? I am sure that plenty of people will have differing perspectives on this issue and I welcome those. Do you think that the Catholic Church will be able to recover from the scandals that have plagued it in recent years? Do you think that the Church will be forced to be more inclusive in the future to survive? Do you have an inspiring story about how nuns have touched your lives? What do you see as the future of the Catholic Church and of organized religion?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading!

15 Comments

Filed under Religion, Women

Pineapples, The Limits of Privatization and Corporate Influence in Education

Gail Collins wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times earlier this week entitled “A Very Pricey Pineapple.”  This article highlights the increased influence of big business in the US education system since the No Child Left Behind Act passed Congress.

The article raises concerns about whether the companies who profit from education are more interested in improving kids’ educational attainment, or whether their main interest lies in improving their bottom line.

This story is directly related the post I wrote earlier this week about the new book by Professor Michael Sandel, entitled “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets.” That book appears to argue that certain fundamental things should not be subject to market whims and to the eternal quest to increase corporate earnings.

Access to health care comes immediately to mind. I realize this is a highly contentious issue currently being debated in a wide variety of venues, from the corner coffee shop to the Supreme Court. Of course, the morality of the market determining what type of health care a person can access is not what the Supreme Court is debating; they are simply deciding whether people can be required to purchase health insurance and whether the federal government has the authority to enact the law. Even if these provisions of the law are upheld, the market will still dictate which insurance a person will purchase.

For all of the opposition in some camps about “Obamacare,” in many ways, the Affordable Care Act was one of the greatest corporate subsidies ever passed by Congress. This is a stark example of the tendency of policymakers in the United States to cater to the marketplace, regardless of the issue. Campaign financing plays a major role in this, as it does in most policy decisions. When the largest campaign donations consistently come from large corporations, policy decisions are inevitably impacted. The Citizens United Supreme Court decision will likely only make this worse.

Education is another area where corporate influence should be minimized. In a time when educators feel constrained by the need to “teach to a test,” it is disturbing to learn that the tests that have become so ubiquitous in our schools deliver a hefty corporate profit and may or may not be delivering actual value to the students and educators. The influence of the corporate lobbyists in crafting the No Child Left Behind law is striking as well.

What do you think? This raises the persistent question regarding the appropriate role of government in our society. Is there really anything wrong with a corporation making a profit on educational testing if the outcomes lead to better educated students? Are there safeguards that could be put in place to ensure that the interests of students are placed above the interests of corporate shareholders?  Are teachers finding that they must cater their classes to these tests? Do they find that this inhibits their ability to cater to an individual child’s needs? Are you concerned about the move to privatize government services and programs or do you believe that this will improve services and programs?

Please take a minute to share your thoughts. And thank you for reading!

5 Comments

Filed under Education, Policy, Privatization, Role of Government

The Hunger for a Royal Baby Bump

Today’s article is entitled “Is Kate Pregnant? William and Kate Amp Up the Baby Speculation.”  It was written by Tom Sykes and published by the Daily Beast. I find these stories, which seem to be prolific in the media lately, highly disturbing.

As a 40 year old, I know quite a number of couples who have experienced the harsh reality of not being able to conceive a child. These struggles are very real, and just because Kate is young and healthy, that does not guarantee that she will be able to have children. Not to mention that if the couple does have trouble conceiving, the truth is, it takes two to tango.

In fact, who is to say that the royal couple has not decided to delay having children so they can enjoy each other for some time before taking on the duties of child-rearing? And is there anything wrong with that?

If it turns out that Kate and Prince William would like to have a child, but are unable to conceive, then what? Does that make Kate less worthy of admiration and less of a woman? This is such a personal issue for a couple. I realize that Kate knew what she was taking on when she married Prince William, but this incessant speculation seems to cross a line that should not be crossed.

The pressure on Kate at this point to produce an heir to the throne is relentless. The joy and exuberance surrounding this beautiful young couple’s wedding was enough to sweep anyone up in the excitement. But does the adoration that was overflowing at the wedding dissipate if the couple is unable to produce an heir to the throne?

What do you think? Am I overreacting to this issue? Do you feel that the media has the right to delve into the personal lives of celebrities and royalty? Do you think our society places a burden on women to produce children? And what about women who are unable to reproduce – what happens to the perceived value of that woman? If the couple is unable to conceive, will people automatically blame Kate or do you think that there will be an understanding that it is more complicated than this?

Feel free to add your own thoughts and questions. And thanks for reading!     

4 Comments

Filed under Parenting, Women

The Skyboxification of America: Michael Sandel on Market Moralism

Today, I am posting a book review about Michael Sandel’s new book “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets.” The review was written by Michael Fitzgerald and published by Newsweek. You can find the article here.

Michael Sandel is a professor at Harvard who teaches a wildly popular philosophy course called “Justice.” This class was broadcast on PBS and by the BBC and explores issues of morality, using classical philosophical theory as his framework for examining modern day moral dilemmas.

A group that my husband and I belong to has been hosting viewing parties of these lectures and they are absolutely fascinating. It is especially interesting to observe how Professor Sandel engages his students and encourages them to think critically about these theoretical philosophical issues. The lectures are always followed by a lively discussion about how these philosophies and theories impact current political realities. Most recently, we watched the series on Libertarianism, which certainly has much relevancy in today’s political climate.

While I haven’t read “What Money Can’t Buy,” the idea that Sandel lays out in the book regarding the “skyboxification of America” is intriguing to me. Sandel coined this phrase to refer to the lack of frequent opportunities for people with different socio-economic statuses to engage with people from other backgrounds in everyday life. His book also explores the drive to subject all aspects of life to the market, regardless of the weightier moral and ethical issues involved.

I have not read this book and am only halfway through the Justice series, but I love the way that Professor Sandel makes people think critically about the world around them.

Discussion questions: Have you taken Michael Sandel’s course or watched his lectures? What are some key points and ideas that you took from that experience? Do you believe that our culture places a monetary value on certain things that should not be subjected to this type of analysis? What types of things? What do you think about the “skyboxification of America” idea? If you are a parent, do you look for opportunities for your kids to engage with kids from other backgrounds and economic statuses? Do you seek out these opportunities yourself?

Readers should always feel free to post discussion questions as well, since this blog is more about its readers and promoting a dialogue than it is about my limited thoughts.

I hope you will join the discussion. And thank you for reading!

For more information from Michael Sandel and his new book, click here to see a transcript from a live chat with the Daily Beast.

9 Comments

Filed under Income inequality

Forget them! What Do YOU Want to Be When You Grow Up?

Today’s article is entitled “The Creative Monopoly.” It was written by David Brooks and published in the New York Times on April 23rd and can be found here.

This article talks about Peter Thiel, who founded PayPal and was an early investor in Facebook. In the article, Mr. Brooks explains that Peter Thiel was a highly successful student when he was younger, working his way through Stanford and Stanford Law School, only failing to meet his ambitions when he applied to be a Supreme Court clerk.

Mr. Brooks posits that this failure to succeed in one, traditional, competitive endeavor, led Thiel to think more creatively about what he might be able to accomplish in life. Obviously, as the founder of PayPal, Peter Thiel went on to become a highly successful businessman after overcoming that initial disappointment.

This opinion piece questions the value of societal pressures to pursue traditional professions encouraged by the US educational system and American culture. I like Mr. Brook’s hypothesis that we need more people to think outside the traditional “box” portrayed by most Universities in this country.

Students should be encouraged to think critically and creatively about their personal interests and how they would like to contribute to society, without feeling the need to bow to the immense pressure to conform to other’s expectations. And I agree that people who find a way to do this tend to be more successful and can make a significant contribution to society, sometimes in completely unexpected ways.

I do think, however, that the financial barriers are prohibitively high for most people to be able to even consider doing such a thing. How many of us could really denounce the traditional paths laid out for us throughout our education, to do something completely different and unique?

I admire the people in my life who have done this – the people in my high school who went on to become actors or to produce tv shows and movies or to conduct on Broadway. And one friend from my conservative college started his own gourmet peanut butter and jelly stand in a mall. It can take real courage to take a risk to do what truly inspires you. It is not the easy path. Sometimes I regret the fact that I have barely considered taking a risk like that. Do you?

Some Questions for Discussion: How do you think young people could be encouraged to think more about untraditional professions? How could we expose students to a wider variety of career paths? Do you feel that you were encouraged to walk away from traditional expectations and forge your own path? And did you learn any lessons from taking the path less travelled? Do you have any suggestions for people who are looking for financial support to pursue their dreams? Why do you think that people so easily give in to societal pressures when establishing their professional goals? Is there a role that parents or the government can play to help reduce the pressures to conform to traditional expectations? Are you a parent that has tried to expose your children to a number of different potential life paths? Do you have any suggestions for other parents trying to do the same?

What would you like to be or do if you could walk away from your current work? And do you think you will ever do that?

Please join the conversation. And thank so much for reading!

59 Comments

Filed under Career Planning, Education, Parenting, Youth Leadership

To Connect or Not to Connect? That is the Question…

My name is Jennifer and I am a techoholic. Today’s article is an opinion piece in the New York Times, entitled “The Flight from Conversation,” which was written by Sherry Turkle and can be found by clicking here.  This article examines the impact of technology on society, and on personal relationships in particular.

For me, the slide toward my current obsession with technology was gradual. I was a late adopter of the cell phone and only gave in to the temptation to get a cell phone when I was training for the Texas AIDS ride, when I would ride 80 miles or more on my own on deserted farm roads and felt the need to be able to reach out in case of emergency. But the lure of technological advancements has grown stronger and stronger for me since that time, culminating in my current “Crackberry” obsession.

I realized the magnitude of this problem this past Easter Sunday, when I was at church with my husband. We had just gone up to receive communion and returned to our pew. There were a lot of people in church that day, as there frequently are on Easter, so communion was taking some time.  All of a sudden, I felt the subtle pull to check my phone to see if the red light was blinking, which would mean that I had some sort of message – be it a voicemail, an e-mail, a text, a Facebook post or, even better, a Facebook friend request! I am nearly helpless in the face of that flashing red light; I simply have to check! I did deny the urge to look that day, but only because I knew that if I caught a glimpse of the blinking red light, the rest of the service would be torture for me until I could see what communication was waiting there.

Facebook and other technological advances have been a godsend for me in many ways. I have a complete aversion to the phone and rarely initiate a phone conversation. I am always grateful to my friends who live far away who reach out by phone to catch up; I almost never make that initial call. But Facebook has allowed me to maintain important friendships from afar in a much more effective manner than before I had access to this virtual connection.

And, just yesterday, I was able to catch up with a friend who I had not seen in years just because he posted that he happened to be in Boulder. These are some concrete benefits of technology that can, in my opinion, actually increase connections with friends and family.

But there does seem to be a downside to all of this connection; I should be able to ignore that flashing red light on my phone, when I am surrounded by people I love. And one has to ask whether all of these virtual connections really add to the personal connections that lead to a truly fulfilling life.

A few years ago, I received an invitation to my 20 year high school reunion. I was excited about the prospect of going back to Baltimore to see people who I had not seen in years. I am fortunate to have maintained close relationships with quite a few high school classmates, but there are other people that I have not stayed in contact with, and with whom I would love to reconnect. As my high school friends and I were debating whether to attend the reunion, one of our friends said that he felt that he was already connected to our classmates through Facebook. It turned out that I was unable to attend the reunion, but I couldn’t help hoping that Facebook made the conversations at the reunion more meaningful, enabling people to get beyond the “Where do you live? What do you do? Do you have any children?” conversations and onto meatier topics that could lead to true connections.

So, on this picture-perfect Earth Day, when the universe (at least in Boulder) has chosen to display the wonders of nature in all their glory, I challenge myself and all of you to see if we can find ways to disconnect from our technology and connect more with nature, with neighbors, with our family and friends. Let’s take a stand and scale back our use of technology in whatever way would be meaningful for each of us. For me, that might mean leaving the phone plugged in upstairs after 5 PM, so I can’t see that seductive blinking red light. And then maybe, with time, I will be able to see that red light and not even respond. That is the goal; that, and reconnecting with my real life. Happy Earth Day everyone!

Some questions for discussion: Do you share my tech obsession? Does this concern you or are you finding ways to make technology compliment your personal relationships, rather than replace them? If you have children, do you place limits on their use of technology? Are there things that have worked for you to encourage your kids to get outside more or to build more face to face relationships? How does this new connected culture impact the work environment? Do you have any tips for me or for others about how to wean off of technology without having to go cold-turkey?

Please add your thoughts! And thank you for reading.

15 Comments

Filed under Parenting, Relationships, Social Media

Who Needs Government Anyhow? Except…

Since many of us paid our taxes this week, it seems only appropriate to highlight an article about how our tax dollars are spent. So, in that spirit, I am posting an article entitled “Who Needs Government Anyway? Except…” This opinion piece was written by Kevin Horrigan and was published in the Denver Post on April 15th. You can find the article here.

This article, while certainly tongue-in-cheek, highlights some of the critical functions performed by government on which we all rely. It is easy to get caught up in the partisan rhetoric over the size of government and cutting costs or controlling spending by shrinking government; but maybe it would be more productive for all of us to actively engage in a meaningful dialogue about how our tax dollars are spent.

I remember when Colorado was looking for ways to cut the state budget a few years ago, and they closed some of the Department of Motor Vehicle Offices. I was amazed to see how, all of a sudden, people from all walks of life were impacted personally by budget cuts. People were talking about this in every locale. But it was difficult for people to see the connection between the amount of taxes they pay and the long lines at the DMV.

I also heard a story recently about a town where people in the community had a choice whether or not to pay into the fire protection services in their town. But when the house of a community member who had not paid into the service caught on fire, the community was horrified that the fire department did not run to the rescue to put out the blaze.

There is so much double-speak when it comes to talking about taxes and the size of government. Sometimes it feels like people want plenty of government services – including public transportation, high quality public schools, rapid street repairs, snow plowing, protection from crime and fire – the list could go on and on. But people are not willing to pay more for these services.

Some questions for discussion: What is behind the fear and hatred of government we hear on the nightly news? Do you think it would help if people had a better understanding of how their tax dollars are spent and the specific benefits they, personally, receive from government? Would you be willing to pay more taxes to have more benefits, such as guaranteed health care or quality child care? Or do believe that government is fundamentally mismanaged? Would you rather spend your own money to provide for yourself, and deny any community-provided benefits? Do you feel that the government is choosing to spend your tax dollars in ways that you disagree with? How would you allocate the dollars differently if you were a policymaker? Have you been engaged in these debates in the past? Are there any particular resources you have found helpful to educate yourself on these issues?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. And thanks for reading!

11 Comments

Filed under Policy, Privatization, Role of Government