Category Archives: Religion

AMIGOS: Leadership Through Experience

Copyright JC Politi Photography

For one year, from 2008 to 2009, my husband and I lived in Houston, Texas. We lived through Hurricane Ike, which was directly over our house for about 7 hours; finding a copperhead in the bathtub; and a torn pup-ACL. It was not our best year.

But I also found Amigos de las Americas (AMIGOS) when I lived in Houston. I worked for this unique organization for about two years, fundraising to support their international youth leadership programs. This organization really touched me.

The people I met doing this work, from the dedicated and passionate staff at the office in Houston, to the parents and former volunteers who now serve on the board, were some of the most thoughtful and hardest-working people I have ever met. And don’t get me started on the young people who were participating in the programs.

Copyright JC Politi Photography

I had the opportunity to travel to Nicaragua to see the programs in action, which was a special treat. I have shared some of the photos from that trip here and on my new photography website.

This organization is truly unique. When I worked there, we received letters from parents all the time saying that their child left home as an unruly teenager and came back a grown up. This was a consistent refrain from the parents.

Young people came back and talked about how much their world view had expanded from the experience and how it was going to influence the trajectory of their future pursuits. And I have met many former volunteers for whom the program did just that.

I was skeptical about AMIGOS in the beginning. I asked a lot of questions ranging from “Does AMIGOS have a religious bent?” to “Is there government involvement in AMIGOS?” The more I learned about this organization, the more impressed I became.

The intensive training that young people are required to complete in order to participate in the program should be a model for any organization or person doing international development work. The training requires kids to work through issues of cultural awareness and distrust of volunteers from the United States.

One very unique aspect of the AMIGOS program is that it is youth led and driven. Projects in Latin America are run by teenagers and college students who have been volunteers in the program. The training provided to the volunteers who work their way up the ladder to become project staff covers topics that I did not learn about until I was around 30. Topics include critical conversations, supervisory skills and budgeting.

This organization simply does it right.

I thought I would dedicate a post to this inspiring organization, in the hopes that there may be some of you out there with kids in high school or college, who might benefit from this program. Or perhaps you are in high school or college yourself and would like to learn  more.

AMIGOS just came out with a new video that illustrates the great work the organization does year after year. That is what inspired this post. But I encourage all of you to check out this organization’s website to learn more about the organization.

What do you think? What is your favorite non-profit organization and why? Have you heard about AMIGOS and considered sending your child through the program? Would you have fears or concerns about doing this? Did you ever participate in a program like this? What was the best part and what was the worst part?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading!

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Filed under Culture, Education, International, Parenting, Photography, Photos, Poverty, Religion, Stereotypes, travel, Youth Leadership

Secrets to a Long, Happy Marriage

From our Wedding in Argentina – 2007

Marriage is hard. We hear this all the time.

There is an article in the New York Times this week called The Wedding Effect, which really touched me.

The author is 29 years old and the article provides an honest, almost raw portrayal of her fears and skepticism regarding marriage. She calls marriage a “daredevil leap of faith,” which I think describes it perfectly.

The article held my interest for several reasons.

First, I could have written this same article at 29. My parents divorced when I was quite young – I think I was six. I was fortunate to have grandparents on both sides of the family who lived beyond 80, but both of their spouses died young.

When I was growing up, I had very few examples of marriage working through thick and thin. I had friends whose parents were still married and I remember being fascinated when I would occasionally hear their parents fight because I didn’t think people whose parents stayed together fought. I thought fighting meant divorce.

My husband and I have been married for five years this year. That feels like quite an accomplishment.

But this article reminded me of fears that I know are deeply embedded in my psyche about whether marriages can last. I am very happy in my marriage, and know that these questions come from that obnoxious inner voice whose words I simply need to hear and let go, much like the inner messages we hear telling us that we are not good enough.

From our small Baltimore wedding – we had two! Same dress…:-)

Whenever I meet couples who have been together for years, I ask their secret for a long marriage. This is not an attempt to make conversation. I am simply trying to place as many tools in my toolbox as I can to keep my marriage strong and to make up for the fact that my experience in my immediate family seemed to illustrate that only second marriages survive.

There is another interesting component to this article which is related to conversations we have had on this blog about women in the workplace. So many women have chosen to focus on their careers before marriage and before having children.

As I have written before, this can lead to women finding that by the time they are ready to have kids, their biological clocks have run out.

It is a cruel trick of nature and science definitely has it backwards on this one. I am quite confident I would be a significantly better parent now that I am 40 than I would have been at 21.

But I wonder how much of the fact that people are getting married later can be explained by fears like those described in this article. Statistics show the proliferation of children of divorce. This has to contribute to people getting married later in life.

What do you think? I would love to hear thoughts and advice for what keeps a marriage strong and healthy, through good and bad. What makes second marriages more successful? How do you silence the voices that question if your marriage is perfect? Is any marriage perfect? And do you think the fact that so many people came from homes with divorced parents is leading to later marriage? What impact do you see this having over the long term?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading.

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Filed under Career Planning, Parenting, Relationships, Religion, social pressures, Women

The Price of Slowing Down: What Has Caused the Increased Interest in Buddhist Practices?

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

An article, entitled “Buddhist’s Delight” is the number one most e-mailed article in the New York Times this morning. This is fascinating to me.

We live in a time where technological advancements have required us all to become multi-tasking masters, enslaved to the pings of smart phones and e-mail. But clearly, many people seek new ways to regain a simple focus on the here and now.

The irony, of course, is that the focus of Buddhist practice is meditation, whereby people sit in silence and attempt to empty their minds to listen to the voice within. There could be nothing less technological than this. And yet people are willing to pay hundreds, even thousands of dollars, to go on spiritual retreats to work on cultivating this silence and emptiness.

I, too, seek the peace that comes from meditation and yoga. I savor the moments at the end of a yoga class when we lay still and listen to our bodies and feel the softening of the mind. But soon after I return to my everyday life, this peace quickly dissipates.

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We live in a fast paced world where instant gratification has become the norm. Perhaps this is what causes many of us to seek a religious philosophy which encourages us to slow down.

Imagine a long distance relationship, where you run to the mailbox every day to see if there is word from your far-off lover? Or disconnecting from work every night and waiting until you get back to the office to see if there is anything pressing which needs attention? Really, would this be so bad?

What do you think? How do you explain the interest in Buddhist philosophies and practice? Do you think this is related to the hectic pace of everyday life? Do you practice meditation or yoga or otherwise find ways to try and remain aware and present? Have you found any strategies that help carry this peaceful state into your everyday life? Do you think that interest in these practices will grow or do you think that this is just a fad?

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

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Filed under Culture, Health, International, Peace, Religion, Technology

Nuns on the Bus: Roman Catholic Nuns Hit the Road to Highlight Community Work of their Sisters

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

An article in the New York Times about a group of Roman Catholic nuns who have planned a multi-state bus trip to highlight the critical work that nuns do on a daily basis to help the poor brought a smile to my face.

In light of the criticisms from Rome, it is no surprise to me that this group of inspiring women has chosen to hit the road to highlight the life-saving work of nuns across the country, who help feed the hungry and provide healthcare to the poor every day.

While I am not religious, it seems to me that nuns have kept their focus on one of the most fundamental tenants of Christianity, which is helping the poorest among us.

Meanwhile, as nuns have maintained this focus, working every day with people in need, the organized church has embroiled itself in scandal and political controversy over abortion and contraception.

I would suggest that the Catholic Church follow the lead of these courageous women and consider returning to work that inspires its followers, rather than work that shames, alienates and judges its most devoted members.

As I have blogged about before, I think the future of the Catholic Church may depend on this.

What do you think? Are there any organizations run by Catholic nuns in your community? What type of work are these women doing? What do you think about the criticism of the nuns by Rome? How do you see this impacting membership in the Catholic Church?

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

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Filed under Education, Income inequality, Poverty, Religion, Women

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!

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Filed under Religion, Women