Joan Chittister: To Be A Moral Force in the World

Sr. Joan's recent lecture in Boston was cut short due to a false fire alarm.

The invitation to be a “perfect fool” is at least an invitation to perfection.

As brother Paul says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Speaking up for justice within the incomprehensible love of God is part of the process of salvation, the journey of becoming “children of God.”

Sr. Joan reminds me of my responsibility to the process of my salvation, the ongoing practice of following Christ. She says:

There are three obstacles to our personal development that would make us a moral force in the world.

First, fear of loss of status has done more to chill character than history will ever know. We do not curry favor with kings by pointing out that the emperor has no clothes. We do not gain promotions by countering the beloved viewpoints of the chair of the board or the bishop of the diocese. We do not figure in the neighborhood barbecues if we embarrass the Pentagon employees in the gathering by a public commitment to demilitarization. It is hard time, this choice of destiny between public conscience and social acceptability. Then we tell ourselves that nothing is to be gained by upsetting people. And sure enough, nothing is.

Second, personal comfort is a factor, too, in the decision to let other people bear responsibility for the tenor of our times. It takes a great deal of effort to turn my attention beyond the confines of where I work and where I live and what my children do. It lies in registering interest in something beyond my small, small world and perhaps taking part in group discussions or lectures. It requires turning my mind to substance beyond sitcoms and the sports channel and the local weekly. It means not allowing myself to go brain-dead before the age of forty. But these things that cost comfort are exactly the things that will, ultimately, make life better for my work and my children.

Third, fear of criticism is no small part, surely, of this unwillingness to be born into the world for which I have been born. To differ from the mainstream of humanity, to take a position that is not popular tests the tenor of the best debaters, the strongest thinkers, the most skilled of speakers. To do that at the family table or in the office takes the utmost in courage, the ultimate in love, the keenest communication skills. And who of us have them?

The process of human discourse is a risky one. Other people speak more clearly or convincingly than we do. Other people have better academic backgrounds than we do. Other people have authority and robes and buttons and titles that we do not now and ever will have, and to confront those things takes nerve of a special gauge. I may lose. I may make a perfect fool out of myself. But everybody has to be perfect about something. What else can be more worth it than giving the gift of the perfect question in a world uncomfortable with the answers but too frightened or too complacent or too ambitious to raise these doubts again? — Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB

T.R. Reid: Universal Health Care Reduces Abortion Rate

reid-healing-of-america150T.R. Reid, a longtime correspondent for The Washington Post and regular commentator for NPR, published a great Op Ed in Sunday’s Post (Universal health care tends to cut the abortion rate) on why people who want to lower abortion rates in the United States should be 100% in support of universal health care.

Writes Reid: The latest United Nations comparative statistics, available at http://data.un.org, demonstrate the point clearly. The U.N. data measure the number of abortions for women ages 15 to 44. They show that Canada, for example, has 15.2 abortions per 1,000 women; Denmark, 14.3; Germany, 7.8; Japan, 12.3; Britain, 17.0; and the United States, 20.8. When it comes to abortion rates in the developed world, we’re No. 1.

Reid, who is also a Catholic, has been researching health-care systems in industrialized countries for several years in preparation for his book The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care. Reid includes has a very lovely story in his commentary about Cardinal Basil Hume, who was the senior Roman Catholic prelate of England and Wales when Reid lived in London.

Writes Reid: In Britain, only 8 percent of the population is Catholic (compared with 25 percent in the United States). Abortion there is legal. Abortion is free. And yet British women have fewer abortions than Americans do. I asked Cardinal Hume why that is.

The cardinal said that there were several reasons but that one important explanation was Britain’s universal health-care system. “If that frightened, unemployed 19-year-old knows that she and her child will have access to medical care whenever it’s needed,” Hume explained, “she’s more likely to carry the baby to term. Isn’t it obvious?”

Now, I take a little issue with Reid when he argues “The failure to recognize this plain statistical truth may explain why American churches have played such a small role in our national debate on health care. Searching for ways to limit abortions, our faith leaders have managed to overlook a proven approach that’s on offer now: expanding health-care coverage.” From my location, American churches have been extremely involved in our national health-care debate, especially the Catholic church. But I appreciate his summary of why universal health-care is an issue rooted in basic moral values that nearly everyone can support for the common good.

Writes Reid: When I studied health-care systems overseas in research for a book, I asked health ministers, doctors, economists and others in all the rich countries why their nations decided to provide health care for everybody. The answers were medical (universal care saves lives), economic (universal care is cheaper), political (the voters like it), religious (it’s what Christ commanded) and moral (it’s the right thing to do). And in every country, people told me that universal health-care coverage is desirable because it reduces the rate of abortion.

It’s a great piece, read the whole thing here.

Poetry: ‘For Lucille Clifton’ by Joseph Ross

04_Lucille_Clifton_(5)I had coffee this morning with my friend Joseph Ross. We were discussing attending poet Lucille Clifton’s memorial service in April and he said he’d written a poem for her.

When Clifton won the prestigious Ruth Lily Poetry Prize in 2007, the judges remarked that “One always feels the looming humaneness around Lucille Clifton’s poems—it is a moral quality that some poets have and some don’t.”

Speaking to Michael S. Glaser during an interview in 2000 for the Antioch Review, Clifton reflected that she continued to write, because “writing is a way of continuing to hope … perhaps for me it is a way of remembering I am not alone.” How would Clifton like to be remembered? Glaser asked. “I would like to be seen as a woman whose roots go back to Africa, who tried to honor being human. My inclination is to try to help.”

Read Joe’s stunning tribute to one of our great American poets below.

For Lucille Clifton, 1936-2010

She insisted on breathing in
the defiant air
of her own survival.

She sailed through waters
more angry than blue,
waters that swirled

with the probing hands of others,
touching places where
only words belonged.

She found a vision
that saw through sadness
and a voice for calling out

to every waiting fear.
Her vision and voice
lifted her from the humid street

into canyons of night sky
to teach her the given name
of each anonymous anger.

And still, she washes us
in a sacred spray of stars,
making us holy.

And still, she sails,
carrying us in the carved-out
canoe of her womb,

whispering to us
the final message:
that we too can breathe

and be both
the blessing and the boat.

–by Joseph Ross

Read my earlier post about Lucille Clifton.