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Brains, Bodies, Borders, Biases and the Circle of Holy Belonging

February 5, 2017

Vox Nova is pleased to publish the following guest post by Rhonda Miska.

“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls, to arrive at its destination full of hope.”



Rhonda Miska at the Healing Our Borders Vigil. Photo credit: Sister Lucy Nigh, SSND


This was the refrain repeated over and over as I stood in a prayer circle of about thirty interfaith activists, a few steps from the border checkpoint between Douglas, AZ and Agua Prieta, Sonora. Every Tuesday evening, local activists and visitors to the border gather for a “Healing Our Borders” Vigil to pray and remember those who have died making the journey north. We processed down the street towards the border checkpoint, calling out the names of some of the estimated 6,000 migrants who have died along the nearly 2000-mile US/Mexico border. For those whose bodies were decomposed when they were discovered in the desert – we simply announced no identificado or no identificada. We held up white crosses and named them present – presente – proclaiming their lives as dignified and their deaths as worthy of commemoration. Like John the Baptist, that marginal voice in the wilderness we had heard about in the week’s Gospel readings, we were seeking to speak truth.

Our prayerful remembrance of these migrant deaths happened as day turned to dusk, the crescent moon rose, and streetlamps with their fluorescent glow clicked on. Back home, I knew my Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters – along with all those who follow the monastic rhythm of liturgical prayer – were gathered for vespers, which closes with a supplication for “a restful night and a peaceful death.” My heart carried lament for deaths from hyperthermia and dehydration under the relentless desert sun, deaths not marked by the comfort of anointing oil, words of final blessing, or the ease of a deathbed attended by loved ones. Read more…

We Want Our Dignity Back

February 4, 2017

A recent World Council of Churches delegation to Iraq reported on the complex feelings and wrenching dilemmas of Christians there.  They quoted one woman named Lubna Yusef, who I will let speak for herself here because her voice, unsettling as it is, deserves to be heard.

“What did we do to deserve this? I hate traveling and immigration, but today, for the sake of my children, if I had a chance to emigrate I would,” she said.

“If there was protection for us back home, this wouldn’t happen. But how long can we go on living where we are now? I am young but I feel like my life is over. Yet what about my children? Who can guarantee that something even worse than ISIS will not come along and destroy the life of my children?” she asked.

“Our priests are telling us to stay because this is our country, this is our civilization. But why do we repeatedly have to start from zero? If I go to Europe or the United States, would they accept the diploma that I have from here? Of course not. So don’t bring any material things for us. We don’t want that stuff. I will work hard and I will buy what I need. But I can’t buy my life. I want security. I want to sleep at night without worrying about the morning,” Yusef said. “We don’t want you to help us rebuild our houses. Even more important, we want our dignity back.”

Her story and complaints, like those of many other Iraqi Christians, don’t fit neatly into any ready-made political narrative.  This suggests that something may be missed when public discourse remains only at the level of keep-them-out vs. let-them-in arguments.  The cry for dignity, in particular, echoes other such demands from surprising places.  Then again, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising, since a dignified life is a fundamentally human need (and, according to Catholic Social Teaching, a fundamental right).

Mind you, I come down firmly on the side of welcoming the stranger, as I believe all Christians should.  But for this to even be sustainable, there are whole deep webs of intersecting concerns, problems, and outright crises – the circumstances that drive people to the desperation of leaving places they love, often at the risk of their lives, to seek safety in places where they may be made unwelcome; and those that drive people to scapegoat the stranger out of all-too-tangible fears for their own physical and economic security – that need to be addressed at the root.

The social concerns involved are overwhelmingly complex.  But somewhere at the heart of it all is the need for dignity.



1950 Hollywood on the Buyout of Democracy

February 4, 2017

I’ve been thinking this week about an old movie I saw recently: Born Yesterday, in which a boorish, unscrupulous business tycoon goes to Washington to wreak some havoc and perhaps make a few ill-gotten bucks.  If only that pesky press would stop bothering him with little annoyances like facts and ethics…

Oh, and his trophy mistress gets a civic education of sorts and discovers she has a brain.  Well, anyway.

With apologies for completely spoiling the ending (the video below is bookmarked at the climactic penultimate scene within the full movie), the dialogue here is gold.


I think my favorite line is uttered by Judy Holliday’s newly conscientious ingénue: “This country with its institutions belongs to the people who inhibit it!” – a malapropism that may at times contain an ironic degree of truth.

This toast is one for the books too:

“To all the dumb chumps and all the crazy broads, past, present and future, who thirst for knowledge and search for truth, who fight for justice and civilize each other, and make it so tough for crooks like you – and me.”

Hear, hear.


Godwin’s Law Overturned on Appeal

February 3, 2017

Godwin’s Law is, in the words of Wikipedia,

…an Internet adage which asserts that ‘As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1’—that is, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler.

…there is a tradition in many newsgroups and other Internet discussion forums that once such a comparison is made, the thread is finished and whoever mentioned Hitler has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress. This principle is itself frequently referred to as Godwin’s law.

There has always been something that bothered me about that law. It is this: what if a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis is actually apt?

Read more…

Quote of the day

January 30, 2017

For all the talk about ‘populism’, what really imbues this White House is nationalism. But not just nationalism in a general sense which can have positive, communitarian aspects. It is a hateful and aggressive nationalism based on zero-sum relationships and a thirst for domination and violence. These are dangerous people.

-Josh Marshall



January 30, 2017

This is not a long post.  This is not a critically reasoned post.  Rather, it is an attempt to explain, partly to myself, why I have decided participate in a bit of Facebook activism.  I don’t usually participate in the social actions that crop up on Facebook, and indeed at times I have been openly critical of folks who, for example, superimpose a French tri-color over their profile picture, particularly if they have never given any indication prior to this that these were issues they cared about.   But this campaign #IamaStranger, started by two Franciscan Friars, has grabbed me viscerally as something I must do.   The campaign is simple:  take a picture of yourself like the one below, include the above hashtag, and share it on social media.

iamastranger                 (personal photo of author)

Long time readers will recognize my skullcap and keffiyeh.  I have blogged before  about wearing these, and I am resolved to continue wearing them.  I say this just to make clear that this is not a costume I donned for the photo, but something I have worn and will continue to wear.  (Indeed, as I type this I am getting ready to go to mass wearing them.)

Read more…

Pro-Life Feminism in the Spotlight

January 29, 2017

Infanticide is on the increase to an extent inconceivable…. a recent Medical Convention [in rural Maine] unfolded a fearful condition of society in relation to this subject.  Dr. Oaks made the remark that, according to the best estimate he could make, there were four hundred murders annually produced by abortion in that county alone.  The statement is made in all possible seriousness, before a meeting of ‘regular’ practitioners in the county, and from the statistics which were as freely exposed to one member of the medical fraternity as another.

There must be a remedy even for such a crying evil as this.  But where shall it be found, at least where begin, if not in the complete enfranchisement and elevation of woman?

–Editorial, The Revolution, March 12, 1868

In the decades following Roe v. Wade, abortion access has become largely synonymous with women’s rights in much of public discourse and the popular imagination. Yet historical evidence shows that this has not always been the case.  19th-century “first-wave” feminism is best known for its primary emphasis on women’s suffrage, and when the suffragists did speak about abortion they universally condemned it, both as a terrible act of violence in itself and as a symptom of other social problems, particularly for women.  In fact, it was men (namely Larry Lader and Bernard Nathanson, the former especially being more concerned with population control than women’s rights) who convinced initially reluctant later feminists to add abortion to their platform.

Nevertheless, a recent kerfuffle over a billboard by Feminists for Life prompted Deborah Hughes, president of the Susan B. Anthony House, to claim that Anthony never took a public position on abortion.  Carol Crossed, who is president of the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum, offered the news station in question (which she is local to) evidence to the contrary from The Revolution, the suffragist newspaper Anthony managed with co-editors Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Parker Pillsbury.  The station has apparently not produced any follow-up to the original segment, but relevant scanned pages from The Revolution can be found on the Birthplace Museum’s website.  (And while FFL’s billboard didn’t mention Anthony directly, they have a nuanced historical examination of her views and those of some of her colleagues and contemporaries here.)

Then, independently of all that (though Hughes and Crossed both responded afterward), Saturday Night Live went there.  The sketch in which Anthony appears to a group of modern women, who first greet her warmly but quickly grow indifferent until she offers the jolting parting shot, “Also, abortion is murder!”, could be read a few different ways: as a cursory nod to pro-life feminism, or a commentary on the superficiality of a merely touristy interest in the accomplishments of historical figures like her, or an attempt to contextualize away her pro-life position as a mere product of her time, as antiquated as her high Victorian collar and stone-heated stove.  But however it was intended, it sparked some timely conversation prior to the Women’s March and the March for Life – especially for those concerned with the intersection of the two.

The Consistent Life Network has an ongoing petition to media outlets to broaden coverage of the pro-life movement to include feminists, peace advocates, and others who fall outside the conventional stereotypes.  Ironically, the exclusion of pro-life feminist groups by the organizers of the Women’s March has to some extent made that happen.

Read more…

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