The country desperately needs to see the Nuns on the Bus on the road again. I just watched Radical Grace,nearly three years after my daughter and son-in-law gave it to me as a Christmas gift. My tardiness made me feel guilty, but despite the passage of time, the film still feels very timely. Three years after the cancer that is 45 entered the White House; three years after the corruption and cruelty he unleashed has metastasized into key branches of government; three years after Catholics have witnessed the heart of the Gospels ripped out the way children have been ripped from the arms of their parents at the southern border, this documentary about how a few nuns risked their place in the church to fight for justice tells me we need the leadership of the nuns more than ever.
This is a moment to drive the merchants of hate out of the Temple, as Jesus did. But will the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) bear prophetic witness? Do they have it in them to proclaim the Gospel?
I am a Catholic from Malaysia who has lived in the United States for nearly two decades. I became an American citizen two years ago. Every day I look for two of the Big Ideas –Catholicism and American democracy—to which I am forever tethered, to be rearticulated by new, principled leaders. And they are: not by those who command the pulpit or political power but by those who live the Gospel through their faith-inspired service to the community. People like Sister Erica Jordan who asked House Speaker, the conspicuously Catholic Paul Ryan to explain how he translates Church teaching into health care and tax policy. He could not.
Parvati is a gentle mother goddess. But as Kali, she also wields enormous power. The daughter of Himavan, the king of the Himalayas, consort of Lord Shiva, and mother of Ganesha, the Elephant-Headed Lord, Parvati is the embodiment of all the energy in the universe. Her seat is on a lion or a tiger. In the words of a hymn to this goddess, she is “the auspiciousness of all that is auspicious.”
Lakshmi, the consort of Sri Maha Vishnu is often depicted as a very beautiful woman, seated on a full-bloomed lotus, holding lotus buds in two of her hands, a pot of gold in the third. She is flanked by elephants, reflecting her royal status. Lakshmi, as the Goddess of Prosperity, is brilliant in red silk, gold and precious stones. She also offers peace and a sense of balance.
Mother’s Day provided good reason to remember these Hindu deities. They lent their names to the two cows who were milked daily to feed me in the first six months of my life in my grandparents’ home by the sea in Thiruvananthapuram—or Trivandrum, Kerala. I wrote those foreign place names for decades in application letters and immigration forms but it was more than five decades before I first returned to the place where I was born. Continue reading “A Mother’s Gifts by Dawn Morais Webster”
There is no shortage of men in power. No shortage of men who are ready to issue warnings and threaten punishment for straying from the party line. No shortage of men ready to hold forth in front of cameras. And yet, and yet….It took a woman with a lot of guts, a lawyer, and a person of faith to champion healthcare for all. It took a woman to criss-cross the country, standing in solidarity with those in need, ministering to those with “broken hearts” who stand on the margins.
There was no shortage of men with institutional power and access to the pulpit, but it took a woman to speak publicly about supporting the President as he worked in the face of Republican obstructionism to make the Affordable Healthcare Act a reality for millions who had no coverage. And once again in this the craziest of elections, it has taken a woman to stand with other faith leaders to call for a Moral Agenda. Continue reading “A Woman Leads: Church and Politics 2016 by Dawn Morais Webster”
Ivy Helman’s recent commentary (((Israel))) criticizes what she sees as “a new form of anti-Semitism” from organizations such as Jewish Voices for Peace in their advocacy of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement. So I begin this account of a recent visit by two Palestinian students to Hawaii with a reminder that the BDS movement is simply using the tools of nonviolent resistance to pressure Israel into giving Arab-Palestinians what Israel insists on for itself: equality, freedom, peace, justice and access to their homes and properties as stipulated by UN Resolution 194. Israel’s continuing land grabs speak to Israel’s sense of impunity. The two Birzeit University students provided a first hand account of what life under Israeli control means to them and their families. It was the kind of opportunity “to share and learn” that Helman says is necessary. And it only reinforced the importance of the BDS effort.
Mai Hasan and Noor Daghlas, students participating in Birzeit University’s Right to Education (R2E) Tour of American universities have stories to tell that are chilling. Stories that make you wonder why you are still in your seat, instead of running out screaming for someone to do something. To stop the madness that is the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Yet both students speak of their experiences with the matter-of-fact intensity of activists who have come to terms with the fact that their journey is long, and that they have survived, while many have not.
“I am here, not to speak about myself, but to speak for those who are no longer with us,” said Mai Hasan when asked whether she herself might face “administrative detention” after the tour. Since the year 2000, the Israeli government has imprisoned over 7,000 Palestinian youth, many for asserting their right to education. Mai, who graduated shortly after her return home, said without hesitation: “If I am arrested because of the truths I tell about the occupation, I will accept it proudly.”
Both students bear witness to the truth that Freedom is a Constant Struggle, the title of Angela Davis’ latest book. They were at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa recently, with the renowned scholar at the same table, speaking to a packed room. The panel discussion took place just a few hours before Davis delivered her keynote address as the spring 2016 Dan and Maggie Inouye Distinguished Chair in Democratic Ideals to an overflow crowd at the Kennedy Theater. The two young Palestinian undergraduates talking about their life under siege in their own homeland, in conversation with the lifelong activist in front of an audience in Hawaiʻi, one of the places made American by occupation, was a statement of what Davis calls the “intersectionality of struggles.” As Cynthia Franklin, professor in the English department at UH Mānoa and organizer of the visit, said in introducing the panel, the event could be viewed through the lens of Davis’ own words that “It is in collectivities that we find reservoirs of hope and optimism.”Continue reading “Education as Resistance by Dawn Morais Webster”
One of the most prized dishes in Chinese cuisine is called “The Monk Jumped Over the Wall.” The name comes from the folk belief that the monk was unable to resist the aroma of this delicious dish and jumped the wall in search of it.
Reading Jo Piazza’sIf Nuns Ruled The World: Ten Sisters on a Mission, it is clear that these nuns, and others like them, have been drawn by people’s needs, to jump the walls of patriarchy and prejudice.
And there’s no putting them back behind those walls.
Just ask media maven, Sr. Maureen Fiedler: “After all, Jesus was a feminist, and we claim to follow him.”
One nun, though, has accepted being put behind bars for literally breaking through the fences around the nuclear facility in Oak Ridge,Tennessee. Sr. Megan Rice is unfazed by clerical disapproval.
Mother’s Day schmaltz in the media and in our malls makes me wonder if others struggle with some of the mixture of deep gratitude—and impatience I feel.
So I asked a few friends if they would tell me what they wished for most as mothers. Not surprisingly, all wanted their children to know how much they would always be loved, no matter how their lives unfolded. A few went a little further.
Mika K. is the mother of four beautiful children. Over the last couple of years, in addition to caring for her older children, she has nursed the youngest through a near catastrophic health crisis. That crisis left him with multiple disabilities. She continues to keep abreast of the latest in neuroplasticity and neuromuscular therapies that might help further her child’s potential to lead an independent life.
Mika says: “My wish, these past few Mother’s Days, has been to NOT be Mom for a day. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE my kids, LOVE my family, but some days, I am so wrapped up in being Mom that I lose sight of the woman I was before I was Mom. And I don’t just want a “day off.” Here’s how I feel: I feel like I’m running a race and I don’t know how long it is – 5K? 10K? Or is the finish line around the corner? So I don’t know how to pace myself. And I’m carrying a backpack filled with rocks. I appreciate the people on the sidelines cheering me on, and I appreciate the people who tell me to stop and rest. But what I don’t have – and would like – is for someone to carry that backpack for a couple of miles. Or carry ME for a couple miles! Right now, I can take a day off, but that just means I have more to do tomorrow. And I have to be confident that if someone does carry my backpack (or me) that they stay on the course. If they show me a better path – awesome! But don’t take me backwards or on a detour. Does that make sense?” Continue reading “Mother’s Day Wish: “Don’t take me backwards or on a detour” by Dawn Morais Webster”
Women: Architects and Engineers of a Franciscan World
This New Year’s Eve I find myself attending Mass at St. Austin’s Church in Austin, Texas. A long way from Hawaii and en route to Argentina which gave us Pope Francis. This Mass is also a celebration of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.
This crossing of many currents is perhaps as eloquent a statement as any on where women have traditionally found themselves in the church—up on a pedestal or totally in service to others. Both exalted and silenced. Tradition has not served women in the church as well as women have themselves served the church and the community through many ministries. The male leaders of the church have been happy to raise their eyes heavenward and sing the praises of Mary and the many female saints while consigning the women around them to positions of pure service, if not servitude. Continue reading “Women for a Franciscan World by Dawn Morais Webster”
“We, the women and men of the church, we are in the middle of a love story: each of us is a link in this chain of love. And if we do not understand this, we have understood nothing of what the Church is.” Pope Francis
Welcome words of love and acceptance.
Not so the words and actions of Cardinal Tim Dolan who shut of the doors of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the faces of LGBT Catholics and their supporters on Sunday, May 5.
Leading a silent—but eloquent—protest in New York in response to the Cardinal’s recent likening of LGBT Catholics to “dirty hands” that needed to be washed clean, Joseph Amodeo describes what happened when the group tried to quietly enter the Cathedral with symbolically charcoal-blackened palms:
We were greeted by four police cars, a captain, and eight uniformed officers. We were informed by the NYPD’s LGBT liaison that the Archdiocese was prohibiting us from entering the Cathedral, because of our dirty hands. When we tried to enter the Cathedral, security advised us that we could not enter. The representative for the Cathedral said that we could only enter the church if we washed our hands. I truly believe that Christ would have welcomed and embraced us. Instead, we stood vigil in front of the Cathedral for an hour. The Archdiocese’s response further reinforces the feeling of spiritual homelessness that many LGBT Catholics and their friends feel. Continue reading “The Catholic Church: Love Story or Scold Story? by Dawn Morais Webster”
A thoughtful non-Catholic friend, Mei Li, in largely Muslim Malaysia, wondered aloud in a Facebook chat after the election of Pope Francis: “How many people get to start anew like this? A new name, a new life, a new kingdom here on earth. He could be what keeps thousands, maybe millions of people from getting AIDS. Even if my vote does not count, so to speak, I have to care what he teaches.”
Yes, believers or not, we all have to care. The skeptics were right. Picking a Pope from the ranks of the nuns was expecting the current crop of cardinals to cast their net further than they could. But Pope Francis may yet prove to be a fisherman who casts a different kind of net.