January 11, 2019

This month’s celebration of Rev. Martin L. King (1929-1968) is of course about more than King. The civil rights era is about more than the Montgomery boycott that began in December 1955. It obviously includes Rosa Parks (1913-2005), who courageously refused to give up her seat on a bus. Keep in mind, Parks’ disobedience was not a momentary impulse, but was the outcome of much preparation. In recent times several scholars have drawn attention to “the longer civil rights movement.”… Read more

January 5, 2019

As early as the mid-1800s, novelists, artists, philosophers, essayists and prophets questioned the great promise of modernity. Does progress always mean improvement? Can production and technology cause poverty? Is science always good? Is the rat race inherently unhealthy? Is there any meaning to life? Is truth anything more than a temporary construct? Fr. John O’Donohue (1956-2008) succinctly summarizes the downside of modern life: “The traditional shelters no longer offer any shelter. Religion often seems discredited… Politics seems devoid of vision… Read more

January 2, 2019

It says “legal tender for all debts private and public.” But cash is out. Indeed, some businesses now refuse cash, including a hair salon in Los Angeles, a few pretentious chain restaurants and several small shops. Visa has declared “a war on cash,” reports New York Times (12/6/18). Other credit companies are implicit allies in that war. Only 30% of transactions by one survey currently involve cash, says Wall St. Journal (12/30/18). Most cash transactions are in small amounts; 55%… Read more

December 11, 2018

“Even if it is not factual, it is too good a story not to be true.” Thus spoke a student. The conversation in class was about the Virgin Birth and more generally about approaches to Scripture. For most of Christian history Scripture was unquestioned; certainly not questioned in the way it is nowadays. The taken-for-granted approach to Scripture changed in the modern age, beginning let’s say in 1500. Modernity means that opinions ought to be verified through exploration, experimentation and… Read more

November 28, 2018

Advice columns are exercises in deconstruction. Dear Abby and Ask Amy must intuit or impose a context for the short query. The newspaper reader, in turn, puts the question and answer into their own context—often comparing the situation to that of their dysfunctional relatives. Smile. Advice columnists in Catholic newspapers or on Catholic websites (usually priests) must likewise deconstruct the question and the reader must imagine some applicable situation. A fair number of the questions are personal (Should I forgive… Read more

November 5, 2018

Not so long ago strikes were deemed counterproductive, says Commonweal magazine (3/26/18). That was until this past February when 20,000 teachers in West Virginia walked off the job. This job action, Commonweal notes, initially occurred “without collective bargaining powers or the legal right to go on strike.” Yet it was “well-executed [and] wide-scale… Its size and scope proved critical.” With visible public sympathy and sufficient solidarity, the West Virginia teachers were successful. Credit goes to “a decentralized rank-and-file made up… Read more

October 30, 2018

Violent language keeps company with violent behavior. The former does not usually cause the latter directly, but in due time violence can follow. To be clear by way of an example, the rhetoric of Sarah Palin did not incite the January 2011 shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others, six of whom died. Palin, the Republican vice-presidential candidate in 2008, had an advertisement that put some Congressional districts (not individual candidates) in a mock crosshairs during the 2010 midterm campaign,… Read more

October 24, 2018

John McKnight directs Asset-Based Community Development Institute at DePaul University. He objects to the standard approach toward a neighborhood by urban planners, government officials, and bank executives, building inspectors, social workers, some police officers and even some teachers. Instead of projecting joy and enthusiasm, they give exclusive attention to a neighborhood’s defects (old buildings, broken curbs, high number of transients, roaming delinquents, dim street lights and more). The well-meaning prophets of doom sometimes propose cosmetic interventions (new basketball hoops and… Read more

August 28, 2018

The Homestead Steel Strike of 1892 is among the most significant chapters in U.S. labor relations history. Homestead, Pennsylvania is just south of Pittsburgh, on the west bank of the Monongahela River. Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) owned the prosperous steel mill there. Some of its workers were highly skilled and belonged to a craft union, Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers. Carnegie was determined to break this union. He cut wages. Knowing there would be trouble, he enlisted the Pinkerton… Read more

August 13, 2018

The primary symbol of our country is our flag, the “stars and stripes.” Closely connected to our flag is the song Star-Spangled Banner, based on an 1814 poem by Maryland lawyer Francis Scott Key (1779-1843). It is customary to stand and doff one’s cap when our anthem is performed at the beginning of every sporting event. There is, by the way, no obligatory rubric about other songs at the ballpark. America the Beautiful, a 1910 tune by Katherine Bates and… Read more

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