Here's an American statistic for you about "American exceptionalism" that seems to get lost under the headlines about a slowly recovering economy and a growing number of billionaires. This figure -- at least between attempted massacres like in Austin, Texas, Virginia Tech, Columbine, Aurora and the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, to name a few -- rarely surfaces. The fact that we lose 48,000 people a year in this country to the attacks of private people using privately owned guns seldom makes headlines. Only the atrocities they leave behind them sell newspapers.
From Where I Stand
This month, it was the Leadership Conference of Women Religious that bishops were concerned about. Before that, it was Catholic Charities in the United States. Then it was Caritas, the church's umbrella organization for the coordination of international charity. And now it is the Girl Scouts. Each of them has been curtailed, "investigated" or put in some kind of canonical receivership because of their reputed lack of orthodoxy on sexual issues or because of association with other groups that, according to the bishops, have the same problem. And all of that in the face of the sex abuse debacle of the church itself, still to be resolved, never monitored, and totally closed to outside investigation.
"Actions speak louder than words." We love to repeat this old saying. I believed it once. But recently I've begun to question the value of that position as never before. I've come to understand that what I really want is to hear people commit to something. I want to hear people say what they want me to think they believe. I want them to say it in public, say it in legal documents, say it in catechisms, say it in Encyclicals. Say it ...
"There is meaning in every journey," Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, "that is unknown to the traveler." I travel a great deal. I travel more often and miles further than most of the people I know. Trust me: Bonhoeffer knew of which he spoke. That statement is not only true, it is life-changing. When we learn what we are not looking for, that kind of education reshapes the soul.
This column is late. Months late. Years late, actually. But I admit that it writes itself in my head almost every day. This month, there were two separate situations that require it be said rather than simply thought.
Last week, Rush Limbaugh, popular voice of far-right politics, used his position on the airwaves to insult, label and pronounce on the sexual motivations of a young Georgetown law school student who testified on behalf of the coverage of contraceptive medicine in national health care insurance plans.
There's a new group in town that you ought to know about. They just may be the beginning of a bridge between a climate of despair and a vision of new life for us all.
It's obvious that social change is in the air again. But thanks to this new group, it may be about to happen differently. Up until now, change at least initially has commonly pitted one part of society against another, Republicans against Democrats, north against south, white against black, the old against the young.
By the time we got to downtown Cairo on Nov. 18, Tahrir Square was already an undulating school of people. The crowds swayed back and forth across the roads, stepping over people still wrapped in blankets sleeping on the cement. Like any Fourth of July program in our own parks, a group was banging together the skeleton of a speaker's platform and small groups were already beginning to unwrap the sandwiches they'd brought with them for the day.
This was post-revolution -- maybe better to say mid-revolution -- time in Egypt.
The new military government that took over with the fall of Hosnei Mubarak is preparing for an upcoming civilian election. A new Constitution has been proposed. But this crowd is taking nothing for granted. They are here by the thousands again to send their own message to the new rulers: We are watching you. And we don't want the Constitution you have written.
The story is an old one and I've told it before, but never has it felt so ominous as it does right now.
It happened this way:
About 15 or 20 years ago, I gave a series of conferences in a parish in Canada.
Every culture, including ours, raises its children on fairy tales, archetypes of social relationships and models of human development. It is in fairy tales that we learn our place in life at a very early age.
Social roles and human ideals are clearly defined there. Human types and public values emerge in vivid colors there -- ogres and witches, fathers and princes, authority and obedience, emerge painted in broad, bright strokes. Most of all, little girls learn without doubt the proper roles and virtues of women in society.
It’s been a tumultuous decade, hard to equal in terms of long-term effect. In this short span of U.S. history, spasms of upheaval and change swept through every major system in the country: political, military, social and economic. Historians to come may well see it as a major turning point, not only for U.S. global domination, but also for the very history and internal stability of the country itself. The temblors have been legion.