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It's hard to tell what's sicker

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The Shriver Report, Part II

There's an old children's tale that talks about blind men encircling an elephant trying to determine what kind of beast it is by catching on to various parts of the animal's anatomy. One touches the wrinkled skin, one the trunk and another the rough and hairy tail. They each get a different impression of what they're dealing with: a snake, a wall or rope. It's a lesson in perspective. It's an insight into the truth of the statement that what we see depends on where we stand. But it's hard to tell if people get that message by the way we are inclined to view the really important things of life from one perspective only.

The great discovery: It's a human issue, not a woman's issue

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Every science student in the country knows that for every action we can expect an equal and opposite reaction. Which translated means that whatever we try to do, someone else will try to stop it. So here's the question: Given the kind of explanatory data that is coming out of "The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation" on the social condition and challenges facing women at this moment in history, what can we expect now?

Let's examine the national conscience before moving on

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At the University of Birmingham in England in the 1980s, I heard a British journalist argue passionately that "Americans make mistakes, yes, but they always examine them and admit them and correct them." The debate hinged on the question of whether or not U.S. motives behind the installation of Cruise missiles in Europe were really meant to defend Europe from Soviet aggression or, more likely, to make sure that U.S. wars would be fought on European soil.

Louise Akers: Silenced or louder than ever?

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History is a dangerous thing. Somebody ought to be reviewing some of it carefully now -- for the sake of the church, if nothing else. There may be a lesson to be learned here.

In Richard Attenborough's film, "Gandhi," one scene of Gandhi's life and the revolt of Indian nationalists against British control stands out above all others. Intent on defying new British taxes on Indian salt, Gandhi leads a march to the sea to collect the salt water that would enable poor Indians to make their own.

A subtler God

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There was a time when asking a question about the purpose of life was simpler than it is now because the answer never changed. Whatever existed and happened, we knew, was the eternal will and calculated design of the God who had made things. Our one purpose in life was to keep a set of basically intractable but ultimately fundamental rules until we had managed to negotiate this world well enough to escape it to a better one.

We learned that God had a particular function or role for each of us: male and female, clergy and lay, slave and free, ruler and ruled. In that schema the purpose of life was certain, however obscure the project itself.

Until Charles came along.

The unfolding of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and the launch, ironically, of the priest Georges Lemaître’s big bang theory -- you can imagine how popular that made him in the church -- changed everything.

Read the full column here: The God who beckons

A new self-acceptance

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Editor's Note: This isn't really one of Sr. Joan Chittister's "From Where I Stand" columns, but it is the latest piece of writing Chittister has shared with NCR readers and we didn't want her regular readers to miss it.

Benedict’s spirituality of humility is an antidote to patriarchy

In an essay titled “Pride and Humility: A New Self-acceptance,” Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister takes a fresh look at the concept of humility in the Rule of Benedict. Benedict of Nursia, the founder of Western monasticism, Chittister writes, “made the keystone of his rule of life a chapter on humility that he wrote for Roman men in a patriarchal culture that valued machismo, power and independence at least as much as our age does. Pride, ancient spirituality says, is the corrosive of the human soul. Humility, the Rule of Benedict says, is an antidote to violence and a key to mental health.”

Read the full story here: Turning Life Upside Down

Well, we're in trouble now

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Well, we're in trouble now. U.S. bishops, not all of them but clearly a vocal few, have brought the church to the point of serious confusion. By denouncing Notre Dame for inviting President Obama to give the university's 2009 commencement address and, in the course of that ceremony, to receive the honorary degree awarded to eight U.S. presidents before him, the bishops are surely in an awkward position. To say the least.

The problem is that on July 10, Pope Benedict XVI will receive President Obama at the Vatican itself. That kind of reception is, of course, no small honor for anyone and surely a symbol of dialogue and listening at the highest level of Vatican diplomacy.

So will those same bishops denounce the Vatican, too, as they did Notre Dame? And if not, what is that saying?

Read the full column here: A voice of reason in a maelstrom of condemnations

The past is a very living thing: Try not to forget it

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Here's a quiz for you: What are Dum Diversas, Romanus Pontifex and Inter Caetera and what do they have to do with us -- to governments, to churches and synagogues and temples and mosques -- and the Vatican? Answer: I didn't know either. Then I got a handwritten copy of a letter from an Indian grandmother that not only answered the original question but made me think of a lot of other questions, as well.

Guided to the monastery for this reason

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If papal trips around the globe do anything at all, they attract crowds. Or they don’t. So reporters routinely use the size of the crowds that turn out to see a visiting pope as a mark of the health and vibrancy of the church. Pope Benedict XVI’s recent trip to Africa, for instance, measured in numbers and headlines, must surely signal the spiritual impact of the church as the world struggles to find a moral compass in an age riven by competing forces and values in contention.

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September 26-October 9, 2014

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