Unsustainable Cities

The (not failing!) New York Times had two extensive articles recently on the chronic environmental challenges faced in two of the world’s largest cities, Mexico City and London. From Mexico City, the Times details the extreme water shortages that threaten a city already known for its challenges with air pollution. The water shortage problem is forcing more and more reliance on fewer and fewer functional aquifers; this in a city that, when 300,000 Aztecs occupied it (instead of 20 million people today), was literally a city of lakes. Worse, the depletion of aquifers appears to have an even more problematic side effect: the city is sinking… and not at a slow rate either. A Times graphic suggests much of the city sinks 5 to 9 inches per year. Even worse, the sinking has affected the so-called “Grand Canal,” which is designed to remove all the waste water from the central city. The problem? The sinking means that in some places, gravity no longer does its work, and so the canal doesn’t flow or has to be “helped along” by massive (gas-guzzling) pumping stations. the city, with a legacy of struggling government, has no large-scale operation for recycling wastewater or collecting rainwater, forcing it to expel a staggering 200 billion gallons of both via crippled sewers like the Grand Canal. Mexico City now imports as much as 40 percent of...

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What does “religious freedom” mean without also having freedom of speech, and freedom of the press?

Yesterday, bishops released a letter urging President Trump to “implement strong protections” for religious liberty. I share some of their concerns. I worry that in a country that has a tradition of valuing freedom of religion, that protection has been diminished by governmental definitions of “religion” that over-associate religion with houses of worship, and one-hour-on-Sunday kinds of moments. I don’t think religion can or should be constrained by what a secular government reflexively assumes religion is. (In a similar vein, I think that the practice of scientific research should not be overly constrained by what government officials reflexively but with...

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Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

In many ways, I did not like the way this book made me feel. I grew up in the land of rednecks, relatively poor but upwardly mobile. My parents held steady jobs and valued education. Poverty was temporary for us. But (and maybe because they were so upwardly mobile) my parents worshipped the bootstrap gospel. They believed fervently and taught us with equal fervor that our destiny was up to us. “Work hard, study hard and you will get ahead.” I believed it completely. I was the teenager reading Ayn Rand, believing I was in control of my destiny...

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Tough Women in Tough Times: Women’s Speech as Contested

Sally Yates and Elizabeth Warren have been in the news a lot lately as examples of tough women speaking up in difficult times.  In both cases, we’ve seen the contested nature of women’s speech, an issue that Catholic women know all too well. The Christian tradition has had its fair share of censure of women’s speech. Two often cited biblical texts have provided proof that it is ‘unnatural’ for women to take on public speaking roles:  According to the rule observed in all the assemblies of believers, women should keep silent in such gatherings. They may not speak. Rather,...

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Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time: God’s Perfection

Reading 1: Lv 19:1-2, 17-18, Responsorial Psalm: Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13, Reading 2: 1 Cor 3:16-23, Gospel: Mt 5:38-48   “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” These are daunting statements.  If we are perfect, we will be the best, the best athlete, the best parent, the best worker, the best whatever.  We will not make mistakes.  We will do what is right.  We will succeed and not fail. This perfection seems impossible.  How can we rise above everyone else and stand alone as paragons...

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Building Catholic Minds?

How does one teach the first theology class to undergraduates? This is a question close to the heart (and heartburn) of virtually everyone I know in theology. In the most recent Christian Century, Aristotle Papanikolaou of Fordham has a marvelous take on this, one I read with particular interest as I am in the midst of teaching this first course for the first time at a new institution. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I emerge from my two sections wondering whether I’m accomplishing… well, what is it that we are trying to do in this class, exactly? Papanikolaou’s article...

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Fake News in the NY Times?  On the Catholic Church?

I love the New York Times.  I really, honestly do.   I read it pretty well every day.  I even pay for a digital subscription (which is significant if you know how cheap I am).  The Times is great on a lot of things.  But its religion coverage?  Especially its Catholicism coverage?   Since Peter Steinfels left, the coverage of the Catholic Church has been pretty much hit and miss.  More often miss. When I read the Jason Horowitz’s piece entitled “Vatican Traditionalists See Hero in Trump Aide” on the front page of the Times this past Tuesday (Feb 7, 2017), I knew that the Times had hit a low.  My b.s. detecting spidey sense went into overdrive.   Because here was an article claiming that there was a cabal of Vatican-insiders looking to Steve Bannon (and by association Donald Trump) to lead the Church out from under the oppression of Pope Francis and back to Catholic Orthodoxy.  I mean you’d expect that from the National Enquirer, right?   But the Times? And because it is the New York Times, a wide swath of readers are going to assume what it is saying is true,  the Times playing on widespread anti-Catholicism among the elites reading it.  It is pretty clear that the author has mastered the science of innuendo and turning one or two claims from unnamed mysterious sources into a full-blown rebellion being hatched under...

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“The So-Called Judge:” Will Donald Trump like Neil Gorsuch’s Legal Philosophy?

When Donald Trump and his advisors were looking for a judge, Trump apparently was consumed with finding “the absolute best person.” (Liptak, NYT, 2/6/17) Now Donald Trump, with the judiciary halting his travel ban, is attacking the “so-called judge” who has put at least a temporary halt to this legislative initiative. Some will foolishly assume that Gorsuch as a “conservative” will be sympathetic to Trump.  However, even if one knows very little about Gorsuch’s legal philosophy (and I confess to knowing precious little), nothing could be further from the truth. While the press focuses on Gorsuch– following Scalia – being an “originalist,” this term is rarely explained. On one level, the claim is that a judge should interpret the US constitution of the United States as its founders understood it. Some interpret this to be the reductio ad absurdum of trying to live in the 18th century. But that is neither Gorsuch’s concern nor, following Scalia, his point. In a recent address following Scalia’s death, Gorsuch seeks to instruct us on the importance of Scalia for understanding the role of judges under the US Constitution.  For Gorsuch, what makes Scalia important is his defense of the separation of powers between legislators and the judiciary. Legislators must only ‘look forward,’ judges may only ‘look backward.’ Legislators create laws, judges interpret them, both in their own right and in relation to what is compatible...

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Sr. Thea Bowman and the Hope of Unity

I was recently re-reading Bryan Massingale’s book Racial Justice and the Catholic Church and was reminded in that text of Sr. Thea Bowman’s speech to the US Catholic Bishops in 1989.  The entire speech can be heard here: I have watched it before and sometimes shown parts of it to my students, particularly for the power with which she captures the tension for Black Catholics between the experience of the Church as educator and therefore the bringer of not just opportunity but also the Gospel, and the experience of nonetheless feeling “like a motherless child” in a Church that...

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Where is the church right now? Where should it be?

A friend sent me this article by David Frum in the Atlantic. “It makes me wonder,” he wrote, “if we are prepared, as a chuch, to help people confront the challenges of the present day. My fear is that we go on with business as usual, worrying about outlawing abortion, getting school ouches, protecting immigrants, and preserving ‘religious freedom’ without ever seeing the big picture — in which case history will someday wonder ‘where was the church?’ Maybe I am overreacting . . .” Frum’s article is about the slow slide to autocracy we see in President Trump, even...

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