That we may know Easter Joy


I wrote for Catholic Relief Service's ethical trade blog earlier this week on the anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster. The text is very much in keeping with the spirit of this blog site. The post on CRS is entitled:  That We May Know Easter Joy: Lament for Rana Plaza. It brings together authentically, I believe, my personal spirituality with that of my work at The Human Thread campaign. Please, feel free to comment here about the writing.

Join the campaign for Fair Trade and Sustainable Clothing from Kohl's and Macy's

Between now and Black Friday (Nov. 25), The Human Thread calls for sending postcards to the CEOs of Macy’s and Kohl’s in support of a living wage at the sites where our clothes are made. I'd be grateful for your help.

When we visit a supermarket, we can purchase organic and fair trade items. When we visit an auto dealer, we can buy a hybrid. Some chains build their identity and customer base by offering those options. We know that the hybrid and the organic, fair trade items may cost us a bit more, but we are willing to pay for them for a broader benefit.

Except for a few niche clothing items sold in a few boutiques, as of yet, no major chain sells clothing sourced in other countries that is fair trade. But we know that most of it comes from places we read on our labels: Bangladesh, China, India, Vietnam, Honduras, Mexico. Pope Francis has called the wages paid those workers: “slave labor.”

Given the woeful wages in garment-producing countries, did the workers who made my clothing receive a wage that will support them and their families? Knowing that the garment industry is the second biggest user of water and the consequent immense harm that the garment industry does to the environment, we also ask what care and provision was made for the care of creation in the production of this garment?

For years members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility have engaged retailers, including Macy’s and Kohl’s on supply chain issues. However they have rejected calls to address wages at the sites where our clothes are made.

After the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh, Professor Jerry Davis of the Ross School of Business wrote a letter to The New York Times. In it he said that change never comes about from investor/shareholder actions without an accompanying consumer effort. This is our effort to make such a difference. We’ve shared this Campaign with him; he is very supportive.

If you agree with us, we'd ask you to sign, stamp, and mail a postcard to Macy's and to Kohl's telling them as much. Both of these companies have good track records in various areas but, if they would support this effort, things would be so much better. We are telling them: If they will lead, we will buy.

If you want to ask others, friends or members of any of your organizations, to get involved, please  email our campaign manager at, indicating your postal address and how many postcards you need. They will be sent by return mail.

E.J. Dionne and the 2016 Election

Last June, I reviewed E.J. Dionne Jr.'s Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent. You can find the review here. I like Dionne, as a writer in The Washington Post and Commonweal, and I enjoy his contributions to MSNBC.
Since 2004, Dionne writes a new book in a presidential election year-- 2004, 2008, 2012, and, now, 2016. Given my delight in his 2012 offering mentioned above, I sought out his 2016 title: Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism From Goldwater to the Tea Party and Beyond. As I delighted in his Our Divided Political Heart, I had high expectations for Why the Right Went Wrong. Frankly, it was a much more difficult read, likely not a reflection at all on Dionne's work. In fact, I think that it has much to do with me and how I find myself (and our country).

I resided in Chile during the 2012 election. While I devoured the news that I could find via El Mercurio and my reading of Politico's Playbook and online versions of U.S. news., I still experienced that election at a distance. Reading Dionne's 2012 work was, then, a deeper dive into the currents around that election.
In 2016, I find myself with this book encircled by news of the election. While I reside in a home without cable television, I have access to round-the-clock accounts of the election at work, in the newspapers, and in my Facebook and Twitter feed. Sadly, whether my preferred candidate win or lose, the country seems so badly divided, and our political discourse, while not lofty before, seems so badly eroded and so coarse as we race to the bottom in 2016.

In short, Dionne pulls together intellectual strands and tensions within conservative thought. Dionne retells the story of the Republican party and conservatism from the days of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the the 1964 campaign of Barry Goldwater alongside William F. Buckley's efforts to create an intellectual foundation for broad currents of conservatism. Dionne revisits all the elections and administration from Eisenhower to 2016 and assesses the adjustments and realignments (and missed opportunities) made within the Republican party for each election. While I was familiar with the general sweep of the history he retold, I did encounter nuggets unknown to me that made the journey a bit more worthwhile.

The final chapter, as any good whodunit requires, suggests important lines for a renewed conservatism, albeit the unrequested suggestion of a liberal (Dionne). He ignites my desire to revisit Edmund Burke's 1790 Reflections on the Revolution in France, a classical defense of conservatism, read in my undergraduate days. While a fine book, it is a depressing romp through the history that brings us to such an ugly, partisan mess in Washington.

Thanks to MATC for hosting Bryan Stevenson

This afternoon, alongside nine other parishioners from St. Benedict the Moor, we attended a lecture by Bryan Stevenson at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Readers of this blog may recall that I reviewed Mr. Stevenson's extraordinary book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption last year. Others may know of my sister Kelly's work alongside the Equal Justice Initiative, defending those condemned to death in Alabama, founded by Stevenson in 1989.

Stevenson gave an inspiring talk. I will avoid recounting his major points, as he has made some similar remarks elsewhere, and I believe that it is worth encountering him, his story, and his mission from him, be it through his book, his TED Talk, or an opportunity to meet him in person. Simply put, one cannot go away uninspired. His zeal is contagious.

After his address, MATC also arranged for a short panel discussion in answer to what Stevenson's remarks. I have posted additional photos of the event on Facebook:

Thanks to Mary Lou Stebbins for getting my ticket to the event! Thanks to MATC for hosting it! Thanks to Mr. Stevenson for making the time to come to Milwaukee and share his message with us!

The Next Phase of the Journey

Friends, on Christmas Eve, amid many gifts, I was offered a job and accepted. Tomorrow, I begin the next phase of my journey as the campaign organizer for The Human Thread campaign. Tomorrow, I arrive into Milwaukee, WI, to begin my new work.

The Human Thread is a campaign to raise consciousness and empower Catholics to advocate for the plight of garment workers worldwide. The movement was inspired by the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh. The devastating event killed 1,133 garment workers, and exposed the wide range of abuses connected to the sourcing of clothing.

I am grateful for the prayers and encouragement of so many in this process. I am also very grateful for the trust being placed in me by those of The Human Thread campaign. Thanks, too, to St. Joseph the Worker, a faithful friend amid these months of job-seeking.
Holy Family at Burgos Cathedral, Spain

(For employment)

God our Father and our Creator, You bestow on
Us gifts and talents to develop and use in accord with Your will.
Grant to me, through the intercession of St. Joseph the Worker,
As model and guide, employment and work, that I may with dignity,
provide for those who depend upon me for care and support.
Grant me the opportunities to use
my energy and my talents and abilities
for the good of all,
and the glory of Your name. Amen

Top Ten Posts of 2015

As 2015 draws to a close, I am filled with gratitude for the opportunity to share books and articles from others that have prompted reflections and thoughts, as well as sharing experiences from the my own journey here. While my weekly collection of "Four Articles and a Poem" draws a certain readership, I have excluded them from this list. Hence, many posts in this list are commentaries and reviews of books. I am especially grateful for the ways that readers have interacted with what I have posted here. Conversation is at the heart of he time that I put into this blog.

So, I share a series of my ten favorite posts from the year, posts that help engage us in what I believe to be significant conversations.

  1. 50 Ideas for Making Laudato Si' part of Parish Life. My top post of the year is my most viewed and a post that has been subsequently published elsewhere. Pope Francis' Laudato Si' was such a landmark work, I enjoyed writing these  ideas on how to live the encyclical in the local parish.
  2. Zuckerberg's "Year of Books." My reading this year has been highly influenced by Mark Zuckerberg's list. His decision to share his reading this year introduced me to new writers and a deeper immersion into cultures and science with which I was less familiar. It really has been a joy to accompany Zuckerberg in his reading.
  3. The End of Power: So What Do We Do? The best book of Zuckerberg's list may well have been his first, Moisés Naím's The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn't What it Used to Be.
  4. Mons. Jack Egan and Chicago. Jack Egan was an amazing priest and a model to many, including me. I spent some time reading a biography this year, a real joy!
  5. Blessed, indeed, are the Organized. Jeffrey Stout gave me a new book to recommend to those interested in organizing. It is a great book, and I am glad to share the good news.
  6. No More "Scissor Charts." Robert Putnam, Harvard's esteemed sociologist, published an engaging account of his hometown, Port Clinton, OH and other cities across the U.S. Sadly, his research indicates that many of our kids are failing, and he provides some suggestions on how we might take better care of Our Kids.
  7. From a Father to his Son: Ta-Nehisi Coates' "Between the World and Me." The National Book of the Year, this book will be on many people's year-end list.
  8. The New Jim Crow: A First Look. Michelle Alexander's book was an important read. This post was the first of four to reflect upon it.
  9. Rational Ritual and Social Change. Another Zuckerberg pick, Rational Ritual: Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge by Michael Suk-Young Chwe, popularizes serious academic work in game theory.
  10. The Light of the Heart's Desire: The Dark Light of Love. Fr. John S. Dunne, C.S.C. was a mentor and friend. This posthumous work was a great gift, an opportunity to re-encounter an old friend.

Four Articles and a Poem

Weekly, I share links to four articles that I found significant, accompanied by a poem. Our lives are enriched by seeing better. One article comes from the world of photography, a discipline intent upon shaping how we see. Another article takes up technology, hence seeing something of the future. Another takes up an aspect of our common life, seeing more clearly together. Another article refers to faith, seeing the unseen. Finally, the weekly post concludes with a poem, because poetry is about seeing words whose arrangement allows us to see anew.

So close to Christmas and its cheer, let me address the darkness not caused by the short days.
  1. Making War Make Sense, Mathematically. Sanjena Sathian, writing for Ozy, profiles Kiwi physicist Sean Gourley. By analyzing raw data on violent incidents in the Iraq war and others, Gourley discovered strong mathematical relationship linking the fatality and frequency of attacks, an algorithm for conflict and war. His TED Talk is short, and, while from a few years ago, I'd love to see an analysis of the data concerning ISIS. 
  2. 'Do Not Stand Idly By' on gun madness, make gun makers step up. Dan Rodricks of the Baltimore Sun offers an analysis of the IAF's grass roots campaign to address gun manufacturers in the interest of public safety. The campaign Do Not Stand Idly By draws its name from the Book of Leviticus (Lev 19:16). While the NRA has tremendous pull in Congress and state legislatures, his campaign, launched by the faith leaders and citizens who make up the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation (Metro IAF) network, is based on two simple premises: first, that we can’t end the plague of gun violence in America until the manufacturers of guns make safety and responsible sales among their highest priorities, and, second, that the companies that step up to lead in these areas will thrive. They’ll tap a growing demand for safety, and expand their market share among major public-sector gun buyers. Citizens, law enforcement leaders, public officials and investors are working together to ask gun manufacturers to lead their industry by: Creating first-rate networks of dealers that meet high standards of security, record keeping and cooperation with law enforcement, and bringing child-proof, theft-proof guns to market – along with a variety of other gun safety technologies.
  3. 2015: Our Top 21 Photos. I find it odd that my first reference in this blog  to Dr. Paul Farmer is in the context of photography. Best known for his humanitarian work providing suitable health care to rural and under-resourced areas in developing countries, starting with Haiti, Farmer, an American anthropologist and physician, is co-founder of an international social justice and health organization, Partners In Health (PIH). His Pathologies of Power is a must read. These 21 images show a great organization at work.
  4. Bishop Madden: US Catholics Uniquely Equipped to Push Back Against Islamophobia.When I was an undergraduate, I was very fortunate to have a semester in Jerusalem. While there Bishop Denis Madden was one of my professors. Then a priest, Bishop Madden did humanitarian and reconciliation work work among Palestinian refugees in Gaza and Lebanon. Bishop Madden's call is one to understanding, based on our experience. It is an urgent call to peace.
Beset by such forms of violence in the prior articles-- the mathematics of war, the gun violence in the U.S., the violence of inequality in access to healthcare, and the violence of a minority within a religious faith and the engendered cycle of violence, may our hearts seek peace. Let us draw hope that we can indeed do something, that we can push back this darkness.
On this day in 1848, Emily Jane Brontë died at 30 years old. Brontë was an English novelist and poet who is best known for her only novel, Wuthering Heights, now considered a classic of English literature.

"Fall, leaves, fall"
By Emily Brontë

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay
Ushers in a drearier day.