Four Articles and a Poem


Weekly, I post four articles that I found significant and a poem accompanied by some comments about what we can learn from them. Our lives are enriched by seeing better. Each week, one article comes from the world of photography, a discipline that is about seeing. Another article comes from the world of technology, hence seeing something of the future. Another article takes up an aspect of our life together, seeing more clearly the other. 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.

This week has been all Pope Francis, all the time. With windows for reading and a very few other activities, I have been watching and listening to the Pope's visit. It would be very easy to present the full course of this week through the lens of the Holy Father's visit.
  1. Pope Francis Is Not ‘Progressive’—He’s a Priest. While much is made of trying to interpret the message of Pope Francis between the Left and the Right, this article understands that, first and foremost, Pope Francis is a priest. The most beautiful and telling moments of the visit have been Pope Francis' interactions with school children and regular folks, for instance, the bereaved at Ground Zero. This article by Emma Green helps us to see Pope Francis better.
  2. Pope Francis to Release Pop-Rock Album 'Wake Up!' Rather than a photography article, let's look at a new album spotlighted by Rolling Stone. While not a new concept, contemporary music is interspersed with recordings of Pope Francis speaking in various languages. In English, he calls for youth to "Wake up!"
  3. Francis, Rebuild My House – For Philly, The Pope's Ultimate Reboot. In his homily, Pope Francis recounts the wonderful encounter between an adolescent St. Katharine Drexel and Pope Leo XIII. After Katharine recounted a list of woes among this nation's Native American and African-American communities and asking the Pope's intervention, he replied: "What about you?" aware of the challenges to the U.S., the Holy Father invites us here to act. His visit is brief. Tomorrow, when he returns to Rome, our work begins anew.
  4. Pope Francis’ Remarks at Ground Zero–Full Text. I have shed tears at many points during this visit. As one might imagine, I was moved by learning of Sofia Cruz and her message to the Holy Father. Nonetheless, the address in this place, Ground Zero, is very significant for me. It speaks of how death will not have the final word. The Pope invites us all to conversion. 
A brief introduction into Gerard Manley Hopkin's life is the first chapter of  Speak What We Feel: Not What We Ought to Say, by Frederick Buechner. The entire book is worthy of your time. Bueckner, with a biographical-historical approach, analyzes the works of four writers: Hopkins, Mark Twain, G.K. Chesterton, and William Shakespeare. He claims, correctly in my view, that the genius of these four authors arises from a common source: the profound sadness they all experienced in life. As we move from summer to fall, let's see a poem from this Jesuit poet.

"God's Grandeur"
by Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Pope Francis and Race in America

I just came across an article from The Washington Post, Why Pope Francis’s silence on black America may soon end, and, while it breaks new ground, I would suggest re-focusing some of its conclusions. Take a minute, go read the article, and come back, please.

I have been struck in recent months by the challenges before us, as a nation and as a Catholic Church in the U.S., around the issues of race. I was out of the country until the end of March. I watched from abroad as events unfolded in Ferguson, MO. Living in Chile these last years, I perceived anew some of the warped ways that we attend to race in the U.S., ways that are peculiar to our history. Also, in recent months, I have been reading Bryan Stevenson, Michelle Alexander, john a. powell, and Ta-Naheisi Coates. Increasingly, issues around race, structural racism, and implicit bias have been a growing concern for me.

The Pew Research Center recently ranked Catholics as among the most racially diverse faiths in the U.S. and, among mainline Christians, the most diverse body. Nonetheless, what Martin Luther King, Jr. said days before his death while preaching at Washington's National Cathedral remains true:

We must face the sad fact that at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning when we stand to sing ‘In Christ there is no East or West,’we stand in the most segregated hour of America.”

Sadly, almost fifty years later, this remains true for American Catholics. We worship like among like. When an American Catholic attends Sunday liturgy, he or she will most likely see people in the pews who look like them. Blacks with Blacks, Latinos praying with Latinos, Filipinos with Filipinos, Vietnamese with Vietnamese, and Whites with Whites, and diversity at a Sunday liturgy being the exception rather than the rule. Some of this is obviously the result of language and cultural preference. Some of it is also the legacy of a long-standing structural racism. Every diocese has historic episodes that it would rather forget: racism in particular parishes countered with the erection of Black parishes, the closing of schools in inner-cities, and historic obstacles to vocations from minority communities. Alongside some holy examples in racial harmony, we also have an ugly history around race that we, as American Catholics, would rather not acknowledge.

At the same time, these episodes that make us uneasy about our past also linger in structures and biases that we experience today. For instance, take this question about the state of American Catholicism:

What would you guess to be the most common last name of an American Catholic priest?

I have asked the question for more than a decade, and most will answer "Murphy" or "O'Connor" or some name of Irish-American heritage, bu the answer is incorrect. If the respondent "expects the unexpected," often he or she will turn to a Latino last name like "Perez" or "Rodriguez." They, too, would be wrong. According to the Kenedy Catholic Directory, which has an alphabetized list of all U.S. Catholic priests, the most common last name of an American priest for at least the last dozen years has been "Nguyen." Let that sink in. Imagine what that says about who we are today as American Catholics.

So, turning to this Papal visit, first, we must keep in mind that every Papal visit is carefully prepared. This Pope, concerned about the periphery, the poor, the marginalized, will be prepared to address issues of race. The article conveys Traci Blackmon's surprise that she would not need "to talk basics — slavery, Jim Crow, Ferguson" underestimates the Vatican, in general, and this one, in particular. Monsignor Peter Brian Wells, with whom the delegation met, is an American, a native of Tulsa, OK. Additionally, the Vatican, while a very Italian institution, also is highly international and multicultural. The Vatican, of its essence, will seek to see the  bigger picture and to understand conditions more broadly.

Second, Pope Francis always identifies the elephant in the room. He does not ignore issues of tension. That was true in the previous synod, and it has been true, I believe, throughout his public life. Pope Francis will raise the issue of race at some point, but he likely will address it in a different way than the Washington Post article might suggest. During his days in the U.S., Pope Francis has beautiful scriptures in the liturgical calendar for addressing numerous topics. Friday's Mass at Madison Square Garden may offer the best liturgical opportunity to speak directly to the American church, and the readings are spectacular, a slow pitch over the plate for Pope Francis. As for what the Pope will say, based on his history, he will not prescribe a specific solution for the U.S., but he will call the U.S. Catholic Church to address the issue. Pope Francis insists repeatedly (including Evangelii Gaudium #32) on the importance of the national conference of bishops (such as the USCCB) attending to specific local issues. I have no doubt that he will say, in his own way, that race is a problem in the U.S. While his words may not offer a specific plan beyond Gospel love and the mission to the periphery, I imagine that he will challenge the U.S. church to engage this question more constructively.

Third, expect a surprise. I love the Holy Father's preaching, but this Pope is most effective sometimes less in words and more in gesture. I imagine that we will see something that speaks clearly to race in America. As an Argentinian, as an outsider, as one with a different experience of race and discrimination, he will have some gesture that will call our attention to our mission as U.S. Catholics. He cannot fix our problem in our local church or the U.S. as a whole, but he can fix our attention on it.

The real work will come after the Holy Father departs from the U.S. In my own unscientific, informal research, while national news has devoted hours to "Black Lives Matter," lethal encounters with law enforcement, protests, and race in America, my intuition is that American Catholics have very uneven experiences of their parish attending to these matters. Specifically, priests in more diverse parishes are more likely to talk about issues of race in the Sunday homily, and, unsurprisingly, a largely White parish is likely to have heard nothing about race in Sunday preaching. A local incarnation of Evangelii Gaudium for U.S. Catholics is to attend to this "most segregated hour of America."

Again, the Pope cannot fix our problems around race, but he can strengthen our resolve to attend to them meaningfully as Catholics and people of good will.

Four Articles and a Poem

Weekly, I post four articles that I found significant and a poem. Our lives are enriched by seeing better. Each week, one article comes from the world of photography, a discipline that is about seeing. Another article comes from the world of technology, hence seeing something of the future. Another article takes up an aspect of our life together, seeing more clearly the other. 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.

In a week filled with much news-making controversy, let's try to see some fundamentals. First, let's look at a graph about patents. Second, let's examine the government's investment in higher education and what it means for us. Then, let us see some images from a photographer who has documented migration for years. Fourth, let's take a deeper look at Pope Francis' visit to the U.S. Finally, our poetry re-visits a classic that many readers may already know.
  1. Which countries file the most patent applications? I am proud that a brother-in-law recently filed his first patent. The patent suggests a great deal about the status of innovation. This simple statistic and chart reveals the current world climate. We have a lot of work to do.
  2. Is It Time to Tax Harvard’s Endowment? Education is a hot topic right now. Amid the opinions regarding an arrested clock-making student, Slate magazine poses an interesting question about education. I have long thought that our U.S. model of education is unsustainable for the long-term. Certain institutions, like the one that educated me, have built enormous endowments alongside massive construction and hiring projects, accompanied by gargantuan tuition increases (interesting cost data across public and private universities is available here). While not popular, I have said since the early 1990s that, for every square-foot of new construction, a university ought to take one out. Otherwise, the fixed costs associated with energy, maintenance, and staffing only climb. Back before I was born, my university had classes six days a week. It had declined to five by my era. Now, I hear that classes now are Monday to Thursday. The 8 a.m. class is a thing of the past. Consequently, the university needs more classrooms-- not because there are more students, but because the classrooms are concurrently used. In fact, the classrooms are vacant many more hours weekly then ever before. Jordan Weissman argues that, amid growing economic inequality, "we seem to have stumbled into a system that disproportionately subsidizes the educations of a tiny few." Weissman's piece is more nuanced than the Politico or Washington Post articles on the same research. I think that he raises important questions about public support (through tax-free endowments and tax credits and deductions for the donors) for exclusive, private universities, relative their impact on growing inequality. The U.S. is fortunate to have many of the world's finest universities, and, no doubt, these endowments contribute to that climate, but we must also have a serious national conversation about access to university education and the finance of that education between private, public, and for-profit institutions. For another examination of the issue from the perspective of the student, see Anthony Abraham Jack's What the Privileged Poor Can Teach Us.
  3. John Moore has an amazing collection of photos concerning migration. Moore is a senior staff photographer for Getty Images based in New York. Moore began his international career with the Associated Press. The Atlantic, Getty, and Slate have featured his work on immigrants. During almost 14 years with the AP, he was based in Nicaragua, India, South Africa, Mexico and Egypt, and photographed in more than 80 countries on five continents. Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, Moore has extensively covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, covering the US and British military in some of the world’s most dangerous combat zones. Since joining Getty Images in 2005, Moore has worked throughout South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, covering the Israel-Lebanon conflict of 2006. Moore has won photography awards from the Overseas Press Club, The Society of Professional Journalists, and World Press. He was also on a team that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography for their coverage of the war in Iraq. After the moving photo of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach, I'd like to keep the face of immigrants and refugees before us as Pope Francis soon visits this land.
  4. The Shadow of Peter. Soon, the Holy Father's plane will touch down in Habana. Thereafter, he will arrive in the United States. To be honest, much of the coverage will be inept, inarticulate, and inane. There are a few trusted sources like Crux and John L. Allen. Rocco Palmo will also share the full texts and thoughtful analysis of Pope Francis' visit on his website, Whispers in the Loggia.

Our poetry this week is a classic, "The Hound of Heaven," from Francis Thompson. Published in 1893, this poem speaks of the relationship between the soul and God. This is a poem that I have treasured since Fr. Peter Mueller, C.S.C. first directed me to it as an undergraduate.

"The Hound of Heaven"
by Francis Thompson

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
   I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
   Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
             Up vistaed hopes I sped;
             And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
   From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
             But with unhurrying chase,
             And unperturbèd pace,
     Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
             They beat—and a Voice beat
             More instant than the Feet—
     'All things betray thee, who betrayest Me'.
             I pleaded, outlaw-wise,
By many a hearted casement, curtained red,
   Trellised with intertwining charities;
(For, though I knew His love Who followed,
             Yet was I sore adread
Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside.)
But, if one little casement parted wide,
   The gust of His approach would clash it to:
   Fear wist not to evade, as Love wist to pursue.
Across the margent of the world I fled,
   And troubled the gold gateway of the stars,
   Smiting for shelter on their clanged bars;
             Fretted to dulcet jars
And silvern chatter the pale ports o' the moon.
I said to Dawn: Be sudden—to Eve: Be soon;
   With thy young skiey blossom heap me over
             From this tremendous Lover—
Float thy vague veil about me, lest He see!
   I tempted all His servitors, but to find
My own betrayal in their constancy,
In faith to Him their fickleness to me,
   Their traitorous trueness, and their loyal deceit.
To all swift things for swiftness did I sue;
   Clung to the whistling mane of every wind.
          But whether they swept, smoothly fleet,
     The long savannahs of the blue;
            Or, whether, Thunder-driven,
          They clanged his chariot 'thwart a heaven,
Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn o' their feet:—
   Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.
             Still with unhurrying chase,
             And unperturbed pace,
      Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
             Came on the following Feet,
             And a Voice above their beat—
'Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me.'
I sought no more after that which I strayed
          In face of man or maid;
But still within the little children's eyes
          Seems something, something that replies,
They at least are for me, surely for me!
I turned me to them very wistfully;
But just as their young eyes grew sudden fair
         With dawning answers there,
Their angel plucked them from me by the hair.
Come then, ye other children, Nature's—share
With me’ (said I) 'your delicate fellowship;
          Let me greet you lip to lip,
          Let me twine with you caresses,
              Wantoning
          With our Lady-Mother's vagrant tresses,
             Banqueting
          With her in her wind-walled palace,
          Underneath her azured dais,
          Quaffing, as your taintless way is,
             From a chalice
Lucent-weeping out of the dayspring.’
             So it was done:
I in their delicate fellowship was one—
Drew the bolt of Nature's secrecies.
          I knew all the swift importings
          On the wilful face of skies;
           I knew how the clouds arise
          Spumèd of the wild sea-snortings;
             All that's born or dies
          Rose and drooped with; made them shapers
Of mine own moods, or wailful divine;
          With them joyed and was bereaven.
          I was heavy with the even,
          When she lit her glimmering tapers
          Round the day's dead sanctities.
          I laughed in the morning's eyes.
I triumphed and I saddened with all weather,
          Heaven and I wept together,
And its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine:
Against the red throb of its sunset-heart
          I laid my own to beat,
          And share commingling heat;
But not by that, by that, was eased my human smart.
In vain my tears were wet on Heaven's grey cheek.
For ah! we know not what each other says,
          These things and I; in sound I speak—
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.
Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake my drouth;
          Let her, if she would owe me,
Drop yon blue bosom-veil of sky, and show me
          The breasts o’ her tenderness:
Never did any milk of hers once bless
             My thirsting mouth.
             Nigh and nigh draws the chase,
             With unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy;
             And past those noisèd Feet
             A voice comes yet more fleet
         
'Lo! naught contents thee, who content'st not Me.'
Naked I wait Thy love's uplifted stroke!
My harness piece by piece Thou has hewn from me,
             And smitten me to my knee;
          I am defenceless utterly.
          I slept, methinks, and woke,
And, slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.
In the rash lustihead of my young powers,
          I shook the pillaring hours
And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears,
I stand amidst the dust o' the mounded years
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
          Yea, faileth now even dream
The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist;
Even the linked fantasies, in whose blossomy twist
I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist,
Are yielding; cords of all too weak account
For earth with heavy griefs so overplussed.
          Ah! is Thy love indeed
A weed, albeit an amarinthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
          Ah! must
         
Designer infinite!
Ah! must Thou char the wood ere Thou canst limn with it?
My freshness spent its wavering shower i' the dust;
And now my heart is as a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
          From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
          Such is; what is to be?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds;
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity;
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
Round the half-glimpsed turrets slowly wash again.
          But not ere him who summoneth
          I first have seen, enwound
With glooming robes purpureal, cypress-crowned;
His name I know and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man's heart or life it be which yields
          Thee harvest, must Thy harvest-fields
          Be dunged with rotten death?
             Now of that long pursuit
             Comes on at hand the bruit;
          That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
          'And is thy earth so marred,
          Shattered in shard on shard?
          Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!

          'Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught' (He said),
'And human love needs human meriting:
          How hast thou merited
Of all man's clotted clay the dingiest clot?
          Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
          Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
          Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might'st seek it in My arms.
          All which thy child's mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
          Rise, clasp My hand, and come!'
   Halts by me that footfall:
   Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
   'Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
   I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.'

Hope and "The Sixth Extinction"

Throughout this year, I have been following Mark Zuckerberg's reading list, but my reading also has been influenced by Bill Gates (or his 2014 list) and, more recently, President Obama. In addition to Ta-Nahesi Coates' Between the World and Me, I also decided to read Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History from President Obama's summer reading list.

One reads a book with the term "extinction" in its title at one's own peril. Kolbert's work multiples that peril. Arranged in thirteen chapters, each with its own species that has gone extinct, Kolbert weaves a tale of life's precarity in earth's history.
Photo credit: Barry Goldstein
Educated in in literature as an undergraduate at Yale and a Fulbright fellowship that took her to Germany, Kolbert has been a professional journalist and author. Not unlike Matt Ridley's Genome, Kolbert deftly mixes science and history with linguistic grace. Along with contemporary and historic, as well as prehistoric extinctions, she tells the history of science: Georges Cuvier, Charles Lyell, Charles Darwin, Luis Walter Alverez, and Walter Alvarez, Kolbert also explains well the twists and turns of paradigm shift in the various streams of scientific reflection.

I must admit envy as well for the travel budget within this book. Kolbert's research took her from California, Ohio, New York, and New Jersey to Iceland, Scotland, France, Germany, Peru, and Brazil, as well as an island off of Italy and reefs off the coast of Australia.

Climate change, one of the biggest challenges we’ll face this century, is not our only environmental concern on the horizon. Natural scientists argue that there have been five extinction events in the Earth’s history, including the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs, and Kolbert makes a compelling case that human activity is leading to the sixth.

I read the book shortly after a visit with Wes Jackson and a tour of the Land Institute. My reading also coincides in the days ahead of Pope Francis' visit to the U.S., who will surely speak of Laudato Si'. The Sixth Extinction, by title alone, provokes dread, but Kolbert concludes with a more hopeful tone. The dread is real:
If you want to think about why humans are so dangerous to other species, you can picture a poacher in Africa carrying an AK-47 or a logger in the Amazon gripping an ax, or, better still, you can picture yourself, holding a book on your lap. (266)  
In other words, we need only look in the mirror to find the cause of our predicament. And yet, Kolbert recounts as well the extraordinary steps that we will go to save a species. I am reminded of our story about a wise old rabbi:

Once there lived a wise old rabbi. A few young boys from the village decided to play a joke on the wise old rabbi. They devised an idea to capture a bird and hide it in one of their hands. The boys would ask the old man if the bird was dead or alive. If the rabbi said the bird was alive, the boy would crush the bird in his hands, so that when he opened his hands the bird would be dead. But, If the rabbi said the bird was dead, the boy would open his hands and let the bird fly free. So no matter what the old man said, the boys would mock the old man. 

The following week, the rabbi came down from the mountain into the village. The boys quickly caught a bird and cupping it out of sight in of their hands, they approached the rabbi and said, “Rabbi, what is it that I have in my hands?” 

The rabbi said, “You have a bird, my son.” And he was right. 

The boys then asked, “Tell me: Is the bird alive or is it dead?” 

The rabbi looked at the boys and said, "It depends." 

The boys mocked him and said, "Depends on what?" 

 The rabbi replied, "It depends on you: whether the bird lives or dies depends on you; the bird is in your hands." 

Indeed, it is in our hands. Our choices have consequences. Whether we know it or not, whether their is a sixth extinction, or more precisely, the form that it will take, is in our hands. God-willing, may we make wise choices about the steps that we shall take.

Portfolios of the Poor: Seeing the Poor as Economic Actors

Mature, public conversation about issues that matter is foundational for democratic society. I am delighted that Mark Zuckerberg's "A Year of Books" offers such an opportunity. To contribute to that dialog, I will offer commentary on each of the readings proposed by Zuckerberg.

I take it simply as truth that most people, rich and poor, spend most of their time earning money, spending money, and worried about money. Portfolios of the Poor: How the World's Poor Live on $2 a Day, authored by Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford, and Orlanda Ruthven, delves into the economic lives of the poor with the science of economists.

Portfolios of the Poor assesses more than 250 financial diaries of people who live on $2 a day from South Africa, India, and Bangladesh. Their methodology is sophisticated. Their investment of time with these families is significant. Their treatment of these poor, more importantly, is profoundly respectful. They capture the thrift, industry, and creativity within the financial management of the poor. This is an important book. It gives insight to important work from people like Nobel-laureate Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank. It also shapes the sustainable development goals of the United Nations. The book also illustrates things that I saw regularly while I served as a priest.

When I served as a priest, I lived among the poor, and I was surprised by how much I had to learn about economics and to learn about how my parishioners managed their money. Meeting the bi-weekly payroll for parish and school and so many other pressing needs meant that the economics of the poor was the economics of my parish. As a person of trust within the community of the poor, parishioners and persons in need shared deeply about their circumstances. Advocating for their needs, I collaborated widely, with bankers, academics, and politicians. With bankers, I sought to open access to reliable, convenient services to improve financial well-being. To gain access, I lobbied local financial institutions to accept the Matrícula Consular. Those same institutions were already seeking to enter the immigrant market. Interviewed by Businessweek when I collaborated with Notre Dame Federal Credit Union to launch a bilingual branch, I remember observing to the reporter, Chi-an Chang, that the only "business" books that I read in college were Adam Smith and Karl Marx. From my position as a person of trust within the community of the poor, I also engaged with the academic community that sought to understand the poor. I was consulted by the team of Christian Smith and am anonymously quoted in his book Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don't Give Away More Money. I collaborated in a study on the economic impact of immigration alongside professors from Notre Dame's Department of Economics: Coming to America: The Economic Impact of Undocumented Workers in South Bend. Collaborating with State Senator John Broden and State Representative David Niezgodski in 2007, Indiana now has a law that prohibits the unauthorized practice of law by a notario público. Learning of widespread abuse by I am also fortunate to have observed the economics of the poor in both North and South America.

My Chilean experience highlighted a number of elements characterized within Portfolios of the Poor. First, many poor in Chile do not regularly engage formal financial services, like banks. Personally, my experience with a local bank could be characterized by great frustration. The signatures on the account included two priests who had died several years previous. To be included as a signature on the account and to strike the deceased priests from the account was a laborious and time-consuming endeavor. In the U.S., the task likely would be accomplished in the same visit. In Chile, I submitted paperwork and waited more than two weeks for its completion. Small wonder that the poor prefer to render transactions in cash.

Secondly, the emerging, young lower middle class have new financial instruments available from stores to extend commercial credit. Sadly, a significant percentage of Chile is unduly burdened by consumer debt, a theme that I wrote about on the parish website. Burdensome interest payments mean that many will not escape this debt without government intervention.

Third, the Chilean church with its 1% campaign creatively engages along the lines described in Portfolios of the Poor with parish visitors, not unlike the work fo the Grameen Bank, but, as more Chileans engage new financial instruments, like ATMs, this older practice needs renewal to provide the necessary financial support for the church. Also, the church needs to better employ Christian stewardship to provide a vocabulary and framework for how the poor engage money, which consumes so much time in earning, spending, and worry.

Portfolios of the Poor is an important work with important consequences within many areas. The book likely generates more questions for scholars in economics as well as those who hope to incarnate, in the words of Pope Francis, a "poor church for the poor." 

Four Articles and a Poem

Weekly, I post four articles that I found significant and a poem. Our lives are enriched by seeing better. Each week, one article comes from the world of photography, a discipline that is about seeing. Another article comes from the world of technology, hence seeing something of the future. Another article takes up an aspect of our life together, seeing more clearly the other. 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.

This week, I will forgo the article on photography as I would like to draw our eyes to something else. We have significant choices before us: a deal with Iran, a presidential election, what we will eat today, all with consequences, even if we are oblivious to them. I admit that I am constructing a "straw man" here amid newsmakers of our day, concluding with a familiar poem, while suggesting an unfamiliar interpretation.
  1. Catholics love their celebrity pope and most — not all — of his priorities. Cathy Lynn Grossman of Religious News Service offers this preview of Pope Francis' visit by underscoring the contradiction of the Pope's enormous popularity alongside the rejection of many of his major themes. Over the coming two weeks, I likely will highlight many articles about the Pope's visit, but this much is clear: Pope Francis comes as a pastor, not a politician. If preaching is to "comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable," Pope Francis will make plenty of us uncomfortable in the U.S. We need to hear his words about mercy, but also about creation and the economy and the "throwaway culture," as he terms it.
  2. Trump Seriously: On the Trail With the GOP's Tough Guy. This Rolling Stone article by Paul Solotaroff is fascinating. I have marveled at Donald Trump's capacity and reach inside the current political campaign. In ways that seem so authentic and natural to who he is, his rhetoric, seemingly unscripted that taps into the angst of a segment of the electorate, his bellicose nature, have confounded his opponents and enamored the media. Solotaroff, after some time with Donald, draws some interesting conclusions about his character and what it says of us.
  3. Joe Biden and Stephen Colbert: Brothers-in-Grief. Stephen Colbert kicked off his new "Late Show" this week, and his interview of Vice-President Joe Biden was an extraordinary moment of television. Colbert's comfort at talking about issues of faith is a contrast with many journalists. Biden, too, speaking of the rosary and the Eucharist, showed an often unexpressed but implicit spirituality. Among the various reports that followed the interview, I liked The Atlantic.
  4. Wendell Berry Honored with First Annual American Food & Farming Award. In a previous edition, I shared one of Berry's poems. For more than fifty years, he has been a prophetic voice calling for an agrarian ethic that would transform our farming and food system into a sustainable model that cares for our water and soils, builds our rural communities, transmits a love for agriculture and the land across generations, and celebrates earth's biological diversity.
A new book revisits one of the most famous poems in American history, suggesting that we get it wrong, we misinterpret it. David Orr, a professor at Cornell and writer for The New York Times Book Review, wrote The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong. Robert Frost's poem has entered mainstream culture, cited everywhere, since its publication in August of 1915. It is commonly read as a praise of individualism where an individual courageously chooses the more difficult and challenging of two roads, but others argue that the poem suggests in its middle verses a more biting commentary on human self-deception, where a person chooses between identical roads and yet later romanticizes the decision as life altering. Orr seems to suggest that Frost may have intended both. A short interview with Orr can be found here.

"The Road Not Taken"
by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Four Articles and a Poem

Weekly, I post four articles that I found significant and a poem. Our lives are enriched by seeing better. Each week, one article comes from the world of photography, a discipline that is about seeing. Another article comes from the world of technology, hence seeing something of the future. Another article takes up an aspect of our life together, seeing more clearly the other. 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.

Here in the U.S., it is Labor Day Weekend. We have some additional time to renew ourselves, to spend some time with family and friends, but also to read.

  1. Teaching With Documents:Photographs of Lewis Hine: Documentation of Child Labor. I sometimes ask myself: "What story do my collection of images tell?" In honor of Labor Day, I would like to direct your attention to Lewis Hine, a New York City teacher and photographer, who believed that a picture could tell a powerful story. Hine felt so strongly about the abuse of children as workers that he left his teaching job and became an investigative photographer for the National Child Labor Committee. Likely, you have seen his 1920 image "Power house mechanic working on steam pump." Hines' images have re-shaped the story we tell about American labor.
  2. Migrants Deported from the United States and Mexico to the Northern Triangle: A Statistical and Socioeconomic Profile. This new report from the Migration Policy Institute suggests, if I may be so bold, that U.S. border enforcement shifted south, to Mexico's southern border. The U.S. and Mexico have apprehended nearly 1 million Central American migrants since 2010 and deported more than 800,000 of them, including more than 40,000 children. While the U.S.  apprehended more Central Americans from 2010 to 2014, Mexico has apprehended one-third more adults and children so far this year. Amid increasingly robust enforcement by Mexico, U.S. apprehensions of Central Americans have fallen by more than half compared to the prior year. The hardships once at our doorstep have been moved south, as many of those who previously would have made it to the U.S. border and been apprehended by the Border Patrol now are being intercepted by Mexican authorities, reshaping regional dynamics.
  3. Pope Francis and Migrants: Honoring Human Dignity, Building Solidarity and Creating a Culture of Encounter. Pope Francis will arrive on these shores in less than three weeks. Don Kerwin of the Center for Migration Studies has written a thoughtful reflection on the Pope and Migrants. Kerwin also wrote a shorter, similar piece on the Huffington Post: What Pope Francis Has Said on Migrants, Refugees and Immigrants, and What He Might Say in the United States. Both are worth your time.
  4. Renewable energy is not enough: it needs to be sustainable. Sustainability has been on my mind a lot lately. Thursday, for instance, I had the opportunity to visit the Land Institute in Salina, KS, with a tour by Duane Schrag and a conversation with Wes Jackson, the Institute's founder. Part of the tour precisely echoed this article from Marjolein Helder, Chief Executive Officer of Plant-e, published on the World Economic Forum website. We have a lot of work ahead to care for our planet.
Amid the reports of so many deaths of migrants in Europe, this haunting poem comes from Long Journeys: African Migrants on the Road (Africa-Europe Group for Interdisciplinary Studies). H/T to Kit Johnson of the ImmigrationProfBlog for pointing me to this poem. The author, Warsan Shire, is a Somali-British writer, poet, editor and teacher.

"Home"
by Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark

you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won't let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly

it's not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn't be going back.

you have to understand,
that no on puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land

no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
mean something more than journey.

 no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father

no one could take it
no one skin would be tough enough (...)

Remember "1776"

In 1976, the year of the Bicentennial, I was but six years old. I remember vaguely the patriotic observance, the parades, the Red, White, and Blue. Through my youth, my parents led us through the National Parks, learning of our nation's history. My education dutifully included study of our history and government, especially in high school, as well as selected readings, like The Federalist Papers in the university. Nonetheless, I have neglected serious study of the history of the American Revolution, preferring the popular films and occasional documentary. Thus, it was overdue that I dedicate some hours to David McCullough's simply titled 1776.

Like much of history, where the final outcome remains fixed with certainty, an historian may take a slice of the history, otherwise well-known, and tease out tension, not regarded in the dominant narrative. McCullough does this exceptionally in recounting the doubts and darkness that consumed the American campaign from the end of August to the final week of December in 1776. The nascent Independence declared in Philadelphia on July 4 could have slipped away amid the difficulties of this period.

While my academic training makes me suspicious of efforts to describe the inner workings of another's mind, except for what they might say and, more importantly, what they do, McCullough marshals an array of sources from more than 25 libraries and archives. His writing is unencumbered with copious footnotes, but the citations are at the end of the book.
David McCullough (Wikipedia)
McCullough, educated at Yale, a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, is widely regarded as America's finest living historian. However, history is always told from a point of view. In 1776, the point of view is that of George Washington and his closest confidants, as well as occasionally from the vantage of the Continental Congress or the British generals. Rarely, McCullough shares the voice of a lower officer or a soldier, preserved in their letters or diary. McCullough imagines vividly the battlefields in now urban areas of Boston, New York, and Trenton. I trust the storyteller, but I know that the writing of the Declaration of Independence is largely omitted, and the hardship of the common soldier is recounted only from the perspective of the general from his quarters or astride a horse. The legacy of slavery, the cultural difference of North and South, are scarcely concerns in 1776. I say this less as a criticism and more as an invitation to read other works as well, like Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States.

In 1776, David McCullough has written an engaging narrative of a slice of American history to tell an important tale in the campaign for American Independence. His tale illustrates anew how fragile the effort was, but how strong and persevering were those who endured to its end. Their struggle, their efforts merits our profound thanksgiving and commitment to greater pursue and live ideals spelled forth in the preamble:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.