Seven Posts I Haven’t Yet Told You About (7 Quick Takes, Vol. 43)

Hello there!

Gosh, it’s been forever again, hasn’t it? Especially since I keep forgetting to cross-post my Catholic Review blog posts here. Argh. All that time writing and I don’t even share it with you. (Unless you follow me on Facebook. Then maybe you’ve seen my posts.)

When I started that blog I was pretty good about sticking a new post here every time I had one there. But then I started forgetting, and once I started forgetting, I felt like I had to catch up before I could post anything new. (Weirdo-OCD-perfectionist Julie.)

Anyway — this is me catching up!

Here are seven posts (one in two parts) I haven’t yet told you about. And because I’ve (kind of) hit the lucky number seven here, I’m linking up with Kelly for Seven Quick Takes. (By the way, if you haven’t yet read her latest 7QT post — don’t miss it! It’s This Ain’t the Lyceum GOLD.)



“Our system is better designed to stop than to do, and for one who fears the direction of a new government, that should be a comfort.

(Conservatives saw the value in that uncooperative-cog concept in the last administration; liberals will undoubtedly see it this time.)

So as worrisome as political developments may seem, I retain my basic trust in that spread-out, clunky system. I may disagree with the people who make it up, I may see few prospects for positive developments, but I trust that if things become truly dangerous, some sticky cog will get in the way.

God bless those sticky cogs.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)



“Lately I feel like a failure at pretty much everything I try to do: mothering, managing my household, blogging, being a good friend and an involved member of my extended family. (I know I’m not actually a failure, but it sure feels like it at times, especially as the holidays multiply our obligations.)

I feel like I’m a failure at being an attentive and engaged citizen. My post-election sense of being overwhelmed has not gone away. I’ve found it difficult to keep up with the competing news stories and the competing narratives of single news stories. I haven’t weighed in on anything. I haven’t gotten my little “let’s get people of different political stripes together to talk” project off the ground. (Status: information gathered, dates not yet set.)

I feel kind of like I have writer’s block, except it has to do with the thinking of the whole thing, not the writing. As I become more consumed with events at home (some of them pretty stressful), I pay less attention to news from the outside. And as I pay less attention to the news, I feel increasingly less capable of any sort of mental and emotional wrangling with the world.

But I’ve been trying, when I think of it, to rely on a strategy from an earlier point in my life: putting aside my worries about what I’m not achieving and instead focusing on what I am doing in a particular moment. Usually (but not always), that “doing” is pretty constructive, even if it seems insignificant in the scheme of things.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)



“Why must we choose a side and hold onto it so tightly?

During the campaign, of course, the “side” thing was taken to a frenzied, fevered pitch. Third-party voters like myself were told in one breath that we were essentially voting for Clinton and in the next that we were essentially voting for Trump. (The supposed beneficiaries of our votes aligning perfectly with our critics’ bogeymen.) Our votes – our actual votes – weren’t good enough. We either had to hate Trump enough to vote for Clinton or hate Clinton enough to vote for Trump. People seemed downright blinded by the binary.

But that was then, back when we were facing a black-and-white choice on a ballot. What about now?

No doubt, many will choose to continue carrying on this way. Some will think we owe allegiance to one side or the other. Some will think that any kindness or concession to the opposing side is a blow to their own. Some will think that their own side’s transgressions must be overlooked in the interest of some Important Ultimate Goal.

But I think this attachment to the binary is the absolute worst course we could take as Americans, as lovers of democracy and liberty and justice. No one wins in the downward spiral of suspicious, spiteful, partisan politics.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)



“For all the focus on national-level politics, many (most?) of the programs and policy decisions that impact our everyday lives are formulated much closer to home than Washington, DC.

Schools, roads, assistance programs, the environment, hospitals and clinics, business incentives and regulations – the State of Maryland (and your state too, if you live elsewhere) has a hand in it all. And in turn, organizations that you and I care about – our faith communities, our schools, labor or business or other advocacy organizations – have a hand in the development of the laws, policies and regulations of the state . . .

Ninety days from now, the Senate will still be debating at least some of Trump’s appointments. We’ll still, I expect, be witnessing a tense back-and-forth between the president and the media. We’ll probably feel stuck on a whole range of issues and relationships.

But in that time, we’ll also have seen much movement at the state level. Maryland will have passed a budget and hundreds of other bills that will impact our lives for years to come. Let’s pay attention, because lot can happen in 90 days.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)



“Today as we inaugurate a new American president, I sit at home nervous, waiting, wondering what will come of this all. I haven’t decided whether I’ll watch. I’m more likely to listen, the radio humming in the background as I busy myself with lunch and laundry and little ones.

But I’m sure to be praying.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)



“It’s natural that we should vary in our attachment to various issues, so I don’t mean to tell one set of pro-lifers or another that they’re wrong in focusing their efforts on x,y,z. You do you: pray at an abortion clinic, volunteer at a soup kitchen, donate to Catholic Charities / Catholic Relief Services / National Right to Life. Do your part, whatever it is, to advance the dignity of human life.

But I do think that all pro-lifers should do a better job of talking about it all. Liberal pro-lifers should speak against abortion just as they speak against poverty and discrimination. Conservative pro-lifers should speak for the immigrant and the refugee just as they speak for the babies. Because this divide has become too divisive. There is too much resentment. There is too much misunderstanding. There is too much distrust. There is too much space for evil to sneak its way in.

And there are too many women who hear that pro-lifers “only care about babies until they’re born” and believe it.

The honest truth is, each side of this divide is incomplete without the other. If human life is to be respected, it’s to be respected at all stages. If human life is to be respected, it is to be respected in all forms. If we Catholic pro-lifers truly believe that each human being is created in the image and likeness of God, then we’d better talk like we do. We’d better dwell on that idea, chew on it, practice it by saying it aloud.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)



“I’m trying to decide when to panic.

Standing where I am (somewhere in the middle, I suppose) I turn to face my friends on the left and panic is pretty much all I see. Well, panic and its more sober, productive, currently-popular relation: resistance. I see people who are more than just dismayed at the direction in which our government is heading; they fear that the system upon which we rely – a system of justice and due process and free speech and equal opportunity – is coming undone. They fear that we could be nearing the end of the American experiment.

Turning to face my friends on the right, I mostly see amusement or bemusement or even satisfaction at the Left’s distress. They think the panic is overblown. If they supported Trump’s “bull in a china shop” campaign persona, they’re thrilled to see it carried over to his presidency. If they weren’t crazy about that persona then, well, they’re mostly just relieved to see Trump heading in the right direction. Clumsy steps in the right direction are better than agile steps in the wrong one, they seem to say.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)


“I used to think of myself as the stubborn, brave, independent type – the type who spoke the truth and stuck up for the oppressed no matter the consequences. After all, I was a kid who stood up to bullies. I regularly stick up for myself. I used to make my living advocating for the poor, the vulnerable, the stranger. I write on contentious issues – issues that wrangle with the concept of justice – all the time.

But the older, or the more self-aware, or the more flawed I become, the more I see how gutless I can be.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)


Thanks for indulging my little catch-up! I hope you’ll check out the posts and I hope to have more for you (both here and there) soon. Have a great week!



Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

The Everyday Brave: James Yamakawa

(Everyday Bravery, Day 9)

When the idea for this Everyday Bravery project first occurred to me, one of the most prominent things in my mind was the collection of brave people I have known in my own life. And one of the first of them I thought of was my friend James Yamakawa.

These Walls - The Everyday Brave - pic of James Yamakawa

James and I went to high school together. It’s been years since I’ve seen him in person, but I’ve enjoyed keeping tabs on him and his beautiful family via Facebook. He is a husband, a stay-at-home father of three, a martial arts instructor, a member of Faith Lutheran Church in Salisbury, Maryland, and the head organizer for the group Showing Up for Racial Justice Delmarva. (More on that later.)

One of the things that has stood out to me in these years of following James online is that he is a person who tries. He doesn’t seem content to sit back and let the world pass him by. Rather, in his enthusiasm for his family, his church, his work, and his community, James comes across as someone who just about dives into life.

James and I come from different religious and political backgrounds. We disagree on the substance of some important issues and, I’m sure, on aspects of any number of smaller issues too. But I love watching James go about his trying. Because in doing what he does, James seems to be engaged in a dialog with the world. He’s not somebody who will shout a slogan at you and then walk away. He’s somebody who will hold up a big, controversial poster and then pour you a cup of coffee to talk about it. (Figuratively speaking. Though I wouldn’t be surprised to know that James also does that literally.)

James is a person of good will. And I think he’s awfully brave. Below you’ll find a little interview I did with him about bravery and about his work organizing the group Showing Up for Racial Justice Delmarva.

(1) What is Showing Up for Racial Justice Delmarva and what prompted you to organize it?

The group is part of the larger, national SURJ movement, whose goal is to inspire white Americans to stand up and speak out to their communities about racism. A friend and I started the group shortly after attending a Martin Luther King Day rally in Annapolis this past winter. However, the process, internally speaking, probably began much earlier, as I started reading more on social media from voices of color, from a perspective that I had not really ever thought about before. I am half-Japanese, from my father’s side, but for all intents and purposes I present as “white,” and I benefit from appearing like that.

(2) What in your upbringing – in your family and/or your faith – encouraged you to be brave?

If I had to say the one thing that informs how I approach all of this, it’s my belief in a God that loves me for who I am, and that there is nothing I can do to make him love me any more or any less. For some that may be a reason for indifference, but for me it means having the freedom to take action. To decide to do what you think is right, because no matter what happens, God is there for you. It’s a freedom I have been looking for throughout a troubled childhood and a tumultuous growing up; becoming a husband, a father, and learning what it means to be a true member of a community. Not only am I free to make mistakes, but also free to be content that I’ve done at least some good. The latter is definitely the more difficult for me to grasp. And when dealing with an issue like talking about race, you have to be willing to make mistakes, because that’s the only way you can learn to do better than you are now.

(3) What does bravery feel like to you?

First off, I would like to say that I don’t think I can call myself “brave”. I think bravery is something that is ascribed to you, whether you want it or not. There’s a southern African concept of “Ubuntu” – “I am because we are.” If I am brave it’s because I’ve done something that others consider brave. Perhaps that’s just the Lutheran in me, but I never feel “brave” myself.

If I had to distill it down into a feeling though, I’d say it’s like a weird combination of calmness and dread. You know what you are about to do is going to make you different afterwards, somehow, from who you were before. And a part of you doesn’t want to do it, but you go ahead and do it anyway. But consider that what little discomfort I get out of doing this is nothing compared to that which many black Americans experience every day, without fanfare.

(4) What most threatens your bravery?

Definitely fear. There’s probably a reason that “Fear Not” is used so often in scripture!  Fear of making a choice, and getting off the fence. Putting myself out there as saying “I believe this is the right thing to do,” and then having to do that and defend that. I’m not saying I always choose the braver course of action, but I like to think I do more now than I did before. And trying to talk to my friends, my neighbors, sometimes complete strangers about tackling a culture of white supremacy from the inside, it can get scary, because you don’t know what’s going to happen. You may lose a friend. There may be anger directed at you, especially online, where the worst angels of our nature tend to get the most airtime. It gets uncomfortable, at the best of times, but I don’t think God would want us to be comfortable at all with racism.

(5) Is there anything else you’d like to offer on the subject?

I’m a quote guy. I like to read and try to emulate wisdom from sources older, smarter, and definitely more eloquent than myself. One of my favorites is the poet, farmer, and theologian Wendell Berry. In his essay The Hidden Wound, he writes:

It is not, I think, a question of when and how the white people will “free” the black and the red people. It is a condescension to believe that we have the power to do that. Until we have recognized in them the full strength and grace of their distinctive humanity we will be able to set no one free, for we will not be free ourselves. When we realize that they possess a knowledge for the lack of which we are incomplete and in pain, then the wound in our history will be healed. Then they will simply be free, among us–and so will we, among ourselves for the first time, and among them.

That speaks to me, because one of the pitfalls of doing this kind of activism is a well-meaning white guy trying to “save” black people. They don’t need saving. We, “white people,” need to worry about saving ourselves. We are not the primary victims of white supremacy, not by a longshot. But in a way, it hurts us, just in different ways, because it forces us into separation from our neighbor, from that which would make us whole. It fractures community. So working towards racial justice is really an act of Atonement, “at-one-ment,” that is meant to bring us together, not to divide as so many seem to be convinced it is doing. It’s an act of love. Love of our neighbor as ourselves, and love of that from which they were created.


One note before we end: As my readers will know, last week I published some of my own thoughts on racism and racial justice. Though I am following that post with James’ story, I want to be clear that I am not trying, in this one interview, to be exhaustive in showing what bravery on that big, complex, divisive issue looks like. Most especially, I’m not trying to make one white man’s experience representative of the countless African Americans who work toward racial justice every day.

I just started with someone I knew. I started with a friend.

If you have an example of bravery on this issue or another – an idea of someone I might want to interview, please let me know. I’m enamored with this The Everyday Brave idea and I hope to continue it beyond my Write 31 Days project.

Thanks in advance for your ideas – and thanks especially to James for allowing me to interview him.



This post is the ninth in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

These Walls - Everyday Bravery


Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

The Post I’ve Been Wanting to Write on Race

(Everyday Bravery, Day 5)

Lately I feel like every time my mind turns outwards, away from the joys and the responsibilities of life at home, it lands on race.

Sometimes it’s all I can think of.

The news, social media, encounters at church and school and the grocery store – they prompt this whirlwind of thought and memory and anxiety and love and (I hate to be dramatic, but) fear for the future of our society.

The thing that most gets under my skin about this preoccupation with race is that it should strike me now, when I’m living in the least diverse place I ever have. These days I look around at church and at school and in the grocery store, and the crowds are so white that I actually notice the few African Americans among them. I never used to notice, because I never used to run in such white crowds.

I never would have expected it, but being so surrounded by (my fellow) white people has made me feel untethered. Untethered from my past, from my previous viewpoint on the world, and, I fear, from reality.

I grew up in a pretty diverse community. (Or at least one that had a pretty decent mix of blacks and whites.) I always had black classmates. I always had black friends. I always respected and admired my black teachers and neighbors. I’ll probably guess wrong, but my best guess is that growing up, about 30-40% of the students at my schools were black.

Afterward, with the exception of the four years I spent at my small, Catholic, overwhelmingly-white liberal arts college, all the communities I lived in were at least as diverse as the one I grew up in.

Until now.

All this is to say, I feel like I’m witnessing our society’s current unrest over racial issues from a strange place:

I am white. I am privileged. (Not trying to be PC here – just telling it like it is.) I am a descendent of slaveholders. I grew up in a southern-ish place where talk of race was routinely hushed with a “we don’t talk about that.” I married a Midwesterner who has absolutely no sense of sensitivity to such things. I live in a mostly-white, middle-class, semi-rural community.

Yet I was formed in communities that were far more black than most white, middle-class, semi-rural people experience. My husband and I both come from modest-to-poor backgrounds. (i.e. It is not natural to us to feel privileged.) And through the miracle of social media, I have maintained at least slight connections to people from all phases of my life. My black childhood friends and young adult friends and work friends are thrown right in there with my white mom friends (online and in person), many of whom seem to have never had many black people in their lives.

(So: untethered. I feel untethered.)

These days people seem to misunderstand one another and mistrust one another. We don’t want to talk about it. Or we do want to talk about it, but only with those who look and think like us. We want to pit people who side with the police against those who side with the black community, as though we can escape the full weight of our country’s legacy of racial inequality and discrimination by boiling it all down to one horribly divisive issue.

My mind swirls. It is a cacophony of thoughts. I have written on this issue for hours upon hours in the last three years. I have written thousands upon thousands of words. Yet none of it adequately captures my thinking.

I can’t get it right. So here’s me not trying to get it right. Here’s me starting somewhere – throwing out a few thoughts in order to start a conversation. If you’re a friend and you want to contact me privately, if you’re a reader and you want to comment here or on Facebook – or heck, if you’re a fellow blogger and you want to post back and forth on the subject – I’m game. I’ll talk. I’ll listen.

— One —

  • I never used to see the point in encouraging diverse schools and workplaces and communities – but now I see that that’s because I was already living it. I took it for granted.
  • These days I am grateful for the diversity in which I was raised. I am grateful to have some sense of what life and history have been like for people who look different from me. I am grateful that when I encounter young African American men, I see in them glimpses of my childhood friends, my former classmates, and (now) my friends’ precious sons.

— Two —

  • It may sound hokey, but I’ve realized since moving to a less diverse area that to me, encountering black people can sometimes feel like home. I sit next to an older black woman at the store and we chat kids and discipline and recipes – and I feel the warmth of home.
  • I had the same feeling – stronger, sadder – when Dylann Roof attacked the good people of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston last year. In the photos of the dead, I saw my friends’ moms and grandmoms, my former teachers and colleagues. It was hard to bear.

— Three —

  • I bear no responsibility for slavery. I bear no responsibility for Jim Crow laws. I cannot claim responsibility for things that happened before I was born. I feel like that is increasingly asked of me as a white person and I resent it.
  • I can and do, however, mourn those things. I am ashamed of those injustices and the roles my ancestors played in them. I mourn the injustices that persist to this day. I think more white people should reflect on the past and its horrors and really let them sink in.

— Four —

  • I think that the inequality, injustice, prejudice, and racism experienced by the black community today is greater than most whites can imagine – greater than I can imagine.
  • Yet I think the main critiques bubbling up today will be ineffective in changing the situation. I think we need to find new, honest, humble ways to move forward.

— Five —

  • “Institutional racism” is a difficult term. It comes across to me as something outside myself – this large, faceless, clunking thing that can take the blame for millions of individual people and their millions of individual interactions. I fear it will succeed in offending many while holding few to account.

— Six —

  • I think the term “racist” itself is increasingly misused, to the detriment of those who would advance racial equality. Many who work towards racial justice attribute the term to whites wholesale, which is both unfair and unwise.
  • Racism has an incredibly negative connotation to whites – it is a term that to us requires an element of hate. Equating one’s skin color with racism is as maddeningly unfair (and racist) as equating one’s skin color with crime. It will only turn people off, push people away, and feed angst and mistrust on issues of race.
  • Calling all white people racist also minimizes the effect of calling particular white people racist. There are plenty of people out there who truly do harbor hate towards those who look different from them. There are white people who avoid or discriminate against or even physically harm people because they are black. Ascribing “racist” to all white people lets those individuals off the hook. It makes them out to be racist because they’re white, not because they’re hateful.

I really don’t know what else to do here. (Hence the style of this post.)

I see criticisms that white people shouldn’t just smile silently and move along – that we should engage. But what am I supposed to do? Should I have brought up Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights and Dallas with my black obgyn at my annual check-up a couple of months ago? Should I have stopped those guests at my cousin’s wedding to exchange more than pleasantries?

How do we make room for meaningful dialogue on race when we don’t find ourselves in the company of people who don’t look like us?

Next time I see a black person in the grocery store, should I greet him or her with an “I see that you’re black. Would you like to talk about race with me?” Of course not. I’m never going to do that. I will, however, smile warmly. And if the circumstances seem right (i.e. my children aren’t about to go berserk) I’ll strike up a friendly, if meaningless conversation.

When I find myself sitting next to another older black woman at the store, I’ll have another of those chats about kids and discipline and recipes — or whatever topics we happen to land on. I’ll be personable. I’ll be human.

If I get the opportunities, I’ll talk about more serious things too. I am willing to talk with and pray with — and heck, cook or clean or do some other kind of work alongside — people who don’t look like me.

I will try to write more on this topic.

I’ll try. I’ll try to talk, listen, pray, work, write – all to a better, more just end.

And this may be silly, but I’m going to throw a little hashtag up here to identify myself as someone who’s willing to talk and listen on issues of race. If you’re willing to do the same, maybe use this too and meet me out there on social media.




This post is the fifth in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

These Walls - Everyday Bravery


Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

What This Catholic Wants in a President (And How the Candidates Measure Up) – Part Three

Welcome to Part Three of my first-ever series:

These Walls - What This Catholic Wants in a President Part Three

Today’s post covers some of the “hot” political issues that I care most about. I had been hoping to cover all such issues in this post, but long enough is long enough. So today you get: the Social Safety Net, Abortion, Religious Freedom, and Capital Punishment/Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide. On Monday (updated to correct to next week, at some point), I’ll cover the remaining issues on my list: Immigration, Foreign and Military Policy, The Economy, The Environment, and Education.

For an introduction of the series and an explanation of how my Catholic faith has influenced my political outlook, please see Part One.

For a discussion on some of the qualities I want in a president and a few of the broad issues that impact the more specific, controversial issues (like those in this post), please see Part Two.

For my thoughts on how the presidential candidates (of both parties) measure up to my (unreasonably high) standards, please come back next week and beyond for parts Five through however-many-I-get-to.

(Mostly) Hot on the Hot Stuff

Alright, now that I’ve gotten past those general, boring, impacts-everything-else issues, how about we get into the juicier stuff?

I tend to run pretty hot on the social issues. They’re where my Catholicism really comes to bear: I’m for a social safety net for vulnerable populations, against abortion, for religious freedom in the workplace, against capital punishment, for immigration, against euthanasia, and for an active foreign and military policy that aims to resolve conflicts and protect persecuted communities.

On a few other issues – the economy, the environment, and education – I guess I have a vague, limited opinion, but I’m just not too wrapped up in them. You can’t be hot on everything.

— Social Safety Net —

First, a decidedly un-Republican thing to be for: a social safety net that helps vulnerable populations actually move forward with their lives. And by “vulnerable populations” I mean the chronically poor, the mentally ill, the addicted, the disabled, and the (practically, if not officially) orphaned.

This is an issue (or rather, a collection of issues) I never knew much about until I worked with it/them. (I used to lobby on poverty-related issues on behalf of the Catholic Church.) There’s so much to the topic that I could write an entire series on it alone, so I won’t try to be exhaustive here. (Lengthy, perhaps – but not exhaustive.) I’ll just make three general points:

One, there are fewer resources for help than you think. I can’t begin to tell you the number of phone calls I’ve fielded from those in need, or whose loved ones were – and I didn’t even do the actual work of trying to connect people to resources. I just lobbied on such issues.

Just lost your job and need a few hundred dollars to tide you over with the rent so you’re not evicted? Sorry – our state’s rental assistance program is teeny tiny and not accepting any more applicants. And eviction prevention programs are so specific that few people qualify for them.

Need longer-term help with the rent because you can’t find a job that pays enough for you to stay afloat in this expensive housing market? Sorry, there’s a seven-year waiting list for Section 8 in your county.

Need a place for you and your kids to stay tonight because you’re (rightly!) trying to get away from an abusive home? Sorry, neither your county nor any of the neighboring ones have a public homeless shelter. And though the Church does operate two women & family shelters in this metropolitan area, both are full, with waiting lists.

Have an adult child showing signs of serious mental illness for whom you want to get help? Sorry, we can get him admitted to the hospital for a day or so, but we can’t do anything else.

Have a child suffering from addiction? Sorry, private rehab programs are expensive and public ones are mostly full.

On public assistance already, but want to take a better-paying position so you can move up the ladder at work and build a small savings to eventually by a car (so your job options won’t be limited by those accessible via public transportation) or put down a rental deposit on your own apartment or just have a little cash in the bank for emergencies?  (You know – the things that would enable you, ultimately, to not need assistance?)  Sorry, if you make any more income you’ll lose your assistance entirely. Same if you start saving. You’d better just stick with that lower-paying job so you don’t end up worse off than you are now.

(Sorry for the length on that last one – it just had to be said.)

The truth is, most of those living in poverty or experiencing other serious hardships have very few options for help. Government programs are often insufficient, understaffed, and restrictive. And though private, charitable programs do wonderful work, their resources (and therefore efforts) are more limited than anyone would like.

For all the complaining we hear about entitlements, most government assistance programs for the poor are not entitlements, meaning that when they’re full, they’re full. They’ve no obligation to take you. Entitlement programs (like Food Stamps), in which any eligible person must be served, are the exception and they’re limited to very specific purposes. Political talk about how large entitlements are and how very much of the budget they consume primarily reflects the size of the Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid programs. (Of which only the third is exclusive to the poor.)

For many who live in poverty, the odds are simply stacked against them: difficulties related to housing, transportation, education, health, family life, and criminal backgrounds often conspire to make self-improvement literally impossible. And poverty aside, even most middle-class families are ill-equipped to handle the costs associated with addressing severe mental illness, addiction, or disability.

Two, the government is the most effective way for us to collectively support people in need.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could depend on our churches and charities and families and neighborhoods to support those who find themselves in a bind? Absolutely. All of the above do good, important work. But they don’t do nearly enough of it for us as a society to be able to depend upon them alone. Many churches and charities struggle from declining participation and donations. (Note: If you don’t already, please give to your local Catholic Charities!) And many families and neighborhoods, sadly, are not equipped to help their most vulnerable members. Some – the really dysfunctional ones – already do them more harm than good.

Three, simply, I believe that it’s important to help those in need. Just as simple as that: we should help those in need. That’s common human decency. But it’s also one of my calls as a Catholic. I should help the neighbor I know and the one I don’t. I should give of my time, talent, and treasure. And I should care whether the help that’s given is sufficient and effective.

In sum, I want something from a president that most Republicans are unlikely to deliver: a commitment to policies and programs that provide for real, useful assistance for vulnerable populations. If I can find a candidate who seems to fit this bill and is also pro-life, well then, he (or she) may well be my guy.

— Abortion —

Next up, the biggest of the don’t-bring-it-up-at-a-dinner-party topics, the one that’s lighting up our newsfeeds nonetheless: abortion.

If you couldn’t tell by now, I’m really, very much against it. (I’ve written about it in greater detail here.) And I want a candidate who is too.*

Honestly, there is no one issue that is more important to me than abortion. I consider myself pro-life in the fullest sense of the word – I’m against the death penalty and euthanasia, and for programs and policies that help individuals attain the necessities of life. But when it comes down to it, I think there can hardly be anything more wrong in this world than ripping apart an innocent child in her mother’s womb.

Social moderates in the Republican Party advocate, quietly and not, for the Party to shift its focus away from divisive issues like abortion. But this social conservative is here to say that if you give up the stance against abortion, Republican Party, you will lose me. I already disagree with large factions of the Party on immigration and bi-partisanship and social welfare. If the Republican Party ditches its traditional commitment to pro-life policies, then I will have no compelling reason to stay.

In short: I refuse to vote for a Republican candidate for president who isn’t convincingly pro-life. And absent a dire turn of events (i.e. Trump winning the nomination), I can’t see myself voting for a pro-choice Democratic candidate either.

*I think any (eventual) law prohibiting abortion will have to include an exception for when the mother’s life is in danger. Such cases may be exceedingly rare, but politically and legally, I think we’ll have to allow for that possibility.

— Religious Freedom —

Maintaining full, real religious freedom is exceedingly important to me. As I wrote here, I firmly believe that there are no more fundamental rights than those to (life,) speech, and religion. “When I am able to speak freely, my mind is free. When I am able to worship freely, my heart and soul are free too.”

Honestly, I don’t worry that the government is about to start dictating which religious doctrines are or aren’t acceptable for churches to be teaching on Sunday. But I do worry that the government is beginning to sacrifice religious freedom to secular, liberal ideals in seemingly mundane ways: compelling religious organizations to enable their employees to be provided with contraception, requiring private individuals to provide goods and services that violate their consciences, and soon, I expect, requiring even churches to employ and accommodate (via, for instance, the rental of a church hall) individuals who flout their teachings.

I worry when so many of my friends and fellow Americans hear that the government aims to force people to do things that violate their deeply held religious beliefs and they… don’t care. Or worse, they fly to the defense of the government and demonize those targeted by it because the things that are to be done involve those most sacred of secular cows, contraception and abortion.

The fact is, there are slippery slopes all over the place. It’s quite fashionable to be concerned about government overreach insofar as it applies to email and phone records. But what about government overreach concerning what we believe and how our everyday lives reflect those beliefs?

I worry that we might not realize we’re on a slope until we’ve already slipped.

I want a president who will recognize the vital importance of real, full religious freedom and who will oppose policies that have the effect of limiting it.

— Capital Punishment and Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide—

Consistent with my desire to protect newly-conceived life, I also want to preserve the lives of the condemned, the sick, and the elderly. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: All human life is sacred – no matter its age or condition or station.

As capital punishment is primarily the purview of the states and execution for federal crimes is very rare, I don’t at all expect this issue to be a focus of the presidential campaign. Nor do I expect Euthanasia or Assisted Suicide (which I wrote about here) to make waves. But on all these counts, I’ll be looking to see what hints the candidates give.

I want a president who values human life in all of its stages – who, like me, opposes capital punishment, euthanasia, and assisted suicide. Most candidates, I imagine, will not join me in that across-the-board opposition. But at the very least, I plan to avoid candidates who speak of capital punishment with relish, or who dismiss the concerns that accompany euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Alright! That’s enough for tonight. (Do you see now why I couldn’t fit all my “hot stuff” into one post?) I hope you come back Monday next week for the remaining topics in this section: Immigration, Foreign and Military Policy, the Economy, the Environment, and Education. Have a great weekend!


Just as I have for Parts One and Two, allow me to close by clarifying two points. (I may do so at the end of each of these posts.)

  • First, though I prioritize the Church’s teachings in my own political decision-making, and though I used to lobby for the Church, I do not claim to speak for it. For the Church’s official positions on national-level policy questions, please see the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Some of the issues I discuss in this series will have a clear connection to those the USCCB advocates on. Others will not.
  • Second, though I may hold a degree in political science, I am no political scientist. I’m a stay-at-home mom who pays a greater-than-average attention to the news. Feel free to call me out on anything you think I’ve gotten wrong.

Thanks again for joining me. I hope to have you back next week for Part Four!

Opening That Window To The World

One day this summer, my boys rediscovered the sprinkler in their grandma’s garden. I walked into the backyard to find them sopping wet, grinning from ear to ear. Even over their whooping and hollering, I could hear water sloshing in their rain boots.

It was a beautiful afternoon, unseasonably cool for the end of July, so I sat down on a nearby lawn chair and plopped the baby onto my lap. Together we watched his older brothers race back and forth through the spray.



The whole scene was just about a cliché of summer: the grass and trees were a beautiful, lush green; the children played happily under the warm late-day sun; the water droplets glowed gold as they fell through the air. At one point I laid the baby down so I could pull boots and soaking-wet socks off his brothers’ feet. The baby lay there in the grass and stared up at the leaves and the sky. It was positively idyllic.


An hour later we were back inside the house with the television turned to the evening news. The program opened with a report on the fighting in Gaza: footage of destroyed buildings, mostly. My four-year-old, who normally begs me to change the channel on the rare occasions that I turn on televised news, was captivated. He wanted to understand what was going on.

I tried to explain, as gently as possible, about fighting in another part of the world, which breaks buildings and hurts people. But soon enough footage of crying, injured children popped onto the screen and I scrambled to the remote to change the channel as quickly as I could. I didn’t want those images stuck in my boys’ minds.

My boys are still small – just four and almost-three – so they understand little of how the world is organized, let alone its potential for conflict. We’ve taught them their town and they know the name of our state, even if they don’t understand what a state is. They recognize the American flag, but probably wouldn’t be able to tell you what country we live in. In fact, they’d probably say something like, “Merican Fwag!”

They know we’re Catholic, though that probably doesn’t mean much more to them than that we attend church on Sundays, where we have to be really quiet because we’re there to pray to God and thank him for the good things in our lives. They have no inkling that many worship God in other ways, that others don’t worship Him at all, and that some people use God as an excuse to hurt one another.

We’ve talked about death. Indeed, the concept has so intrigued my four-year-old that he routinely asks, “If I do diss, could I die?” (Doing “diss” can apply to any number of daring/stupid things, such as jumping off the third-floor landing.) If you mention Jesus to him, the first (and probably only) thing he’ll say about Him is, “Jesus died on da sign of da cwoss!”

I think it’s important for all people to be aware of major events happening in other parts of the world. I think it’s important to be empathetic towards those who suffer and to be engaged in trying to alleviate suffering. I think it’s important to make your voice heard on issues of consequence.

I want to raise my children to do all of these things.

I want my children to pay attention to the news, to think critically about the information they’re given, to care about those who hurt, to pray and act towards just resolutions.

But right now they’re little, and at least one of them is very sensitive to all things scary. (Seriously, he has on more than one occasion been brought to tears because “Dat bad man!” stole Elmo’s blankie in a silly little Sesame Street movie.) Right now their nightmares center on monsters and shadows and “sary wobots.” I’d like to keep it that way as long as possible.

So how do I begin to break it to them that so many people around the world don’t enjoy the comfort and security we do? How do I make others’ experiences seem relevant to our lives? How do I inform them without scaring them?

I don’t really know. So far, they listen to NPR with me, though I’m sure they don’t pay attention to or understand most of what they hear. When they ask questions, I answer them. And on the rare occasions that I notice relevant, teachable moments in the daily experiences of preschoolers, I try to take advantage of them. Maybe I’ll try to watch televised news with them more often, but only if I’m prepared to make that scramble for the remote.

More experienced parents (and more thoughtful people, parents and non-parents alike), I’d love to hear from you: How much of the world’s suffering do you let into your children’s lives? At what age do you start? How do you inform your children about conflict, war, terrorism, and other scary things without making them feel unsafe? Does there come an age when “feeling safe” is no longer your goal?

I would love to hear from you! Please share your experience/insight/expertise/best guess in the comments. I could use them! Many thanks in advance.

On Abortion: Paul Ryan and Two Simple Questions

Almost a year ago, I was watching the Biden/Ryan Vice-Presidential Debate on television when the following exchange occurred:

MS. RADDATZ: I want to move on, and I want to return home for these last few questions. This debate is indeed historic. We have two Catholic candidates, first time on a stage such as this, and I would like to ask you both to tell me what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion. Please talk about how you came to that decision. Talk about how your religion played a part in that. And please, this is such an emotional issue for so many —

REP. RYAN: Sure.

MS. RADDATZ: — people in this country. Please talk personally about this if you could. Congressman Ryan.

REP. RYAN: I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything we do. My faith informs me about how to take care of the vulnerable, about how to make sure that people have a chance in life.

Now, you want to ask basically why I’m pro-life? It’s not simply because of my Catholic faith. That’s a factor, of course, but it’s also because of reason and science. You know, I think about 10 1/2 years ago, my wife Janna and I went to Mercy Hospital in Janesville where I was born for our seven-week ultrasound for our firstborn child, and we saw that heartbeat. Our little baby was in the shape of a bean, and to this day, we have nicknamed our firstborn child, Liza, “Bean.” (Chuckles.)

Now, I believe that life begins at conception.

That’s why — those are the reasons why I’m pro-life.

Now, I understand this is a difficult issue. And I respect people who don’t agree with me on this. But the policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortion with the exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.

Before I tell you my reaction, let me point out that you can find the whole transcript here. And you can watch a video segment on this part of the debate here. Ryan had a few more comments after the ones I excerpted, but they all dealt with Biden and the Democratic party. And of course Biden gave his answer to Raddatz’s question, which is another topic for another day.

Though it goes without saying, let me also note that abortion is a highly controversial issue and that there are plenty of very real, very important emotional elements to the debate over it. But like Biden’s answer, I consider those elements to be other topics for other days. In this here blog post, I want to stick to the basic logic at the heart of the debate. And I want to give my reaction to Ryan’s answer, which is:


What a terrific opportunity he missed! Sure, the “bean” story was cute, but Ms. Raddatz asked a question that gets right at two of the most precarious fault lines in American political discourse: (1) abortion and (2) religious influence on matters of public policy. Here’s what I think Representative Ryan should have said:

Reason and science informed my understanding that life begins at conception. My faith taught me that life matters – that human life is valuable and worth protecting.

For all the angst and gray areas and moral confusion over the issue of abortion, I think the logic at the heart of the debate is really very simple. It involves answering two basic questions: (1) When does life begin? And (2) (When) does life matter?

Here’s my thinking on that first question:

  • Conception is the only dividing line to which you can look for a clear differentiation between being and not being, therefore it is the only logical point at which life can begin.
  • That is, on this side of the line we have an egg with Mom’s DNA and a sperm with Dad’s. On that side we have a new being, a “zygote” with half of the DNA from each. Never again in our development do we see such a fundamental change.
  • From that point on, our cells divide and multiply. We grow exponentially. But we do not, in essence, change. We do not require anything but shelter, nutrition, and time to develop into a form that is easier for our eyes to identify as human.

If you were not to define conception as the point at which life begins, at precisely which other point on the continuum of development would you settle on?

  • Are we not alive when we look like a simple cluster of cells but we are alive when the cells have organized themselves into a spine and brain and heart?
  • Are we not alive when we’re free-floating embryos, but we are alive when, a moment later, we attach to our mother’s uterine wall?
  • Are we not alive before a physician can detect a heartbeat, but we are alive once our heartbeat has been witnessed?
  • Are we not alive before the 24th week of our mother’s pregnancy (the point at which today’s medical technology is capable of keeping us alive outside the womb), but we are alive once we’ve reached that 24-week mark?
  • Were we alive at 24 weeks a hundred years ago, when we would have died from being born so early?
  • Are we not alive when we’re lodged in the birth canal, awaiting our final exit from our mother’s body, but we are alive moments later, lying in her arms?
  • Or, are we alive when our mother wants us, not alive when she doesn’t?
  • Does our life depend on our physiology, or others’ perceptions of us?


Okay, that’s enough with that one. Let’s move on to the second big, basic question: When does life matter? Or perhaps even, Does life matter? As far as I’m concerned, this is really the crux of the abortion debate, as well as the other life-related controversies: capital punishment, euthanasia, how we view people with disabilities, etc. The real question regarding abortion is not so much, “When does life begin?” It is, “At what point do we think life is worth protecting?”

And that’s where we have to look really hard at ourselves.

  • First of all, do we even believe that human life is worth protecting? Do we have a rigid “survival of the fittest” mentality, or do we believe that there is something special about the human person?
  • Second, if we indeed believe that human life, in the broad sense, is worth protecting, then which individual human lives are we honestly thinking about? Are we thinking about those we love? Are we thinking about those with whom we share beliefs, culture, class, race, nationality? Those who seem able and good? Or are we also thinking of the “other”?
  • Third, if we believe that some human lives are worthy of protection and we’re also thinking of those who are unlike ourselves, then do we take the final step? Do we believe that every single individual is inherently worthy of life, just by virtue of being human?

If we can’t make that leap, where do we draw our lines? Do we draw them at age, at health status, at conduct, at convenience, at others’ desire for the individual? Do we draw them along those ancient lines of family, faith, tribe, class, etc.?

  • Is a life only worth protecting when s/he is at a convenient age, in good health, innocent of crimes, wanted by the people around her/him, and a member of a favored family/tribe/class/nationality?
  • Is a life worth protecting when a certain few of those conditions are fulfilled?
  • Or, is a life always worth protecting?

And what about those babies – those zygotes/embryos/fetuses – whatever you want to call them? Reason tells us that, from the day they’re conceived to the day they die, they’re alive. But at what point do we think they are inherently valuable and worthy of protection?

  • Are they worth protecting once they’ve reached a certain developmental stage? Once modern medicine is able to keep them alive outside the womb? When they were conceived through a consensual encounter? When – and only when – their mothers want them? When they are judged to be perfectly healthy and convenient?
  • Is a baby’s life worth protecting when a certain few of those conditions are fulfilled?
  • Or, again, is a baby’s life always worth protecting?

My Catholic faith – the one I share with Representative Paul Ryan – teaches that human life is always important. It always has value. It should always be protected. Rep. Ryan indeed got something right when he said, “My faith informs me about how to take care of the vulnerable, about how to make sure that people have a chance in life.” I don’t know enough about him to understand exactly what he means by “take care” and “vulnerable” and “make sure people have a chance.” But I know that the Catholic Church is eminently consistent in its message: People have a right to life, from conception to natural death. People also have a right to the basic necessities of life: namely food, shelter, and health care. (In my opinion, to advocate for one – the “right to life” or “social justice” – but not the other is to miss the point.)

I accept the Church’s teaching on the inherent value and dignity of life. As a Catholic, I believe that people are precious – every single one: The beautiful, treasured, long-wanted newborn in his mother’s arms; the unborn child of a woman contemplating abortion; the baby girl thrown away as trash because she was unfortunate enough to be born into a culture that favors boys; the child with a congenital disease or developmental disability; the frail person suffering an illness that will surely take her life; the person who committed a crime that not only irreparably hurt others, but also harmed his own soul. They all count.

Reason and science informed my understanding that life begins at conception. My faith taught me that life matters – that human life is valuable and worth protecting.


Care to answer any of the dozens of questions I listed above? Leave a comment! And I do (cringe) really mean that.

Full Disclosure

As I plan to write about some political and religious issues on this blog, I thought it would be useful to provide a little background on the evolution of my outlook in these areas. (I have all these country songs running through my head as I write this: “Where I Come From,” “God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you,” etc.)

I thought this little ‘disclosure of my biases,’ as I think of it, would be useful for a few reasons: (1) Political and religious subjects can be pretty touchy. (No surprise there.) (2) Our opinions on them usually have a strong basis in our own life experiences. (3) I aim to be as fair, open, and even-handed on this blog as I can be. And (4) I personally prefer news and commentary sources that either (a) represent both sides of an issue equally well or (b) openly disclose their opinions and make no pretense of impartiality. So I kind of thought I’d cover all my bases.

But before I go any further, let me say that this post makes me nervous and I had a hard time writing it. (Which is part of the reason I wrote so few posts this past week. I was trying to take this one in a different direction and it stumped me.) The words below represent my past and my thought processes and my faith, family, and friends, and it’s all very personal. It’s also probably a big ol’ case of TMI. But I felt like I needed to get all this out there before I proceed with a bunch of other posts I have lined up in my head.


I was raised Catholic in that I regularly attended mass with my mother and I was provided with a religious education through our parish. But my father is not Catholic and there was little mention of faith in our (very happy) home. These days when I read blogs that mention a devotion to this saint, or a fondness for that novena, or a special attachment to such-and-such prayer, or a thousand little ways to live out the liturgical seasons, I feel kind of lost. Like I don’t fully fit into a community that should be my own. Yes, I’m Catholic. Yes, I love Christ, I am devoted to His Church, and faithful to its teachings. But no, I’m not familiar with all the trappings of my Faith.

While there wasn’t much discussion of religion in my family, there was a lot about politics. My grandfather was a local elected official, so I was exposed to campaigns and political chatter from a young age. Various family members worked on Granddad’s campaigns and we all helped on Election Day (which was just about my favorite day of the year when I was a child). My family was (and remains) very Republican in a very Democratic state, so I was instilled with a strong attachment to conservative ideals, but no illusion that these ideals were universal. (Rather, I understood that they were uncommon and needed to be defended.)

In my (public) high school I had a great group of smart, articulate, and religiously/politically diverse friends. And we liked a good debate. As the sole practicing Catholic and one of the only conservatives, I became the defender of all things Catholic and some things conservative. Just as my family’s experience as members of a minority party had prodded my attachment to conservatism, so my lunch-table debate experience bonded me to my Faith. Not that I understood it very well: eight years of Sunday school and one year of confirmation class do not a well-informed Catholic make. But my own little role as Defender of the Faith prompted me to research, ask questions, contemplate, and pray.

This all set the stage nicely for my next step: a political science major at a Catholic college. More lunch table discussions, this time with classmates and seminarians who had been raised in devoutly Catholic families, gave me glimpses of the depth and beauty awaiting me in the Church. Philosophy and theology classes helped me to better understand it. And my political science courses, not to mention informal discussions with friends and professors, gave me an appreciation for the broader context in which we live out our religious ideals. I had always been interested in the convergence of differing ideas; in college I became particularly interested in the convergence of politics and religion.

I wrote my senior thesis on “The American Catholic and the Two Political Parties,” which explored the poor fit between the Church’s teachings on matters of public policy and the ideological break-out of today’s American political parties. I also completed an internship with a Catholic organization that advocated on behalf of the Church’s public policy interests. Several years later, after a stint with the federal government, I returned to the organization to work as a lobbyist for the Church.

There, I was tasked with representing the Church’s positions on social justice matters, which included a wide range of issues related to poverty, housing, health care, and immigration. (Along with a few others.) Most of the positions were what Americans would call “liberal.” Which was a real challenge for me. Coming from a conservative background, I was comfortable with the Church’s teachings on abortion and marriage. I was comfortable promoting school choice. But the Church’s social justice teachings made me uncomfortable. I didn’t necessarily think they were wrong; it’s just that they challenged the political ideals under which I was raised and so they caused discomfort.

Oh, what a learning and growing experience it was for me. I read and I talked to people and I prayed.  I began to gain something of an understanding of people who faced challenges that I never had – people who struggled to feed their children and keep a roof over their heads, people who came to this country seeking a better life, people whose poor health or poor treatment by others or whose own poor decisions had stymied their chances of making it on their own – and even people who struggled to be able to function in society at all. I was changed and I was humbled.

I was grateful for the opportunity to give voice to these people’s concerns – and also for what I felt was an opportunity to bring people closer to Christ through this work of His Church. I feel like a cheesy ball of mush writing this, but I had so many moving experiences doing this work: I huddled in a group of elderly immigrant women and tried to convey to them (through our language barrier) that their Church was there for them. I spoke to crowds at parishes and pleaded with them to connect their own preferred cause for the “least of these” with another that was more challenging for them. I testified before lawmakers and told them, time and again, that all human life has value, regardless of its age or station.

Perhaps I have digressed. What I’m trying to explain is that, yes, I come from a particular place on the political spectrum. I get the conservative thing. But I have also been emerged in an unfamiliar (liberal) political territory, and I got to know it too. I feel richer for the experience.

When I was a lobbyist, I found that I could lobby more effectively when I put myself in the shoes of my opponents – imagining and even empathizing with their motivations. I think the same holds true when you’re discussing a difficult subject. All too often these days, people seem to regard consideration of and empathy with “the other side” as a sign of weakness, even foolishness. But it is such an asset. Sure, it helps you to build a solid case for your own cause. But more importantly, it helps you to explore your own opinions and motivations and be sure that you’re on the right course.

When you get together a group of people who all bring this kind of consideration to their conversation – well, that kind of discussion moves everyone forward in understanding. That is what I feel my background has prepared me for and that is what I hope to encourage with this blog.