Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Overheard Conversation

I overheard a conversation in the locker room yesterday between a 30-something year old police officer and a senior man on the importance of education. It shows the education leads to articulation and precision in communicating.

Where the ellipses are (...), the space was filled with pauses, ums, and stumbling words.

Did you know Joe's nepwhe is going to Harvard? I'm impressed it goes to show how important education is. He's a smart kid.

       Yes, education is very important. It gives a person....  I helps a person... it makes a person....

Yes, education is very important because it... It helps a person that they have.... I agree with you. Education is important. It helps them to.... Yep, it's good for them....

      Yeah, as a police officer, I can see education is important.... It gives a person a chance to.... to.... to... It's helpful for a person. I can see that it helps a person get.....

Of course, I know what you're saying. It helps a person to really do.... to do better. to um um um. Education makes a person.... umm umm ummm

      Yes, you right. A person must go to school because it gives them....  yes, it gives them.... Don't you see... It helps them out.... It makes them able to.... Yes, I agree with you completely. Anyone should go to school if they can. It is really....  I see that as a police officer.

Yes, you know what the difference is? Joe's nephew reads. Anyone who reads will be educated. Some people can sit for hours and just read and it builds up their LSAT scores. Reading is important because...  um um um.... it teaches you how to read and you get a good LSAT score if you want it.

        Yes, I see people reading. Reading educates someone. It helps them to be able to... yeah, it's good for them.... Reading is important. I see that. It helps a person... um... um.... I agree with you. Gosh, I can't even think of the last book I read, but I enjoy it, if I like the book.

       God gives people certain abilities. Some people can go to school. I believe in God, by the way. God gave me the ability to lift weights and others have the abilities to go to school. I value my gift; Joe's nephew develops his ability to go to Harvard. That's impressive. I can see that education really matters. Joe's nephew will now be able to.... umm... umm. umm. Yes, he's going to be able to....

     You are right. He's gonna be able to.... I see that as a police officer.... He will be able to.... It's so good for him. Education is important..... He'll have lots of....  Education is good.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

No Meat?

I have been a vegetarian for over a week now. I never planned it, but once I realized I was doing it, I decided to give it a shot. My diet has consisted of too much meat for too long, but being a vegetarian is fairly easy. I don't think I'll be too strict with it, but we'll see how it goes.

However, being vegetarian is not too much of a sacrifice as I had two Maine lobsters last night at a dinner at Boston College's Bellarmine Villa. I also love haddock, swordfish, sole, and salmon.

I'm still amazed at the benefits of yoga and exercise. I've been with pain for three years already and within one week, 85% of the pain has been alleviated. This morning, I used the hip abductor and adductor and I allowed my hips to be stretched. Wow! Great pain that felt so good. I feel much greater mobility. Why did I wait so long?

It must proves that we have to enter into our pain if it is going to be lessened. Pain always wants to be acknowledged.

I'm enjoying silence at night. No early morning muezzin or setting up/tearing down Abdali souk - just silence. Wonderful. Ah, and the smell of fresh ocean air is intoxicating.

I'm enjoying my art class and I painted another watercolor this week. A friend of mine took me to Michael's Arts and Crafts to frame my first watercolor painting. It is fun to explore this. I also visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston with a friend from Maine earlier this week.

All is good. I miss Jordan, the parishioners, many good people, and I continue to pray for more than peace between Israel and Gaza, for Syria, Iraq - especially the Christians, Turkey, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia. And of course, my dear Jordan.

Friday, July 25, 2014

What's next in the ongoing struggle between the bishops and Obama?

Thomas Reese  |  Jul. 25, 2014Faith and Justice

Watching the U.S. Catholic bishops and the Obama administration fight each other has been a depressing experience. The two should have been natural allies on universal health care, immigration reform, and helping low-income families. Instead, we have had to watch fights over abortion, birth control, and gay marriage.
The fight over birth control made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby case. The court endorsed the accommodation whereby an objecting employer would not have to pay for birth control, but the insurance company would still have to provide it to the employees.

This decision was quickly followed by an order in the Wheaton College case, which supported the college's refusal to file EBSA Form 700 with its insurance company. Wheaton College and the U.S. bishops object to Form 700 because they feel it involves them in immoral cooperation by forcing them to give a "permission slip" to the insurance company to provide the objectionable birth control.

The Obama administration's response to these cases has been telling.
On the legal front, in a brief filed with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, the administration said it is developing an alternate plan for those religious organizations that object to Form 700. What this alternate plan will be and whether it will be acceptable to the bishops remains to be seen, but administration lawyers appear to be making a good-faith effort to resolve the issue.

One suggestion is for the religious nonprofit to simply notify Health and Human Services that it objects to paying for birth control. Then it would be up to HHS to notify the insurance company, but the bishops would probably object to even that.
My preferred solution is for HHS to notify all insurance companies that if a religious nonprofit objects, either verbally or in writing, to paying for birth control, then that is all the information the insurance company needs to know that it is now responsible for paying for birth control for the employees.
I don't see how the bishops could object to such a procedure. This is not an additional requirement. If the bishops don't want birth control in their insurance policy, they will have to tell their insurance company anyway.
The political response to the two cases is another matter. Senate Democrats offered a bill that would overturn the Hobby Lobby decision in order to get their Republican colleagues on record voting against birth control. Democratic ads and fundraising letters are hysterically claiming that the court decisions allow an employer to deny birth control to his (emphasis on the male pronoun) female employees.

This is simply not true. Unless a Hobby Lobby employee follows the news, she will never know there was a court case because even though Hobby Lobby does not have to pay for certain birth control procedures, its insurance company will still have to provide them. The impact on female employees is zero.
The Democratic response is more about politics than the law. It is following the same strategy that worked well in 2012 by accusing the Republicans of waging a "war on women." It wants to get women, especially young single women, to the polls in November so the Democrats don't lose their majority in the Senate. The sad truth is that culture war issues get people to the polls better than do social justice issues.
Meanwhile, the president issued an executive order forbidding discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees by federal contractors. It left in place George W. Bush's 2002 executive order allowing religious contractors to hire fellow religious for senior positions.

The bishops loudly opposed this new executive order. The bishops say they do not discriminate against gay employees but do not want to be seen as endorsing homosexual activity or gay marriage. As a result, we see employees who for years were known to be gay being fired from church-affiliated organizations after they got married. We also see bishops opposing the granting of spousal benefits to gay spouses.

I am old enough to remember the days when church employees were fired for getting remarried after a divorce. In those days, the church used the same arguments that it is using today against gay employees.
I have never understood how the bishops with a straight face can impose their sexual ethics on gay employees if they are not willing to do the same with their heterosexual employees.
Today, divorced and remarried employees are no longer fired. Nor are employees fired for extramarital activity. Spouses of divorced and remarried employees get spousal benefits. Why can't gay spouses be treated the same?
The bishops are losing the battle against gay marriage in the court of law and the court of public opinion. How the bishops deal with defeat will be telling. Can they accept the defeat over gay marriage as an earlier generation of bishops accepted their defeat over the legalization of divorce and move on? Or are they willing to ghettoize Catholic charities and other institutions by forbidding them from accepting federal contracts and following the law?
I argued for a generous exemption to the executive order for religious nonprofits and lost. Intransigence by the bishops and gay activists made compromise impossible. Ironically, the Hobby Lobby decision discouraged compromise because the gay community feared that any exemption for religious nonprofits might be expanded to for-profit corporations by the courts. This, after all, is what happened in the Hobby Lobby case, where the court told HHS to offer the for-profit Hobby Lobby the same accommodation that it offered religious nonprofits.
It is time for the bishops to start planning how they will deal with defeat on gay marriage. Will they insist on taking down Catholic charities with them, or will they use traditional moral teaching that distinguishes between material and formal cooperation to find a legitimate way for them to survive? Formal cooperation is always wrong because it means you agree with the evil action. Material cooperation, however, can be OK, especially when the state is forcing you to act.
It is time for the bishops to sideline their lawyers and consult with moral theologians who truly know the Catholic tradition. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Stretched!

Ah, for the second day in a row I attended yoga classes and I am well pleased. I thought I would attend so I could learn how to appropriately deal with my arthritic hip (only a mild case, but I do not want it to worsen.) The stretches are simple and mild, but they have a great effect upon the whole body.

I saw an article the other day about Fred Roger's of Mr. Roger's neighborhood. He was always very meticulous about hanging up his clothing and making certain that everyone was in its proper order. As a child, he seemed too deliberate and good, but his message stuck. If we take care of the small details in life right away, the rest falls into place. Orderliness and deliberate actions show self love.

I feel like yoga is a little like Mr. Roger's habits because he moved gracefully throughout the room. Yoga is very graceful - nothing at all is rushed, but it is well planned. Sweeping arm movements, bringing hands to heart, gentle movements to respect and honor the body help us be more aware of our movements and limitations.

Nothing is forced and freedom is ascertained, yet we stretch just a little further than we allow ourselves in regular life. Correct posture, deep breathing, tending to our sore spots makes one feel better for the rest of the day. One can walk taller and straighter as we regulate our breathing.

In fact, all the techniques of yoga are what are used in warmups for singing. I realize that my body holds tension that is worked out in yoga. Very nice.

Best of all, learning to trust the instructor is a gift. Ed, our instructor, has a smooth voice and he is very instructional. He looks out for each person and simply encourages us to focus forward. I feel very relaxed; it feels indulgent to care for oneself after caring for others on a regular basis.

Prayer: Yoga helps prayer. I felt as though Christ was with me as we reached for the heavens and tucked our chins away. Grace and beauty. Christ was in each breath and every expulsion of air.

And my hip has greater mobility.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Reintegration

The reintegration process is coming slowly. Today I felt I had great energy when I awoke and headed out to my routine doctor's appointment, but it did not take long to lose steam. As I drove back to Boston, I was stuck in a commuter logjam for too long.

Yet, when I returned I had  a long list of emails to send and I was productive in getting most of this organization completed. Then I set out to find my bank in my new neighborhood. I searched up and down the neighboring streets for this national bank, but there was none to find in the area. I settled upon returning home to update my weekly blog.

I knew I needed a GPS so I set out to buy one at Best Buy. I had an uneasy feeling about getting a product from them so I checked online and found cheaper, better quality solutions that are easily obtainable. I felt like I was being duped into buying something I really did not want.

Tonight, I went to my first watercolor art class and I was very happy with it. The instructor showed us some nice techniques that will come in handy. I match what he taught us against what I discovered for myself and I'm pleased with how much I have taught myself. He also taught himself watercolors, even though he worked with other media in the past.

Speaking of the arts, I'm so pleased that the Arabic singing group Dozan wa Awtar participated in Latvia and took home two gold diplomas. I'm so proud of them. It was good exposure for them and I think they had a chance to learn about other choral groups. I'm so proud of them and I wish I sang with them.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Inching my way back

Here I am in Boston and I am so pleased with the pleasant driving habits of the citizens of this town. Drivers are kind and respectful and they obey the laws, which are designed for safety. I even was standing in a cross-walk and a car slowed down so I could cross the road unimpeded. I was so touched and I waved the car on so they did not have to stop for me. There was no traffic behind him.

It made me think of the ways I was an aggressive driver in the past. I always followed the law, but I was also too hasty in wanting to get to my destination, but for now, I'm delighting in following the laws as best I can. The laws are made because they care and honor the person. Safety is a key virtue. I'm liking this.

I continue to run into the nicest people. So many people are smiling naturally with a deep connection. It is what I remember when I go to bed each night. A smile can mean something tremendous to another person and it is having such a positive effect upon me. I like happy people anyways.

Last night as I was meeting friends for dinner at the S&S (Essen & Essen: Eat and Eat) restaurant in Cambridge, I met the nicest people outside. A tanned man with a roundish face sat in a chair smiling. Though he was 90, he did not even have a wrinkle and I doubt he used Botox. His bride, in her 80's, looked just as serene, and their 64 year old daughter looked just like her dad.

We chatted for half an hour. They were waiting for their daughter who was an art dealer of Israeli products in Hong Kong. She was cooking a meal for them to be served at the restaurant. We talked on a broad range of subjects and I showed them by artwork, and then my friends finally came. These people were the owners of the restaurant, which is only in its third generation of ownership. We laughed for most of the half hour.

Our meal was very tasty. I had broiled haddock, which was such a treat. The night before I had swordfish. I know I'm back in New England. I even had brussel sprouts - very tasty.

I did visit my family yesterday before heading to Cambridge and I was back in Cambridge this morning to meet good friends from St. Paul Parish: Marybeth, Mary Alice, and Sr. Virginia. Bruch was terrific.

My life is filled with good people.

St. Paul Church Reunion Brunch

To see photos of St. Paul Church Reunion Brunch, click on the link below:


Friday, July 11, 2014

Shipment Arrived

Kawar Shipping of Amman, Jordan (Shmeisani) shipped five boxes of my personal effects last week and it took only nine days to arrive. I'm excited that I have some additional clothing to wear plus my art supplies and toiletries.

I am very pleased with the demeanor of every person I dealt with today. Horizon shipping was courteous and professional. They went out of their way to help me load my car. The customs agent down at Black Falcon terminal was incredible kind and cheerful. We hit it off very well. Even the cook in the community went out of her way to make the transport of goods into my room very easy. People are just good and cheerful. The professional courtesies are like whipped cream on an ice cream sundae. It made the day fun.

Now I can begin unpacking to feel more at home.

Michael Buble

As I gently ease back into life in the U.S., a friend bought tickets to the Michael Buble concert at Mohegan Sun, a casino in southeast Connecticut run by Native Americans. It was quite good. Buble is a Canadian singer in the likes of Frank Sinatra/Bing Crosby, but with an upbeat, contemporary edge to his style.

Mohegan Sun is a fascinating place. Its environment represents the many symbols of Native American life. It is spacious and monumental in design and it accommodates a huge number of people. From the outside, the place looks relatively small, but it is as if there are magical tents that open once you are inside to new and exciting places.

There is an arena for shows and the WNBA (Women's National Basketball Association) games, with dozens of restaurants, retail stores, kiosks, and then the betting parlors. There are smoke-free sections, but since it is not U.S. property, it does not have to follow U.S. smoking regulations. I think it does have to follow USDA guidelines for serving food.

The lights and sounds dazzle in an upbeat cathedral of gambling. I'm thankful I have no inclinations to gamble. I would have to be force to gamble simply because I'm not interested in the enterprise, but I would happily spend a weekend in the casino because it is a world of fantasy that is so different from regular life.

The concert though was terrific. The warm up band was an a capella group called 'Naturally Seven,' that replicated the sound of musical instruments. They eventually joined Michael Buble for a few songs near the end of the concert.

He sang so well and seemed interested in performing for us. It is easy to tell that he is a professional who cares about his craft. He seemed engaged with the audience - a real good connection.

The backdrops were often very busy. There was also some part of a light show on the screens and stage behind it. It was quite good, but it sometimes distracted from watching him perform. The show was nicely syncopated and choreographed and he had a fantastic band. Also, an female ensemble of strings performed with him as well.

The show was spirited and he did not seem to tire at all. I'm very glad I went.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Photos of Cornwall, England.

To see photos of Cornwall, England, click on the link below:

Supreme Court: Accommodation, yes; Form 700, no

Thomas Reese  |  Jul. 7, 2014NCR Today


In my column last week, I argued that "The decision handed down Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court was a win for Hobby Lobby but a mixed blessing for the bishops.
"Hobby Lobby got what it wanted. The owners will no longer have to pay for coverage of the two contraceptives (IUDs and Plan B) that they consider abortifacients.... but the decision's discussion of the accommodation granted to religious corporations will make it very difficult for the bishops to win their case against it." 
Parishes and dioceses were totally exempted from the contraceptive mandate, and most religious corporations were provided an accommodation so they would not have to pay for contraceptives in their insurance plans.
Under the accommodation, if a religious corporation objects to the contraceptive mandate, its insurance company would provide the contraceptives to the corporation's employees at no cost to the employer. All the employer has to do if fill out EBSA Form 700 and send it to the insurance company.

The government argues that it costs less for insurance companies to provide contraceptives than to pay for live births, which means there is no additional cost to pass on to the employer.
In the Hobby Lobby decision, the court argued that the accommodation should also be offered to for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby. The accommodation was seen by the court as an excellent way of respecting the religious views of the company while still getting contraceptives to its employees. In his oral presentation to the court, the Hobby Lobby lawyer said such an accommodation would be acceptable to his client.  
However, some religious employers, including the bishops, objected to the accommodation. They argued that filling out Form 700 and sending it to their insurance companies would constitute an immoral cooperation in the evil. These religious nonprofits have therefore challenged the accommodation and their cases are working their way up through the judicial system.
Three days after the Hobby Lobby decision, the court issued an order in the Wheaton College case that gives hope to the bishops and the religious nonprofits challenging the accommodation. The court granted injunctive relief to Wheaton College and forbade the Federal Government from punishing Wheaton College if it did not fill out EBSA Form 700.

Is this a victory for the bishops? Depends. If the goal of the bishops is to put as much distance as possible between religious nonprofits and contraceptives, then the answer is yes. If the goal of the bishops is to deny contraceptives to employees of religious nonprofits, then the answer is no.
The language of the Wheaton order is very precise. It states that "the order should not be construed as an expression of the Court's views on the merits." Therefore, the order is a postponement of a fight, not the resolution of the dispute.
But the order clearly signals what the court thinks is the proper resolution of the case. It states that if the religious nonprofit informs Health and Human Services that it has religious objections to providing contraceptive services, then HHS cannot punish the nonprofit. The nonprofit does not have to fill out EBSA Form 700 and send it to its insurance company.
But this does not mean that the employees will be denied contraceptives. The court specifically says, "Nothing in this interim order affects the ability of" Wheaton College's "employees and students to obtain, without cost, the full range of FDA approved contraceptives."
The court notes that the government contends that the college's health insurance issuer is required by federal law to provide full contraceptive coverage regardless whether the college completes Form 700 or not. Thus, the court is not striking down the accommodation, it is striking down Form 700.
What the court appears to be saying is that if religious nonprofits have a problem with Form 700, then find another less intrusive way of informing the insurance company. For example, the government could notify the insurance company after HHS has been informed by the nonprofit of its objection to contraceptives.
An even simpler way would be for the insurance company to listen to the nonprofit. If the nonprofit says either verbally or in writing that it does not want contraceptive coverage, then that is all the information the insurance company needs to know that it is now required by law to provide contraceptives to employees at no cost to the nonprofit.
The bottom line is that the Supreme Court likes the accommodation but thinks Form 700 is not necessary. My prediction: the court will give the bishops a win in their fight against Form 700, but it will not strike down the accommodation nor stop contraceptives from reaching employees of religious nonprofits.
It appears that all of this litigation is over a two-page form asking 1) the name of the objecting corporation, 2) the name and title of the individual filing the form, 3) the address, email address, and phone number of the individual filing the form.

Whether eliminating Form 700 is worth the millions of dollars spent on this fight is another question.
Remember, both the Hobby Lobby and the Wheaton College cases only apply to the federal mandate. Twenty-six states have contraceptive mandates and they are not touched by these decisions. They are still the law.

Are the bishops willing to claim victory and go home or will they try to kill the accommodation itself? Is the administration willing to shrug its shoulders and say, "We don't care about Form 700 as long as employees get their contraceptives"? Let's hope so.