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January 14th, 2009

In the run-up to the inauguration, residents of the District of Columbia and surrounding areas are clamoring to capitalize on the flood of people who are expected to descend on the city in just a few days. Some people are hoping to make quick cash by renting their homes for astronomical sums (in some cases thousands of dollars for only a few nights stay). In this first installment of his video blog about life in DC leading up to the inauguration, Marc Adams explores the morality behind hitting visitors who want to share in the historical moment with exorbitant prices. Should people feel a sense of guilt or is it simply capitalism at work? Two people in a DC neighborhood give their take.

January 12th, 2009

gaza-composite

There has been constant discussion in our news media about the continuing conflict between Israel and Palestinians in the tiny strip of land on the Mediterranean known as the Gaza Strip. In an earnest effort to both understand better and take action, Marc Adams, a contributing editor at Busted Halo, began an online conversation with a group of former Jesuit volunteers, friends and family. His initial questions regarding how to deal with the crisis have generated a rich dialogue about what we, here in the US, can and should do about the situation in Gaza.

Much of the email correspondence centered on how to understand the facts on the ground — including our media’s portrayal of the state of affairs versus the reality — and what people can do to help foster peace in the region.

What follows is a small sampling of that continuing discussion. I have added some reflections based on the seven years I lived and worked in the region — including Gaza — as well as my continuing efforts as an activist for peace and human rights, which have brought me back to the area several times since then, to work with a variety of grassroots groups. Below that are resources and links to other voices on the war, and suggestions for practical ways in which people can get involved and help to make a difference.
In Marc Adams original email he wrote:
“As what seems to always be the case, Israel has responded to deadly rocket attacks against its people with (what seems to me) brutal overpowering by its military against many innocent civilians in Gaza. Can someone please explain to me why there can’t be a cease-fire? Does anyone have any good ideas of what I or we can do as citizens of the US to help end this dire situation? It’s so frustrating to hear President Bush give unwavering support of Israel and to see President-Elect Obama remain silent. In my view, BOTH sides (Israel and Hamas) are at fault and the sooner everyone can admit to

December 30th, 2008

As I write about William F. Buckley, I can’t help thinking of my dad. They were alike in many ways, and my father introduced me, through the TV screen, to Buckley. I once told Buckley that he’d played a huge role in the formation of my political thinking—as I’d been watching “Firing Line” since it appeared on PBS when I was 9 years old—and he said, “Well, that’s a frightening thought.” Of course, it was a frightening thought. Why was a 9-year-old watching a political debate show led by this devout intellectual with the vocabulary of a… well… the vocabulary typical of no one at any education level? Cause of my dad. My atheist dad.

My father may have been against religion, but his ethical example, his dignity, and his love and respect for nature and his fellow man were spiritual practices if ever I’ve seen them. I know I got part of whatever religious core I have though him. And he and the author of “God & Man at Yale” shared many values.

Bill Buckley is best known for starting the magazine National Review, and, largely through that publication, for leading a revitalization of conservative politics in America. But there has always been a tension within conservatism between what Buckley represented and what at one time called itself the “Know Nothings” — anti-intellectual, often anti-immigrant, populism.

The conservatism William F. Buckley stood for was a heartfelt belief in individual liberty, collective responsibility and a healthy respect for traditions. His was not a politics of fear. It was a thoughtful and a decent politics. One that he was more than happy to defend against reasonable opponents.

Buckley’s “Firing Line” was no relative of the modern split screen scream-fest, with surrogates of Left and Right speaking from memorized talking points, bullying their way to dominate the audio feed. On “Firing Line,” Buckley maintained a level of politeness that approached serenity. You finished watching an episode feeling edified, rather than feeling bolstered in an already-fixed position.

And Buckley’s politeness was not the false platitude of a politician’s …

December 30th, 2008

It was a long shot but I thought I’d give it a try.

Tony Hendra was making the publicity rounds for his latest book, a novel, The Messiah of Morris Avenue and I was searching for a different angle from which to cover it. Two years earlier—just after the release of Fr. Joe, the New York Times bestseller in which Hendra chronicled his own journey back to Catholicism—I had done an extensive interview with him for Busted Halo and I was hoping to do something other than the usual Q&A this time around. The blurb on the back of Messiah provided all the inspiration I needed:
“I was prepared for my usual serving of sharp Tony Hendra satire; I was not prepared for his sensitive and highly convincing exposition of the true teachings of Jesus Christ. I love this book.” — George Carlin
Hendra—a well-regarded satirist who is probably best known for his role as Ian Faith, the band manager in This is Spinal Tap—had mentioned that Carlin was an old friend in our first interview. He had even remarked (only half jokingly it seemed to me) that he believed Carlin would return to the Holy Roman Church on his deathbed because, no matter how hard he tried to expunge it, Catholicism was deep in Carlin’s DNA.

Combo Flatter
My gears started churning. Carlin’s endorsement of Hendra’s novel seemed to me to be the perfect opportunity to get an interesting conversation started. Rather than a straight interview, what if I could convince both men to let me record a conversation between them about their thoughts on God, faith and Catholicism? Combining the wit, intelligence and honesty of Carlin—who had frequently placed religion and the Catholic Church in his comic crosshairs—and the recently returned prodigal Catholic (Hendra) would surely result in an incredible piece for Busted Halo, right?

I immediately contacted Hendra about the idea and he seemed intrigued as well but said he’d have to check with Carlin to get his thoughts on it. My imagination began to conjure up elaborate plans for how to promote …

December 29th, 2008

Speeding down the road, it seemed like just another day at work. My camera person Maxine and I were heading out to interview a woman for a special Thanksgiving feature on the BBC. Max and I had been on several shoots together over the previous six months, and this was no different. But as we hurtled along, in anticipation of our next television adventure, conversation somehow migrated to a feature we had done in the middle of summer, with a woman we both had come to admire and respect in the 20 minutes in which we’d gotten to know her.

“I heard that Lucy — I think that was her name — passed away recently,” Max said. “Lucy?” I questioned. I could hardly believe it. “Yeah, Lucy Stokes, I believe it was.” Max responded. For a moment, my heart sunk. It seemed like just days ago I had been in this woman’s living room, interviewing her about her struggle to buy groceries. And now, gone? It didn’t seem right. She was such an incredibly nice lady who made us strangers feel like a part of her family.

I had the great honor of meeting Ms. Lucy Stokes by way of a story on the international food crisis I was producing for the BBC back in June. The point of the story was to look at how the global rise in the price of food was affecting the low-income population of Washington, D.C. and the United States as a whole. Lucy, a 70-year-old grandmother, invited Maxine and me into her home to interview her about how the price rise was affecting her and the people she tried to help as a volunteer.

That’s one of the things that I really admired about her. There was no mistaking that Lucy herself was a direct victim of the economic downturn, a senior on a low fixed income living in public housing who depended on food stamps and food pantries. But she wouldn’t let the title of “victim” define her. She actively volunteered for the …

December 22nd, 2008

How should we celebrate Christmas in tough times? Maybe the way we should have been celebrating the birth of Christ all along. All religious traditions call us to be generous and care for the poor and needy.

“All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.”

To see that saying framed and embroidered you have to watch It’s a Wonderful Life very often and closely. Capra’s camera focuses in on the saying, which appears under the picture of Peter Bailey, as George and Uncle Billy discuss how to confront the run on the bank. George and Mary put up their honeymoon money to keep the “old, broken down” Bailey Building and Loan afloat, and out of the hands of miserly Mr. Potter, “the richest man in town.”

We will all be watching that Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed classic with new eyes and new awareness this Christmas. The millions of homeowners stressed and stretched by the mortgage loan debacle, and the many millions more seriously impacted by Wall Street’s meltdown will think of George Bailey with admiration and gratitude. His struggle to do business while keeping the needs of the little people in mind elicits a renewed appreciation and respect. The “Greed is Good” era of Gordon Gekko is dead. Long live the George Baileys of the world. Hopefully, some are still left out there.
The Christmas Envelope story
In 1982, Nancy Gavin published a short reflection on how her family celebrated Christmas. Google “Christmas Envelope story” and multiple websites provide the full version of this moving story.

Mike Gavin didn’t like Christmas much, and dreaded the commercialization and hype. One year, the Gavin’s son competed in a wrestling match against kids from an inner city church on the poor side of town. Mike was frustrated to see the opposing team very ill equipped. Moved by their plight, he expressed his anger and frustration to his wife over the fact that the kids could lose heart: “These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing …

December 19th, 2008

“Spare us from the Pharisees and Scribes pretending to be concerned with life!”

“It’s ridiculous that we’re still pitting science against religion in the 21st century.”

“The Catholic Church, once again, remains in the middle ages with its teachings.”

“Dear Vatican & co.: please go away.”

To say that the reactions to media stories on the unveiling of Dignitas Personae were resistant and hostile—those listed above appeared in comments to articles in the National Catholic Reporter and The New York Times—is probably an understatement. For many, this latest document is simply more evidence of a Church that is anti-science and anti-technology, obsessed with sex and having control over people’s intimate reproductive choices, and overly focused on an ideologically narrow set of concerns. As erroneous as that impression might be, sadly, the Church has herself to blame for much of it.

Radical mishandling of the sex abuse scandal; a lack of transparency and justice in its power structures; and, perhaps above all, a poor ability to communicate its message to people skeptical about its—all these factors contribute to many people tuning out this document’s message.

Though it might be understandable, dismissing Dignitas Personae would be a terrible mistake.
Biotech is out of control
Much as we may attempt to deny it, the secular West has religious ideology of its own—and the twin dogmas of technological imperative and unrestrained personal autonomy are contributing to a biotechnology movement that is, quite literally, out of control.

Britain is the first place to risk the genetic boundaries of humanity by mixing animal and human DNA and producing chimeric organisms. We keep millions and millions of the most helpless and vulnerable members of our species in frozen storage—their futures sacrificed to the twin gods of unlimited procreative liberty and cost-effectiveness. And pre-implantation genetic diagnosis of embryos is leading us down a slippery slope—already greased by a virtually universal understanding that reproduction is a choice we make rather than an unsolicited gift—toward the dignity of children coming solely from the will of their parents rather than its being inherent.
An important dissenting …

December 4th, 2008

Panel 2, part 1 (see part 2 and Further Reflections below)

The photographs that revealed the torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib shocked the world. American military personnel and civilian contractors are seen engaged in practices prohibited by the Geneva Conventions, the Army Field Manual, and U.S. and international law. Further revelations about CIA rendition policies, deaths in custody, Guantanamo detainees, and government secrecy raise critical questions about U.S. culture and the practices and conditions that have fostered the resort to torture.

This Headline Forum, sponsored by the Fordham Center for Religion and Culture examined two issues:

What in U.S. culture predisposes us to torture or to a tolerance for torture?
What strengths and weaknesses have U.S. leadership groups (political, military, religious, medical, psychological, legal, etc.) exhibited in responding to the current controversies over torture?

Panel 2 Moderator: Professor Frederick Wertz, Fordham University, Department of Psychology
Panel: Legal Profession: Dean William Treanor, Dean, Fordham University School of Law
Military and Intelligence: Col. Patrick Lang (Ret.), President, Global Resources Group
Religion: Rev. Drew Christiansen, S.J., Editor, America Magazine
Psychology: Prof. Stephen Behnke, Ethics Office, American Psychological Association

Panel 2, part 2

Further Reflections

December 2nd, 2008

Panel 1, part 1 (see parts 2 and 3 below)

The photographs that revealed the torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib shocked the world. American military personnel and civilian contractors are seen engaged in practices prohibited by the Geneva Conventions, the Army Field Manual, and U.S. and international law. Further revelations about CIA rendition policies, deaths in custody, Guantanamo detainees, and government secrecy raise critical questions about U.S. culture and the practices and conditions that have fostered the resort to torture.

This Headline Forum, sponsored by the Fordham Center for Religion and Culture examined two issues:

What in U.S. culture predisposes us to torture or to a tolerance for torture?
What strengths and weaknesses have U.S. leadership groups (political, military, religious, medical, psychological, legal, etc.) exhibited in responding to the current controversies over torture?

Panel 1 Moderator: Bill McGarvey, Editor-in-Chief, Busted Halo, Online Magazine
Panel: David Danzig, Human Rights First, Director, Primetime Torture Project, Professor Todd Gitlin, Columbia University School of Journalism, Richard Alleva, Film Critic, Commonweal

Panel 1, part 2

Panel 1, part 3

November 19th, 2008

Whether it is the rising cost of your weekly grocery bill, water cooler rumors about layoffs or the nightly news, everyone is reminded about the downturn in the economy on a daily basis. Last month, the Pope was quoted as saying, “We are now seeing, in the collapse of major banks, that money vanishes, it is nothing.” While that may be true on a spiritual level, money is an inescapable aspect in our daily lives. If money vanishes, so does our ability to feed, clothe and house ourselves.

For most of our generation, this is our first experience of a global financial crisis. What should the government do? What should we do as Christians? Busted Halo interviewed Timothy Sandoval, a professor of the Hebrew Bible and the author of the book Money and the Way of Wisdom: Insights from the Book of Proverbs . We also interviewed J. Michael Brown, an advisor with a major wealth management firm who is also Christian, to ask them some tough questions about how to navigate the financial storm.

BH: Does Christianity have anything to say about economics?

Timothy Sandoval (TS): Christianity, in my view, has some very important things to say about economics, but not so much about how to understand or negotiate today’s extremely complicated economic landscape. Although the Bible does offer some instruction on concrete or particular economic practices, what it really offers us today is a set of principles, a kind of moral compass, with which we can think about how, as Christians, we ought to relate to our material resources and the broader economy in which we inevitably find ourselves.

BH: You work in the financial sector. Do you think Christian values make any sense in your workplace?

J. Michael Brown (JMB): I don’t think of them so much as Christian values, because they are the same values that our Muslim friends have and our Jewish friends have. Values about respect, honesty, treating people justly. In some sense, yes, you could call them biblical values: love, respect, …

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November 12th, 2008

Nov. 4, 2008 — I’m hanging out in an enormous public room at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia. A large screen TV has one election coverage team chattering and there is an even larger screen on which is projected another channel’s chatterers. We flip from channel to channel (Fox News eliciting boos and laughs), while the screens flip between the talking heads and brightly colored maps of the U.S.A. The states are slowly filling, red and blue and more blue.

Dozens of students, black and white and Latino and Asian, lounge on couches or chat with friends. They type on laptops and click and text. Many have one ear bud from an iPod in one ear; the other ear is “open” for the outside world. This is their multi-media, multi-racial environment, constant lights and noises, constant interaction among various groups, as familiar to them as various waters to fish. At 11 p.m. EST, one of the talking heads sonorously announces Barack Obama has won the election. The room erupts in gentle and heartfelt whoops and hollers. There is a subtle euphoria in the air, but one notes also the overriding coolness that hallmarks this generation. They give their hearts, but gingerly and gently. To be honest, there was a lot more noise and wild celebration when the Phillies won the World Series the week before than when Obama gained the White House.

Nov. 5, 2008 — I am standing in front of my anthropology class. At the end of the 75 minutes, we take some time to reflect on the previous day’s election. Students are mostly quietly elated and excited about Obama; a smattering grudgingly let go of their McCain-Palin connection. All agree McCain’s concession speech was admirable, even honorable. Obama’s election fills many with hope. Hope for a better economy. Hope for an end to the insanity in Iraq. Hope for an America of which we can be justly proud: not an empire that lies and tortures, but a nation united in making the world a place of peace and …

November 6th, 2008

When my husband and I started looking for a house this past spring, we were in the same boat as a lot of first time homebuyers. We knew that we couldn’t afford much in the overpriced housing market of our metropolitan area, Washington DC. We knew that we needed to get a steal in order to find a house that would accommodate our growing family. We loved the neighborhood, the proximity to public transportation, and the big poplar trees that provided a canopy over our street. We were smitten and we did end up getting a steal—we paid two thirds of what the previous buyer had paid only a few short years ago. My husband and I however had no idea that the purchase of our starter home in Falls Church would leave us knee deep in the moral mire of the foreclosure crisis, participants in a societal failure of epic proportions.

We knew that our house was a foreclosure. Actually, most of the houses that we looked at were foreclosures—they were all that were available within our price range. We knew that these sort of situations often came with some extra maintenance and extra cosmetic work: an extra financial cost. It also came with the human cost of suffering, racism and exploitation. Our first clue to this fact came when we were gutting the basement.

Galactic Sticker Soup
The basement of our house is prone to flooding, and during the many months that it stood vacant moisture accumulated and created a mess. We had to demolish any existing walls and remediate the bare bones for mold. We were doing the final walk through before demolition. The small partitioned room we walked into was a humble room at best—the drywall had been installed but never painted, and the remainder of the room was probably just as it had been when the house was built in the 1950s, with laminate floors and wood siding.

It wasn’t until I looked up that I realized that someone had actually been living in

November 3rd, 2008

Almighty and ever–living God, bound in faithful love to Your people, be attentive to our deepest needs; for as a nation we place all our trust in You.

Since election day approaches, we pray for all those who have placed their name before the people; to seal their commitment of public service for the common good. Purify the intentions of those who deserve the public trust. Transform self interest into compassion for Your people, as You make them harbingers of our future.

Empower each voter with Your Spirit; so that as the free people of Your creation they may recognize truth and personal integrity in those they choose. May the representative government they place in service mirror their own commitment to search out the ways of peace with others and establish an economic stability where justice will flourish for all.

May a new era of patriotism dawn upon the United States; a patriotism strong enough to carry us through difficult times and flexible enough to embrace authentic creativity. Drawing upon the resources of university and business, may the legal and social development of Your people help all citizens realize their full potential in Your sight. For Your wisdom is revealed to us and in us both now and forever. Amen.

Reprinted with permission of The Reverend Daniel P. Coughlin and the Office of the Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives.

October 24th, 2008

Thomas J. Reese, SJ

After decades of debate over abortion, something new has occurred this year.

First, the Democratic Party is now not just using pro-choice language; it is also acknowledging the need to do something to reduce the number of abortions. Democrats, like presidential candidate Barack Obama are now willing to say that abortion is a moral issue—something the pro-choice lobby always opposed. Democrats are now promoting social and educational programs that will reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and help pregnant women have their babies. In other words, after many years of insisting that abortion be legal and safe, the Democrats are finally emphasizing that it should be rare.

This new emphasis by the Democrats will not win over the hard-core pro-lifers, but it will make it easier for those, especially Catholics, who are concerned about abortion and other issues to vote Democratic.

During the last presidential debate, it was fascinating to watch the graph of the views of the CNN group of undecided voters as it soared and stayed positive while Obama said:
“There surely is some common ground when both those who believe in choice and those who are opposed to abortion can come together and say we should try to prevent unintended pregnancies by providing appropriate education to our youth, communicating that sexuality is sacred and that they should not be engaged in cavalier activity, and providing options for adoption, and helping single mothers if they want to choose to keep the baby.

Those are all things that we put in the Democratic platform for the first time this year, and I think that’s where we can find some common ground, because nobody’s pro-abortion. I think it’s always a tragic situation.”
Elsewhere, Obama said that he would support legal restrictions on third-trimester abortions, as long as there is an exception for the health of the mother.

The second change in the debate this year is within the pro-life community. The traditional pro-life strategy has been to try to make abortion illegal. This has meant supporting …

October 23rd, 2008

As they reflect upon this election, young people ought to step back from war, the economy, and other pressing issues and recognize that the critical issues of our day continue to be abortion and marriage. Young Catholics stand to gain, or lose more than anyone else in this election because of the candidates� profoundly different views about these two issues. Abortion undermines our decency and civility as a society more than any other form of aggression.

October 21st, 2008

Should faith matter in the voting booth? How can our moral convictions guide us as citizens when we choose our leaders? BustedHalo invited a cross-section of religious leaders, activists and educators from across the country to share their thoughts on the moral and societal issues facing the country and the changes they’d like to see in a post-George W. Bush America.

October 19th, 2008

Over the past few months, we’ve been bombarded by political ads and the hype surrounding next month’s presidential election. But do we really pay attention to what the pundits and spin doctors have to say, or do we vote our conscience? And what role, if any, does religious upbringing play in helping us decide?

October 7th, 2008

It happens in Bolzano, of all places, a bifurcated city that has been tossed back and forth between Italy and Austria for some time. It is a city of unspoken tension and forced politeness. You feel it when the waiters slam down your cappuccino and stalk off.

October 1st, 2008

There’s no better place to start at this time in history than with the upcoming election and moreover, the issues that Catholics are most concerned about. Catholics are never single-issue voters and this guide will help Catholics in forming their consciences during election season to make the best possible choice they can make keeping their faith in mind alongside their political decisions.

September 30th, 2008

Quick! Grab every man, woman and child! The end is near! The sky will come crashing down upon us unless (that is), the bailout bill is passed.

Sure, this might be a slight exaggeration, but it is how some lawmakers in congress interpreted the plea by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson for support of his $700 billion economic rescue plan.

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