An Open Letter to Speaker Boehner, et.al.

I would like to share with you my reasons for opposing the Keystone XL pipelinewith the hope that, after thoughtful reflection and prayer, you will join me in my opposition.As a Catholic who identifies with the teachings and example of St. Francis of Assisi, I have come to understand that humanity is part of Creation, which is a special and precious gift from God that helps us to know and love Him. Wrote Thomas of Celano, “[Francis] rejoiced in all the works of the Lord and saw behind things pleasant to behold their life giving reasons and cause. In beautiful things he saw Beauty itself; all things to him were good.”

The Keystone XL pipeline is incompatible with my Franciscan view of the world. The pipeline presents serious environmental and health risks. The Keystone XL will transport thick, toxic bitumen from the Alberta tar sands. Extraction of oil from the tar sands fragment and destroy the Boreal forest, killing migratory birds and many other species. Toxic waste from mining operations are stored in tailings ponds that already cover 65 square miles, resulting in higher rates of cancer among the Fort Chipewyan First Nations community. The destructive effects of tar sands extraction are so great that Luc Bouchard, Bishop of St. Paul in Alberta concluded that “…the integrity of creation in the Athabsca oil sands is clearly being sacrificed for economic gain. . . . The present pace and scale of development in the Athabasca oil sands cannot be morally justified. Active steps to alleviate this environmental damage must be undertaken.”

The Keystone XL pipeline will only transport this destruction into the United States. Between 2000 and 2009, pipeline accidents resulted in almost 3,000 significant incidents and over 160 deaths. In 2010, Enbridge pipelines spilled over 1 million gallons of tar sands into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, 275,000 gallons in a suburb of Chicago, and 126,000 gallons in North Dakota. If the Keystone XL were to leak, the environmental effects would be devastating.

Blocking the Keystone XL pipeline is one step we can take in alleviating the damage to Alberta’s Boreal forest, preventing future disasters in the United States, and exercising our duty to be good stewards of the environment.

“The earth is full of the steadfast love of the lord.” (Ps 33: 5) In a spirit of reciprocity, we must return that love. As Pope Benedict the XVI explained in his encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, “The envrionment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole. . . . The protection of the environment, of resources and of the climate obliges all international leaders to act jointly and to show a readiness to work in good faith, respecting the law and promoting solidarity with the weakest regions of the planet.”

Scripture tells us that we are our brothers keeper (Gen 4, 9-10); the Lord instructs us that “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22: 39). Like St. Francis, I have come to understand the truth that all of Creation–the Boreal forest of Alberta, the waters of the Athabasca River, the migratory birds and other species, and the Fort Chipewyan First Nations–are our brothers and sisters. We have an obligation and responsibility to them that far outweighs any possible economic gain realized by the Keystone  XL pipeline.

“God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Gen 1: 31) I hope after considering my words and the wisdom of St. Francis of Assisi, you will reconsider your position on the Keystone XL pipeline and block its approval.

Thank you for your service, and may you be blessed with peace and all goodness!

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The Spiritual Vision of Faith

Then he touched their eyes and said, “Let it be done for you according to your faith.”Mt 9: 29

We see what we want to see, and it is that desire to see only what we want to see that blinds us from the truth.

Without faith, I cannot know God. I cannot know God only through philosophy. I cannot know God only through science. I cannot know God only by doing right by others.

Not that these things do not have value. Of course they do. It would be absurd to suggest otherwise. Everything can help see the truth–that is, to help us distinguish between reality and shadow–provided that we have faith. We see and understand to the extent that we have faith. A person’s lack of belief–his or her blindness–results simply from a lack of faith.

It is from a lack of faith that inspires an atheist to argue against the existence of God from the problem of evil. (On the contrary, the argument makes no sense to a person with faith.) It is from a non-believer’s lack of faith that evidence from the fossil record suggests that the story of Creation is a nothing but a myth. (To me, evolution illustrates that God’s creation is a work in progress.) It is a physicist’s lack of faith that leads him to conclude there is no God, not string theory. (In fact, is our pursuit of science nothing more than man exploring Eden as described in Gen 2: 19-20?) It is a lack of faith that leads people into immorality, not Lady GaGa.

Thus, it is not reason that leads one away from God. It is a lack of faith that leads one away from God. And reason cannot diminish a person’s faith, since faith and reason derive from the same source.

Faith gives man sight. But, given the frailty of the human condition, our sight can go bad. Even those who can see need glasses. Fortunately, we have reason, science, the arts, philosophy, and so many other great gifts that help us maintain the spiritual vision of our faith.

Hence, there is no need to repeal the Enlightenment.

Peace and all goodness!

Thinking Is Just a Waste of Time

Upon further reflection of Rule #13a and Rule #13b in Bob’s Guide to Corporate Survival, I have concluded that thinking, in general, is not a good thing. Thus, I have come up with Rule #13c: Just don’t think.

On Nature

Of all things, nature is the most beautiful. Serene and terrible, Nature is the blend of contradictions. She is a beloved companion, a bountiful provider; She can be a fearful foe, a tortuous master. But in whatever role She takes, Nature is beautiful and passionate.

Not so much unlike ourselves. Nature then is a mirror of who we, as a species, are. Are we compassionate neighbors? Rich benefactors? Or fearful overlords? The way we look at Nature, then, is a reflection of our values. What values prompt someone to approach Nature as a loving neighbor, full of compassion? What values prompts someone to approach Nature as a resource to be exploited?

Nature is humanity’s spouse, in a sense. Nature is our eternal companion given to us so that our pilgrimage would not be such a lonely one. If Nature is our spouse, how should we treat Her? With love and respect, cherishing every moment with her? Or do we abuse Her? Do we rape her?

If a spouse, then Nature has human goods that need to be nourished. Health is first and foremost. Do our policies promote the health of the environment? When we pollute the air and water, we poison the health of the environment. Would we poison our spouse? Would we poison ourselves. When our spouse is sick, would we not seek healing?

We see the beauty of our spouse. To us, our spouse is the most beautiful thing we see. So too, then Nature. She is stunningly beautiful. She is magnificent. We treasure that beauty. But when we disfigure Nature, we rob Her of that treasure.

Nature is strong and resilient. Her strength gives us strength. When our spouse thrives, do we not also? But strength is dependent on health. If Nature is sick, then she is weak, and the water we drink and the food we eat will make us sick; the air we breathe will choke us. For us to be strong, Nature must be strong. For Nature to be strong, Nature must be healthy.

Our spouse is rich and wealthy, and She shares her wealth abundantly. But do we covet her wealth? Who would steal from one’s spouse? But we do it everyday when we strip Nature of her wealth for our own material gain. “No blind god Plutus is, keen of sight, but only if he has Wisdom for a companion.” Plato wrote. But we are blinded by Plutus. We ignore our spouses beauty and granduer. We see only her riches, and we covet them. And in our greed, we lack wisdom.

We must act wisely with our Spouse. We must stand strong with her, and have the courage to protect her against those who would do her harm. Love requires nothing less. But love requires more, much more. To live in harmony with our spouse—to live justly, righteously, and peacefully—we must strive to understand, and to live in awe that someone would love us in return, despite all our faults and failings.

And this is the true beauty of Nature. That despite our abuse, our neglect, our destructive selfishness, she still provides for us. She still loves us. If we get to know Nature as our spouse, and if we act in a manner befitting a faithful spouse, then perhaps we will begin to make better decisions and offer better counsel regarding the way we treat Her.

We are lucky that we, as a species, have been given such a beautiful companion in Nature during our sojourn on earth. Let us then treat Nature as a beloved spouse. Let us vow to be true to Her in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. Let us love Her and honor Her all the days of our lives.

The Final Words of Troy Davis

As quoted from ABC News:

“I’d like to address the MacPhail family,” Davis said, according to The Associated Press. “Let you know, despite the situation you are in, I’m not the one who personally killed your son, your father, your brother. I am innocent.

“The incident that happened that night is not my fault,” he added. “I did not have a gun. All I can ask … is that you look deeper into this case so that you really can finally see the truth.

“I ask my family and friends to continue to fight this fight,” he said. “For those about to take my life, God have mercy on your souls. And may God bless your souls.”

I will have more thoughts on this later…

In Defense of Troy Davis

The impious act because they do not understand.

The State of Georgia will execute Troy Davis on September 21, 2011 for a crime he may not have committed. He was convicted of killing a Savannah police officer in 1989, based on eye witnesses testimony. Several of those witnesses have since recanted, claiming that they were pressured by the police to blame Mr. Davis. One of those who did not recant may have been the real murderer, and that he implicated Troy Davis to save himself. No physical evidence links Mr. Davis to the crime. Judge Rosemary Barkett of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals offered her opinion of this case:

To execute Davis, in the face of a significant amount of proffered evidence that may establish his actual innocence, is unconscionable and unconstitutional.

Where a defendant can make a viable claim of actual innocence is facing execution, the fundamental miscarriage of justice exception should apply.

Yet the 11th Circuit still denied his appeal, Mr. Davis awaits death, and the State of Georgia risks executing a many who may very well be innocent.

With so much doubt as to Troy Davis’ guilt, how can the State of Georgia proceed with his execution? “As I Live, says the Lord, I swear I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, but rather in the wicked man’s conversion.” (Ez 33: 11). Indeed, “God did not send his son into the world to condemn, but that the world may be saved through him.” (Jn 3: 17) If, then, God does not wish to condemn the wicked, then who are we execute someone who may very well be innocent? Should we model our behavior on the instructions that Cain’s descendant Lamech gave to his wives?

Wives of Lamech, listen to my utterance: I have killed a man for wounding me, a boy for bruising me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold. (Gn 5: 23 – 24)

Or should we model our behavior on Christ?

Then Peter approaching asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him, As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Mt 18: 21 – 22)

The State of Georgia has the duty to inflict punishment in order to provide for the common good of its citizenry. The friends and family who mourn Officer MacPhail have the right to see the interests of justice served: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Mt 5: 4). But punishment also serves to correct the guilty party; the finality of death penalty precludes this hope:

It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent. (Bl. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 56)

Troy Davis, a man who may very well be innocent, will be executed by the State of Georgia. His execution will serve no purpose, other than to condemn ourselves and our society. “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, “You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.” (Mt 5: 21)

The reliance on the death penalty as the “ultimate form of justice” is one that we as a civilized society need to reject. Rather, we should embrace the vision of justice that Saint Francis of Assisi showed to us in dealing with the wolf who terrorized the city of Gubbio:

But, Brother Wolf, I want to make peace between you and them, so that they will never be harmed by you, and they will dismiss all your past offenses, and both men and dogs will no longer pursue you….But, Brother Wolf, for me to obtain this favor for you, I want you to promise me that you will never harm any animal or person or dare to harm anything.

I am Troy Davis, because I share with him the same beginning. You are Troy Davis because you share with him the same end; we are all Troy Davis because we are made in the same image (Gn 1: 26, 27; 2: 7; 3: 19). Now is the time for clemency; later will be the time for justice.

Now you understand. Now you can act.

To read more about Troy Davis and his case, you can read these articles from Forbes, The Atlantic, and Mother Jones provide excellent background and opinion.

To take action, the Innocence Project and Amnesty International provide opportunities for you to stand in solidarity with Troy Davis.

Peace and goodness!

Good Idea or Bad Idea?

Is a Balanced Budget Amendment a good idea? That is, will it help really reduce the debt?

Proponents of such an amendment often point out that 49 states have some sort of legal requirement for a balanced budget (either in the form of a constitutional requirement or a statutory requirement) to support their argument. Perhaps a useful question to ask is, “How well have these balanced budget requirements worked for these states?”

Let us consider Illinois as an example. According to Article VIII, Section 2.b of the Illinois Constitution,

The General Assembly by law shall make appropriations for all expenditures of public funds by the State. Appropriations for a fiscal year shall not exceed funds estimated by the General Assembly to be available during that year.

Illinois’ total debt is currently over $120 billion. There are other examples:

From these examples, I am likely to infer that a Balanced Budget Amendment would not do anything to curb our spending on a national level.

Another question a person might ask regarding a Balanced Budget Amendment is, “How would such an amendment be enforced?” Would the President be impeached if he signed an unbalanced budget into law? Or, should the House of Representatives be held responsible? Should the Speaker of the House or the Chairman of the House Budget Committee face fines and/or imprisonment for violating the law of the land?

Perhaps we should again look at the states for guidance. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, requirements for an enforcement provision are not the norm (State Balanced Budget Provisions, p. 9). Alabama, according to the NCSL, has the most rigorous enforcement provisions: A treasurer who violates the provision is subject to a $5,000 fine and up to two years in prison, as well as impeachment. (Fortunately for Young Boozer, the State Treasurer of Alabama, it is not clear if this provision has been enforced–Alabama’s debt is currently at $26 billion.) So much for state guidance.

A final question must be asked, “Is a Balanced Budget Amendment really necessary?” I tend to concur with the  conclusion of the NCSL:

For the majority of states, however, the most important factor contributing to balanced budgets is not an enforcement mechanism or a provision specifying how a shortfall will be resolved. Rather, it is the tradition of balancing the budget that has created a forceful political rule to do so. Although states with enforcement provisions emphasize their importance, the expectation that state budgets will be balanced is the most important force in maintaining a balanced budget. (State Balanced Budget Provisions, p. 9).

Legislation reflects our societal values, but legislation is incapable forcing behavior (the noble experiment of the 18th Amendment provides a useful example).

Perhaps the motivation behind a Balanced Budget Amendment–to create sustainable budgets–is wise. However, I wonder if the reality of such an amendment would restrict the options of policymakers during periods of economic stress that are endemic to our economic system and only hurt the common good.

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