False Choices & Religious Liberty

Is There a Better Way Forward?

By John Gehring,  June 21, 2016 in Commonweal


The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops launches its annual Fortnight for Freedom campaign this week. A recent video from the conference illustrates how unhinged the debates over religious liberty have become. Pairing images of Islamic State militants ready to behead Christian prisoners with ominous warnings of the Obama administration’s harassment of religious ministries epitomizes how the hierarchy risks making itself its own worst enemy on the issue. (For more, see the recent Commonweal editorial, “Lights, Camera, Contraception?”) Even many faithful Catholics who should be most sympathetic to the church’s arguments have grown weary of the divisiveness and worry that the all-consuming quality of the religious-liberty battle now seems to define American Catholicism. At the same time, the perversion of religious liberty into a bludgeon against women’s health, workers’ rights, and LGBT equality has caused some progressives to forget that religious freedom is a fundamentally liberal value. Finding a better approach that rescues religious liberty from the culture wars is challenging, essential work.

It’s fair to say religious liberty has a damaged “brand” these days. Catholic institutions have played a role in that diminishment. Lesbian and gay teachers across the country have been fired from Catholic schools after their civil marriages have become public. Several Catholic universities are using religious liberty claims to block adjunct professors making poverty-level wages from forming unions, a move dripping with hypocrisy given centuries of Catholic social teaching defending the rights of workers and living wages. Catholic leaders have spent years and millions of dollars in legal fees fighting for more religious exemptions in contraception coverage requirements under the Affordable Care Act, despite the fact that years before health-care reform was passed some Catholic institutions, with little furor, already offered their employees insurance coverage that included birth control coverage.

The nation’s largest church needs to lower the temperature and elevate the conversation. In his visit to the White House last September, Pope Francis affirmed that religious liberty is “one of America’s most precious possessions.” American Catholics, he added, are equally “committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination.” To state what should be painfully obvious, Catholics are not living in an era of despotism or facing tyrannical assaults, as some church leaders have claimed. American Muslims, in fact, have the most legitimate reasons to fear for their religious freedom. When mosques are burned, Islamophobia is a well-funded industry, and the Republican presidential nominee has proposed a ban on Muslims entering the country, Catholics must speak boldly and act with more urgency to demonstrate our solidarity with a religious minority under siege. Continue reading “False Choices & Religious Liberty”


Living in the Now

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation

A digitally created image of a large landscape of a mountain forest with a sun and moon.

Living in the Now

Time-Tested Wisdom
Sunday, November 19, 2017

Embrace the present moment as an ever-flowing source of holiness. —Jean Pierre de Caussade [1]

Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment. —Eckhart Tolle [2]

Of all the things I have learned and taught over the years, I can think of nothing that could be of more help to you than living in the now. It is truly time-tested wisdom.

So many leaders in so many traditions have taught the same thing: Hindu masters, Zen and Tibetan Buddhists, Sufi poets, Jewish rabbis, and Christian mystics to name a few. In the Christian tradition, we have heard it from Augustine, the Franciscan Francisco de Osuna, the Carmelite Brother Lawrence, and more recently, Paul Tillich and Alan Watts. Contemporary teachers Thich Nhat Hanh and Ekhart Tolle have done much to help us understand the importance of living in the now.

Jesuit priest Jean Pierre de Caussade (1675-1751) called it the “sacrament of the present moment.” His book, Abandonment to Divine Providence, was the book most recommended by spiritual directors for many decades. His key theme is: “If we have abandoned ourselves to God, there is only one rule for us: the duty of the present moment.” To live in the present is finally what we mean by presence itself!

God is hidden in plain sight, yet religion seems determined to make it more complicated. Much of low-level religion suggests that to find God you need this morality and that behavior and this ritual and that performance and this belief system. Western Christianity has largely refused to allow God to be as simple, obvious, democratic, and available as God has made (and makes!) God’s self—right here and right now.

This is what Eckhart Tolle popularized in his bestselling book, The Power of Now. While it’s often found in the New Age section of most bookstores, Tolle’s message falls squarely in line with orthodox Christianity. And, as I said, it’s also in numerous other traditions. If it’s true, it’s true everywhere!

Gateway to Silence:
God is right here right now.

[1] Jean Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence, trans. John Beevers (Image Books: 1975), 36.

[2] Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (Penguin Books: 2005, 2016), 41.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Living the Eternal Now (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2005), CD, MP3 download

The Power of the Moment


The other day, I was sitting at lunch with my kids as they started to discuss the Texas shooting. They wondered why the news had moved on from this story so quickly.

My son said, “Wow, that Texas story was wild. Why aren’t more people talking about that? Isn’t it weird that it just came and went?”

I thought about that. Stories used to stop us all cold in our tracks. Now, they just seem to come and go. Moments that used to bring a collective sense of grief—a collective sense of oneness—now seem to come and go without landing.

I told my children what it used to be like when a big story like Columbine would dominate the news and our national conversation for weeks. We would come together to converse, to wonder, to express outrage or pain. Now, it seems that when a tragedy like the one in Las Vegas happens, we move on. When a tragedy like the one in Texas happens, we scroll by. And so it goes.

The stories of those who lost their lives in Texas still sit in my mind. The young mother who gave her life to protect her kids. The young daughter of the pastor whose bright future was gone in a moment. The shock, the trauma, and the grief: it still exists for those who were in that church, or who were at that Vegas concert, or who lived in the path of the hurricanes and fires. For them, this news doesn’t just come and go. It stays.

As we roll towards the holidays, my hope is that we can somehow slow down our scrolling and swiping and focus our attention on these monumental moments that are happening all around us. I hope we can also take a moment to embrace the magnificent chance at life that each and every one of us gets. Remember, life isn’t a guarantee for any of us. If you are blessed to celebrate a new year of life, it behooves you to think about owning it and making it matter. Why? Because you are one of the lucky ones.

May we all slow down and reflect on how life is unfolding around us. May we take a moment to think and wonder about stories of tragedies and sadness. May we consider what they mean, who was affected, and how we can work to move forward and hopefully one day prevent these things from happening.

At the same time, may we also stop and celebrate the moments of inspiring change and acceptance that are happening all around us. May we stop and celebrate individuals who are seizing their moment and doing what they can to make a difference and move humanity forward. Individuals like Danica Roem, whose election to the Virginia House of Delegates on Tuesday made her the first openly transgender woman to take state office. Or, Vito Perillo, a 93-year-old World War 2 veteran who had never run for office before, but on Tuesday, became the mayor of Tinton Falls, NJ. “I like for people to see that as old as I am, you can still do and accomplish things,” Perillo told his local NBC affiliate. I mean, wow. How amazing is that?

Life really is just a series of moments. A day is made up of 1440 minutes, each a moment to make our own. How many moments are in a life? None of us know.

Today, take a moment. Take one of those 1440 minutes to remember the lives behind the numbers, as well as the life that is still yours to embrace. Doing so is not only good for your own soul. It’s also good for the foundation of our collective community.

Tick tock. What are you going to do with your day?

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via Maria’s Sunday Paper: The Power of the Moment

The Power of Re-Evaluating Your Beliefs


The news of the week, as it always does, got me thinking. It got me thinking about politics. Thinking about addiction. Thinking about success. Thinking about how to live one’s life.

Every new year, I usually do some kind of inventory of my own life. But I can’t wait until then. I just can’t. (Plus, my birthday is around the corner, so now is as good a time as any.)

And the truth is, it’s not just the news that has got me re-evaluating. My body has also been speaking to me to pay attention. My heart has been calling me out. My mind is telling me not to get caught up in the noise, but to instead step back and think about the effect that the noise has on my life, and on all of our lives. Plus, it’s all been giving me a complex migraine, complete with vertigo and vestibular damage (don’t ask).

As you can you see, it’s not just one thing that brought me to this moment again. It’s been a series of whispers and then a few 2x4s. If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s to pay attention to the whispers and the 2x4s because they usually precede a knockout. (Speaking of knockouts, the voices of the Architects of Change featured in today’s Sunday Paper just blow me away. I love being in community with them and so many others that we have featured. They help me rise above the noise and inspire me to have hope and move forward.)

What also gives me hope is knowing that at any point in my life, I can change things that aren’t working. So here are a few things that the week’s headlines made me think about. I share them with you in hopes that they may give you something to think about in your own life as you move forward.

I’ve made big misjudgments here. I used to think that if I were the anchor of a network news show that I would feel successful. Same with publishing a best-selling book. I was wrong. Success, I’ve learned, is an inside job. I didn’t grow up with that message, but I now know it to be true. The people who I now think are the most successful are the ones who have beautiful, loving families. They are the ones who love and are loved. Who toil quietly and patiently on the frontlines of life. Who recognize that a modest life is just as meaningful as one lived in the spotlight. (Boy, was I reminded of that this week when Albert Einstein’s notes on living a modest life sold for $1.6M. Check it out in the section below my essay.)

I used to think the Democratic Party had all of the answers. I was wrong. Both parties contribute to divisiveness, as we see each and every day in the news. Both parties have brought us to this mean-spirited, divided place. I left the Democratic Party a few years ago to register as an Independent. There lies my hope.

I used to be so judgmental about people who weren’t working like maniacs. I was wrong. Working like a maniac makes you sick and is its an addiction. Put work in its proper place. Find balance. Your happiness depends on all parts of your life working together.

Rest (Mental and Physical)
In my home growing up, rest was a big no-no. My parents never rested, so neither did my brothers or I. Today, I know better. Rest is critical to your mental and physical well-being, so make time for it. No one else is going to give it to you.

I used to think that I could eat whatever I wanted, for however long I wanted. I was wrong. Bad choices catch up to you. Before you know it, you could be that one that cancer decides to knockout. You could be the person that Alzheimer’s decides to take hold of. Make your health (especially your brain health) a priority. And, while you are at it, get to the bottom of your relationship with food. Cookies are not a substitute for real love. They don’t love you back. Trust me. Candy, cake and Swedish fish don’t either.

I used to view myself as fearless because I skied black diamond runs and jumped off cliffs. I spoke up and spoke out. But then I came face to face with how much fear I actually had deep down. Today, I work hard at pushing through the things that scare me emotionally, like sharing this list with you. Sometimes, I feel like I’m alone when I’m vulnerable or admitting that I’m scared. But, I now know that I’m not. (Speaking of fear, as I watched Sen. Jeff Flake give his speech this week on the Senate floor, I couldn’t help but wonder if he was feeling fear or afraid as he stood there so boldly making his public statement.)

Speaking of fear, very few things scare me more than being in solitude. In order to not be alone, I often pack my life and my house full of people (I mean, lots of people). Because the truth is, I’m happiest when my house is filled with the people I love. But, I know that I’ve also done this because I’ve been afraid to look like I was alone or feel like I was alone. I’ve noticed, though, that the universe has a way of doing for you what you can’t or won’t do for yourself. Today, I spend quite a bit of time alone. (My son and niece who have been living with me for the last year are now both moving out.) I’m not saying that I love being alone, but I have realized that I’ve learned most of these truths that I’m sharing because I’ve spent time alone. I’ve spent time in silence. At the end, my takeaway is that we should all try and spend more time in solitude so that we’re comfortable with it when we have to be.

I grew up in a family where loyalty was king. I heard about it all the time. Loyalty to family. Loyalty to friends. Loyalty to a particular faith, political party, or person. But, what I never heard about was loyalty to one’s self. It didn’t dawn on me that one could crush the other. Today, loyalty to myself is more important than my loyalty to anyone or anything else. I’ve learned it’s not selfish to put yourself at the center of your own life. I’ve learned that you must honor that person looking back at you in the mirror because the cost of not doing so is high.

Celebrating Life
Life is short. I grew up knowing this to be true, but now it seems like I’m reminded of it all the time. Healthy friends call and tell me they have stage 4 cancer. Someone else whispers to me that they have early-onset Alzheimer’s. Another person tells me about a crippling depression that makes life unlivable. And then, of course, there is the news. We don’t celebrate life enough. We don’t tell our loved ones what they mean to us enough. I’m not writing this because of my age (and because my birthday is on the horizon). I’m writing this because of my first-hand experiences. Honor your life. Celebrate your life. Enjoy your life. Do it now.

Re-evaluating—whether it’s on your birthday, New Year’s, or any other day—can be painful. But, it can also be incredibly liberating.

Every time I take inventory, I discover things I’m wrong about. But, I also discover that I’ve been right about more than I realize. I’ve been right about certain friends. Right about the importance of family. Right about my faith in a God larger than me or any one building. And, I’ve been right that there was something in me—and in you—that’s always worth fighting for.

That’s something none of us should ever have to re-evaluate.


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P.S. I’ll be sharing more thoughts like the above in my upcoming book that’s inspired by these essays. “I’ve Been Thinking: Reflections, Prayers and Meditations” comes out February 27, 2018, and is available for pre-order now. I can’t wait for you to see it!

Amidst the constant blare of the 24-hour news cycle, so many interesting stories don’t rise to the surface for us to enjoy. Here are a few that caught my attention this week that I wanted to share with you.

HAWKING’S THESIS: Shortly after the University of Cambridge put Stephen Hawking’s 1966 PhD thesis, “Properties of Expanding Universes,” on its open access repository Monday, the site crashed due to a high volume of demand. [READ MORE]

A NURSE’S HEARTBREAKING GOODBYE TO DYING PATIENT: A Nashville, Tennessee nurse was captured on video singing while holding the hands of her 63-year-old patient dying of cancer. [READ MORE]

GROOM EXCHANGES “VOWS” WITH BRIDE’S SISTER: On his wedding day, a young man not only married his wife, he also exchanged vows with her younger sister, who has Down syndrome. [READ MORE]

EINSTEIN’S NOTES: Two hand-written notes that Albert Einstein had given to a courier in 1922 fetched $1.6 million at auction. [READ MORE]

What People With Passion Have In Common


This upcoming Saturday is National Make a Difference Day, but for me, every day is an opportunity to make a difference.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that the people who are passionate about making a difference all have something in common: they have drive. They have a purpose. They have a goal.

I deeply believe that every one of us has a calling, a unique gift, and a specific reason for being here on this earth. I’ve spoken to so many people over the years who desperately want to find their passion, but can’t seem to land where they think they should. What I’ve learned, though, is that sometimes all you have to do is look within you, and around you.

Your purpose is usually in your own home or your own community. It’s usually connected to something that’s happened to you or something you’ve borne witness to and that you care passionately about. It usually starts small. My mother, in fact, started the Special Olympics as a camp in my backyard. Note to self: never be afraid of starting small.

I love to highlight the work of people who use their time here on earth to make a difference. It’s one of the many reasons I use my social platforms and The Sunday Paper, in particular, to highlight the work of people I call Architects of Change. Individuals like our Architect of Change of the Week Erin Schrode, whose voice we share with you here in The Sunday Paper today. It’s my hope that by sharing these individuals’ endeavors with you, it might inspire you to join in their effort, or to start something that speaks to you.

It’s also why I aim to share with you news stories that I feel rise “above the noise” of the everyday news cycle. Stories that you may have missed, like the one this week about Jacinda Ardern, who at 37, just became prime minister of Australia and the country’s youngest leader in more than 150 years. I mean, how cool is that?

Over the years, I’ve met so many people who have said to me, “I want to make a difference, but I just don’t know how to do it.” As I say to my children, just take the first step. Help one person and see where that leads you. (I was reminded of that just last week when I spoke to Architect of Change Treger Strasberg, who said her nonprofit Humble Designs grew out of helping just one friend.)

It’s also important to know that passion and purpose may change over the course of your lifetime. As a young girl, I believed my purpose was to be a great journalist. I believed I was here to tell stories that weren’t being told. Ones that were both informative and inspiring.

Then, my focus and my purpose shifted to being a mother. When I became First Lady of California, my passion and purpose broadened yet again, this time to being of service to my state, as well as to women and those living on the margins.

Now, my mind is focused on wiping out Alzheimer’s through The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement and trying to figure how why two out of every three brains that are diagnosed with this mind-blowing disease belong to women. Focusing my mind on this question doesn’t wipe out the other things I’ve been passionate about throughout my life. In fact, it builds on them and brings all of my passions together. It just gives me a bigger mission. It gives me a bigger North Star.

Trying to make a difference requires patience and perseverance. It requires having a vision for oneself. I’ve found that having a vision for your future helps you stay fighting forward in the present.

And so, when I get down or feel discouraged, as we all do from time to time, I try to imagine myself 10 years into the future standing in what I call “The Open Field.” My children are all around me with their families. I feel at peace knowing they are loved, that they are happy and that my relationship with them and their significant others is loving and good.

I imagine that I’m calm. (Anyone who knows me knows that this is my imagination at work ☺ .) But, I know I will be because I believe that by that time, someone will have discovered a cure for Alzheimer’s. Millions of families are going to be spared from confronting this mind-blowing disease when this happens, and I believe that it can happen in our lifetime. I’ll be able to breathe because I’ll know that my voice and my work in this space, and in others, made a difference.

I also imagine myself healthy and happy. I pray that I’m surrounded by people who understand me and who accept me. People who believe in me and who aren’t scared to stand in this vision with me.

I have faith in this dream and I’m focused on making it a reality. You, too, can have your own vision of The Open Field. Close your eyes and allow yourself to imagine 10, 20 or 30 years in the future. Imagine how you want to feel. What difference would you have liked to have made in your life? Who will be standing there with you? Will you be able to take a deep breath and feel calm and proud of where you stand on that day?

Reflect on these questions and allow the answers to rise up from within. Then, open your eyes and go make your calling your reality.


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