Saturday, June 30, 2012

…oh Sister, save me a seat

By kay.e.strong

Sometimes it is difficult to see the seamless thread that binds Congress and the Vatican, and high ranking generals and bishops to Catholic nuns. But I assure you, it exists…secreted just below the surface of our social consciousness in a network of interdependent and mutually reinforcing worldviews and institutions.  In short, this binding thread is our cultural DNA.

A culture’s worldviews are unspoken, (typically) unquestioned but deeply felt perceptions about how our world works.  Worldviews establish with broad brush strokes the boundary conditions of what is possible and what is desirable—the goals we pursue.  A culture’s institutions, in turn, fill in the empty space between brush strokes with acceptable norms of behavior and the rules for engagement between individuals and between individuals and key structures of society.

It’s this seamless thread of cultural DNA that a handful of Catholic nuns have tripped sending waves of shock and awe across the country with their “Nuns on the Bus” tour (

Beginning January 2013, $500 billion over the next nine years must be trimmed from the hefty security budget ($851 billion FY2013) and an equivalent $500 billion dollar from domestic spending ($450 billion FY2013) as part of the $1.2 trillion sequester required by last year’s failed partisan debt-ceiling debate. House Speaker John Boehner has publically decried the “hollowing” of our military, while his crony, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Howard McKeon, whines about it being a “national disgrace.”   

Unlike the mighty military-industrial complex flush with tax lobby dollars and powerful Republican friends in Congress, the Sisters scraped together enough funding to carry a message of faith, family and fairness via a bus tour across the mid-west to the steps of Capitol Hill.  Their mission is to raise awareness about the real-life impact of further safety-net cuts for the millions of Americans living “on the margins.” At each stop in their nine state tour, the Sisters have highlighted “goods works” being carried out on behalf of the poor, the sick and the disenfranchised. Yesterday, in Cleveland the nuns toured a church in Tremont, visited a hunger center and learned of special outreach ministries to the deaf and blind.

Along the way the sisters have, also, raised the ire of the Vatican.  The Vatican chastised the sisters for devoting too much time to caring for members of the community and not enough time to attacking abortion and gay marriage.  The April report denounced members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for promoting “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith,” and “challenging the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.”  Seriously?  What teaching exactly was senior U.S. Roman Catholic Church official, William Lynn of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, intending when he sanctioned the transfer of priests to unsuspecting parishes to cover up child sexual abuse?

“It’s painfully obvious that the leadership of the church is not used to having educated women form thoughtful opinions and engage in dialogue,” suggests Sr. Simone Campbell, a lawyer and executive director of the NETWORK, a forty year old Washington, DC lobbying group founded by sisters and focused on poverty, immigration and healthcare.

If nothing else, the Nuns on the Bus tour, like the 99% movement before it, raises authentic questions about the boundary conditions of what is possible and what is desirable in our society. And they ever so gently remind us of Mother Teresa’s truth:

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.

Kay Strong, Ph.D., Southern Illinois University, M.T., University of Houston, M.A., Ohio University; Associate Professor at Baldwin-Wallace College; Areas of expertise: international economics, contemporary social-economic issues, complexity and futures-based perspectives in economics. E-mail:

1 comment:

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This blog lives under the auspices of the Department of Economics whose mission has been to hold high the lantern beaming an "economic way of thinking" onto the world. Selfishness, rationality and equilibrium have been central to the teaching of an economic way of thinking rooted in the Renaissance. And, in this regard, the department has faithfully stayed the course. The intent of this blog, thinking out loud..., however, is to entertain exchanges which may challenge the centrality of economics as we teach it.