Uncommon Courtesy

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 In the early 1990s I worked for a foster care agency in New York City.  It was my job as a “homefinder” to interview potential foster parents and assess whether they could provide a nurturing home for traumatized children.  The work was an intimate education in human nature, from its most generous to its most sordid, but from a quarter-century’s distance one couple stands at the forefront of my memory. Continue reading

Why We Need the Electoral College


Two-thirds of Americans live in cities.  The other third live here (actual photo taken in USA!).


The Electoral College has fallen out of favor ….. again.  Not since 2000 have so many people felt that the democratic will of the people has been overridden by an anachronistic institution that must be replaced.  But calls to abolish the Electoral College overlook three important features of an institution that serves to protect federalism, republicanism, and diversity. Continue reading

“Telling It Like It Is”: The Alley’s “A Night With Janis Joplin” Rocks the House

“Telling It Like It Is”: The Alley’s “A Night With Janis Joplin” Rocks the House


A few years ago I saw “Love, Janis” at The Alley Theatre.  It was one of the best things I had ever seen there, and I didn’t want it to end. The actress channeled Janis Joplin and her songs with aplomb, and it was one of the most successful runs in the history of The Alley.

Now, The Alley offers the stellar “A Night With Janis Joplin,” and although I don’t know how it is possible, it is even better. As in, about six standing ovations before the end of the show better.  From the minute the show opens with a rock band, dancing backup singers, and lighting that makes you feel like you really are at a Janis Joplin concert, the atmosphere is electric, and that excitement level never wanes.  You immediately plunge into Joplin’s deep pool of emotion and creativity, and you begin to understand how she was able to create music that was never imitative and wholly revolutionary, yet still connected to the musical predecessors that she so admired. It is easy to see how, for her, “Music is everything.” Continue reading

Mom The Theologian


IMG_7015 copy 2Recently Virginia Cerna - Teen Portrait 2my sister passed along to me a curious artifact from the history of our family: one of our mother’s college blue book exams, dated November 26, 1946. The school is Incarnate Word College, San Antonio, Texas, now a university of the same name. The course is “Religion”. Virginia Cerna was then just nineteen years old–a decade away from marriage and motherhood. The instructor marked the exam “quite good” but, in those pre-grade inflation days, she received only an A-. Even so, someone in the family (her own mother?) must have been especially proud of this exam to have preserved it. For me, these 70 years later, the exam offers a poignant glimpse into both my mother’s young faith and the state of Catholicism in mid-twentieth century America.

Through six pages and fourteen short handwritten answers, Virginia replies to her instructor’s questions about the Bible and the Catholic faith.  Her handwriting is fine, in the old-school way, though subject to the vagaries of the fountain pen (the ink grows progressively lighter to the end of question 5, then becomes and stays dark from question 6 to the end). Her answers are confident though far from brash. She writes in the serene tone of mid-century American Catholicism, before the Church’s years of doubt and dissent began. “The only finally reliable way to fix the Canon of the Bible is on the authority of the Church,” she begins her answer to question #4–restating a Catholic tenet as it undoubtedly appeared in the question itself. “The beginning of John’s gospel deals with the Incarnation and the proof of Christs [sic] nature–both God and man,” she replies to question #6. “This is very important because if Christ were not divine and human the bottom of our religion falls through.” Continue reading