Earth, I love you to BITs

Some of you might have read my blog post with A Nun’s Life about making my own clothes in an effort to be more ecologically responsible. As I’m living out my Franciscan calling with the Sisters of St. Francis, Clinton, Iowa, I’ve been drawn to simplify and find small ways that eventually add up to a more sustainable lifestyle. One of the things I’ve noticed, as well as pretty much everyone, is that there’s plastic in everything in our everyday lives. It’s in our clothes, it’s in our food storage (from cling wrap to storage containers), it’s in everything including our toothbrushes. They’re also made from that hard plastic that just doesn’t break down and gets sent to landfills.

As I began to contemplate this, I felt called to look at different options. I began to try to find more sustainable (yet still cost efficient!) toothpaste and other toiletries. Yet, even the Tom’s toothpaste tubes aren’t recyclable. Sure, they’re made from recycled materials, but it still goes into the landfill and takes who knows how long to break down. This has led me to try to find more zero waste options.

Here’s what I found:

Toothbrushes! Here’s the option I’ve found and absolutely love using. One of the most positive things about this product is the price point… 4 for $7.99. This is roughly the same cost as the plastic options. And, it’s the number that will cover you for the year! I’m not being paid to endorse this product, but I want to share all of the benefits. The packaging is made from recycled materials and is 100% recyclable. I feel much better about my oral hygiene, especially in light of all of the plastic toothbrushes I’ve used in the past 30+ years. They’re biodegradable, but it doesn’t appear that they’re compostable.

A+ on price, A- on the attempted zero waste.

Up next- toothpaste!

After searching for a more sustainable and hopefully zero waste option, I found Bite.

The pluses are pretty plentiful. They pride themselves on being zero waste. All of their packaging is 100% recyclable, including what it is sent in. The “bits” are pressed solid tooth”paste” made from earth friendly ingredients without any “extras” that can seep into our daily lives through everything from shampoo/conditioner (think sulfates) to beverages (artificial flavoring, sweeteners, etc.). They come in a glass bottle and glass is infinitely recyclable. Remember that milk used to come in glass containers that you have a deposit on and turn in when you purchase more? Refills for the bits are in recycled and recyclable packaging and get put in that awesome glass jar. Now here’s the downside… It’s $30 for 4 months! That is WAYYYYYYYY more than I would ever spend on toothpaste. Despite this hefty tag, I am willing to pay more. It’s not available in stores (hopefully that’s a YET). As it gains popularity, my hope is the price drops and the availability increases. It seems to be a boutique market right now out of Los Angeles.

I’m still finishing up my trusty tube of Tom’s and will continue to use it as I travel (don’t want to waste it!). This morning, I tried it. Disclaimer- this is the FIRST time I tried the bits and I hope my future experiences are better.

I did as instructed. I bit down on the bit and brushed with my new bamboo toothbrush. Here’s where it goes downhill. I was gagging and struggling the whole time. It wasn’t the taste, it was just the smaller bits from chomping down on the bit. Overall the clean was awesome. I didn’t think tooth”paste” would need instructions, or practice, but here we are. My hope is that it works and I can add this to zero waste, zero plastic habits.

F on price, A+ on the attempted zero waste, and a personal F on attempted use.

Next up will be Dr. Bronner’s shampoo/body wash. When I finish my current bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, I hope to transition to this. It’s organic, fair-trade, all the good things! One of the downsides is it comes in a plastic bottle. However, it is refillable and recyclable. I’d like to use less plastic with the shampoo/toiletry arena, but this does come close. It’s expensive, but it is concentrated, so maybe it’ll only be slightly more expensive than the cheap stuff. Another plus, it’s available at Target and other retailers.

It’s a journey trying to eliminate plastics, but I hope to to keep taking small steps.

I know we all care about creation. I don’t think there’s anyone that’s like “let’s ruin the environment” (at least intentionally). So I’d like to hear about what you’re doing. What ideas might you have for me? What’s the next step (after Dr. Bronner’s) that I should take? Anyone else taking steps to work towards lessening waste or zero waste?

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CSMG Day 4: Capitol Hill

This was the capstone of the experience of the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering.  Having been briefed the day before about legislative procedures and issues, I was ready to jump in!

The day began with a closing mass and continental breakfast.  I had the privilege of sharing my experience via FaceTime with some young Lasallians at Mullen High School in Denver.  They did great for it being 8am and discussing social justice!  It was great to make additional Lasallian connections and share the journey with those that are going to be eligible to vote for the first time in 2018!  They don’t have to start off with a presidential election, jump right in!

After that it was off to Union Station to figure out how to store some luggage. Side note- I did figure it out.

First legislative visit of the day was with Representative Dave Loebsack from Iowa.  He represents the district that the Sisters of St. Francis Clinton, Iowa call home.  I also was attending with a new friend so that she did not have to attend alone.  We got all our talking points in and kept them ahead of schedule!

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Next up, crossing from the House of Representatives offices to the other side of the Capitol where the Senate offices reside.

Then, in the middle of the chaos that working on Capitol Hill entails, this cool cat took time to say hi and show me around. What a guy!

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I’m calling it now- future Secretary of Energy! It’s an incredible thing to see the young people you’ve worked with become policy makers and advocates.  Senator Thune (R-SD) is blessed to have you on his team!

Next up- Senator Durbin’s office! Guess what? That massive DACA postcard party from the fall? They received those and are grateful for our input.  Senator Durbin has worked tirelessly, particularly with Senator Graham (R-SC), to come to a bipartisan solution for DACA recipients and the Dreamers. All I can say is GO DURBIN, GO!

Here’s a picture of the delegation from Illinois with his staff:

Next up- Senator Duckworth’s office! This was where we hit a little bump in the road… We were waiting in a conference room for over a half hour.  Apparently there was a scheduling mix up.  However, our Illinois delegation made the most of it with lots of dad jokes. My favorite? “Did you hear the rumor about butter? I’d tell you but I don’t want to spread it around.”  At that point I chimed in with a “Gee, you’re really churning them out.” Needless to say, I was pretty proud of myself…

No pictures with Duckworth’s staff because we were off to the closing reception with Cardinal DiNardo (President of the USCCB).  I was incredibly moved by two things: 1- Senator Rubio was originally scheduled to be present however due to a death, him and his staff were at a funeral.  I don’t know who or what or the circumstances, but I find that very humanizing in a polarized environment.  2- Senator Donnelly’s remarks were so moving about our call to be missionary disciples.  A graduate of Notre Dame, he’s doing his alma mater proud!

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After that it was off to a crowded MARC train, an early check in at the airport, then blissfully back home.

I’m amazed at the pace in DC and how everyone keeps it up day in and day out.  Senator Duckworth was unavailable to be present with us because she was making some powerful statements on the floor of the Senate!

The times they are a-changin’!

And finally I’d like to close with some inspiration from last evening’s mass:

Peace and all good!

CSMG Day 2-3: Solidarity & Encounter

There was so much happening over the course of CSMG and I made the most of my time in Washington.  It’s taken me a few days to process.  Here’s the recap from the 2nd and 3rd days of the conference.

Day 2: Solidarity in our Common Home

The day began with an over-the-top breakfast.  I thought that the irony of the three course meal the night before at this event would fade.  Nope! We had this super fancy breakfast put on by Catholic Charities USA.  Is it just DC?  When we’re looking at systemic change and the inter-relatedness of all… why are we indulging in this form of gluttony?  The keynote would later go on to talk about excess- so let me get into that.

“The greatest poverty is isolation.”  This statement led to the call to missionary discipleship, to build the culture of encounter, and to invite people into the call to radical discipleship.

A question was posed… “Where’s the next generation of people willing to give up high salaries to do this work?”  The presenter had asked this question before and shared a remarkable response that resonates with me, “I wouldn’t phrase it like that. I didn’t give up anything. It is a privilege to do this work.” Amen!

We were reminded that the love of God comes to us as pure grace.  How? Contemplation.  Again, AMEN!

We were encouraged to recapture the beauty, awe, and mystery of creation…

We were reminded that we all have this capacity to experience mystery, everything is interconnected.  We live in a broken world and that can by a hurtful reality.  There was a lot of talk about sin, particularly social sin.  So many times in our lives when we do an examination of conscience, we focus solely on our personal sin.  There are a great deal of social sins that we either actively contribute to or are complicit in.  There were many “the biggest sin is…”  At this point the keynote shifted to the biggest sin being inequality.  Globally, enough food is produced to feed 1.3 times the number of people on the planet and 800 million are starving.

This was attributed to a lack of will.  I can’t disagree and I struggle with how to have that will collectively to make the change.  The problem seems overwhelming.  Is that what evil does when it seeps in?  Does it tell us that the problem is too big? That we’re not able to impact change?

The next point made was that we’re using 1.4 times the resources of earth currently.  We’re using more than we have.  This leads us to risk the next generation and calls us to respond.  We were posed with the question of will there be justice for the next generation?

There were then two words for us to focus on metanoia and alterity.  Here are the definitions that were given… Metanoia- radical conversion of heart. Alterity- recognizing the other.  The questions then posed were can we recognize the earth as other, as a sister needing protection?  Metanoia and alterity are essential to Pope Francis’s call to action- that we have an ethical imperative to act.

Then moving into the panel discussion: What are the most important opportunities for us to respond to challenges regarding the environment? Do I live in harmony with creation and nature?  What am I doing to care for our common home?

We were reminded that care for our common home begins with us and what we do impacts others. What happens to one happens to another, defend Mother Earth!

Our panel consisted of people from all over the world with different experiences of the exploitation of the resources of our planet.  They were asked what the greatest concern is for each of them:

US- Imminent domain. Congo- peace. Columbia- process for peace (current policies go against peace) and displacement for palm oil industry. Amazon- Indigenous rights, particularly of un-contacted peoples.

Pope Francis has called for a synod for the Amazon and Amazonian region.  There is more information at http://www.justresponse.faith.

Bishop George V Murray, SJ of Youngstown, Ohio is on the new Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism from the USCCB.  One of the points that has stayed with me is that this shouldn’t be an Ad Hoc Committee, it should be a Committee.  He spoke about racism being America’s most persistent sin.

He seamlessly talked about slavery in the Church and addressing racism. Way back in 1435 a Papal Bull was issued by Pope Eugene IV (needs a citation).  Anyway, this Papal Bull apparently said that Catholics were not to own slaves under pain of excommunication! WHAT?! Way back in 1435?! Why have we not gotten that memo??  Bishop Murray threw down some serious Church history that I need to learn and humbled me.  One of the things that stays with me is the idea of silent complicity.  He talked about the important role that progressive Catholics play.  He made sure to that progressive is defined as being a force for good, NOT liberal.  He reminded us that progressive means being a force for positive change and justice. Again, AMEN!!

Day 3: Domestic and International Policy- Moving Towards Encounter

I can gratefully say that on the third day we had a very simple breakfast of oatmeal and coffee sponsored by CRS.  This was a welcome sight and honestly touched me.  We weren’t served, it wasn’t extravagant, and it spoke to the words that were being shared.  CRS walking the walk helped me personally as I work with Lewis University’s CRS Student Ambassadors.

Our opening session focused on Moving from a Throwaway Culture to a Culture of Encounter.  We were reminded that we are called to utilize our resources of our faith to move to encounter.  We, particularly in the US, suffer from a great polarization where social media amplifies this polarization and distracts us from what we  should be focused on.  In this context, how do we move the discussion to encounter, dialogue, and solidarity?

I took 10 pages of solid notes and there is no way to condense them.  All I can really say is that the conversation was incredibly stimulating and at times very challenging.  There were several quotes that had the word WHAT?! written next to it and furiously circled.

I will share the 5 ingredients for Just Peace:

1- Participation, not exclusion (especially by most marginalized numerically, WOMEN!)

2- Restoration

3- Right Relationship

4- Reconciliation & Healing with one another

5- Peace that is sustainable

The greatest encouragement was to keep at it in a polarized world! AMEN!

We are the voice for the voiceless and we need to take that responsibility seriously as Christians.

Later we had the legislative issues briefing.  While this conference was going on, I was blissfully unaware of what was happening in the minute to minute of our news cycle.  What I will say is that following our visits to the Hill, when we had all returned home, Nancy Pelosi held the floor advocating for Dreamers (1.8 million vulnerable young people of which approximately 800,000 currently receive temporary protections under DACA).  This 77 year old woman stood and spoke for EIGHT STRAIGHT HOURS. No matter your political affiliation, that is totally impressive.  As the House Minority Leader, she was speaking truth to power.  She was doing what we had been encouraged to do, which is to bring the human faces of consequences of delay and what it is doing to individuals and families.

I encourage you, if you’ve gotten this far, to check out justiceforimmigrants.org.

My next post will be about my time on Capitol Hill.  I do have to say how incredibly blessed I was to spend Sunday evening with one of the greatest young men I’ve ever met and future Secretary of Energy.  Monday evening, as plans fell through with one of my college friends, I got to check out the monuments and encounter the moment like the young girl in the rain.

Here are some pictures!

Peace & All Good!

CSMG Day 1: Discipleship & Encounter

I could categorize this experience so far in one word: gift.  This has been and I suspect will continue to be an amazing gift.

My experience began right in the Baltimore airport being asked if I was headed to the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering.  Of course, it being Baltimore and all, I was taken aback.  My confusion at how this stranger (another word for a friend I haven’t met yet) knew where I was headed dissipated when he said, “I saw your Lewis bag and was hoping you were headed there too!”

Suddenly I had a wonderful companion on the journey, from the Diocese of Joliet no less!  We were able to chat about social justice, the joys and challenges in social justice focused ministry, and share our passion about advocacy to change unjust policies.

After checking in and getting settled, I was jumping right in with Advocacy Training 101, the dos and don’ts of meeting with Senators, Representatives, and their staff.  It was incredibly helpful.  When our delegation from Illinois meets with Tammy Duckworth (or her staff) on Tuesday, I now feel empowered to ask about the DACA postcard campaign from Lewis University and what hope/message she would like me to take back to Lewis University.  Being reminded that I represent a larger community of constituents and am able to ask for information to share somehow reminded me that advocacy work always involves others and “the other” that can be forgotten.

Needless to say, the first toe in the water was practical!

Next up was the Keynote Presentation: Where is your brother? given by Most Reverend Eusebio L. Elizondo, Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle.  I generally have a healthy skepticism of a bishop speaking with a title of a talk that is not gender neutral and this was no exception.  Those fears were unrealized because he consistently talked about brothers and sisters and encounter.  I felt like he was speaking to my heart throughout!  He was incredible quotable and funny.  Right out of the gate he shared what someone had once told him… There’s good news and bad. The good news is the messiah has already come.  The bad news is it’s not you. Ha!! We ALL need that reminder, especially when our passion for our faith and justice consumes our energies and attention.  It can be very easy to develop a savior complex.  I needed this gentle (yet funny!) reminder of where I am in the grand scheme of things.  Bishop Elizondo spoke of how it (this social justice) must come from the Holy Spirit, otherwise it is simply social work (and not JUSTICE!).  He continued that we are called to encounter each person as a brother or sister.  This is something I know and try to live out daily.  The reminder resonated so strongly!

Bishop Elizondo spoke of the two most important days of our life: the day of our birth and the day we discover our vocation. Wow! That took a little while to sink in because our vocation is a call we must pursue.  I could write an entire book about pursuing our vocation to holiness!

He had also begun with the opening of the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights- among those Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Here are just a few nuggets of truth and wisdom from his keynote:

“This might be the day the Lord takes away my stupidity, I don’t want to miss it.”

“If we do not change the whole world, they will change us, and that is the real tragedy.”

“God put a limit to sin, and that is mercy,” (Pope Benedict XVI)

“We are called to be disciples, listening to God’s heart.”

“It is our mission and privilege to share.”

“God is an immigration of mercy.”

“Indifference is the greatest sin today.” (Pope Francis)

“Immigration is not a work, it is an encounter”

“If you say ‘They don’t look like me’… then your vision is distorted.”

“It’s our privilege to be the mirror of God’s image.”

And the final two summed everything up and spoke so powerfully to my heart:

“Jesus is not an idea, Jesus is the Word made flesh.”

“The more you love, the more you are obliged.”

Again, I could go on and on about these two, but I’ll just say this- as Christians we are called to love our neighbor.  Who is our neighbor? Each person! We belong to each other and can’t forget it!

After this powerful keynote we had our opening liturgy.  I did not take notes during the homily.  I wanted to respect the liturgy and the sacred experience.  The challenge is now I want to go back and reflect more on the Most Reverend Frank J. Dewane’s inspiring words and I only have bits and pieces.  Even those I’m not comfortable sharing in case they are misrepresenting anything he was saying.  I will say this though- it was one of the most dynamic liturgies I’ve ever had the privilege of attending!!

You would think that at this point I was as inspired as I could be… WRONG! We then had dinner sponsored by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development where they gave out the Sister Margaret Cafferty Development of Peoples Award.  (Not that it’s important to this at all, but the food was amazing!) This award was given to Living Hope (http://lhwassociation.org/).  If I could bottle inspiration, that evening would be an infinite inspiration of persistence, encouragement, and bravery.

My hope is that each day, each moment, I’m able to soak in the goodness that is present at each of these events!

Side note: it’s a small world after all… I met a friend of a friend and am overjoyed that my Augustinian brothers are here too!

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Peace and all good!

CSMG 2018 Day 1

Hello Friends! Today has been an awesome encounter and I look forward to sharing more about it.  I had the best intentions of updating every night,,, AND I’ve been up since 3am… So stay tuned tomorrow for some insights from the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering!

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Athenaeum: A True Comedy

Yesterday (October 16, 2017) I had the extraordinary pleasure of being able to go to a taping of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah at the Athenaeum Theater in Chicago.  The tickets were only standby, so we got there early and we were ready and willing to wait hours for the chance to get in.  We arrived at 11:30am and were 14 & 15th in the standby line.  The kind and generous producers checked on the line several times throughout the day (also security was sizing us up) to see if we had questions.  My greatest hope was to not only get in, but to get Born A Crime, by Trevor Noah, signed for a colleague.  Although that did not happen, we were encouraged to think of a question because there would be a Q & A before the show where Trevor Noah would take a few questions.  Since I had plenty of time, I came up with the best question (in my not so humble opinion).

“You have a broad platform that you have utilized to address social and systemic injustices, what advice and encouragement do you have for those working for social and systemic change that don’t have that same platform?”

Despite jumping up when it was question time, I did not get called on.  It was sad, AND I had still gotten in to the taping.  In perspective, I was fully prepared to wait for hours and not get in.  I went ahead and sat back down.  Two failures: no signature and no question.  I do feel vindicated though because the subject of my awesome question was actually the subject of the show.

The Daily Show was highlighting the systemic injustices present in Chicago in a productive and energizing way.  They included the incredible work of CeaseFire that uses this model.  The guest was also Common.  His interview highlighted exactly what my question was!!!

Here’s his interview! 

Take a stand!
Go to the local and community level! I would add also continue to advocate for just policies that empower people and challenge the policies that don’t.
I’m just full of gratitude that I had this opportunity, that I was able to experience it with an amazing friend, and that the focus was on social and systemic injustices in Chicago.  I left encourage, energized, and ready to continuing to educate others about social justice.
Here’s some pictures:
True comedy involves a touch of great irony.  The irony is I didn’t get to ask my question, but it was answered anyway.  I’m so grateful to people that have power and influence that utilize that power and influence to bring about positive social change.
Peace, love, and all good!!

The Land of the Free

There’s one thing that being a blonde, almost translucent, American has afforded me- the privilege of freedom.  This comes most into play in my extensive travels. Simply because I had the good fortune of being born in the United States to caucasian descendants of immigrants, I have the freedom of movement.  It wasn’t until recently that I realized how special and truly amazing this is. Although I have not traveled outside of the United States recently, I have the coveted United States passport.  Although, to be fair, mine would be more scrutinized if I had an accent or a different shade of skin.  I’ve witnessed this in the port of entries.

This brings me to the real point of this entry- migration.  This week is the week of Prayer in Action (check out http://www.sharejourney.org and you’ll see more).  Pope Francis is highlighting global migration because it’s not any singular country that is being affected.  This is a global issue.

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This week has me reflecting a lot on my own wandering spirit.  I’ve not been afraid (well perhaps afraid and done it anyway…) to travel to distant lands, even within the continental United States.  I had never been to Oregon when I hopped in a moving van with my dad to a place I would call home for the next two and a half years.  It was during my first and only visit to Durango, Colorado that I accepted a position that would have me call Durango home for the next three years.  I only visited the Canticle (home of the Clinton Franciscans) and Chicago once, before I applied as a candidate and picked up and moved across the country.  Even then, it wasn’t really sight unseen, like when I lived in Scotland for 10 months or when I went to teach English in Japan.  I’d never been to those places and just jumped in trusting that it would work out.  Most of that trust was, mistakenly, in myself and my ability to do whatever I needed to in order to get by.  However, these journeys were for opportunities in ministry and work and some even for pure amusement.

This week, and for at least the next two years, Pope Francis is calling on us to reach out to the migrant and refugee.

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This search for opportunity isn’t the same for those that are risking it all to make it to the United States.  Then, when they get here, they live in constant fear and anxiety that they will be discovered, deported, and/or separated from their family.  How bad does the situation have to be to risk these things?  I would say ridiculously bad.  As we’ve heard about the Syrian refugees pouring into Greece and other parts of Europe, I remember hearing that no one would leave the safety of land for the risk of the overcrowded boats, unless there really was no choice.  The reality of global migration is just that, a lack of choice.  People are fleeing extreme conditions of war, violence, famine, natural disasters, and sever economic disparity.

Every “migration” I’ve made, I’ve had the resources to do so rather comfortably.  And if something did go wrong, I had the benefit (and continue to have the benefit) of a family that would come to my rescue.  In fact, they had to do just that on one very specific occasion that has nothing to do with the issue at hand.

Not once was I fleeing for my life, risking the life of my children to try to give them security in a new life, or experiencing the extremes that lead people to migrate.  I simply felt called to do this and then that and so that’s what happened.  The freedom of movement in this country is extraordinary.  When I have had the opportunity to travel I’ve needed visas because of the country or the anticipated length of stay.  These were easy to obtain with a minimal fee.  To re-apply (not a new application) for DACA the cost was $495.  Where are those that are struggling to come out of the shadows to seek higher education and to work legally going to just have that lying around?  This is a fee for the next two years.  Who can even guess what will be the situation then!  And, what if you can’t pay?

Now I realize that DACA is a distinctly American challenge.  I also know that there are many sides and challenges to this issue.  The main challenge I have is that we can’t simply ignore it because it’s not convenient.  Waiting 3 years for a trial and then be deported is simply unjust.  Comprehensive immigration reform is needed.  What is also needed is a discerning look at the causes of global migration so that the root causes can be addressed.  The overwhelming majority don’t want to leave their homeland.  They’ve been sold this idea of the American dream.  What isn’t acknowledged is that Americans are part of the lucky incredibly small percentage of the global population that (generally) has what they need.

The world has enough resources to feed approximately 12 billion people.  We are somewhere between 7 & 8 billion.  So why are people going hungry?

There are important and very uncomfortable questions that need to be addressed to build a more just world.  It’s not comfortable for me to look at my life experiences and not see the struggles that others face on a continual basis.  My challenges fall squarely in the privileged category.  Even as a religious, or perhaps because I am a religious, I don’t have to worry about this or that.  I have the benefit and privilege of not fearing persecution because of my status as a migrant.  I just want to remind everyone that we are all migrants.  The globe has been populated because of thousands of years of migration.  We are now in a time of mass migration.

It takes courage to welcome the migrant and refugee.  However, we are all migrants or descendants of migrants.

I ask that during this time where we are called to share our journey that we truly listen to the journeys and struggles of others.  This listening is what will ultimately unify us.  We must seek to understand one another which we will not be able to do if we don’t listen to one another.

This is a video, not about migration, but about what it means to truly listen to one another.  My hope is that I have the same capacity to listen when others challenge me or when I am challenging another.  Let us listen to one another and begin to heal the radical divisions in our country and world.

Peace, love, and all good.