The Common Good

Blog Posts By Rachel Marie Stone

Posted by Rachel Marie Stone 36 weeks 6 days ago
I recently watched Eugene Jarecki’s remarkable documentary, The House I Live In, which is about the American ‘war on drugs’ and the burgeoning prison population it engendered and continues to engender.Rarely do I find myself murmuring and tsk-tsking during a movie, but this one was highly affecting — an intimate look at how history, racism, economics, and politics have created a system that no one is proud of and no one really likes. Even the cops and prison guards who claim to love their jobs express unease with the human suffering and unbalanced scales of justice that lead to it.One particular story has stayed with me.A man named Kevin Ott was found in possession of a small envelope of meth; prior to that he’d been arrested twice, again for possessing small amounts of illegal drugs (meth and marijuana).He’s been in prison for seventeen years. And he will be there until he dies: Ott is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Because he was a three-time offender, his state’s mandatory sentencing laws required that he be put away for life.
Posted by Rachel Marie Stone 40 weeks 6 days ago
Many Christians these days are trying to consume less, and they’re doing so for a variety of reasons. For some, in the wake of the economic downturn, thrift is a simple necessity. Others, inspired by books such as Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution, Jen Hatmaker’s 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess strive for simplicity for the sake of the health of God’s creation and for the sake of our neighbors, both local and global, who must do without even the basic necessities of life. It’s no secret Americans spend — and waste — a lot.But how do we begin to consume less? And once we become aware of the horrific conditions under which much of our stuff is made, how do we avoid being overwhelmed by all the injustice that may lie behind our new phone or pair of jeans? And even if we simplify by paring down our wants, what do we do when we actually need to buy something?Here are some simple strategies to help you live lightly without being overwhelmed by it all. 
Posted by Rachel Marie Stone 43 weeks 6 days ago
A few weeks ago, I asked folks on Twitter, and specifically, my colleague Amy Simpson, who has recently published a book on mental illness and the mission of the church:What do you think about the way people use words like “bipolar,” “crazy,” and “manic” when they really mean “moody,” “energetic,” “quirky” and even “fun?"It’s part of a pattern I’ve noticed lately — and maybe you’ve noticed it too.People with beautiful head shots, flawlessly designed websites, and enviable accomplishments insist that they are really just a ‘mess.’ Or that their families are ‘crazy.’ Or that their homes and lives are every bit as complicated and frustrating as everyone else’s … meanwhile, their Instagram feeds show nothing but beauty; if ‘chaos’ is there, it’s only ever of the picturesque kind.There are no birdcages sprouting stalagmites and stalactites of bird droppings. There are no snotty-nosed, unwashed, half-dressed, hungry children who’ve never visited a dentist in their lives. There is food in the fridge and on the table, and it isn’t even growing mold or crawling with roaches or undulating with maggots. In fact, it’s from Trader Joe’s and may even be organic! There is no broken glass or police officers showing up because the neighbors heard screaming. There is electricity and running water and indoor toilets.Yeah, there’s raised voices and tempers and conflicts. But that makes you human. Not crazy. Not dysfunctional. Not “a mess.”
Posted by Rachel Marie Stone 51 weeks 6 days ago
“All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits,” wrote the psychologist William James.I think that may be as true online as it is in real life. We tend to do things in a fairly regular pattern; log onto email first, check the news, browse social media, read blogs, get outraged.Yes: outraged.Some days I am amazed at how much potent vitriol gets spewed all over the Internet. (Other days I’m just used to it.)One of the strangest of online habits may be when people repeatedly get upset with the same bloggers and websites, and exclaim their feelings in the comments section and on social media. It’s as if they are going into McDonald’s every day and complaining about all the fast food that’s in there.The upside of websites you find horrible is that you don’t have to read them.
Posted by Rachel Marie Stone 1 year 1 week ago
My husband and I basically fell in love via AOL instant message conversations that led to daily email missives and then to phone calls and then, you know, to actually hanging out in person.We knew each other in ‘real’ life but I was so afraid of saying something stupid in front of him that I basically ignored him, which, as it happens, is not a great way to indicate that you actually really like someone. But IM-ing made me bold.So, in a way, You’ve Got Mail feels like one of “our” movies since it parallels our story just a little.“Our” real movie is Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, which is a 1957 Swedish movie about a knight returning from the crusades during the Black Death who is engaged throughout the movie in a chess match with Death, so, yeah, basically the opposite of You’ve Got Mail.We were both at a “movie night” at one of our professor’s homes. I’d known he was going to be there and wrote in my meticulous, OCD handwriting in my journal:I’m so nervous because Tim Stone is going to be there and I don’t want to find him attractive.Heaven forbid I find him attractive, right? I had clearly been a little too good at "Kissing Dating Goodbye" (thanks, Josh Harris!) In those days when someone asked me out for coffee I usually responded with horror, like they’d just ask me to help dispose of a body.
Posted by Rachel Marie Stone 1 year 1 week ago
My children spend more time building with Lego than just about anything else. Almost always, what they make is surprising, unexpected, startlingly new.I want to share some observations from when a totally different thing enters the picture: the Lego building challenges.For days after they read about a new “challenge” (build a dream home, build some kind of robot, etc.) they’ll work and re-work a project and pester us to photograph them and worry about whether or not they’ll win. Here’s the surprising part:When they are building for the contest — for that $100 gift card and their picture in the magazine — their creations are startlingly less creative. All of a sudden, they are timid and anxious about their creations. Honestly, their for-contest work is always inferior to their regular work.Why does this matter? Because I think it shows us something important about motivation and its effect on creativity.
Posted by Rachel Marie Stone 1 year 2 weeks ago
I really did not like Michael Pollan's newest offering, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. Here are three reasons why:1. The premise feels phony and staged.Pollan has said that he is “more at home in the garden than the kitchen” (In Defense of Food), but this modesty about his cooking skills is less than convincing to those who read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, in which he prepared a highly local meal of wild pork cooked two ways, bread leavened with wild yeasts he captured himself, and a sour cherry galette with fruit from Pollan’s own trees.
Posted by Rachel Marie Stone 1 year 2 weeks ago
I am not shy about using the saltshaker, and neither I nor anyone else in my family has any sort of problem with blood pressure. That’s because we mostly don’t eat things that come out of packages or from fast-food places (where someone else takes them out of packages), and the salt that is a problem in the North American diet doesn’t come from the saltshaker but from the extreme levels of sodium in packaged foods.But you will never hear Michelle Obama say that.There was a similar unutterability to everything having to do with AIDS back in the day. Even when scientists had a fairly clear understanding of the nature of the threat and how it was spread, most “official” speech tended toward a hedging: “we don’t know what causes it; we don’t want to say what’s causing it …” Even today people don’t get tested because they don’t want to know, even though getting tested obviously doesn’t give you the virus — it merely points out that it is there. It seems to point to so much more, though.
Posted by Rachel Marie Stone 1 year 4 weeks ago
My dad used to tell a joke from the pulpit, back when “damn” was a much stronger word in evangelical/fundamentalist circles than it is now.It went roughly like this:“Millions of people die every day from preventable causes without ever having heard about Jesus’ love, and most of you don’t give a damn, and most of you are probably more worried about the fact that I said ‘damn’ than about the fact that millions of people die daily from preventable causes without ever having heard about Jesus’ love.”I have a new post up at her.meneutics, Christianity Today’s women’s blog that, quite frankly, I don’t expect too many people to read.It’s about how it’s perfectly legal in most states to shackle pregnant women while they are in labor.
Posted by Rachel Marie Stone 1 year 7 weeks ago
One of my favorite comments from yesterday's post on Seven Deadly (Social Media) Sins:"My biggest annoyances are those "If you love Jesus, 'like' and share" posts. My faith and my love are not to be measured by whether I like your cheesy photo/slogan/tool of judgement."Amen, sister. I think these are even more annoying than those “Just checking to see if you will even read this…if you are reading it, comment and then copy this exactly and paste as your status update. 95% of you will ignore this. Just trying to see who my real friends are” updates. Sniff. Sob. Poor me!
Posted by Rachel Marie Stone 1 year 9 weeks ago
I often think that anxiety probably has some helpful prehistoric function, like sensing that a large, hungry carnivore is on the prowl and being the one to let the rest of the group know.But in the absence of large, hungry carnivores (or other clearly perilous situations) anxiety sometimes feels as useful as the appendix, though it flares up even more often, and can’t be easily removed.For me, anxiety can run in circles, like a sad, neurotic dog in a too-small pen, or a hamster on a little exercise wheel. And there are different paces–different circles, different wheels–that my anxiety puts me through. Because my dad is awesome, he illustrated it for me thus.
Posted by Rachel Marie Stone 1 year 14 weeks ago
“An obstetric fistula,” I said, standing in the pulpit of my 200-year old church, “is a hole between a woman’s vagina and her bowel, or between her vagina and her bladder.”The congregation’s discomfort was palpable. Later someone told me that they couldn’t believe that I’d had the nerve to say the “v-word” twice!  It wasn’t exactly the effect I’d hoped to have, but it wasn’t entirely surprising.Fistula is a childbirth injury that’s unknown today in the developed West, though before the advent of modern maternity care, it affected women — especially poor women — in America as well as Europe. It was likely the reason, at least in some cases, for a woman being euphemistically spoken or written of as an ‘invalid,’ or as having been ‘invalided’ by the birth of a child. Fistula’s story has always been one of (usually secret) suffering; even the surgery to repair the injury, developed by American gynecologist J. Marion Sims in 1840s Alabama, was performed experimentally upon slaves that Sims purchased for the express purpose of perfecting his technique before turning to white patients.It’s women of color who still all but exclusively suffer fistula’s life-destroying effects.Fistula happens when a baby gets stuck while being born, often because a girl is either underage, has a pelvic deformity, or has had her genitals deformed by female genital cutting — and there’s no trained person to help. She’ll labor for days without success. Only after the baby is dead and partially softened does it slip out from the exhausted mother, whose suffering has only begun. Days of pressure from the baby’s head have killed blood vessels in her vaginal tissues, which now decay, leaving a hole — or holes — from which urine and feces leak. She has become incontinent. Her husband divorces her. Her family makes her leave the house because of her stench. She can’t even keep herself clean enough, because the water she walks some distance to collect each day is just enough for basic use. The village children mock her for her stench; her neighbors ignore her.Her story is multiplied between 50,000 to 100,000 times each year.
Posted by Rachel Marie Stone 1 year 23 weeks ago
You won’t hear about it in the news because it isn’t news. It’s just what’s normal here.Every day, or nearly so, the clanging sound of metal hitting metal lets me know that someone’s at the gate that surrounds our home, bringing vegetables or fish or charcoal or wooden carvings to sell. It happens often enough that the sound elicits annoyance from me as I leave the stove, or my book, or the couch to answer the call. And often enough, the people are so desperate to sell that if I say “not today,” they’ll plead with me, lowering the price with every word. But occasionally — at least once a week — someone comes to the gate with nothing to sell, nothing to offer at any price. They’re coming, very simply, to beg for food.
Posted by Rachel Marie Stone 1 year 23 weeks ago
The top 10 or 20 bestselling books at Amazon.com vary slightly from hour to hour, day to day, but one thing remains pretty constant: There are always several books on spirituality, often with Protestant evangelical leanings; and there are always books on diet, promising either dramatic weight loss or astounding well-being through some “revolutionary” plan. Even within the category of “Religion and Spirituality,” some of the most popular books focus on diet and bodily health, and when they don’t, they focus on happiness via the most direct route. They’re all about “how to be successful and happy,” “how to make miracles happen,” and “how to know that there really is a heaven, and that you’re going there.”Having been a skeptic for as long as I can remember, I’ve never had much patience with those books. If books (and checkout-stand magazines, for that matter) really held the secrets for people to “get skinny by this weekend” or “beat cancer with these super-foods,” why did people from my church choose gastric bypass surgery, and why did my father (a pastor) perform so many funerals for the non-survivors of cancer? And if miracles could happen, and people could find success, happiness, and assurance of a place in a heaven that’s “for real,” why, throughout the course of my pious Bible-reading upbringing, did I never seem to find anything in the Bible that sounded remotely like that?
Posted by Rachel Marie Stone 1 year 31 weeks ago
When I was growing up, the only thing that could be said about clothing was that it should be “modest,” and ideally not too “worldly.” “Modesty” was proof-texted from 1 Timothy 2:9: “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes.”Not looking “worldly” usually meant not being too fashionable — neither dressing in accordance with what was popular in the mainstream nor wearing anything with strong counterculture associations: no skater pants for boys, no ripped jeans for girls. This is what was meant, apparently, by 1 John 2:15-17: “Do not love the world, or anything in the world.”While it seems that fewer churches are pushing the second issue — except, perhaps, to offer OMG-wear and other Christian versions of whatever is popular — modesty continues to be a topic of interest. Most American Christian definitions of modesty involve “not showing too much skin.” The question of male lust is often a part of the discussion. But in context, that doesn’t seem to be what Paul is talking about at all: modesty, in 1 Timothy 2:9, is about not flaunting your wealth, which is a surprisingly important thing in the Epistles as well as the Gospels. Braids and gold and pearls have nothing to do with not looking like the other, non-Christian, worldly women. The opposite of “modest” is not “sexually provocative,” but “flashy.”
Posted by Rachel Marie Stone 1 year 45 weeks ago
One of my current writing projects has me spending a lot of time in the Gospels, especially the Gospel according to Luke, which may be my favorite Gospel (are we allowed to have favorites?) not least because of its astonishing reversals:It's the Gospel where a poor, uneducated girl — Mary — has more faith than an educated, aged, male priest--Zechariah.It's the Gospel where a widow's two pennies amounts to more in God's eyes than fat donations from wealthy pockets.It's the Gospel where Jesus says: “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind." Invite the people who can't pay you back, because that is the where the real reward is.Yes, Luke's Gospel is a Gospel that proclaims love for the marginalized. And out of the four, Luke has the most meals.(It's the Gospel in which Jesus is accused, among other things, of being a "glutton and a drunkard," who eats with "tax collectors and 'sinners.'")In other words, it's the Gospel that Mixes It Up At Lunch. 
Posted by Rachel Marie Stone 1 year 51 weeks ago
Every so often I hear the insinuation that women (like me) who advocate for "normal" childbirth are inordinately self-focused (even selfish) and that women who are dissatisfied with the treatment they’ve received in hospitals during labor are “uncheerful” and, possibly — according to the women in controversial pastor Douglas Wilson’s life — confused theologically. Don’t get me wrong: Ricki Lake’s memoir, at least as it concerns childbirth, definitely looks at the birth experience as if it is all about her. But while there’s no question that medical advances (and, yes, c-sections!) save lives, it’s also hard to contest the fact that medical interventions occur at rates that are simply unjustified. September 3 (Labor Day) launched “Empowered Birth Awareness Week,” which, sponsored by ImprovingBirth.org, aims to raise people’s consciousness concerning the notion of “evidence-based maternity care,” the less than radical notion that what happens during birth (ie, continuous fetal monitoring, mandatory IVs, NPO rules that prohibit eating and drinking) should be medically indicated, not routine, and supported by sound medical research.
Posted by Rachel Marie Stone 2 years 2 days ago
I make no secret of the fact that there is a big soft spot in my heart for the tremendous gains of the labor movement in American history and a big sad spot for how certain unions — such as those representing meatpackers and agricultural workers — have been all but decimated.Since many — probably most — of my ancestors made their way in the world and in this country as laboring folks, I am proud to acknowledge that the privileges I have had I owe to their hard work and struggle to create an American middle class.(Not incidentally, my grandparents met and fell in love at a Catholic Worker meeting, where my grandfather had interned as a seminary student. With Dorothy Day, natch.)So in no particular order, here are some of my favorite pro-labor, pro-union resources for really celebrating Labor Day. Please add your own favorites in the comments!
Posted by Rachel Marie Stone 2 years 1 week ago
I've been having little arguments with myself all week: on one hand, like many good Americans, I believe in the idea and potential and creativity and wonder of individuals. I believe that the mind, for example, is a fathomless miracle. I believe that individuals have certain rights to freedom and self-determination.Yet at the same time, everything that we are has been given us. We carry in our bodies the genes of thousands if not millions of ancestors; we have been brought to this moment — every moment — by people whose care and attention and patience have loved us imperfectly along. And, of course, by the God who has loved us into being.Those of us who have the gift of being able to read and write often also have the ability to learn and to choose — to choose where to live and with whom, to choose what to think and to believe and to consume. And that, compared to how most people have lived and do live, is an almost unimaginable luxury. We can choose.
Posted by Rachel Marie Stone 2 years 4 weeks ago
http://youtu.be/LhAhg-PdJ1QI have to admire Melinda Gates' chutzpah.In her recent TED talk and on her blog, Impatient Optimist, Gates insists that "contraception is not controversial" — when, in the last year, it has been explosively controversial, with many Christians (not just Catholic Christians) seeing the "contraceptive mandate" as a real threat to religious freedom.Yesterday, the new Affordable Care Act laws took effect, meaning that most employers must now provide free birth control coverage in their health insurance policies. Whether it constitutes a threat to religious liberty and whether  remains to be seen — faith-based groups with religious objections to the law have a "safe harbor" until Aug. 1, 2013. Whether HHS will create an extension of this harbor is as yet unknown. Regular readers of my blog know where I stand on health insurance. As to the contraceptive mandate specifically, I'd prefer not to wade in those particular waters — David Gibson had a good piece if you're interested in the question of whether the mandate kills religious freedom. However, I do want to consider two small points about contraception that lean me toward the (self-identified Catholic!) Melinda Gates point of view: 1. Contraception doesn't take life; 2. Women want contraception.
Posted by Rachel Marie Stone 2 years 7 weeks ago
To begin, we might ask “What’s sin?” I’m aware that there are about a thousand disputed ways to answer that question–and so no one ‘perfect’ way–but I like this one:Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.And I’d add that the people who make it easy for all of us to hate our bodies (through relentless idealization of unreal bodies, through profit-motivated manufactured discontent) are more ‘guilty’ than the teenager who thinks there’s something wrong with her thighs.Then we might ask “what’s meant by ‘hating my body’?” There’s no answer in a catechism, of course, but we could try something like this:Hating one’s body is the disrespecting of the body God has given us, which in itself is worthy of respect and honor, being made in God’s image, the fulfilling of desires in ways God not intend, to believe lies about human bodies in general and ours in particular, and to covet for ourselves a body not our own.
Posted by Rachel Marie Stone 2 years 9 weeks ago
Brace yourselves. I’m about to step on a soapbox.*Much as I’d like to go all armchair-Constitutional-scholar and argue that access to affordable health care SHOULD be in the same category as education, fire-fighting, and law enforcement, I’m not going to.I’m just going to tell you what has happened in MY family.February, 2005, CaliforniaPregnant with first child. Am on crappy private insurance that costs like $500 a month in premiums but covers almost nothing. Calculate that cost of having child will be approximately half our yearly income.Freak out.
Posted by Rachel Marie Stone 2 years 10 weeks ago
So the ‘thinner-and-sexier evolution” series is kind of winding down, as there are (thankfully, I think?) only a limited number of consumer products that have been around long enough so as to be able to undergo some kind of thin-and-sexy transformation. Besides, at this point, it’s kind of "clicked there, browsed that," you know? Especially since every toy/image transformation does some basic variation on the theme of “thin down and sex up.”Call it the Barbiefication of toys for girls.Or, you could call it what the American Psychological Association does, which is sexualization. Sexualization, as opposed to healthy sexuality, is defined (by the APA) as any one of the following:a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;a person is sexually objectified — that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/orsexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.
Posted by Rachel Marie Stone 2 years 11 weeks ago
Stories like this one remind me that listening to women’s voices can be a matter of life and death, and not in the whole “Adam-listened-to-Eve” type of way.Impassioned women of all ages are petitioning Uganda’s highest court to declare that “when women die in childbirth it is a violation of their rights.” So far, their bids in the lower courts have been unsuccessful, but they’re pressing on.$60 million. That’s what it would take to hire enough medical workers to meet Uganda’s needs—specifically, to staff village health clinics that lack people and supplies to the degree that an estimated 16 pregnant women die needlessly each day. 
Posted by Rachel Marie Stone 2 years 12 weeks ago
I find myself thinking a lot about maternal mortality (and the issues that surround it, like access to contraception) lately, partly because I’ll soon be moving to a country with one of the world’s most dismal maternal mortality rates, and partly because my husband and I aren’t planning to have more biological children, which means that we’re contracepting for the duration.Also, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky movement is gaining even more visibility — PBS’s Independent Lens is creating a series of short films and some longer features on issues raised in their bestselling, well-worth-reading book even as birth control reemerges again and again as a point of contention between Catholic bishops and nuns, between government policy and religious conviction, and even, as Amy Frykholm as suggested, among evangelicals. Recently I’ve become aware that unwanted pregnancies are nothing new — certainly not the product of a culture that’s “anti-life” or anti-children, as the new-ish evangelical suspicion of birth control has it. In the 1850s, Mathilde Shillock, a German immigrant settled on the Minnesota frontier wrote, “God has entrusted us with a son...it seems that his father is happy over it, I myself do not wish for any more children, as I look upon life as a heavy burden. [...] pity is all I can offer [this child]. Pity and a feeling of duty towards him to lighten his blameless fate.”
Posted by Rachel Marie Stone 2 years 15 weeks ago
They call it the field de calzon — the "field of panties" —because so many rapes happen there. On Wednesday, the organization Human Rights Watch released the report Cultivating Fear: The Vulnerability of Immigrant Farmworkers in the US to Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment. It’s filled with tales that would make Jeremiah, or Amos, or Micah weep: stories of some of the most marginalized, exploited, and impoverished people in the country. HRW talked to 160 farmworkers, growers, law enforcement officials, attorneys and other experts in agricultural workplace issues in 8 different states, finding that most women working in agriculture have been — or know someone who has been — victimized sexually at work; confirming the findings of a 2010 survey of California Central Valley workers in which 80 percent reported having experienced sexual harassment or abuse on the job. It’s common enough that some women farm workers see it as “an unavoidable condition of agricultural work.”
Posted by Rachel Marie Stone 2 years 23 weeks ago
I love great food. Last night, I made fresh linguini with organic whole wheat flour and local, free-range eggs, and topped them with from-scratch meatballs made with organic beef, fresh parsley from my garden, fresh Parmesan--you get the idea. And in a few days, I’ll be celebrating a special occasion at one of the finest restaurants in the Northeast, where the produce is local and seasonal and sustainable and where the experience of eating is a little like visiting a museum of fine arts where you get to taste all the masterpieces. And yesterday, I planted the first spring vegetables in my garden. I’m a member of Slow Food USA, for cryin’ out loud.I’m just waiting for the James Beard foundation to give me a badge for being such a morally superior eater.Except I’m not. Because while the way I eat is motivated by certain ethical considerations (including but not limited to concern for the health of the environment and that of animals), I’m aware that my way of eating is an almost miraculous privilege. I can eat this way because I happen to live in a place where I can buy eggs from a neighbor and grow vegetables in my backyard. I don’t have much money, but I have the luxury of time to grow my own vegetables, to cook from scratch, and enough wiggle room in the budget to buy 25 pounds of organic flour in bulk (which makes it cheaper) without running out of money before the end of the month.In a stunning new book, The American Way of Eating,Tracie McMillan goes undercover in farm fields, in the Wal-Mart produce department, and at Applebee’s to explore common assumptions that food-movement types make about the way many Americans eat: that many of us are overweight and unhealthy because we just don’t “care” enough about the quality of our food--with people who are poor “caring” the least. Throughout the book, which chronicles her numerous conversations with low-wage co-workers, McMillan fiercely defends her conviction that everyone--everyone--wants to eat well.