Fall Break Service Trip Reflection: Kelsey in West Virginia

Up until my service trip to West Virginia, I had only ever read or heard about the kind of poverty I encountered on my trip. As Sister Pat put it, generational poverty has a unique culture of acceptance with a mindset of hopelessness. We passed miles and miles of small homes that were falling apart, grown over, windows broken, and roofs partially caved in. We saw a mountain top literally removed from the surface of the earth, leaving exposed rock where thousands of years of wildlife once existed. We talked to individuals who fell innocently into devastating and violent addictions to prescription drugs due to work-related injuries and improper pain management. We learned the hold mining industries have on the community, offering high paying salaries in an economy where jobs are scarce and the dangers of mining is worth the risks and health sacrifices.

With destruction existing in every facet of their lives, I never thought West Virginia could also hold such beauty and heroism. Thinking about the nature, history, music and traditions of Appalachia still gives me goose bumps. We drove throughout southern and central West Virginia, needing no more than the beautiful Appalachian mountains in autumn to keeps us entertained. West Virginians have an incredible appreciation for Appalachia and a history of unyielding devotion to their families and community. If there is one story of WV’s history I will always remember, it is one that Tom Breiding shared about the term “redneck.” Men unionizing against oppressive coal companies wore red handkerchiefs around their neck to symbolize their unity. Although the red handkerchiefs were once a symbol of solidarity and justice, it has been popularized to refer to uneducated, poor, and conservative “hicks” by the very people the unionizers were standing against. We also had the privilege of visiting heroic women in West Virginia. We met a 21 year old single mom of a two year old (child genius) and 3 month old. Despite coming from an abusive relationship and a poor family, she works hard each day, working towards an accounting degree so she can own her own home one day—a feat most women in the area do not expect themselves to do. Her persevering strength is an inspirational spark of hope for others in the community.

While we were exposed to some of the tragedies in West Viriginia, we had the privilege of meeting its beautiful people, dancing to its music, and learning from its experiences.

Photo Friday: Dignity Shots


We forget that even things like Holiday cards can be a matter of separating those who “have ” and those who “have not.” While some are busy sending out the most beautiful picture of their beautiful children in front of a beautiful tree on their beautiful vacation, enclosed with a letter about all the beautiful things that they have done this year (and, what a wonderful thing to be able to do), Some are not able to participate in this cultural rite. To not be able to send a litany of fun and successful things you have done, or to not have a photo that looks “send-able,” or to not have an address to which these holiday cards can be sent–all of these things are barriers to participation.

One non-profit, Help Portrait, has seen this need and is working with their homeless friends to address it-via the camera lens. While many of these people may not be sending out their photos to loved ones–they are receiving evidence they can carry around of their own beauty and worth.

Help Portrait says that they want to make sure that the Homeless know that  “they are valuable, respected and important members of our communities. That they may be looked past on a daily basis but . . . they are beautiful and worthy people who may just need to see it in their hands to understand what we mean.”

Click here to read more of this beautiful story, and about the lives that have been affected by it.

Click here to see a gallery of photos.


Molly’s Defense of Beauty: The Transcendence of the Animal Nature

“If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine.”
– Che Guevara

I’ll preface this by saying that my political beliefs have been nearly everywhere on the spectrum. Currently, according to my voter registration, I am non-partisan, but judging by my hair, piercings, and undying love for Conor Oberst, you can guess which way I swing.

My dad, on the other hand, is an avid fan of Rush Limbaugh, no matter how risqué or allegedly racist his comments get. I have a theory that my dad’s just old and crazy, but I’m not sure that dementia can begin at age 47.

Every time I come home, it’s the same scenario: we discuss my classes, we talk about family drama, and we ease ourselves into a gentle political discussion. Two minutes later, Dad and I both realize that we hold completely opposite points of view. He brings up the standard conservative arguments – all of which I know, because unfortunately I’ve read every single Ann Coulter book published before 2010. I offer a few social justice-focused comebacks, but I can feel the tears of frustration welling up.

We’re misunderstanding each other.

In all reality, I don’t think my dad and I are that different. We both care for others, we both want America and the world to flourish, and we’re both pretty idealistic about our beliefs. But as is the case in most political arguments, we have different means to reach the same end. He believes a free market will most effectively guarantee human success, while I believe that, above anything else, love for others will save us.

Tim Bastian, a Creighton professor who spoke in last Sunday’s Cortina-sponsored Debate, is a lot like my dad. He’s an incredibly smart guy, he’s had decades of experience as a middle-class white male, and he’s extremely practical. And though I can agree with many things he said that night, one statement in particular struck me. He said that one of the most beautiful things about modern day humanity is our ability to trade freely and safely with each other.

Indeed, that is an astonishing and inspiring fact: humans have progressed so much that we can maintain a free market, exercising our ability to produce and purchase goods. What a true display of human creativity and potential.

However, Mr. Bastian, there are more beautiful things about humanity than our knack for creating free market systems.

I believe the most beautiful thing humans can do is transcend their animal nature enough to deeply care for one another, to disregard the savage “circle of life” and trust ourselves to create love instead of succumbing to violence and indifference.

There is absolutely no place for violence in the human race. The fact that we are conscious enough to recognize the humanity in others, the fact that we can create such deep bonds with one another, the fact that we have used our abilities to constantly improve the human condition for as long as our species has existed – for me, all of these facts point to the overwhelming goodness of people. Whether we are innately good or evil does not matter to me. What matters to me is that we can recognize when others suffer and that we have the full capability to do something about it.

Force yourself to care, no matter if you idolize Rush Limbaugh or Che Guevara, no matter if you voted for Obama, Romney, or Gary Johnson. Force yourself to stop polluting the earth with apathy, with things you don’t need, with trash and carbon dioxide and negativity. Force yourself to do more than simply exist.

Shout your indignation at the sky and run steadfastly to help your brothers and sisters who are suffering from injustice.

Because serving others in any way is the absolute most beautiful act of humankind.

Defend that beauty.


Monday Meditation: On The Peace of the Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things 
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
— Wendell Berry

Life gets insane. It can be sad, overwhelming, busy, and anxiety-ridden. But, life can also be beautiful, joyful, slow, and peaceful. Usually, though, these seemingly contradictory parts of the world are not far from each other. Beauty is not separate from sadness. Slowness doesn’t mean that it is not surrounded by frenzied action. Peace doesn’t mean the absence of all anxiety. Joy often creeps into overwhelming situations.

In fact, the highest joys tend to infiltrate the lowest lows and, in so doing, gain strength in remembrance. The memory that joy has emerged from sadness is one that is not easily quenched & can be strength in times of darkness.

Where has joy manifested in the sorrows of your life? Where do you find peace amidst chaos? What beauty exists in the dark places in your life? Where do you receive grace when it’s offered? Where do you choose not to receive grace?

Don’t forget to remember when you’ve received this grace. Write it down. (That’s what Wendell Berry did in this poem). Our world so desperately needs to remember what it is like to receive grace so that it can move to create graceful spaces.

Beauty: A Justice Issue?

Recently, my Facebook newsfeed has been exploding with “this person and this person read this article…” I believe the cause for this is some new application facebook added. I have [unintentionally] noticed a trend in the articles my female facebook friends have been reading. Ninty percent of the articles being read [at least according to facebook] are articles that state how real, live breathing women are not as ‘gorgeous’ or ‘beautiful’ as the media portrays them to be. Some of the articles to which I am referring to are,“15 Photoshopped Transformations of Celebs and Models”, “Hunger Game’s Jennifer Lawrence Without Makeup: What Does She Look Like?”, “Crazy Transformation: Kate Winslet From Titanic to Now”, “Supermodels Without Photoshop”, and the list continues. This recent trend has made me ask myself the question why: Why do women find the need and/or confidence to deteriorate other women’s physical images to feel confident with their own physical appearance?

Now, before you discontinue reading this blog post out of anger and/or frustration let me explain some things to you. One, I am not writing this post to lecture or preach to any woman [or man] about the subject matter, I simply want to open a dialogue of discussion and self- reflection. Secondly, before you claim “I just don’t get it” and discontinue reading, let me inform you, that is false: I do get it. The author of this blog post, me, is a woman who from grade school through middle school ran all the time in order to “stop looking fat”. I am a woman who permanently hurt her knee [due to undeveloped tendons] due to running too much at such a young age.I am a woman who had an undiagnosed eating disorder in middle school. I am a woman who went her entire high school career being concerned with her physical appearance. I am woman who has cried over what she saw in the mirror when she woke up in the morning. I do understand and I do still struggle with body image, just like millions of other people across the globe.

However, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to change. I want to wake up in the morning, put on clothes, and walk out the door WITHOUT having to look in the mirror. I want to have the same confidence about my physical being whether I am in shorts and a t-shirt and drenched in sweat or in a silky black dress with my hair up. Before that can happen though, I have to first understand why I am so obsessed with my physical image, along with every other woman’s physical image. Why do I feel the need to compare myself to other women? Why is it that many women would rather hear “you’re beautiful” rather than “you’re smart, kind, funny”?… Why?

I have some answers of my own that I know are true for me, but I don’t have it “all figured out”. So I ask you today, what are your answers?

What about our society, about our structures and institutions, about our media, about our lives make beauty such a topic of immense pain and desire? Is this is justice issue? Where is the injustice? How do we act justly with relation ourselves and how does that action free up others to move with dignity throughout the world? How does our conception and definition of beauty affect the way that we name success and honor in the world?

-Anonymous Cortina Student