Recent Posts

Recent Comments



August 2010
« Jul   Sep »

The Underground Railroad for Musicians

Posted in: General by Mary McDonough on August 30, 2010

While I often criticize the Catholic Church, particularly its teaching on women and on sexual ethics, there are many things I love about it, especially its rich social justice tradition. When I wrote my book on health care reform I spent a lot of time researching Catholic justice theory and then applying it as a critique of the use of market mechanisms in the funding and distribution of health care in the US.

When human rights theory first emerged amid the French Revolution and the Enlightenment, the Catholic Church viewed it with suspicion. Seen as promoting secular notions of individual freedom and self-interest, the Church resisted human rights language/concepts until the papacy of Leo XIII (1878-1903). Eventually, the Church came to embrace human rights language. One of my favorite papal encyclicals is Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth). Written in 1963 by Pope John XXIII, Pacem was influenced by the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights issued in 1948. The encyclical contains a list of human rights considered to be the most complete and systematic found in the modern Catholic tradition and include: religious rights; economic rights; political rights; and the right to food, clothing, shelter and health care (nos. 11-27). Pacem defines human dignity in terms of these rights by arguing that human dignity is fully interrelated with all political, social and economic structures of society. Hence, governments and institutions must assure that these structures are organized in such a way that they promote and protect human rights.

One of the more interesting rights mentioned in Pacem is found under the section titled “Rights Pertaining to Moral and Cultural Values.” Here, paragraph 12 states that everyone “has the right to respect for his person, to his good reputation; the right to freedom in searching for truth and in expressing and communicating his opinions, and in pursuit of art, within the limits laid down by the moral order and the common good.” I’ve never done any research on the history or connotation of this paragraph. Obviously the phrase “within the limits laid down by the moral order and the common good” places some restrictions on artistic expression and is open to interpretation. Nonetheless, the fact that the pursuit of art is recognized as a right at all is quite progressive for an institution that often drowns in a sea of reactionary views.


Somatica Divina 61: The White Stripes, “White Moon”

Posted in: Somatica Divina by Mary McDonough on August 26, 2010


Bill Millin, “The Mad Piper,” R.I.P.

Posted in: General by Mary McDonough on August 23, 2010

Here’s a link to a story in the Washington Post about bagpiper Bill Millin, aka “The Mad Piper,” who died last week. His story is quite remarkable and showcases music’s powerful ability to unite, inspire and comfort.

Below is a video of a group called the Red Hot Chilli Pipers who describe themselves as “bagpipers who rock.” They performed last Friday at the Milwaukee Irish Festival. According to people who attended the concert, they dedicated this song to the memory of Bill Millin.


Mary McDonough

Is There Grace in Graceland?

Posted in: General,Grace by Mary McDonough on August 21, 2010

Catholics are big on pilgrimages. They love to take trips to holy destinations— birthplaces of saints, sites where apparitions of the Virgin Mary have occurred or churches housing religious relics. I have several friends who have gone on pilgrimages to places like Assisi, Italy; Lourdes, France; and even, Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina. All of them cherished their journeys. People seem to go on pilgrimages for a variety of reasons. Many to deepen their faith. Others for spiritual or physical healing. Some to educate themselves about history, religion and culture. Although I’ve never gone on an official pilgrimage I have been on monastic retreats, toured the California Spanish missions and visited numerous churches around the world.

Perhaps it’s my Catholic upbringing but I’ve always associated pilgrimages with religion. Until a few days ago. That’s when I heard about “Elvis Week.” This past August 16th was the 33rd anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. While I appreciate the contribution Elvis made to music, I’ve never understood the fervor surrounding his legacy. Regardless, for the past 29 years thousands of people have gathered in Memphis during the anniversary of his death for what is called “Elvis Week.” This year 40,000 people attended and participated in an array of activities including tours of Graceland, panel discussions on Elvis’s contribution to American music and culture, an Elvis impersonator contest (no, I’m not making this up) and, on the final evening, a vigil just outside the gates of Graceland where 20,000 fans stood in 100 degree heat holding candles.


Bearing Witness at Lollapalooza

Posted in: General by Mary McDonough on August 18, 2010

Lollapalooza, the music festival held annually in Chicago, was created in 1991 by Jane’s Addiction singer Perry Farrell as a farewell tour for his band. Since then the festival has focused on a diverse range of music from heavy metal to alternative to hip hop. This year household names like Lady Gaga and Green Day made appearances. What’s interesting, though, is that according to most reviews, native Chicagoan Mavis Staples gave one of the festival’s finest performances. Why is this surprising? Well, for one thing Staples just turned 71 years old. Then there’s the fact that she’s a gospel singer. Yes, gospel. Apparently Lady Gaga, Green Day, Arcade Fire, MGMT, the Black Keys and, ironically, a band called The New Pornographers, were all outshone by a gospel singer.

As a 12 year-old Staples was the lead singer of the Staples Singers, an influential band led by her father. During the ‘60s, they became voices for the Civil Rights movement. In 1999, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Another interesting part of the story is that Staples has spent the last year and a half working with Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy. He produced her new CD, You Are Not Alone, and also wrote the title track which is about keeping one’s faith.


When asked by a reporter about how she felt about playing Lollapalooza, Staples quoted her father who always reminded her that: “You’re singing God’s music. You be sincere. What comes from the heart reaches the heart.” Never straying far from her spiritual roots, even when she sings music that isn’t literally gospel, Staples still sounds as if she’s testifying directly to you.


Mary McDonough