• Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Achieve universal primary education
  • Promote gender equality and empower women
  • Reduce child mortality
  • Improve maternal health
  • Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  • Ensure environmental sustainability
  • Develop a global partnership for development

Monday, December 22, 2008

My Christmas Meditation - Luke 2:1-14

To the right is a picture of the Stalingrad Madonna, which features Madonna and child and the words: “Licht, Leben, Liebe” – “light, life, love.” Lieutenant Kurt Reuber, a German staff physician and Protestant pastor, drew the Stalingrad Madonna in December 1942 in charcoal on the back of a military map. He did so during the Battle of Stalingrad, perhaps the longest and bloodiest battle of the Second World War that cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians.
In a letter that accompanied the picture, Reuber wrote the following:

The picture looks like this: the mother's head and the child's lean toward each other, and a large cloak enfolds them both. It is intended to symbolize 'security' and 'mother love.’ I remembered the words of St. John: light, life, and love. What more can I add? I wanted to suggest these three things in the homely and common vision of a mother with her child and the security that they represent. When we opened the 'Christmas Door', as we used to do on other Christmases (only now it was the wooden door of our dug-out), my comrades stood spellbound and reverent, silent before the picture that hung on the clay wall. A lamp was burning on a board stuck into the clay beneath the picture. Our celebrations in the shelter were dominated by this picture, and it was with full hearts that my comrades read the words: light, life, and love."

In the midst of unspeakable horror, countless deaths, and suffering beyond anything that I can imagine, the Christ Child appeared to these German soldiers, offering them light, life, and love in the midst of darkness, death, and hatred. So to, the Christ Child appears to you and me at Christmas in the midst of whatever consumes us, whatever causes us pain, and whatever robs us of the joy and peace that God offers to us.

What sort of God is it that we meet at the manger? The image is a peaceful one: of well-behaved animals, of warmth and comfort, of shepherds guided by a star, of Mary and Joseph filled with hope and joy.

However, as peaceful as our composite sketch of the nativity might be, the story is not as neat and tidy as we might like. Mary was poor. In all likelihood, she was socially ostracized for becoming pregnant when she was not yet married. If you have ever worked on a farm you know that the manger, filled with barnyard animals must have been very smelly and dirty. The shepherds were at the bottom of the social ladder. Despite our attempts to sanitize and romanticize it, there is nothing powerful or prestigious or even clean about the nativity scene, nothing that would hint at the world-changing story that unfolded that night.

These details are important as we seek to answer the question: What sort of God is it that we meet at the manger? One answer came to me this past Sunday as I sat in the rector's forum at the church that I now attend. We were talking about Joseph and Mary. Someone said that God must have known that they would respond positively to God's call. I responded by disagreeing, saying that perhaps God did not know, that instead God chose to take a risk, to put God's plan in the hands of two unlikely people - not knowing how they would respond or how badly they might mess it up. That is the God that we worship and serve - a God who takes risks by calling us to do God's work in our world. Sometimes that risk pays off. Sometimes we mess it up. But God's grace is sufficient that even when we make a true mess, God continues to call us, to trust us, to take a risk on us. That is what happened on that Christmas so many years ago. God took a risk. God chose to enter human history in a unique and wonderful way by taking on human flesh. And that is precisely what God continues to do in our lives today!

At Christmas, we celebrate the mystery of incarnation, of God becoming one of us through the child Jesus, of God living among us, of God ultimately suffering and dying as one of us. We celebrate life, light, and love, knowing that the Christ comes into our world to penetrate the darkness, to bring life where there is death, and to love every one of us. That is worth celebrating!

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Reflecting On Mary - Luke 1: 26-38

Virgin taken from a mural in the Iglesia de Je...Image via WikipediaIn my experience, Roman Catholics who find themselves in the Episcopal Church often ask about the differences between the two. I try to emphasize in my answer that there is more that unites us than that divides us. However, people usually are interested in the differences rather than the similarities. There are certain subjects that usually come up: the role of the Pope, the role of women, the fact that in the Anglican tradition priests can be married, and the way that Mary functions in the life of the church.

On the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we read Luke’s account of the annunciation, where the angel Gabriel informs Mary that she will conceive and bare a son (Luke 1:26-38). In addition, we also have the option of singing the Magnificat, the famous song of Mary that serves as her response to the annunciation. Given these two readings, it seems appropriate that on this Sunday before we celebrate the birth of Jesus we reflect on the woman who plays such a necessary and significant role in the story.

In May 2005, the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission, known as ARCIC, published the latest in a series of papers dating back to its inception in 1968. This last, entitled, Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ, is the result of five years of study and discussion by Anglican and Roman Catholic scholars. The ultimate goal of ARCIC is to pave a way towards full communion of the two churches. Therefore, regarding Mary, the challenge is to find common ground and then to see if the two churches can find a way through their differences, thereby making unity possible.

I will spare you the theological details of the ARCIC paper and offer some conclusions that come in part from a commentary written by the Anglican theologian, Timothy Bradshaw.

It is clear from Scripture that Mary plays an essential role in the divine plan. The plan requires human freedom and Mary offers her full consent to God’s call to be the mother of the Messiah. The virgin birth as attested by the writers of both Matthew and Luke disclose the radical newness that accompanies the birth. It primarily is a sign of God’s presence. God is doing a new thing in human history, bringing about a new phase in salvation history, and is doing so in mysterious and surprising ways. Luke’s annunciation portrays Mary as the unique recipient of election and grace, and the Magnificat provides the scriptural basis for devotion to Mary. The annunciation also hints at the suffering that will be part of the acceptance of God’s call to serve. Indeed, this suffering becomes very clear at the end of Jesus’ life.

The role of Mary has evolved in interesting ways throughout Christian tradition. In the early church, theologians worked to define the nature of Christ, trying to articulate how Christ could be both fully divine and fully human. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 C.E. was the churches answer to this question. In it, Mary is called the Theotókos, the God-bearer, or as sometimes stated, the “mother of God.” Anglicans and Roman Catholics alike affirm this doctrine. In some ways, this elevation of Mary opened the floodgates to the expansion of the role of Mary in ways that went far beyond that articulated in the New Testament. In the Middle Ages, Mary gradually took on a mediatorial role in which she dispensed the graces of Christ to the church. The doctrine of sinlessness led to the possibility of Mary being “immaculate.”

The Protestant Reformation attempted to reaffirm the central role of Christ and scaled back the role of Mary. However, the Roman Catholic Counter Reformation fought back regarding Marian theology. This tension ensured that Mary would remain a point of contention between Roman Catholics and Protestants. In the nineteenth century, Roman popular devotion to Mary continued to flourish, leading the Pope to define the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854 and of the Assumption of Mary in 1950. Both of these official Roman Catholic dogmas remain sticking points between Anglicans and Roman Catholics.

This brief historical sketch makes clear that Mary has always played a significant role in the life and doctrine of the church - Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant. Recent years have witnessed an increased interest in Mary from all side of the theological spectrum. In the liturgies of the Book of Common Prayer, Mary is the only saint mentioned by name. Our liturgical calendar includes The Feast of the Annunciation, the Feast of Saint Mary the Virgin, and the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We do well to consider Mary as part of our sacred story.

There are two ways for us to view Mary, each compatible with the other. The first is to see Mary as first among the saints, as maternal towards the entire human race, as assisting others through her active prayer. The other is to see Mary in her historical context and to learn from her what it means to respond affirmatively and positively to God’s call. Mary as an example of faithful discipleship is a role to which all can agree. Whatever your view of Mary, this is a good week to reflect on her role in our sacred story.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Head Butler Says Lets Serve Others This Holiday Season

I am a huge fan of Jesse Kornbluth and his site, Head Butler. Five days a week, Kornbluth writes a review of a book, movie, piece of music, or something else of cultural significance. He doesn't waste his time on the popular stuff that appears on the best seller lists. Instead, he goes for the truly good work, things that you might miss if you didn't have a "butler" like him to point you in the right direction.

Happily, my favorite butler has a social conscience as well as impeccable taste. I get the sense that Kornbluth is well healed, that he doesn't want for much. I also get the sense that sometimes he is disturbed that so many have so much less. I admire him for that. In today's post, the Head Butler proposes that we engage in a week of service from December 26 - 31.

Here's a snippet from the post:

It's December 26th we dread.

The week between Christmas and New Year's will see people who can afford it --- the people who run things --- on beaches and ski lifts. Staycationers will be hooking up their new bargain flat screens. Kids will burn the day playing Wii; college students will party the night away with friends.

If you're a winner, it's time off.

But if you're on the hurting end of this economy, where do you go for help --- or even for distraction from your troubles?

You can read the entire post here. And if you think that you might like the Head Butler's musings delivered to your inbox each weekday, click here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Very Cool Gift

Want to make a difference and do something cool for someone else. Go to Stop Poverty Now, where you will see an image similar to the one at right. Then, choose which square or squares you want to fill in (for each $10 donation, you get one square). You then get to leave a message and a picture. When someone rolls their mouse over "your" square, they'll see your message. Mine is over the upper lip of the girl. Where will yours be?

Stop Poverty Now is a fund raising effort of the Grameen Foundation, an organization that works to help local organizations reach some of the world's poorest women with small loans.

President-elect Obama and Former Vice President Gore Discuss the Climate Crisis

President-elect Obama and former VP Al Gore met on Tuesday. In their press conference, Obama said that now is the time to repower America. It is exciting to see his urgency, leading me to believe that sustainable, measurable, practical efforts finally will be made at the highest levels to address this most pressing issue.

No doubt, lobbying by those who have a stake in the status quo will grow louder and more intense in the weeks ahead, particularly from the oil and coal industries. I hope that Obama will not relent under that intense pressure. I also hope that those in the oil and coal industries, as well as many other stakeholders, will see this an opportunity for growth and creativity, rather than as a threat. Compromise on all sides will be necessary as we move forward. Systemic change will not take place immediately. We can't just stop producing gasoline, for instance. We can't just shut down our coal-fired plants. But we can get creative, we can find incentives, we can work together to save our planet.

You can learn much more at Repower America.

Here is a video of President-elect Obama's statement.

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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Give Gifts That Will Change Lives

Grameen FoundationImage via WikipediaAn economy in shambles, employment declines at levels not seen in a generation, major corporations on the brink of collapse - its no wonder that we are an anxious people. However, hard times are opportunities for us to consider those things that are of ultimate value in our lives. What is it that really counts?

I watched Its a Wonderful Life for the first time the other night (hard to believe that I hadn't seen it before). George Bailey learned through his own personal crisis what really mattered to him and it changed the way that he viewed his life. The externals of his life didn't change. The change occurred within him. We cannot always change the realities of the world that affect our lives. However, we can open ourselves to internal transformation.

One way to do that is to think about others. I know, its ironic that internal transformation often comes from focusing on the needs and longings not of ourselves but of others. There are many people in our world who face tremendous struggles, who fight just to put food on the table and to take care of the medical needs of their families. As we open our hearts to internal transformation, we might feel compelled to do something tangible to help one or more of these people. Many charities offer opportunities to give targeted financial donations in honor of someone special. Instead of giving dad another tie, why not make a donation that will make a real difference. I bet dad would be thrilled. You can even do this for children (you might need to give them an iPod as well:)) Use it as a learning experience, focusing on the human dimension of the gift, particularly if the gift targets children. Check out your favorite charity's website and see if they have a program that will allow you to do this.

I came across one such program this week. The mission of the Grameen Foundation is "to enable the poor, especially the poorest, to create a world without poverty." The key word in this mission statement is "enable." The goal is to equip people to take care of themselves by providing microfinancing that enables poor people in developing countries to start their own small businesses. These small business owners then are not dependent on the charity of others but can move to self-sufficiency. That, in turn, leads to sustainable growth that can lift entire families, even whole villages out of poverty. Can you think of a greater gift than that?

The Grameen Foundation offers an online gift catalog. Here is a sample of what your gift can do:

- With a loan of $50, a woman could buy thread & fabric for her embroidery business and send her children to school.
- With a loan of $100, a poor woman could rebuild her business after a natural disaster and give her children a brighter future.
- With a loan of $250, a woman could connect her village to the world by creating a mobile technology hub.
- With a loan of $450, a woman could add a freezer to her store, giving her community a convenient place to buy meat and fish.
- With a microloan of $550, a woman could buy a rickshaw and other assets to launch several businesses.
- Your funding of a scholarship enables a child to attend public school for five years.

Celebrate Christmas this year by giving a gift that will transform both you as the giver and the recipient, whose life might well be changed forever.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Pointing with John the Baptist - Mark 1:1-8

To the right, you will find the image of Matthias Grünewald’s dramatic and disturbing altarpiece entitled, “The Crucifixion.” That may seem an odd choice for this second Sunday in the season of Advent. However, I chose it because of Grünewald’s very powerful depiction of John the Baptist who, with his long finger outstretched, points to the crucified Christ. Written in Latin above the Baptist’s arm are the words, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Mark’s Gospel begins, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” For Mark, there is no infancy narrative. He jumps right into the drama of Jesus’ life, beginning with John the Baptist, the one appointed by God to point or prepare the way for the Messiah and the one who baptizes him. As Grünewald makes clear, John the Baptist does not point to a cute baby in a manger. Rather he points to the crucified Christ, the one who calls us, through his vulnerability and suffering, to lives of love and compassion.

At this time of year, we so easily find ourselves distracted by the sentimental, Hallmark nature of what we generically now call the holiday season. We become seduced, even manipulated, by its trappings. However, in the church, we hear the constant reminder that our observance is about much more than what the marketers feed us.

You may think that this makes the church the ultimate killjoy, forcing on us this season of Advent to rob us of our fun and games. That is not what Advent is all about. Advent is about hope. However, as the preacher Leonard Vander Zee once said, Advent hope “isn’t some pleasant narcotic that sets us nodding off in our Christian cocoon” (quoted in Lectionary Homiletics, Volume XVII, Number 1, 11). Instead, Advent hope points us to something far beyond ourselves. Advent hope provides us with a vision of what God’s world can and will be like. Advent hope is a big deal – it is about earth-shattering, life-changing transformation that has very little to do with what passes for the holiday season and everything to do with God’s vision for the future.

During Advent, John the Baptist serves as our agent provocateur, the one who comes to stir things up, to shake us out of our complacency, and to urge us to search our hearts. John the Baptist asks us whether we really want to accept what Christ offers, whether we really want to take on what Christ requires. To accept Christ means that we live by the commandment to love God and our neighbors. It means that we filter everything that we do through that double commandment. It means embracing Jesus’ call to love our enemies, to seek the transformation of evil not through violence and retaliation but through love and compassion. It means living in a qualitatively different way, convinced that the road to peace and fulfillment in this life is none other than the way of Christ.

If you want something deeper this year, something that goes beyond the parties and the presents, consider what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus, someone completely committed to embodying his teachings, someone determined to live according to our baptismal covenant that calls us to strive for justice and peace and to respect the dignity of every human being. Christian faith - Advent faith – is faith lived out in the world around us. It is not reserved for quiet Sunday mornings or for Christmas Eve worship. It pervades every part of our lives. It informs the shopping decisions that we make, the way that we treat other people, even the choices that we make about our time and our money. Why? Because we have looked ahead toward God’s future and we cannot sit satisfied with the present when we can contribute to the coming reign of God.

Martin Luther King, Jr. expressed his Advent hope in a speech that shook our nation some forty years ago. He said that he had been to the mountaintop and that he had seen the other side. He had a vision - a vision that compelled him to put every ounce of energy he had into its fulfillment.
When we catch the Advent vision of God’s future, we cannot accept the world as it is. We cannot sit back in self-satisfied comfort while so many in Africa die from HIV/AIDS, while so many live in extreme poverty, while our nation is at war, while so many experience homelessness and hunger. We must sit up and take notice of what is happening around us. That is why events like World AIDS Day, which took place on December 1, are important. It is why the UN's Doha Follow-Up Conference on Financing for Development that took place this week is so important. What the world’s leaders decide makes a tremendous difference in the lives of millions of people.

Every time we speak out against violence, every time we provide food for the hungry, every time we hug someone who weeps, every time we work for reconciliation, we move toward the Advent vision, the Advent hope of a world transformed.

Many of us attend church to find comfort, to be spiritually renewed, to gain strength to face the days ahead. We all have our struggles, our pains, and our wounds that need the comforting balm of God’s love. We are right to seek that comfort in the church, to know that God loves us and to worship within the context of a loving community. I am convinced that one of the primary ways that we receive healing and comfort is to look outward, to focus on the needs of the people around us, to believe that there is something at play in this world that is much larger than we are, that there is something for which it is worth giving, worth sacrificing, worth hoping, perhaps even worth dying. That is the Advent hope.

Just as Grünewald’s John the Baptist pointed definitively to Jesus, so too God calls us to point the way, to be the prophets of God’s love. As God called Isaiah and John the Baptist and countless others throughout history to point to the truth, so God calls us during this season of anticipation to point to the truth, not just with our lips but also with our lives. John the Baptist said that the way to prepare is to repent. Repenting sounds like an ominous thing. However, it really is quite simple. To repent simply means to turn around and walk in a different direction. To repent requires that we recognize our sins, that we ask forgiveness and make recompense, and then, that we change our direction so that we can walk towards the vision rather than away from it.

What might it look like for us to turn so that we can head more completely in the right direction? What in our lives would change if we were to walk in a new direction? John the Baptist points the way. Are we willing to follow? Amen.

Image: The Crucifixion, central panel of the Isenheim Altarpiece (from Wikipedia).

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Repower America - The WE Campaign

Here is the latest from the WE Campaign. With the recent dramatic decline in fuel prices, it is easy to forget the urgency many of us felt just a couple of months ago. Lets not forget that alternative energy and conservation are not just about saving money, they are about saving the planet.

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Monday, December 1, 2008

World AIDS Day

The Red ribbon is a symbol for solidarity with...Image via WikipediaToday is World AIDS Day. Click here to go to the official site, where you can learn more. Also, check out, the World AIDS Campaign. If you click here, you can check out the Archbishop of Canterbury's message for World AIDS Day.

This marks the twentieth anniversary of World AIDS Day. While in the developed world some of the urgency may have diminished, HIV/AIDS continues to wreak havoc in the developing world. According to UNAIDS, since 1987, AIDS has killed over 25 million people (2 million in 2007 alone), and approximately 33 million people live with HIV today. It is one of the deadliest scourges in recorded history. As such it deserves our attention.

Here is Bono, with a simple message for World AIDS Day:

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Buy Nothing Christmas

I came across a site called Buy Nothing Christmas the other day (thanks to my friend Scott Gunn at Seven Whole Days). It seems that each holiday season, as the consumer frenzy increases, so does the effort to counter it. And the effort to restore the true meaning of Christmas grows stronger as well. Now, I am as happy to give and receive gifts as the next person. However, can there be any doubt that the sheer quantity of gifts given far exceeds the bounds of reason? Certainly, this orgy of acquisition bears little resemblance to the true meaning of Christmas.

Remember Jesus? Lets think for a minute what Jesus might give or receive if he were here to celebrate Christmas. I don't think that a flat-panel, hi-def tv would be on the list. I don't think that he'd be giving out CDs or DVDs to people who already have everything that they need. Laptops, iPods, sweaters, books - no, no, no, and no. Its not that I think that Jesus is against these things. I just can't imagine Jesus thinking that they are appropriate gifts by which to celebrate his birthday.

If none of these things is the stuff of Christmas, what is one to do given the cultural expectation that we give virtually everyone we know a gift! Well, the folks at Buy Nothing Christmas have some ideas. They have an online catalogue that offers ways to share your love without busting the bank. The ideas focus on love and relationship. Some of them seem downright silly. However, perhaps this is the year, when money is tight anyway, to give some of them a try. They might not replace completely the items on your list, particularly if you have children who will wake up with great expectation on Christmas morning. However, they might cut into the list somewhat.

If you must spend money, why not make a donation in the name of a loved one to your favorite charity. It seems to me that that might make Jesus smile if he were here. After all, it was one of his disciples who said: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world" (James 1.27). If these words really do cut to the heart of what Jesus is about, then why not make this the centerpiece of our Christmas celebration - to care for the widow and orphan (or the AIDS patient, the refugee, the prisoner, the unemployed, etc)? Notice the last phrase - "to keep oneself unstained by the world." Celebrating Christmas differently is counter-cultural. It requires a choice. It means that we decide to do things in ways that might raise eyebrows, that might make us stand out. What's wrong with that? We don't have to buy into the unhealthy patterns and cultural norms of "the world."

I hear many people bemoan the craziness of the holiday season. However like lemmings, we buy into it and play the game, all the while recognizing that its just not right. Well, here's a newsflash for you. If we don't do something about it, why expect that anyone else will? We can only control what we can do. So, this season, take matters into your own hands. Be counter-cultural. Don't go shopping. Give the gift of love. Give a gift that will provide food for the hungry. Give - give something life-changing. Let it start with us. Dare to be different!

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday and the Consumption Frenzy

11 26 08 Black Friday Bearman CartoonImage by Bearman2007 via FlickrIts Black Friday, in recent years called by that name because it is the day that many retailers move into the black in terms of profit. I wonder for how many that will be the case this year.

Of course, most consumers are not concerned with the P&L statements of retailers. They care about deals, and many will go to absurd lengths to find them. They'll get up in the middle of the night (or earlier) and camp out in line outside their favorite retailer so that they can get first pick of the deals inside. Most of the time, this annual ritual is benign enough. However, not always.

This year, an associate was trampled to death at a Wal-Mart in suburban New York. The store was scheduled to open at 5:00am. At 4:55, the crowd could wait no longer. They began to shake the doors, quickly tore them from their hinges, and charged into the store. Even as the Wal-Mart associate lay dying, people continued to storm by. Other associates tried to help him, putting themselves in danger of being trampled as well.

How pathetic! Even in these economically troubled times, that kind of behavior is sad and down-right scary. We all know the power of the mob mentality to turn otherwise reasonable people into something resembling dangerous, mindless, cattle. The New York Times tells the story of 19 year old Nikki Nicely, who, apparently forgetting her last name, jumped onto the back of a man who wanted the same television set to which she had laid claim - all to save $202.

These are the stories that make the headlines. However, there is much more to the story of Black Friday than deal crazed shoppers wreaking havoc. Many retailers, fearing what the drastic drop in consumer spending this year means for them, have cut prices to unsustainable levels. No retailer can survive if they have to sell their products at 50% or more off the retail price. It just won't work. Some retailers likely will not survive this holiday season. They'll focus on selling at whatever price they can get because they need to turn inventory into cash to pay bills. But they will do so at the expense of profit. Then, because their balance sheet is sickly, they won't be able to get the bank loans that they need to continue operations when the holiday season is over. It is not a pretty picture.

Does this mean that we should feel sorry for the retailers? Should we demand to pay full retail when we shop? Of course not. However, lets not be naive enough to believe that there is a free ride here. Americans love to get a deal. And for years, we got that deal - money was cheep and seemingly in endless supply. We created the unsustainable system that now is collapsing around us. Retail will collapse next. Stores will go out of business, more people will lose their jobs, manufacturers will have no one to buy their products, and the cycle will continue.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Christ the King Sunday - A Reflection on Matthew 25:31-46

A 6th century mosaic of :en:Jesus at Church Sa...Image via WikipediaSunday, November 23, is the last day of the liturgical year - Christ the King Sunday. Our Gospel describes the gathering of the nations at the end of time. The Son of Man separates one group from another, some to his right and the rest to his left. To those at his right he says: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

I can just imagine the confusion of these people. “What is he talking about? We did not do anything for him. We just went about our business, helping those around us, doing what we could to make the world a better place.” Therefore, they ask Jesus, “When did we do these things?” Jesus replies, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Jesus continues by turning to those on his left. “Just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

Let us put all of this in perspective. Christ the King Sunday is the culmination of all that we have heard and learned about Jesus’ life and ministry. We expect triumph, a victory march, the final defeat of the forces of evil. What do we hear instead? We hear about Jesus’ compassion and his concern for the poor. We hear, unexpectedly, about how to participate in the Kingdom of God. Our passage says nothing about believing the right things, worshiping the correct way, or belonging to the right religion. Instead, it says that those qualified to participate are those who feed the poor, clothe the stranger, and care for the sick. How often we in the church find ourselves caught up in things of penultimate importance when God’s call is so clear.

The question is, how? How do we take care of the poor, the elderly, and the sick? We can serve meals at a soup kitchen, we can give turkeys for Thanksgiving baskets, and we can participate in mission trips – all very worthwhile ministries. We need to continue to do these things. There are other ways that we can take action as well, ways that will contribute to lasting, systemic change in our world.

As many of you know, in the year 2000 all 191 United Nations members pledged to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. The first of these eight goals is to eradicate world hunger and extreme poverty by reducing in half the number of people living on less than one dollar a day and by reducing in half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger. Another goal is to halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other major diseases.

What happens at the United Nations may seem very distant from Newport, RI. However, we will never meet these goals unless we see them as our goals, unless we see them as a clarion call to action. Working to meet these goals is one of the ways that we can participate in God’s work, in feeding Jesus by feeding those whom he loves. It is one way to fulfill the promise that we make in the baptismal covenant to respect the dignity of every human being and to strive for justice and peace among all people.

Even with endless news coverage of global events, it is still difficult to think beyond our own lives, beyond our own little part of the world. Yet, if we are to take seriously the words of today’s Gospel, if we are to take seriously the baptismal promises that form the foundation of our faith commitment, then we cannot be satisfied as long as millions of people live in extreme poverty. Let me suggest some ways that you and I can act to make the Millennium Development Goals a reality.

First, explore and support the work of Episcopal Relief and Development. In their words, they “address the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals through (their) food security and primary health programs, and (they) offer long-term solutions to help people sustain safer, healthier, and more productive lives.” This great organization belongs to us. It represents us throughout the world. Supporting it is one way that we can feed Jesus by feeding the poor.

Second, join the Episcopal Public Policy Network. The Network “represents to our nations lawmakers the social policies of the church established by the General Convention and Executive Council, including issues of international peace and justice, human rights, immigration, welfare, poverty, hunger, health care, violence, civil rights, the environment, racism and issues involving women and children.” If you join the network, you can participate in advocacy work, communicating with congressional representatives who you elected to make decisions that directly affect the plight of the poor in our country.

Three, check out ONE: The Campaign to Make Poverty History. ONE is an effort of Americans to rally Americans – ONE by ONE – to fight the emergency of global AIDS and extreme poverty. ONE calls on Americans to alleviate the suffering of more than one billion people throughout the world who struggle to survive on less than $1 a day. I invite you to consider doing what over two million Americans have already done – sign the ONE declaration: “WE BELIEVE that in the best American tradition of helping others help themselves, now is the time to join with other countries in a historic pact for compassion and justice to help the poorest people of the world overcome AIDS and extreme poverty. WE RECOGNIZE that a pact including such measures as fair trade, debt relief, fighting corruption, and directing an additional one percent of the U.S. budget toward meeting basic needs - education, health, clean water, food, and care for orphans - would transform the futures and hopes of an entire generation in the poorest countries. WE COMMIT ourselves - one person, one voice, one vote at a time - to make a better, safer world for all."

Finally, consider supporting Bread for the World (or any of the other organizations listened in the “Favorite Links” section of this blog), one of the founding organizations of ONE. Bread for the World is a nationwide Christian movement seeking justice for the world's hungry people by lobbying our nation's decision makers. I have met several times with representatives of Bread for the World. They are looking for members churches to work on their behalf. I hope that at some point we will become one! It is just one more way that we as individuals and as a faith community can make a difference in our world.

We often take poverty for granted. We have become jaded, believing that we cannot change anything. Yet, we can. Not only can we, but I believe that it is an essential and necessary aspect of our commitment to live as disciples of Jesus. It is a Gospel imperative. On Christ the King Sunday, we celebrate the power of God to change lives, and the power of the human imagination that, inspired by God, can make a profound difference in the lives of people who suffer. I invite you to join me in doing your part, in doing our part, to make extreme poverty and suffering a relic of the past so that the words of today’s Gospel will come to fruition in our lives. Amen.

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Green is the New Crimson

BlueImage by Hair-Flick via FlickrYesterday, a crowd of 15,000 met in Harvard's Tercentenary Theatre (outdoor, cold, and leafy) as part of Harvard's multi-day celebration of the University's commitment to sustainability. The keynote address was delivered by for Vice-President Al Gore, who was introduced by Harvard's president, Drew Gilpin Faust.

Gore said, "Universities have a powerful role to play in this 'existential crisis. They are originators and communicators of science and policy that are modeled on reason." He reminded his listeners that 2008 is the 400th anniversary of the invention of the telescope, which a year later allowed Galileo Galilei to conclude that the earth is not the center of the universe. This is an example of how scientific discovery leads to far-reaching change. Today, we rely on scientists to lead the way as we seek to make the changes necessary to live sustainable lives that, literally, will insure the future habitability of our planet.

Harvard University is committed to sustainability. Specifically, they have pledged to reduce the University's greenhouse emissions by 30% by 2016. The Harvard Center for the Environment is a "synergistic gathering" of 150 faculty members from more than 20 disciplines.

You can watach a narrated slide show of Harvard's efforts here. An article describing Gore's address is here.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

The Latest News from the United Nations' Development Programme

I received this in an email newsletter today. As the paragraph points out, this is an extraordinary time to focus on financing the Millennium Development Goals. When it seems that the developed world is falling apart financially, we cannot forget those who don't even notice the difference because their circumstances are so dire under normal conditions. It also reminds us that we are passing the midpoint between the adoption and the and the target for accomplishing the MDGs. There is much to do - made that much more challenging by the complexity of the global economic woes that all of us confront.

"The Doha Follow-Up Conference on Financing for Development (29 November to 2 December 2008) is set to take place close on the heels of the recent G20 meeting and in the midst of unprecedented challenges arising from the present financial, climate, food and energy crises. Delivering on the Monterrey Consensus while addressing these challenges will require a renewed and reinvigorated multilateralism that is able to break down barriers between policy domains and institutions in the pursuit of integrated and holistic solutions to our global challenges. As we pass the midpoint between the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000 and the target for their attainment in 2015 we must ensure that we have the international institutions, policies, programmes and projects in place to deliver on the promise of the MDGs to end extreme poverty. This UNDP-sponsored side event at Doha, to be held on 29 November 2008, will bring together high-level policymakers ahead of the next G20 meeting to identify concrete ways in which the multilateral system can be renovated to respond to these pressing demands. The event will be opened by United Nations Secretary-General BAN Ki-moon and will feature a high-level panel that will include Dr Ashraf Ghani, Chairman of the Institute for State Effectiveness and former Finance Minister of Afghanistan; and UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis. For more information

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Saturday, November 8, 2008

Sen. (now President Elect) Obama on His Legacy to the World's Poor (pre-Election Statement)

According to ONE: The Campaign to Make Poverty History, Obama indicated the following strategies regarding the fight against global poverty during his presidential campaign:

* Doubling annual foreign assistance from $25 billion to $50 billion.
* Signing the Education for All Act and request the funding needed to fulfill our share of the $10 billion needed annually to put 100 million children in school.
* Making the Millennium Development Goals American policy.
* Halving the number of people living on less than a dollar a day and suffering from hunger by 2012.

These are ambitious goals, particularly given the immense challenges that Obama faces in the days ahead. However, at least the issue is on his "radar screen."

Below is a video of Obama speaking at a ONE event.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

An Historic Night Not To Be Forgotten

The Audacity of HopeImage via WikipediaReflecting on the moment that Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus, activist Eldridge Cleaver observed: “Somewhere in the universe a gear in the machinery shifted” (quoted in the Politico article, "The Obama Revolution."). That statement reminds me of Martin Luther King's sixth principle of nonviolence, that "nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice." Every once in a while, a gear shifts and we all move that much closer to the dream of universal justice. Of course, these gear shifts almost always are subtle, sometimes imperceptible. However, occasionally there occurs a seismic shift, something so profound, so groundbreaking, that the world can't help but sit up and take notice. One of those "meta" gear shifts took place yesterday when Barack Obama, a man who was born when the cruel reality of segregation still haunted the soul of this land, was elected the 44th President of the United States of America.

Much has been said today about this historic event, and rightly so. Two pieces caught my attention this morning in the New York Times. The first was a blog entry by Charles M. Blow, called "And Then They Wept." He said, "History will record this as the night the souls of black folk, living and dead, wept - and laughed, screamed and danced - releasing 400 years of pent up emotion." I'll never forget the sight of the Reverend Jesse Jackson crying openly as he celebrate Obama's victory, or General Colin Powell choking up during a CNN interview. Blow finished by saying, "In fact everyone, regardless of race, should feel free to shed a tear and be proud of how far our country has come." I'm not ashamed to say that I watched Obama last night say "Yes We Can" with tears streaming down my cheeks as I grasped the magnitude of what had just happened. You see, when one person, one race, one segment of our population suffers at the hands of prejudice, we all suffer. When pain is inflicted on one, it is inflicted on all. Conversely, when the shackles of prejudice finally are broken and the powers of freedom are unleashed, a river of liberty flows to everyone of us. On this day, we have the right to put aside our fears of an uncertain future and to celebrate that a gear in the machinery has shifted and that the universe has moved that much closer to justice for all.

The second piece was Thomas L. Friedman's Op-Ed piece titled, "Finishing Our Work." He wrote, "And so it came to pass that on Nov. 4, 2008, shortly after 11 p.m. Eastern time, the American Civil War ended." Hyperbole? Perhaps. But I don't think so. Despite all of the struggles, all of the steps forward - Brown v. Board of Education, King's I-have-a-dream crusade, the 1964 civil rights act - the war against prejudice has continued. To be sure, racial prejudice has not disappeared, but as Friedman says, when a white majority elected an African-American as president, the Civil War came to an end.

Regardless of ideology, every American can be proud of what happened last night. However, that does not mean that every American has to agree with Obama or his policies. It does mean, though, that all of us need to rise to the occasion of meeting the perhaps unprecedented challenges that confront us. Two wars, an economy in disarray, health care costs spiraling out of control, Social Security headed for insolvency - these are not easy problems to solve. No amount of lofty rhetoric will make these challenges go away. However, for the first time in a long time, our nation woke up this morning with a rekindled sense of hope - hope that things can be different, hope that fear doesn't have to triumph over optimism, hope that we can live up to the promise of our forefathers that all people are created equal and deserve the same opportunities, hope that all people are entitled to the pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and hope that the weight of our challenges will not tip the scales against the power and strength of our optimism, our believe in justice and fairness, and our belief that, whatever the challenge, the human spirit can overcome the darkest of times.

Some of you might think that I'm a little pollyanish tonight, that perhaps Obamamania has gotten the best of me. I know that there is work to be done. Obama is not the balm to heal all wounds, but he symbolizes healing, hope, a new day - so forgive me for my unbridled optimism just this once. And let me say it one more time - Yes We Can!

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Our Nation Will Never Be The Same

Martin Luther King, Jr.Image via WikipediaOn the day before he died, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of being to the mountain top and seeing the promised land. He said that he might never get there. And we know that he didn't. However, tonight, regardless of ideology, all Americans can celebrate the simple fact that King's vision has become a reality.

Barack Obama is not the Messiah. He faces huge challenges as he seeks to lead this country. However, on this night, we celebrate the progress of America as it seeks to live into its core belief that all people are created equal! I'm watching CNN and just saw coverage of the Reverend Jesse Jackson with tears streaming down his face. I can't imagine what it must feel like for those who have toiled so long and hard in the face of prejudice to experience this great day.

On another note, I commend Senator McCain for a very dignified speech and for his graciousness in defeat.

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Sunday, November 2, 2008

An All Saints' Reflection - Matthew 5.9-16 (You are the Light of the World)

Trinity Church, BostonImage via WikipediaThis weekend, the people of Trinity Church, Boston celebrated their 275th anniversary. As part of that celebration, they combined their morning services into one grand liturgy at 10:00am. Trinity is a fabulous church. The magnificent building was designed by the famed architect, Henry Hobson Richardson under the leadership of Trinity's renowned rector, Phillips Brooks. The exceptional organ and organists and talented choir ensure that the worship is majestic and inspiring. And so it was this morning. The processional moved me to tears as my senses were overwhelmed by the glorious sights and sounds.

Trinity's 275th anniversary happened to fall on the Sunday that we observe the Feast of All Saints'. On this day, we recognize the role of all people of faith - not just those who are famous. We give thanks that God works through all of us (past and present) who are open to the movement of God's Spirit in our lives.

The preacher this morning was the Reverend Peter Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in The Memorial Church at Harvard University. Gomes is thought by many to be one of the most influential preacher in the country. He did not disappoint. Gomes used as his text Jesus' words from Matthew 5.14 - "You are the light of the world." Speaking to the people of Trinity, he reminded them that they had served as God's light in the city of Boston and beyond for 275 years. However, he encouraged them not to become comfortable in their celebration or to rest on their quite remarkable history.

Gomes offered two principle points. First, he reminded them that they are not alone. Second, he encouraged them that their best days were ahead of them. Regarding the first, Gomes said that no one does God's work alone. All of us stand with the countless saints who have gone before as well as with those who journey with us in the present. Of the second, Gomes reminded that although 275 years may seem like a long time, the future is much longer. Moreover, there is much work yet to do. There are still poor people, he said. There still are people who are sad. There are people who need to hear the good news of God's love.

We are the light of the world! How do we live into that reality? In his opening prayer, Gomes prayed that we might become masters of ourselves so that we could be servants of others. What a powerful prayer!

Here is my reflection on that. How hard it can be to dedicate ourselves to God's work without letting our own stuff get in the way. We seek to open our hearts to receive God's healing, God's strength, God's wisdom so that we truly can embrace that we already are God's children. Sometimes we fail. Sometimes, we don't master ourselves sufficiently and we limit our ability to serve as the light of the world. When that happens, we have only to repent, to learn from our wrongs and weaknesses, and to turn (as is meant by the word repent) and walk in a new direction. That is not as easy as it might seem, but God is with us as we make the move! In what direction do we turn and walk? We walk in the direction of servanthood. We walk in the direction of love. We walk in anticipation that what has gone before will not limit what lies ahead. Indeed, it shapes it, strengthens it, inspires it - but it does not limit it. Of one thing we can be sure - God continues to make all things new! God continues to redeem, to transform, to reconcile, to bring to wholeness that which is broken or damaged. God continues to bring light where once there was darkness. God uses what God heals! What good news!

As Peter Gomes told the people of Trinity this morning, I tell you now - none of us walk alone, and our best days are yet to come. Thanks be to God!

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Where the Candidates Stand on the Fight Against Global Poverty

In six days, Americans will vote for a new president. Much has been made of the policies of both Obama and McCain regarding health care, taxes, the war in Iraq, etc. Not much has been said about how the candidates will tackle global poverty and related issues. This is understandable. Most people consider which candidate will do the most for them, not for people of another country. However, when we are at our best, we concern ourselves not just with the issues that affect us personally, but with issues that concern all of humanity.

So, where do the candidates stand? Fortunately, ONE Action has done some of the work for us and have created a comparison chart. This is not a partisan effort or an endorsement of a particular candidate. Rather, it is a compilation of statements made by the candidates regarding these important issues.

If you want to know where they stand on reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS, eradicating malaria, improving child and maternal health, and other issues with which the Millennium Development Goals are concerned, click to go to ONE Action's "On the Record" page.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Self-Giving, Other-Regarding Love - A reflection on Matthew 22:34-46

A 6th century mosaic of :en:Jesus at Church Sa...Image via WikipediaIn the Gospel appointed for tomorrow in the Revised Common Lectionary, we read of a lawyer who asks Jesus which is the greatest commandment in the law. Jesus responds with a two-part answer: "`You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matt. 22:37-40).

Both of these, love of God and love of neighbor, deserve significant attention. Martin Luther said that since God needs nothing, then true service to God must always be in service to our neighbor. The same applies to love. The way that we live out our love for God is by loving our neighbor. This is not always easy. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who knew something about difficult love, said, "We can love our kith and kin, our fellow countrymen and our friends, whether we are Christians or not, and there is no need for Jesus to teach us that. So what does it really mean to be a Christian? Unreserved love for our enemies, for the unloved, love for our religious, political, and personal adversaries. In every case, this love was fulfilled in the cross of Christ." Love of the unlovable, of those who would do us harm, is the hallmark of true love, the kind of love to which people of faith are called.

The Institute for Research on Unlimited Love defines love this way:
The essence of love is to affectively affirm as well as to unselfishly delight in the well-being of others, and to engage in acts of care and service on their behalf; unlimited love extends this love to all others without exception, in an enduring and constant way. Widely considered the highest form of virtue, unlimited love is often deemed a Creative Presence underlying and integral to all of reality: participation in unlimited love constitutes the fullest experience of spirituality.

According to its website, the unique mission of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love is:
(1) to study the benefits of benevolent love for those who give it and for those who receive it
(2) to bring the results of research to the wider public in understandable and practical format
(3) to sustain an international dialogue around the possibility of global human enhancement through the application of a new science of love
(4) to encourage discussion within spiritual traditions about love for a shared humanity, rather than for some small fragment of humanity
(5) to develop an ongoing dialogue between spirituality, theology, and science around the idea of unlimited love as the ultimate ground of reality.

A premise of the Institute is that far more attention is given to negative states of mind than to those that are life giving and positive. For instance, over 100,000 scientific articles have been written on depression and pschizophrenia. Yes, only a few dozen have been written on "other-regarding" love. They say, "The dignity of the human species demands that this imbalance in scientific focus be corrected by providing an alternative to the “disease model.” Interesting! Can self-giving, other-regarding love be the key to living to our full human potential? I believe so!

So, we come back to Jesus' words from Matthew. We are called to love our neighbor. Of course, neighbor does not mean only the person who lives next door or down the street. The neighbor is anyone who needs our attention, anyone in this global community who suffers, who is hungry, who needs shelter, who needs to know that they are not alone. The neighbor is not limited to those like us, who have the same skin color, who worship the same way, who's politics align with ours. Our neighbor may just be someone with whom we have serious disagreement, someone who might just seek to do us harm. I'm reminded of Martin Luther King's principles of nonviolence. He said that nonviolence does not seek to defeat the person, just the evil. He said that love is the ultimate tool that will defeat the forces of evil in our world.

We have the ability to harness the power of love if we chose to do so. However, it will not happen as long as we fear those who are different, or as long as we seek to exert military control without also looking for the common ground that results from our common humanity.

Love of God and love of neighbor - embrace this concept and change the world around you!

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Zimbabwe - Now There's an Economic Crisis

SADC LogoImage via WikipediaCheck out these tragic figures from The Economist:
- official inflation running at 231m% (yes, that's an "m");
- more than 80% of the people have no job;
- some 3m in a population of around 12m have fled abroad;
- more than 1.4 million suffer from HIV/AIDS
- the UN's World Food Programme is feeding 2m people who otherwise may well die of starvation;
- more than 3m more may need feeding by early next year

Add to these figures the fact that the government is still run by the very corrupt Robert Mugabe, despite the fact that he was beaten by Morgan Tsvangirai in a general election. The two agreed a power sharing plan when Mugabe refused to step down.

Zimbabwe desperately needs world leaders to pressure Mugabe to step down and to let the country begin to rebuild. The lives of millions of people are at stake. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has tried to do something, but their effort is led by Thabo Mbeki, who recently lost the presidency of his own country, thereby calling into question the weight of his authority. Jacob Zuma, South Africa's likely next president, needs to offer the leadership necessary to limit this human tragedy. The Economist suggests that if Zuma can't or won't do it, then the SADC should ask Kofi Annan, the Ghanaian who ran the UN for ten years. He recently negotiated Kenya's warring parties into a power-sharing compromise.

Whatever the answer, something needs doing - and soon!

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bono Speaks about ONE at the CA Women's Conference - 10/22/08: Highlight Reel

ONE CampaignImage via WikipediaBono spoke last night to the CA Women's Conference about the ONE Campaign, of which Bono is one of the founders. He reminded his listeners that over one billion people live on the equivalent of less than a dollar a day. He also reminded them that over 2.5 million people have become ONE members, simply by going to the ONE website and signing up. In addition, he pointed out that over 53,000 people have signed the petition asking Barach Obama and John McCain to keep their commitment to fight global poverty even in this tough economic time. Watch the video, join ONE, sign the petition, and make a difference in the lives of those who suffer the most!

In his speech, Bono said: "“When America looks outside of itself, its view of itself is never clearer. Its faith in itself is never firmer. Its purpose is never stronger. Today, at a time when America, again, is tempted to turn inward, turn away from the world and its troubles, it is more essential than ever that you look outward.”

Words to think about during these last days before the election and during this troubled economic time!

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Vote for Hope - A Hip Hop Video for Obama

"Vote for Hope" was written by MC Yogi to "encourage and inspire the hip hop generation . . . "
Pretty cool!

Obama '08 - Vote For Hope from MC Yogi on Vimeo.
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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Poverty Resources

Blog action dayImage by foodistablog via FlickrHere is a list and description, posted on Mashable, of eight great sites that will help you to understand issues concerning poverty and will give you great ideas about what you can do. Take the time to read this and think about how you can make a difference.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Self-Forgiveness Begets Compassion

Free...Image by Tonyç via FlickrIn order to free us for compassion toward others, Jesus calls us to accept his compassion in our own lives, to become gentle, caring, compassionate, and forgiving toward ourselves in our failure and need.
- Brennan Manning

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How Much Would You Give to Decrease World Poverty?

Voice of America logoImage via WikipediaThe Voice of America posted an interesting article yesterday titled, "Hunger Poll Indicates Widespread Global Support for Millennium Development Goals." The poll was conducted by World Public Opinion for the Washington-based Program for International Policy Attitudes.

The first goal is to cut hunger and poverty in half by 2015. The World Bank estimates the annual cost of achieving this goal at $39 billion. People in twenty countries were asked if they would give a specific amount annually to make MDG #1 a reality. Here's how they came up with the dollar amount for people from each country: "the pollsters used an accepted World Bank estimate of $39 billion and divided it proportionally according to the Gross Domestic Products (GDP) and population sizes of the countries being polled." The result: Americans in the survey were asked to donate $56 annually per person. People in Turkey were asked to give $11, reflecting the much smaller size of its economy. Other countries: Britain - $49, France - $45, Germany - $43, Italy - $39, South Korea - $23, Russia - $11.

The end result of the survey was that the majority of people surveyed said they were willing to contribute necessary funds - good news!

Here's the challenging news, according to the article:
"Thursday in Rome, World Food Program director Jacques Diouf remarked that donor countries have made good on only 10 percent of a $22 billion aid package pledged for this year to help starving nations. He and others urged wealthy nations not to cancel aid or limit trade in ways that hurt poor countries. While US and European financial institutions begin to implement substantially larger-scale government rescue commitments to remedy the current economic crisis, Ramsay says the process of galvanizing public consensus behind such complex, multi-faceted initiatives takes significant time to develop. In contrast, he believes his new poll bears out that the public mind-set across cultures firmly accepts the moral responsibility for advanced societies to help the poor fight hunger and poverty.


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