• 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

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

ONE Campaign Music Video

If you watch to the end, you can choose other ONE videos as well, including one by Bono,

Feeding the Multitude - a reflection on Matthew 14:13-21

Imagine living in poverty-stricken Niger and hearing today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus provides food for the five thousand in such abundance that the disciples filled twelve baskets with leftovers after everyone had had their fill. The fact is that I cannot imagine what it would be like to read this story in light of actual poverty. Poverty is so far beyond my personal frame of reference that I cannot interpret the Gospel as if through the eyes of one who suffers such physical anguish every day. That is the thing about interpretation. Our context is a large determinant in our ability to understand a text. Our life situation shapes what we believe, the choices that we make, even the meaning that we give to the words and actions of Jesus.

You and I read this miracle story with our satisfied eyes. We read it as people who will not go hungry this evening, whose children will not cry from the pain of malnutrition, whose lives are filled with the comforts of relative prosperity. However, we can allow the experiences of others, even if all we do is read about them, to serve as correctives lenses to our own interpretive eyes.

One such corrective lens comes from Archbishop Desmond Tutu. We all know Tutu as the Nobel winning spiritual leader who fought apartheid in South Africa. Several years ago, Tutu spoke at an Episcopal Charities luncheon in Chicago. He reminded his listeners that the omnipotent God that we worship became impotent by becoming one of us.

“Why,” the Archbishop asked, “doesn’t God come down and intervene when the most appalling atrocities are happening? When brutality is all around? Why didn’t God send lightning from heaven against the apartheid government in South Africa?

“Because,” said the Archbishop, answering his own question, “God was waiting for a human partner! God was waiting for a human partner to transform South Africa. And God found human partners in many people, especially in Nelson Mandela.

Summing up his message, the Archbishop said, “God is even willing to put at risk the God Project while God waits for a human partner, while God waits for you and you and you and you and you,” pointing to members of his audience.

You and I read about today’s miracle feeding, the God Project in Tutu’s language, not as the hungry but as those with bread. As the haves of our world, God calls us to participate as partners in the God project. Notice in today’s story that Jesus did not act alone. Sure, he did the hard stuff – blessing, breaking, and giving the bread to the disciples to distribute. However, he did not act alone. He said to his disciples, “You give them something to eat.” When they responded that they had very little to give, Jesus asked only for what they had. Ronald Wallace (sorry, I've lost the citation) describes this when he says of the disciples, “They had little to offer. Yet, he took what they brought and used it and used them … The glorious adequacy of our inadequate resources only appears if we surrender them into his hands.”

Could it be that those who participate in the fulfillment of the MDG's, regardless of their religious tradition, participate in the God Project? Much has been written of late about the fact that the world is falling behind in its effort to accomplish the goals set for 2015. However, when we participate in the God Project, in whatever form it might take, we commit not so much to success as to faithfulness, believing that we offer to God that which we have and trusting that God will turn it into enough - in fact, into more than enough, into an abundance!

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Things temporal vs. things eternal - what's that about?

In the Collect for Proper 12, Year A, the church prays, "that we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal."  Hmm.  What does that mean?  Don't we live in the realm of the temporal?  Don't we spend the majority of our time working to secure enough of life's temporal things to make us comfortable, to quench our thirst for more, to make us feel good about our existence?  Well, yes.  And to a certain extent, we need to pay attention to "things temporal."  However, the temporal things of life are merely tools, instruments by which we find the things of eternal value.

This Collect reminds me of the writing of Eckhart Tolle, who, in A New Earth, differentiates between the ego and the conscious self or awareness.  The ego is that part of us that is unconscious, unaware that we are so much more than our thoughts, compulsions, desires, fears, etc.  At the core of our existence, if we can get to it, we won't find "things temporal."  We won't find stuff, status, self-aggrandizement.  Rather, we'll find self-giving love - love that does not seek to own or co-opt or win.  We'll find pure love that does not need to protect itself with artificial barriers that serve to divide, to make us right and the other wrong.  That's the problem with so much religion.  We want to be right, to believe that our doctrine is better than someone else's.  So, we create a barrier, a limitation that keeps us from loving freely.  Then, we can't get to the "things eternal" because we are trapped in a cycle that exists in the realm of the "temporal."

How do we break free of the temporal and experience the eternal?  Tolle says that consciousness or awareness is the answer.   We cannot eliminate the temporal.  We can't pretend that it doesn't exist.  We can't even deny that we long for it.  However, we can have an awareness that it is not who we are.  We can create a little distance between who we are and the temporal things of life.  We can make room for the eternal, for the divine, for love.  Who we are is eternal, is love, is Truth, is divinely created.  

When we operate from within the eternal, we realize that all barriers are artificial, that all people are worthy of dignity and respect because they also are eternal.  So, the challenge is to live and interact with people with the awareness that each is created in God's image and that we don't need barriers to make ourselves feel superior.  We can transform our world by raising our awareness, by shattering barriers, by living into the love of "things eternal."

Friday, July 25, 2008


Randy Pausch died today.  He became famous  on September 18, 2007, when his "last lecture" was webcast and went viral.  Later, it became a best-selling book, The Last Lecture.  

Pausch's last lecture was called "Achieving Your Childhood Dreams."  It is a wonderfully inspiring speech and well worth the hour and sixteen minutes it takes to watch it on YouTube.

Pausch says many memorable things in his speech, including this: "Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted."  No, it is not original to him, but the words have serious weight coming from a man with only months to live.  The fact is, life often is about what happens when we don't get what we want.  How do we respond?  How do we learn to channel our energies in new ways?  How do we keep our creative edge when life takes an unexpected turn? 

Pausch says that he learned a lot from the dreams that he accomplished.  However, it is no surprise to hear him say that he learned so much more from the unfulfilled dreams - at least those that he tried to accomplish but for one reason or another could not.

Pausch delivered his lecture to about four hundred people at Carnegie Mellon.  But, he says, his real audience was his three children - he wanted them to hear his dreams and to be inspired to create theirs - even when he wouldn't be there to guide them!

In memory of Randy, lets think about our dreams - those that are current and those that seem now like distant memories.  It is never too late to move towards your dream.  Growing up, I remember my father saying countless times, "He who builds no castles in the air, builds no castles anywhere."  Build a castle today.  Dream something big - and then go and do it!

Friday, July 18, 2008

The G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit - July 7-9

This month's G8 Summit provided opportunity for world leaders to discuss some of the most pressing issues that affect literally all people, but especially those who are poor and marginalized. You can read daily press releases and find much more information at the Summit website.

Topics on the agenda included concerns regarding the world economy, global environmental issues, and the challenge of accomplishing the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

The Leaders' Declaration of July 8 addresses at some length the MDGs, recognizing that, while there has been considerable success to date, significant challenges remain. One of these is the continued commitment of member nations to fulfill their commitments to official development assistance (ODA). This is where the will of the people is so vital. As long as leaders in the west know that it is politically important, they will continue to support the goals. It is up to individual constituents around the world to make their voices heard, to make sure that leaders know that the people do, indeed, have the will to change the world!
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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

When Did We See You Hungry?

What a scene!  All the "nations" are gathered around the Son of Man, who begins to separate them one from another.  It is the Great Judgment, according to Matthew 25.  At this judgment, what criteria is used to determine who did well and who fell short in their earthly pilgrimage?  What determines the success or failure of our spiritual journeys?  Of course, many answers come to mind, many of which make great sense.  Some don't - like did we get our theology right or did we worship the right way, or did we use the correct prayer book?

In the midst of all that divides people of faith, Matthew's gospel offers one criterion by which we can judge our spiritual health.  (This seems particularly relevant this week as Anglican bishops from around the world gather for the Lambeth Conference).  To those on his right, the Son of Man says, "Come, you that are blessed . . . , 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" (NRSV - Matt. 25: 34-36).  Wow!  Jesus was all of these things?  Understandably, these "blessed" people ask, "When was it that we saw you" (in one of those conditions)?  And, here comes one of the great sentences of the Christian sacred tradition: "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me" (Matt. 25: 40).  

This, of course, is reminiscent of the commitment of the Israelite tradition to take care of the widow, the orphan, and the stranger.  Why?  Because when the people of ancient Israel found themselves in a tough spot, God was there for them!

Want to reach out and know God?  Want to find Truth as you travel the spiritual journey?  Look for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned - for there you will find God.

What about the others, those who found themselves on the left, or wrong side of the judgment?  Matthew has some pretty harsh words for them.  However, I believe that God's grace is sufficient for all, that no matter how much we may have messed up the spiritual journey, God waits for us with open arms, loving and accepting us for the beloved that we are.  

How relevant this text is for the fight against global poverty!  This text can inspire you to make changes so that we can find God in the midst of the struggle to lift up those who suffer.  

Sunday, July 13, 2008

What Kind of Society Do We Want to Live In?

"What kind of society do we want to live in?"  This question is posed by Nancy Krieger, professor of society, human development, and health at the Harvard School of Public Health in the cover article of this month's Harvard Magazine.  The article titled, "Unequal America: Causes and consequences of the wide - and growing - gap between rich and poor," and written by Elizabeth Gudrais, states that the gap between the rich and poor in America has reached levels not reached since the Gilded Age (roughly 1870 - 1900).  

We live in a country where the prevailing wisdom suggests that anyone can "make it" if they work hard enough.  Gudrais cites the World Values Survey, which finds that "American respondents were much more likely than European respondents (71 percent versus 40 percent) to agree with the statement that the poor could escape poverty if they worked hard enough."  Also, Americans were far less likely to agree that luck was a determent in income generation.

This rugged individualism may have served us well as our nation grew.  However, I wonder about its wisdom.  All effort is contextually driven, as are all opportunities.   If the poor do not have the opportunity to eat nutritiously, to attend college, to network with hiring managers, etc, they cannot escape poverty.  

Gudrais notes that the opportunity for upward mobility forms the foundation of the American dream.  However, she points out, "analysis indicate that intergenerational mobility is no higher in the United States than in other developed democracies."  She notes that "42 percent of children born to parents in the bottom income quintile were still in the bottom quintile a adults."  In this land of opportunity, why aren't more people experiencing this upward mobility?  What are the structural, social, psychological impediments to this mobility? 

Whatever the answer, the widening income gap is troubling.  As the rich get richer, the poor continue to struggle to survive.  How can that be fair in a nation that holds as one of its core values that all people are created equal?  How can it be fair that some are excluded from the opportunities that most of us take for granted?  How do we overcome the "opportunity divide" that keeps millions of Americans from experiencing the abundance that America offers?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Opportunity Divide

I first heard this term while reading the website of Year Up, a very cool organization in Boston that has an audacious vision - "In the future, every urban young adult will have access to the education, experiences, and guidance required to realize his or her true potential."  How cool is that!  It is the word "every" that makes it audacious.  This is an organization with the power of conviction sufficient to claim its vision of making a major difference in its area of influence.

And they claim a mission that is up to the task as well - . . . "to close the Opportunity Divide by providing urban young adults with the skills, experience, and support that will empower them to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education."

As I explore the nonprofit world, I continue to find amazing organizations that are doing incredible things to lift people up - in this country and around the world.  The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in the nonprofit world as organizations use best practices and quantifiable metrics to execute their strategies and to measure their successes.  I am very excited to have this opportunity, at this point in my life, to make this career shift so that I can be part of this movement.

Okay, back to the "opportunity divide."  According to Year Up's website, in 2006 there were 4.3 million young adults who were neither employed nor enrolled in postsecondary education.  In a technologically driven and very competitive labor market, this won't work.  Young adults need the opportunity to develop the skills necessary to find meaningful work that pays a living wage.  Sometimes, young adults with ambition simply need a little direction and support to find their way.  What a great investment to make - to provide that opportunity!

By the way, Year Up was one of 45 organizations to receive the 2008 Fast Company Social Capital Award.  Cool!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

British PM and Pope Share Correspondence on MDG Commitment

In a letter released today, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown addresses Pope Benedict XVI on issues of development.  He notes, "As things stand today, we are not on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.  We are falling short on the commitments we made back in 2000."  I commend the Prime Minister for his honesty and for his desire to see through the commitment that his country (and many others) made in 2000.  Brown's fear is that the MDGs will "slide down the political agenda" and that "the opportunity to deliver on our promises to the developing world will be lost for another generation."  What a travesty that would be.  Now that we have the technology and the infrastructure to achieve the goals, we cannot let the moment pass because we lack the political will.  How can we sit back and allow millions to starve unnecessarily?  

His Holiness, in a response delivered by his Secretary of State, refers to the Pope's prior request for a "courageous effort to 'globalize the expectations of solidarity.'"  Indeed, a sense of solidarity that transcends national or ethnic boundaries is essential if we are to accomplish these goals.  Every human being is of infinite value, regardless of where they live or the circumstances of their lives.  The Pope also points to the need for a "deeply-felt and responsible sense of generosity."  Indeed!

How wonderful to see such a high level correspondence between two world leaders on such an important subject.  Hopefully, their efforts will go beyond words or political posturing and form the heart of their efforts to transform our world.  We can only hope that their work will help to mobilize the millions of people around our world who have the power to make a difference - if only they have the will.

Read the article in "Scoop" here.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A Brief Thought on Globalization

Bill McKibben, in Deep Economy, challenges the prevailing wisdom of globalization, claiming that it is destroying community rather than enhancing it. The cult of “more is better,” he claims, is having the unintended affect of making us less happy.”[1] At the same time, the relentless pursuit of more devastates poor communities around the world and takes a tremendous ecological toll.

One of my goals is to look beyond the question of what we can do to raise the standard of living of the poor (although, of course, that is essential) to ask the more difficult and challenging questions regarding our responsibility and our future well being. Are we willing to change our lifestyles so that others can move beyond poverty and so that the tyranny and seduction of consumerism will not numb us to the simpler joys of life?

McKibben focuses attention on the value of the local. “It’s enough to say that, for reasons of ecological sustainability and human satisfaction, our systems and economies have gotten too large, and that we need to start building them back down. What we need is a new trajectory, toward the smaller and more local.”[2]

I agree with McKibben. Buying local, participating in Community Supported Agriculture programs, and other efforts can be very helpful and satisfying. However, I would hate to think that we would become so local in our thinking that we forget about the rest of the world. After all, globalization is not all bad. It creates the opportunity to learn from people of other cultures, it makes us aware of the richness of diversity, it challenges us to be responsible with what we have and to care what others have (or don't have). It has generated the resources to lift millions of people out of poverty.

The debate about globalization is difficult. However, it is here to stay. So, how do we move find this new trajectory about which McKibben speaks and at the same time embrace the globalization that brings with it such incredible possibility?

[1] Bill McKibben, Deep Economy, 35.
[2] Ibid, 141.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

My last sermon - The Road Less Traveled By

Preached at Emmanuel Church, Newport, RI, February 17, 2008

In his famous poem, The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost says,

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Some four thousand years ago, Abraham confronted two diverging roads. He could continue to live with all of the familiarity that life offered in Haran, which was in present day Turkey on the border with Syria, or he could set out on a journey into the unknown. God called Abraham to leave his country, his kindred, and his father’s house and to go “to a land that I will show you.” That’s not much information. All he had was a call to take a journey to the unknown and a promise that God would make of him a great nation. Not really much to go on, is it? Yet, in Frost’s words, Abraham took the road “less traveled by” and his choice became the pivot upon which history turned.

This morning, I want to explore Abraham’s call because I believe that it is paradigmatic of the call that God offers to all of us who seek to travel the spiritual path. I would suggest that the spiritual path is more often than not the “one less traveled by.” Certainly, this was the case for Abraham and Sarah. They did not know where they were going, or even why they were going – only that God had called them. This goes against so much of what both human nature and the pressures of our culture call us to do. We are taught to journey from the unknown to the known, from what we do not have to what we want or think we need, from the unpredictable to the safe and secure, and from promises to guarantees. We demand security and act cautiously.
Author Dan Clendenin writes that responding to God’s call requires that we “move beyond three very powerful and deep-seated fears – fear of the unknown that we can’t control (ignorance), fear of others who are different from us (inclusion), and fear of powerlessness in the face of impossibilities (impotence).”[1]

Lets look at each of these. First, choosing the road less traveled by requires that we embrace ignorance – that we move from the certain to the uncertain. Abraham’s move was not simply a change of geography. It was a giving up of the familiar, of all that gave life meaning, of the rhythms of life that brought comfort and security. Ignorance sounds negative. However, ignorance simply is a lack of knowledge or information. When we contemplate stepping out in faith, when we say yes to God, when we choose the road less traveled by, we can’t wait until we have all of the answers. We can’t wait for certainty. That is why the spiritual journey is a journey of faith, of movement into the unknown, of trust that God will lead us where God wants us to go.

Second, choosing the road less traveled by requires that we over come our fear of those who are different, that we embrace inclusion. Abraham’s ancestors had moved from Ur, in what is now southeastern Iraq, to Haran, in Turkey. They moved into a different culture. Now Abraham was doing the same. The move from Haran to Canaan placed Abraham in a foreign land with people of a different culture and language. To say yes to the call required that Abraham leave behind not only his homeland but also his narrow-minded parochialism that limited his vision of the larger world around him. It can be challenging for any of us to see beyond the world that we inhabit day by day.

The promise that Abraham received was that God would bless the entire world – not just his family, not just the people he knew, not just people who believed in the same God or who dressed the same way. Inclusion is a difficult challenge. We tend to surround ourselves with people who are like us, people with whom we are comfortable, and people who do not threaten our way of life. Yet, in order to embrace God’s call, Abraham, and we as well, must expand our horizon to embrace the other.

Third, choosing the road less traveled by requires that we overcome our fear of being powerless in the face of the impossible. Impotence is not a kind word. However, we don’t have to spend a lot of time in this world to recognize that so much is out of our control. When we try to manipulate our world or when we try to live with preconceived notions of how life must unfold, we usually are disappointed because it just doesn’t work that way.

Life is uncertain enough. Then, in the midst of that uncertainty, God calls us to do something or to be somebody that seems completely impossible. How could Abraham and Sarah be the parents of a new and great nation? What did they have to offer? Were they crazy to step out in faith as they did? They could have been paralyzed by fear instead. They could have seen the impossible in God’s call rather than the possibility that unfolded as they trusted that God was with them.

What about us? God calls each of us to do great things – to proclaim God’s love, to live in ways that lift others up, to strive for justice and peace throughout the world. Are we afraid of the impossible? Can we look beyond what we cannot do on our own and catch a glimpse of what God can do through us? That is the road les traveled by, the road with God, the road that leads beyond our ignorance and our powerlessness in the face of the impossible.

I invite you to journey with me to the place that can only be reached by the road less traveled by. On that journey, we will discover that, indeed, God can work the impossible in our lives! Amen.

[1] http://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20080211JJ.shtml

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Promises, Promises

The Financial Times reported yesterday that "leaders of the Group of Eight rich nations are set to backtrack on their landmark pledge at the Gleneagles summit in 2005 to increase development aid to Africa to $25bn a year." You can read the article here.

If you want your voice to be heard so that your government does not backtrack, go to ONE and sign the petition.

The world is half way through the allotted time to accomplish the goals. Great progress has been made. But, we can't stop now. Our governments, and us, must keep working to make a poverty free world a reality.

The Kingdom of God is Like . . . Sweetgrass

My parents used to live in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. One of the local crafts is the making of handmade baskets using sweetgrass. This morning, I read a reflection on sweetgrass in a newsletter from Holy Cross Faith Memorial Episcopal Church in Pawleys Island, SC. It quotes Karl Ohlandt, an ecologist and landscape architect. He says, "Sweetgrass thrives in poor, sandy soil exposed to hot sun, strong winds, and salt spray." He note, "It's a tough life." Apparently, some time ago, people tried to increase sweetgrass yields by planting it in rich soils away from the hardships of its natural habitat. It grew well. However, the "easy living" produced "long, weak leaf blades," wholly unsuited to making good baskets. As Ohlandt says, "the grass has to have survived difficult times: long periods of drought, storm winds carrying salt spray, and soil with little nutrients." (Thanks to Callie, of Holy Cross, for writng about this in the newsletter.)
I love these types of parables. I can almost hear Jesus starting a story with, "The Kingdom of God is like the sweetgrass that . . . " As much as we want life to be easy, as much as we plan to avoid the hardships, it is just those times that bring strength to our weary souls and minds. This parable applies to life in general. It also applies to the struggle for economic and social justice that inform the MDGs. The struggle makes us stronger. It nurtures us, teaches us, strengthens our resolve to press forward. The struggle helps us to weed out the wheat from the chaff of our lives, helping us to see what we truly value and where we really want to go.
Thanks for the sweetgrass that thrives in less than ideal conditions, for the Kingdom of God is like that too!

Do Morals Matter?

In Do Morals Matter?, Ian Markham says, “It is the unnoticed and unappreciated ease of the middle class in the western world that makes it possible to create a world that is so small it stops at the limited interactions of oneself with the immediate environments.”[1] The lack of reflection caused by this ease leads to a life marked not by gratitude but self-absorption. Markham’s project is to address this problem by creating what he calls “morally serious person(s)” (MSPs) – people with “an attitude that believes moral questions are of fundamental importance.”[2]

This world needs MSPs who take the plight of the poor seriously and who share a willingness to move beyond the "ease of the middle class" so that they can ask the difficult questions:

What does it mean to live with such abundance when so many live on the equivalent of less than $1 per day?
What does it mean to us to live with such massive gaps between the rich and the poor when most of us live as we do simply by accident of birth?
Can we make changes to our lifestyles that will make a meaningful difference in the lives of others? I am reminded of Bishop Geralyn Wolf's words: "After living for many years below my means so that others can live above theirs, I wouldn't have it any other way" - words to contemplate in our culture that is obsessed with material abundance.

[1] Ian Markham, Do Morals Matter? A Guide to Contemporary Religious Ethics, 182.
[2]Markham, 181.