• 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

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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