• 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!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

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.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

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.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

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.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

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).

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

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.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

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:

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

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!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]