• 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

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and You

Bill Gates - World Economic Forum Annual Meeti...Image by World Economic Forum via FlickrHere’s a paradox: In these brutal economic times, one of the leading advocates for the world’s poorest people is one of the richest.

So begins Nicholas Kristof's January 24 op-ed piece in the New York Times. Kristof visited Gates in advance of Gates' 2009 Annual Letter, his first. You can watch part of the conversation between Kristof and Gates below.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the world's largest philanthropy, with assets of approximately $38.7 billion - and that is after a 20% decline in value last year (referenced in Stephanie Strom's article in the NYT). In 2009, the Foundation plans to give $3.9 billion to improve health in the world's poorest countries and to improve education in the US. That's some serious coin!!! It is extraordinary to think that one man (and those who work with him) has the power, quite literally, to change the lives of millions of people throughout the world. It's hard to comprehend!

The Gates Foundation gives financial gifts to many organizations throughout the world. However, the real power of the Foundation, because of its enormous scale, is its ability to make very large, concentrated gifts in areas where significant, systemic change is possible. Gates' describes them: "These investments are high-risk and high-reward. But the reward isn't measured by financial gain, it's measured by the number of lives saved or people lifted out of poverty." For instance, approximately 50% of total giving goes to the Foundation's Global Health Program that focuses on the prevention of disease - including "diarrheal diseases (including rotavirus), pneumonia, and malaria—which mostly kill kids—and AIDS and TB, which mostly kill adults."

The world desperately needs people like Bill and Melinda Gates - people who put their vast resources to work helping the neediest among us. But what about the rest of us - what can we do that matters? It would be misguided to think that the Bill Gates's of the world can solve these problems alone. Kristof asked Gates what those of us with tens or hundreds to give rather than billions could do. His answer: pick a cause that interests you and get some in-depth knowledge. Travel to see the problem firsthand. Then find an organization that does the kind of work that you've learned about and care about. Support it with your time and dollars. As Kristof says, "So try it. The only difference between you and Mr. Gates is scale."

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Thank You President Obama for Addressing Global Poverty

In his inaugural address yesterday, President Barack Obama said many powerful things. Soberly and honestly, he highlighted the challenges that face our nation and charted a course very different from that of his predecessor. In his powerful peroration, he rallied people throughout this nation with these words:

Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

While focussing on the challenges facing this country, he did not forget the plight of the poor around the world. He said:

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

Over 100,000 ONE members, including me, signed a petition to Mr. Obama, asking him to speak directly to the issue of global poverty. I could not be more pleased with President Obama's response.

ONE wants to thank President Obama and to encourage his continued support for the fight against global poverty. Click http://one.org/thankobama/, and you can sign a thank you note that says:

Thank you for making the fight against global poverty an important part of your inaugural address. I applaud your words and support you turning this vision into a reality for millions of the world's neediest people, beginning with your first presidential budget request.

The fight continues. Strong leadership by the world's decision makers will make a significant difference. Thank you President Obama for adding your invaluable voice!

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Bono's Message to ONE Members from the Steps of the Lincoln Memorial

The latest from Bono, who's unwavering commitment to the world's poor truly is an inspiration. Check it out and then go to ONE, the "grassroots campaign and advocacy organization backed by more than 2 million people from around the world and every walk of life who are committed to the fight against extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa." You can read and sign the ONE Declaration here.

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A Day of Hope for All Americans!

Living the Dream, President Barack Obama, Dr. ...Image by BL1961 via FlickrWhat a moment in time today is. We celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the eve of the inauguration of our nation's first black president. How can we not be excited?! I woke up this morning with a heightened sense of anticipation. It's not that the struggles of the present moment have gone away. They are as real as ever. However, in the midst of personal struggle, we gather as a nation to celebrate hope, to believe together that there is something greater at play in our world than the day-to-day toils of life. What better time to reflect on the larger picture of hope than today.

As I so often do, I started the day by watching King's "I Have a Dream" speech. I've watched it so many times over the years that I've lost count. I have never watched it without being moved to tears at King's soaring expression of hope. His was a moment in time that will never be repeated. It was one of those "thin places" spoken of by spiritual leaders to describe the times when the line between heaven and earth seems to fade away and we catch a glimpse of the divine. My priest said in his sermon yesterday that the reason that King's speech had and continues to have such power is that it is not only an expression of King's dream, but of God's dream. King had the privilege of articulating that dream for all of us - but ultimately, it is God's dream that we live according to the conviction that all people are created equal.

King spoke of the promissory note given by the architects of our republic - a note that has been returned for "insufficient funds." He said, however, that he refused to believe that "the bank of justice is bankrupt." His dream was of a bank with sufficient capital to make good on its promises. He understood, however, that it was going to take a long time to get to the promised land where that note would be honored. In his final speech in Memphis on April 3, 1968, King spoke of seeing the promised land. He said that he might not get there, but he knew that the people would eventually make it.

And that brings us to tomorrow and the inauguration of our first black president. Perhaps King's speech and Barack Obama's inauguration form bookends on one chapter of our nation's history. The dream reaches its highest expression of fulfillment as Obama takes the ultimate mantle of leadership. What better sign of progress could exist?!

Hopes and expectations are sky high as we move into the Obama presidency. In part, this is dues to the abject failure of the Bush years and the longing of the American people for something better. However, it is about so much more than that. Perhaps this is another "thin place," another moment in our nation's history where we take a leap forward towards the ideals of our founding identity.

Some have said that expectations are too high, that we have set up Obama for failure because we expect so much of him. That would be true if we saw the task as being his alone. However, the challenge of moving towards freedom does not rest only on Obama's shoulders. It rests on the collective shoulders of everyone of us who believes in the dream articulated by King 45 years ago. Now is the time for everyone of us to stand up and, with Obama, say "yes we can." Now is the time to say that America is better than ponzi schemes, corporate corruption, illegal detainment, war under false pretense, etc. America is about freedom.

King said that we need to meet "physical force with soul force." It is time that the soul of America is strengthened such that it (we) become a light to the nations, that we become agents of transformation, not by the strength of our army but by the strength of our collective soul. The mantra "Yes We Can" means more that that we can defeat our enemy. It means that one day we can meet our enemies, whoever they may be, and through soul force, find common ground that will usher in a new era of peace and prosperity for all people - not only here in America but for people throughout the world. YES WE CAN!

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Give Africa the Voice It Needs, continued

ONE CampaignImage via WikipediaIf you want to add your voice to those who think that Africa should have a voice at the G20 summit in April, you can sign a petition organized by the ONE Campaign by clicking here. You will also have the opportunity to add your own personal comments. ONE has set a goal of 30,000 petitioners. As of this morning, they were at 27,443! Help them reach their goal by clicking here.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Give Africa the Voice It Needs

Satellite Photo of AfricaImage via WikipediaIn April, the G20 will meet in the United Kingdom to discuss the international economic crisis. The G20 is comprised of representatives of 19 of the world's 25 largest national economies plus the European Union. Only one member country is from the African continent - South Africa.

David Lane, of ONE, reminds us that only a handful of nations participated in creating the current financial system that has been in use since the end of World War II. As the world's most powerful financial leaders gather to discuss what could be far-reaching changes to this system, it is paramount that the voices of those who do not currently hold positions of economic power be heard.

One way to do that is for the chair of April's summit, UK Prime Minster Gordon Brown, to invite representatives of the African Union and the African Development Bank to participate. In 1999, the Organization for African Unity called for the establishment of an African union, with a view to "to accelerating the process of integration in the continent to enable it (to) play its rightful role in the global economy while addressing multifaceted social, economic and political problems compounded as they are by certain negative aspects of globalisation." The African Development Bank is "a regional multilateral development finance institution established in 1964 and engaged in mobilising resources towards the economic and social progress of its Regional Member Countries (RMCs). It is headquartered in Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire)."

By allowing these two institutions to participate in the G20 summit, Prime Minister Brown will ensure that the interests of approximately one billion people will be heard. In our global world, we desperately need to hear all voices. Rich countries simply cannot pretend that the concerns of less developed nations do not matter. We cannot solve many of the problems of African nations that are caught in the grip of political turmoil and corruption, economic exploitation, or other causes of poverty. However, we can bring their voices to the table as we seek solutions to the current international financial crisis that threatens to derail so much of the economic progress that we have made over the last decades.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

People of the Light - A Reflection for Epiphany I on Genesis 1:1-5 and Mark 1: 4-11

Representation of baptism in early Christian art.Image via Wikipedia“People of the Light”
A reflection for the First Sunday after the Epiphany
Genesis 1.1-5 and Mark 1.4-11

“In the beginning, darkness covered the face of the deep. Then God said, ‘Let there be light.’” So goes the first part of the Genesis creation story.

Light is a powerful symbol and has great significance for our faith. In the creation story, God created the light and then separated the light from the darkness. In Isaiah 60, the prophet says to the people of Israel, “Darkness shall cover the earth.” He also says, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” The great symbol of the season of Epiphany is the star, the light that led the magi to Jesus. Light leads us into the very presence of God.

We are people of the light. What does that mean to us? We find clues in Mark’s account of the baptism of Jesus. John the baptizer proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He said, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” John had it all wrong. John thought that Jesus was about power. John and his followers anticipated a Messiah of power, one who could stand up to the Roman Empire, one who could meet force with force, one who could establish peace by means of the sword. John looked for a Messiah who would stand against the forces of evil and oppression.

Isn’t that what we do? We define ourselves by that which we are against. We are against terrorists. We are against those who would jeopardize our freedom or our way of life. We are against dictators and communists, against our enemies and those we fear. The problem with defining ourselves by what we are against is that we end up looking in the mirror only to recognize that we have become the enemy. We become so against someone or something that we demonize it so that we can destroy it. Once we decide to destroy it or them, we have become children not of light but of darkness.

In contradistinction to our way of being, Jesus does not stand against John the Baptist. He submits and receives the baptism of John. After this, Mark tells us that the heavens were torn apart and that a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” This is an important detail for several reasons, not least of which is that the Greek word translated “torn apart” is used only twice by Mark - here, and at the crucifixion, when the curtain of the temple is torn in two. Mark connects Jesus’ baptism to his death. Just as Jesus stood for the people rather than against them at his baptism, so he stands for them rather than against them at his death.

John told us that Jesus was powerful. However, when his enemies came to destroy him, he did not define himself by what he was against. He did not say, “I am against violence or terrorism and therefore I will resist it even if it means becoming violent myself.” Instead, Jesus said, “I am for peace. I am for love. And regardless of what happens to me, regardless of what you do to me, what I am for will govern my response and my behavior. And, under no circumstances will I demonize the enemy and resort to violence, thereby using what I am against in order to protect what I am for.”

On the first Sunday after the Epiphany, many churches will celebrate the sacrament of baptism. As we have said, baptism and crucifixion go together. We are not baptized into a culture that uses violence to combat violence or destruction to wipe away all threats. We are not baptized into a way of life that exercises power to control or protect. We are baptized into a way of living that uses love and peace as the means to bring about God’s vision for our world. Great spiritual leaders, from Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized that love is the force that ultimately will defeat the forces of chaos. Love is the light created by God in the beginning, given by God to God’s chosen people, and shared with us so that those who live in darkness can see the truth.

Imagine with me for a minute what our world would look like if millions of people in America and around the world said that they were no longer willing to fight violence with violence. What if millions said that they were no longer willing to stand against their enemies but rather would stand for love and peace. Would it work? Frankly, I do not know what would happen. However, I do know that the way of violence and hatred does not work, that responding to worldly power with worldly power does not disarm the evil that is around us, and that God calls us to a different way.

Speaking of millions of people admittedly is a little far fetched. So, let’s think instead about the dozens or even hundreds of people that comprise our spiritual communities. Or, let us start by talking about each one of us, about ourselves. What are you against? What gets you blood boiling. What creates passion such that you want to stand up and say, “No, I won’t stand for it”? Now think about what you are for. Are you for love? Are you for generosity? Are you for peace, justice, and those other things that we affirm in the baptismal covenant? If so, how can you use what you are for to make a difference with what you are against? How can you allow what you are for determine how you will respond to those whom you are against?

This does not have to be complicated. Are you against the colleague who gets under your skin? Are you against the mother in law who can be so annoying? Are you against the terrorists who threaten your way of life? Being against people can tear us apart, rob us of our joy, and take away our ability to live with the freedom of soul. Instead, try being for loving the colleague. Try being for loving the mother in law, try being for loving the terrorist. Let love determine your response. Be a person of light, of love, of conviction not against but for. Then, you and I will not become the enemy. We will not compromise what we are for so that we can fight for what we are for. That does not make sense. Jesus offers a different way. Jesus did not stand against those who crucified him. Rather, he was for love, for forgiveness, for peace. May all who are baptized into the light and love of Christ do likewise! Amen.

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