• 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

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Peace Through Understanding

A couple of weeks ago, Ward Ewing, Dean and President of General Theological Seminary in New York, spoke at Christ Church, Ponte Vedra, FL. During the education hour, a parishioner asked him if the seminary requires students to study other religions as part of their preparation for ordination. Dr. Ewing said that at this time comparative religion is not a required part of the curriculum. However, he did suggest that the seminary is moving towards offering more opportunity to learn about other religious traditions.

While his answer did not surprise me, I find it troubling that leaders of the Episcopal Church do not receive more comparative religion training. We live in a global world where the barriers of geography that once might have separated people of different faiths no longer exist. Islam is growing at a torrid pace in Europe and in the United States. Hindus and Buddhists continue to build temples across the country. International politics are rife with conflict dominated by religious rhetoric. In particular, people of the three primary Abrahamic religions often seem more in conflict than at peace.

Religious leaders of all faiths need a greater awareness and appreciation of each other if this is to change. I would suggest that an increased emphasis on the study of comparative religion would lead us in the direction of peace. Prejudice and misinformation often lead to a disregard of the beliefs and values of others. Xenophobia is the direct result of ignorance. On the other hand, understanding often is a first step towards tolerance, and tolerance towards peace.

Of course, nothing is ever simple. All three of the Abrahamic religions contain threads of violence. For instance, one can hardly ignore the divine warrior motif of the Hebrew Scriptures or the Christian imperialism that engendered colonialism and its attendant oppression of indigenous peoples. However, while recognizing and exploring this tradition of violence, it is also possible to see more peaceful, loving themes throughout the history of these great faith traditions. In Peace Be Upon You: The Story of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Coexistence, Zachary Karabell notes that each contains a core of peace. He points out on page 5 that Christian worshipers worldwide turn and say, "Peace be upon you" (or something similar). Muslim's greet each other with the words salaam alaykum - "Peace be upon you." Jews use the word shalom - "peace.” Might this emphasis on peace be the grounds for greater harmony between these three great religious traditions?

All of us need a greater understanding and appreciation of these traditions. The negative impact of religious fundamentalism has made religious and nonreligious people alike fearful of others. It is easy, for instance, for Christians in this country to define Islam by what we experienced on September 11, 2001 or by the almost daily news of the Taliban or al-Qaeda. News of the conflict between Jews and Palestinians in Israel leaves many feeling that contemporary Jews are nothing but land grabbing opportunists. In many parts of the world, Christians are associated with the greed of capitalism and a blatant disregard for economic justice. All of these are stereotypes that belie the undercurrent of peace that forms the basis of our religious traditions.

If you are a religious person, insist that your religious leaders learn more about other faiths. Ask that they offer courses in the history of Judaism and Islam. If you are a religious leader, invite leaders of other traditions to speak at your place of worship. Begin a conversation that will lead to greater understanding and appreciation. Our world will be a more peaceful place for it.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Become an Organ Donor!

All of us can participate in the miracle of medical science and save lives by becoming organ donors. There are four types of donation: organ and tissue donation from living donors, donation after brain death, donation after cardiac death, and whole body donation. I am concerned here with donation after brain death or cardiac death.

Here are some statistics. As of June 10, 2009, the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) listed 101,224 patients for organ transplant. On average, a new name is added to the list every thirteen minutes. An average of 17 people die each day waiting for an organ to become available to them. According to LifeQuest, 3,592 patients awaited transplants in Florida as of March 27, 2009. In 2008, Florida transplant centers performed 1,921 transplants.

The OPTN is a private, non-profit organization under contract to the Department of Health and Human Services. The US Congress established the OPTN as part of the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 (last amended in January, 2008). The United Network for Organ Sharing administers the OPTN. The OPTN runs a centralized computer network called UNet, which links all Organ Procurement Organizations (OPOs) and transplant centers throughout the country.

There are 58 OPOs serving 316 transplant centers in the United States and Puerto Rico, 39 of which are accredited by the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations). OPOs are responsible for evaluating potential donors, discussing donation with family members, arranging for the surgical removal and preservation of donated organs, and arranging for their distribution according to national organ sharing policies.

The OPO that serves northern Florida is LifeQuest Organ Recovery Services, part of the University of Florida. With offices in Gainesville, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, and Pensacola, LifeQuest works with over seventy hospitals and health care facilities to provide organs and support services for three transplant centers in northern Florida (Shands Transplant Center at the University of Florida (in Gainesville), Jacksonville Transplant Center at Shands Jacksonville (in Jacksonville), and St. Luke's Hospital (in Jacksonville)).

All major organs can be transplanted – kidney, liver, heart, lung, pancreas, intestines, skin, and eyes. By far, the most common transplants involve kidneys (76%) and livers (15%). The first successful kidney transplant took place in 1954. Since then, transplants have become more sophisticated, including a partial face transplant (2005), a double arm transplant (2008), the first baby born from a transplanted ovary (2008), and the first transplant of a human windpipe (2008). Extraordinary!

The government website organdonor.gov, (managed by the Health Services and Resources Administration) gives a brief summary of the views of major religious bodies regarding organ donation, saying “Most religions support organ and tissue donation as a charitable act of love and giving.” For instance, under Episcopal, the site says, “The Episcopal Church recognizes the life-giving benefits of organ, blood, and tissue donation. All Christians are encouraged to become organ, blood, and tissue donors "as part of their ministry to others in the name of Christ, who gave His life that we may have life in its fullness."”

According to some studies, 80% of the population supports the concept of organ donation. However, the consent rate is approximately 50%. That is a large gap that you can help to close! Becoming an organ donor is very simple. In Florida, you can become a registered organ donor at a local driver license examining station. You can also carry a donor card in your wallet or purse that will inform family and medical personnel of your wishes. You can print out a card here.

Organ donation is one way to help save lives. It costs you nothing and in no way jeopardizes your own well being. However, the rewards to the organ recipient are profound. In addition, the rewards to surviving family members can be significant as well. They will have the comfort of knowing that even in death you were able to give life to another human being. That is no small comfort in the midst of grief and loss! So, register or print out your donor card today!

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