Friday, December 28, 2007

"Tis' the Season for Year-End Giving" by Mike Kinman

My in-laws always do their charitable giving the last weekend of the year. I think it's a great routine because at this hinge point in our lives -- looking back at the past and looking forward to the future -- it encourages you also to look out at the world and how you can use what you have to make it better.

The past couple years, they've been interested in expanding their giving to include global concerns and, specifically, things that address the MDGs ... and they've asked me for recommendations.

I am grateful that they always write a nice check to Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation ... not just because it's wonderful to have love and support from your in-laws but also because I firmly believe every dollar given to EGR grows this movement of spiritual transformation in the church and results in countless more dollars (and, more important, minutes, hours, days and prayers) going to heal the world. And as the clock ticks toward midnight on 2007 and the window for getting those tax deductions closes, I encourage you to make a year-end gift to keep EGR going for 2008 and beyond.

You can make a check out to EGR and send it to

c/o Mike Fitzgerald, EGR accountant
115 Pinewood Ave.
Brandon, FL 33510

For gifts of stock, please contact our treasurer, the Ven. Gary Cartright at

OK, commercial over. Getting back to my in-laws....

Yesterday afternoon, I was writing them an email with my recommendations on giving. There are so many worthy organizations to choose from, and one of the gifts of being EGR's executive director is that I've had a chance to learn about many firsthand. I could have listed 20-30 possibilities, but instead I decided to share with them the organizations my family has personally supported in 2007. My wife, Robin, suggested I share this list with others ... and a blogpost was born.

So, as you consider your own year-end giving, here is where the Kinmans used their 0.7% (and beyond!) to make the MDGs happen in 2007:

Orphans of Rwanda -- ORI is a wonderful organization whose guiding principle is that MDG #2 (universal primary education) is just a first step and that for a nation like Rwanda to get back on its feet, a lot more is needed. The basic idea is taking the best and brightest of the genocide survivors and making sure they get a full course of education ... not just primary school but secondary and university, too -- so that Rwandans will be best positioned to rebuild their own country. I was introduced to it by my friend Josh Ruxin (who blogged here yesterday) here is Josh's recent posting on Orphans of Rwanda. You can give online or by check -- information is here.

Partners in Health - PiH and its founder, Dr. Paul Farmer, have revolutionized global public health -- particularly in treatment of TB. The philosophy is there should be one excellent standard of care for all people ... not one standard for the wealthy and a lesser standard for the poor. He began in Haiti and has since substantially changed the public health systems in Peru, Russia and Rwanda. If you're looking for an excellent read (a compelling and entertaining story as well as educational), Tracey Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains details Paul Farmer's story. GiveWell has rated Partners in Health as one of the top organization dealing with public health and extreme poverty. You can give online here or by filling out this donation form and sending in a check.

Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance - GAIA is an interfaith effort to reverse the AIDS pandemic in one specific location -- Malawi. Because the church is the most integrated and effective grassroots network already extant in Malawi (and most of the rest of Africa for that matter), and because the church has often been a barrier to AIDS education, an interfaith coalition working on AIDS prevention is incredibly effective -- and that's what GAIA has been. You can give online or by check -- information is here.

Hunger and Poverty
The Hunger Project - What makes THP great is they don't just give food aid, they work to change systems so people can lift themselves out of hunger and poverty. The silver bullet for this is empowerment of women (the fastest way for a society to develop is to empower and educate women ... it makes sense, you've got 50% of your population whose gifts aren't being used!) so THP has many initiatives for educating and empowering women. Their approach to end hunger is a bottom-up approach that is about building capacity rather than creating dependency on outside aid. Charity Navigator gives THP a four-star rating. You can donate online or by check with information here.

Empowering Women
El Circulo de Mujeres (The Circle of Women) - This is a remarkable organization run entirely by women that helps the women of Oaxaca, Mexico create their own industry and economy using their own traditional weaving. It's an integrated approach of women's empowerment that involves not only economic capacity building but literacy training and other education. You can't give by check (I'm not sure why) but you can donate online.

Five Talents International -- Five Talents is one of the best microfinance organizations around. It works through partners in the Anglican Communion, which means that the local church structures provide much of the necessary organizational infrastructure -- so that more of your donation can actually get to the people who need it. Microfinance is all the rage right now, but that also means there are a lot of profiteers who are taking advantage of people who want to give to it. Five Talents does it right. You can give online or by check with information here.

Getting it all done at once
Millennium Village Project -- Mayange, Rwanda - This is the single best integrated approach to addressing extreme poverty that I have seen. I was impressed by it through my work with its administrator (Josh Ruxin ... again!) just hearing about it ... and now having been to Mayange, I am completely sold. Josh uses a capacity-building approach in all they do. Almost his entire team is Rwandan and in addition to building amazing programs and making sustainable change in systems all this work is done with the people on the ground feeling personal ownership for the progress. The interventions they have done have been simple and common sense but with incredible results. I am not kidding you when I say that the 50,000 people who live in the Mayange cluster of villages have better access to basic health care than the population of the City of St. Louis. In fact, the interventions have been so successful that the week before I came to visit, President Kagame and his cabinet came to Mayange and announced that they were using the "Mayange Program" as the structure for their nationwide development program ... and so Josh is now working feverishly on the scale-up! You can read Josh's post on the EGR blog here -- and you can also download a Forbes article on everything they're doing.

Giving to this project online can be done by clicking here -
Under "select a designation" use the drop-down menu to select "Millennium Village - Mayange, Rwanda" and then follow the rest of the directions.

Donating by check is a little obtuse (they're working to improve it), but here's what you have to do:

Check made out to: Trustees of Columbia University
Check sent to:
Columbia University
Gift Systems
MC 7724/Room 964
475 Riverside Drive
New York, New York 10115

On the MEMO of the check should be included: MV-Rwanda Fund Gift#15872

Thanks for the opportunity to tell you about these organizations. You can't go wrong with any of them. As I said, I've supported them all personally.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

"War for the Holidays" by Josh Ruxin

As most Americans enjoy the holidays, several nations in Africa are preparing for the onslaught of war. We should consider these preparations and actions carefully; they will likely require intervention - diplomatic, economic and otherwise - to provide concrete solutions. Some of these wars may seem limited in scope, but that’s misleading. Conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa, including small ones, have a big impact, resonating beyond the lives of those directly involved. Paul Collier, in his excellent book, “The Bottom Billion,” notes that one of the factors keeping poor countries poor is civil conflict. He gloomily calculates that underdeveloped countries that have recently experienced war face extraordinary odds in their efforts to maintain peace in subsequent years. That’s one of the reasons Rwanda’s peace in the last 13 years is such a stand-out, but the fact that it’s notable is troubling. Now it appears that there is a confluence of conflicts, and though they’re being monitored, international action has been sluggish at best.

From Darfur, which is deploying reinforced peacekeeping troops in just a couple of weeks (though latest reports suggest they will be 16,000 troops short initially), word has arrived that the Sudanese government is doing all that it can to block the peacekeepers from successfully carrying out their mission. Further exacerbating the situation, the international community seems powerless to pull together the 24 helicopters needed by these troops to do their job. Considering the vital importance of these workhorses, and the long history of this conflict, that inability to provide support is alarming. While critics might look askance at Hollywood playing international politics, you’ve got to applaud George Clooney and Don Cheadle’s offer to raise half the funds needed.

From Ethiopia, the word in the war-torn Ogaden region - where a small rebel group is fighting a scrappy separatist war - is that the government is resorting to enlisting professionals to fight their battles. You heard that right. Not professional soldiers, but doctors and lawyers are being called in to reinforce the troops who are fighting there. Lawyers who could be fighting for human rights and doctors who could be delivering babies are out helping to extinguish lives in a most brutal fashion. The story, as reported by Jeffrey Gettelman of the New York Times, is much grimmer than it appears at first blush. This move signals a serious troop shortage, which has resulted from a build-up of armed forces in preparation for re-ignition of the war with Eritrea (which has already cost tens of thousands of lives). The impacts of this conflict are now being felt at every level of Ethiopean society and could quickly worsen.

Shifting down to Congo, the rebellion in the eastern part of the country grinds on. Officials’ optimistic rhetoric of several weeks ago has cracked and the Congolese military has heated up its battle against General Nkunda in Eastern Congo. Hundreds of thousands more have been displaced and disease is rampant, but international attention is nonexistent.

Meanwhile Zimbabwe’s collapse into further chaos sharply illuminates how even a nation that improves its health and educational system can rapidly be brought down by a tyrant.

These situations cannot be rectified by holiday wishes and prayers. Whether it comes from local government, international community resolve, economic pressure or as unlikely a place as Hollywood, decisive action needs to be taken. What’s encouraging is that it can actually help, and will lessen the devastating impact of regional conflict.

Josh Ruxin is a Columbia University expert on public health who has spent the last couple of years living in Rwanda, where he administers the Millennium Villages Project in Mayange. He’s an unusual mix of academic expert and mud-between-the-toes aid worker. His regular posts can be found on the blogroll of Nick Kristof of the New York Times, and he has given his permission to be cross-posted here.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Reconciliation Sleuthing Project -- Symbols That Injure Rather Than Heal" by Emily Bloemker

This first part is a short excerpt from my recent paper “Liturgy and Transformation: Voices at the Table in Search of a Social Ethic.”

Throughout history, those who have wielded power have often been the ones todetermine a worshipping community’s central ethic, or way of life, often to the detriment of those who are oppressed. This can be seen through the church’s centuries of bloodshed perpetuated via the Crusades. The danger of moral vision held only in the hand of the powerful majority has also been seen in Nazi Germany and the American Church’s acceptance and theological support of slavery from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century.

The perpetuation of detrimental social ethics played out in liturgy can be seen throughout the writings of womanist, feminist, mujerista,and third-world theologians. Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz (‘Mujerista Liturgies and the Struggle for Liberation’) relates a concrete experience of the danger inherent when power for articulating a social ethic is wielded to the detriment of those in a minority position, even when those in the minority were in explicit and vocal opposition to the majority belief. At the 1985 National Catholic Hispanic Encuentro, “a new statement was introduced that had to do with the full participation of women in the church. Though a majority of those voting … endorsed the new statement, the organizers claimed to be using a consensus model and that a simple majority was not therefore acceptable.” Though nearly 500 women later participated in a protest, and a watered-down version of the statement was later included in a document signed by Hispanic bishops, the full minority view of a consciously-articulated ethic was ultimately excluded and even restructured by
those in power to the detriment of Hispanic women’s voices.

A minority group that is often marginalized and/or forgotten within the broader context of Christian worship is that of abused women. Marjorie
, in her excellent review of Christian liturgical practices Praying With Our Eyes Open (including petition-prayers, collect-prayers, posturing,and the use of gendered language, among others) investigates how seemingly benign words and practices can transmit powerful messages to those who have been abused. For example, the Collect for Purity which so many Episcopalians recite without thought at the beginning of worship, can be invasive and exploitative to those who have been victimized, leaving them no sense of personal power or security before an omniscient, male God. This is problematic, because “(o)ne who is almighty may choose to become vulnerable, but the truly vulnerable, the poor, the helpless, the oppressed, are forced to be vulnerable and have no choice to be mighty.” Thus, those who have been oppressed are forced to remain in the position of victim, despite their potential need for a sense of personal security and power. This forceful transformation into a submissive relationship (an ethic upheld by many prayers and practices within the church), argues Proctor-Smith, can be harmful to those who have already been victimized.

A message of hope is brought to the table by Elizabeth Amoah and Mercy Oduyoye who, in describing the Christology of African women, outline some of the history of the transformation of that Christology (‘The Christ for African Women’). “The royal Christ fitted into the colonial ambiance of the propagation of Christianity as well as the missionary’s self-image of a benevolent paternal figure who knows what is best for African converts.” This ‘royal Christ’ brought by colonizers, touted as the normative and
authoritative version of Christ, was not sufficient for the need felt by Africans for “a conqueror to overcome the evil forces that cross the way of the African …” The arcane, powerful Christ was powerless in the face of the African reality – “This Christology … is not up to the task of empowering Christians for life in Africa today…” Amoah and Oduyoye continue to articulate a Christology that is empowering for Africans, describing a Christ who rejects suffering as the norm, who instead believes that “suffering is not in the plan of God.” This Christ, as a universal ancestor, is available to all people. For African women specifically, Christ is “truly woman (human) yet truly divine…” Christ has been wrested from the hands of colonizers, greeted again, and recognized as a powerful ally by the people of Africa in their daily struggles.

Amoah and Oduyoye’s demonstration of the ability to transform from a damaging Christology to a Christology that empowers is (thank goodness) not the only story of hope to be found. Many other minority groups are recognizing the harmfulness of social ethics (subliminal and explicit, as we have seen) articulated only by those in power. These same groups are consciously attempting to reform, or to make anew, alternative social ethics via acts of worship and / or theological statements. This effort can be seen in the successful attempt of Hispanic women to relocate the presence of the sacred in response to having their own theological voices silenced at the 1985 National Hispanic Encuentro. It can also be seen, in a more subtle way, in the work of Roman Catholic women who work as lay ministers, “reclaiming a broader sense of sacramentality that was nearly lost … as well as reinventing the very ways of celebrating the sacramental life of the church.”

When faced with a forceful transformation towards an ill-fitted or harmful ethic, many women and other oppressed groups have chosen to wield the same power of transformation via theological words and acts towards an ethic that is empowering and healthy for themselves, though contradictory to the stated norm. It is the same power yielded forcefully by colonialists, masochists, and other oppressors that, when wielded in the hands of those who are oppressed, can be equally transformative in positive ways.

Thus we must ask ourselves: Should priority and power be given to the oppressed and marginalized in the process of articulating a social ethic? Would this be sufficient to prevent further suffering and marginalization? Would the resulting ethic be useful for everyone, or should there be a separate ethic articulated for each unique group? This is an especially important consideration in a diverse worshipping community – for example, in an urban parish located in a neighborhood undergoing the (dubious) process of gentrification, one might find both young, wealthy urban professionals and original, working-class homeowners sitting in the same pew. Yet again, many parishes in the United States have experienced a recent influx of refugees via government resettlement programs. Who should have the power to articulate the social ethic in these cases? Or, is there enough common ground to be found that a useful ethic could be formed for all worshippers? If so, could this ‘common ground’ be the basis of a robust, transformative ethic, or might a common-ground approach lead to a watered-down ethic that precludes the possibility of real transformation?

There are very few easy answers in response to the questions posed above.
(end excerpt)

I believe that one ethic that Christians, especially Episcopalians, can hold in common is that of reconciliation. Looking for brokenness in the world, seeking to heal that brokenness, is part of our common baptism as Christians. One place to begin is within our very own churches. This is a project both for lay people and ordained people alike. What is the ethic held in common by your worshipping community? And, more importantly, how is this ethic projected?

I find that most churches are very good at taking action – running soup kitchens, organizing school supply drives, etc. It is often the case, however, that faithful people often fail to ask themselves what kind of ethic is being projected by their own worship. For example, a community that is dedicated to confronting racism might represent (through friezes, murals, and statues) only saints or icons with white skin. Or, a congregation might be conscientiously pacifist, but might keep statues of saints wearing armor and carrying swords (which we do in my own church). Often, churches that are committed to gender equality might still use gendered language in the course of their worship. And so, my challenge to you is to ask yourself: what messages are sent in the course of the worship within my community? What do the images, symbols, and language say about what my worshipping community believes? Ask your friends to join with you, and become amateur reconciliation sleuths. What symbols, unbeknownst to you, might injure rather than heal?

Let me know. I’ll check the comments on this blog – I’m excited to hear about what you uncover on your quest for reconciliation.

Emily Bloemker is a middler at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, Emily has traveled in Haiti and Sudan with the Roman Catholic and Episcopal Church.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

"How do we work together on the wicked problem of extreme poverty?" by Kevin Jones

It’s the halfway mark in the 15 year drive toward the Millennium Development Goals and it doesn’t look likely that sub Saharan Africa will meet any of the eight goals, from cutting poverty by half to empowering women, by 2015.

The UN progress report that offered that gloomy prognosis has been criticized, of course. A completely opposite view grabbed the cover of a recent Business Week magazine, under the headline: Can Greed Save Africa? The subhead declared : Fearless investing is succeeding where aid often hasn't.

Look at Africa, and the picture changes depending on your point of view, how you define your terms, what your goals are, who you listen to and which groups never make the cut to be included in your view. Those are characteristics typical of wicked problems, which wikipedia defines as “problems with incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements; where solutions are often difficult to recognize because of complex interdependencies."

As I look at my own involvement in working on the MDG’s, I began with my own ambitious but naïve malaria Anglican malaria project in Mozambique and Swaziland, encountering corruption in the church and the government. Now I’m helping social entrepreneurs like my friend Jay Kimmelman who is creating a for-profit franchise model of independent private schools in Kenya affordable for people who make $2 per day. I find greater comfort with initiatives where the accountability of the market system can be brought to bear on the problem and funding can be sustainable without endless fund drives.

Yet when I look back on my work on the EGR board, to trying to understand Sabina Alkire’s academic research at Oxford, to being associated with our denomination’s development arm, ERD, to creating a site where churches can tell their own stories of involvement in working on the MDG’s (supported by both the Diocese of California and EGR) for the most part I see well meaning groups who don’t speak the same language, who don’t understand what each other are doing or how they are all working on different aspects of the same problem.

That, too, is true of wicked problems, where “solutions require large groups of individuals to change their mindsets and behaviors.” What I really want is some kind of translation facility, a Rosetta Stone where people of good will can learn to cooperate at a higher level.

One problem is that church people, like most individual donors, prefer stories of individual impact, what happened in a particular village or parish to a particular person.

Development professionals, meanwhile are system thinkers, but often only see grassroots involvement as amateurs more likely to get in the way than be helpful. Both are doing good things, but the blinders of their particular definitions prevent them from seeing the good created by other group with another approach. Academics involved in pure research look down on entrepreneurs as people doing only short term helping initiatives.

How to get over ourselves and our own particular blinders, our limitations on the extent of the problem or the value of another group’s approach? I confess, this is a problem I think a lot about and am only stumbling toward.

In my own world of social enterprise we are putting on event in the fall that will bring people with three siloed perspectives together (base of the pyramid, digital inclusion and fair trade/social enterprise together, along with the new investors and foundations that are funding this work. How to do it in the church is not something I understand, but something similar should be done, I think. Some kind of convening aimed at translation for all the groups working on these areas.

Kevin Jones is a serial entrepreneur and clergy spouse. Kevin was the editor of the Every Voice daily newspaper at the 2003 General Convention of the Episcopal Church and has worked on global poverty issues for several years, through on the ground projects in sub-Saharan Africa (such as the Anglican Malaria Project), technology infrastructure to make it simpler for people to care about the people effected by the Millennium Development Goals, and events. He is also active in investing for good.

Monday, December 24, 2007

"The Spirit of Giving" by Reynolds Whalen

The night I arrived home from college for winter break a week ago, my father called us all into the living room for a meeting. He said we needed to discuss some things regarding our family Christmas gifts for this year. With his words, a wave of unexpected memories washed over me.

My mind hurtled me back to a particularly tough year in middle school where a similar scenario led to the announcement that there would not be enough money for presents that holiday season. However, three days before Christmas I opened the door to find a man dressed as Santa with a giant bag of gifts, including a guitar which I had requested without any hope of actually receiving it. This act of kindness was part of a program in my church called the Santa ministry, which reaches out to struggling families and delivers presents to each individual low-income household. Nearly ten years later, I use that same guitar to lead music at four Episcopal churches in St. Louis. When I come home for Christmas, I am now the one who dresses up in the Santa suit and delivers the gifts from door to door. Without the church’s generosity, I may never have made these activities a priority in my life. Unconditional kindness and giving can be contagious.

This year, my dad’s message to my family was quite different. As we gathered around on the couches, he told us of an experience in Target the day before that had changed his outlook on the holiday season. As he shopped for groceries, a small crowd of people pushed him aside, screaming as they shoved one another and literally dove to grab the items they desired before they left the shelves. He described an attitude of such hate and entitlement that it drove him from the store.

As he drove away, his thoughts went to the N’getich family in rural Kenya that hosted me, a stranger, in their home for a week last fall. This family offered me everything they owned and asked nothing in return. My father remembered me telling him that Mama Betty N’getich rarely had the means to buy any Christmas presents for her family at all, but loved the season because all of her children came home for the holidays.

The events of this afternoon led my father to make a proposition to my family. Instead of spending our money on Christmas presents this year, we would send it to Mama Betty to help pay school fees for her oldest child, who graduated at the top of her class and is struggling financially to maintain her enrollment at the University of Nairobi. So that’s exactly what we did.

This idea did not come from me, an African Studies major and constant advocate for donating intentionally toward global reconciliation. That would have been expected and frankly, carried less weight. This idea came from a French professor family man who experienced the effects of our excessive consumerism in a shocking way and remembered the kindness of someone he had never even met. My father realized the incredible gift that God gave us through Christ’s example to make our seemingly ordinary lives extraordinary.

This is the spirit of giving that has been lost in our culture’s perception of the holiday season and one that should permeate our lives as Christians throughout the entire year. If we truly believe that our call is to love one another as Christ loved us, this should be a joyful way of living that brings us closer to each other, and closer to God as a faithful community of believers.

Reynolds Whalen is a senior at Washington University in St. Louis. He has traveled extensively in Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan. He spent fall semester 2006 in Kenya working with AIDS orphans -- read his blog on it here and is working on a documentary film on that experience.

Friday, December 21, 2007

"Turning Darkness to Light" by Elaine Thomas

If you are able to escape from the hubbub that is the run-up to the capitalist’s favorite holiday, you might notice something about this time of year. It’s dark (at least in my part of the northern hemisphere). It’s also extraordinarily quiet. Maybe it’s because there are no leaves on the trees and no air conditioner motors incessantly running, no lawn mowers and leaf blowers. I can go outside for an evening walk with the dogs and still see a canopy of stars on a crisp clear night and enjoy an amazing quiet.

We seem to be in quite a rush to fill that silence with carols and bells and to brighten the darkness with strings of lights and spotlights on our lawn-reindeer. There seems to be such a discomfort with silence and darkness. In some parts of the world, there is no other choice. When the sun goes down, there is only intermittent light or gaslight or candlelight. Or maybe there’s only a canopy of stars. And the night can be more quiet than you can imagine, except when that silence is shattered by the cry of a hungry child or the wails of a husband mourning his dead wife and newborn.

Jesus entered the world like that – into the silence and the darkness. Mary may have cried out in the pangs of labor, and maybe the baby’s newborn cries pierced the night. But I imagine it was dark there in the stable and very quiet. Was it the comfortable and comforting place we make it out to be in our crèche displays? Something tells me that it was as frightening and unwelcoming as if he had been born today in dirt-floored hut in a poor African village.

Let’s spend some time in this dark season, before the dawning of Christmas, pondering the image of a newborn Jesus, at risk of starvation or disease, loved by his parents who may not have been able to protect him. Another precious child, bringing light to the world. Can we help that light survive?

Elaine Thomas is a member of St. James in Lancaster, PA where she is a member of the Peace and Justice and Stewardship Committees. She is also the EGR and ERD Coordinator for the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania. Elaine works for Episcopal Community Services in Philadelphia, a social service agency whose mission is to help individuals and families with multiple needs overcome the impact of poverty.

"Two young hedge-fund veterans stir up the world of philanthropy"

By Stephanie Strom of The New York Times

As hedge-fund analysts, Holden Karnofsky and Elie Hassenfeld made six-figure incomes deciding which companies to invest in. Now they are doing the same thing with charities, for a lot less pay.

Karnofsky and Hassenfeld, both 26, are the founders and sole employees of GiveWell, which studies charities in particular fields and ranks them on their effectiveness. GiveWell is supported by a charity they created, the Clear Fund, which makes grants to charities they recommend in their research.

Their efforts are shaking up the field of philanthropy, generating the kind of buzz more typically devoted to Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, as charities ponder what, if anything, their rigorous approach to evaluation means for the future.

"I think in general it's a good thing," said Thomas Tighe, president and chief executive of Direct Relief International, an agency that GiveWell evaluated but did not recommend. Like others in the field, however, Tighe has reservations about GiveWell's method, saying it tends to be less a true measure of a charity's effectiveness than simply a gauge of the charity's ability to provide data on that effectiveness.

Karnofsky and Hassenfeld met at Bridgewater Associates, an investment management company in Westport, Connecticut, which they joined at roughly the same time.

In the fall of 2006, they and six colleagues created what Karnofsky calls a "charity club." Each member was assigned to research charities working in a specific field and report back on those that achieved the best results. They were stunned by the paucity of information they could collect.

"I got lots of marketing materials from the charities, which look nice, you know, pictures of sheep looking happy and children looking happy, but otherwise are pretty useless," said Jason Rotenberg, a former member of the club and now a $50,000 donor to the Clear Fund. "It didn't seem like a reasonable way of deciding between one charity and another."

By the end of that year, Rotenberg and other club members were frustrated, but Karnofsky and Hassenfeld soldiered on, at once fascinated and discontented by their inability to get data that would illustrate charities' impact.

"There are huge foundations out there whose job it is to find great organizations doing great things," said Robert Elliott, a club member who is now the Clear Fund's chairman, "but when you call them and say you'd like to leverage the information they've already collected to make a smart donation, it's a closed book."

GiveWell's findings are available on the Internet, without charge, at In evaluating charities, Karnofsky and Hassenfeld press them for information, analyzing the numbers in much the same way they did at Bridgewater. The Smile Train, for instance, a charity that repairs cleft palates, was asked how much it spent in each region and each country to treat how many patients in each.

Karnofsky and Hassenfeld argue that widely available existing systems for charity evaluation, which rely largely on the charities' tax forms, known as 990s, are basically worthless because charities are given wide latitude in how they classify information. For example, some charities count fund-raising costs as money spent on programs.

Read the entire article here.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

"That Ain't Gonna Be My Story" - by the Rev. Dahn Dean Gandell

This past summer, I was a member of the faculty for a special session of the College of Preachers at the National Cathedral as part of the Young Women’s Clergy Project. It was an amazing experience and I will be forever grateful to the Rev. Susan Olson for asking me to be a part of it. One of the participants, Laurie Sponaugle, gave me an incredible gift—she wrote a poem for me based on an experience I related to the group. The poem is entitled “That ain’t gonna be my story” because that was my response when this particular experience happened to me—I was basically humiliated and dismissed by a church leader and I had to make a decision: would his actions define me or did I get to define myself? I decided that this is MY LIFE. Nobody gets to live it or define it for ME. That’s between ME and GOD.

In my ideal world, Advent is a time when I am wrapped in a beautiful blue soft cashmere cover thinking beautiful peaceful thoughts about the coming of Christ. I am completely embraced by God and God’s love. I am watching the beautiful snow fall and remembering my own Advent experience of 8 years ago when I was great with child…

And then reality comes crashing in. I don’t own a soft blue cashmere anything and if I did, it would probably be full of dog or cat hair or one of my kids would have wrapped up in it with a particularly sticky-drippy snack. In my more fussy moments I feel overwhelmed and miserly about spending money and stressed about all the upcoming church services. And the snow-plow guy hasn’t come and so getting in and out of my driveway is anything but peaceful.

I get to decide what my story is going to be this year. Am I going to give in to the stress and negativity and pressure to be the ideal priest, wife, mommy, friend, pastor? Am I going to work to carve out moments of peace for myself? Am I going to make the snow-plow guy cookies even though he doesn’t deserve them just because that’s what grace is all about?

I AM working on making that my story. I AM working on helping folks be more aware of the MDGs in a loving, peaceful, invitational way. The beauty is that I am completely embraced by God whether I’m stressed-out or peaceful, stingy or generous, doing my best, or doing nothing at all. When I take the time to remember that, it is, as Martha Stewart reminds me, “A Good Thing.”

The Rev. Dahn Dean Gandell is rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Honeoye Falls, NY, MDG coordinator for Diocese of Rochester.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"A Glimpse of Lui, Sudan" by Mama Darias Kwaje Misaka

My dear readers,

I want you to know the Diocese of Lui. It is located in Western Equatoria State in the Province of Sudan. Lui was the first area where the missioneries entered in Western Equatorial South Sudan. When the first missionaries came to Lui, they started evangelizing the community of Lui with the word of God. Many people were baptized and became strong Christians. Lui today has strong believers who have been born again Christian.

After evangelizing, the missionaries introduced education and followed by the building of schools and health centres. The development in Lui started in that time. Today, when you go to Lui you will find that Lui has got a fantastic Senior Secondary School for girls -- that school was the first secondary schools for girls in that area. The health centre became a very big hospital. Today it serves the whole area of the Moru. Even people in Juba come for treament in Lui hospital.

The funny thing is the Lui community knows English because the education programme entered our area. You can find an old man or woman when opening a Bible he/she can say the rest of the words in Moru language but the chapters and the verses were numbered in English, how capable they are.

In the past, before the war, you could find that many in the community of Moru men and women were teachers, medical doctors and nurses. They are always committed for their studies, and that is why you can find majorities in these units.

Today when you come to Lui you can enjoy the weather, the view, it looks so green, very attractive. Come and see for yourselves.

Mama Darias Kwaje Misaka
Mothers Union in Sudan

Mama Daria Kwaje Misaka is a Mother's Union Provincial Worker, Episcopal Church of Sudan.

"ONE by ONE the Word is made flesh" by the Rev. Mike Kinman

"And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us ... full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)

For we as Christians, the Word is not a static thing, but a living thing. The Word is living, breathing, loving ... even dying so that we might have life.

The Word is not past but present.

The Word is not passive but ACTIVE.

In Advent, we also remember that the incarnation of the Word was not a one-time historical event, but a process. When we pray "Thy Kingdom Come," we ask God to use us as a part of that process. That just as the Word was incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, the Word might be made flesh in us.

That's what movements like Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation and ONE Episcopalian are about. They're about the Word being made flesh in us. About God speaking that Word through our voices, knowing when God does that, the Word will be what it was on that night in Bethlehem so many years before -- Good News for the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, the oppressed set free, the year of Jubilee. (Luke 4:18-19)

The above video shows that the Word is being made flesh ... and the message is getting through. Presidential candidates from both parties are hearing your voice, and through your voice are hearing the voices of the billions who live in extreme poverty -- voices that would otherwise be drowned out by other concerns.

For we as Christians, Advent begins a new year ... and what a new year this will be. We will elect a leader for our nation for the next four years -- and no matter your party affiliation, it is your opportunity to make sure who sits in that chair has the same people on his or her heart that Jesus had on his ... the poor.

Jesus reminds us that it is not up to us to be eloquent when we go into the halls of power ... God will give us the Word and the words ... but it is up to us to show up. (Matthew 10:16-20).

Because in this day, One by One, we are the flesh the Word becomes.

For more information on What One Person Can Do to bring the Millennium Development Goals front and center in the 2008 elections, go to the EGR advocacy page, as well as the websites for ONE Episcopalian, the ONE Campaign and ONE Vote '08.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

"Advent is Knocking on Heaven's Door" by The Rev. Becca Stevens

Advent is a season to prepare for Christ's coming in the future, in the past, and in the present. It is the season of dreams and thinking about our beginnings and endings. The following advent reflection is a mix of music and words about the gifts we can find in this season as we work towards justice and peace.

The Rev. Becca Stevens is a priest, author, rector of St. Augustine's Church in Nashville, TN and founder of Magdalene House. She has also worked with St. Augustine's to found a school in Ecuador. Read her bio here.

"Peace and Reconciliation" by Josephine Mujawiyera

Peace and Reconciliation are about transformation and hope, they are about believing in the midst of suffering and tragedy.

Reconciliation demands openness, dialogue and space. There are occasions that bring peace but no reconciliation. In Rwanda, people look to peace and reconciliation as the only way to hope in the future of the country that has undergone genocide. Reconciliation is necessary for the survival of all Rwandans. But this reconciliation does not mean that crime perpetrators are not punished because peace to someone who is the victim of another's crime will have no peace unless the offender is imprisoned. We still have many genocide prisoners and we have experienced peace and forgiveness whereby a victim has taken a step to taking food to someone in prison who has killed members of his/her family during the genocide.

Paul Tillich said "Forgiveness is the highest form of forgetting because it is forgetting in spite of remembering." Thus one will just wonder how is it possible for someone to forgive someone else who has made her a widow and has killed her children as well? Can she forget? No, she does not forget but she chooses to forgive even though remembering. Peace and reconciliation are very dear to us and to our children. We are ready to make sacrifices and to forego our rights in order to have peace.

When we talk about peace and reconciliation, we don't have to look at it in a global manner because people think of peace and reconciliation in a variety of ways depending on their situation. Peace for a Rwandese mother is a peace of bread to her child, peace to a refugee is freedom from war and violence, a place to sleep and eat, reconciliation to a church group is respect for those of different denominations.

Peace and reconciliation requires one to stand in the midst of conflict and create the sacred space of communication and forgiveness. Christians have to know that Christ is our source of peace because of what he has done for us and because of what he has proclaimed to us and because of what he gives to us - peace in his presence and for eternal life.

For us Christians, Christ is our peace. He is the one who transforms us into instruments for peace.

Very quickly, the government has understood that churches and Christian organizations have to play a role for peace-building in the country. Visits and trainings of such have brought confessions, repentance and forgiveness. Reconciliation calls for some risks: we have observed gatherings of opponents under the same roof when wounds were still very alive. The leader had resolved to go for frankness and love despite distrust among participants. It was a painful confrontation but at the end there was openness, repentance, mutual understanding and forgiveness. At the cross, we all fall short of God's requirements.

Every individual is hungry of peace in the society. Somehow even those terrorist's acts are done for the quest of peace. But where and how to find peace? It is by opening the door to Peace. Jesus is our Peace. All those who welcome Him in their life will experience peace within their heart and will also be instruments of peace in their community.

Josephine Mujawiyera runs "Hannah Ministries," a Christian organization in Byumba, Rwanda working with at-risk children (orphans, children infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, children living in a child led household, and street children). It is a local initiave born to respond to the needs of children living in child-led with people living with HIV/AIDS. Jospehine also does general post-genocide reconciliation work (among MANY other things) in Byumba, where she lives with her husband, who is bishop of that diocese.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

"Culture Shock" by Dr. Christiana Russ

I am a pediatrician . I work as a hospitalist at Children's Hospital, Boston but this year I am spending two three-month periods working at Maseno Mission Hospital in western Kenya. I just returned from my first long stay there, and in reflecting on the experience from the vantage point of my office at Children’s, I am struck by the culture shock I have experienced in coming home.

I was not in the least surprised by culture shock on arrival to Kenya. I had visited there once before for a month, and have traveled to several other developing countries, but anytime you experience such a sudden change in environment, it is jarring. It’s hard to determine exactly which of the change in senses is most difficult to adapt to. Is it the smell of burning trash? Is it the transition from living among brownstones on tree-lined avenues to concrete and mud homes some with thatched roofs, many with large pieces of metal patching holes? Is it switching from the overwhelming selection of foods and tastes in our grocery stores and restaurants to a diet based on ugali (a mix of maize flour and water), rice and beans? Is it waking to the sounds of cars passing rather than roosters crowing? How about the sensation of driving quickly and quietly down a well paved highway as opposed to bouncing around in a car which makes extraneous noises, on a dirt road with so many large rocks and obstacles that it more closely resembles a riverbed?

In western Kenya there are very few Caucasians and to see one on the street is exciting, especially for young children. How different to blend into crowds walking along sidewalks in downtown Boston instead of being chased by dozens of small children calling out ‘Mzungu!’ (white person), or ‘How are you!’ The smallest ones just call out ‘Fine! Fine!’ I had become so used to this that when I saw a Caucasian I felt like yelling out ‘Mzungu!’ too!

It is no surprise that being in Africa should be such a different experience. The strange part is returning home and realizing that your senses and your expectations have changed while you were gone. Suddenly the air seems really clean here. The buildings are all so well constructed. The diversity in tastes and abundance of food in general is almost overwhelming. Those are the pleasant realizations.

Less pleasant is seeing the stream of shoppers on Newbury Street spending hundreds of dollars on Christmas gifts when I just left children who are hungry and without good access to medical care. ‘Make a Wish’ is a wonderful program for very ill children but it is also a reminder to me that there aren’t any gifts and very little support at all available to my kids in Kenya who have life threatening illnesses. On meeting parents who insist on private rooms for their children in the hospital, I cannot help but compare them to my patients’ parents in Kenya who were so grateful for any medical attention at all, or for a bed that didn’t need to be shared with someone else. And when a parent became irate a few days ago because of the multiple attempts it took to place an IV in his dehydrated child, I kept picturing the parents of a child I had seen in Maseno with severe malaria. We had a terrible time getting IV access and it took multiple personnel and lots of attempts before we were successful. I had approached the family to apologize and instead of being met with the frustration I expected, I was greeted with effusive thanks for the care.

That is not to say that parents of hospitalized children in Kenya are always gracious and thankful and that parents of hospitalized children in Boston are not, but there is a definite difference in expectation. Some of that expectation is good. We should expect that our children have access to and receive high-quality medical care. To me that access to care is part of God’s kingdom come, and is something that we should be working towards for every child. Should we expect a private room?

We should expect that there is enough food on our table for ourselves and our children – our daily bread. Should we expect it to be gourmet? Should our children be able to each pick what they eat or be required to try whatever is prepared for the family? It is interesting to note that a Starbucks coffee costs more than many people in Kenya earn in an entire day.

Most of us in the United States are materially enormously, ENORMOUSLY blessed. The problem is that we are used to it. So this Advent, I am praying that I can continue to keep my eyes this wide open to those blessings. I don’t think I should feel guilty about my material possessions – guilt does so little to bring about change. Instead I can make sure that I have control over them rather than they controlling me. The best way to keep money from becoming an idol is by giving some of it away. Perhaps by remembering those that go without I can be more content with what I have and better able to share when my cup runneth over, as it so often does.

Dr. Christiana Russ is a pediatrician on faculty at Boston Children's Hospital. She is spends half the year at an Anglican mission hospital in Kenya through a joint arrangement with Children's and the Diocese of Massachusetts. Christiana is chair of the Executive Council Standing Commission on HIV/AIDS.
Tomorrow: Jospehine Mujawiyera

Friday, December 14, 2007

Help EGR win the Facebook Causes Giving Challenge!

As you probably know, EGR has a growing community on the social networking site, Facebook. We're up close to 1,000 people -- most of whom are high school and college students. We have a group (which is for organizing) and we're also a "Cause" -- which is for fundraising.

Here's the deal: The Case Foundation is awarding a total of $750,000 in charitable grants through the America’s Giving Challenge. Daily $1,000 prizes and longer-term $50K, $25K and $10K prizes are awarded to the charities that have the MOST UNIQUE DONORS.

That means it doesn't matter how much you give (though more is always nice, the minimum donation for the challenge is $10) ... it just matters that we get as many gifts as possible through our Causes Giving Challenge page. And you'll know that your gift will help change the church and the world by helping more people grasp the opportunity to seek and serve Christ in the extreme poor around the globe.

The first thing we'd like you to do is go to the EGR Giving Challenge Page - - and make a gift (if you're not already on Facebook, you'll have to join first ... but it's free and there's no downside -- in fact you'll find it a useful and even fun networking and community building tool!)

Next, spread the word and get as many of your friends as possible to give, too (all donations are tax-deductible!). Put it on your blog. Send out an email. And, of course, let all your Facebook friends know.

Mobilize your friends, supporters or anyone who shares your passion to help generate support for EGR. You could even help us get $50,000!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

"Just Wash it Off" - by Meredith Bowen

In light of the recent events surrounding the Diocese of San Joaquin:

I have to tell you the story of my last cab ride with my favorite Arusha, Tanzania cab driver – his name is Martin – he has perfect English and, until Friday, seemed totally Westernized and (to my Western sensibilities) "clued in." He has been driving me around for the past three months during my internship for the Rwanda Tribunal, and he took me to run my last few errands on Friday morning.

As we began to head back to my apartment, he asked me about one of the other interns, an Australian guy named Jez – who is has been one of my friends in Arusha, really nice and sweet. Anyway, Martin wants to know if I knew that Jez was gay.

Yes, of course Martin, why? Well Martin didn’t know and now that he does he is a little “nervous.” I try to calmly ask why it matters, why does it make any difference, etc.?

Martin avoids answering my questions and says that Jez should do what Tanzanians do when they are gay.

What do you mean? I ask.

Oh well, Martin says, he should go home to Australia to his mom and get in some sort of a bathtub or wash basin totally naked and let his mom wash the gay off of him.

Excuse me, I say? Wash the gay off of him? Are you serious?

Oh yes, Martin says, it works. It is like when you have dirt on you and you wash it off. Jez just needs his mom to wash the gay off and then he will be straight.

I was so shell shocked – where do you even begin? How are we even communicating in the same language? This totally educated, with-it, guy whole-heartedly believes that one's sexuality can be changed with some soap and water. I was at a total loss.

May God grant us the strength and courage to persevere in love and humility in the face of ignorance and fear.

Meredith Bowen is a law student at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, She is blogging for EGR from Arusha, Tanzania, where she is doing a semester internship at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Previously, she has volunteered in Tanzania with the Rift Valley Childrens Village (an orphanage) as well as with the Anglican Diocese of Mount Kilimanjaro and the Diocese of Tanga. She founded the African Orphan Education Fund to award scholarships for secondary school and university.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"From the Stump of Jesse, We Continue to Grow" by Jennifer Morazes

“In Isaiah’s vision, the land of Judah had been ravaged and the people and their future cut off like so many tree trunks. Surveying the devastation, Isaiah caught sight of a tiny shoot growing out the stump of Jesse – a sign that God’s promises are sure, despite evidence to the contrary” (comments inspired from Isaiah 10:33-34; 11:1-10).1

In Bishop Marc Andrus’ blog entry describing his meeting with Fr. Michael Lapsley , he describes Fr. Lapsley’s assertion that “Healing and Reconciliation should be a Millennium Development Goal.” I couldn’t agree more, and this year, I have witnessed more evidence supporting this idea.

Although I have worked in advocacy efforts around poverty, homelessness and violence for some time, one aspect of the work appeared incomplete to me – the lack of an identified and intentional link between physical and psychological health. Unfortunately, violence is an all-too-common phenomenon worldwide, impacting health on many levels as described very comprehensively in The World Health Organization’s Report on the Impact of Violence on Health. Since coming to social work school and working at San Francisco General Hospital at a project devoted to child trauma called the Child Trauma Research Project, I have witnessed a small piece of this larger reality, and its clear to me that my vocational desire has been to combine the political and theological realities of poverty and violence with their clinical impacts.

“Huh?” you may ask.

Allow me to explain.

Three days a week, I work with children between the ages of birth and six and their parents who have been affected by poverty and violence in an effort to help heal the wounds families have experienced in domestic violence, displacement, homelessness, death and other traumatic circumstances. The children’s lives have been impacted by witnessing shootings, being refugees from other countries, experiencing the deaths of their caretakers, and other events. Offering financial assistance and housing assistance are two big components of services necessary to support these families, but they have also experienced disruptions in their ability to relate to those they love and who love them. These relational disruptions are among the most profound, especially for young children. In their lives, safety has been replaced with fear and anxiety, and loss has replaced a sense of security. Children gain their sense of self in the reflection of those around them, and when these relationships become impaired, trust in their surroundings becomes impaired, as may be their future ability to form secure and safe relationships.

The children I have described have much in common with the people described in Isaiah’s vision. As the author relates in the beginning quote, the devastation of the environment depletes physical resources, but it has also has devastated the minds and spirits of the people causing them to feel cut off from their future. This is a main symptom and consequence of emotional, relational and spiritual trauma – the experience of feeling “cut off” from others and stunted from further growth, like the tree trunk.

These “clinical” -- relational and developmental -- impacts of poverty and violence require equal attention side by side with consideration of physical resources for healing to occur. This is why I strongly agree with Fr. Lapsley’s identification of healing and reconciliation as a Millennium Development Goal and this goal’s central place in development work. Capacity-building occurs not only on financial and political levels, but also in concert with spiritual, relational and psychological resources of everyday, resilient people. This capacity grows through healing and reconciliation, by identifying the hope in the midst of turmoil, and seeing the tiny shoot in the middle of the devastation – an affirmation that in the face of struggle - life continues.

In the season of Jesus’ birth, allow us to acknowledge the imprints of poverty and violence upon the bodies and psyches of people everyday, and equip us also to promote growth of the shoots in the many stumps we encounter - to support personal and interpersonal hope in the face of great challenges. Amen.

1 Quoted from “Awake! Awake, and Greet the New Morn” Advent Devotional for Sunday December 9, 2007, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary

Jenn Morazes is a graduate of Episcopal Divinity School in the area of Theology and Contemporary Society. She is currently studying in the School of Social Welfare in the MSW/PhD program at the University of California, Berkeley. Jenn has studied and performed community work in both Mexico and Southern Africa and also participated in the Young Adult Stewards Programme with the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland. She has also served as an anti-racism trainer for the national Episcopal Church. Her current clinical work and research focuses on the impact of trauma on particular communities locally and internationally, as well as homelessness,wealth distribution and the role of faith communities in social development.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"This Christmas - Act Locally AND Globally"- by Laura Amendola

It's that time of year again. The snow is falling (3 feet in Duluth, MN!), the carolers are singing, and the Christmas shopping is out of control.

It seems that every year starting the day after Thanksgiving everyone's lives start getting out of hand busy. Things like advocating for the MDG's fall to the back burner. And our lives become a turmoil of commercialized "holiday spirit." I find this very ironic as I'm sure most dedicated Christains do. This time of year as we prepare for the birth of a baby that is going to change the world, we should be in a more solemn and meditative mind state. But alas, there are presents to wrap, egg nog to drink, and cookies to be eaten.

As I was shopping at IKEA today looking for new office things as well as a few gifts for the family I kept making mental notes in my head of how I could keep things that are important to me, such as the MDG's at my top of mind awareness. I came up with a few ideas and thought this would be a good place to share them. So here they are in a Top 10 list of my very own!

*Buy energy efficient lights.

*Reuse the gift bags you received last year to wrap a new gift for a friend.

*Adopt a family in your town who needs a Secret Santa

*Go to the to purchase gifts for life for your parents who have everything already.

*Smile at someone Christmas shopping. It will make their day and they will do something nice for someone else in return. You'll never know where this kindness may lead!

*Fast one day a month and donate the money to (see the "Baker's Dozen" button)

*Purchase a book around the MDGs for your spouse. Good options are The End of Poverty by, Jeffery Sachs. If the World Were a Village by, David J Smith. Or try Three Cups of Tea by, Greg Mortenson

*Increase your vocabulary and curb your boredom at work! Visit

*Host a KIVA dinner ("Eat In to Help Out") as your Christmas party and email E4GR about it so we can add you to our map.

I hope you got some good practical ideas from this list. Part of my point of this journal entry was to give a list of fun things. More importantly though, I wanted to give a list of easy things to do both locally and internationally helping people out. I often get asked why I focus so much time on the MDG's when there is so much poverty here where I live in the USA. I have to bite me tongue for a moment but I always manage to pull it together and ask them what they're doing locally to help out. Using that as a conversation helper I like to add that the MDGs can start locally and go globally all the time. And while some of us have a calling to do things in our own backyards, others prefer to do things across oceans. Whatever path you choose doesn't matter. What does matter is that you choose a path. And sticking to it in these hectic times of our lives is what builds our character, commitment, and our impact on the world. With that I'd like to wish all the readers a MERRY CHRISTMAS and thank you all for doing your part in the MDGs.

Laura Amendola is a small business owner in Duluth, MN. Baptized in 2003, she was introduced to the Episcopal Church shortly after she was introduced to Christianity and has "absolutely fallen in love with the Church and the journey it has brought me on." Laura was a delegate to the 2006 Anglican Observer Leadership Conference and official Episcopal Church representative to the Toward Effective Anglican Mission conference -- a worldwide Anglican Communion conference on the Millennium Development Goals in Boksburg, South Africa in March 2007. She is a member of the EGR board.

Monday, December 10, 2007

"Give it all away?" by John Hammock

Twenty four years ago, on November 29, 1983 I gave a speech at the Winter Event of the National Council of Churches. In part this is what I said:

In high school as I got older everyone kept saying to me: “maximize your profits; go out and make as much as you can!” But then I kept reading the Bible every once in a while. That was my problem. I read in the Bible that you were supposed to give away your stuff; I mean that if you were rich, if you were going to make it, you had to give it away. It was very clear. You could not make it through some sort of an eye of a needle unless you gave it away….

So I grew up with this nagging schizophrenia….The pressure that our economy puts on us is immense; just to survive you need to earn $20,000, $40,000, $100,000—whatever you think you need. You have to be worried not only about retirement, but about your family, your kids’ education… And then there is the pressure of consumption—of the need for consumer goods. If any of you have kids, you know that Christmas is coming. There is a lot of pressure on families to buy a computer or an electronic game or this or that…Christmas becomes all about buying things. The pressure is severe on all of us: how do we juggle our economic survival, with our religious beliefs, with what is in the Bible….

The Bible does not say, at least I have not read it although I am still looking for it, “maximize your profits, be secure, be sure of your future and you will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” I haven’t found it; I doubt you have found it either. In fact, I have read a whole lot of passages that say give it up, give it all away, give it to the poor, trust in God and then you may make it into the Kingdom of Heaven….But clearly, even though I have heard these words read in Church often, they are dismissed. They must not apply to us because we live in a consumer society and we need to survive.

I went on to say that the economic system we live under and our position within it colors our views, our values, how we look at our religion. In a capitalist society, economics is supreme and sets the tone. Progress is growth and the maximization of profit—personal, corporate, national. But if you read the Bible there is another view. I said back then, “Christianity translated into every day economics is empowerment. Now empowerment is the offering and making available of options to individuals to unleash their potential, both individually and as members of a community. And what hopefully we do is to provide a mechanism, an opportunity for people who don’t have that opportunity to burst forth with the potential that they have. Jesus, I think, was the number one empowerment person of the world. When he came he offered people a choice. He came up to you and said, “Buddy, give it up, come with me and let’s go.” And if a guy came with him, he was made in the shade, right? If a guy (that’s too sexist) did not come, then too bad for you, buddy. I won’t worry about you; I’m going to the next town. It was your responsibility to say yes or no…Jesus was not paternalistic. You had to decide if you could give up your attachment to whatever possessed you—wealth, power, fame—and follow him. Simple…but it was up to you.”

So too it is in our day. It is up to each one of us. Thinking about what I said 24 years ago I have had these reflections:

· It is very difficult to give it all away but we can certainly simplify our lives. Get rid of things we do not use; rely on public transportation; take a job that fills our passion and not just our pocketbooks. Moving into an apartment in the city has helped me in this.

· As part of our own spiritual transformation in Christ, begin to trust God; begin to listen to the God within to liberate the light within us. For me moving into silence has helped in this. A book that has helped a good deal is Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation by Martin Laird.

· Start by pledging 0.07% of your income to the MDGs—to a program that helps those who are impoverished. Then maybe over time increase giving not just of money but of time. And not just charity, but also getting involved in bringing about the Kingdom of God in this world by wrestling with economic, social and political inequities. This may mean not just charity but also direct action, education of others, and advocacy. For me this requires a base of prayer and meditation. Then I can move into direct action, education of others and/or advocacy through secular organizations or through my church, diocese, and work. The opportunities are limitless.

I believe Jesus today calls us to a radical reflection of what it means to live a Christian life in a capitalist society. It is not meant to be easy; it is meant to be based on His teachings and our response to his clear call. We can be overwhelmed or we can have faith in God and take small steps that get us on the way towards saying yes to His call. Joining the MDG movement rooted in the teachings of the Gospel is one way to get going or keep moving towards a clear response to Jesus’ call to follow Him.

Dr. John Hammock is an Associate Professor of Public Policy at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy & The Fletcher School, Tufts University. Currently on leave until September, 2008 and working Sabina Alkire as a senior research associate at the Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative, Was Executive Director at Oxfam America from 1984-1995 and Executive Director at ACCION International from 1973-1980. John is the president of the board of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation.

"Sarah's Guide to Charitable Holiday Gifts" -- by Sarah Bush

If you’re anything like me, you woke up this morning and thought, “AHH! Christmas is less than three weeks away and there’s so much left that I have to do!!!” So I’ve been spending time today browsing online and thinking about what to get for those on my list. Hence today’s less-than-cerebral blog post: Sarah’s Guide to Charitable Holiday Gifts!

I often wish that I could donate money to one of my favorite charities and call it a day (the commercialization of Christmas is a topic for another post…), but it doesn’t really work that way. So I’ve been looking for nice presents that also help out, in some small way, those who need help most. Since I figure that many of you would also like to give these types of gifts, let me save you some time. Here’s what I’ve found so far, many of which are MDG-related:

Bath and Body Products: YouthAIDS is a great organization that I’ve gotten to know pretty well that works to protect global youth from AIDS. Kiehl’s offers a terrific grapefruit hand and body cleanser whose proceeds go to YouthAIDS. Philosophy’s 3-in-1 shampoo, bubble bath and shower gel that benefits the Women’s Cancer Research Fund – Shower for a Cure – is also recommended; I received this as a Christmas present last year and it is great.

Jewelry: Nest is a non-profit organization that provides micro-loans to women in the developing world to begin or maintain arts- and crafts-based businesses (bonus: I went to high school with Nest’s founder!). They generate the money for these loans through their online store. They have a lot of cute things, but I particularly like their jewelry. Check out the Bohemian Earrings or the Turkish Beaded Necklaces.

Clothes: For men, the American Red Cross has a store with some vintage-inspired clothing that is sure to be appreciated. Here is their “Cruz Roja Americana” Vintage Tee. Another option are the clothes by Make It Right, which is working to build green affordable housing in New Orleans; being worn by Brad Pitt is also a pretty good style endorsement. Women might enjoy the World Food Programme’s “Feed Bag,” a tote bag. And wouldn’t everyone like a new ONE t-shirt?

Non-Traditional: Readers of this site are most likely already familiar with Heifer, the wonderful organization that works to end world hunger by providing children and families around the world with training and animal gifts. What’s cooler than giving a llama in honor of one of your friends or family members?! Another neat non-traditional gift option is to give a membership to Green Dimes. For $15, you can Free Your Friend from almost all of their junk mail, plus plant ten trees on your friend’s behalf.

Last but not least, you can always donate to one of your favorite organizations…such as Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation!

Sarah Bush is a PhD candidate in International Relations in the Department of Politics at Princeton University. She has worked in the past with Americans for Informed Democracy, an organization on 1,000 colleges that works to raise global awareness among students, as its Co-Executive Director during the 2005-2006 academic year. Her previous experience also includes work for the U.S. State Department, the St. Louis City Mayor's Office and Teach for America.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

"Seeing the world through other eyes" by Lallie Lloyd

Devon Anderson’s posting on this blog last week got me thinking about the origins of my energy for the MDGs. As Devon says, we connect to each other through our stories, through the details of time and place and personality. Like most of you, I suspect, my MDG energy has several roots. Today, I’ll tell you about one of them.

It was in the mid-70’s. My late husband, Scott, was finishing seminary in New Haven and our daughter, Becca, was a toddler. We moved out of the city, where we lived in an apartment over a funeral home, answering the phones evenings in exchange for rent, into a house in bucolic Guilford, a coastal town about twenty minutes away. We were to be the resident directors, cook and tutors in an A Better Chance House. A Better Chance (ABC) invites talented students from urban high schools to enroll in boarding schools or, as in our case, live in group homes in affluent communities with high academic supports and expectations. ABC helps many students prepare academically for college and helps them adjust to living away from home, in mostly white environments.

For two years the ABC House was our home, and Cheryl, Val, Donna, Lori, Cindy and the others were our family. Ten accomplished, motivated young women from Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Cleveland shared the house with us over those two years. Scott and I were barely five years older than they and not well equipped to be the caring and centered substitute parents these sophisticated urban teenagers needed. But that’s another story.

For two years, I spent my days at home with Becca. Afternoons I cooked dinner for nine, and evenings Scott and I helped with math homework, English essays and college applications. Around the dinner table we talked about goings on at Guilford High School, where the girls doubled the black enrollment, and what was happening in the lives of friends and family back home.

One Christmas, it must have been during our second year, we were visiting my parents in the affluent town outside Philadelphia where I grew up. I couldn’t figure out why people on the street looked so strange: all these pinched narrow ghostly faces, what was wrong with everyone? My eyes had become accustomed to the broad and gently rounded African-American faces in our house, to the warm rich hues of their skin color, and for a few moments, my own people looked strange to me.

What does this have to do with the MDGs? I came to see the world through their eyes, and that changed me forever.

I lived with these girls – and came to love them – as they made choices I would never have to make: between getting a good education, for many the only way out of a poverty trap not of their making, and living in their home communities with their own families.

I would never have to make that choice. And I could never go back to not knowing, even if I had wanted to. It was not – it is not – OK with me that some in the extended household of God’s beloved people should have to tolerate what I would not tolerate for my family.

So, I connect to the MDGs around speaking up for people without choices. And, perhaps most of all, I connect to the MDGs around education for girls.
Lallie Lloyd is the author of "Eradicating Global Poverty: A Christian Study Guide on the MDGs" for the National Council of Churches and the co-chair of Standing Commission on Domestic Mission and Evangelism.