Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Archbishop of Canterbury: Churches must be brave, imaginative and honest in the face of HIV and AIDS

We're still ironing out the bugs and fininshing up recruiting our cadre of daily bloggers, so as we get to the end of the month we have some blank spaces. We're trying to fill them every day with relevant content worth reading and watching. Today we have the Archbishop of Canterbury's video message for World AIDS Day. We'd be interested in your comments and thoughts of What One Can Do about MDG #6 - Reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria.

"The churches have not always challenged as they should the stigma that is attached to HIV and Aids in many countries. They have failed to saythat those living with HIV and Aids are God's beloved children, withdignity, liberty and freedom. What is owed to them is what is owed toany human being made in God's image, and the more we are trapped bythoughts and images about stigma, the less we shall be able to respondeffectively." - Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bono's Calling: The Irish Rocker Has a Mission: To Fight Poverty, and Enlist the Powerful in the Battle


By Sridhar Pappu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 26, 2007; Page C01

Bono sweeps into the bathroom that sits outside his downtown lobbying office, which is his base of operation when he comes to Washington every so often to try to save Africa.

He's dressed in black denim, his 5-7 height boosted by a pair of brothel creepers -- the rockabilly footwear in fashion about the time that Elvis recorded "Blue Suede Shoes."

He suddenly starts belting out the opening lines of "I Want to Hold Your Hand."

"Oh yeah, I'll tell you something," he sings before walking to the far stall, "I think you'll understand."

After a few moments, the reporter who's also in the bathroom shouts, "What's up with the Beatles?"

"The Beatles are it," Bono yells before walking to the sink. "There's a really good movie you should see. It's called 'Across the Universe' and it's made by Julie Taymor, who's a card-carrying genius. I'm in it briefly," he says of the musical set to Beatles songs. "It's this fantastic, moving thing."

Bono has spoken!

He's delivered a forceful recommendation, verging on a directive. There's a hint of urgency. We want to rush out and do what he says.

Maybe this is how he does it.

Maybe this is how he gets legislators and heads of state and titans of industry together, and gets them to offer up billions in debt relief to help lift Africa out of poverty.

He dazzles them in telling them what to do, and they do it.


Some post-Cyber Monday thoughts and facts on giving

by the Rev. Michael Russell

The Wall Street Journal in its recent article about blowback against tithing in churches shared an interesting factoid. Giving USA reports that American gave $295 billion to charities last year of which $97 billion went to Churches. When we compare this number with what we spend on Christmas and the other holidays of this season $439 billion each year we note a couple of interesting per capita facts.

One is that we give the equivalent 67% of the amount we spend on the holidays to charities. This of course included corporate giving but one way or another it represent 67% of holiday giving. The $97 billion given to churches represents just 22% of the spending we will do on ourselves at Christmas, which is not too bad, except we do not know how much og that is to maintain our various chapels of ease.

The point is this: as a nation we have been asked to put $25 billion or so a year towards ending extreme poverty. That represents just 10% or all charitable giving and 22% of giving to churches. We see the $25 billion figure and act like we are shocked, shocked that eliminating extreme poverty could cost so much, when in fact we could do it for just 5.7% of what we spend on Christmas each year. This we could do with out raising any taxes, or involving the government at all. Likewise, we could do it without involving governments or NGO's
at the other end.

It is simply a matter of willing and persevering. Otherwise another 9.7 million children will have died in 2007 and we can expect another 9.7 million to die next year. That of course is just children dying from totally preventable causes. Many more adults will die as well.

The Rev. Michael Russell is rector of All Souls Episcopal Church in Point Loma, CA (Diocese of San Diego).

Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanksgiving Thoughts

by Elaine Thomas

The Gospel appointed for Thanksgiving Day (Episcopal Lectionary)

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

More than 800 million people go to bed hungry every day.
Every 3.6 seconds another person dies of starvation.
Every year, 6 million children die from malnutrition before their 5th birthday.

Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?

More than a billion people lack access to clean water and basic sanitation.
5 million people, mostly children, die each year from water-borne diseases.
Every 30 seconds a child dies of malaria.
HIV/AIDS kills 6,000 people a day while infecting 8,200 more.

And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

Civil war and political unrest displace millions from their homes
Meanwhile, high trade barriers prevent exports from gaining access to world markets
and weak governments drown in unsustainable debt.

Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
In 2007, famine, drought, disease and war have combined to create unimaginable human suffering. In all, more than 1.2 billion people are living in extreme poverty.

It would seem to be some kind of cruel joke. This, one of the most beloved of Gospel texts, would appear to mock those for whom feeling valued by anyone, much less God, would seem to be beyond imagining. Do they not strive for God’s kingdom, too? Where are all these things for them? (Is this why the Revised Common Lectionary uses John 6?)

This could be such a self-indulgent and self-righteous rant on the disparity between the reality of our world and the Gospel we profess. However, if we really take to heart our baptismal vows to seek and serve Christ in all persons, are we not the ones whose hands are God’s and who can clothe the naked and feed the hungry? Are we only about saying prayers and spouting scriptural platitudes while the world groans?

A Lutheran pastor friend once remarked that ‘stewardship’ is everything you do after you say, “I love God.” If we have uttered those words and have taken it upon ourselves to be faithful stewards of all that we have been given, then this Thanksgiving Day cannot be complete if we are not also thankfully and joyfully giving from our own abundance to right the injustices that so profoundly plague our planet. From the bayous of Louisiana to the streets of Mogadishu, the world cries out for justice and peace. Who will answer if not each one of us?

Perhaps it is our job to bring to fulfillment the promise to the Israelis from Thanksgiving Day's text from the Hebrew scriptures:

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you. (Deut. 8:7-10)

Hope you had a happy Thanksgiving and many blessings on all of you!

Elaine Ellis 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 ER-D Coordinator for the Diocese of Central PA. 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.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Boldly Bald for Sudan

By the Rev. Lauren Stanley


Well, it's happened again.

Once more, it was time to challenge some folks to do something really hard, something almost beyond their reach. They weren't sure they could do it, weren't sure they could be bold enough to climb that high.

So, to add a little encouragement, to push this group of 200-plus people to go farther than they thought they could, I shaved my head.

Bald.

And I'm still doing it.

Every day.

For three weeks.

Silly me, I never took into account the drop in temperatures and how being bald would feel when it was literally freezing outside. The last time I did this, it was high summer and I didn't have to worry about low temperatures, just about extreme sunburn.

Oh, well.

It's for a good cause.

See, there are these two schools in South Sudan that need help, the Renk Basic School in Renk and the Hope for Humanity Senior Secondary School in Rumbek. This group I was addressing – 200 6 th and 7th graders and their advisers from 24 churches in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia – wanted to help. But I wasn't certain they were being bold enough in their vision of what their help might look like.

So I challenged them to go higher and higher. Right up to $30,000, raised in the next three months. That's a tall mountain for anyone to climb, but I was convinced they could do it, if only they had the right encouragement.

To make sure they understood I wasn't simply asking them to be bold while I quietly stood in the background, I shaved my head bald, right in front of them. Then I promised them that I would only cover up my baldness when I was outside. And I told them that I would be in church every single Sunday, preaching and teaching, boldly bald for this good cause.

I know this isn't what most priests do. It's not what most folks do simply to raise money. But extreme needs call for extreme measures. Bold challenges call for bold leadership. Challenging the kids to go back into their parishes to raise $30,000 in three months for two Sudanese schools is both extreme and bold.

The schools in Sudan are in extreme need. There's not much of anything in Sudan – not enough food or clean water or school supplies or even schools themselves. What schools there are often lack desks, chairs, chalkboards, books, notebooks, pens or paper. Teachers can be hard to find and harder to pay. It's not unusual to see children learning out under the trees, writing their lessons in the dirt. The Sudanese are so desperate for education that they'll put up with almost anything if it means their children will get a chance to learn.

So together, these 6th and 7th graders in Virginia and I are going to do our best to help out. The youth can only give up to $25 of their own money, which, as I pointed out, amounts to 25 iTunes. The rest they have to get from the folks in their parishes and communities. How they raise the money is their choice – they can wash cars or walk dogs or rake leaves or shovel snow or make Super Bowl subs or do hold dances. They don't have to do something as crazy as shaving their heads. That's my job. I promised them that I would do that for three weeks, taking photos every day for them to see that I'm keeping my word, that I'm willing to be as bold as I've asked them to be.

People's reactions to my baldness have been varied. For those who know me, it's been good, clean fun – generally, they burst out laughing when they hear why I'm doing this. Those who don't know me usually start out concerned about my health and end up joining in the laughter.

But this isn't about being bald.

It's about being bold.

Being bald is merely a way to encourage these kids, to show them that it's OK to be a fool for Christ.

Being bold is what Jesus calls all of us, young and old alike, to be.

Loving God in a time when the secular world says God is irrelevant is bold.

Loving your neighbors in a time when the secular world says don't trust them is bold.

Raising money for neighbors you've never met who live far away is very bold.

Will these youth raise the $30,000 in the next three months?

That's what I devoutly pray for each day as I lather up my head and shave it, working hard to avoid nicking my ears.

But it really doesn't matter how much they raise.

What matters is how bold they are willing to be in the attempt.

(Anyone interested in helping can send a check made out to the Diocese of Virginia, marked on the memo line "PYM Sudan Schools," attention Paris Ball, 110 W. Franklin St., Richmond, Va., 23220. The Diocese of Virginia will transfer the money to Sudan.)
The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an appointed missionary serving in the Diocese of Renk in the Episcopal Church of Sudan. She is serving temporarily in the United States. This article was first published by the McClatchey-Tribune News Service.

Monday, November 19, 2007

What One Person Can Do

by the Rev. Dahn Dean Gandell


When Mike Kinman asked me to be a contributor for this blog, I ignored his request. To my way of thinking, I had a great list of excuses: I was too busy, I was too stupid, I don’t have anything of value to contribute, and my list went on. Then Mike asked me again and I felt too guilty to give him my list of why I couldn’t do it (especially since I just sounded like a whiny seven year old) and just went ahead and said, “Okay.”

As the diocesan coordinator for the Millennium Development Goals, I vacillate between getting really excited about the on-going work being done and really overwhelmed by the disparity between the haves and the have-nots in this world of ours. I struggle with my own sense of guilt—after all, I have a roof over my head, an education, access to health care, plenty of fresh food and water. What a luxury to be able to choose to engage the MDGs…Now what? And how do I get other folks in similar positions of privilege to care? I actually had a gentleman (and I use that term loosely) in a parish say to me, after I had made a presentation about the MDGs “You know, my problem with the MDGs is that we feed these people until they’re old enough to breed.” I had a new appreciation for the phrase “shock and awe.” I was also grateful that my mother had taught me that it wasn’t nice to hit people just because their words upset you.

How do you deal with that kind of Malthusian way of looking at the world? The idea that if you have more it means that I have less? How do we live into a theology of abundance where the more we give, the more we receive? Rabbi Tarphon said “You are not required to complete the work, nor are you free to desist from it.” I have to remind myself of this all the time. And I can’t let one person’s fear or resistance stop me from doing my part.

My parishioners hear me say all the time “Nobody has to do everything but everybody needs to do something.” One of the things I do is make rosaries. I was taught how to make the knotted Anglican rosaries out of fishing twine by Sister Diana at the 2003 General Convention. The first one I made took 3 days. Now I can finish one in about 20 minutes. Some of them, I give away. Some of them, I sell for $5 each (depending on my mood.) I take the money that I make from the sale of the rosaries and fund kiva loans. I have funded women in Samoa, Ecuador, Peru, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, and Cambodia. When people ask me about the rosaries I’m making, it gives me an opportunity to talk about the MDGs.

It’s one thing I can do. No excuses.

The Rev. Dahn Dean Gandell is an Episcopal priest of the Diocese of Rochester (N.Y.). She is currently serving as the rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Honeoye Falls, NY, a position she has held for six+ years. Dahn has been called a "Radical Episcopal Priest," a title in which she takes great delight! She is committed to justice, inclusion, and having a wonderful sense of humor. Dahn’s hobbies include cooking, scuba diving, and stand-up comedy. Her husband, David, is a private practice Ob-Gyn. She is the proud step-mom of Rachel, a senior at Northwestern University, Ryan, a sophomore at Ithaca College, and the proud mom of Lily, a third-grader, and Hannah, a second-grader.

Helping out Maseno Hospital

Since Christiana Russ' piece on Thursday about the crisis at Maseno Hospital in Kenya, we've been approached by many people wanting to help. Major funding for the Hospital comes from the Jubilee Commission in the Diocese of Massachusetts, but they have many ministries and are best set up to receive unrestricted donations.

The best way to give to Maseno Hospital is through All Souls Episcopal Church in San Diego, CA, who has also been a major supporter. Their rector, the Rev. Michael Russell, has spent time in Maseno and is a passionate advocate for their work.

So ... to help Maseno Hospital end fee for service health care, make those checks out to "All Souls Episcopal Church" and put "Maseno" in the memo line.

Send the checks to:

All Souls Episcopal Church
Maseno Hospital Fund
1475 Catalina Blvd
San Diego, CA 92107

And again, remember to put "Maseno" in the memo line.

Thank you!

Economics and Faith

by Andrew Langan

I'm feeling a deep sense of trepidation at joining this team of bloggers. I've never travelled to the developing world. I have no real hands-on experience with the human tragedies at which the Millennium Development Goals aim. As a result, any experiences I relate will seem mundane in comparison to those of my colleagues, and any policy ideas I advocate will be necessarily modest. Furthermore, my own angle on the issues this blog addresses will require slightly more of an explanation than the others.

I never expected to become an economist. But almost from the moment I cracked the first textbook, I could tell it offered a revolutionary way of thinking about the world and understanding individuals' actions, and through those things a powerful set of tools for bringing about changes like those set forth in the Millennium Development Goals.

In addition to the analytical framework, economics can also be a world-view, a philosophy on life. Economics as a world-view shares many of its core values with our Christian faith. It applies those values, however, in ways that sometimes lead to unconventional conclusions about the world and how we ought to act to accomplish our goals. Before I discuss how I think economics can help make the world a better place, I'd like describe some of those values and note where they overlap with our values as people of faith.

The first thing that strikes me about economics as a world-view is its visceral attachment to human equality and individuality. This is demonstrated partly in the phenomenon that economics analyze - "the market". Like the Church, the market is not a monolithic, top-down organization. Like the church, the market is the natural result of people's coming together for a shared purpose. It's an unplanned, organic, and yet finely concerted network of individuals, each with their own abilities, needs, and desires.

Further displaying economists' attachment to individuality is their handling of human differences. When we find the actions of groups or individuals perplexing, economists seek explanations in those people's environment, rather than in some features of the people themselves. As much as possible, we try to assume away the complex interactions of culture, moral fiber, and personality quirks, and look at the external pressures acting on people. Though removing the focus from the individual in this way may seem dehumanizing at first glance, in reality it is anything but. It is instead a two-fold act of humility. First, it is an admission that each person and group is so complex that it would be the height of presumption for an economic researcher to think they could account for all of personality's influence on decision-making. Second, it is a realization that, by and large, people share the same broad goals and values -- most everyone loves their family and friends, and wants to enjoy their life in whatever way moves them. Bearing these two facts in mind helps economists avoid what psychologists call the Fundamental Attribution Error, and also, I find, helps me as a Christian to be less judgmental and more charitably inclined toward my neighbor.

It reminds me simultaneously that we are all unique children of God, but that we all share some basic, if not genuinely universal human traits.

The issue I mentioned before -- about "enjoying life in whatever way moves you" -- is another important point of intersection between faith and economics. People often accuse economists of being more than a little heartless: of knowing "the price of everything and the value of nothing." Nothing could be further from the truth. Economics is a science that really truly gets that there's more to life than money. That in fact, there's even more to life than happiness. Economists view individuals as decision makers aiming to maximize their own "utility." This word is antiseptic and technical, but only because it must encompass every positive aspect of the human experience.

People sometimes mistranslate utility from econ-jargon to English as "happiness," which makes it seem as though economists view people as vapid, consumption-crazed herd animals. A much closer, though still insufficient, English translation of utility would be "satisfaction." Many things bring utility besides the Roman poet Juvenal's bread and circuses. Utility comes from loving relationships, from a sense of belonging, from moving experiences, from bringing true joy to others, from the knowledge that you've done the right thing even though it was painful and difficult -- the list goes on and on. The Church on earth increases peoples' utility in many, many ways, and points us to what we Christians believe are newer, better, more important sources of utility -- drawing closer to our neighbors and to God. Economics appreciates the centrality of all kinds of utility in individual and communal life. It respects the manifold ways in which people pursue their own and others' utility. And though all sciences are agnostic with regard to metaphysical questions about God, economics honors the church, along with many other institutions, as a source -- and an expression -- of deep, mysterious, utility-giving aspects of the human experience.

Finally, economics is fundamentally a study of human decision-making. As such, it holds human will -- the freedom to choose one's own path -- in high regard. Just as a psychiatrist refrains from passing judgment on a patient's potentially scandalous thoughts, economists as scientists have little interest in assessing the moral righteousness of other peoples' choices. Nor do we seek to play Monday-morning quarterback. Instead we ask why they act like they do. What incentives do they face? What relevant information do they have about the decision? What is their range of realistic options? What outcomes will result from those options, and if more than one outcome is possible, what is the likelihood of each? What values do people bring to the table to judge the preferability of each outcome?

This value-neutral analysis of the others' choices ties together economists' respect for each individual's quest for their own utility and the exhortation to "judge not, lest ye be judged." Just as a person's choices about what church (if any) to attend are ultimately between them and God, so are their decisions about how to spend their money, where to shop, and under what conditions they're willing to work.

Now, we can legitimately try to alter others' decision-making in a number of ways. We can provide them with more information if we think they're ill-informed. We can try to convince them that making a different choice or adopting a different set of preferences will give bring them higher utility. We can, out of our charitable care for them, try to increase their range of options at our own expense. But most economists would agree that in all cases, unless some objective harm is being done to parties not privy to the decision, the final choice must rest with the individual and their conscience.

This is, as it happens, an almost perfect description of how religious life works in our United States. How each religion "competes for souls," one might say. And as a result, our nation has one of the -- if not the -- most vibrant, varied religious environments in the world. We have a multitude of sects and denominations, each person, rich or poor, is free to determine if, how, and how intensely they will be involved in spiritual life. There is even less inter-denominational strife here than in other liberal democracies, not to mention theocracies like Iran or a state with an official religion like Saudi Arabia and Burma (these last being the religious equivalent of a Soviet planned economy). This vibrance and amicable interfaith environment results from having a "market for religion" which operates on an economist-like respect for the opinions and decisions of others.

Certainly, economics is not the only valid world-view. Indeed, it would be against the spirit of that world-view to say so! But it is my deeply held belief as a student of economics and as a person of faith that it is an extremely useful way of thinking about others' actions and how I can influence them. Thinking about the world economically helps illuminate what kind of things we can do to help achieve aims like the Millennium Development Goals and, just as importantly, how we can go about doing them most effectively. I see this, in addition to the intrinsic value of the economic world-view, as the primary contribution economics can make to bringing about a world where the tragedy of Baby Jean's story will be only a sad memory, never to be repeated.

Andrew Langan is an economist living in Arlington, Virginia. He graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2006, and works in Washington, DC.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Treasure and Hearts. Lawyers and Dead Children

Normally, Josephine Mujawiyera of Byumba, Rwanda would be posting today ... and that still might happen. One of the consequences of having bloggers living in places like Northeast Rwanda is that electricity and internet are not always reliable and our best attempts at schedules are at their mercy.

In her place (at least for now), I want to offer some thoughts I had on yesterday's post by Christiana Russ ... particularly when it was juxtaposed with another email I received. I welcome your comments -- Mike Kinman

Where your treasure is, your heart will be also.

I read two things today that made my heart sad.

The first was a heart-wrenching story from Dr. Christiana Russ. Christiana is a pediatrician at Boston Children's Hospital who is on loan to an Anglican Mission Hospital in Maseno, Kenya through the Diocese of Massachusetts. (She's also the chair of the Standing Commission on HIV/AIDS).

I've known Christiana since she was a sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis 11 years ago, and a more dedicated, optimistic, brilliant person you will never meet. But this morning she was at the end of her rope.

As you can read in her posting below, the Anglican hospital where Christiana is working is so short of funds that they have to charge for even basic health services. The result is that in a region with a 20% under-five mortality rate the top inpatient census during her time at this 160-bed hospital has been 25 -- because people who are sick won't get the care they need because they can't afford it.

She illustrates this with the story of one-month-old Baby Jean. Baby Jean's mother brought her to the hospital with a fever and showing signs of a bacterial infection. They recommended she be admitted, but the mother couldn't afford to, so they went home. Two days later, her mother brought her back, but by then it was too late. Despite their best efforts, Baby Jean died.

Christiana writes:

"This story makes me SO ANGRY. It is an affront to us as human beings that in this day and age it is still possible for a child to not receive appropriate medical care, especially when her mother sought it out. It is an affront to the Anglican church – the entire communion – that we have a cross hanging on the front gate of this hospital and that we don't fund it well enough to take adequate care of those who enter here, even the small children. It is even more damning for us that other organizations are able to find the funds to provide free or highly subsidized care, and we are still operating in a hopelessly un-Christian fee-for-service system. When people don't get basic health care because they can't pay for it, it's a travesty. It's disgusting. It wounds us all."I am sick at heart today for the children who die due to lack of care, who die within a few miles of institutions such as this hospital which have the capacity to care for them but somehow don't. I am sick at heart for the mothers and fathers, grandparents, and siblings who bury their little ones and know this is not the way it is meant to be. This is not God's plan."

I carried Christiana and Baby Jean and her mother on my heart all day ... as I know you would have to had you read that story. And so it was through their eyes that I read another email later in the day, this one from the Diocese of Virginia.

This email was a very businesslike update on the court battle between the Diocese of Virginia and CANA over church property. They're in the third day of a six-day trial arguing over who owns what.

Even a very conservative estimate of what firms bill an hour will run about $200-$300 per (and that's REALLY lowballing it). A six-day trial. All the preparation for it. The inevitable appeal(s). The price tag in this diocese alone must be astronomical.

Meanwhile, half a world away Baby Jean dies in her mother's arms not beause the medical treatment wasn't available ... but because an Anglican hospital didn't have the funding to give her life-saving treatment at a price her mother could afford.

Where is our treasure? Where is our heart?

Now I can hear the arguments from both sides already. The injustice each claims is being visited upon them by the other. The trust of past and future generations. The betrayal of the faith. Who is the REAL church?

The truth is, none of us are acting like the REAL church. The REAL church, the REAL body of Christ wouldn't be paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to lawyers to protect ownership of what amounts to "treasure stored up on earth" while a one-month old baby dies under the shadow of a cross and bathed in the tears of a young doctor in Kenya.

The battles are springing up all over our church. Court cases that will bring aggregate bills in the millions.

Who's wrong? Who's right? I really don't care. We're all wrong. We're all right. It's a plague on both houses ... on our entire house divided. Because it is in the very entering of the battle that we lose it.

Children are dying in Maseno because we have a Church that believes it's more important to pay lawyers to fight over buildings than to help those children live. Where your treasure is, your heart will be also. It's really as simple as that.

And if you're going to argue that it's not ... don't tell it to me.

Tell it to Christiana.

Tell it to Baby Jean's mother.

Tell it to the man on the cross.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Baby Jean (or Why Fee For Service Medical Care Doesn't Work in Poor Communities).

by Dr. Christiana Russ

I work as a pediatrician at Maseno Hospital, an Anglican Mission Hospital in Maseno, Kenya. It sits high up on a hill over the university, and consists of several cream colored buildings with bright blue trim and red roofs. We have a pediatric ward, a male ward, a female ward, maternity, an operating theater, and an outpatient clinic. There is also the Comprehensive Care Center for HIV/AIDS where antiretrovirals are distributed. We have a decent pharmacy and lab, x-ray services and even an ultrasound machine.

Maseno Hospital originally was designed to have approximately 160 beds. During my tenure here, our maximum inpatient census has been approximately 25 patients. This isn't because the communities around Maseno are healthy and well – in fact HIV infection rates are estimated to be approximately 15% for men and over 20% for women aged 15-35. Of all the children born here, approximately 125 out of 1000 won't reach their first birthday and over 200 out of 1000 won't reach their 5th birthday. These numbers used to be much lower, but the HIV pandemic has devastated the young adult population taking away employers and employees and thus further impoverishing the region. HIV has also been taking away mamas and papas, leaving children behind hopefully with extended family, sometimes only older siblings to care for them. The children who die, die mostly of the same diseases that have always killed children who grow up with not enough food and unsanitary conditions. Malaria followed by pneumonia and diarrhea are the primary culprits, all of which are treatable conditions. These children do not receive care for these conditions in this particular area of the world because their families cannot pay for it.

The example of this failed system of care that sits heaviest in my heart is baby Jean – a one month old baby girl seen at Maseno Hospital outpatient clinic one Monday with fevers up to 39 ºC (102 ºF). A lab test revealed elevated white blood cell count; she was fighting an infection. Any small infant with a fever needs to be taken seriously. They often have only subtle signs of bacterial infection and can develop sepsis and die with extraordinary speed if not treated. Baby Jean's mother, however, did not have the deposit for her to be admitted to the hospital so despite the clinical officer's advice that she be admitted, she went home. She was brought back two days later in the evening with difficulty breathing, and was admitted on IV antibiotics and IV fluids.
The following morning she was dead.

This story makes me SO ANGRY. It is an affront to us as human beings that in this day and age it is still possible for a child to not receive appropriate medical care, especially when her mother sought it out. It is an affront to the Anglican church – the entire communion – that we have a cross hanging on the front gate of this hospital and that we don't fund it well enough to take adequate care of those who enter here, even the small children. It is even more damning for us that other organizations are able to find the funds to provide free or highly subsidized care, and we are still operating in a hopelessly un-Christian fee-for-service system. When people don't get basic health care because they can't pay for it, it's a travesty. It's disgusting. It wounds us all.

I am sick at heart today for the children who die due to lack of care, who die within a few miles of institutions such as this hospital which have the capacity to care for them but somehow don't. I am sick at heart for the mothers and fathers, grandparents, and siblings who bury their little ones and know this is not the way it is meant to be. This is not God's plan.

Dr. Christiana Russ is a pediatrician on faculty at Boston Children's Hospital. She is currently working (and 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: Josephine Mujawiyera

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

MDG #4 made real

by Meredith Bowen

The MDGs are great goals. No one is going to argue with you that people should continue to suffer and die needless deaths. But the MDGs are so big and general. I have recited them more times than I can count – made posters – handed out pamphlets – spoken passionately about them, trying to convince people to give and to get involved.

Only last week did I realize how little I actually understood.

MDG #4 is entitled “Reduce child mortality.” Its target is to “reduce by two thirds the mortality rate among children under five.” 4.8 million children – in sub-Saharan African alone – die each year before making it to their fifth birthday. 4.8 million is just too big a number to wrap my head around.

But last week I actually saw what that statistic is talking about. I went out to a Masai boma, here in northeast Tanzania, to volunteer for an organization called FAME – Foundation for African Medicine and Education. This organization has a mobile clinic that travels around the area performing bush clinics for those without reliable medical care.

We were told that this boma had about 20 sick people who needed to see a doctor. When we drove up on Thursday morning, the crowd waiting for the doctor was already nearing 100 or more. And what was astonishing was that half of the crowd was children and mostly children under 5 years old.

We started taking temperatures, in order to triage the kids and separate those who needed malaria testing. 90% of the children in this Boma – dozens of them – all had a fever of 100 degrees or higher. I was in charge of doing the finger pricks for the malaria testing. I have done it a million times and never had much trouble.

The first little boy had the thickest blood I had ever seen. The pipet could barely suck it up before it started to clot. The next little girl had blood so thin it was like water – I couldn’t even get the test to read it. It dribbled down her fingers and into her palm like a puddle. Child after child, one sicker than the next. The ravages of malnutrition.

I looked around at this throng of children and realized what it meant to not live to be five years old. These children hardly stood a chance.

And what pains me the most is not that they are dying from terrible, incurable, rare diseases. These children are dying because they are starving.

It was yet another wake up call. I thought I knew, I thought I had seen so much, and then a day like that made me realize how wrong I was. How much I don’t understand.

When you talk about 4.8 million children it is hard to even imagine. But when that little girls watery blood dribbled down my hand, I knew exactly what we are all working to improve. What we are all hoping to eradicate.

Meredith Bowen is a law student at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, She is blogging forEGR 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.

To learn more about What One Can Do about eradicating malaria in Tanzania and throughout sub-Saharan Africa, visit the website of Nets For Life, an Anglican partnership for malaria prevention. Also learn about how you can contribute to the Episcopal Church's MDG Inspiration Fund, which is raising 3 million dollars over this triennium for malaria prevention and other public health needs.

Tomorrow: Dr. Christiana Russ

Monday, November 12, 2007

Living Eucharistically

by Jennifer Morazes

On Saturday, October 27, I was invited to participate in an afternoon workshop panel at the Point7Now Conference which took place at St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco. The purpose of this conference was for religious communities to continue commitments to ending global poverty. Point7 alluded to the figure of .7% - those of you familiar with the efforts of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation may already know that many developed countries internationally have challenged themselves to devote this percent of their budgets to international poverty alleviation. We also in EGR rally around this number in our workshops and literature as a benchmark for institutions at all levels as well as individuals to devote this percentage of their budgets to ending poverty.

The morning keynote speaker of the conference was Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of Capetown, and his remarks addressed the topic of “Moving from Charity to Justice”, which was a central theme of the conference and also for the workshop in which I would later speak. After Archbishop Ndungane, we also heard a personal testimony from Bridget Chisenga, community-based medical adherence officer in Zambia. You can see her story here, and I urge those of you reading this to view her testimony, as her words moved me deeply.

Bridget spoke as a Zambian HIV+ woman who felt she had received a renewed chance for life due to international cooperation around the care of HIV+ individuals. Her words were especially touching and timely, as in the United States, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is due to be discussed for renewal, and faith communities assisting in the efforts have experienced particular difficulties in having their role appreciated in the political sphere.

Bridget Chisenga described how, at her most difficult moment, she wondered – when she died of AIDS, who would care for her sick mother and her children? She imagined the void which would be left, and imagining this void inspired her to continue to seek help. Many in the room were moved to tears, and at the conclusion of her talk, Mrs. Chisenga gave the jewelry she was wearing to members of the audience to show her thanks for the international partnerships which led to her recovery. “This is all I have to give you, even though some among you have helped to give me back my life.” Although I felt I wanted to respond to her and this statement and give her back her jewelry, I sat with my own discomfort!

In my remarks in the Linking Charity and Justice Workshop, I quoted the words of Asian theologian CS Song – “Life itself is a Eucharist”. Although we did not share bread and wine together at the Table in this gathering, we all witnessed the Eucharist when Bridget spoke of the antiretrovirals she received, and when she gave her jewelry away to others in response. Her action reminded me that while our intimate relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist bolsters our ability to be in relationship with others, the Eucharistic relationship between us and Christ should itself be reflective of our efforts to relate with others in all aspects of our lives. This is a true sacramental approach to relationships with others across differences of context and perspective, an embodied approach to the Eucharist. Archbishop Ndungane underscored this point when he spoke of the ubuntu approach in theology – that we only exist in our relationships to others.

These ideas emphasize a reality we often forget in the United States when our individualism is acknowledged oftentimes at the expense of our communities. We need reminding that our theologies and faith-based actions for justice need to be community-centered. The fellowship of humanity is also emphasized in the writing of C.S. Song, with the words -- “Our theology must begin with humanity and all that it means because it is in humanity that God is theologically engaged.” In paraphrasing 1 John: “Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” Our relationship to others and ourselves is a reflection upon our relationship to the Divine – and we all witnessed a reflection of the Divine in the words and actions of Bridget.

May we all be challenged to form our relationships with the goal of a global table where we all share equally of the Holy Meal, and where we can all sit at the same table as equals, as partners. Amen.

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.

Tomorrow: Meredith Bowen

How do you know what you are?

by Laura Amendola

I must confess that my reflection comes from a sermon my dear priest, Bill Van Oss, preached last Sunday that has stuck with me and caused me to contemplate in the past few days. He spoke on Sunday about his daughter who is around six years old. This amazing little girl, Luisa, was having a conversation with another young girl in the backseat of her dad's car on the way to a birthday party. As they passed a church, Luisa asked her friend what church she attended. Her friend looked a little confused and said she didn't have a church. Luisa replied with a question "What do you do on Sunday mornings then?" Her friend said she did nothing on Sunday mornings. Luisa replied back with yet another astonishing question.

"Then how do you know what you are?"

Now, of course, Luisa was speaking about what denomination her friend was. Being a priest's child and all, I assume she's well aware even at a young age that there are many colors of God's mosaic such as Catholics, Lutherans, Jews, Muslims, etc. But her question floored me. I grew up without a church. In fact, our family was very against the whole God thing, and it wasn't until I was in my early 20's that I felt a longing for a relationship with God. My heart ached for that little girl in the backseat of the car, and it brought me to tears on Sunday. How do we know what we are if we don't have a mirror in front of us to look into? People like Lusia who are bold enough to ask tough questions are such a mirror.

I strongly believe that the Millennium Development Goals are a defining point in our Christian lives. Our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, sums it up best when she says that the MDG's are our eight promises to a broken world. This world is broken because not enough people are asking the tough questions that long to be answered. "How do we know what we are?" is a question that makes me ponder what is it that defines me as a 25-year-old Christian who lives a decent life and doesn't have to think about things such as extreme poverty, dirty drinking water, or the inability to have an education.

A few years ago, someone asked me in so many words "How do you know what you are?" The question terrified me. However, with a supportive community, and a leap of faith I decided to find out who I was. The MDG's became a very strong promise I've decided to make in my realationship with the rest of this broken world. It has defined how I've chosen to live my life. Who I've decided to surround myself with. Where I've decided to donate time, talent, and treasure. And most important, it has helped me create a life that doesn't have me in the center, but instead has God.

I encourage you all this day to take time throughout your busy schedule to think about what you are. Maybe even be bold enough to ask someone else what they are. I know one little girl who does this. And one day she's going to change someone's whole life with that question.

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.
Tomorrow: Jenn Morazes

Sunday, November 11, 2007

10 Key Values of Practical Idealism

by John Hammock

I wrote most of the following thinking of a non-Christian audience. For me everything that I say here is grounded in my faith in Jesus Christ and my belief that Christians are called to mission.

Each one of our lives is meaningful and important. My life is important; so is yours. Each one of us has a choice to make. It is possible for you to take control of your life, explore your values and your wants to determine how to live and how to impact the society in which we live.

It is easy in today’s world to think that I as an individual don’t count, that I am helpless and marginal. After all, there are so many people in the world; policy-makers often seem far away and unresponsive; tragedy, fear, terrorism seem close at hand; even our most sacred values seem threatened or questioned.

Seeing the devastation in New York in September, 2001 left me feeling powerless and helpless. One of my first reactions was “why bother?” How could I continue to be an optimist, to think that each individual mattered? Was there reason for hope? I have always been an optimist. Could I still be optimistic about where we were going as a world community? But these thoughts did not last long. I received a call early on September 11 from a friend I had not seen in years, a woman whom I had hired as an office assistant when she was a student and now was a well-known writer. Esmeralda Santiago knew I traveled constantly and called just to see if I was safe. Humanity restored; relationship nurtured. A simple phone call renewed my spirit and lifted me to optimism. It is precisely because of these acts of barbarianism and the compassionate, caring worldwide reactions that I must struggle more to not give in to fear, despair and hopelessness.

As individuals, we have power to transform our own lives and this personal transformation has the power to change society. As a social scientist I have been focused for years on the economics and politics of social change. It is very apparent to me now that I cannot separate social change from personal transformation. Each one of us, as an individual, counts. Each one of us has a set of values, a set of norms and beliefs that come from our history and culture. Together with others we make up our society. To bring about durable social change each one of us needs to understand the values of others and work to make our values understood by and tolerant of others.

Values are at the center of personal and societal transformation. I cannot tell you what to think, what to value, what to care for. I can ask you to clarify your values, to use a certain book as a way of entering into a dialogue about what is important for you. I, of course, hope that you resonate with some of my values and hopes and that you will share some of the principles that have guided my life. But that is not up to me; it is up to you.

We are at a crossroads. There are certainly competing values threatening to plunge the world into war. But I cannot believe that values of destruction, fear and death will win out. I cannot believe that values solely based on egocentric individualism will win out. I cannot believe that values based on hatred, division, war and anarchy will win out.

Wars and turmoil worldwide notwithstanding, I believe we are poised to ring in a new humanitarian era. By this I mean a century that will use the scientific and technological changes we have seen to uphold societies based on fundamental humanitarian principles and values. But the majority of us worldwide that believe in sane, progressive values must act. We must come together to act individually and collectively.

And this is particularly true of Christians. We must take Christ’s call to go out into the world seriously and totally. We must reach out to other Christians and to non-Christians alike.

There are ten key values that I believe we can all (Christians and non-Christians) come together around. I call people who live by these principles the practical idealists.

1. Embracing balance, not radicalism. Extremism leads to violence and to closed minds. Extremism can be political, economic, military, social, religious, cultural. Balance does not means having no views or opinions. Balance does not mean rolling over and playing dead. Balance is an active stance, one that challenges extremism of all kinds. Balance means humaneness, treating people with dignity; treating people as you would want to be treated. Strong beliefs OK—but play by humane rules.

2. Living for self and others, not just self. It is important to live a healthy, transforming personal life. Each individual has the responsibility of treating his or her body as the temple that it is. Each individual needs to take responsibility for his/her nutrition, health and spiritual (or value) development. Each life is precious and is a journey with many stages. But each life is not just self- preservation and aggrandizement. Each life must learn to live with and for others.

3. Embracing diversity and difference, not exclusion and sameness. Clearly each of us feels more comfortable with people who are like us, who speak the same language, who eat the same foods, who look like us, who share a national or ethnic identity. When there is calamity or we feel threatened, our first impulse is to exclude from our lives those who are different—however that difference is perceived. We look for people of our own religion, our own race, our own families, our own employment, our own nation and circle the wagons to keep a perceived threat out. But this is no solution; it only breeds further intolerance, hatred and fear. Diversity must be embraced and uplifted, acknowledging the real difficulties it poses and presents each of us.

4. Embracing and fostering relationships with friends, family, and communities. It is not just learning to live with and for others. It is taking the time and expending the energy on building and maintaining relationships. Most of us cannot live meaningful lives on our own. Meaning comes in our relationships with others. We take a risk when we develop close relationships with others. With partners or spouses we make a covenant of mutual respect, love, tolerance, faithfulness, constancy and forgiveness. This serves us well as a model for our interactions with others in all our relationships.

5. Embracing personal responsibility, not just personal and human rights. We all have rights. We are proud of our political rights to vote, to assemble, to worship the god of our choice, to say publicly what we believe. We are proud of the Bill of Rights and of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. We struggle to add economic and social rights as everyday rights for each of us. These are crucial, hard-fought rights that each of us has. But we must complement our rights with our responsibilities. As individuals we also have a responsibility to each other, to our neighbors and our not-so-close-neighbors. With rights comes the task of exercising those rights in a responsible way. This means practicing mindfulness of others.

6. Embracing compassion and letting go of fear. We live in scary times. We are worried; we feel insecure. It is not only terrorism. It is also our concern over whether we will lose our job or our good health. It is easy when we feel insecure to lash out in hatred, anger and fear. But this is not a solution. It does not get rid of the insecurity; it fosters it. Fear breeds closed-mindedness and violence. The antidote to fear is hope. It is turning fear into hopeful actions. It is seizing the optimistic view and exercising that optimism through charity and compassion.

7. Embracing social justice, not just compassion and charity. Charity, as in “helping the other fellow”, is not enough. Giving money to causes or good works, even performing the humanitarian work of providing relief to people in dire need is not enough. Rights and responsibilities mean working so that every member of society has a share in the wealth of the society, participation in the social, economic and political workings of the society. Social justice does not mean equality; but it screams out for greater equity, strong participation in decision-making and a constant lifting of the oppressive systems that lock people into poverty.

8. Embracing a sustainable future, not just living for the present. We live in world of limits. Just as we limit our personal freedoms to live in society with others under some type of social contract, so too must we limit our national, corporate, ethnic and community freedoms to live in harmony and peace into the long future. One nation, one corporation, one ethnicity or one community does not have the right to rape, pillage, destroy or oppress other nations, communities, ethnicities or people. We must embrace social, political and economic systems that build a sustainable future and preserve resources and life for generations. This means tempering unbridled and unregulated economic systems.

9. Embracing and forging common, worldwide values. Each one of us has values based on our history, religion and culture. We must celebrate our values while we learn to understand the values of others and work to forge a common world-wide ethics. As the world shrinks through communications, we will be forging values and ethical standards that will cross boundaries. We must promote an ethics that will help to usher in a humanitarian century that focuses not on political power and economic gain as ends in themselves, but that focuses on the well-being and prosperity of all people—understanding the needed interplay between limits and opportunities.

10. Embracing freedom and peace. Each one of us can build peace by starting with peace within ourselves and with all those we know. Peace starts from within. Peace and freedom also need social and political vigilance—to make sure that peace and freedom are extended to all. Freedom means the ability of all to flourish in their lives, building legal, political, social and economic systems that allow for human fulfillment. It means asking the question how much is enough for one individual and setting boundaries and limits for the common good.

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 with Sabina Alkire as a senior research associate at the Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative, John 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.

Tomorrow: Laura Amendola

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Hope in Rwanda

by Sarah Bush

I just got back from a trip to Rwanda. In fact, I’m writing this blog post in the middle of the night because I’m still really jet lagged. I went there for eight days with two fellow graduate students from Princeton University in order to conduct field research about the country’s 2008 legislative elections. We’re part of a broader class on the topic of “managing elections in fragile states.” I’m still processing what I saw, but let me share some reflections with you.

Anything that you might say about Rwanda today invariably must start back with the 1994 genocide. The memory of that tragedy, and the years of violence that led up to it, is still fresh. The fear of a return to conflict is real. Here is a view looking out over Kigali, the capital city of the land of “a thousand hills,” from the Kigali Genocide Memorial’s garden.

However when you are walking around along the streets of Kigali, the perspective that you get is a very different one. It is a bustling city with smooth roads and many cranes helping to construct shiny new buildings. As one young Rwandan woman observed, “When there is peace, you can build.” Indeed, Rwanda is making impressive progress on several MDGs; for example, the enrollment rate for primary school is 95% and there is no gender gap in primary education.

Meanwhile, the government is working hard to promote reconciliation and Rwandan national identity rather than ethnic identities. It’s taboo to ask if someone is a Hutu or Tutsi (and it’s impossible to tell by looking). If you did ask, the person would probably tell you that he or she is Rwandan, since everyone we spoke to recognizes the terrible consequences of ethnic divisions and does not want to go back to them. One genocide survivor, who still had palpable anger about the genocide, told us how his Christian faith was helping him try to forgive and raise his children to respect all ethnicities.

Despite all of the positive developments, Rwanda is still a fragile state, and a fragile democracy. Although everyone agrees that the country is headed in the right direction in terms democratizing, many disagree as to whether it is going fast enough. The media, civil society and political parties are particular areas of concern. We’re writing a report right now to describe ways in which international donors can and should address them. Building a democratic culture of peaceful political competition is not easy in a country with Rwanda’s history. Only time will tell, but we are hopeful.

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.

Editor's note: We've taken the opportunity of Sarah reporting from Rwanda to give you some other views of this amazing place. Josh Ruxin, friend of EGR and administer of the Millennium Villages Project in Mayange, Rwanda, blogs regularly for Nick Kristof of the New York Times and has given us permission to repost ... which we have done below and will continue to do regularly.

Also, click here to download "The Rwanda Cure" from last month's Forbes magazine, that tells more of Josh's work (with great pictures!)

Tomorrow: John Hammock

The Word is Getting Out

Josh Ruxin is a Columbia University expert on public health who has spent the last couple of years living in Rwanda. 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. This is his post from Sept. 28.

It was much to the dismay of family and friends that my wife and I moved to Rwanda. Having seen little more than “Hotel Rwanda” to educate them about the country, they believed it to be a hostile and unstable place. We had a different take: it’s safe, clean, friendly and relatively uncorrupted. Our perception is clearly shared by others and, now, the country’s resurgence is being recognized.

Tuesday, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation released the results of its “Ibrahim Index” — a holistic ranking of how African countries are doing across the dimension of governance. Ibrahim, one of Africa’s most successful and philanthropic entrepreneurs, set up the index to inform the Mo Ibrahim Prize — an annual award of $5 million for a former head of state who has demonstrated excellence in leadership. The surprise to all but Rwandan insiders was that Rwanda made the greatest progress of any country during the course of the last five years.
As the always insightful Steve Radelet pointed out in an earlier post, governance and democracy in Africa mean everything. Having worked in nearly a dozen countries in Africa, I decided to place my bets on Rwanda because it was the first place I’d never been asked to pay a bribe. I’m not alone: donors are lining up to invest in Rwanda, reassured that the money will reach the people who need it most.
None of this is to say that Rwanda is utopia: major challenges remain for improvements in the press and in democracy. Nevertheless, at a time when many nations are spiraling downward, it’s heartening to see little Rwanda making progress against all odds.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Why should the CHURCH advocate for the MDGs?

by Lallie Lloyd

Here’s my big question: why should the church advocate for the MDGs? Put the emphasis on “church” not “MDGs” in this question, and you’ll hear it the way it echoes in my head. I’m not asking if a world in which the MDGs are achieved will be closer to the biblical vision of God’s just reign. Of course it will, and perhaps that is reason enough.

I’m asking about the nature and purpose of the church. What we pay attention to when we’re together, what our preachers teach from the pulpit and what lay people do the rest of the week.

For the better part of five years my faith and work have been challenged and strengthened by two groups in the Episcopal Church: EGR and the Standing Commission on Domestic Mission and Evangelism (SCDME), which reports to General Convention as one of the bodies that guide church policy and practice.

SCDME’s purpose is to reflect on trends in our church and recommend actions so we become a more healthy and growing faith community. It meets a few times a year and includes people of vastly diverse life experience: age, class, ethnicity, gender, geography, nationality, race, sexual orientation – the twelve of us cover almost every spectrum one can imagine. We are all baptized into the ministry of the laity; some are also ordained to the ministries of priest and bishop.

Here’s what I’ve learned from SCDME:

(1) The Episcopal church is in decline. As measured by the number of people who come to worship, all but four dioceses were smaller in 2005 than in 2000. Our domestic dioceses were more than eight percent smaller in 2005 than in 2000. We are hemorrhaging people.

(2) When we focus on what we have in common – the love of God as made known in the life and ministry of Jesus – we come to love people with whom we disagree on things we hold dear.

Christians aren’t called to capitalism or socialism, to parliamentary or representative democracy. Paul doesn’t say the world will know us by our resolutions, but by our love; Jesus doesn’t tell us to agree with one another; just to love one another.

I think the MDGs will be accomplished when ordinary lay people doing their work in commerce, education, manufacturing or whatever make connections between God’s vision for a just world and what they do in their daily lives.
I know a pediatric neurologist who supervises international training programs for a major teaching hospital. He helped arrange for doctors to work in a South African AIDS clinic alongside seminary students. When a seminarian asked a patient, “Where do you see the face of God?” the doctor cringed, but the patient smiled and patted the doctor’s arm, saying “Because my sister here has not forgotten me.” The young doctor tells this story as a moment of transformation.

Can a declining church turn itself around by focusing on the MDGs and a vision of global justice? Would my neurologist friend have made this connection without the advocacy for the MDGs that is a vibrant part of his congregation? We belong to a declining church. Can we afford to have preachers advocating issues that divide worshippers? Are the MDGs a case in point, or are they inherently different? When priests and bishops take positions on issues, even ones with apparently clear moral imperatives, can they simultaneously model and teach us to love people who see the issue differently? What do you think?

Maybe being a faithful Christian in these times means caring more about the MDGs than about the institutional survival of the Episcopal Church (or any other denomination). I’m not sure; that’s why I have this big question.

Lallie Lloyd is the author of "Eradicating Global Poverty: A Christian Study Guide on the MDGs" for the National Council of Churches and chair of the Standing Commission on Domestic Mission and Evangelism.

Tomorrow: Sarah Bush

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Living witness

by Stephanie Rhodes


This week a West Bank-headquartered media organization is conducting a training course for Palestinian journalists.

Previous trainings have focused on providing an authentic Palestinian perspective without inciting violence, on supplying comprehensive election coverage, on facilitating talk shows and encouraging live debate.

This training focuses on not dying in the field.

It focuses on not being deliberately targeted by Israeli soldiers or Palestinian political factions.

It focuses on witnessing the truth on the ground and living to broadcast the tale.

Let’s be clear: field journalism is dangerous, and Palestinian journalists are not the only ones targeted. On the other hand, most of the world’s forces targeting journalists do not claim to be modern, Western democracies. Palestinian journalists are, quite literally, caught between an unaccountable, occupying army that appears to view documentation as armed resistance and an internal conflict so ruthless its factions seem to view objective reporting as a form of high treason.

All of this is to say that you don’t want to be a Palestinian reporter. It’s simply not safe. But it’s also vitally important.

Palestinian media organizations are beginning to come into their own, to develop an authentically Palestinian voice while also trying to hold themselves accountable to international media standards. They don’t always succeed, but then again, who does?

So why does it all matter so much? I believe that having a meaningful peace process, one that promotes peace instead of simply mitigating violence, demands transnational dialogue. That cannot happen if only one side has the capacity for indigenous mass media.

To be sure, Palestinian media has a broad scope of problems, ranging from insufficient legal protections to basic lack of funding. In the end, though, there can be no media if Palestinian journalists cannot do their jobs. There can be no sustained Palestinian media dialogue if journalists cannot routinely witness the truth on the ground and live to broadcast the tale.

So what can you do? If you’re feeling very wealthy and very generous, you could donate flak jackets, helmets, emergency medical kits and more training courses. Even if you’re not very wealthy, it could be an interesting collaborative project.

Mostly though, you can read/listen to/watch as much as possible of the material they produce (in English). Make their work, their professional and personal sacrifices, matter. Too often Palestinians feel like the tree that fell in the woods with no one to hear it.

Help them make some noise.

Ma’an News Agency
International Middle East Media Center
Ramattan News Agency

Stephanie Rhodes is a young adult currently living in Jerusalem and coordinating Palestinian media development projects. She is also a former member of Episcopal Church Committee on the Status of Women.

Tomorrow: Lallie Lloyd

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

"I thirst"


by Craig Cole

“I thirst.”

These two simple words are displayed next to the cross that hangs in many of the Missionaries of Charities homes around the world. At least, in the several I have visited.

The simplicity of the words are astonishing upon reflection. Yet, considering the King of Kings came wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. Little packages, or a few words, can have tremendous significance.

“I thirst.” The words make me tremble.

Before I became executive director of Five Talents, I worked for a relief and development organization that had projects in the Caribbean, West Indies and Latin America and many of those projects were with the Missionaries of Charity, the organization founded by Mother Teresa.

And, I was trembling the first time I walked into a Missionaries of Charity home. It was a home for the elderly in Georgetown, Guyana. I had never liked “old folks.” As a teenager growing up in suburban Chicago, Christmas time meant caroling at the elderly home down the street. I went, but I made sure I was in back of the group. I made no eye contact and when the singing was done, I shuffled my feet instead of greeting the men and women and handing out cookies. I was always scared.

Now, it was my job. I had to go in. I had to talk to them and find the stories to tell our donors.
I came into the room in the women’s ward in this old wooden 2-story building. I put on my best fake smile, which was really just gritting my teeth. They were so desperate for attention. They thought the smile was real. They were enthusiastic and so warm in their greeting.

I ended up sitting next to a woman, who was so frail she could hardly sit up. Her face etched with the lines of age, her mouth almost toothless and her hands wrinkled and thin. She reached out her hand and I had no choice but to take it. I was afraid her fingers might break they were so frail. I held it like a feather in my hand, caressing ever so gently. The next few minutes were so, gentle and peaceful, I knew if God had so much as whispered I would have heard him. We were generations and worlds apart sitting together enjoying silence.

Then she nodded and slunk down in her chair, mumbling quietly to herself. I was startled and instantly afraid she might die right there. The sisters quickly came and picked her up and softly put her into her bed and covered her with a sheet. Exhausted, I was told.

“I thirst”

I thirst for that moment of peace and serenity of God’s whisper of God’s connection with others.

Jesus thirsts from the cross, the poor thirst for a simple drink of clean water, and we in suburbia thirst for life-giving water that will quench our souls.

John 19:28-30- Jesus knew that everything was now finished, and to fulfill the Scriptures said. “I’m thirsty.” A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so a sponge was soaked in it and put on a hyssop branch and help up to his lips. when Jesus had tasted it, he said, “It is finished,” and bowed his head and dismissed his spirit.

Craig Cole is the executive director of Five Talents International, an Anglican microfinance nonprofit. He is also a member of the Diocese of Virginia's Mission Commission and an EGR board member.

Tomorrow - Stephanie Rhodes

Monday, November 5, 2007

Inviting Courage: A new initiative for congregations and the MDGs

by The Rev. Devon Anderson


There’s a quote that I’ve written out on a 3x5 card and taped to my wall. I look at it everyday. It’s from St. Augustine and it says:

Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger
at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they
are.

I’m the kind of person that is easily excercized by both injustice and inconvenience. Hope’s daughter Anger is a constant presence in my life. She and I are big buddies. It is daughter Courage who is more elusive, one I’d like to see more often -- both in my own life and in the life of our church.

Part of the reason I am personally energized by the MDG movement is that whenever we engage MDGs – as individuals, congregations, dioceses, or as networks of friends and colleagues – daughter Courage makes an appearance. The MDGs are based on the premise that we are not content with the way most people must live in the global village. They rest on the reality that there is no earthly reason why, save the lack of will, things need remain the way they are. Whenever I see the MDGs in action, I see Courage. This simple fact alone gives me great hope and anticipation that we are on a good road, one that leads to justice and transformation through the eradication of extreme poverty.

The Diocese of Minnesota, and in particular our MDG Task Force, has been focusing our efforts on being even more inviting of daughter Courage. We are trying something new. We recognize that our beloved church does not have such an impressive track record when it comes to big initiatives. There’s a rather long depressing list of innovative, exciting, hopeful initiatives that have earned TEC endorsement in the past, that have enjoyed a limited explosion of attention and euphoria, only to eventually fade to black, falling off the horizon almost completely. Maybe it’s because not enough attention was paid to laying down deep roots at the congregational level, to mobilizing individuals in the pews. We recognize that the MDG movement is vulnerable, too, to the fate of initiatives-past unless we muster up our courage and try something different.

Next week we will launch a pilot program that will focus all of our energies on mobilizing individuals in congregations around MDGs. We are starting small with three-to-five congregations as our “guinea pigs.” These congregations, equipped with trained five-person leadership teams, will conduct a 0.7% individual giving campaign during the season of Lent. The idea is that individual giving is a vehicle through which we might deepen and widen the investment and commitment in MDGs within a congregation. The idea is that a campaign that mobilizes individuals (their interest and their resources) lays a firmer foundation for on-going, sustainable, effective mission work. Our pilot program will start small in its first phase, and include more and more congregations in the subsequent phases. It will build networks of people that cross congregational, theological, cultural, and geographical divides who support each other and maybe even partner with each other in common areas of interest in mission.

Please pray for us. Our hope is that our pilot program is successful. Our hope is that we are able to offer it up to the wider church as a model, for others to use, mold, and improve upon. Our hope is that we have enough courage to risk something big for something good.

The Rev. Devon Anderson is a priest, chair of Diocese of Minnesota MDG task force, and the recipient of an Episcopal Church Foundation grant to develop models for equipping congregations for engaging global mission and the MDGs.

Tomorrow - Craig Cole

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Meanwhile...

by The Rev. Becca Stevens

Following the path of Jesus can drive you crazy. I pray impatience with the Gospel is not a deadly sin! While we may not necessarily want to skip the journey, and get to the destination, we at least would like to move ahead on our spiritual path. Lord, each week, inch by inch, the church doles out only a tiny snippet of the story of Jesus on the way to Jerusalem. Each week we preach and hear the Gospel a paragraph at a time. Sometimes it is excruciatingly slow.


One section of the Gospel of Luke is called, “The Journey”. It begins in the 9th chapter after the transfiguration when Jesus has “his eyes set on Jerusalem”. It continues until the 19th chapter of Luke with the triumphant entry into the Jerusalem. These 10 chapters take months to read a paragraph at a time. It took Jesus months as well, even though he could have traversed that amount of territory in a couple of weeks, easy. Months after the transfiguration we find we are still wandering with Jesus right outside Jerusalem in Jericho. He may have had his eyes set on Jerusalem but his heart is sidetracked feeding, healing, teaching, and praying. His disciples tried to keep him moving. They rebuke parents for bringing their infants to Jesus, but Jesus lets all the children come anyway. He spends time visiting Pharisees, tax collectors, healing lepers, telling parables and debating in the synagogues and streets. And those are just the events they recorded. The image of a map with a hundred dotted lines going every which way indicating all the detours gives us a picture of what on the way may mean.

On the way, he is slowly and patiently teaching his disciples. At the beginning of the 12th Chapter the very first words to his little flock are, “meanwhile”. That is the part that undoes me.

Meanwhile, while we preach a paragraph at a time, meanwhile, while we take up one more collection, meanwhile we eat a bite of bread and take a sip of wine.

Meanwhile, the world is burning for his message of radical love, the war is four and half years old, the number of people below the poverty level in America is on the rise, and the Nobel Peace Prize has been given in recognition of the crisis of global warming. Meanwhile, he is within fifty miles of Jerusalem in an occupied nation in which people are being persecuted. Meanwhile he takes his own sweet time saying, don’t worry about tomorrow, give everything away, give thanks and watch and wait.

Meanwhile, two Sudanese women walked into my office.

I had scheduled forty-five minutes for their meeting. They began the meeting by thanking me for my time, my precious time. Then they told me the journey part of their story.

They had been on a long and arduous journey from a long and bloody war that created an entire generation of refuges. They told the story of the death of most of their family, their village being ruined, being separated from their siblings and friends since their childhood in the late 1980’s, fleeing to Egypt and the brutality they faced, the process of becoming refuges and arriving in Nashville in 2000. Finally they are here and safe with their own children. They are now feeling called to return to their hometown and build a school for the orphans of war. They had their eyes set on freedom on a journey that took them 10 years; a journey that should only take a day by plane. They get here and begin to get established. But in their great humility, they were sitting in my office with beautiful thick accents saying they wanted to turn around and go back and help. They said that God had been merciful to them and this was an expression of their gratitude.

The Gospel message came flooding past my pharisaical mind and I could hear the words, “God have mercy on me, a sinner. God forgive my arrogance and impatience. God make hear the cry of others so that I don’t worry if I ever make it to Jerusalem.” These two young women wanted to go back, register themselves as a new organization and get some land for their fellow pilgrims in need. Having been given mercy from the war, they needed to make meaning out of all the suffering. The scars on their legs are reminders we can’t walk fast enough to get away from the pain. We worked on their journey and how to begin to plan for a school when they return.
We can keep moving forward on the journey only to find out we have walked round and round and found ourselves right back where we started saying, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” I am not ready to go into Jerusalem yet. I need to stand by the side of the road with the blind man, I need to climb a sycamore tree with Zaccheus, I need to stand in the temple with the tax collector and beg for mercy.

Dr. Buttrick, a Professor at Vanderbilt Divinity School, taught us to proclaim the whole story of salvation and not be limited by the lectionary. But sometimes studying a whole paragraph might be too much. We may need to take it slower and stay at a verse long enough to feel it sink in, forgetting the journey and destination for awhile. St. Paul says the Gospel is so rich we need to sip it. Like communion, savored. Digesting slowly what it means to be humble, until we feel it sink into our thick hearts.

It is enough to read, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner”, be changed by the words, and the deeds these words provoke, so if we ever get to Jerusalem, we are ready.
+ + +

My Night-Time Prayer for Tennessee

In a Cumberland cove by the old Oaks you can hear in the hollow the whispering of our mothers. Near a black willow shaking by the Tennessee River you can hear in the current the laughter of our children. In a field with Pecans and Basswood old enough to trace their ancestors like DARs you can hear the delight of our fathers. Under a hawk perched in a sugar maple limb afire in fall you can hear old farmers’ whistles.

We have found magic in the trees, shelter under a canopy of green, and reverence for their silent witness. We have walked on parched trails with unmoving roots and thin seedlings and prayed for rain and survival. We have buried our beloved in their shade, praying they find some solace.

We live in a land that beholds trees that have clapped their hands like the fulfillment of Isaiah’s vision:

Hemlocks shed cones like tears for the seasons gone by. Sycamores tell the story of the tornado of ‘98 in their bark. Chinquapin Oaks exhale poetry, Catalpas drip with ornamental pods, and Ginkgos put us in our humble place. Poplars call us to passion that comes only from loving the woods.

We live on a limestone foundation, in moon light and bow our heads in thanksgiving. In this prayer we feel the dusty voices of our ancestors rising from the chert to join our thanksgiving for these sacred woods:

God give us vision to preserve these woods. Let the moonlight carry our meager prayers to your heart. Fill our heart with love like this heavenly host that holds us all as your children. Knit us close to these trees so that we teach another to love these woods, and they will be saved.

Amen.

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.

Tomorrow: The Rev. Devon Anderson