Monday, March 31, 2008

"No Such Thing As Coincidences" -- by Carl Hooker

A couple of months ago I had coffee in St Louis with a man named Mike who is now a prayer partner and is also a fellow diocesan coordinator for EGR. We were discussing a spiritual path journey I wished to take and had been searching out for some time. In the process I discovered he and I shared our EGR involvement as well as he being a member in the order I was contemplating discerning. In that context, and obviously with much detail I am leaving out here, he said to me, "there are no such things as coincidences".

I am something of a news junkie. My Firefox browser 'home page' opens tabs for CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, Episcopal Life and of course the EGR Blog. I read these sites after I finish my morning ritual for the online economics classes I teach. I also read while eating my breakfast and lunch in my office, 5 days a week and a bit less but also on Saturday. I tend to ignore the Internet world on Sunday. I print the ones that fascinate me to pdf format and then file them away in my documents database on my Mac (DevonThink is the name, sorry no Windows version). Why do I save these things? It is not like I am ever going to read them all again. I do write an occasional paper, and now a regular blog piece, so maybe they will survive; it is not like digital space is as precious as the shelves for my books, and surely I am not killing trees to print them, this must be a good thing.

I imagine sometimes that in 10 or 12 years when one of my grandchildren has an assignment for school and I get hit up for some insight I will readily be able to pull Obama's speech on race from a week or so ago, or better yet link them up with the video. So when I come across a piece like this one from Reuters, I also pdf print it, file it and then think about it. Go ahead and read it, I will wait.....

So what am I to do with this new-found knowledge? 4% of Americans donate to political races apparently, to the tune of $1 billion so far for the presidential cycle. Several African countries have a lower GDP than $1 billion and maybe a portion of the political money could have been spent on a more noteworthy and humanitarian endeavor. Wow, that is a lot of guilt to carry around. I tell you what I am going to do about it, I am going to somehow rant about it, point out the injustice and get a little worked up.

So I do all that, formulate what I want to say, commit it to the screen in my Google Documents pages, save and close. Open it up later to proofread and realize..... I have not made any contributions to any of the candidates at this point, but neither have I sent any money to help work the MDG's this year. I feel a lot more guilt about the latter than the former, but I am taken down a few pegs. It has to be one of these common reasons I keep telling myself as I make a list:

• I just have not had time to write the check.

• Maybe I can blame it on the wide number of potential locations for the donation, I mean hello, there are tons of places I could send a check to that will put it to good use, so many to choose from, which one(s)?

• Maybe I can blame the economy, we are after all in a recession (I am an economist - trust me; if it walks like a recession and quacks like a recession, then it probably is a recession) =;>)

• I just do not have the resources right now.

So I spend all this time thinking first about the huge waste of money for one thing and not enough for the other, my head spins several times before I finally get quiet enough to hear God. You see I am putting my socks on the other morning and since that is such an automatic thing at my age my mind is clear and I hear in my mind, "rebate check". It takes me about 2 seconds to figure out the "voice" means I should do something with my upcoming rebate check. No more reason to put it off, no more excuses, done deal. And to think I started off by evaluating the article based on the abuses of politics and ended up seeing the proverbial three fingers that were pointing back at me. Don't you just hate it when that happens? You climb up on a great old soapbox, ready to preach the vileness and corruption of sin you see all around you and humility creeps in while you are putting on your socks. So I delete key what used to be on the screen and write this.

Afterthought.
My current understanding is that about $167 billion will be sent out in rebate checks, 0.7% is $1.2 billion, probably roughly equal to the amount that will have been spent on the campaigns by the time the rebate checks have all been dispersed. Mike was right, "there are no such things as coincidences".

Editor's Note: -- EGR is right there with you, Carl. Look this week for the launching of our Give It For Good Campaign ... a movement to take your economic stimulus check and choose compassion over consumption. There are different levels of commitment so everyone can participate -- even if you really need the check to put food on your table. Give It For Good is still gearing up, but you can see the "work in progress" home page and even take the Give It For Good pledge before the official launch date of April 2.

Choose compassion over consumption. Take your stimulus check and Give It For Good.

Carl Hooker is an economist employed in an academic healthcare system. He is an EGR diocese coordinator in the Diocese of Missouri and currently studies in the diocesan school for ministry.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

"Jeffery Sachs visits The Daily Show with Jon Stewart"

A little video to pick you up on "low Sunday." Economist Jeffrey Sachs, author of The End of Poverty and one of the world's most influential proponents of the Millennium Development Goals, dropped by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart this week to talk about his latest book, Common Wealth, and what we -- and our governments -- need to do to make poverty history. It's a little under 6 minutes, entertaining and informative. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

"Women join demining charge in south Sudan" -- by Skye Wheeler, Reuters

This excellent article from Reuters and the International Herald Tribune details just one aspect of everyday life in Southern Sudan -- women ... sometimes pregnant women ... working to remove mines from roads. As I traveled in southern Sudan you could see the places where mines had been removed from the road ... and then occasionally you would see a large crater (sometimes accompanied by the charred wreckage of a vehicle off the side of the road) near it.

Skye Wheeler of Reuters does a beautiful job reporting this horrific situation. For more excellent reporting on Africa, be sure and visit africa.reuters.com regularly.

MILE 38, Sudan: Seven months pregnant Opayi Mary stands half a metre away from a mine made expressly to blow anything over 3 kg to pieces. For her, it's just part of a day's work.

Mary leads an all-female team of deminers working for Norwegian People's Aid (NPA) in one of south Sudan's most dangerous areas: the civil war battlefield Mile 38.

The location, 38 miles (61 km) from the southern capital Juba, was on the frontline in a decades-long conflict between mainly Christian and animist southern rebels and the Islamist government in Khartoum.

The war, fought over ideology and ethnicity and fuelled by oil, killed 2 million people and displaced 4 million before a peace deal was signed in 2005.

Now, south Sudan's semi-autonomous government, which will hold a referendum on secession in 2011, is trying to rebuild a region where even the most basic infrastructure is lacking.

Clearing the thousands of mines is an important part of efforts to rebuild the devastated region, where mined roads have made travel and transport of goods difficult.

"I was so afraid of my first one," Mary admits. Two years later she is now in charge of her group's safety and for exploding the mines taken from this empty scrubland.

"Now I have taken more than 20. I can even hold them with my hand," Mary grins. She is short and seems all burgeoning bump but walks fast between cordoned off areas.

Under Mary's watch, Joanne Jenty slides a prong into a marked-out area in front of her that she has already wetted. In the hot silence of the bush and on her hands and knees, she is feeling for the side of a mine that she will then delicately unearth.

People used to live along this major trade route but have been slow to return since the war ended, deterred by a lack of infrastructure, worries of a return to fighting and the lines of hidden explosives buried just inches under the earth's surface.

The UN Mine Action Office, which coordinates demining projects run by dozens of groups, says more than 2,000 people have been killed or injured by mines since the end of the war. The cost for farmers and communities is incalculable, it says.

STILL A STRUGGLE

With a new administration and funds of between $1.5 - $1.7 billion a year from the region's share of oil revenues, many southerners were expecting dramatic peace dividends for communities long alienated from basic services by war.

They have been disappointed. The daily struggle for survival has not changed for most rural populations and returning refugees put more pressure on scant resources. A government study showed around 90 percent see corruption as a major problem.

And the peace is still shaky.

In December and January, Misseriya tribesmen fought southern soldiers in the Abyei area, an oil-rich region straddling northern and southern Sudan. The distribution of oil revenues and border demarcation remain contentious issues.

But Mary, who fled the war to neighbouring Uganda, believes passionately that peace will hold.

"My work is like a soldier," she explained.

"When we are in training we learn: your first mistake is your last," she said as she showed her simple bush tent that contained a fancy handbag and a bottle of nail polish.

So far, Mary's team and another NPA team have removed 205 antipersonnel mines and 96 anti-tank mines from around the main road that links neighbouring Uganda to Juba, the capital of a vast and wild region that still has no large commercial farming or factories.

For Mary, who feels her baby move as she works, the job just has to be done, inch by gruelling inch in prickling grass.

"We have to work hard to develop our country, even if it is hard," she said. "We have to clear. For my children and for others."

Mary initially wanted to be a doctor but could not afford the training. But her pragmatic mind has adapted well to clearing contaminated earth.

Read the rest of the story here.

(Writing by Skye Wheeler; Editing by Alastair Sharp)


Friday, March 28, 2008

"My brother is dead ... and I helped kill him" -- by the Rev. Mike Kinman

Author's note: If you're coming to this post from a link somewhere else on the internet (and it's getting linked lots of places), welcome. My hope is that in some small way this can put a human face on the tragic destruction of life that is happening in Iraq in a way that will spur people to thoughtful and prayerful action. The end of this post has specific action steps that I have committed to take and an invitation for you to join me in them. I hope you will consider that invitation seriously. If Ali's story merely makes you shed a tear before going on with your life as before, then this has accomplished nothing. Nothing can stop Ali's death from being a waste, however we can honor him if we let this story change us in ways that will prevent more death.

I invite you also to consider What One Person (You!) Can Do to prevent another tragedy -- the 30,000 children under 5 who die each day not from shrapnel or guns ... but from the scourge of extreme poverty. Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation has embraced the Millennium Development Goals as a structure for living out Christ's call to seek and serve him in those 30,000 children who die each day (one every three seconds). I invite you to visit our website to explore answers to that question" "What Can One Person Do?"

The answer is -- a lot!

Christ's peace,
Mike+
-------------------------
Midday yesterday, this email popped into my inbox.

Mike,

Mohammed's brother Ali died of his wounds today courtesy of shrapnel and flames caused by US missile strike.

He was 9.

Don't expect to hear anything from Mohammed until 40 day of the mourning period is over. XXX* says US soldiers shot at Mohammed as he approached a roadblock they had set up and that he was carrying Ali in his arms trying to get to hospital. He also says that Ali was very badly burned and died screaming.

*Co-worker of Mohammed's, name removed for security reasons
The words cut through my heart to read. Not because they should have been surprising ... although maybe because I had been living in denial of how predictable they were. But mostly because the friend who sent me this email was telling me my brother was dead, and he died in my other brother's arms -- my brother, Mohammed, who was experiencing pain I could not even imagine ... and not for the first time.

The words cut through my heart to read because I knew.

My brother is dead ... and I helped kill him.

A little background for the perplexed...

I first "met" Mohammed a little more than a year ago. Looking for information about what was really happening on the ground in Irak, I found this website set up by an Irish former UN Peacekeeper who spends a great deal of time there. They set up people on the ground in Irak with laptops and digital cameras to document what is really happening there.

I read this post by Mohammed and was immediately struck by his eloquence and the power of his writing. I quoted it in a sermon I preached the next Sunday and then posted on my blog. Through the wonders of Google alerts, Mohammed found my sermon and commented on it, which started a conversations of posts and comments between us.

I learned that Mohammed was 16 years old, that he worked not just for Gorilla's Guides but also doing things like delivering food to people in refugee camps. I also learned that I couldn't know his real name or any other details that might identify him because their lives were in danger if they were identified as being Gorilla's Guides bloggers.

I learned that Mohammed hated America because America had invaded and occupied his country and killed his people. At the same time, he was willing and even eager to be in conversation with me because of his respect for whom he refers to as the Prophet Jesus (Praise Be Unto Him) and his teachings. That my Christian faith and priesthood and his submission to Islam were a common ground for conversation. So we made plans to begin an online conversation on a private, secure channel.

But before we could begin, I got this email:
Most of Mohammed's remaining family killed in Arbaeen massacres.
Father killed on Tuesday. Mother died of wounds incurred same attack yesterday. Little brother wounded same attack but now released from hospital. One other sibling in refugee camp uniinjured.

Mohammed now head of family in "nuclear family" sense of expression.

Mohammed and brother on pilgimage
The "little brother" was Ali.

When our conversation began again it was hard going. We started from the relatively safe ground of what we each believed as Muslim and Christian, but the conversation quickly turned to Irak and the U.S. I said I hoped we could become friends. He had serious doubts about that but always assured me that we were brothers. "My brother in humanity," he calls me ... and I call him the same.

The conversation was challenging and convicting. Mohammed continually said things that were and are difficult for me to hear as someone who loves my country and believes deeply in the ideals upon which it was founded and to which I believe our better angels still strongly aspire. At the same time, I was carrying on an email conversation with a former student of mine, Paul, who was an Army Ranger stationed in Irak. Paul is one of those people who represents to me the desire to follow our better angels, someone willing to live sacrificially for what he believes in.

The stories and perspectives I was getting from each of them sometimes converged but more often than not were poles apart.

I cannot even begin to go into what Mohammed has taught me not just about what is going on in Irak, but about Islam ... and about my own Christian faith. Holding his story in tension with Paul's was almost always difficult, but I became convinced that no matter how well intentioned and good-hearted soldiers like Paul were (and Mohammed and I went back and forth on that one!), our presence there must end and it must end totally.

I spend my life trying to follow Christ and working for God's mission of global reconciliation. I speak about and work for the Millennium Development Goals as a structure for living out that discipleship and achieving that mission. It's what Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation is all about. Christ's life is about healing and bringing abundant life to all humanity. The MDGs are about healing and removing poverty and disease and environmental destruction from humanity ... and doing it in a way that draws us together in a common effort.

Through Mohammed and even through Paul, I have come to believe that our presence in Irak works completely counter to these goals. We are not wanted there. Our presence there is an affront to the deep faith of many of the people. Our presence there has caused -- either by us directly or by the forces destabilization has set loose -- countless civilian deaths (Iraq Body Count gives a VERY conservative estimate) and untold more displaced persons.

Our presence there and our foreign policy of imperial domination continues to undermine our standing in the world and continually diminishes our power and authority to lead the world in working to achieve the MDGs.

I have come to realize these things. I have come to believe them strongly. I have even occasionally, as I did at the Diocese of Iowa's convention, spoken them out loud in public by sharing Mohammed's difficult words with others.

But I have not done enough. I have not done nearly enough. Edmund Burke was right when he said "all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good (people) to do nothing." And I have not done even the least I can do, not by any stretch of the imagination.

It was a realization that came with a conviction as I read the email in my inbox yesterday.

The email that brought to my mind an image of Mohammed, "my brother in humanity," carrying his dying little brother, just nine years old, having to deal with dodging bullets from American soldiers as he tried to get him to a hospital. How terrified everyone must have been -- Ali, Mohammed, even the soldiers at the roadblock. The confusion. The pain. The screams. The terror.

As I was reading it, I heard a voice from the other room, my own nine-year-old son, Schroedter, home from spring break and playing with his younger brother. The face on the boy being carried, screaming, through the gunfire and the confusion changed to his.

I thought of Mohammed, "my brother in humanity," once more having to bury a member of his family ... but because of his new role as head of his family this time it being much more like burying a son than a brother. I thought of his pain ... and of Ali -- my brother's brother is my brother. And the words came into my heart like a dagger.

My brother is dead ... and I helped kill him.

I did not launch the airstrike. I did not fire the shots at Mohammed as he carried his brother desperately toward the roadblock.

But I did not do nearly enough to stop it.

So What Can One Person Do?

It is a question I have been pondering through a largely sleepless night. And what I have to offer is still not enough. But it is a start.

And I invite you to join me.

PRAY - I will pray daily for wisdom and peace. Pray for the people of Irak. Pray for the dead, pray for those in refugee camps. Pray for those who have fled the destruction and long to return home. Pray for an end to the occupation.

LEARN - I will continue not to trust what the mainstream media is telling us about Irak. I will augment that with international sources like Reuters and BBC World ... but also with grassroots news organizations like Gorilla's Guides.

GIVE - Giving is tricky because Mohammed and others see even well-intentioned giving as "blood money" and as a way for us to try to assuage our guilt. But giving is still a way we can use our power. The best way to give to help the people of Irak is to give to the International Red Crescent.- they are the best, most reputable group on the ground actually helping the people of Irak. Go to this site and select "Iraq humanitarian response" when given a choice to direct your contribution - I have and will continue to do so.

ADVOCATE - Every day from now until the end of the occupation, I commit to email or call my senators and representative and urge them, as a constituent, a person of faith and someone who loves and wants the best for this country, to remove our military presence from Irak. It is not just killing them, it is killing us and killing the world. It is debilitating not just the Iraki people but our best ability to make wonderful things like the MDGs happen. Making an email or call like this takes 2-3 minutes. 2-3 minutes a day is certainly the least I can do.

TALK - When you hear me speak, you will hear me speak about Irak. You will hear me invite people into a conversation about it. There will be fierce disagreement about what I have written here ... and that's OK. We must not be afraid of disagreement. We must realize that passionate people of good faith can disagree passionately and in good faith. We need to surround all our conversations in prayer so that together we can move beyond our own opinions and strive for God's greater wisdom. But I will no longer hold back out of fear of offending.

Finally, this day, I will say a prayer for Ali. My brother who is dead whom I helped kill. I hope you will join me in that as well.

+++

From the death notice posted yesterday on Gorillas Guides:

Ali Ibn Laith. Born December 14 1999 - Killed March 27 2008

Son of our much missed colleague Laith and his wife, last remaining brother to our greatly loved colleague Mohammed Ibn Laith and his sister.

O God! Pardon our living and our dead, the present and the absent, the young and the old, the males and the females.

and

May Ali's soul and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

The Rev. Mike Kinman is the Executive Director of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation


Thursday, March 27, 2008

"The Power of Together" -- by the Rev. Devon Anderson

On Easter, four Minnesota congregations completed a MDG pilot project designed to mobilize individuals within the congregation to collectively act in order to seed a parish global mission initiative. Powerful public narratives have been delivered, house meetings held, pledges received, funds gathered, decisions made, success celebrated.

All in all, the first phase of the pilot program has enjoyed a very good run. Those four congregations raised about $35,000 -- with 200 people participating (this out of $8,000 seed money from Diocesan Council!)

But the sweetest gift of these efforts has been the learning.

What has so nourished and enriched many of us is what we have discovered about ourselves, our parishes communities, our diocesan household, what we have learned about the way we relate to one another, and about the way we would like to relate to one another.

Through the many layers of learning has emerged one hard-earned revelation: We are better together than we are by ourselves. Even more than this, it is through our participation in, and commitment to, Christian community that we are best equipped to be faithful to the Gospel. It is when we work and minister together, when we gather our gifts and resources and pool them collectively, when we work across the congregations and the boundaries of theology and geography, it is in those moments that we are most alive, most effective, most faithful to the Gospel imperative to love one another and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Over and again we learned, despite our resistance and better judgment, that we are better off hashing it out in Christian community than enjoying the peacefulness (and some would argue, inertia) of our own company.

Standing at the conclusion of the Lenten MDG project, we celebrate the achievement of our measurable goals -- more than 200 people mobilized, tens of thousands of dollars raised and pooled, plans for relational global mission initiatives begun. And yet, these goals pale in comparison to the transformative experience of successfully working together toward a shared purpose in mission, the results of which were far more extensive and deep than any one human being could have exacted alone.

Through the power of together, the pilot congregations will have gathered needed resources to participate in the global movement to minimize human suffering and despair caused by extreme poverty. It is with hope and expectation that we offer this experience to the diocesan community, in the hope of inspiring a thirst for more and wider experiences of collective action and power to the glory of God.

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

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Growing up too fast in Northern Uganda" - by Erin Bernstein

I have seen more children during my two weeks here in Gulu, northern Uganda than anywhere else in my entire life. Interestingly, though, I could say just the opposite: I have seen very few children since I arrived in the north.

How is this possible? Since the civil war began in 1986 and hostilities ended in 2006, children and teenagers in northern Uganda are just now learning what peace means, and for many of them, life in squalid internally displaced persons camps is all they know.

They grew up too quickly—the girls, especially. They had no choice. Rarely do I find a young woman without a baby on her back, and rarely do I find a girl my age or younger who will talk to me without looking away in discomfort. I have noticed that girls and women are more reserved than men in this culture, but the timidity in these young women is more evident than in the ones I met in Kampala and areas in southern Uganda.

Trauma, I have learned, is the contributing factor to this unusual behavior in children, causing several local education organizations to move their main focus from supporting high academic achievers to intertwining psycho-social support into the curriculum. Due to staff shortages, however, they have to train teachers in this field. Teachers become the trauma counselors, but they are teachers first, and above all that, they have their own trauma to conquer before they can help others.

Poverty presents another challenge. Availability of teachers is running low because funds to pay them are running low. Fewer teachers are willing to work for the current salary, which means that schools have more students than they would normally have per teacher. Quality of education thus decreases, making northern Ugandan schools even less nationally competitive than they already are.

Poverty in the north also affects the young people who want to attend school but cannot afford it. Last week, I met a boy who could not go to school because he did not have a uniform; it cost four dollars. I understand that schools have their rules and regulations, but I couldn’t believe that they would reject a child—an orphan living with his siblings in an IDP camp—wanting to learn because he didn’t own a uniform. The north is trying to rebuild itself. Recovering from over 20 years of war will take just as long, if not more. Why, then, deny the future generation of northern Uganda the chance to receive an education?

Even some families prevent their children from going to school. Many poor families force their daughters into early marriage so that her dowry will bring wealth to the family. These young girls do not typically return to school after marriage because their responsibility is now to their husbands and children, but what about the ones who do? They return, perhaps with their babies in the classroom, and present the message that it is okay to leave school to get married. A girl with children, though, cannot progress academically. Family is the top priority.

Whether because of trauma or poverty, children in the north are already marginalized and are at risk of permanent inferiority to their countrymen. A traumatized person, spending more time battling emotional issues than engaging in her studies, is less likely to perform well. A child who does not perform well is less likely to receive scholarship funding. A child who is neglected as a high achiever is less likely to maintain confidence, and a child who lacks self-esteem is less likely to stay in school.

Those who do not complete their education, though, are doomed to poor and mediocre jobs, widening the economic gap between the north and the rest of the country. Trauma, war-induced poverty, and education go hand-in-hand now. Schools are places for acquiring knowledge, but now they must serve an additional purpose. They must become safe environments for addressing mental health issues and sorting out the memories that run amok in people’s minds. They must encourage people to talk, and they must facilitate healing.

Erin Bernstein is a junior at the University of Tennessee, designing a major in the comparison of post-conflict education in Northern Uganda and education in inner-city Knoxville. Her passion for serving people has brought her to Hungary, Romania, and South Africa through the Rotary Club of Knoxville and to Botswana, Uganda, and back to South Africa through the Knoxville Jazz for Justice Project, which seeks to music as healing in war-torn Northern Uganda. She is currently in the middle of a two-month stay in Uganda for an internship at the Ugandan Parliament and to work on an art therapy project with young women in the north. Read more from Erin at her ongoing blog of her trip: Uganda 2008.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"The sin of inflicting poverty" -- by Andrew Langan

I recently read an article about how the Vatican, in order to shore up the lagging sacrament of confession, was considering adding seven new deadly sins to the boring, outdated old ones (like, seriously priest-dudes, what does does “avarice” even mean?). Skimming the list, a cynic might take the opportunity to exercise the muscles that make one’s eyes roll (are all drugs–including tobacco, caffeine, and alcohol–verboten now, or just the reeeeeally evil ones like marijuana and Adderall?), and as a dedicated cynic (so “morally debatable” experiments are no longer, um, debatable?) this was my first reaction. (Does this 20-inch golden chalice count as “excessive wealth”, your holiness?) But then I noticed on something that made me take this project a little more seriously. Included in the list of new mortal sins was this one: “inflicting poverty”.

Now, even this initially elicited my scorn. Besides your garden variety mustache-twirling Snidely Whiplash-type caricatures, the only instance of “inflicting poverty” I could think of was, perhaps, the collectivization of Ukrainian farms, and that’s not really a pressing theological concern for those of us who aren’t Soviet premiers. But the more I thought about what it might mean to “inflict poverty”, the more I thought back to this article –one that I’ve been intending to blog about here for some time–and to the time-worn maxim that ‘The road to Hell is paved with good intentions’.

The article linked above describes the reaction of Boston’s mayor, Thomas Menino, to a decision in January by a Massachusetts regulatory board to allow a major drug store chain to open up “MinuteClinics” in their stores where registered nurses or nurse practitioners would see patients on a walk-in basis to give basic preventative care and treat simple medical problems like poison ivy and colds.

According to the article, “the mayor said the decision yesterday by the state Public Health Council "jeopardizes patient safety. Limited service medical clinics run by merchants in for-profits corporations will seriously compromise quality of care and hygiene. Allowing retailers to make money off of sick people is wrong." Menino called on the city's Public Health Commission, which meets this afternoon, to "look closely at limited service medical clinics and see how we can ensure that all healthcare facilities in Boston offer a comprehensive approach to health and wellness."”

The MinuteClinics concept (one might even go so far as to call it a “business model”) seems to me to be a clever one. Because of a variety of break-downs in the proper functioning of the American market for health care (we can talk about what those are another time), poor people have a difficult time obtaining medical services. Seeing this, the people behind the MinuteClinics thought up a way to provide a work-around. The potential here is that the poor could get cheap, convenient, not-too-bad medical care in the MinuteClinic world, whereas in current situation, they’re faced with being shut out from expensive, inconvenient, really-good medical care. Is that trade-off worth it? If the MinuteClinics idea is successful, it would suggest that its customers think so. And isn’t some health care better than none?

So what’s Menino’s beef? From my standpoint as a classical liberal, it’s easy to write him off as a knee-jerk leftist with a deep antipathy to commercial exchange and a congenital distrust of any company with more than three outlets. (I won’t say that wasn’t my first reaction.) But as a Christian and as a human being, I must realize that he means what he says with all sincerity, and probably with the best of intentions (though one never knows with a politician). And I see his point. We have the technology and the knowledge to perform medical miracles. If we had America’s GDP to spend on it, we could give every sick person in the country a bastion of advanced tests in pristine, well-staffed hospitals and still have big piles of money left over. Surely we can, at the very least, “ensure that all healthcare facilities in Boston offer a comprehensive approach to health and wellness”?

This is where the sin part comes in.

It’s tempting for us as well-to-do, well-intentioned Americans to think that we can solve all other peoples’ problems through our generosity. It’s tempting to think that, if only our favorite politician can get his or her really really important bill through Congress [without too many amendments or earmarks attached, of course], no one in America will ever have to worry about health care again. It’s tempting to think that, if only we can convince people to “buy American”, the nation’s textile mills and auto plants will roar back to life and people will move back to the Rust Belt. It’s tempting to think that, if only we give a really impassioned presentation during the coffee hour on Sunday, we can raise enough money that our adopted village in Malaysia won’t have to open a factory, that they’ll be able to keep practicing their traditional ways, and all their kids will be able to go to college. It’s tempting to think those things, but it’s virtually always incorrect, and it’s arrogant. And it’s sinful: it inflicts poverty.

Although we may have the best of intentions, anytime we boycott a company that pays its overseas workers less than what we think they should make or use our political power to preempt a discount chain-store clinic from offering so-so medical care, we’re inflicting poverty. We may well be liberating those foreign workers from dirty, bad-paying jobs, but unless we’ve got some great new money-making idea, we’re liberating them right into dirtier, worse-paying jobs. (Maybe that’s why the New York Times’ Nick Kristof discovered that the workers he spoke to in the developing world were often thrilled to get dirty, bad-paying jobs that few if any Americans would want.) And until the Congress can agree on an efficient, timely, politically satisfying solution to the health care problem, the poor in Boston, sadly, have either MinuteClinic basic care, or none at all. However much these half-measures may offend our aesthetic sensibilities, they’re bridging a gap. To deny the poor access to even these half-measures is to inflict poverty.

So looking back, I can appreciate the value in enumerating at least one of these new sins the Vatican has marked out for us. For what it’s worth, I think the old list of sins dovetails pretty well with the new: it’s prideful for me to fancy that my personal charity should be what saves the world, and greedy to want things done my way, to name just a couple. And it’s darn near blasphemous to think that God can’t bring good results out of an apparently bad situation without my good intentions directing the whole process. I’d just muck it up, anyway, and probably inflict some poverty, along the way.

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

Monday, March 24, 2008

"Using the broad stage of the Olympics to promote justice" - by Emily Bloemker

Some of my earliest memories involve watching the Olympics with my mom – in our household, during Olympics weeks, we would spend every evening and weekend watching events coverage. I remember, at age five, seeing Greg Louganis hit his head on a diving board. I remember, more clearly, the Magnificent Seven gymnasts of 1996 – at age thirteen, I cried when Kerri Strug (after spraining her ankle) stuck the landing on her second vault attempt and sealed the U.S. women’s gymnastics victory for that year. In our household, and across the world, Olympics have always meant high drama.

And so it continues, but on a broader stage, with more dire consequences. I recently read a post by Nicholas Kristof, entitled The Genocide Olympics. A latecomer to some human-rights issues, I only became aware a few years ago of China’s poor human rights record via the controversy surrounding “Bodies … the Exhibition” in which many worried about the origin of the displayed bodies, obtained from dubious Chinese sources. In his post, Kristof raises questions about the upcoming Beijing Olympics, especially in light of China’s unapologetic underwriting of the Sudanese genocide. In a later post, Kristof outlines his reasons for opposing a boycott, but gives few suggestions of how the average citizen can proceed.

I believe that the Beijing Olympics, and China’s support of the Sudanese genocide, are issues that Christians cannot ignore. So here are a few ideas:

We must educate ourselves, first thing, if we are not already informed. A good place to start is Amnesty International, which is tracking China’s progress in the leadup to the Olympics.

We must pay attention to see if there is one aspect of this very large injustice which catches us: is it the economic participation in entities that support the Sudanese genocide? Socially responsible investing in general? The location of the Olympics in China in the first place? If you are concerned about socially responsible investing, I would suggest visiting Amy Domini’s website – she received an honorary doctorate from Berkeley Divinity School last year, and is a powerful force for good in the investment world. If you would prefer to target investment that supports genocide in Sudan, I recommend visiting this Sudan divestment page, which gives a map of the United States and various divestment efforts happening in them. Finally, if you are opposed to the location of the Olympics in China in the first place, I encourage you to start up discussions with friends, to raise the question from your pulpits, to write about it on your blogs. I hope to preach about an aspect of this issue during my work as a camp chaplain this summer, and I also plan to raise the question of human rights in every conversation I have about the Olympics (and there will be many, since my love of the Olympic games has not waned since childhood).

What is the best way to use this Olympics to spur just action on behalf of the persecuted people of Sudan? How can we best raise awareness and respond to the needs of our brothers and sisters? Let us see this broad stage of controversy as an opportunity for advocacy and justice, and to not allow the opportunity to pass without our voices being heard.

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.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

"Easter Sunday" -- by the Rev. Mike Kinman

We come together on Easter morning expecting a party.

We come together expecting the flowers, the trumpets, the crowds, the lights, the Alleluias.

We come together to celebrate, to share the story, to affirm that we are resurrection people in a Good Friday world.

And that's all as it should be.

But as I hear the Easter story, I am struck by the women who came to the tomb that morning.

They weren't expecting a party ... far from it. They were expecting a reminder of all they had lost. They were there faithfully to write an ending to a story, not be part of a beginning.

I am amazed by these women because out of no other reason than pure love ... they showed up.

It makes me wonder ... maybe the beginnings of the Church, of our heritage as resurrection people in a Good Friday world, begins not with these women finding the stone rolled away, but with them trudging lovingly down the path to the tomb. Nothing to look forward to. Nothing to gain. In fact, much to lose -- as they had at the foot of the cross -- if they were to be associated with this criminal.

And yet for no other reason than pure love, they make this sad, early morning trek. A via dolorosa that mirrors the one their Master took just days before. Doing what Christ did in the incarnation itself.

Faithfully.

Lovingly.

Showing up.

I think this morning as I do so often of the enormity of the challenges not just of healing the wounds of extreme poverty but of changing the systems that seem to keep such a huge portion of the world's population inextricably bound in it.

I think of how when I approach it as a problem that needs to be solved or as something broken that needs to be fixed that it seems the worst kind of Gordian knot.

And then I think of those women. And I realize what will change the world, what will continue the cosmic process of light overcoming darkness, of Easter breaking through Good Friday, is not some great economic theory or church or government program. It's doing what they did. It's doing what Christ did.

Faithfully.

Lovingly.

Showing up.

Not expecting a party. Not expecting miracles. Not expecting the dead to be raised, but expecting to lovingly care for the dead and dying. It is when we faithfully, lovingly show up for each other at the deepest, darkest moments -- that the miracle of resurrection happens in us and to us and through us.

Yesterday, I got an email from Becca Stevens. Many of you know her. She and others helped found Magdalene House -- an intentional community of women breaking the cycles of abuse, poverty and drugs that have helped bind them to a life of prostitution in Nashville, TN. In my work within and without the Church, I have never seen a better ministry of "faithfully, lovingly, showing up" than Becca and Marcus, the people of St. Augustine's, and the women of Magdalene. Becca calls it "changing the world one life at a time" ... and that's what faithfully, lovingly showing up does.

Becca told me that next month she is leading a group of seven women to Rwanda -- one from Rwanda, two graduates of Magdalene, one Vanderbilt grad student, one reporter and a couple staff from Magdalene. They are going to spend time with a group of women in Rwanda and help them do what they have done ... start a cottage industry making soaps and candles out of local, natural products.

And as I read her email, I could see the sun creeping over the horizon on Easter morning. I could see the women slowly, carrying the burdens not just of the past three days but of their whole lives, trudging toward the tomb. Faithfully, lovingly showing up.

For the graduates of Magdalene ... other people faithfully, lovingly showing up changed and saved their lives. For people like Becca and others at St. Augustine's, faithfully, lovingly showing up for the women of Magdalene changed and saved their lives.

And now together they are traveling halfway around the world to meet another group of women ... a group of women who will just as lovingly and faithfully show up for them.

Not trumpets. No great fanfare. No great program that will transform systems of economics and trade.

Just faithfully, lovingly showing up. Changing the world one life at a time.

Alleluia.

The Rev. Mike Kinman is the executive director of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation

Saturday, March 22, 2008

"Holy Saturday" -- by Elaine Thomas

In every insult, rift and war,
where color, scorn or wealth divide
he suffers still yet loves the more,
and lives, though ever crucified.

Christ is alive! His spirit burns
through this and every future age,
‘til all creation lives and learns
his joy, his justice, love and praise.

Hymn 182 (1982 Hymnal)
Text by Brian A. Wren

I write this as we prepare for the Sunday of the Passion and the slow walk to the cross on Good Friday. We will recite the familiar narratives and wave palms, enjoy a Passover meal, wash feet, strip the altar, and engage in a solemn remembrance of the crucifixion on Good Friday. And then all will be quiet until Easter morning dawns triumphant. We live practically the entire sum and parcel of our Christian faith in one week’s time, yet it’s never quite the same, year after year. We don’t witness it in the same way. We change as our lives change, and our perceptions of events change. You cannot step into the same river twice, for fresh waters are ever flowing in upon you (Heraclitus).

Yet each year, these familiar events grow ever more meaningful, more powerful, more life-changing for me. How can anyone witness this unfolding drama without being moved to bear witness to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus? And that begs the question, what does it mean to bear witness? Do we really believe Jesus' command to feed lambs and tend sheep? Have we ever seen him hungry and fed him, or thirsty and given him something to drink? Have we seen Christ in our neighbor and loved her as well as we love ourselves? Do we perjure ourselves when we renew our Baptismal covenant promising to seek and serve Christ in all persons?

Just like millions of others around the world, I will wake up on Easter day and dress in my finest, lift my voice to the familiar strains of ‘Jesus Christ is risen today,’ enjoy a festive meal, and bask in the joy of the day. But if that’s all there is, lots of ceremony with no commitment to live out the resurrection faith I profess, my life is as empty as the tomb.

For years, I served a variety of churches as choirmaster and organist, and I loved to arrive at the church early on Easter before anyone else, entering the church and being overwhelmed with the aroma of lilies and hyacinths, an altar with newly laid white linens, keenly aware of the transformation from a shrouded cross to one festooned with flowers. After living through all the events of Holy Week, it provided one of the most profound moments of the year for me. And I could acknowledge in that private moment that I could not experience that without being transformed myself.

Yet the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same. In the words of the Easter hymn Christ is Alive, ‘he suffers still yet loves the more,’ waiting for creation to be restored, for justice to roll down like waters, for the cries of the poor and oppressed to be heard. So I will once more be reminded that Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours (Teresa of Avila). And in that early morning light of Easter day, I will vow once again to be those hands and those feet, to serve the least of these, to work for justice and peace, until he come again.

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.

Friday, March 21, 2008

"Good Friday" -- by the Rev. Mike Kinman

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Poverty and privilege have at least one thing in common -- they are both about choice, or lack of the same.

This first struck me most powerfully during my first trip to Ghana several years ago. I only had to be there a few days when I realized that my most valuable possession wasn't my laptop or my camera ... but my American passport. With it I had the choice whether to stay or to go. Whether to make a life there or leave and make a life elsewhere.

The privilege of choice that my wealth and education and other aspects of my (white) American life bring infuses every corner of my life. I can choose where to send my children to school. I can choose what kind of car to drive, what neighborhood to live in. I have chosen what kind of education I wanted and have chosen and continue to choose what kind of career I want.

My whole life has been and continues to be an embarrassment of riches of choice. Even the everyday choices ("Do you want fries with that?") when cast against a world where nearly 1,000,000,000 people go to bed hungry every night speak to the extreme privilege of choice I take for granted.

So I have the privilege of choice. I cannot escape it. Do I feel guilty about it? What now?

What word does Christ speak to me?

That word comes crashing through in the Christ hymn of Philippians 2 -- one of the most beautiful lyrics ever written. And it speaks of the events of today -- Good Friday -- in just these terms. Christ, the second person of the holy and undivided Trinity, was in the position of the most extreme privilege. Christ had the power of divinity -- talk about extreme choice! Christ could do anything.

And look at what Christ did.

Christ let go.

Christ let go of the privilege of choice. He saw that privilege not as something to be grasped, but emptied himself -- and even after emptying himself into human form, he continued to give up the privilege of choice and became obedient to the point of death ... even death on a cross.

Christ looked with compassion on a world that had much less choice than the divine -- looked at a world in extreme poverty, bound by sin, and chose not to hold onto divinity and the privilege of choice, but to give it up for our sakes. The prologue to John's Gospel sings of the Christ literally "pitching a tent" among us ... living with us in the most basic and everyday ways.

That is our model. And this day of all days when we enter into the extremes of the sacrifice of Christ -- the agony of his betrayal and crucifixion -- we are confronted by how enormously difficult and terrifying it is. And with how many rational reasons we have for not following in the way of the cross -- reasons Jesus himself surely faced.

Jesus, think of how much good you can do if you live? Just tell Pilate you didn't mean it.

Jesus, think of we who have entrusted our lives to you! Don't you owe it to us to take care of us?

Jesus, if you die, the authorities are going to win and everything you've worked for will be for nothing.

And yet our model, our rabbi, our savior, leads us down the road to Golgotha -- with the far distant promise of Easter not even a blip on the horizon. If we are truly to be the Body of Christ, we cannot escape that this is the road we are called to follow -- not seeing the privilege of our choice as something to be grasped, but emptying ourselves, giving up our choice out of love for those who have none.

And especially today I must confront the fact that as soon as I type these words, I become a hypocrite ... because I am so far from even approaching living this way. And it is for one reason and one reason only -- I am afraid. I am afraid of losing all that is dear to me. I am afraid of causing pain not just for myself but for my family. I am afraid of being called a fringe lunatic and being abandoned not just by society but by those closest to me. Most of all, I am afraid because I really like my life of privilege and choice ... and I really don't want to give it up.

And if I am to be honest with myself, even though I know that Jesus is the one who stands in the midst of the chaos and says "Be not afraid" ... I am not likely to change anytime soon. I don't have to. I can choose not to. And that is the choice I have made my whole life. I will take refuge in those incredibly rational words Jesus surely heard that make it seem OK to fall short of the Way of the Cross.

And I am not alone. It is the hypocrisy our largely white, privileged, choice-filled American church embodies every day.

We embody it with our flowery words about the Millennium Development Goals that fall short of a deep call to confession, repentance and amendment of life.

We embody it with our self-congratulation at giving a pittance -- 0.7% of our income -- to help those who have the least.

We embody it with our Church's lukewarm, wag-of-the-finger, I-can't-even-call-it-a-condemnation of our nation's invasion and occupation of Iraq that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraki civilians and the creation of hundreds of thousands of more refugees and the destabilization of an entire region since its beginning.

Today of all days, we need to be conscious of how much we fall short of the Way of the Cross we walk in our liturgies. And yet even on this darkest of days we must not despair.

Because there are lights in the darkness. lights of courage and faith who show us the way.

And there is much hope.

Lights like Dr. Christiana Russ, who has chosen to give up her life in Boston for half the year to work in small clinics in East Africa.

Lights like Nan and Gerry Hardison, who refused to leave the Maseno North Anglican Hospital in Kenya when the violence escalated ... because, after all, the people living there couldn't leave.

Lights like Reynolds Whalen, a Rhodes Scholar finalist from Washington University in St. Louis, who could write his own ticket and choose to do anything with his life -- including make huge amounts of money -- who is working tirelessly to find funding to go to Kenya to live and work with children living in extreme poverty and children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

And those lights -- and how with their lives they prove the truth of Jesus words that his call down this road is that "his joy might be in us and our joy might be full" -- give me hope. They give me courage to take maybe one step further down that road to Calvary. Not having any illusion that I am doing any heroic thing ... but that at the very least I am being one step more faithful, one step more courageous, one step closer to the joy I am afraid to let go of what I hold dearer than Christ to grasp.

On this day, I am reminded that Jesus did fall on the way to the cross ... but the remarkable thing was that he kept going. And he did not do it alone, but the story tells of people along the way who helped him ... even to the point of carrying the weight of the wood for him.

I am reminded of how the people I have met in this movement for God's mission of global reconciliation do that for one another ... and for me.

I am reminded of how one of the gifts God gives us in this call is the gift -- even the expectation -- that we should not walk it alone.

Today is Good Friday. For me, it is a day to consider the amazing and terrifying call to walk the Way of the Cross with Christ. To stare plainly at where my fear is greater than my resolve. To weep for my lack of faith and be deeply grateful that the one who walked that path before me has faith enough to carry me, too. To recommit myself to this path and to hunger for the joy that lies not just at the end but paradoxically along the difficult journey itself.

Today is a day for me to look at the power of choice I have

and how I exploit it

and how I might empty myself instead.

The Rev. Mike Kinman is the executive director of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Maundy Thursday

Today is Maundy Thursday and tonight, at my parish, we will do the service of footwashing, sharing the Eucharist, and then watch the altar guild solemnly strip the chancel and altar of all of their ornamentation. As a final act, I will anoint the bare wooden altar with oil and slowly rub the oil into the wood as my choir director, a man blessed with an amazing tenor voice, sings “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

It is, perhaps, one of the most personally meaningful acts that I do all year. As I stand behind the altar with almost all the lights of the church extinguished, not able to see anyone in the congregation, I feel both alone and connected. When I see how the oil makes the wood take on a kind of richness and almost glow, I think of the generations of people who have approached this very altar and received the holy food and drink. I love the words of Eucharistic Prayer C “Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world around us. Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this table for solace only and not for strength, for pardon only and not for renewal. ..Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread.”

This year, as part of my Lenten discipline, I have read The Last Week, by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. I have also learned how to knit socks -- but that’s another story for another day. Reading The Last Week has certainly challenged me and made me think. In discussing Jeremiah’s prophesy the authors point out:

“There was an ancient prophetic tradition in which God insisted not just on justice and worship, but on justice over worship. God had repeatedly said, “I reject your worship because of your lack of justice,” but never, ever, ever, “I reject your justice because of your lack of worship.” (p. 44)
How many times in my life have I gone to church figuring that that’s enough and then not seen that action as the beginning of the work I’m called to do in the world? What does it mean, in this day and age, to fight for justice? Is it enough to preach about it? I attended a rally a couple of weeks ago in support of same-sex marriage. I even spoke through a bullhorn! Is that working for justice? What if my more conservative parishioners get upset? They repeatedly tell me that I’m too political. How do I challenge them without alienating them?

The reality is that some folks don’t like being challenged. Can’t say that I blame them. Life is difficult enough without feeling like your priest is judging you and finding you wantin’! But I’m called to speak the truth, as I understand it. The MDGs are about justice. Hopefully, our many opportunities for worship over the next 4 days will also provide many opportunities to invite others to join the work for justice, freedom, and peace.

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

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"An Easter message from Sudan" -- by Mama Daria Kwaje

Dear readers,

It was wonderful for me to express my thanks to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I came to know my Lord Jesus in 1979 as my perfect savior when I became a born again Christian

My message today to all my friends that, let us be prepare to receive our lord Jesus as our personal Savior, let us be ready and confess our sins as we are always ready prepared for our activities and assignments that we use to do.

Let us see the gracious Love that He has shown us, when I think of all the miseries that he has carried on our behalf, this is the time for us to be concern to our fellow brothers and sisters burdens as Our Lord did.

I was so amazed when I heard announcements in Namirembe Cathedral during the Palm Sunday that, there are 150 children who has no families and has no parents, the church is looking for who to adopt this children to their homes to give them care and love.

Today in Sudan we have many children who are orphans of HIV/ AIDS and those who lost their parents during the war, we need to remember these children in our prayers during this Holy Week of Easter. We believe that Christ died because of the needy, the poor and all that in diversity.

May his death on the cross be a blessing to all his people in all the five continents of the world.

Happy Easter and Long live all the believers.

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

"Rwanda out front against HIV/AIDS" -- Dr. Josh Ruxin on CNN's Inside Africa

video

In this clip from CNN's Inside Africa, EGR friend Josh Ruxin explains why Rwanda has such an impressive record in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
"One of the health centers that the Millennium Villages Project is involved in, in Mayange, has done such a great job of improving the quality of health that a woman in the community approached me just last month and said, 'You know, I'm a little bit angry with you. I used to have a job in this community that I don't have anymore.' And I said, 'What exactly is that job?" and she said, "Well I used to coordinate the funerals here, and for the last eight months there hasn't been a single funeral, but just last year I was coordinating three or four funerals every single week."
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. Josh and EGR executive director Mike Kinman team-teach a global poverty module for Trinity, Wall Street's Clergy Leadership Project.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Hoops for Hope: Join EGR's March Gladness!

The brackets are set, the NCAA tournament bids are out -- this year Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation invites you to add a little purpose to your picking. We call it March Gladness.

March Gladness combines two of our favorite things -- Making Poverty History and the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Here's how it works:

Like your regular NCAA pool, you fill out your tournament bracket -- picking each game in the field of 65 right up to the championship game. Like your regular pool it costs a little to get in. Like your regular pool, the people who do the best picking the games win the pot.

Here's where Madness turns to Gladness:

*Instead of an entry fee, there is a small donation ($10).

*Along with your bracket(s) you designate a nonprofit (must be an official 501(c)3 whose work contributes to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals) that you will be picking for.

*Instead of the winners taking home the pot, all money raised will be given to the designated MDG-related organizations.

Everyone has fun and it's all for a great cause -- God's mission of global reconciliation and making poverty history!

And you can do it all right now from the comfort of your computer. Here's how:

1) DONATE -- click here to make a contribution of $10 for every bracket you wish to enter. Make sure you include your contact information, and under designation list "March Gladness"

2) PICK - click here and fill out your bracket(s). Be sure and enter the name of your designated MDG-related nonprofit as the name of your bracket.

3) ENJOY
-- sit back and enjoy the hoops ... and keep checking back to the Yahoo site and to the March Gladness page on the EGR website to see how you and everyone else is doing.

Entries close at tip-off of the first game on Thursday, March 20 (the play-in game is not included). You can enter as many times as you like, but entries will only count if an entry donation is received for each bracket.

A few more notes:

*We're using Yahoo to run the pool, so entry requires getting a Yahoo ID. Yahoo IDs are FREE, take only a minute to sign up for, and don't result in you getting a bunch of spam. No worries.

*At the end of the tournament, all money donated will be given to MDG-related nonprofits with the following distribution:

1st place - 50%
2nd place - 25%
3rd place - 15%
4th place - 10%

Finally, this is about having fun while raising money to help people who need it the most. The more the merrier! Tell to everyone you know ... let's see how much money and awareness we can raise for Making Poverty History!

For more information on the Millennium Development Goals and the movement for God's mission of global reconciliation, check out the EGR website at www.e4gr.org.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Introducing "Global Voices" and "Voices Without Votes" -- by Sarah Bush

A short post today from me today to share a link to one of my favorite websites, which I think the blog’s readers will enjoy.

Those of us who care passionately about global reconciliation might love to travel the world on a regular basis, but few of us are lucky enough to do so. It’s hard to speak with people from a variety of different backgrounds and hear directly from them about foreign aid, trade, the United States, etc. Luckily, we have Global Voices, a non-profit media project that “seeks to aggregate, curate and amplify the global conversation online” by translating blogs from all over the planet. So on International Women’s Day, you can go to Global Voices and read when women in Argentina, Peru, Venezuela, Cuba and the Dominican Republic are writing about this topic. The website allows you to filter posts by region, country and topic – so you can read what bloggers around the world are writing about development, religion and the environment, among many other topics.

A particularly interesting new project that got started recently by Global Voices and Reuters is Voices Without Votes, a collection of commentary from around the world about the United States’ presidential election and foreign policy. I am sure the website will only grow in the coming months and is definitely one to watch.

Sarah Bush is a PhD candidate in International Relations in the Department of Politics at Princeton University. She worked 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.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

"Don't Worry" -- by Dr. Christiana Russ

I find it hard in Lent to figure out what to give up. There are lots of things I do that I shouldn’t or don’t do that I should. I eat a little too much chocolate, bite my fingernails, maybe don’t get to the gym enough… that sort of thing. And yet giving up small pleasures or trying to ‘improve’ myself doesn’t ever feel like it gets me closer to God. So this year I have been really thinking about what keeps me separated from God and I figured out one big thing just a few days ago (most of the way through Lent).

I worry too much. Sometimes I worry about little things such as being on time, remembering to take my anti-malarial medicine, or that the meal that a kind Kenyan woman just prepared for me is going to make my stomach upset. Sometimes I worry about big things – how my friends in Kenya are doing given the recent turmoil there, how I can help assure the kids in that area get enough food to eat.

I am preparing to leave in two days for another Africa sojourn – this time to Zambia and Uganda to work with rural clinics on improving their pediatric, and especially newborn, care. I have been running around like mad trying to get things done – get bills paid, pick up supplies, spend time with loved ones, pack, do laundry, make sure the lid is tamped down at work. And I’ve been worrying all the way that each of those things and many others besides won’t get done. I’ve also been worrying about the basic utility of my trip - especially when kinks arose and my agenda changed dramatically just a few days ago. Just exactly what am I doing again?

And then two nights ago my boyfriend pointed out to me how much I was worrying and I have to say it really stopped me short. Here I am in Lent worrying that I haven’t given anything up yet and all the time not recognizing that the worry itself is (trying) to separate me from the love of God. Nothing can separate us from the love of God but worrying is doing its best at least keeping me from noticing that God loves me. God loves me and has called me to do this crazy thing because he also loves the people in Kenya, Uganda and Zambia who are losing their newborn babies all too frequently to illness.

And since God has called me to this thing, I also might consider having a little faith in God that He isn’t going to ditch me by the side of the highway in Uganda. Instead God will probably introduce me to amazing people along the way, and will bless my work in ways that I will see and in ways that I won’t. All the errands and details will happen one way or another. Of course I will be careful to take safety precautions, get my immunizations, and take my anti-malarials. I’m sure God appreciates if I help in taking care of myself. But I will miss so much of the grace of this trip if I wear a sour face and worry my way through it.

So my Lenten discipline now is ‘Don’t worry.’ When I catch myself at it (which is often still) I remember God’s grace, faithfulness and love, and I laugh at myself and keep on going. It might take a long time for the lesson to sink in, but this journey will be a good place to start.

Dr. Christiana Russ is a pediatrician on staff at Boston Children's Hospital. She is currently working with rural clinics in Uganda and Zambia to improve pediatric care. Christiana is chair of the Executive Council Standing Commission on HIV/AIDS.

Friday, March 14, 2008

"Finger Pointing" -- by Meredith Bowen

I have led a discussion and educational session in my parish, dealing with the MDGs, every Sunday during Lent. Last Sunday, someone asked whether or not we, as the global community, would reach the goals by 2015? I took a deep breath, referred the group to some of the handouts and simply said, “No, we won’t meet them all.” I went on to add that we will meet many of the target goals – in certain locations – and that not meeting all of the targets by 2015 doesn’t mean that we won’t meet them all and exceed them in our life-time.

One gentleman shot up his hand, obviously exasperated, and said, “Who is to blame for not meeting these goals? Who is being held accountable?” Many others in the room began shaking their heads in agreement, wanting desperately to point the finger in order to ease their frustration.

Some wanted to blame our current American administration – I quickly pointed out that President Bush has done more for Africa than other president in history; that more people are on ARV drugs now than ever before. Some wanted to blame the international community, the United Nations, for not spending wisely – an “us versus them” approach. Some wanted to blame non-profits – a quick and easy way to convince oneself not to donate.

I asked how many people in the room – a group of about 30 people – could name all 8 of the MDGs from memory? A few hands went up. I asked how many people in the room could have named all 8 MDG’s back in 2001 after they had been created and the work began to achieve them? Silence. I asked the gentleman how much he could accomplish if no one knew what he was talking about – if no one had any personal interest at stake in actually achieving whatever it is that he had set out to do.

It is the same with the MDGs. Finger pointing won’t end extreme poverty. “We” can always do things better, faster, more efficiently. But until we take personal responsibility for the way in which the MDGs are achieved, how can we expect them to miraculously happen?

Meredith Bowen is a law student at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. She spent the fall semester in Arusha, Tanzania doing an internship at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Meredith 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 started the African Orphan Education Fund to award scholarships for secondary school and university.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

"Plessy v. Ferguson?" -- by Stephanie Rhodes

Despite the efforts by US officials to corral Israeli and Palestinian leaders into a legacy-making peace process, things here are looking worse rather than better. Gaza is being destroyed, and groups I’ve never even heard of are launching attacks in Israeli West Jerusalem.

The reality, though, is that the situation here has a kind of inevitability. Until something positive happens on the ground, I’m not convinced that any political final status can be discussed, let alone achieved. Yet it’s hard to make positive change when people live their lives apart, when the trust has been so completely destroyed that it’s hard to know how to bring them together. And as much as I believe in people living side by side, all hippie-like and harmonious, part of me feels like they need to be separate for awhile. Not separate like they are now…not separated by walls and exclusive road networks and discriminatory policies…but separated the way couples choose when they can’t seem to make it work in tandem. I’ve heard the two-state solution described as a “friendly divorce”, and, in a way, that makes the most sense.

Maybe the two sides need time to pursue their own development, to be left at least somewhat alone in their pursuits, if there is ever to be a dimension of productive partnership.

As an American, the idea of proposing some “separate but equal” variant really makes me cringe.

But with every civilian killed, every house demolished and every city closed, togetherness becomes a more distant dream. And so does development. Millions of Euros and years of good work can become so much worthless rubble in a matter of seconds, and the facts on the ground become that much more depressing. Not to mention that much more dangerous.

So what to do? The very value and challenge of this blog is in trying to answer that question. Bonus points if I can say anything about peace and development in the Middle East that doesn’t sound trite. If I were in the US right now, this is what I would want to say to anyone running for President:

1. 1) Lose the language of security and peace. Both of them are pretty meaningless right now.

2) 2) Stop playing with hearts and minds. We have to have the humility to realize that no one trusts the US anymore, and their reasons make absolute sense.

3) 3) Realize that most people just want to live their lives. If you still want to talk about peace, that insight has to be the guiding principle.

4) 4) Forget about being right. Just try to make things better. We’ve had enough ideology here, and there’s no more room in the inn.

Ultimately, development capacity will determine the extent of peace and security. It will determine workable final borders, equitable sharing of natural resources and issues of human security.* It also might be the most crucial litmus test for any notion of a just peace.

Since, however, our government spending on military aid here far outweighs its humanitarian funding, I wouldn’t count on any US administration to make development a priority. In the meantime, try to create your own connections. Work with people behind the wall to create new business strategies and to access new markets. The very internet that brought you here is likely to be their strongest asset. One cool model is www.importpeace.org. Appreciate it, learn from it, then go out and make your own.

*For an economic analysis of various final status scenarios, check out the AIX Group’s latest publication Economic Dimensions of a Two-State Agreement between Israel and Palestine.
Stephanie Rhodes is an American living in Jerusalem and coordinating Palestinian media development projects. She is a former member of Episcopal Church Committee on the Status of Women.