O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel, That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear.
There are some 11 million refugees in the world, almost one in five of them from Afghanistan. (BBC World Service online, 12.21.2008)
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free Thine own from Satan’s tyranny; From depths of hell Thy people save, And give them victory over the grave.
In little more than 24 hours, at least 150 people would be dead, most of them young men, summarily executed by the rebels last month as they tightened their grip over parts of eastern Congo, according to witnesses and human-rights investigators. (NY Times 12.11.2008)
O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer Our spirits by Thine advent here; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
For the last several months, bombings have rattled the image of an India industriously humming toward prosperity. Beginning about two years ago, they have occurred with increasing frequency: about a dozen such attacks have pockmarked India's largest cities, from Delhi and Jaipur to Bangalore and Guwahati. And so when the alarms went out on Wednesday night, it looked like Mumbai (formerly Bombay) was being hit by another one of those attacks. (Time Magazine, 11.27.2008)
O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree, An ensign of Thy people be; Before Thee rulers silent fall; All peoples on Thy mercy call.
He (Mugabe) has faced renewed criticism amid a humanitarian crisis that has pushed thousands of Zimbabweans to the point of starvation and left 1,123 people dead from cholera since August. (Philadelphia Inquirer, 12.21.2008)
O come, Desire of nations, bind In one the hearts of all mankind; Bid Thou our sad divisions cease, And be Thyself our King of Peace.
Leaders of Hamas, the militant Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, declare that its six-month cease-fire with Israel is over. The declaration is likely to lead to an increase in violence, and an Israeli official said Thursday that Hamas is "clearly interested in escalating the situation." (NPR’s All Things Considered, 12.18.2008)
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
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.
Monday, December 22, 2008
O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel, That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear.
As I was importing footage from the Kigali Memorial Center last week, the main perpetrator of the 1994 genocide, General Theoneste Bagosora, received a life sentence from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) for plotting the massacre of Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
Reynolds Whalen is a recent graduate of Washington University in St. Louis and is living in Rwanda for six months working for Millennium Congregation, a nonprofit that links congregations of all faiths with potential "Millennium Villages" in Rwanda ... villages that are making all eight Millennium Development Goals happen at once. His primary work is telling the story of the past, the present and the possible future in these villages. To learn more about how your congregation can become a Millennium Congregation, go to www.millenniumcongregation.org. You can read and watch more of Reynolds' work on his blog: Deep Gladness.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
"The angel said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.'" (Luke 1:35)
"Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans." (John Lennon)
Before the angel came, what was Mary's plan?
Mary was a young woman. She had to have thoughts about how she wanted her life to turn out. Maybe they weren't grand plans. Maybe they were simple, ordinary, plans. But they were her plans. And very probably she was attached to them.
And then Life happened.
We remember Mary today not because she was SuperMom, but because when Life happened to her, when an opportunity came to her that challenged her to junk all her plans -- an opportunity that carried with it not fame and fortune but more likely being made an outcast or worse -- she let go of her plans and said, "Yes."
"The power of the Most High will overshadow you," Gabriel said. And the angel's words were spot on in more ways than one. Overshadow -- episkiasei -- not only hearkens back to that word being used to describe the presence of God covering the tabernacle in Exodus but describes what happened to Mary's plans, hopes and dreams.
All of a sudden, they all took a back seat. They were overshadowed, and other plans took their place.
And because she said yes to those other plans, we are celebrating this season. Because she said yes, we are the Church.
We claim an amazing thing when we call ourselves the Body of Christ. We claim that God can continue to break through into the world through us -- just the way that God did through Mary more than two millennia ago.
The opportunities are everywhere. Opportunities for love and compassion. Opportunities for greatness through service. The opportunities are all around us -- but almost always they require us to do what Mary did ... to set aside our plans and grasp the life that is happening while we're busy making them.
There are opportunities to give extravagantly and sacrificially of our great wealth -- even though we have plans for that money.
There are opportunities for us to do amazing things with the gifts we have -- even though we have plans for our careers, plans for our lives.
This past week, I helped pray off a group from the Diocese of Missouri who will spend this Christmas not with their families, but with the people of the Diocese of Lui in Southern Sudan. The choice for each of them to go was a difficult one.
They had plans for the money it was going to cost.
They had plans for vacation and Christmas celebrations with friends and family.
But each one of them -- Emily Bloemker, Joe Chambers, Robert Franken, Deb Goldfeder, Dan Handschy, Tammy King, Nancy Kinney, Debbie Smith ... and the family and friends who support them -- heard a call that would overshadow those plans and said yes to it.
There's nothing wrong with making plans. Certainly, dreaming dreams is an awesome thing to do. But being the Body of Christ is allowing for Life to happen that overshadows our best plans and dreams. And when it does, saying yes to it.
Where is Life happening while you're busy making plans?
This Christmas, where is the Most High looking to overshadow you?
The Rev. Mike Kinman is the Executive Director of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation.
The art is "The Annunciation" by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1898 (Philadelphia Museum of Art).
Friday, December 19, 2008
"The alleviation of material suffering in the world . . ." What can one person Do?" -- by the Rev. Gary Cartwright
As we struggle to understand and adapt to the increasing economic crisis that affects us more and more every day, it would be understandable to forget that this is a reflection of a much larger world-wide crisis in poverty and economics. The Rev. Dr. Sabina Alkire (an Episcopal priest , now in England) recently said :
“The Alleviation of material suffering in the world and the spiritual renewal of the Church go hand in hand.”
Dr. Sabina Alkire, is currently the Director of the new Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) Oxford University, and author of “What can one person do?”
Worldwide poverty is a spiritual problem that affects all of us. Jesus has been very clear about that.
In Matthew 25:31-40, it says:
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'
Bono (Paul David Hewson) is the lead singer for the Irish U2 Band. He is a world-wide activist for the alleviation of extreme poverty. Not satisfied with just making statements he and his wife Ali have worked in Ethiopian feeding camps, as well as sponsoring many initiatives to raise money for those who are literally starving to death. Some quotes from Bono:
“Distance does not decide who is your brother and who is not. The church is going to have to become the conscience of the free market if it's to have any meaning in this world - and stop being its apologist”.
“We can be the generation that no longer accepts that an accident of latitude determines whether a child lives or dies. But will we be that generation?”
“It's an amazing thing to think that ours is the first generation in history that really can end extreme poverty, the kind that means a child dies for lack of food in its belly. That should be seen as the most incredible, historic opportunity but instead it's become a millstone around our necks. We let our own pathetic excuses about how it's "difficult" justify our own inaction. Be honest. We have the science, the technology, and the wealth. What we don't have is the will, and that's not a reason that history will accept.”
In response to these needs I ask you to pray, study, give and act.
Please pray this prayer daily:
Most loving God, as your desire for mercy for the poor is unrelenting, may we be unrelenting in our pursuit of mercy for all; as your compassion for the suffering of the poor knows no limit, may our hearts overflow with compassion for all; as you long for justice for the poor, may we strive for justice for all. Open our eyes to the structures of oppression from which we benefit, and give us courage to accept our responsibility, wisdom to chart a sound course amid complexity, and perseverance to continue our work until it is finished. Breathe your life-giving Spirit afresh into your Church to free us from apathy and indifference; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
For additional information please see: www.e4gr.orgThank you,
Gary Cartwright is a deacon in the Diocese of Southwest Florida assigned to Holy Innocents' Episcopal Church in Valrico, FL. A former executive with IBM, Gary's baptismal and diaconal call is lived out through his deep passion for seeking and serving Christ in the extreme poor. That finds focus in, among other places, the reconciliation work of REACH-Rwanda. Gary is a member of the Anglican Communion Network.
EGR blogger Christiana Russ -- a pediatrician who splits her time between Boston and Kenya -- offers this video her brother put together to describe the work of the Mother's Union of Maseno and the deworming program that they are doing there.
It's a great story of What One Person Can Do, and the key is that when Christiana showed up in Maseno, the first thing she did was ask questions and listen. Then she looked at how she offer her gifts in partnership with the gifts of the wonderfully gifted people (in this case, the Mother's Union) who were already there. What resulted was an incredibly low-cost solution to a debilitating problem.
Dr. Christiana Russ is a pediatrician doing her residency at Boston Children's Hospital, currently working at an Anglican mission hospital in Kenya through a joint arrangement with Children's and the Diocese of Massachusetts. She is also chair of the Executive Council Standing Commission on HIV/AIDS.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Reynolds Whalen, who blogs here regularly, has just arrived in Rwanda where he will be living and working for six months for Millennium Congregation -- a wonderful new nonprofit that is linking congregations of all faiths with "Millennium Villages" that are making the MDGs happen in Rwanda.
Reynolds will be shooting lots of video and doing lots of other things to tell the story of the amazing ministry happening in Rwanda (for a snapshot of all the projects he has lined up, check out the latest post on his blog). As a test of his video equipment, he shot these videos at the groundbreaking ceremony for a site for Miracle Corners of the World (MCW), a non-profit promoting local change and global exchange, a community driven process. The site that will include a preschool, a radio station for Bugesera District, and other educational and gender empowering initiatives.
This first clip is of a group of youth dancing.
This second clip is of kids marveling at Reynolds' LCD screen, which is reversible and can reveal the live video to the subjects. Kids love seeing themselves on live video.
These faces are the face of Christ, the image of God. Watch and enjoy!
Monday, December 15, 2008
As we wait for the momentous climax of the advent season, many other people sit waiting too.
But not for Christmas.
They wait in line for medication. ARV’s. Drugs needed each month in order to delay the effects of the AIDS virus.
Last week I travelled to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I visited an AIDS clinic, where people sat waiting for their medications.
Waiting and waiting.
I met a young Maasai girl who had been waiting for hours. She hadn’t eaten. She hadn’t moved. She lay in the grass, waiting.
She didn’t complain. She didn’t pout or cry. Her courage in the face of a disease that is killing her was astonishing to me.
She reminded me that we are essentially all waiting for the same thing – she for medications, and I for a cure. We both wait for the suffering to end.
Pray this Christmas season for an end to the suffering. For this little girl and for all the others in the world suffering as she is.
Meredith Bowen is an Episcopal young adult living in Tanzania. 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. Started the African Orphan Education Fund to award scholarships for secondary school and university.
“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her” (Isaiah 40:1).
As I previously wrote, I traveled to South Africa this past July to attend an international social work conference and to visit some agencies working with people who are recovering from trauma. One of the places I visited in the Capetown area was the Institute for the Healing of Memories. Shortly after the trip, I was invited to attend one of their trainings in California.
On November 7-8 at the Wright Institute in Berkeley, CA, I attended a “Healing of Memories” workshop led by Fr. Michael Lapsley. Fr. Lapsley – an Anglican priest who is originally from New Zealand - came to South Africa in 1993 and subsequently worked against apartheid with the African National Congress (ANC). He lost both hands and an eye from a letter bomb delivered as a result of his political activities. His “Healing of Memories” work is in part inspired by his personal journey of healing and wholeness. His experience and the experience of those living in South Africa post-apartheid is a reminder that the personal and political intersect in experiences of brokenness as well as of recovery. As the website states about the “Healing of Memories” workshops:
The workshop in Berkeley occurred three days after car horns, singing and all-night parties marked the historic election of Barack Hussein Obama to the 44th term of the United States’ presidency. As the workshop began, Fr. Lapsley asked our group of twenty assembled to put aside our professional identities for those two days, and to focus on where we personally we required healing. As many of us attending were mental health professionals and healers, it was a challenge to focus only upon ourselves. The first question he asked of the group concerned our reactions to the events of that past week. Yes, it is true that as a group we expressed hope and happiness, but we also expressed fears and anger, particularly over the safety of our President-elect, economic hardships and the passage of Proposition 8.
“At the time of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (1996 to 1997), it was obvious that only a minority of South Africans would have the opportunity to tell their story before the Truth Commission. It was argued that platforms needed to be provided for all South Africans to tell their stories and be heard compassionately. The Healing of Memories workshops were run as a parallel process to the Commission - to facilitate reconciliation between the racial groups and to heal psychological wounds, making it possible for individuals to contribute effectively towards the reconstruction of South Africa. The workshops were also used to further support those who became overwhelmed by strong emotions while testifying.”
It was powerful to me how - over those two days - the fears and hopes we talked about personally in our small groups converged with our collective identity. Stories of strained family relationships, economic turmoil, oppression and abuse gave way to conversations about steps for the future. As a nation, we face a similar time: a time which President-elect Obama has described as a “Defining Moment.” We have reached this “defining moment” through a combination of great challenges and the promise of opportunity - a truly Christic moment where the Cross and the Resurrection converge.
The beginning of Advent has started us as Christians on the path again toward Easter. As Fr. Lapsley encouraged us to do in Berkeley, this season is a great opportunity to reflect and to pray. Where can I bring about healing in my own life? What role can I play in the healing of this nation and other nations? As Fr. Lapsley commended to all of us, “The message of the Healing of Memories is to acknowledge that it is time to lay aside that which is destructive, and embrace that which is life-giving.” God, allow us to discern where these areas reside for us, for yes, it is time.
Jenn Morazes is a graduate of Episcopal Divinity School in the area of Theology and Contemporary Society. 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.
Friday, December 12, 2008
It's crunch-time, folks -- and we need your help.
This week, we are setting a goal of $75,000 raised for EGR by midnight, December 31. We believe in setting big goals when the stakes are high, and they certainly are.
Make your gift to this goal online by clicking here.
*Articulating a clear, prophetic, faithful response for the church in a time of global financial crisis. As always for EGR, this will focus on the practical transformative question of What One Can Do.
*The MDG Mapping Project - an interactive virtual map of all the MDG ministry going on in the Church today.
*The beginnings of a Millennial generation movement for global reconciliation in the Church (a planning team of people between age 16-26 is already meeting online).
*Growing the of the EGR Rule of Life in breadth and depth as a community of spiritual transformation.
We aim to dream dreams worthy of the mission God has given us, and we believe we're doing that here. We're going to need your help in lots of ways to make all these things happen, but right now we need your help raising the money.
Here's what we need you to do:
1. Pray. - This whole movement is fueled by prayer. There is no anxiety about raising this money. If what we do is of God, God will provide for it (though we'll also have to work our tails off, too!). Pray for EGR. Pray for the Church. Pray for God to let you know What One Person (YOU!) Can Do.
2. Make a gift. - If you haven't given to EGR yet in 2008, please do so. Of course we'd like your gift to be as big as possible, but more than that we want as MANY donors as possible. This is a movement and one of the ways people show ownership in a movement is through giving. So whatever the size, make a gift.
If you've already given, THANK YOU. Please say your prayers and consider another, year-end gift.
Give online by clicking here.
Give through our Facebook cause by clicking here.
Give by check by making it out to EGR and sending it to
EGR, c/o Mike Fitzgerald, EGR accountant
115 Pinewood Avenue
Brandon, FL 33510
3. See who hasn't given - and invite them! - EGR's 2008 donors are now online at http://www.e4gr.org/donors.html sorted by individuals, congregations and dioceses. Check it out and see who is on it ... and who isn't. Is your diocese or congregation on the list? If so, write them a note of appreciation. If not, it's your job to make the invitation (and I'll give you all the help you need). Know people who might give to EGR but aren't on the list ... let 'em know and give them a chance to join the movement!
Remember, you're not "asking," you're INVITING. This is about offering people the chance to do something WONDERFUL with their money -- to be a part of God transforming the Church and through the Church transforming the world. You can't get better bang for your buck than that. I write lots of checks every year, but there is no check I write with more joy than my check to EGR ... because I know my wealth is going toward something great, the mission God gives us and the mission we share.
Thanks so much for all you do. Please let me know how I can help you in this process.
Oh, and if you think $75,000 is an ambitious goal for 3 weeks, consider this:
Last year at this time, we set a goal of raising $40,000 by the end of the year. We raised close to $110,000.
Dream big. God is cheering us on!
Thursday, December 11, 2008
John the Baptist said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” (John 1:23)
What One Can Do. This has been EGR’s mantra from the beginning. It is a statement of hope and conviction. That God acting through one person, one congregation, one diocese, one church, can change and reconcile the world.
What One Can Do is nothing new. John the Baptist in the wilderness claimed it, too. “I am the voice of One,” he said. What the One who was John the Baptist could do was to look around, recognize that he was living in God’s defining moment, and cry out. Cry out the amazing news that another One was coming – and that the time had arrived for everyone to take a good look at themselves and ask not just “What Can One Person … me … Do?” but to dream with joy and wonder, “What Can One Person … me … Be?”
This Advent, we are so much like John. We can look around and realize that the present moment is every bit as much God’s defining moment as that day in Bethany. What will One person … you … do? What will One person … you … cry? Who, with God’s help, will One person .. each of us … become?”
The Rev. Mike Kinman is the Executive Director of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
This December 1st marked the 20th commemoration of World AIDS Day. The international commemoration has perennially been accompanied by new, bleak reports, and bureaucratic hand-wringing over the invariable failure of supply – in the form of drugs, management and financing – to keep up with the needs of the desperately ill around the world. However, this year, there’s actually some rather interesting news.
A new study just released by Harvard shows that President Mbeki has now topped the charts as one of the world’s top killers of all time. His outrageous ignorance and deadly policies resulted in excess deaths of at least 350,000 South Africans. The study does not include the lives lost in other countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa where South Africa’s perspectives are deeply influential. Quantifying the toll of Mbeki’s malfeasance is an important step toward rectifying the challenges in Africa: leadership in the fight against AIDS does make a difference and those who choose not to lead must be identified as collaborators in the killing.
Meanwhile, for the first time since the advent of anti-retroviral therapy and vaccine trials, hope for a cure has emerged. Through a bone marrow transplant, a German scientist has perhaps cleared the first AIDS patient of the virus – quite possibly the first time in human history that a person with AIDS has been effectively freed of the virus. There is nothing easily replicable about this case, but this breakthrough offers a glimmer of hope for what is essential to bring the pandemic to a halt: a cure. Despite nearly a quarter of a century of treatment and research, over 30 million people are currently afflicted with HIV and close to 2 million die from AIDS each year. Most worrisome is the momentum of the pandemic itself: 2008 registered nearly 3 million new cases of the disease, and only a small proportion of them are likely to receive treatment before perishing.
Treatment is an area of notable success in spite of its failure to reach a high proportion of those in need. In 2002, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was born and the dream of billions for fighting the pandemic became a reality. In 2003, President Bush launched the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to combat global HIV/AIDS – the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease in human history. In 2003, approximately 50,000 people in all of Sub-Saharan Africa were receiving anti-retroviral treatment. Today, the Global Fund and PEPFAR support anti-retroviral treatment for nearly 1.7 million people in the region – and tens of thousands more around the world, from Asia to Eastern Europe. Unfortunately, that is still not enough. In June of this past year, a joint WHO/UN Aids report showed that nearly three million people are now receiving anti-retroviral drugs in the developing world, but this is less than a third of the estimated 9.7 million people who need them today (what isn’t stated is those 2/3rds in need will likely die in the next 24 months). We must reach more people and we must do it quickly.
As we see a world-wide recession take root, we have to redouble efforts to raise money for treatment and research. Global surges in poverty are a recipe for increases in diseases like AIDS. Short-term budgetary cuts can have massive and multiplied effect in the public health world: now is the time to increase, not decrease expenditures. For example, we have made remarkable advances in the fight against malaria over the past few years, so much so, that deaths can potentially be eliminated over the next few years with the proper infrastructure and funding. The same could be true for AIDS with the right approach and commitment.
The key to fighting AIDS includes a multi-pronged approach for now.
Private donors and for profit organizations should join in the effort as well. Organizations like MAC AIDS Fund and the Gates Foundation have helped the cause dramatically. There are key roles for players of all sizes. Here are some top recommendations taken from the report of the Global HIV Prevention Working Group:
• National political and public health leaders should develop and implement AIDS strategies and operational plans tailored to the particular dynamics of national epidemics; integrate prevention and treatment services; and increase prevention interventions sufficiently to have measurable impact. Countries scaling-up adult male circumcision – and any other biomedical strategy that proves effective – should combine these efforts with complementary behavior modification campaigns to decrease the risk behavior that can occur when new strategies or tools are introduced.
• International donors should commit to rapidly funding these tailored national HIV prevention programs. Additionally they should make available by 2010 at least $11.9 billion U.S. annually to support scale-up of evidence-based HIV prevention programs as part of a comprehensive response to HIV. Donors should ensure robust financing for community-driven responses that build local civil society capacity and leadership.
• Multilateral and other technical agencies should develop mechanisms to assess the soundness of national HIV prevention strategies, identifying instances where national plans conflict with available evidence about the dynamics of HIV incidence, or where selected prevention strategies are not based on evidence of what is effective with particular populations.
• AIDS activists and other civil society groups should strongly advocate for the simultaneous scaling up of HIV prevention and treatment.President Bush has committed significant U.S. funds to combat AIDS, and over the next four years, President-elect Obama should dedicate as much, if not more, of the country’s resources to this fight. He should also give due consideration to what worked well in the Bush Administration’s approach and what could have been done more effectively with the same resources. If we’re found simply debating whether we have the means to win the battle, we will find that we have already lost it.
Dr. 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, December 8, 2008
It is Advent and we await the coming of Jesus as a child born into a dirty, smelly manger. It is hard to grasp what that might have been like. I sometimes wonder as a parent of two small children what it might have been like to be Joseph. Would he have been scared about Mary actually delivering the baby without her life being threatened?
Even to this day, mothers in many countries die from complications associated with childbirth. Years ago, I walked into a maternity ward in Haiti and I noticed a few flies hovering above a mother in the corner. As I approached I realized she had recently died. I called the doctor over and he quickly checked her pulse, and then had the nurse cover her face with the sheet and he moved on. I was stunned by his nonchalant attitude. In the states we would have done everything possible to save the mother using the latest in technology. When questioned, the doctor told me that postoperative death is common and he had to tend to the living. Moments later, still in the maternity ward, a nurse in our group came running out with a baby who was turning blue. She raced toward another room where the only available oxygen tank in the whole building could be found. It was 1960s vintage but it worked and the baby lived.
That very night at the hotel, I watched an episode of ER, the television show that depicts an emergency room at a hospital in Chicago. The tragic irony was not lost on me as the doctors raced from room to room trying to save lives.
Childbirth was far from easy in the time of Jesus. And in some places it still is and that’s why to reduce child mortality and improve maternal health are the fourth and fifth Millennium Development Goals. I can imagine Joseph breathing a sigh of relief as the baby Jesus cried out for the first time and Mary had not suffered any ill effects. Even with all the medical facilities we had available at the hospital, I know I breathed easier when the doctors gave the thumbs up!
I wrote these few words soon after my daughter was born almost six years ago. I found them while writing this essay and I thought they might be appropriate at this time of the year.
“I looked into the mirror and it was you who smiled back at me – a smile so wide I almost cried.
The father finds a reflection of himself as he holds his first-born daughter. Only, instead of a tired, unshaven face at 4 a.m., she has wide, innocent eyes that sparkle happiness and joy. What will she become? I ask under the glow of the bathroom light.
It won’t be long until she is standing and looking into the mirror with no one to hold her. Will she see my reflection in herself just like I sometimes see my parents reflected in me?
More importantly, will she know that she is made in God’s image and the beauty she radiates comes from Him?”
Have a blessed Advent and Christmas!
I got off a plane in Kigali yesterday after a trip that took 35 hours including layovers. Driving through the city, one of the first things I noticed was the remarkable lack of trash. I believe this can be largely attributed to the Rwandan government's decision to ban plastic bags from the country.
In many parts of nearby Kenya, especially informal settlements and slums, one of the most striking images is streets lined with plastic bags, strewn across roads like carpets whose designs are the art of the nation's waste. Now, Kenya too has banned plastic bags.
Several weeks ago, I watched an independent documentary about an area the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean known as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch." Here, plastic floats freely and collects in large, ice berg-type chunks the size of a small car. Gutting a fish or an albatross reveals stomachs lined with plastic bags, wrappers, cellophane, and bits of plastic jugs. The biggest problem, however, is more subtle. Because plastic is non biodegradable, it breaks down smaller and smaller, literally changing the composition of the sea water and poisoning everything with which it has contact.
Perhaps our country too should consider banning plastic in as many forms as possible and using our political clout to encourage others to do the same. As with many issues I have noticed and studied, perhaps we should focus less on what we have to teach Africa and more on what Africa has to teach us.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
"And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins." (Mark 1:5)
Confession is a party. At least is was for John the Baptist. And it should be for us.
In this Sunday's Gospel, the people are coming to John looking for a big change in their lives. That's what he was preaching - repentance -- literally a turning around or a changing of mind and heart.
Well, if you're going to turn around, you need not just to know where you're turning to but where you are turning from. And that means confession -- acknowledging all the ways and things we have done that are not who we want to be.
For us, maybe confession brings to mind a small booth with a priest ... or an awkward period of silence before a mumbled group prayer.
Not for John. Not for those people in the Jordan that day.
The Greek word Mark uses for confession is exomologeo, which not only means "saying out loud together" but has connotations of "acknowledging opening AND JOYFULLY!"
Loud, communal, joyful confession.
Sound strange? It shouldn't. The joy of confession is that it liberates us from feeling like we have to hide all the ways we've messed up. It lets us own them and at the same time give them to God. It lets us clear the decks and say we really want things to be different ... and open the door for God to do extraordinary things through us.
The Millennium Development Goals are an amazing dream -- God's dream of global reconciliation -- and also a huge change. And to accomplish them, we must not only look forward but look back. We do have much to confess:
*A world where we're willing to keep Chinese children in factories as long as it means cheap TVs at Wal-Mart.
*A world where we spend enough each year on video games to achieve universal primary education.
*A world where a child dies every 30 seconds of malaria for lack of a $10 bed net.
These are not things to be happy about -- that's not the joy. The joy is that we can confess them ... and we can accept God's forgiveness ... and then we really can turn around, we really can let God change us so we can change the world.
Oscar Wilde said, "Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future." And for us to embrace the amazing future God has in store for us we first must say with the expectant joy of being forgiven, "Alleluia! We messed up."
And then turn around, invite the coming of Christ into our lives, and adventurously embrace what God will do through us next.
The Rev. Mike Kinman is the Executive Director of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
he said (in order to fulfill the scripture),
Many people are thirsty. Much of our environment is in trouble. Our planet is suffering. What should people do? What should nations do? What should Christians do?
Like the old song reminds us: “Problems, we’ve got problems; we’ve got stacks and stacks of problems…..”
Well, the world has problems, too. Big problems. These problems are bigger than one geographic area – bigger than a city. Larger than a county, state, or even a multi-state area. These problems affect our entire country, our continent, even the whole wide world. What kind of problems? Well, it’s getting warmer, our ice is melting, it is harder to grow stuff, more expensive to move stuff, and the wells are going dry, just to name a few concerns.
This set of problems is like a big mobile, like the one I hang over my patio every spring. It is wide, and has many arms, all delicately balanced, awaiting the slightest breeze. When the breeze comes, and it always does, the mobile swerves, dances, and swings around, always in harmony. But go ahead and pull on one of these arms, and something happens: Almost everything moves, somehow. Yes, it may be possible to affect only one other arm, but that’s very hard to do. Pull on one, and there is a widespread effect. One moves, and then another, and still another. Pretty soon, all are impacted. This movement spreads from one place to another, all around the system.
It’s sometime hard to understand – or even believe – that what you do in Maryland will have an effect on someone in North Dakota, or Somalia, or Venezuela, or even New Zealand. But it will; just like pulling one arm on the mobile.
What we do to preserve our environment will have an effect somewhere, sometime, somehow. These effects are often not easy to discern or to understand. Sometimes they are not economically logical But they usually make sense when you look at the bigger picture, and investigate just what will happen – or what will NOT happen if this action is undertaken. Education and imagination and boldness are all essential.
Sometimes what is done here means that something will NOT have to be done over there, leading to another movement in their arm of the mobile. If you don’t need the paper, maybe a tree in Canada won’t be cut down, and then the wood won’t have to be cut and sawed up. The pulp won’t have to be made into paper, and the wood and the paper won’t have to be shipped thousands of miles. Less energy will be needed, so maybe the electricity generating station won’t need to be started up today, with less coal being burned and less pollution being expelled into the sky. Maybe. Perhaps if it isn’t quite as warm in Nigeria today, someone will not have to buy a coat, and can use that money instead on a goat, which will give milk to his family for years to come. Maybe. Maybe if the coal consumption falls below the “magic level,” a new mine won’t have to be dug. Maybe. All of these are little slivers of “maybes”, but lots of them add up to something significant. Absolutely.
The Christian way does not do things any old way; it seeks to do things “the right way.” We see ourselves as stewards, not just for our immediate relatives, but for the rest of the world, as well as for those who will be future inhabitants. What better way to be “right” than to try to leave things better off than they were when we found them. This is what sustainability is all about. We should not just do things to benefit ourselves, but to also benefit others. The best way to ensure this sustainability is to be careful and judicious in our use of our resources. Using them wisely will mean that there will be more to “go around” and that there will be more available in the future. One of the most exciting and important uses for our modern technology is to allow this wise use to become a way of our lives. We can use less, and we can use things better – things that can be used again, and things that can be easily replaced.
It is amazing how inter-connected we are in “this fragile Earth, our island home.” That is to be discussed next month, when I turn to MDG 8, which is “Create a Global Partnership for Development.”
John Miers is from Bethesda, Maryland, where he was employed at the National Institutes of Health from 1968 to 2005. He serves on the board of St. Luke’s House, a halfway house for persons recovering from mental illness and also serves as Jubilee Officer for the Diocese of Washington. He was a member of National Commission on Science, Technology and Faith for the Episcopal Church and is active in his local church, where he is in the choir, worship committee, pastoral care committee, and the prayer team, and he also visits patients in a local hospital on behalf of the Chaplain.
Monday, December 1, 2008
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams has recorded a video message to mark the 20th annual World AIDS Day today.
The video sees the Archbishop talk about the Church's worldwide involvement in care and education surrounding HIV and AIDS, and calls for faith leaders to 'encourage and support' what is being done by listening to those who work on the front lines.
There are currently 30 million people worldwide living with HIV.
He says "Our hope and our prayer today is that the excellent work that's done, not just in developing countries but here at home too by the Churches will continue and deepen and be strengthened by our prayer and our commitment."
"Recognising that people living with HIV is us not them, whether it's leaders and congregations, congregations and 'outsiders' - it's us. It's all of our business...Church leaders and Church congregations taking responsibility for educating the wider public."
In the video Dr Williams speaks with representatives from Tearfund, Christian Aid, NAHIP and African HIV Policy Network, Zimbabwe Womens Network UK and Rise Community Action.
This video, along with all other Lambeth Palace videos, can be viewed at the Lambeth Palace YouTube channel - http://youtube.com/lambethpress
If you would like to find out about some of the ways Anglican organisations are seeking to combat HIV and support and empower those living with HIV, please see the links below:
Australian Board of Mission - Fighting For Life: STOPAIDS and the Anglican Church in PNG
CHAA - The Christian HIV/AIDS Alliance - CHAA has initiated a Creed for the AIDS pandemic suitable to be read in church services for World AIDS day or any other occasion when the pandemic is remembered.
USPG - Projects: Action on HIV
See also - AngliCORD, Episcopal Relief and Development, The Primate's World Relief and Development Fund, Christian Aid, CMS Britain, CMS Ireland