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as yourself

as yourself

Jesus put it simply: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

As yourself …

How do you love yourself? Out of pity? As a duty? Because you have to?

Or is your love for yourself a desire for well-being and happiness, just because you want well-being and happiness? Don’t you defend yourself because you believe you deserve to be treated fairly? Aren’t you patient and kind with yourself, because you understand your own strengths and weaknesses and know you are still learning, still becoming? And don’t you accept help, when you do, with gratitude, believing it is offered not out of pity, but out of love, because people care about you like you care about them? Because you matter?

Isn’t your love for yourself based on a belief in your own inherent dignity and worth?

A friend shared an article with me today. You should read it. It is subtitled:

We need to change the conversation about poverty and inequality. It starts with compassion and kindness.

We need to change the conversation, to see poverty, not from the outside, but from the inside, to set aside stereotypes and see our neighbors as they are, to lead with compassion, to learn to love our neighbors … as ourselves.

An excerpt from the article …

When researchers at Princeton University showed two groups of viewers the same video of a little girl answering questions about school subjects, they told the first group that her parents were affluent professionals. They told the second group that she was the daughter of a meat packer and a seamstress.

The girl, named Hannah, performed right at grade level on the videotaped test, answering some questions correctly and missing others. But when asked about her performance, the first group, primed to believe she was wealthy, felt that she had performed above grade level. The second group, primed to believe she was not, felt that she had performed below.

It was the same video, mind you — the same girl, answering the same questions in the exact same way. But their conclusions were totally different.

Sometimes we see what we’re looking for …

peace on earth

peace on earth

Rachel SimonsRachel Simons lives in Galati, Romania, a field worker with Word Made Flesh, an Christian organization committed to “serving Jesus among the poorest of the poor.” She works with Galati’s street children, providing them educational and recreational and spiritual programs, and interacting with them on a daily basis in their own context on the streets.

The following is taken from one of her recent prayer letters:

… around the holidays I constantly run into children begging outside of restaurants, shopping malls, supermarkets and at stop-lights. They know that people tend to give more in December, so they bear the cold, stomp their feet to keep from freezing, and stand for hours outside of places that attract shoppers.

The weight of poverty is felt so deeply this time of year, and the lines are drawn between those who can shop and those who are left on the margins, outside the window looking in. Yesterday as I waited at the bus stop in below freezing weather, I watched some children I know doing their dance outside the pastry shop door … dancing to keep their feet from freezing. One of the boys had courage to step inside the door for a few brief moments of warmth before getting scolded to “keep out!” … Please pray for those who are marginalized and left out. Pray for God’s kingdom of peace and equity to come on earth as it is in heaven.

When people like Rachel have a heart for the “poorest of the poor,” not just generally, but for particular children and women and men they know by name — when they see them and love them and pray for them and choose to be with them — then God’s peace has already come on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus is indeed among us!

To learn more about Rachel’s ministry in Galati and about the global ministries of Word Made Flesh, check out the Word Made Flesh website.

the great moral issues of our time

the great moral issues of our time

I quote below a portion of Jim Wallis’ response to James Dobson’s characterization of the “great moral issues of our time.” Dobson coauthored a letter to the National Association of Evangelicals objecting to their inclusion of climate change among the issues they have chosen to address as leaders of the evangelical Christian movement.

Dobson named the”great moral issues” as “the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage and the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children.” … I believe the sanctity of life, the integrity and health of marriages, and the teaching of sexual morality to our children are, indeed, among the great moral issues of our time. But I believe they are not the only great moral issues. As many [other Christians] have been saying … the enormous challenges of global poverty, climate change, pandemics that wipe out generations and continents, the trafficking of human beings made in God’s image, and the grotesque violations of human rights, even to the point of genocide, are also among the great moral issues that people of faith must be – and already are – addressing.

What would you identify as the great moral issues of our time, the issues with which we, as people of faith, should be grappling?

nobel peace prize for micro-credit pioneer

nobel peace prize for micro-credit pioneer

Britain’s Times calls it a truly inspiring choice.

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Muhammad Yunus, a citizen of Bangladesh and a man with a dream to bring an end to poverty. His strategy has been to make small loans to people with little income, women in particular, people ineligible for conventional loans. These “micro-loans” help to raise people out of poverty by empowering their own entrepreneurial skills and enabling their own income-producing capacities.

It works. It works in Bangladesh. It works in Haiti. I have a special interest in Haiti, having spent nine days there in the summer of 1991, and have made personal contributions to Fonkoze, a micro-credit lender which calls itself, Haiti’s Alternative Bank for the Organized Poor.

Read the Times editorial below …

Comment: a truly inspiring choice for Nobel Peace Prize
By Gabriel Rozenberg, Economics Reporter for The Times

Never underestimate the power of an economist to change the world.

In 1974 Muhammad Yunus led his students at Chittagong University on a field trip to a poor Bangladeshi village. They met a woman who made bamboo stools, but whose profits were eaten up by the extortionate rates of local lenders. Yunus started lending money himself in the form of “micro-loans” and in 1976 the Grameen Bank Project was born.

The bank now covers nearly 70,000 villages and makes small loans to more than 6 million customers. It is remarkable in many ways: almost all of its borrowers are women, and the loan recovery rate is above 98 per cent, an astonishingly high number.

For its success in lifting the impoverished out of penury across Bangladesh, and for providing the model for a worldwide revolution of micro-credit, Yunus and the Grameen Bank were today awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the past, the Norwegian committee which hands out humanity’s greatest accolade have often struck a discordant note. Some people see Henry Kissinger (joint winner, 1973) as a warmonger; others see Yasser Arafat (joint winner, 1994) as a terrorist. There is almost no one who believes that the Nobel Committee got it right both of those times. Other choices are uncreative – the United Nations, the International Labour Organisation – or tediously predictable. This award was neither.

To award a Peace Prize for an anti-poverty inititative is striking enough, but that is only half the story.

In rich Western capitals like London there is today a thriving “international development community”: well-meaning, thoughtful people in charities, pressure groups and Whitehall who came together last year at Live 8 and led to the world’s wealthiest nations doubling their aid budgets.

But probe beneath the surface and you will find confusion. The charities praise aid in public; yet they quietly admit that simply handing over cash to often-corrupt governments has frequently failed miserably. They call for good governance, the latest buzzword, but any attempt to cut off cash to bad governments ties them in moral knots.

Grandiose schemes are the order of the day: the UN’s flagship anti-poverty Millennium Project has, as the economist William Easterly has pointed out, a bewildering 449 proposals to meet 54 different goals in a 3,800-page plan that leaves no one accountable for anything.

The Grameen Bank presents a totally different approach. It was not dreamt up by a faraway Western aid agency. It is tried and tested; it is a business solution which comes from the grassroots.

Grameen shows us the poor and the destitute not as pitiable charity cases condemned to their lot, but as thwarted entrepreneurs who just lack the means to improve their families’ lives. It is a profoundly optimistic view of human nature. With this inspired choice the Nobel Committee has lit a path that could lead to the eradication of poverty in our time.

a test of national character

a test of national character

Our initial response to the victims of hurricane Katrina was a test of our national character, a test we largely failed. Since then, government agencies and especially non-governmental agencies and groups and single individuals have distinguished themselves by acts of genuine compassion and timely help to dislocated families. But there is much, much yet to do.

Our long term commitment to the rebuilding of the ravaged Gulf coast and to the restoration of livable communities in that same region will also test our national character. Katrina exposed the nightmares within the American dream. Katrina revealed the huge disparities that exist among us with regard to wealth and opportunity and safety and access to health care. What we saw we could not deny … but we are capable of forgetting what we saw.

In a Washington Post column released today E. J. Dionne writes:

It has long been said that Americans have short attention spans, but this is ridiculous: Our bold, urgent, far-reaching, post-Katrina war on poverty lasted maybe a month.

Credit for our ability to reach rapid closure on the poverty issue goes first to a group of congressional conservatives who seized the post-Katrina initiative before advocates of poverty reduction could get their plans off the ground.

As soon as President Bush announced his first spending package for reconstructing New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, the Republican Study Committee and other conservatives switched the subject from poverty reduction to how Katrina reconstruction plans might increase the deficit that their own tax-cutting policies helped create.

Unwilling to freeze any of the tax cuts, these conservatives proposed cutting other spending to offset Katrina costs. The headlines focused on the seemingly easy calls on pork-barrel spending. But some of their biggest cuts were in health care programs, including Medicaid, and other spending for the poor …

I was naive enough to hope that after Katrina the left and the right might have useful things to say to each other about how to help the poorest among us. I guess we’ve moved on. You can lay a lot of the blame for this indifference on conservatives. But it will be a default on the part of liberals if the poor disappear again from public view without a fight.

(Read the entire column)

I worry that the focus will be on rebuilding cities instead of on rebuilding lives, that we will make this an opportunity to fashion a new New Orleans, a new Gulf coast, and forget about the problems and the people of the old one.

We cannot forget what we saw. We cannot just “move on” and fail to deal with the social and moral and political liabilities that so magnified Katrina’s capacity to cause human suffering. We must not fail this test of our national character.

a “natural” disaster?

a “natural” disaster?

Among the letters read on air today during NPR’s Morning Edition program was a letter from an Arizona correspondent objecting to an NPR story that cited the disproportional effects of hurricane Katrina on people of color and people of low income. He wrote: New Orleans is a sandcastle built at low tide … The storm did not discriminate on the basis of race or class.

Absolutely right. The storm did not discriminate. People discriminate! And discrimination did lead directly to greater suffering in the aftermath of the storm among people of color and people of low income. Poverty means you live in homes less ready to withstand the damaging effects of wind and in places less protected from the damaging effects of water. Poverty means when they say Get out, you don’t have the means to get out or a place to get out to. Poverty means when disaster does strike you have fewer resources with which to mitigate its effects, fewer resources with which to rebuild your life. You don’t have health insurance, homeowner’s insurance, savings accounts.

Poverty means when help is mobilized, you aren’t high on the priority list. A classmate of mine who works for the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta noted that Charity Hospital, a large New Orleans hospital serving the low income community, was not evacuated until two days after their generators ran out of gas. He writes:

    The flood forced them to retreat vertically, crowding the patients into the upper floors. After the generators ran out of gas, around day 3, the mechanical ventilators and dialysis machines also quit. They tried to ventilate the patients who needed it by hand squeezing rubber bags attached to their trache tubes by hand; a number of the patients died. Patients who needed dialysis also died; there is no way to do that without electricity. The staff faced a new and awful problem – what to do with the growing number of corpses. The morgue was out of commission, the hospital wards were overflowing. They decided they had no other option than to float the dead out into the flood waters. It hurt like hell, but they saw no other choice … They had to focus on saving the living as best they could. I do not blame them. I still cannot fathom what delayed the rescue effort for 5 days, but I think we as a nation have to find out, if we want to salvage our membership in the civilized world.

Meanwhile, high priced Ochsner Clinic Hospital was evacuated almost immediately …

It is our shame that we ignore the devastating effects of poverty among our own neighbors until something like Katrina “lifts the covers” for a moment and forces us to look. It is our shame that we support programs and elect leaders that protect our own interests rather than the common interest. It is our shame that our hearts are moved by the specter of a great natural disaster, but unmoved by the great unnatural disaster that plagues our nation every day.

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