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Archive for the ‘Called by Faith’ Category

The Bread We Stash Belongs to the Starving

I just read Peter Singer’s essay, Famine, Affluence, and Morality. In it Singer quotes from the Decretum Gratiani: “The bread which you withhold belongs to the hungry; the clothing you shut away, to the naked; and the money you bury in the earth is the redemption and freedom of the penniless.” Singer concludes that “we would not be sacrificing anything significant if we were to continue to wear our old clothes, and give the money to famine relief. By doing so, we would be preventing another person from starving.”

I have thought that just giving money, especially not at a sacrificial level, would not be making a difference. Singer suggests that is untrue.  His message haunts me when I think of my Lent “sacrifice.”  For those few weeks, I gave up buying things I could do without. The outcome was that when a friend was struggling to buy fuel, I had a few extra dollars to share. And I didn’t have to give up anything because I had not already spent the money on my own wants.

Sadly, I have reverted to buying for the few seconds of pleasure something new gives me. It’s time to go back to my Lenten practice.  Donating doesn’t mean we have to send money to an international relief fund (although Mercy Corps is one I strongly suggest when that is the plan); it does mean that our “extra dollars” will find a good home if we are sensitive to the needs around us.

If you have a good story of how sensitivity and stewardship paid off, please share with us! It may just motivate others, for as Singer wrote, “what it is possible for a man to do and what he is likely to do are both, I think, greatly influenced by what people around him are doing and expecting him to do.”

Let’s expect this of each other because it is wrong not to do so.

Charter for Compassion

I added my name to the 78,506 others who have confirmed the Charter for Compassion. Will you join us? Here is the link:

Charter for Compassion

Embrace Faith, not Ideologies

“It’s not a lack of plans or policies that is the problem here,” Mr. Obama said Monday in his first public comments on the economy since Standard & Poor’s downgraded the country’s credit rating last Friday. “It’s a lack of political will in Washington. It’s the insistence on drawing lines in the sand, a refusal to put what’s best for the country ahead of self-interest or party or ideology. And that’s what we need to change.” from Obama Counsels Calm, but No Deal Is in Sight

Henry Idema, Pastoral Support Minister for Grace Episcopal Church of Holland, said similar words from the pulpit on Sunday. Ideologies, systematic bodies of concepts, especially about human life or cultures (Webster’s Dictionary definition), sets boundaries between groups of people. It also tends to limit the thinking of individuals within a group bound together by an ideology. By deciding that certain cultural groups are losers, should pull themselves up by their bootstraps without government intervention, or deserve all they have because of personal ability/inability, ideology members dismiss personal responsibility. They define themselves as superior or at least separate from the losers, making it easy to expunge them from their field of view.

Idema has a different view. He said we often embrace ideologies to overcome personal fears and insecurities. Instead of finding relief in concepts, reaching out to the God of our faith is a surer path to the help we seek than separating from neighbors who may need our help but could also be our hope.

For one moment, one word or touch, one song…

I cried when Nicolas Cage as the angel, Seth, in City of Angels, said when asked if he was sorry he had become human to be with the woman who died shortly after he renounced his wings : ” I would rather have had one breath of her hair, one kiss from her mouth, one touch of her hand, than eternity without it.”retrieved from \”Symphony of Love\” Most romantic souls understand this sentiment, and I did not waver from my belief when similarly tested shortly after seeing this movie for the second time.

Last night I heard a song that I would rather have heard than all other music without it. The song is not new; neither is the play Hairspray beautifully performed this time by a local cast at the Grand Rapids Civic Theater. Soaring out of the incredible words and music—really only the packaging— arose the astonishing voice of Lisa Whitley-Butler (aka Motormouth Maybelle) singing “I know where I’ve been.” The beauty interpreted through my senses made me think that such perfection is a tiny peek into a better world, maybe even heaven.

And the most amazing part is that human beings have the ability to give such beauty and inspiration to each other, sometimes only for a moment but in that moment, a life could be altered. It makes me feel sad (and guilty) that we so often waste such ability on only ourselves, or that we turn our God-given artistry toward a darker purpose, toward activities which inspire hate and fear rather than hope and fondness.

For those of us who cannot sing, maybe we can say or write just the right word; for those who cannot be expressive through language, a touch may say it even more effectively. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear that someone would rather have that moment with us than  immense popularity but without ever having the crowds fade away as you or I emerged?

A Novel Site’s Week in Review

Newspapers and television newscasters sometimes give us the week in review so I decided that would be appropriate to end my blogging week, too.  What I hope to do is to find the threads that run through the last six posts, and to discover whether these threads can be combined into a cord strong enough to pull the one who holds it to a safe place.

I’ve proposed that effective listening, the kind that displaces automatic listening, and storytelling, the narratives that tell of our shared humanity, will enable us to bridge some of the gaps between our side and “theirs.”   I’ve suggested that the way to take back our power and make government work for the majority is to participate in the Democratic process and to do it while collaborating, not fighting. (We have historical role models to help us define ways that exclude violence.) Finally, I referred to Marshall McLuhan’s theory that the medium is the message to suggest that we are the medium others watch.

The thread that runs through the posts during the week starting May 16 is to stop vilifying and start using the tools of listening and storytelling to “set aside our differences, roll up our sleeves, and figure out how the American people can climb into the driver’s seat of our government” (from Collaborate by Annabel Parks).

What is Social Justice?

One of the goals of my blog is to write about social justice issues in ways that motivate readers to act justly.  Since living in metro Detroit and interacting with some very justice-oriented Catholic nuns, I’ve learned enough about social justice to become a rather passionate advocate. But I’ve also learned that this subject is not a normal phrase in the vocabulary of many good people I know.  Maybe it’s time to address the basics before building a platform on just responses to the huge array of injustices rampant in the 21st century.

Today I will try to clarify the meaning of social justice vs social charity–a more familiar practice for many people–with a comparison from a book called Social Justice published by Greenhaven Press in 2005.

The primary difference is explained clearly by using the story of the Good Samaritan and the Biblical Exodus story. “Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt. Moses did not ask Egypt’s ruler for better food and medicine for the slaves, which would have been an act of charity. Instead, he demanded that Egyptian society be changed so that the Hebrews would no longer be enslaved.” The author notes that actions promoting justice, unlike social charity activities, are often controversial because actions that promote justice challenge the status quo. A Catholic bishop was quoted, ” When I gave food to the poor, they called me a saint. When I asked why the poor had no food, they called me a communist.”

This same theme is expressed vividly by Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate, in his speech delivered April 12, 1999 in Washington, D.C.

“It is so much easier to look away from victims. It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes… Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbors are of no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless… Indifference reduces the Other to an abstraction.”

In the next few blogs I will attempt to discover ways to be less indifferent and more socially just. I would love to receive proposals from readers!

Good Friday Meditation for Justice Advocates: The Vices we Share with Pilate

From Morton Kelsey in Bread and Wine (p. 210): “Pilate didn’t want to crucify the man. Why did Pilate condemn Jesus? Because he was a coward. He cared more about his comfortable position than he did about justice. He didn’t have the courage to stand for what he knew was right. Whenever you and I are willing to sacrifice someone else for our own benefit, whenever we don’t have the courage to stand up for what we see is right, we step into the same course that Pilate took.”

Today, we see all around us the evidence of greed, rage, of self-centeredness. But are we islands in this sea of injustice?  I ask myself if I have the courage to do something, knowing that the top 1% of Americans own 43% of the financial wealth according to the research of a professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz (http://sociology.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html), while in 2009 the number of Americans in poverty increased to 42.9 million according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics (http://www.census.gov/prod/2010pubs/acsbr09-1.pdf).

I ask myself if the greed and self-centeredness in me keeps me from sacrificial giving, of choosing more possessions and entertainment instead of giving my time, talents, and money to keep others from the injustices of poverty and prejudice, of physical abuse and discrimination because they are powerless to stop it alone.  It is very difficult to admit to personal vices that perpetrate social injustice, and even more difficult to find ways to act so that I, too, can be the change I wish to see in the world.

But I have been given a voice—through the written word—to enable me to say, “stop the crucifixions—the unjust treatment—of my neighbors in my city and my world. Will you join me?  With your help, I may have the courage to stand for what I know is right.

I didn’t want to crucify the man, either. But I have a choice, we have the choice to carry others’ crosses or observe their crucifixions…

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