Feeding the uncredentialed poor

By Sara Miles

Thursday’s New York Times story on the conflict over funding food pantries in the San Francisco Bay Area is mercifully light on the clichés that usually accompany reporting about good works by churches. Instead, reporter Scott James tries to examine the issues of power, money, and turf that come into play when different faith-based models for feeding the hungry collide.

The Food Pantry which I founded at St Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco ten years ago, is one of the pantries in the “neighborhood grocery network” James writes about. This grassroots network was started by the San Francisco Food Bank in an effort to get fresh food to hungry people who weren’t being served by shelter meal programs or soup kitchens that focused largely on homeless men. The idea was to get groceries to single women and their kids (the largest group of hungry people in the Bay Area); very low-wage workers and their families, seniors and immigrants. The Food Bank enlisted churches, synagogues and community centers around the city to open their doors as distribution points for free food. People who were unlikely to take their children to soup kitchens could, instead, get groceries in a church and prepare meals at home for their families.

The response was amazing, and demand for groceries has only grown as the economy has worsened. Our pantry at St. Gregory’s began by serving 35 families and now gives groceries to over 1200, without requiring proof of income or citizenship, and without asking people to prove they deserve food. The food, mostly fresh produce, is piled up farmers-market style right around St. Gregory’s altar, which is etched with the words of Isaac of Ninevah: “Did not our Lord dine with publicans and harlots? Therefore make no distinction between worthy and unworthy; all must be equal in your eyes to love and to serve.”

Over the years, the network of neighborhood pantries with a similar ethos has grown to nearly 200 sites. We’ve built strong relationships among ourselves, and with church and non-profit agencies of all sizes, sharing inspiration, work and friendship.

But, as James reports in his Times story, in a shrinking economy there are fewer resources and more competition for funds to feed the hungry. One contested source is federal FEMA money for emergency food and shelter, administered locally by the United Way, which names a board made up of representatives from organizations like the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, and Meals on Wheels to survey the landscape and allocate funds to different groups.

In San Francisco, most of the large, established non-profits who feed the hungry have big budgets, lots of staff, lots of overhead, many government contracts and grants, and a professionalized, social-service approach. They largely serve very poor people who are already in the system. They require clients to prove that they are “truly needy” based on intake interviews and thorough documentation of their income, and their programs have strict eligibility requirements.

The neighborhood food pantries, on the other hand, are run very cheaply, almost entirely by volunteers, many of them poor; they don’t employ development directors or staff to do screening and intake. These pantries tend to serve poor people outside the system who can’t produce official proof of income: those who work for very low wages off the books in the informal economy or service sector; undocumented immigrants; the long-term unemployed. And they tend to assume that anyone hungry enough to stand in line for three hours to get groceries should get them.

In a different climate, these different groups would be partners, working to complement each other and serve as many hungry people as possible. But in a time of turf fights over funding, the faith-based, DIY, low-cost grassroots model makes some in the social-services industry uncomfortable. Last week, San Francisco’s local United Way FEMA board announced that neighborhood pantries allow people to cheat and get food they don’t deserve. They’ve imposed new rules, under which church and neighborhood pantries will no longer get FEMA money unless, like traditional agencies, they start requiring people to verify their incomes before receiving food. Neighborhood pantries responded with outrage to the accusations of fraud. Most said they would not apply for FEMA money as long as it meant complying with the new rules.

Last week I attended a heated meeting with representatives from the United Way’s FEMA Board and dozens of neighborhood food pantries. I talked with a Methodist pastor from a Latino neighborhood who told me his pantry would close without FEMA funding, but that he wasn’t willing to demand income verification from people he knew were poor and mostly undocumented. “Of course we probably feed some people who don’t deserve it,” he said, sounding frustrated. “But wait, that’s what we’re supposed to do––we’re Christians.”


Sara Miles is the founder and director of The Food Pantry, and Director of Ministry at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church.

A Christian's responsibility to public schools, Part II

This is the second of a two-part article.

Summer hours continue. Daily Episcopalian will return on the Tuesday after Labor Day.

By George Clifford

When U.S. parents opt to send their children to private schools or to home school their children, I invariably wonder why. Half of the students at the college from I which graduated matriculated from private prep schools. Generally, their parents had enrolled their children in prep school to provide a better education than the one they believed their children could obtain in the public schools. Ironically, after overcoming my initial sense of inadequacy, I discovered that my public school education was roughly comparable to my peers’ private school education. Public education is not inherently inferior.

During my high school and college years, white flight into private schools and home schooling dominated the educational scene in parts of the country, Raleigh included. The allegedly racially separate but educationally equal schools of the Jim Crow south were in truth far from educationally equal. These segregated public schools failed at the enculturation of most minority children into valued citizens of our democratic society, deprived many of the prosperity that education frequently produces, and denied all the equal opportunity expressive of God's equal love for everyone, regardless of race.

During the five years I lived in Hawaii, I observed a public school system that largely enrolled children of parents unable or unwilling to afford private schools, i.e., mostly parents from lower socio-economic strata. The unofficial, pervasive public school ethos included strong elements of racial prejudice and violence. Funding and political support for the public schools was low, a result of elites and the even modestly affluent paying private school tuition and therefore having little interest or incentive in paying the higher taxes necessary to fund the public schools adequately. From a Christian perspective, Hawaiian public schools, like public schools in the Jim Crow south, had failed; lack of interest and greed rather than racism caused the failure.

Ministry as a military chaplain brought me into conversation with hundreds of families who had opted to home school their children or to send their children to “Christian” schools. Typically, these parents both wanted their children to acquire values and ideas that cohered with the parents’ evangelical Christian vision and were willing to pay the price to achieve that goal. This is not a new phenomenon. Immigrant Christians (and others) in prior generations sometimes established parochial schools for similar reasons. Economics have since forced the closing of many of these schools; many of the schools that remain open have joined the ranks of secular private schools whose mission, formally or informally, is to educate the children of one or more socio-economic elites. Others have established themselves as helpful options for children who fail to thrive in the public schools.

In some significant respects, the curriculum of most self-identified “Christian” schools and homeschoolers bears more resemblance to Islamic madrasas than to any U.S. public school curriculum. Both types of religious schools emphasize the primacy of a narrow religious perspective that instills religious and gender bigotry, distorts history, and demeans science (the “Christians” interpret scientific data through their religious lens; the Islamists ignore science). Neither provides an adequate foundation for their graduates to contribute to a democratic society, achieve economic prosperity, or genuinely value equal opportunity.

In Christ, there is neither black nor white, red nor brown, rich nor poor. God does not love or judge people based on net worth, income, or skin color. So why do Wake County residential patterns, like the patterns across America, broadly reflect an unchristian homogeneity, the nation’s affluent majority living in one set of neighborhoods, middle income people in another set of neighborhoods, and poor minorities in yet a third set? This pattern tragically alienates poor and affluent children alike from those who are different, sinfully perpetuating racially and economically determined patterns of friendship, employment, and opportunity. The Episcopal Church at General Convention 2009 adopted Resolution C049, endorsing equal opportunity for all.

Only when indiscriminate love for neighbor replaces self-centered economics and racial prejudice as the driver in determining residential patterns will Wake County (or any area) more fully incarnate the gospel. One essential long-term step toward achieving that goal is municipalities adopting development and zoning policies that promote real economic diversity in all neighborhoods. Another important long-term step is creating numerous small parks, designed for the young children who live in those neighborhoods. Young children rarely care about race or family income; they enjoy playing with any friendly peer. Some of the friendships spawned in those parks will surely endure into the teens and even adulthood. Day care programs with diverse populations can achieve the same result. Finally, parents (and others) instead of relying on public school alternatives should strive through political action, adequate funding, and civic support, to provide public schools with diverse student bodies that offer quality education to all children.

Collectively, those changes will help to tear down the sinful racial and economic barriers that presently stratify people in unchristian ways and leave too many children unprepared for a global community shaped by the gospel. I’m certain that other public policy ukases can also aid in attaining that goal. Christians, called by God to incarnate the gospel vision on earth, can usefully articulate and then wholeheartedly support such policies.

However, the Church’s most important and probably unique contribution is to motivate energetic Christian community support for achieving quality and diverse public schools. In a branch of the Church that today can easily appear myopically focused on internal issues and politics, the needs of some of the most vulnerable and least amongst us – children who are victims of racial, economic, and social injustice – deserve our focused and prioritized commitment. Indeed, by boldly working to transform public school systems in Wake County and elsewhere into instruments of social justice, we will live more fully into the gospel mandate, experience individual healing, and organizational renewal. Alternatively, if we ignore the children, we, like prior generations, will inflict our sins on today’s children and future generations.

The Rev. Dr. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, ministered as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years. He serves as priest in charge at the Church of the Nativity in Raleigh, is a visiting professor of ethics at the Naval Postgraduate School, and blogs at Ethical Musings.

A Christian's responsibility to public schools, Part I

This is the first of a two-part article.

Summer hours continue. Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By George Clifford

Scripture presumes that education consists of more than the three Rs and that sagacious instruction offers hope for building a future that is better than the present, e.g., Proverbs 22:6 reads, “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray” (NRSV). One essential skill for children in our increasingly global society is learning to live as brothers and sisters with people who do not look, act, or think as they do.

The responsibility for educating children belongs to every Christian. Remember, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Regardless of how you feel about Hillary Clinton, who helped to popularize that saying, the basic concept is profoundly Christian. In the liturgy for Holy Baptism, the celebrant inquires of those present, “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?” Educating children truly and rightly is every Christian’s responsibility.

Controversy over the policies used to assign students to schools currently roils the Wake County Public School System, the nation’s 18th largest system with more than 137,000 students. Since 2000, the Wake School Board has assigned students to schools to achieve the worth goal of socio-economic diversity, a proxy, for various legal reasons, for trying to ensure racial diversity in the public schools.

The current conflict has generated sufficient heat and animosity to attract national media attention. Battles over the public schools are a major front in the religious culture wars that in large measure contribute to the increasing polarization of U.S. society. The details of the Wake County controversy vividly illustrate this.

Wake County is approximately 70% Caucasian, 30% minorities. Socio-economic status in Wake County, as in most areas of the United States, roughly mirrors race. For example, the zip code for my suburban Raleigh parish is 85% Caucasian with an average 2009 household income of $85,600. An urban Raleigh zip code has an 87% minority population and an average 2009 household income of $28,600. Busing for diversity has achieved a substantial measure of socio-economic (and therefore racial) diversity in the public schools. Research suggests that the diversity policy has improved the standardized test scores of Wake County students, especially those from lower socio-economic strata.

The assignment policy has spawned a large number of critics with some valid grievances. Some children now spend over two hours per school day riding a bus to and from school. Wake County’s rapid population growth in conjunction with the current recession has led to frequent reassignment of students from one school to another and converting approximately one-third of its schools from a traditional nine-month calendar to a year-round calendar to accommodate more students in the same building without increasing class size. Those changes disrupt education and extracurricular participation, student friendships, parental involvement in schools, pre- and after-school care plans, and sometimes mean that children in the same family attend schools with different calendars.

Critics and grievances coalesced this summer in a hard-fought, highly emotional election that produced a new School Board majority, a majority opposed to busing for diversity. The new Board members quickly seized control and, among other actions, ended the policy of assigning students to schools to achieve socio-economic diversity. The NAACP and religious leaders, including the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, immediately responded with vociferous protests.

The Wake County School Board has yet to announce a new student assignment policy. One option, intriguing to both sides in the present dispute, would create about a dozen assignment zones. Parents in a zone could request that a child attend any school within the zone. Lotteries would select the students to attend any school for which the number of requests exceeds the number of available seats. Depending upon who one asks, the Board might or might not draw the zones to promote socio-economic diversity.

Good practical theology requires careful analysis, not only theologically but also sociologically and psychologically. Three dynamics are important. First, white flight remains an ugly, often ignored reality. In a county 70% Caucasian, the public school system is only 51.8% Caucasian. We Christians, the preponderant majority in Wake County, have failed in our moral responsibility to provide a quality, attractive public education for many children in Wake County.

The legacy of prior generations’ sins – slavery and segregation – too often manifest itself as socio-economic discrimination, thus perpetuating racial prejudices and exacerbating greed. Children born to poor and lower income parents generally have fewer and lower quality educational opportunities than do children born to affluent parents, as evident in the Wake County school system and the choices parents make to send their children to private schools or to home school their children. In biblical terms, this inequality afflicts the sin of earlier generations on this generation.

Second, the recently ended policy of assigning children to create socio-economic diversity only partially succeeded in achieving its broader goals. Although the policy seems to have improved standardized test scores, consistent anecdotal evidence suggests that the policy has broadly failed to nurture student friendships that bridge racial and socio-economic divides. Proximity by itself is insufficient to create relational diversity. Instead, the policy has had the unintended, tragic consequence of creating a backlash among lower and middle-class whites, as well as others, against policies designed to promote a healthy and vital diversity.

Third, school assignment policies by themselves are insufficient to bolster democracy, foster prosperity, and promote equal opportunity for all, goals profoundly consonant with the gospel’s vision of a just society. A half-century after the Supreme Court supposedly ended racially separate but equal schools, growing numbers of minorities believe themselves politically disenfranchised, without viable economic opportunity, and victims of racial and economic discrimination. In most parts of the United States, voting patterns, incarceration demographics, and employment statistics support that assessment.

The Rev. Dr. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, ministered as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years. He serves as priest in charge at the Church of the Nativity in Raleigh, is a visiting professor of ethics at the Naval Postgraduate School, and blogs at Ethical Musings /a>.

If you feed them, they will come

By Susan Carter
It is painful to watch the transitions taking place here in Michigan, the Mitten State, the once proud home of America’s automotive prowess. The parishioners in our pews are facing challenges they never thought they would confront. A number encounter regular furlough days, or have had salaries reduced, or – worse – have lost their jobs. The cans and boxes of food they once brought to our food pantries they now take home with them.

And thus, we are broke. Or almost, so it seems. Detroit, once hailed as the “Paris of the Midwest” has seen its housing stock gutted, its jobs evaporate, and its people searching for a future different from the present. Michigan, as a state, lost more than 150,000 service, construction, and manufacturing jobs in 2009 alone. Of all the American manufacturing jobs that were exported or eliminated during the past decade, fully one-quarter of them were in Michigan.

Many are affected and seeing their lives or their landscape changed. Twenty-percent of our children, in both peninsulas, live in poverty. Flint – once the heartbeat of American automobile production – is looking to turn vacant lots back to farmland. Even the Episcopal Church is hurting. Staff cuts have hit all four Michigan dioceses, the Cathedral in Detroit is stressed to remain viable, and the majority of parishes seeking priests cannot afford full time clergy. Are we the canary in the mine or, we hope, the vision in the rearview mirror?

Yet we are rich in ways not measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics or the latest Consumer Confidence Index. Research from Michigan State University reveals that nine out of ten people have continued to give to charities, though admittedly in smaller amounts. Further, virtually one-half of Michiganians volunteer, a percentage that remains steady. (Notably, women are volunteering at higher rates than men, and that gap is widening.)

In our own churches, vestries are working hard to implement balanced budgets. In many parishes pledges have remained fairly steady, driven down principally when congregants lose their jobs or depart to find work elsewhere. We are managing.

In this confusing and jumbled time of transition, when a recession feels like a depression, God is giving us an opportunity to change, to step away from the Seven Last Words: “We Have Always Done It This Way.” It is apparent that if we, as Episcopalians, hunker down in a bunker mentality, we are not fully hearing God’s call to love one another – really love one another – and proclaim the Gospel.

It is true that, as people of faith, we can hang on to what we have, improving at the margins, but not manifestly moving forward. Or, we can look to Paul and his experience with the Jerusalem Council. In Galatians 2 Paul, in his own words, lays out his encounter with the leaders in Jerusalem. He had taken the radical move of fully accepting the uncircumcised; they were different and not eligible to join, according to the rules. We are told in Acts that some from Judea even held that the uncircumcised could not be saved. The circle was narrowed, not widened.

Paul, along with Peter, wisely and bravely fought against the distinctions, instead trusting that salvation comes through grace and not blind obedience to rules. In so doing, these early leaders threw off the yoke of intransigence and flung wide the doors to all. There was no longer a Dr. Seuss differentiation between those with stars on their bellies, and those with none.

In Michigan, we are given the marvelous gift of being a laboratory, a modern Council of Jerusalem nearly two-thousand years later. We are called to meet the needs not only of those who look like us, share common background with us, or even worship with us. Rather, we are being asked by our loving God to meet God’s people where they are, not only inside our churches but, more especially, on the other side of our Red Doors. We are asked to feed the sheep, tend the sheep, to feed the lambs. All of the lambs.

If you feed them, I believe, they will come. And when they arrive, let’s fully open our arms so that those who come may experience Christ’s love.

The Rev. Susan Carter is rector of St. John’s, Howell, Mich. She teaches journalism at Michigan State University.

I need more money, Lord!

By Lauren R. Stanley

PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti – I need more money.

Every single day that I live here in Haiti, that’s what I think: I need more money!

I must think that at least 10 times per day, sometimes more often than that: I absolutely, positively must have more money!

Yet even as I think this, even as I pray this – I really do need more money, Lord – I know that there’s not enough money out there. No matter how much money I have, it won’t be enough.

The money I want is not for me. It’s for the young mother living on the street with her three children, one of whom is an infant not more than six months old. I give her money every time I see her, and when I have fruit, I give her that as well.

I need money for the young men who struggle to sell art on the streets so they can go to school, or send their young children to school.

I need money to take care of the Haitians are sick and can’t afford medicine.

I need money for every single child here who is homeless, who doesn’t have enough to eat, who has no place to sleep.

I need money for the women who wash themselves in the street where the water line has broken, literally squatting down in the road, defying the crazy traffic, just to wipe their faces with “clean” water.

Everywhere I turn in Haiti, I see such desperate need. The poverty here is ubiquitous, the need overwhelming. So many Haitians come to the capital hoping to find a job, only to discover that there are no jobs here, either. They end up on the streets, sleeping in doorways, begging for food, washing in dirty pools of water.

And there simply is not enough money to take care of them. It wouldn’t matter how much money anyone gave me, I couldn’t do enough. I can’t rescue everyone here. The problems are bigger than me, they are bigger than my wallet, heck, they’re probably bigger than Bill Gates’ wallet.

Which leaves me in a dilemma on a daily basis.

How can I help? Who do I help? Do I choose the homeless mother with her infant and children? Or the children who seem to have no families? Or the young men and women on the streets who have befriended me?

How do I say “Yes” to some, and “No” to others? What do I do when I’ve given all the money I have to the first three people I see, and then come upon a fourth, a fifth, a sixth … who need my money just as much?

I give away a lot of my income, some months up to 50 percent of it. I make a point of carrying small change to distribute as I walk to and from work, to and from the store (where I spend money on myself, and then feel guilty for having done so). Sometimes, I pay for schooling; sometimes for medication; sometimes for food; sometimes for water. I try to help as much as I can.

And yet, every single day, multiple times every single day, I hear myself say, I find myself praying, “I need more money, Lord!”

There are economists and sociologists who argue that giving money to the poor to take care of their immediate needs will not solve their problems. I believe them. I know that to be true in a macro-economic sense.

But what I know intellectually doesn’t do anything for me – or for the poor – when I am confronted by them daily. Children with reddish hair and bulging stomachs that attest to their malnutrition can’t afford to wait for some grand new plan that will train them at some point when they are older. Mothers with sick children cannot wait for a hospital to be built 10 years from now. Widows lying in the street, praying for any kind of help at all, cannot wait for a future they may not live to see.

They need help now. They need to eat now. They need clean water now. They need medicine now.

So I pray as best I can. I work as hard as I can. I give as much as I can. And I try to believe that my prayers, my work, my help makes a difference.

And then I think:

Lord, are you listening? I really, really, REALLY need more money! Now!

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church serving in the Diocese of Haiti, where she works on the Partnership Program and Development, and teaches at the Theological Seminary in Port au Prince. Her website is http://GoIntoTheWorld.net.

No fear served here

By Heidi Shott

About ten years ago a rector from a tony suburb of Boston told of a relationship his church’s youth group cultivated with a Hispanic Pentecostal youth group in a neighboring community. The city next door, once a booming New England mill town, was now struggling – poor in every way it is possible to be poor: bad schools and bad housing, high crime and high unemployment, broken windows and broken playground equipment.

After a few months of back and forth between the youth groups, the Episcopal priest invited the Hispanic pastor to have lunch with him at a restaurant downtown near his beautiful, historic church. They had great a conversation about ministry and the challenges of preaching the Gospel in the context their own communities. They talked about the teenagers in each congregation and all they were learning and sharing. Every couple of weeks, the pastor would drive over the few miles to have lunch with the priest.

One day the pastor said, “Come over to my neighborhood and I’ll introduce you to real Mexican food. There’s a great place. It’s where the people go to eat.” The priest readily agreed.

“When I pulled up - I have to be honest here - I was a little apprehensive. This was a rough neighborhood and the building looked a little dicey. No sign, guys standing on the corner looking at me—a white guy in a collar. Then the pastor pulled up behind me and I was relieved. We walked in together and had the most amazing lunch,” the priest explained.

“I told him of my apprehension and, to my surprise, he laughed hard and then got serious.”

“How do you think I feel every time I walk down your Main Street to meet you for lunch? The looks I get as a Latino man walking down the street of your fancy town. People on the sidewalk look at me, like, ‘What are YOU doing here? What are YOU going to steal?” Man, I’m afraid of going to your neighborhood. Now you know how it feels. Don’t you know that your town is scary?”

The priest told us – a clergy friend and me, there for a three-day site visit as members of the Bishop Search Committee – “that lunch opened my eyes.” He gestured out the window of his office, “How could this town ever be frightening? Well, now I know,” he paused and looked at us intently, “and now I’ll never forget.”

Last Thursday, I went out to lunch with the Rev. Virginia Marie Rincon, the Hispanic missioner in the Diocese of Maine. Our diocesan office is in downtown Portland and generally “going out to lunch” means walking around the corner to any one of a dozen restaurants.

“You want to go some place with good Mexican?” she asked.

“Well, yeah.”

“Okay, we’ll have to drive then. I’ll pick you up.”

I couldn’t help but think back to the conversation I’d had with the Massachusetts priest in 1997 and hope we were going some place I wouldn’t have had the nerve to go on my own. But, no, it was a normal looking restaurant next to a Thai take-out near the outskirts of the city.

Inside Virginia Marie greeted the waitress in Spanish and offered menu suggestions. While we waited for our food, we told some stories about ourselves. Even though we’ve known each other for eight years or so, my new role as Canon for Social Justice is bending the arc of our ministries much closer. It’s time to know one another better.

She told me of her next appointment. “An 80 year-old woman from Chile is here visiting her son and she broke her hip. Her visa is up this week and her son is afraid INS will deport her, so I’m meeting with him and the immigration lawyer. I didn’t think they would deport an old lady with a broken hip, but the lawyer says, these days, they might.”

By now we were in the car heading back to the diocesan office. It was raining but warm for Maine in November. “Is fear the default emotion, Virginia Marie? Is that what people feel all the time?”

“Oh yeah,” she said without hesitation. “That’s why what I do is so important. They trust me, la Reverenda.” She turned from the road to look at me, “Maine can be a scary place.”

A few days before lunch with Virginia Marie, I stopped by the Cathedral to take some photos for a brochure about a diocesan ministry called the St. Elizabeth’s Essentials Pantry.

A class of fifth graders from Falmouth were getting ready to hand out essential items to about 200 families, items that aren’t covered by food stamps: toilet paper, soap, ziplock sandwich bags filled with powdered laundry detergent, and ten packs of diapers when the pantry gets a donation. Some members of one of the rotating volunteer teams from a local Episcopal congregation were at a table with donated toys, others were organizing winter coats.

A teenage boy who comes to help because he has two study halls first thing on Tuesday mornings was writing down the language of each person waiting in line: an elderly Russian woman with her kerchief, a Sudanese mother in a colorful but unseasonable dress. I was standing against the wall taking notes when I saw a young couple stop by the toy table. “Can we have this?” they asked gesturing to a kid’s bike.

“Sure,” I said. This wasn’t my show, but I knew it was up for grabs for anyone who wanted it. “Do you want to set it aside for now.”

“Take it for Xander,” said the woman whose accent belied a dozen or more generations living along the coast of Maine. But, as they were figuring how to get the bike, one of the fifth graders behind the table demonstrated his familiarity with television game shows.

“Or you could have this instead!” he said, holding up a complete set of Legos in a self-contained box. “This is cool.” The young man’s eyes lighted up at the perfect looking set of Legos. His eyes said, ‘I just nailed Christmas morning.’

“We don’t want the bike, after all” the young man said as he reached across to take the box from the boy, who glanced back at me with happily raised eyebrows.

The boy’s town, Falmouth, is one of the wealthiest communities in Maine. I suspect it’s a scary town for most of the people milling around the Cathedral undercroft this day. But this day, this boy - and his classmates I hope - learned something about driving out fear, both his own and that of others. And the absence of fear leaves space for other things, good things, like hope.

Recently I googled Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous quote: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Of course, I found it, but also a great deal more in his prescient speech titled, “Where do we go from here?” delivered in August 1967 in Atlanta. He spoke of a divine dissatisfaction:

So, I conclude by saying again today that we have a task and let us go out with a "divine dissatisfaction." Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds.

Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort and the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice.

Let us be dissatisfied until those that live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security. Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history, and every family is living in a decent sanitary home.

Let us be dissatisfied until the dark yesterdays of segregated schools will be transformed into bright tomorrows of quality, integrated education. Let us be dissatisfied until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity.

Let us be dissatisfied until men and women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character and not on the basis of the color of their skin.

Let us be dissatisfied. Let us be dissatisfied until every state capitol houses a governor who will do justly, who will love mercy and who will walk humbly with his God. Let us be dissatisfied until from every city hall, justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Let us train our hearts and minds to be dissatisfied with fear, our own fear and especially the fear known by others who walk along beside us everyday.

Heidi Shott is Canon for Communications and Social Justice in the Episcopal Diocese of Maine.

Relief or Development – bringing it home

By Donald Schell

I never imagined my trip to Africa would raise such troubling questions about ordinary Episcopal Church life in the U.S. The headline controversies of Biblical authority or homosexuality weren’t what shook me there. It was daily conversations with African and Western non-governmental (NGO) workers and church leaders struggling to practice development rather than mere relief. I come home to my work with congregations wondering if relief work (and the church’s culture of helping) - does lasting harm. What does it take beyond help to build community and encourage personal initiative and creativity?

Choosing relief over development remains controversial. There are no simple answers. At dinner our first night in Malawi, an NGO worker was complaining about U.N. sponsored village wells.

Deep boreholes equipped with a mechanical hand pump bring clean water to villages that otherwise rely on polluted streams. Clean water saves lives. It’s the single most effective intervention to decrease infant and adult mortality. Such evident health and economic benefits have inspired many Western churches and NGOs to drill wells for villages. What the U.N. project added was a maintenance fund: each family that used a new well water contributed a small amount to keep the well going. The U.N. program developed community responsibility for the well whenever it brought a well to a village.

Our dinner companion readily admitted that the U.N.’s plan kept good water flowing, as he acknowledged that other villages whose boreholes lacked a local maintenance fund didn’t maintain their wells, so when the well broke, they went back to hauling water from the nearest stream or pond. Still the NGO worker objected on grounds of justice; “… people simply have a right to clean water and it’s the government’s job to provide it.”

If the government actually had the will and enough money to drill wells for every village in the country and maintain them, more wells would save more lives. When the U.N. drilled a well, villagers learned new responsibility and new ways of working together, but the U.N. initiative wasn’t reaching everyone.

I thought back over my thirty-five years of parish priesthood, remembering how often churches ask, “Is there a need?” and “How can we help?” When the church makes relief help the whole response to urgent human need, what is the cost to people and to mission?

In Malawi I heard the legacy of resentful dependencies churches and NGO’s created by quick and dirty help. Articulate, reflective Africans explained that relief help will only look and sound opposite to colonial exploitation as long as you ignore how Western leaders and planners keep the decision-making power in their own hands. Helping needy people means all or most of the significant decision-making power remains in the hands of trained professionals. Sounds like parishes where help produces dependence on the rector or dioceses where expert, top-down help centralizes power to bishop and diocesan staff.

By contrast development demands discovering effective local leaders and working with them to share authority and encourage autonomous, creative activity. Development is inevitably collaborative. I was moved again and again by the vision and steady discipline of African leaders asking how to direct aid and mission money to help where there was need AND to build community.

What difference would it make if U.S. churches challenged every program, ministry and member as those Africans were challenging relief projects to shape themselves for community development?

Each day we drove out to villages to see health clinics, micro-lending programs, schools, AIDS education programs and orphan care programs. We visited villages with working wells and watched the satisfaction of adults and children pumping water that sparkled in the sun. Those scenes made the abandoned wells even more haunting. Silent, and deserted, shunned by villagers as a painful reminder of the shame and disappointment of losing good water – nothing gathered at the dead wells but dried weeds.

But isn’t the church necessarily a relief organization? Aren’t we called to serve?

Have we never noticed how Jesus repeatedly chose development over relief? In the Gospels Jesus’ listeners were startled at his teaching ‘with authority.’ He didn’t quote chapter and verse, but trusted himself and his listeners as he appealed to experience (‘What father among you would give your child a stone if he asked for bread?). He apprenticed his disciples in organizing and sent them out to practice teaching and healing before they felt ready.

More than hundred years ago, Roland Allen, an impatient young missionary to China and then to Kenya, began to think that help and extended training were crippling the church. In Missionary Methods, St. Paul’s or Ours? Allen argued that just months after establishing a new church, St. Paul would leave new recent converts in charge. Jesus and Paul both practiced development.

Here’s a story of development and formation for mission: On a rainy San Francisco winter’s day, St. Gregory’s member Paul R. was shivering in a slow-moving ATM line. Though they pressed themselves against the wall, it offered no real shelter from the rain. Paul looked at the dry space under a store awning, just a few yards beyond the ATM. Everyone saw it, but no one would leave the line. Then Paul said to himself, ‘I go to St. Gregory’s where we learn how to make invitations to people’ so he said to the line of strangers, ‘You know, if we all moved under the awning, keeping our same places in line, we’d all be out of the rain.’ Everyone laughed, moved and regrouped and under the awning. Strangers were suddenly talking with each other.

Development gives people authority to do unexpected things. In Take This Bread, A Radical Conversion, Sara Miles wrote of founding a food pantry just months her hunger for God brought her, still an atheist, to Christ’s table.

What Paul and Sara got from a regular Sunday liturgy was not just help, comfort or encouragement but freedom to think and do something new in the world. How? St. Gregory’s liturgy is a practice of trust that invited them to discover personal authority and relationship even with strangers. Week by week deacons explicitly invite everyone to join unaccompanied congregational singing. Even first time visitors add their speaking voices and experience to complete a sermon and offer prayers aloud for reconciliation, peace, and healing. Everyone leaves their safe places and seats to gather the whole congregation around the Altar Table for the Peace, the Eucharistic Prayer and communion. People not only receive communion but give it to others.

In Africa I remembered familiar stories tell like Sara’s and Paul’s and recognized relief work where people were making a discovery, seeing or feeling something new, and choosing to act with grace and generosity. The world doesn’t need our help. God is building circles of creativity and compassion and invites us to join that work.

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is Creative Director of All Saints Company, working for community development in congregational life focusing on sharing leadership, welcoming creativity and building community through music.

Hope amidst the mess

By Peter Carey

In the midst of Episcopal Church news that includes court decisions in Virginia, inhibition of bishops, and disagreements in many congregations one might be forgiven for thinking that our church is rapidly swirling down the toilet bowl.

News Flash: It ain’t!

We don’t have too look far to see the bright spots in our church. Check out the growing network of Episcopal Internship Communities across the United States. For several decades, churches and dioceses have sponsored small groups (4-8) of young adults (18-30 years old or so) who live in community and each member works at a social service agency. There are slightly different guidelines and practices between these groups, but together they are sending thoughtful, prayerful, and dedicated young people into the Church and the world.

In 1992-1993, I had the good luck to join a community that was administered by the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. At the time, the “Cathedral Volunteer Service Community” was made up of six young adults from around the country. We hailed from Texas, North Carolina, Connecticut, Ohio and Vermont and came to the community from a variety of religious and political perspectives. We were lucky enough to have as our leader and mentor the Rev. Carole Crumley, who was then a canon of the National Cathedral (and is now a leader at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation). The CVSC was grounded in a Rule of Life that had echoes of Benedictine Spirituality. We pledged to live in intentional Christian Community, praying together daily, sharing in the work of the household, meeting once a week for theological reflection with Canon Crumley, and also pledged to live a life of simplicity. In this case, simplicity meant (in part) that we each only received $100 a month for food (which we pooled to shop for the six of us) and $100 for other expenses. That was simple living!

We were challenged to feed and entertain six people on $600 a month. We were also challenged find ways to build community across our various theological and political differences, and it was not always easy. To top it off, five of us were first-born children in our family of origin! (We had some strong personalities to manage.) Outside of our house, I had the great fortune of spending a year working at the Samaritan Ministry of Greater Washington (SMGW) where I offered employment counseling to those who were homeless or at risk of being homeless. Really, I didn’t know anything about finding work (as I never really had a job before!), but I encountered people who were decidedly different than me, and while I don’t know how much help I gave, I certainly learned a great deal.

The six people in my community followed a variety of paths after leaving the community. One became a priest within a few years after our program, two others became teachers, another worked in business and then decided to follow his heart and now does work with cancer patients, another does peace and justice advocacy with another denomination.

While the Cathedral Volunteer Service Community is no longer in existence, there are several other Episcopal Internship Communities that are thriving and growing. Trinity Episcopal Church in DC now offers a program in our nation’s capital. The Rev. Jason Cox, who is a friend of mine from seminary, administers the program in the Diocese of Los Angeles (Episcopal Urban Internship Program). There are several other communities which are offering young people a way to practice their faith by working for those in need, living in intentional community, and integrating this work and community-living into their theological views and spiritual practices. This is good news indeed! It also counters the long-standing assumption that people in their twenties and thirties will leave the church and will return only when they decide to have a family.

Some Episcopal Internship Communities are sponsored by parishes, others by groups of parishes, and others by dioceses. Not only are these wonderful opportunities for young people, they are also tangible signs that our church is doing good things in the world, and that the work is connected to our belief in Jesus Christ, our hope in the Resurrection and our call to live lives of hope and compassion.

As a new priest, I am often asked: “Does the church have anything to say to the world?” It certainly does! One of the best ways to “say something to the world” is to show the world what we’re doing. These programs say that our church is engaged with the world and is developing dedicated disciples.

Can we do more? Certainly.

Can we encourage even more of these programs to develop? Absolutely.
Is our church about more than legal battles, inhibitions, schism, and disagreements? You bet!

Check out the Episcopal Internship Communities at The Episcopal Church’s website in the section on “Domestic Internships.” There is also Facebook group “I was a member of an Episcopal Internship Community,” as well – check them out!

The Rev. Peter M. Carey is the school chaplain at St. Catherine's School for girls in Richmond, Virginia and is also on the clergy staff at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Richmond. He blogs at Santos Woodcarving Popsicles.

Bringing the ONE campaign to life

By Lauren R. Stanley

RENK, Sudan – On my left wrist, I wear two bracelets that I never take off. One is a black-and-white beaded affair that is quite popular in Sudan right now, called ajok, a symbol of the beauty of contrasting colors. The other is the white ONE campaign bracelet, which I have been wearing for over a year.

Recently, one of Sudan’s Episcopal bishops asked about my bracelets. He knew about the ajok bracelet, for it is part of the Dinka tradition and he is from the Dinka tribe. But this other one, he said, pointing to the ONE campaign, what is that?

So I explained that if everyone in the world actually donated1 percent of his or her income, we could end poverty, feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, provide medicine and education, build up local businesses, reduce child mortality, combat deadly diseases and become real stewards of the environment.

In other words, I said, for mere pennies per person per day, we could change the world and help bring about God’s kingdom.

Where would the money go, the bishop immediately asked.

To programs that are proven to work well and that deliver on their promises.

This is a good idea, he said. How can we teach our people this?

So I pointed him to our newest project, the building of water cisterns to catch rainwater from the roof of St. Michael’s Chapel at the Renk Theological College. I pointed to the seemingly huge hole in the ground, dug by an older man named John Tho who showed up every morning and every evening for five days to dig 2 meters down, 1.5 meters around, with perfectly straight sides. John dug that hole, and is digging three others, all by hand, slowly, surely, with great professionalism.

Stanley.jpg

Then I pointed to our contractor, Mohammed, and his two assistants, Solomon and Idriss, young men who are learning the craft of brick-laying and concrete-pouring. Normally, the three of them dig and build pit latrines. These water cisterns are new to them, but the idea of storing water in underground cisterns, where it will stay cool and clean, instead of in 55-gallon plastic barrels or rusted metal tanks, appeals to them. Already, they are thinking of how all this clean water will change the lives of all the people who have access to it.

And I pointed to those who gave life to this project: ECWs in two parishes in Winston Salem, N.C.; two congregations in the Diocese of Virginia; one men’s group in Southwestern Virginia; one family in Northern Virginia; and one individual, who combined their resources to finance underground water cisterns that will catch rainwater off the chapel’s zinc roof.

It’s not a huge project; the funding for the initial work was $5,400. And the cisterns, while good ideas, certainly won’t change the world.

But they will make all the difference to the students and staff at the Renk Theological College, to their families, and to the surrounding neighbors who come to take water from the College. During the rainy season, the White Nile River becomes the “Big Muddy;” the water on which all of us depend often is a dirty brown, and that is after it has been “filtered” at the water plant. It can take up to six months for the river to cleanse itself, during which time anyone drinking from the water, or bathing in it, is exposed to at least a dozen different diseases, many of which are deadly.

Catching the water off the zinc roof of the chapel will mean clean water, possibly for up to six months. During the long dry season, water from the taps (which comes intermittently at best) can be stored in the cisterns, where the silt will settle to the bottom, the water will be clean, and those who depend on it will not have to go without.

That’s the idea behind the ONE campaign: To take a little bit of money and make it go a long way to change the lives of as many people as possible. Nothing big needs to be done; grand plans do not need to be made. Instead, the focus is on little actions that change lives quickly and for the better.

Four contractors, working in brutal heat under a searing sun, are combining their professionalism with the funds and prayers and support from approximately 200 Americans who heard the story of the water shortages here in Renk and decided to do something about it.

That, I told the bishop, is how we make the ONE campaign work: We see the need, tell the story, create partnerships, pray constantly, work together.

Are we changing the world?

Not yet.

But we are changing one small piece of the world, and we are helping a whole lot of people here in Renk.

We think this is a good start.

And we hope – we pray – that once people see how well these cisterns work, they will want to do the same thing, which means we can start a small company here that will specialize in this work, thus providing jobs and training for one group of people, and clean water for another group.

Will we need more partners in this?

Yes. But that’s part of the ONE campaign: Bringing people together in the community in which they have been created, crossing all boundaries because there are no boundaries in God’s very good creation.

Our little informal portion of the ONE campaign is based on our hopes and dreams: We began this project in the hope that it will join people together across 8,000 miles. We are continuing it to help the people in most need right here in Renk. And we dream it continues to grow, with future partners who will fund the purchase of pumps to replace the ropes and buckets we will use at first. Perhaps we will even find the start-up money for a new company.

Whatever happens, we know that with these cisterns, we’ve begun something new among the people of God in the name of God.

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church serving in the Diocese of Renk, Sudan. She is a lecturer at the Renk Theological College, teaching Theology, Liturgy and English, and serves as chaplain for the students.

Our fast is their feast

By Luiz Coelho

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean."

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, `Where I am going, you cannot come.' I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

“Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner...” This Bible passage has always been one of the most striking to me in my whole life. I recall not receiving communion several times, when I felt not able (or willing) to allow God to free myself from a certain sin, whether it was a personal one or even a collective one. And I know this might be a very countercultural behavior, especially at a time sin has been apparently forgotten by many, and confession has become a rare event in peoples' lives.

However, it is my firm belief that there is no other way of behaving with respect to the magnificent care expressed by Jesus on that night right before he was betrayed, than with utmost respect and awe for his unconditional love towards us.

Acts of love are usually enhanced by unpredictable circumstances under which they happen, and the events that happened on that Thursday night were no different from that. The first of them was the washing of the feet. I imagine how shocked the disciples were to see their master, the Messiah, humbly washing their feet. Yes, the one who had taught them so much, was acting as if he were a simple servant. What they did not know, however, was that Jesus, on that night, was teaching them the most important lesson of all... a new commandment that resumed and consolidated his message so far.

“Love one another as I love you.” The strength of such a commandment goes far beyond our typical understanding of love. Jesus' love is so deep that it reaches even the one who would betray him hours later. His humility is so impressive that he does not care to wash tired and dirty feet, probably full of wounds and scars. Are we really following Jesus' new commandment and this new vision of love? It is easy for us to say that we love our neighbor, and in fact, many of us repeat those verses every Sunday. It is easy to strike our chests and claim we have given a certain amount of our money to the local shelter, a hospice in Guatemala or even for the Millenium Development Goals, but would we be willing to leave the ease of modern life and share all we have with the miserable? Would we live a simple life and truly be brothers and sisters of those who have no more than rice and beans to eat? Would we go to the slums and proclaim the Gospel to those for whom life has become a source of constant pain? Would we reach those who we should hate (and who hate us), whomever they are, and yet tell them we love them as Jesus loves all of us?

No, we would not. During Lent, we were theoretically called to fast, and give up on simple things that are important to us. However, how many times have we caught ourselves complaining about how hard it is to do that. How many times have we almost failed? It is difficult, it is very difficult to leave our comfort zone and realize that, for many people around the globe, our lenten fast is much fancier than what they will have in their whole lives. Do we really care? Do we really manifest this love Jesus has commanded us to show?

The apex of this love is expressed in the simple meal Jesus shared with his disciples shortly after he washed their feet. More than a memorial supper of bread and wine, more than a simple act of thanksgiving, the institution of the Holy Eucharist became a way through which Jesus' disciples could recapitulate his final act of self giving love for humankind. By giving his body and blood, he offered himself in sacrifice for us, and made us part of his own body. He shared our pain, and even in spite of all the suffering that was about to come, he was still able to love unconditionally.

The Eucharist should mean more to us than a weekly ceremony. It is the spiritual food that nourishes us and prepares us truly to be Jesus' disciples. When we take part of Jesus' body and blood, we commit ourselves to follow him with all our heart, live according to his commandment and flood this world with Christ's love. The same meal he instituted that night is a continuous reminder that, even not being perfect, we ought to struggle to be worthy of such unconditional love.

Maundy Thursday, more than a simple ceremony or a light meal, is a calling. As we remember Jesus' last moments with his disciples before his arrest, we are called to be worthy of such a wondrous love. We are called to truly love all humankind, sacrificing our own selfish desires for the common good. We are called to go to the slums and proclaim Jesus' message to the outcasts of society. We are called to embrace our enemies and to love them with all our heart. We are called to love the sick, the hungry and the needy. We are called to make a difference, and show to the world what Christ's love is about.

Luiz Coelho, a seminarian from the Diocese of Rio de Janero, spends part of the year in the BFA program at the Savannah College of Art and Design. His Web site includes his art and his blog, Wandering Christian, on which he examines "Christianity in the third millennium, from a progressive, Latin American and Anglican point of view."

Pilgrimages among the impoverished

By Martin L. Smith

One of the most popular expressions of outreach in Episcopal parishes takes the form of group travel to offer practical service to distant communities. The needs of communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina have called forth hundreds of such expeditions, and groups from our diocese alone are traveling all over the world.

Many of these expeditions link Christian communities, but the phenomenon is far wider than the churches. Thousands of people take part in projects such as those organized by Habitat for Humanity without any explicitly religious motivation. Nevertheless, this burgeoning of altruistic travel seems like a mutation of the ancient phenomenon of pilgrimage. Human beings from time immemorial have gone to great lengths to reach remote destinations in the quest of meaning. Our groups that set out to work for struggling communities, usually of the poor, are finding more meaning in their expeditions than merely the satisfaction that comes with being helpful.

Some of this surplus of meaning lies in the fact that in our socially stratified society middle class folk may never get the opportunity to make contact with the poor except through a mission trip. Maybe participants are being spurred not only by generosity but also a quest to find out what meaning people enjoy while living with a range of physical hardships and discomforts that our North American society is obsessed with eliminating. Many people return from their pilgrimages to Central American villages with compelling questions such as: How come that people who live with such physical discomforts seem far happier and contented, more trusting and hospitable than we are, who are so cocooned and protected?

The question calls to mind Henry Miller’s book about American culture, The Air Conditioned Nightmare. The title refers to our passion for controlling the environment through technology in order to insulate us from direct experience of the world around us. We have come to demand the right to determine the exact temperature of our homes and offices year round by the flick of a switch. Sixty years after Miller’s diatribe, our cult of technology and our worship of physical comfort is steadily intensifying as computers enable us to weave electronically controlled cocoons around us that we can fine-tune with the touch of a remote.

The nightmare consists in the disappointment that dogs so much apparent ‘progress.’ Does this ever increasing physical comfort generate any more joy or even alleviate anxiety? Does this compulsive concern with comfort and control achieve result in any healing or enhancing of our inner worlds? Our hearts remain recalcitrantly unstable and turbulent. Doesn’t all this self-coddling that almost abolishes physical exertion and muffles the impact of the natural seasons actually exaggerate our personal unease, making it seem gratuitous and intolerable? No one can invent a remote to enable us to bring our feelings into comfortable equilibrium. What we can control seems to throw into relief what stays beyond our control, the pervasive stress and anxiety that drugs can only medicate and hectically stimulating electronic entertainments merely repress.

Our people often come back from enjoying the simple hospitality of poor communities feeling that they gained more from their pilgrimage than they gave. The poor have something we are losing or have lost and their mission to us may be more important in the long run than the help we can give them. Where lies the secret of the hospitable and joyful life? What forms of simplicity, vulnerability and direct exposure to the natural world belong to our very humanity, that we lose at our peril?

We can’t answer these questions in a fog of romanticism. There is nothing blessed about dysentery, foul water, bad roofs, lack of schooling. There are fundamental human needs we must struggle to make sure are met everywhere. But there is nothing blessed either about our hyper-consumerist world that has enthroned comfort as its highest value and is obsessed with our technological ability to neutralize the reality of the natural world to which in reality we belong as creatures.

I wonder whether our local churches are up to the task of exploring these questions in depth. In the beatitudes, In the Beatitudes, Jesus prophetically congratulated the poor who keep faith with God, proclaiming that God intends the meek to inherit the earth. What they have and who they are is what God desires to establish across the globe. It is interesting that so many liberal Christians who pin their faith on Jesus’ teaching rather than classic Christian doctrine baulk when asked, “Do you long for the day when the meek inherit the earth?” (Congratulations to the honest Episcopalian whom I heard replying, “No, they wouldn’t know what to do with it!”) What have the poor got that we are losing, and that God our Creator supremely values and wants to have permanently established worldwide?

Martin Smith is well-known in the Episcopal Church and beyond as a priest, writer, preacher and leader of retreats. Through such popular works as A Season for the Spirit and The Word is Very Near You and in numerous workshops, lectures and retreats, he continues to explore a contemporary spirituality that encourages a lively conversation between new knowledge and the riches of tradition.

To be staggered, to be stunned

By Ron Tibbetts

I don’t even know her. I must admit I have seen her around, she may even have come to our dinners for the homeless on occasion, but I don’t know her. Our chance encounter this morning changes all of that though. I know she is 25 years old, I know she is thinner than she should be, I know she is an addict, and there isn’t much doubt she is mentally ill.

I know she is bright just by her choice of words, I know she has a cute little pixie look to her face and I know she is starved for someone to care for her despite who she is, where she is and even despite the history of wrong decisions that might have brought her to this day, a prostitute.

I know she hates men. Not all men but the kind of men who use her for her body, the kind of men who see her as nothing more that a sexual outlet, a human being meant only to be used and then discarded. And I know that in 25 years she has learned to distrust, to live hopeless, and to accept addiction, abuse, rape, prostitution and homelessness.

I know she is difficult, perhaps impossible to deal with at times. She is confrontational, a straight shooter not holding back on what she feels, what she sees, and she shares with street fluent language the truth about what she is certain of. It has only taken a few minutes, in this brief encounter to know she is hard beyond her 25 years, skeptical beyond the waves in her long brown hair. Behind the childlike face, with eyes that sparkle is learned deception, abuse, self interest and a lifetime of experience that should, and has, torn away the child inside and left behind a broken and tattered woman.

I have given her no more that one hour of my precious time. Time better spent in a much more productive effort, but she has had that hour of my life. Those 60 minutes that have shaken my heart, she is younger than my daughter, she has disquieted my mind, her story is the story of so many in her shoes, part fiction, mostly reality and it is the reality that is beyond my understanding. 60 minutes that have left me staggered even if only a part of what she shares is true, my legs weaken, my heart cries.

We have shared this time, God’s time, together and I can hope for only one more minute as she begins to gather up her belongings, a blanket, a pillow, a half empty bottle of vodka and a candy bar, and secrets all this away into a tattered and dirty pillow cover. She is ready to move on, to travel over the hill to the “Common”, Boston Common, and to fill her day full of the distractions that will keep her confronting her reality. Those things that will see that rather that hope, she will see despair, rather that promise, emptiness, rather that a sense of joy that she has lived through another night, only the agony of the tormented day ahead.

It is still early in the day, perhaps only 7:30 am. The morning sun begins to reach the narrow street upon which we have met, this child of God and I. The long shadows of the buildings around us begin to creep back, away from the middle of the street, and as this day in the city begins she, in a brief frantic moment, decides our time has ended. She dismisses me with “well I have things to do, I have to go now” I say only “I understand.”

And I do. I understand that we are so very different she and I. I understand that I cannot begin to know the void between us. I have never been resident where she lives each day only an outsider looking in.

I wish I could say “God bless you” or “be safe today”. I wish I could speak those words that would have her have turn away from the life she is living and begin a journey toward resurrection, I really wish I could, but for today that is not to be. She turns quickly toward the steep hill between her and the Common, and in a moment, almost running, she is off. She turns her head over her shoulder, looks back and shouts to me “thank you, God bless you, see you soon I hope, bye-bye” and she waves.

Not waiting for me to reply or even to return a wave, she turns her head forward and focuses on the hill ahead, the hill between her and “her people” the people outdoors.

This is why I do what I do, serve among the poor. This is why I step outside the doors of the church and onto the streets of the city. This is why I risk 60 minutes, one minute at a time, to seek the truth of our world but more importantly the truth of our Creator. I step out to be reminded that we are a world where brokenness is real. We are a world filled with imperfect, fractured and abused people who struggle to make it through the day. It is in this world that our Creator calls us to live. To live out the example of Jesus, to be healers, hope givers, comforters, friends, brothers and sisters.

I step outside the doors of the church to be staggered, to be stunned, to be made fully aware of the struggles of this world where we are called to be. I step outside keenly aware that I will be unsettled and I trust that God will be present in that storm. I think of the dismissal at the end of the liturgy, the time of sending out, of God’s saying to us “I call to you”- “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”.

Thank you, God bless you, see you soon I hope, bye-bye.
As once again I go.

The Rev. Ron Tibbetts, a deacon, is executive director of Neighborhood Action Inc., in Boston.

What are the theological implications...

of this?

Excerpted from the Times of London:

The richest 2 per cent of adults own more than half the world’s wealth, according to the most comprehensive study of personal assets.

and

The richest 10 per cent of adults accounted for 85 per cent of assets. The bottom 50 per cent of the world’s adults owned barely 1 per cent of global wealth.

and

In terms of wealth distribution the US was among the most unequal, whereas Japan had one of the lowest levels of inequality. Britain ranked with Russia, Indonesia and Pakistan in wealth inequality

Christian leaders issue statement on House budget

From Episcopal News Service:

Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold joined the leaders of four other Christian denominations today in a statement calling on members of the House Budget Committee to "eliminate the inequities in its federal budget and instead act to pass a budget that meets the moral test of serving ‘the common good.’"

The statement, written in the context of the Lenten season, examines the President’s FY ‘07 federal budget proposal which caps annual spending, resulting in $212 billion in cuts over five years in non-defense related discretionary spending, according to the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations in Washington.

This is the second year in a row that the leaders of the Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society, and United Church of Christ have called on Congress to reject a federal budget that cuts programs that serve the working poor, children and the elderly.

Under the President’s FY ‘07 budget, programs that are at risk for substantial cuts include Food Stamps, the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, Commodity Supplemental Food Program, Pell Grants, Child Care, International HIV/AIDS funding, and environmental protection.

Earlier this month the Senate rejected some of President Bush’s proposed cuts in domestic discretionary spending, including cuts to Medicare. The House Committee on the Budget begins its work with a number of moderate Republican members of Congress calling on the committee to adopt a similar approach to the Senate.

All members of the House Budget Committee received the leaders’statement in advance of today’s session.

The text of the statement follows:

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The role of faith in fighting poverty

I am not a huge fan of The Nation, largely because so many of its leading lights are glib yet ignorant on the subject of religion. But I recommend this blog entry by editor Katrina vanden Heuvel on poverty and inequality in the United States.

"These are times when the gap between the haves and have-nots in America has widened, when 37 million of our fellow citizens live in poverty (that's 12.7% of population--the highest percentage in the developed world), and each year more are added to the poverty rolls. (Under Bush, an additional 5.4 million have slipped below the poverty line.)

Yet, poverty is, for all essential purposes, off the radar of America's political landscape. Maybe it's because there "are too many outrages to wake up to every morning? Maybe it's because the poor have no lobbyists and don't have the money to make campaign donations?"

What should people of faith be doing about the facts that she and the writers she reference present?

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