Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Resolving things...


Today is New Year’s Eve. For the most part it seems unremarkable. I got up this morning and did my usual routine…Up at 5:30 am, make coffee, Daily Office (Morning Prayer Rite II), then out for my morning walk… Other than the struggle of waking up and usually having to force myself out of bed, my morning routine is something I truly look forward to. The drive to work was a little more remarkable in that the scenery with sun breaking through the clouds was exceptionally beautiful this morning. The streams of light looked like strings of a musical instrument touching the ground as if the earth was its sound board. I almost expected some heavenly music… but got NPR instead…As far as it being New Year’s Eve, I began to reflect on the past year and wondered if I should even bother making any sort of resolutions… I can’t even remember if I made a resolution last year, much less what it was…
I do know that during this past year I did start some new things. The first thing that has come to mind is the aforementioned morning routine which was started in 2008. Not sure exactly how the morning walk got started other than an attempt to get back into a daily routine of doing some sort of physical activity. I did run across a podcast called “Pray-as-you-go”, which is produced by a Jesuit community in Great Britain. My discovery of the podcast and podcasts in general has helped me stay motivated with the walking. “Pray-as-you-go” is significant because of its simplicity; about 10 to 12 minutes long, basically some music, a scripture reading and a reflection on the reading; mostly music though. The music varies from day to day. Sometimes it is typical sacred music. Other times it ranges from contemporary to world ethnic (i.e. Ladysmith Black Mambazo). Regardless of the music, it helps an introspective person like me find some focus and not let my head get too far up in the clouds. I also catch up on “The News from Lake Wobegone”… my other favorite podcast. As my friend The Rev. Pat Grace advises, one must have a good belly laugh each day to feed the soul… Garrison Keillor does that for me… I usually end the walk by listening to some of my favorite tunes on the I-pod…
During my walk and while driving to work this morning I did ponder the issue of making a resolution… which caused me to think about the word resolution… Not sure what I need to resolve… I do know I want to keep up my morning routine. If for nothing else, it has helped me stay grounded and focused on spiritual things. It is a way for me to connect the dots and get back in touch with the meaning and significance of things. So I have resolved to keep that up…
As I have moved through life and become more experienced, by virtue of time passing, I find that I am more content with simple things. Maybe too it is that I have just begun to perfect the art of being in the moment. I remember reading or hearing from someone, that if a person could learn to truly be “in the moment” and not be preoccupied with the past or future, they would experience ecstasy… I can’t say that I have experienced ecstasy, but I will say I have a greater sense of peace and contentment in the little and unremarkable moments of life… especially on the morning walks. There is a feeling of resolve, if you will, that life really does not get any better that what I have right now. Of course, just like everyone else, my life is not devoid of ups and downs or the usual anxieties of living. There are times when I get preoccupied with the past or future; feel guilty about things I should have done differently or worry about upcoming events or uncertainties. I still get angry and frustrated with people in my life from time to time. But I will say it is much easier now to just let it go and get back into the moment, sometimes kicking and screaming along the way…but I get there eventually.
So this next year, let it be resolved that Gordon Brewer is going to stay the course… I will attempt to find joy in the moment no matter how trivial or boring it might seem. I will do my best to exercise patience with those around me. I will continue to advocate for those living in poverty in order to end the plight of poverty. I will strive to have a good belly laugh each day. I will pray daily in some form or fashion. I will take delight in my family, friends and loved ones and all the privileges that God has blessed me with. So here is a toast to the ordinary simple things of life… may we all find joy and happiness in the daily grind and morning walks…

Monday, November 17, 2008

Red Rubber Ball

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Proud to be...


There is a song by Lee Greenwood, “God Bless the USA”, that is one of those songs that usually gets and emotional response if it is played to a large crowd. Here in my part of the Southeast at least it is almost revered as much as the “Star Spangled Banner”. But I have to admit, I have always had a little bit of a problem with the song. There is a line in the song that brings the song to a crescendo: “... And I gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today, 'Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land; God Bless the U.S.A....” At this point people usually stand up and clap and cheer. It has taken me a while to figure out what exactly, at a gut level, my distaste for the song has been about. I have begun to wonder if I have just lost all sense of being patriotic.

The election of Barack Obama as president helped me to finally pinpoint what it is about that whole patriotic thing that I have had problem with. In the song, the “…defend her still today” is what bothers me. You see to think about something in terms of “defense” or having to protect, implies an atmosphere of fear. And I think that has been why I have a problem. If we are always responding out of fear vs. compassion or love, then we will have to build more barriers and fortresses to “protect” ourselves from what we fear. For me, there in lies the problem of the last 8 years of our country... or really the whole history of our country since the end of the Civil War.

My belief is that the fear has caused us to breed greed and thus the predicament of where we are financially in the US. It is a simplistic explanation of our current economic crisis, but at the very core, that is what has driven it all; fear that we will loose what we have, the greed to get more than what we need and then take a posture of defense to protect what we think we deserve to keep, which feeds into this whole warped idea of “defending our freedom”. We tout freedom as a value we hold most dear, but our actions around this have not been contiguous with what we preach; “defending freedom”. At least what I think of when I think of freedom.

I am just old enough to remember growing up on the tail end of the civil rights movement of the early 1960’s. I grew up in the South and did not realize or understand fully until much later in life the significance of that time period. I remember when the issue of “busing” came up in Cary, NC, where I was raised, and all of the resentment around that on both sides of the issue. Of course I was not affected directly in that I was white and lived in an affluent part of the county. I do remember the racist comments that were made about the African American students that were being bused from Raleigh to attend the school that I did. My school went basically from being less than 10% African American to close to 30% African American overnight. There was a lot of unjustified fear that was bred through all of that. Some of the white parents were convinced that we would all turn into drug addicts or be mugged in our school… The good news of course is none of that happened. In fact I ended up with some African American friends who enriched my life and went very quickly from being “that colored kid” to being simply my friend; the obvious differences in skin color quickly faded and we were just all people and didn’t notice or even care who or what color there was. I also remember during those years going on a school trip and driving into the town of Selma, NC where there was still a big bill board that said, “The Knights of the Klu Klux Klan welcome you to Selma, NC”. I remember one or two of my black friends seeing it and a look of fear coming over their faces as they sunk into their seats. Truly, their freedom was lost in that moment… I wish I could have defended their freedom then… If only I had known how…

So this brings me back to president elect Barack Obama… I have been watching with enthusiasm this week the festivities and excitement we are seeing in our nation over the outcome of our election. I have been moved by what all this really means. I think as a country we have finally “gotten it”. Not totally because Barack Obama is African American and we elected him, but because the type of change he is recognizing that we need as a country. I think he truly understands the fear that has driven our country to where it is now. I think he understands that in order for us to truly have freedom, we all need to have access to the same basic needs such as quality healthcare, education, housing and jobs. Until everyone has the basics, there is no way we can “pull ourselves up by the bootstraps” and have true freedom and liberty in our country. Poverty and the lack of basic needs nearly always breeds loss of empowerment. No empowerment causes fear; as does the other extreme of opulence and too much power.

I have to admit after the last two presidential elections, I have been disturbed with the direction of our country. It goes back to the whole fear approach that has been taken. No I have not forgotten 9/11 and the pain that event brought our country. I truly believe we need to defend ourselves from attackers; it’s a basic need of safety. But I do not agree that we should go to war to “defend our freedom” when we have not been willing to work together within our own borders to assure people basic necessities of healthcare, education and jobs. If you really want to provide freedom then we need to free people from poverty and lack of basic needs; along with the oppression of racism and hatred. And I am happy to say, I feel like we are on verge of beginning to accomplish that with our next president at the helm…

I can say now I am proud to be an American… When you see that a little over 52% of the people support a person as president that also just happens to be African American, we are finally getting it… Not because he is African American, but because of color blindness that it represents. When you see the celebration of his victory and look at the crowd to see a mixture of faces that are black, brown, yellow, red and white we are finally starting to get it… when you see the joy and elation of a 90 year old African American who has lived through some of our country’s worst oppression of racism, we are finally starting to get it… As I watched the celebration on election night I could hear, running through my mind, the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, “…I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today! I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today! I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together…" And I believe, we have finally gotten it…
For that I am proud to be an American!!

Monday, November 3, 2008

The leaves are falling and so are gas prices...


With the coming of autumn in my neck of the woods here in East Tennessee, one usually expects trees ablaze with stunning colors that are truly breathtaking. However, this year, it is not so much that way. We have had a very dry September and October, not to mention the summer months, which has really dampened the colors this year. This year they have seemed almost pasty and pastel as compared to the usual vibrant reds, golds and yellows we normally see. It just does not seem as much like fall or how it ought to. It all “feels” different... On the other hand, I was able to buy gas this morning for $2.35 a gallon! That made it feel a little better considering that just a month ago I remember very painfully putting $5 a gallon gas in my car. Then there are the other two main topics of that are looming... the financial market and the presidential race. Those two things not only feel different, but they are different. It is a blessing that I am not a political scientist or a finance guru or my stress level would be out the roof.

If you are like me, you might be spending a lot of time thinking about all these things here lately. The leaves changing, gas prices, the election and the stressed out financial markets... The thing is, with all four of those things, I have absolutely little to no control. For the election I can vote (and did). But with the other three, leaves, gas and the financial market, I can’t control that any more than a snail could build a house. It is kind of a helpless feeling. What I mean is that I would love to get one of those “Easy Buttons” and make the leaves the exact hue I think they should be, drop the price of gas at least $1 and have the candidate I support to win automatically. (He is of the blue variety just in case you want to know or have not guessed already.) The truth of the matter is that there is, in reality, very little I have direct control over past my own actions. What is a paradox though is that my career centers around helping people get control of their own lives. Which begs the question, what do we really have control over?

In my private practice as a Marriage and Family Therapist, people only come to see me because something in their life is out of control...or at least it feels that way to them. With people that come for marriage counseling, it might be a spouse that has been unfaithful. Or on the less serious side, it might be a young newly married couple trying to make sense of how to negotiate making new rules for their family. The problem being that they base their view of the relationship on the assumption that things should work like it did when they lived with their mom and dad or when they were single. Sometimes it is a person who is struggling with chronic depression and anxiety that just seems to be taking over their life. Or it might be a person who has experienced the trauma of abuse and is trying to make sense of it all. In a nutshell, most people that come for counseling and therapy are experiencing very common life problems. But what drives them to seek counseling is that the symptoms they are experiencing are unmanageable for whatever reason. In other words, with all the things they have tried so far to “fix” the problem , it is just not working. And for that reason, their life feels out of control and unmanageable.

My job as a therapist really boils down to helping people sort out what they have control of and what they don’t. Then helping them to come up with solutions to how to make changes in what they do have control of. Sounds simple doesn’t it! To use the well known cliché, “easier said than done”... Where it gets complicated is that people have this natural propensity to go after what they want, rather than what they need. To make things even worse, is that most of us really have a hard time distinguishing between want and need. And the more energy spent going after “wants” rather than “needs” just screws everything up. To give a very simple example: I “want” the leaves to be a perfect combination of colors and last for at least a couple of weeks. But I “need” to be satisfied with what God gives me in the way of fall foliage... I have no control over what I want, the leaves being “perfect” colors. But I do have control over how I appreciate what I am given... less than colorful leaves. You know, the whole glass half full vs. half empty thing. I have a choice of being upset that the over-all colors this year are so less than brilliant. Or, I can take delight in the fact that one tree in my front yard that has been absolutely stunning this year.
There are so many things in life that I have little or no control over. Tomorrow is election day and by this time on Wednesday we will know for sure, who our next president will be. I exercised what I little control I have in the outcome of the election by voting early. (I think that my “blue” candidate will win this year). I hope that the campaign promises made will make a difference and end some of the angst people are generally feeling about the economy and the state of the world in general. My hunch is though; there will be more things to come up in the future that will cause more anxiety about life; like the leaves not changing the way I want them to, gas prices going back up or a volatile financial market. In other words, change is inevitable. Most of the changes that occur, I do not have control over. But one thing for sure I do control is my attitude and the way I view the changes. I can choose to go through life kicking and screaming or I can choose to sit back and just enjoy the ride... I think I will just enjoy what God hands me and take delight in that...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Osman Hope, Inc... bringing hope to the children of Honduras.

Osman Hope is a non-profit ecumenical organization that is dedicated to eliminating the cycle of poverty in the country of Honduras. Osman Hope provides day shelters to the poorest of the poor children... Find out how you can help by sponsoring a child or providing a scholarship by visiting www.osmanhope.org

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The heart of bailing out...


As I thought and prayed about what to say in this blog on this day of prayer, fasting and advocacy, I had originally planned to speak to the poverty we find here within the United States. Specifically, I was going to speak to the high rate of infant mortality that is truly an epidemic among poor African Americans here in my own State of Tennessee and across the rest of the nation. I was going to speak to the fact that this phenomenon is a replication of the plight of poor folks all over the world and how it is a matter of the “haves” and “have nots” living separate lives, even though we are next door to each other... but I will save that for another blog here soon.
Instead, I decided I would speak to the one thing that has been in our thoughts and minds all week; the “melt down of Wall Street”. Now I know some of you might be thinking I have gone off the deep end by daring to compare the collapse of the American economy with the plight of the extreme poor in the world. However, it occurred to me this week that the root of the turmoil on Wall Street and the existence of extreme poverty are absolutely related. The problem of ending extreme poverty in the world seems on the surface to be an issue of “not enough resources”. We know that it would only take 0.7% of the world’s wealth to put an end to extreme poverty. Yet there is something that keeps us that are living in privilege from doing that. And that “something” is a heart problem...
You see, both the collapse of the economy and the poverty of the world are symptoms of our mindset and general approach to life. We have let our greed infiltrate us to the core and take over our hearts. We have let our fear of loosing what we cling to pull us into the mire of avarice. The privileges we have been blessed with have become our curse. The God we say we worship and say we trust in is only a concept. We hold up “family values” and belief in God as what drives up. But our actions and way of life points to something different. The recent events of this week and last are the evidence for that... As my friend The Rev. Mike Kinman so eloquently put it, “we dole out resources to the poor with an eye-dropper...” Then we build monuments to the almighty dollar that has printed on its side, “In God We Trust”. It is truly the definition of irony...
The leaders of our country will be making some hard decisions this week about how we are going to handle the crisis with the economy. It is pretty poignant to think that at the same time that congress is debating in Washington what to do about bailing our Wall Street, that in New York, the leaders of the world will be discussing the crisis of extreme poverty. It is so incongruous. Nevertheless, it is really dealing with the same issue. It is a matter of the heart and taking a hard look at what we really value.
Even though I know it will not happen this week, but I have wondered something... What would our world be like if we were to bail out the people of poverty in the world with the same fervor as we are wanting to bail out Wall Street... What if... we spent 700 billion dollars on the Millennium Development Goals... My hunch is that if we did that, the turmoil in the Middle East would come to a screeching halt; terrorism would see a drastic decline; there might even be a decline in global warming! But most importantly, the hearts of men and women all over the world would be changed. We would be “transformed by the renewing of our minds”. Jesus said, “"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money...” (Mat. 6: 24-25) We have the opportunity to serve God. We have been serving money and look at that outcome...
My prayer on this day of advocacy for the Millennium Development Goals is that our nation and world will have a transformation. I pray that our leaders will have the insight and courage to truly trust in God and end the cycle of greed and poverty in the world. I pray too, that our hearts will be healed and that we will move from the fear of loosing what we think we are entitled, to becoming true stewards of what God has given us by his grace. I pray for forgiveness from the sin of greed. I pray for comfort to all those who suffer from hunger and poverty. Lord give us peace in the world and change our hearts. Help us to show your love through our actions. All this we ask in your name. Amen...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Osman Hope Mission 2008


This past month(July 19-27) eight people from across the US went to the country of Honduras for a mission trip to work in the Osman Hope Children’s Shelters. Glenna Depew, Gordon Brewer, “Sister” Brewer, Rebecca Brewer, Donna Adams, Brian Dennis, Kimberly Dennis and Ed Warnol went for a week of ministry in Honduras in all three of the shelters run by Osman Hope, Inc. Osman Hope partners with local churches to provide day shelters in Honduras for children living in extreme poverty. Osman Hope is an ecumenical non-profit organization committed to working toward the Millennium Development Goals. Osman Hope is dedicated to ending poverty in Honduras and Central America by providing, nutritional meals, safety from the streets, help with schoolwork and spiritual guidance to the poorest of the children of Honduras.
Honduras is a country of contrasts. On one hand you have a country that is filled with tropical forests, lush green mountains and abundant in beauty. On the other hand, it is a country in which the majority of the people live in extreme poverty on less than $2 a day. Honduras is the second poorest country in the Caribbean and the poorest of the Central American Countries. Most effected are the children. It is not untypical to have several young children left to fend for themselves for weeks at a time while their parents are out trying to find work and/or scrape out a meager existence just to support the family. It is also, not uncommon at all to find a 6 year old left to care for children younger than they are or even infants.
Our week was spent traveling first to the town of Santa Cruz de Yojoa located about an hour south of San Pedro Sula. In Santa Cruz is the largest of the Osman Hope shelters where about 50 children are served. We were able to help another group in working on a water tower to supply water for new “banos” (toilets) and showers for the shelter. The second half of the week was spent in San Pedro Sula and Villanueva working and playing with the children in those two shelters. (Incidentally, the shelter in Villanueva is run by the Episcopal Diocese of Honduras) Glenna was able to use her expertise in organizing games, art projects and activities with the children. We had a great time playing and interacting with the children. It was truly a ministry of presence in that most of the kids get very little love and affection at home.
Another highlight of the trip was to visit a new project that Osman Hope has become involved with in an area outside of San Pedro Sula called Rivera Hernanadez. Rivera Hernandez is a slum area developed on a levee of what is called the Rio Negro (Black River or River of Pollution). The families are squatters, living illegally on government land. In the middle of this muddy and disease infested village is a church. The church is run by Pastora Maria Flores. Pastora Flores has started a children’s feeding program and young adult literacy project program in this area of Honduras. Osman Hope has made a commitment to help with this project by subsidizing their feeding program.
Whenever you return from travel outside of the country, it seems like it is only natural to need a few days just to be re-acclimated to what is familiar and “back in the groove” of life in general. Even though this was my fifth trip to Honduras, it always takes me a few months to reflect and get my brain around all that was seen and experienced. The extreme poverty we witnessed is truly overwhelming to see and experience. It would be very difficult for one single group or mission trip to make a major difference. But I truly believe that lives are changed and enriched by mission trips. Not only on the receiving end, but it is ten fold on the giving end. It would be fair to say that our lives are changed by having been in Honduras, interacting with the families and children we encountered. Sure, we were able to give some things away and provide a lot of fun activities for the children in the shelters. But he significant change came through building relationships and sharing in the lives of the people. As a result, in the words of St. Paul, we were “transformed by a renewing of our minds”. I can dare say, that for most of us in the group, we gained much more than we were able to give. At the same time, we felt God’s presence along the way as we attempted to minister to the children and families of Honduras.
For more information about Osman Hope you can visit the website: www.osmanhope.org or contact Gordon Brewer at lgordonb@charter.net.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Preparing for Honduras


It really has not sunken in yet for me that in just two more weeks I will be leaving for Honduras again. This trip will be my fifth mission trip to Honduras and it is interesting how my preparation for the trip has changed from my first trip. I guess the main difference between this trip and my first one is that my perspective has changed drastically. I remember well how my preparation for the first trip involved months of planning and how I began packing several weeks in advance. (As I write this, I have not so much as even pulled out a suitcase). On my first trip, my expectations were fueled totally by my imagination and facing an adventure that was totally unknown. I remember expecting that I would be very uncomfortable and that I just needed to be prepared to bear what ever came my way. In particular, I remember expecting that I would be ill with “stomach distress” the entire trip and that I just needed to be prepared. I was very vigilant in making sure I had plenty of Imodium, Pepto-Bismol, Cipro and toilet paper to face the inevitable... or at least be able to face bravely all the horror stories of “Montezuma’s Revenge” I had heard from folks that had traveled in Central America. Needless to say my imagination was much larger than the reality that came after I made the trip; not the first hint of stomach distress or “discomfort”...
As I prepare for this next trip I am reminded of my first few trips. But what I am reminded of has nothing to do with any discomforts I might have experienced. If you have ever been on a trip in which the purpose was doing short-term humanitarian/mission work, you know what I am talking about. Any “discomfort” a person might feel is quickly forgotten when you are humbled by the conditions of people living in abject poverty in another part of the world. You are hit square between the eyes with how privileged you really are. You come home left with the indelible images of children left to fend for themselves on the streets with absolutely none of the privileges we all have here north of the tropics... You leave with a sense of guilt knowing that you are returning to the comfort of your home with all the things we take for granted everyday. ..Things like safe water to drink, a dry place to sleep, and three meals a day with more food in one meal than many of the folks you have left behind would even see in one week... You go home to an unlimited supply of everything... Where the shoes you have on your feet cost more money than most of the folks you left will ever see in a year...
When you stop and think about the expense of traveling to places like Central America, Africa, Asia or any of the Third World for that matter, the question always comes up, wouldn’t the money you end up spending on a trip like this, be better spent by just sending it directly to the folks in need? That is a very legitimate question and to be honest that might be true. But, one of the common things that most anyone who as done mission or humanitarian work will tell you is that you receive far more than you are able to give when you go to a place like Honduras. What you receive is not tangible. It is true, to just send just the money you might be able to provide more very needed food, clean water, medical care or housing. And that would be the easy thing to do. But what you wouldn’t receive is the self-awareness, growth and compassion. In other words you would not come away “...transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom.12:2). You would be void of the relationships that are so vital to becoming aware and connected to the people living in poverty. Not going and simply writing a check would only be throwing more money at a problem without having to engage with the people and their lives.
The time for my trip to Honduras will be here before I know it. Preparation as far as what to pack and what to be prepared for is second nature now. My focus now is NOT on how the trip will be potentially uncomfortable. Rather, my focus now is on renewing the old friendships from previous trips. I am excited to see again the children and families that touched my life in a very real way the first time and every time. I won’t just be giving things to children... I will be participating in the lives of Baldemar, Johana, Edgard, Luis, Paola, Lupe, Juan, Brenda, Emma and Isaac... You see, “those people” and “those children over there” have names... When you learn the names and share in their lives you are transformed. The poverty you see is no longer "their problem"; it becomes your problem and you take it personally. When you look into the faces and see from whence they come, you are transformed. In a very strange and different way, you know and feel the presence of the One who died for us all. For in the faces of “those people” you no longer see just “them”; they are you and I. And when you share in their lives, you see the face of Christ...

Monday, June 30, 2008

Everything, Everywhere


On the back of my office door there is a collection of tote bags that I have gathered from the various conferences I have attended over the last few years. I am not sure how the tradition got started, but it seems to be a pretty good idea. Inevitably, I come away from conferences loaded down with all kinds of “stuff”. Most of it is seemingly useful stuff, like pens, pencils, luggage tags, tape measures, and notepads. Other stuff is maybe not quite as useful, but more on the “fun” side of things like stress-balls, balloons, and foam hats. When I look at the totes hanging on the back of my door, I wonder what I really took away from those conferences besides all the pens, refrigerator magnets and stress-balls…

On the weekend of June 6th there were about 300 Episcopalians and Anglicans from all over the world that gathered at a conference in Baltimore, MD. And despite all the anxiety about the “issues” in the Episcopal Church, not once did any of that come up; thanks be to God! This conference was different… “Everything, Everywhere” was the first of its kind in which 300 people came together to pray, think, hear and discuss the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s). You know all that stuff we are really called to do… The “stuff” I came away with could not begin to fill any sort of tote bag. The “stuff” was a sense of purpose and calling that was shared by the people in the conference. There was a resolve that echoed through out the conference that the Millennium Development Goals are not just something we MIGHT do, but something we MUST do.

The MDG’s are pretty basic goals: 1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger 2. Achieve universal primary education 3. Promote gender equality and empower women 4. Reduce child mortality 5. Improve maternal health 6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases 7. Ensure environmental sustainability and 8. Develop a global partnership for development. At first these goals sound pretty overwhelming. When you realize that all it would take is 0.7% of the world’s wealth to accomplish these goals by the year 2015, it sounds a little more doable. It can not be done alone. It will take a lot of collaboration by the people of the world to accomplish this. But, the paradox of it all is this: it has to start with each of us individually, by recognizing how one can contribute a minimum 0.7% of what we are each privileged to have here in our part of the world.

I came away from this conference with a lot of thoughts and ideas to process. First of all, with all the poverty that we still continue to see here locally, why even focus on global issues? I guess the main reason is that it is something we are called to do by virtue of what it truly means to follow Christ. But to put it in more concrete terms, now more than ever, with the increasing global economy, the rest of the world is truly more of our neighbor now than it has ever been. Other thoughts: we do have a lot of need in our own country and we need to continue to help those in need that are literally next door to us. However, even the poorest of our poor here in our country have a much larger safety net to help out (school lunch programs, federal/state aid, Medicare/Medicaid, food banks, etc.). True, the safety net is not perfect and we need to continue to help our local neighbors who are in need, which in reality is just as much part of the MDG’s as global reconciliation. Nonetheless, the level of poverty found outside the US in third world countries is exponentially much more severe and widespread than we find within our own borders. The first step in trying to tackle this momentous task of ending extreme poverty, illness and starvation in the world is to become aware. And once we are truly aware, we can be motivated to action through our prayer, use of our resources and the things we advocate for in our ability to vote.

In the end, I did come home with a few trinkets typical of most conferences. But the real stuff, the stuff that matters most, was the common resolve of the participants of the conference to keep spreading the good news of Christ throughout the world through our actions. The main point of it all: “The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’” (Matt. 25:40)

If you want to find out more about ways you can help visit these websites:

Episcopalians for the ONE Campaign (www.episcopalchurch.org/ONE)
Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation (www.e4gr.org/)
Episcopal Relief and Development (https://www.er-d.org/MDGs/)
The Millennium Campaign (www.noexcuse2015.org/)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter "Stuff"


Well today is the day after Easter. Easter has been really different this year. Easter has come at about the earliest possible date in the traditional liturgical calendar. Easter is what we call a moveable feast. It always falls the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox or March 21. Well the full moon this year hit on Friday, March 21st. Therefore, Easter this year is about as early as it can possibly come. And when it comes this early, it just does not seem much like Easter. For us, here in East Tennessee, spring is barely starting to show itself. Besides that, they are calling for snow flurries this evening. It just does not feel or seem like Easter.
The other issue for me is that this year’s season of Lent has also been very different. My wife’s aunt, who was age 90, died during Lent. Her death was not a tragic death nor was it unexpected, but nonetheless, it was a sad event with a mixture of emotions for my wife and me. Her death did bring with it relief from suffering. And up until the time of her death, we really felt helpless to help her other than fight like hell to try and make her comfortable. It really was a very helpless feeling to stand by and watch someone you care about loose their ability to communicate in a coherent way, see them in pain, and then know how to help them; not only the physical pain she was in but also the emotional pain, for her and us, of loosing mobility and independence. The term “quality of life” hits between the eyes and we know for sure what it means. Even though we knew she was going to die very soon, we still had this sense of trying to hang on a little longer.
The other thing we are faced with when someone dies is what do you do with his or her stuff? For the majority of us in the U.S., over the age of 30, have an awful lot of stuff. Furniture, clothes, pictures, china, ironing boards, magazine, books, cookware, etc., etc., the list is really endless. The temptation is to think, “oh wow, I am going to be able to have more stuff”. But then where do you put the new stuff when you are already overloaded with stuff anyway? So, then you have to really stop and discern, what of all the old and new stuff do I really need. It really is quite the dilemma. We think, “oh, I could sell that on E-Bay” (which we probably will), but only the stuff we are willing to part with. So how do you decide what you are willing to part with. After all, it is just stuff...
The problem lies in the meaning we give to our stuff. I will be the first to admit, I like my stuff. And my stuff is hard to part with sometimes. It is especially hard to part with if I think it is something that has monetary value or that I will use again sometime in the near future. Or even worse are those things that have sentimental value... As I said before, it really is quite the dilemma.
Now, let me get back to Easter and Lent. This year, during Lent I took on the discipline of trying to simplify my life. In other words, learn to live with less stuff. Then guess what happened... I’ve told the story already. So what do I do? Well, I had an “aha” yesterday. As we were helping Aunt Sara’s son pull the last of the “valuable” stuff out of the apartment, we were discussing what to do with it all. For you see, Aunt Sara’s son lives in France and there is only so much he can take back with him in a suitcase (He really is the lucky one!). My wife and I both felt very odd and somewhat guilty about taking possession of a large majority of the stuff. We did not feel it was ours to keep in that way. The “aha” was that just because you have the stuff, does not mean you possess it. Then we came up with the whole idea of saying, okay all this stuff now belongs to ALL of us. Our intention now is to pass it around and use it within the family. That to me was liberating. We now are simply keepers of the stuff until someone else needs it or wants to use it. And that made my life much more simple...
There was a great lesson to learn (or rather re-learn)in all that for me. For one to possess something, potentially takes away the opportunity for others to enjoy or make use of the thing in possession. As soon as you possess or own something, it takes a lot of energy to hang on to the possession. We then become slaves to what we own. The possessions end up owning us...
Easter did come early this year. I rather missed recognizing its arrival because of my preoccupation with all the stuff. Easter always comes shortly after the first day of spring. It is a time of renewal and things coming up from the ground out of their winter graves. A resurrection if you will. Despite how tightly we hang on to the stuff of life, the cycle of life continues. I think I will choose to let go of the stuff despite my tight grip. Easter will continue to come, along with the things that really matter. My hope is that I will notice and quit holding on to the stuff...

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Starfish Movers Wanted!


It has been a while since I posted anything to my blog. Like most people, I think I have gone through periods in my life in which I am less motivated to do things that challenge me. One of those things is writing about things that are meaningful and impact life. So having said that and made my lame excuses, I am now motivated to start back up with a regular blog; at least for today I am motivated...
I am in the process of organizing another mission trip to Honduras with Osman Hope. My trips to Honduras each year, for the past four years, have become something of which I have become passion for me. My first trip to Honduras was truly life changing and made me even more aware at a very gut level, the needs of people in the world outside of our comfort zone here in the United States. To travel to and work side-by-side with people living in a third world country can’t help but to impact you in a very special and meaningful way.
Despite the current economic downturn here in the US with soaring gas prices, the cost of food going up and the housing market crash, we really are still very privileged and fortunate to live where we do and have all that we have. Even though some in our communities live pay check to pay check, they still have a standard of living that is leaps and bounds ahead of most of the rest of the world. Millions live not pay check to pay check but meal to meal. But even more tragically is loss of spirit and loss of hope that many around the world face each and every day. When you see this first hand, it most certainly calls one to “do something”... I found that to be an overwhelming call.
There is a story about a person walking on the beach and they see millions of starfish being washed to shore dying. Off in the distance they see a man walking back and forth from the shore to the water. As they get closer, they see that the man is taking starfish and putting them back into the water. The person walking on the beach stops and asks the man, "Why are your doing this? There is no way in the world you could begin to make a difference for all these millions of starfish." The man kept at his task and simply looked up and said as he dropped a starfish back into the water, “it made a difference for that one”...
I think that is how it is for us as we face the overwhelming task of addressing poverty and hunger in the world. We can only do it one person at a time. As we move from just one or two addressing problems to 10, 20, 100 people being involved in the issue of addressing world poverty and hunger the impact is increased exponentially . Image how the starfish story would have been different if it ended with the person on the beach getting their friends involved with moving starfish, and then their friend’s friends... They would have been able to get the majority of the starfish back into the ocean.
We are blessed with having an abundance of resources, knowhow and money in this country. Change occurs when people are motivated to change. Motivation comes from feeling something on an emotional level. That is why I like to have new people go with me on my trips to Honduras. They come away motivated, acutely aware and knowing the needs of people in third world countries. They in turn make others aware and get them involved.
So, my goal is to keep moving starfish one at a time. Then too, to get others involved in moving starfish. Then maybe, those folks will, in turn, get others to move starfish. If we do that way, just maybe, we can have a whole nation of starfish movers...
If you are interested in joining the next trip to Honduras, please check out http://ezmissiontravel.com/osmanhopetrip.html