Monday, June 30, 2008
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/)