"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Once again, I've dropped off the face of the earth ... and so much has happened to post about. Ryan and Amanda's wedding in Natchez (and I still need to post pictures from Michelle and Adam's wedding in Detroit in June!), more about Rwanda, and of course, the Cardinals winning the World Series!
I'm just back from a weekend in Rhode Island preaching and speaking at their diocesan convention, preaching at a U2 Eucharist and preaching Sunday morning at St. George's Episcopal Church in Providence (a BEAUTIFUL congregation -- building and people) ... so I'm catching my breath. But I had to post this link, which was forwarded to me by Fr. Clint Fowler, who was rector and headmaster of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church and Day School in Tucson when my brother and I attended there.
It's from Keith Olbermann, the erstwhile SportsCenter anchor who has now become one of the boldest and most salient voices from the west in national media through his quirky MSNBC show, Countdown. In this "special comment" piece, Keith reacts to a recent commercial by the RNC that uses video and threats made by Al Qaeda by saying, in part:
The dictionary definition of the word “terrorize” is simple and not open to misinterpretation:
“To fill or overpower with terror; terrify. To coerce by intimidation or fear.”
Note please, that the words “violence” and “death” are missing from that definition.
The key to terror, the key to terrorism, is not the act—but the fear of the act.
That is why bin Laden and his deputies and his imitators are forever putting together videotaped statements and releasing virtual infomercials with dire threats and heart-stopping warnings.
But why is the Republican Party imitating them?
Bin Laden puts out what amounts to a commercial of fear; The Republicans put out what is unmistakable as a commercial of fear.
The Republicans are paying to have the messages of bin Laden and the others broadcast into your home.
The second session, after doing some basic leadership strategy work, focusses on global poverty -- what it is, what causes it, and what the church's role can be in eliminating it. The first two pieces are led by Josh Ruxin, who heads up the Millennium Villages Project in Mayange, Rwanda. I'll write more about Josh and some of his work and theories in the next couple days ... and I'm very hopeful of visiting him in Rwanda in the next year or so. But this morning I want to write about something else he is doing ... and an experience I had last week.
During our CLP sessions, we talk a lot about the Millennium Development Goals ... and Josh is the first person I've met whose main problem with the MDGs is that they're too small. He encourages us to think about the step after the MDGs ... and the step after that.
And he has some really good problems with the MDGs themselves. For example, there's nothing in the MDGs about family planning and population control. According to Josh, that was eliminated from the final MDG draft under intense pressure from the U.S. government and the Vatican (what was left is MDG 5 -- improve maternal health). He also takes issue with MDG #2 -- universal primary education.
Now, Josh doesn't think universal primary education is a bad thing ... only that it's a terrible standard. "It's a goal suitable for the 19th century, not the 21st century" is the line he uses ... and he's right. We are adopting a standard as acceptable for the extreme poor that would never be acceptable for us. It would be inconceivable to me if Schroedter and Hayden were to stop going to school after sixth grade. I know they need more than that to be able to realize their potential in the world. We know that our country needs more than that for its citizens for us to thrive as a nation.
Universal primary education should be a given. The goal should be universal primary and secondary education and higher education for anyone who wants it.
After hearing Josh say this, I was not surprised to hear that he had been spending time with Paul Farmer ... because this idea of one world, one standard is what Paul has based his whole life on.
Paul Farmer is the founder of Partners in Health (if you want a great read, check out "Mountains Beyond Mountains," by Tracy Kidder, which is basically Paul's biography), which started in Haiti and has since become an organization that spans three continents and has revolutionized approaches to public health (as well as being one of the most effective combatants against tuberculosis on the planet). He started going down to Haiti while he was at Harvard Medical School and based his work there on one principle:
Since I do not believe that there should be different recommendations for people living in the Bronx and people living in Manhattan, I am uncomfortable making different recommendations for my patients in Boston and in Haiti.
In other words, there should be one baseline of acceptable medical care. Not "Harvard acceptable" and "Haiti acceptable." One world. One standard.
I was not surprised to find that Josh and Paul are friends. As it turns out Paul is now living in Rwanda. Partners in Health has set up shop in a neighboring district to where Josh is and is offering high-quality medical care to anyone who needs it. And, unlike much of the aid/development industry, the MVP in Mayange and the PIH clinic are working together. The PIH medical professionals travel to Mayange to train health care workers there. The agricultural experts who work with MVP travel to the neighborhing district and teach what they know to the people there.
In a sense what Josh is doing is taking Paul Farmer's philosophy and applying on a broad level. If there is one world, one standard for medical care ... than it should be for other things, too -- like education.
And that's where Orphans of Rwanda comes in. Orphans of Rwanda is a partnership between PIH and Centre Memorial de Gisimba, an orphanage in Kigali. Josh serves on the board and his wife, Alissa, works tirelessly for them, too.
The concept is simple: Rwanda's future lies in making sure its best and brightest children get all the education and other help they need to realize the depth and breadth of their potential. Because of the terrible history of the Rwandan genocide, many of those children are in places like Centre Memorial de Gisimba, where they will never get those opportunities. That is not just to their poverty but to the poverty of the whole nation.
Orphans of Rwanda selects the best and brightest of these orphans and makes sure they get not only primary education but secondary education and college education as well. The stories are incredible. You can read one of them here. Orphans of Rwanda is literally building Rwanda's future one life at a time.
Anyway, Josh and I were talking a few weeks back (here's a great example of how small the world is. Josh and I can videoconference online free -- me in St. Louis, him in Kigali -- through Skype because we both have broadband internet. So every now and then we'll set up a conversation that has me getting up at 6 am -- which is around lunchtime for him) and he mentioned that he was going to have to leave West Cornwall right after his session on Wednesday because he was introducing Paul as the keynote speaker at a benefit for Orphans of Rwanda in Manhattan.
"Why don't you come?"
What an exciting invitation. How could I say no! So after the Wednesday session, we jump in a car and drive to Manhattan to this little club in the meat-packing district. It was about 350 people crammed into a space that, at least in the Midwest, would never hold that many people (though I imagine it was pretty standard for a downtown club). The average age was about 27, which was exciting. Lots of Columbia students. Several people from Rwanda. The club was owned by some Haitians, and when they found out that Paul was going to be there they donated not just the space and the hors d'oeuvres -- but the open bar as well. It was great seeing so much energy around something as wonderful as this.
Josh introduced Paul (and there was a mutual admiration society thing that went on for a bit), and then Paul went into his routine. And he is this great mixture of passion and humor. It's easy to talk about poverty in ways that make people depressed and guilty. The magic is when people talk about it in ways that fill you with hope and possibility ... and that's what he did.
Paul showed before and after pictures side by side on a big screen. One of them was a young boy who had been brought into his clinic in Haiti as a baby with HIV/AIDS. He said even the boy's grandmother was saying within earshot of the child that it was hopeless and that they should just let him die. But that wouldn't have been acceptable at Harvard so it wasn't acceptable in Haiti. They gave him the best care they possibly could. Got him the nutrition and the drugs and the education and everything that he needed. That was 20 or so years ago.
The picture next to the picture of that sickly baby told the rest of the story. A fine looking, strong young man standing next to someone in surgical scrubs. This was that boy 20 years later ... in medical school.
This is what is possible. Every child is God's image. Every child deserves every opportunity to let that image shine.
As I was walking toward the subway that night to catch the train to Brooklyn to Ian and Kathy's house, I kept remembering one passage of scripture, from John 12:
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’
Judas sets up a false dichotomy here. Be extravagant in your worship OR help the poor. And a plain reading can be used (and has been used) to say "screw the poor, they're always going to be here anyway."
But I don't think that's what this is about. Scripture tells us that when we encounter the poor, we encounter Christ (Matthew 25) and that when we welcome a child, we welcome Christ (Mark 9). And this passage is telling us to be extravagant in our relationship with Christ. Shouldn't that mean we should be extravagant in our relationship to the poor.
When I think of Judas taking the perfume and selling it and giving the proceeds to the poor, the image that comes to my mind is a lot of money being spread over a lot of people so that everyone gets a little. That's our societal definition of charity -- giving just enough to survive.
But that's not what Christ is talking about. Christ is talking about extravagance. Christ is talking about the same standard by which you would treat your savior being the same standard by which you treat the poor. Excellence of care. Excellence of love. Excellence of opportunity.
That's what PIH and Orphans for Rwanda are about. That's what breaks us out of mindsets of charity from on high ... mindsets that I am convinced do nothing but perpetuate systems of poverty -- making it true that the poor will always be with us because we insist on treating "poor people" poorly.
This doesn't mean "a big screen HDTV" in every living room. More likely it probably means none of them in ANY living room. It's about saying there is one standard of excellence for all of humanity. And I need to look so carefully at where I go above it. And I need to stop myself before I decide that "good enough" still leaves others below it.
Tuesday, October 03, 2006 Come Together. Right Now. Over Me.
A couple weeks ago, I was in Buffalo to preach at an evensong at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, whose rector, the Rev. Sarah Buxton-Smith, is a friend and seminary classmate of mine. It was a great time. Got to meet some wonderful people in her congregation. A group of youth from one of the local deaneries showed up and I spent a half hour afterward with them talking about the MDGs and how they could get involved. the Rev. Dahn Dean Gandell, another seminary classmate and one of the coolest people alive, drove all the way from Rochester with her husband and two girls to come to the service. Met with some excellent clergy from Western New York and had a great dinner with Sarah and Steven and the Bishop of Western New York and his wife (who is just fantastic).
And as if that weren't enough, the next day, the Dalai Lama was in town at the University of Buffalo. When Sarah first told me about the gathering on Monday, it sounded like an intimate gathering of religious leaders that she would be able to sneak me into. Well, it turns out it was an intimate gathering of about 8,000 in the basketball arena ... which was a lot more intimate than the gathering of 40,000+ in the football stadium the next day.
And it was great. Going into the arena was somewhat surreal. There were stands where people were selling Dalai Lama t-shirts ... what a completely American incarnation of a Dalai Lama visit! They were very understated and cool, so I bought one for Robin. (I was disappointed that they didn't have a "I went to see the Dalai Lama and all I got was this stupid t-shirt" ... but what're you gonna do?)
When we got inside and got to our seats, they were 8th row floor. Pretty cool, huh? Floor seats to the Dalai Lama!! Dude! And it's actually pretty fitting because the guy really is like a rock star. There were signs as you entered the arena that everyone was to observe silence ... which I thought would have been exceedingly cool if it had been pulled off. Not surprisingly, the signs were ignored and while the crowd wasn't rowdy, it wasn't exactly a prayerful atmosphere ... more like people in a movie theatre waiting for the coming attractions.
The occasion was an interfaith service and it was carefully scripted to last only an hour. Most of the service involved representatives from different faith communities getting up and reading passages of sacred text from their traditions -- interspersed with some modern dance from UB students that was actually rather good. Then the Dalai Lama stood up to talk. He really didn't say much. He spoke in rather halting English for about 7-8 minutes and basically said in several different ways that it was gatherings like this of people from all different faith traditions that was the hope of the future ... and that we should do more stuff like that.
It wasn't exactly the life-changing words of enlightenment I had been secretly hoping for. I mean, talk about a guy who gets built up as the ultimate living bearer of wisdom. So I have to admit my expectations were a bit higher than "this is pretty cool ... you should do this more."
But there were a couple things that made the event incredibly powerful.
The first thing was just being in his presence. I don't think it was the fame thing, because I've been around famous people before and I know what that feels like ... and frankly that doesn't really do much for me anymore anyway. No, it was the same feeling I got when I have been around Desmond Tutu and the time I took the ECM students to see John Paul II in St. Louis. That I was in the presence of two things - someone who had an incredible spiritual presence and someone who had an incredible amount of other people's spiritual energy focussed on him. Both are incredibly powerful. It creates a beautiful space ... kind of a time-suspended feeling ... where even though all hell might be breaking loose outside the door that in that time and place with that person there was some sort of peace, a high consciousness, a deeper joy.
But the second thing was even more powerful. It was the people that presence drew together. People from all sorts of faith traditions. And it wasn't just a perfunctory interfaith service. I've been to lots of those where people stand up, say their piece, the liturgy feels awkward and forced together and you walk away feeling like you did something you should have but not really anything that made a difference. But the Dalai Lama's presence made it different. When people read their texts it was with a deep sense of offering, of coming together around, if not him, than the presence of God that he carries with him.
And so it turns out he was right. And what he said was probably the best thing that could have been said. This was really, cool. And we should do this more. I would imagine he finds his fame incredibly amusing and would tell us all that the presence, peace and harmony that moved us to come together, right then, over him, wasn't about him but was something that was in each one of us, in all of creation. That he might have been a catalyst for this event, but certainly not a necessary component for the place that was created.
Monday, October 02, 2006 Yankees win. Tha-a-a-a-a-a Yankees win!
Sometimes I don't post because nothing much is happening in my life and nothing much is happening that I feel like shooting my mouth (or keyboard) offf about. Then there are times where lots is happening ... but I don't post because I'm swamped and haven't had the time.
Well -- lots has been happening. And I hate the times so much that I do have time and nothing to write about that I'm going to make the time this week. So, I'm going to post daily this week and that will also break things up a little bit so you're not reading one long brain- and life-dump.
Where to start? Not with anything deeply philosophical or theological ... but with the one thing to write about on October 2 - baseball.
The stiff breeze in St. Louis today is the whole city breathing a sigh of relief that the Cardinals didn't finish what would have been the worst collapse in baseball history (losing an 8 game lead in two weeks). The next breeze will be San Diego blowing them out of the NL playoffs. With that, here are my fearless, fairly unoriginal and utterly worthless predictions for the baseball playoffs:
In the National League:
San Diego over St. Louis in 3 Los Angeles over New York in 5
In the American League
Yankees over Detroit in 4 Minnesota over Oakland in 5
Championship Series LA over San Diego in 6 Yankees over Minnesota in 5
An old-time Dodgers-Yankees World Series. First time for the Dodgers in the Series since the Kirk Gibson/Orel Hershiser series of 1988. That's great. It will give me a chance to revert to my Dodgers fandom of my childhood ... and be crushed when the Yankees win in 5.
Now ... that's what I think is going to happen. What I would love to see happen (given that I can't pick the Cardinals to do anything with a straight face) is for the Twins to upset the Yankees -- and they are the team that has the best shot at doing it. But they need someone other than Santana to pitch well... and they need body parts to start falling off Yankees.
EGR resources and connects the church to embrace what one person, one congregation, one diocese and one church can do to make this mission of global reconciliation happen.
Want to find out more ... check our our website at www.e4gr.org.
"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."