Tag Archives: poverty

Haiti Update from Lauren Stanley

Last night I went to hear Rev. Lauren Stanley speak about the relief efforts in Haiti (after catching the end of the Daytona 500, of course, which made me a little late). She is a missionary of the Episcopal Church appointed to serve the the diocese of Haiti and has been asked to remain in the United States, coordinating immediate relief efforts and long-term development through the Episcopal Church and Episcopal Relief and Development.

So basically her boss is the Bishop of Haiti, Jean Zache Duracin (last I heard he was living in a tent). The Episcopal Church of Haiti is running something like 20 refugee camps and caring for more than 20,000 people. Among those are the priests, parishioners, parents and students of the churches and schools with which my own church has had a 20-year partnership.

So Lauren Stanley was giving Twin Cities churches an update on what’s happening on the ground in Haiti. I went to hear what’s happening in Haiti and learn how the money Color4aCause has raised is helping (a tiny, tiny fraction of the money that’s been raised). Lauren had sobering updates, butt-kicking statements and in-depth stories and history to share. She’s a firecracker.

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Reflection on the Earthquake in Haiti

There is an endless stream of tragic stories coming out of Haiti right now after the devastating 7.0 earthquake that flattened Port-au-Prince. These ‘mega-tragedies,’ if you will, seem to be happening more frequently than ever before. I’m sure that’s not the case, because tragedy of one kind or another has always followed humanity. But technology has enabled us to see tragedy unfold almost instantaneously, and the result is a magnification of that tragedy. We began to see it with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and it’s become much more palpable with recent tragedies, from the Southeast Asia tsunami of 2004, Katrina in 2005, the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008, etc.

Updates come instantly, from text-based updates sent out and passed along on Twitter or Facebook to video and pictures that are captured and immediately broadcast. We no longer have to wait for the six o’clock news—or even flip to cable news, like my generation—to see what tragedy has occurred today.

This is an example of technology making tragedy more palpable, more personal, more painful. You can see it in the way we open our pocketbooks and lift up our prayers. With that endless stream of tragedy there’s also an understandable temptation to turn away. It can all be too much.

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Homeless Advocate Mark Horvath

Mark Horvath Ready for ActionA couple weeks ago homeless advocate Mark Horvath came through the Twin Cities on his InvisiblePeople.tv road trip. I had the chance to hang out with Mark, see him in action and briefly join him in his work.

We went to the Dorothy Day Center in downtown St. Paul (driving in the fancy Ford Escape Hybrid that Ford generously loaned Mark for the trip), handed out socks courtesy of Hanes and talked to homeless people. Mark tapped away on his iPhone, posting updates to Twitter, pictures to Posterous and recording video for InvisiblePeople.tv. It was a humbling experience, especially hearing their stories of facing one hardship too many and losing it all. Many of them had lost jobs and homes recently and were on the street thanks to the current recession. A homeless ministry was serving lunch while we were there and a number of people kept coming up and asking them for blankets and sleeping bags. Cold is coming in Minnesota.

Handing Out SocksI really value Mark’s perspective on the homelessness issue because he’s been there before and understands it in a way many people don’t. He also understands the practical realities. Frankly, it’s devastating to walk out here and talk to people, knowing I have a cozy warm bed and home, plenty of blankets, sheets and even a spare room. Whatever I’m doing to help the homeless, there’s always more I could do. I realize inviting a stranger into my house isn’t always practical (nor approved by my wife), but tell that to the person sleeping on the sidewalk. I don’t know how Mark has traveled the country doing this. He always talks about it wrecking him, and now I can understand why.

A few people asked me for money and I had to say no. I could empty my bank account handing out cash, but who knows what good it would do. I took great comfort in the garbage bag of brand new Hanes socks we were handing out. The very least I could do was hand out socks and listen.

Mark called me one of his heroes, but I don’t get that. He’s the hero. He’s the one practically homeless himself, living on the ragged edge without a real job or steady income trying to tell the stories of the homeless. On Tuesday night my wife and I took Mark out to dinner. It was my wife’s birthday and we’d gotten a babysitter so we could have some actual conversation with Mark. When the check came I got totally schooled in the credit card draw. Mark had grabbed the bill and slapped down his card before I could even react. Even the waitress was impressed. I tried to protest but it was too late. Mark insisted and paid for our dinner, including dessert. That’s the kind of guy he is. He’s the hero.

Check out InvisiblePeople.tv and watch the stories of homeless people. Hear them. See them. Open your eyes and your heart. If you want to know more about helping the homeless, Mark suggested this resource, 10 actions you can take to end homelessness. If you want to support Mark and the work of InvisiblePeople.tv, you can make a tax deductible donation online.

Is That the Gospel?

Last week I couldn’t sleep and started writing the following to express the doubts and frustrations I was feeling. I’m not sure if any of it makes sense or if it’s accurately communicating what I’m thinking, but I wanted to get it out. Sometimes these kinds of doubts and frustrations do best when they come to the light, as opposed to just keeping them to myself. So here they are. Please read them with a little grace. Thanks.

I remember a late night during my freshman year of college when I sat on the floor outside my dorm room and poured my heart into a little notebook. I still have that notebook around here somewhere. I remember being so frustrated with life and so eager to do something but having no idea what to do. I felt like the day to day things I was doing had no relation to my faith.

Not long after I started this blog and those thoughts would continue in a stream of consciousness mishmash that nobody really understood (thankfully this blog has morphed into something a little more pragmatic).

But it’s been 10+ years and I think those thoughts are still rattling around inside my head. I find myself wondering what the point of all this is. My head is consumed with things like finding a babysitter for a conference call tomorrow night, figuring out when I can catch that new sci-fi flick District 9 I’ve heard so much about, and wondering when I’m going to get around to trimming that giant lilac bush in the back. None of that matters. What does matter are the stories I catch glimpses of, Mark Horvath traveling the country and meeting homeless people, the stories of the struggling unemployed, the people in Africa that will likely live half as long as I will.

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Never Before Have So Many Been Able To Do So Much

I love reading indie-folk rocker and Compassion-plugger Shaun Groves’ blog. Because every time it kicks me in the butt. That’s probably why I don’t read it very often (sorry Shaun). Today was no different. A post about how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things.

Shaun gave us a reminder that today we are directly responsible for very few of our basic needs. Providing food, shelter and clothing is pretty easy. You don’t have to toil in a field all year to get your food. We don’t spend every morning gathering food for the day. As Shaun said:

At no other time in history have other people been so capable of meeting my needs for me. Strangers are doing all my life-alteringly significant chores and leaving me with nothing to do but wake up every day and simply ask “What do I want to do?”

You and I have more time than anyone has ever had.  More education.  More money too.  So now what?  What will today be about?

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What’s a Necessity?

Interesting article exploring a Pew Research Center study about what Americans consider necessary. A car is at the top of this year’s list, followed by a clothes dryer (not a washing machine? Survey FAIL?), air conditioning, TV and a computer. It’s kind of an interesting study, especially since things have become a little less necessary since 2006.

I found a few things surprising:

  • People consider cable or satellite TV more necessary than a dishwasher. Seriously? Without a dishwasher how do you have time to watch all that TV?
  • Older people are much more likely to think a TV is necessary than younger people. So TV isn’t rotting our brains—in your face, old people! Of course younger people are much more likely to think cell phones are a necessity.
  • The richer you are the less likely you are to think TV is a necessity—until you hit the low end of the poverty scale where TV becomes less necessary. The same is true for a veggie garden. The very rich and the very poor don’t have time for TV or planting produce.
  • The survey also shows that 27% say someone in their household has been laid off or lost a job and 21% say someone in their household has had trouble paying the rent or mortgage.

Generalizations, of course, but ouch.

It’s interesting to consider what is necessary in your life. Some things are pretty easy decisions, like cutting the cable or Netflix. But other choices are harder—that car payment may be pricey, but if you ever find a job how are you supposed to get there without a car?

These discussions become a little more real in the light of comments like this one.

5.4 Acres Per Person

So I’ve been thinking about the whole 5.4 acres per person thing (and not 72 square feet). Strangely enough, I find population density fascinating. Now that we’ve done the math right, I wonder what that means. Is 5.4 acres enough for a person to live on?

Clearly that’s a lot of space, but it starts to feel smaller when you consider things like growing food, dealing with waste, generating power, etc. One person said that’s comparable to four football fields.

It all leads to the question what is the carrying capacity of the planet? How many people can the planet sustain? Some people think we’ve already passed that number (which, if true, would raise all sorts of scary ethical questions and push us into eerie sci-fi territory). I don’t know what that number would be, but it would surely involve plenty of math for me to screw up. Plus all sorts of variables and intricacies that gets pretty darn complicated.

While I like pondering some of those unsolvable questions, what it really comes down to for me is what are you doing with your 5.4 acres? Are you living in such a way that you’re burning up resources and space and time? Or are you conserving what you can in order to save some for the other 6,769,999,999 people on this planet (not to mention the generations to come)?

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72 Square Feet Per Person

Redacted: This post is withdrawn because I can’t do math. It’s not 72 square feet per person, it’s more like 236,806 square feet per person. Doh! I made a silly conversion error, effectively assuming 1 square yard would equal three square feet, since 1 yard equals three feet. Of course 1 square yard is actually 9 square feet. And I made that error twice. Doh indeed.

Anyway, 236,806 square feet per person. That’s about 5.4 acres (again, if I did my math right), but being a city boy I have no concept for the size of an acre. As a commenter pointed out, agriculture and uninhabitable land probably changes that number quite a bit. But it doesn’t change the fact that I was wrong.

I think my point still makes sense (to whom much is given, much is required), but the math totally sucks. This is why my dad and brother are engineers, while I majored in writing and art.

Redacted. (But we’ll keep the original post after the jump as an object lesson to less than eager math students.)

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Environmentalism and My Soul

In his April 18 column in the New York Times, “It’s 2009, Do You Know Where Your Soul Is?”, Bono talked about Easter and where our values are in these difficult economic times. This section seemed poignant to me on Earth Day:

The preacher said, “What good does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” Hearing this, every one of the pilgrims gathered in the room asked, “Is it me, Lord?” In America, in Europe, people are asking, “Is it us?”

Well, yes. It is us.

Carnival is over. Commerce has been overheating markets and climates … the sooty skies of the industrial revolution have changed scale and location, but now melt ice caps and make the seas boil in the time of technological revolution. Capitalism is on trial; globalization is, once again, in the dock. We used to say that all we wanted for the rest of the world was what we had for ourselves. Then we found out that if every living soul on the planet had a fridge and a house and an S.U.V., we would choke on our own exhaust.

The last section hints at what I think is the most compelling reason for environmentalism. It’s not necessarily for the environment. Don’t get me wrong. I think there are compelling reasons for valuing nature, preserving species, hugging the trees and all that. But what I think is more compelling is the human element.

If all of humanity were to live like we do in America this planet would collapse. With our air conditioning and cars and houses (that seem to grow exponentially) we just consume too much. All six billion people on this planet can’t have that.

Which begs the question, why should we?

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The Wacky Jubilee

Last Sunday the sermon at church covered a little known bit of Jewish law called the Sabbath Year and the Year of Jubilee. I had heard about the latter in 1999 with Jubilee 2000 and the Drop the Debt Campaign (this perhaps marked the beginning of Bono’s most public crusader years), and produced perhaps my favorite quote from Bono which nicely summarizes the concepts:

“I’m learning more and more about Jubilee—the biblical concept that every seven days there’s a Sabbath and every seven years the land is to lie fallow and every seven times seven, i.e. in the 50th year, a year of grace, your debts were forgiven, slaves set free, etc. Quite punk rock for God. In fact, there are a lot of squeakies involved in Jubilee (Christians are hard to tolerate, I don’t know how Jesus does it … I’m one of them).”

What an incredible concept. Leviticus 25 details all the rules (interesting that nobody ever quotes that bit of Leviticus) and Wikipedia gives a vague overview

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