Archive - November, 2005

Confronting The Realities of Global Health

A conversation recently about how people in
the U.S. feel about the need for fighting poverty and disease causes me to
reflect on misperceptions of the risks facing the world.


Poverty is the single
most important reason
for ill health. And
ill health is the
single most important
reason for poverty.
–Newsroom Guide
to Global Health
WGBH and
Vulcan Productions

I was in a conversation about health and poverty recently and someone said neither health nor poverty is high in the priorities of individuals or governments because we don’t perceive them to require urgent attention. In fact, some in the developed world don’t see the threat of epidemics as an urgent issue at all, despite recent grave warnings about avian flu.

That set me to thinking about the inaccuracy of this perception. It’s inaccurate from many angles. Hunger creates instability. Hunger is born of poverty. We know this from experience. It really doesn’t take a written study by the World Bank or Bread for the World to make this case. It’s readily apparent.

The economic disruption that comes in tandem with political unrest can explode into a crisis that affects global relationships overnight. We are more interconnected than ever and what happens in one part of the world has consequences in another almost immediately. Poverty, hunger and instability go hand-in-hand.

Globalization makes
us all vulnerable
to any new
disease, no matter
where it originates.
–Newsroom Guide
to Global Health
WGBH and
Vulcan Productions

Couple this to another piece of reality. Outbreaks of infectious disease are only a day away from any place in the world. In RX for Survival, Philip Hilts notes that “…if we count only travel between nations with a heavy burden of disease and those with less disease more than a million people a week are making the trip.” (p. 3) One infected person on one flight can carry an infection around the world in a single day.

The AIDS pandemic is enough to demonstrate the easy movement of infectious disease but because the disease is related to sexual behavior and the sharing of syringes for intravenous drug use, it’s been easier for some to focus on these behaviors and to think that the risks are associated with those who practice risky behaviors. This is a dangerous diversion for which millions of innocent people, including many women and children, are paying with their lives. AIDS remains an urgent concern.

Hilts also makes a case that the decline of public health services and monitoring, begun when President Reagan declared government the problem and not the solution, leaves the U.S. less prepared for risks that continue to arise. Consider these potential infectious diseases and their capacity to spread: hantavirus, Lyme disease, West Nile virus, Rift Valley Fever, Ebola, Marburg virus, Nipah virus, SARS and H5N1.

Daily we hear how ill-prepared the world is for H5N1. Many epidemiologists are looking at the virus’ capacity to make the crossing from bird-to-human and then from human-to-human. An outbreak could take millions of lives around the globe. We live in a bubble of false security if we think these diseases won’t cross borders, geographic and otherwise. The reality of globalization is that when one of us is sick, all of us are at risk. We would do better to recognize that prevention and treatment are matters for all of us as well. When it comes to disease transmission, there is no longer an “over there.”

Finding Balance in the Midst of Turmoil

As I sat in worship and heard the prayer
concerns I thought about where we take a stand and how we find balance as a
community of faith in the midst of so much pain and suffering?

As I sat in worship on Sunday and heard the prayer concerns, I thought about how we find balance in the midst of so much pain and suffering.

The concerns of the people caused me to reflect and to question. One family is homeless because their house burned. A nurse who had recently changed jobs has been stricken with a serious disease but can’t get surgical treatment because she’s without insurance. One woman spoke of someone she knows, recently cut from drug benefits by the state of Tennessee, forced to choose between buying food or paying for vital medicines. We had a missionary couple from Jerusalem soon to return to the war-torn Middle East. We remembered a family re-located from New Orleans struggling to get along in a new city and searching for new jobs. We heard from those whose friends are at the end-stage of terminal diseases, and from a sister caring for a disabled brother who spent Saturday night in the emergency room for the second time this week. We remembered people caught in the violence of war, those who are hungry and a whole bunch of others who are struggling.

It’s enough to make me want to run from the room. But I don’t because we also share joys and thanksgiving, and these, mercifully, provide balance. Similarly, the promise of scripture, music and proclamation somehow hold me in the room and keep the focus on redemptive and creative hope. And the outreach ministries of this congregation also give me hope. They seek to address human pain with concrete expressions of servanthood. So I stay.

Worship is, for me, that time when the drama of the human struggle, the power of community and the presence of the sacred in our lives all come together and the result is the recovery of balance and focus.

It’s easy to lose focus today. The whole culture is built on distraction. It enables us to avoid that pain which is not directly connected to our body or to our immediate family and friends, and sometimes, it even enables us to avoid attending to these. So, worship is both a healing and prophetic act, among many other things.

As I reflect on the concerns we all face, it reminds me that Jesus often spoke of healing and acted compassionately toward those who were up against the rough edges of life and were left outside the circle of those with money, power and privilege. Time and again, he showed preference for those who were the least in society’s terms.

I think this is, in part, why I keep coming back and why I don’t just walk out of the room when the litany of concerns is spoken. It’s because of this living example that God is in the human drama, not distant from it. And through some mystery that I’ve never fully understood, when we come up against the limits of our own humanity we discover that we are deeply connected to a power beyond our own. And more remarkably, when we verbalize our own powerlessness and pain, we become stronger. It’s paradoxical that when we admit to our human frailty, we discover strength that we didn’t know we had. And we find renewed strength for the journey.

It’s in worship in a community of people who are struggling with this profound reality that I re-learn this almost every Sunday. It’s in these faces that the image of God is projected. And it’s what keeps life balanced in the midst of turmoil.

HIV-infections Reach New High

HIV infection rates globally have reached a
new high according to a United Nations report released today.

Global infection rates for HIV have reached an all-time high according to a report released today by the UNAids, an entity in the United Nations system.

Despite decreases in transmittal rates in Thailand and Cambodia as a result of condom distribution and preventive education, rates in other parts of Asia and many other regions of the world continued to increase. While some nations are demonstrating success in reducing rates, the latest figures reveal the pandemic continues to eat away at the fabric of life in sub-Saharan Africa.

With ten percent of the world’s population, this region has two-thirds of those infected with HIV. Southern Africa has more than 26 million infected persons.

The crisis takes a toll in lost lives, emotional damage, destroyed communities and weakened economies. The BBC reports that “Incomes of families living with HIV drop by up to 60%, according to studies. Lost earnings and medical costs can have a devastating effect, especially if the main breadwinner falls ill or dies. Children in such families are less likely to remain at school, reducing their own future earning capacity.”

In his book, RX for Survival, Philip Hilts notes that myths about AIDS continue to impede progress in reducing the incidence of the disease in Africa, and the myths are not merely those held by Africans. They include myths that money is lost to corruption resulting in lower use of medicines and that Africans have resisted condom use and behavior change more than others.

Hilts says that, in fact, through the use of low-cost generic drugs Africans have shown notable commitment to getting drugs to affected individuals and that “on average Africans take 90 percent of their pills, compared to Americans, who take about 70 percent of their prescribed dosage.” (RX for Survival, p. 160)

Hilts says Africans are even more truthful when telling how many pills they have missed compared to Americans. (RX for Survival, p. 160)

Regarding behavior, Hilts notes that Africans and Asians not only have fewer sexual partners, they engage in sex less frequently than Americans, Germans and the French. (RX for Survival, p. 142) Hilts attributes this to differences in understanding between Africans and others about relationships and sex.

A shortfall in funding the Global AIDS Fund has sparked leaders of non-governmental organizations and the UN to call for the fulfillment of pledges to the fund. Drugs and treatment have proven effective but Yusef Azad, of the National Aids Trust of Great Britain told the BBC only one in ten persons with AIDS have been tested and know they are infected, and only 15 percent of those living in middle- and low-income countries actually get life-saving drugs. “What is needed is the political will to end this global health injustice,” Azad told the BBC.

Sweet As Pie

A few months ago the staff of UMTV produced
a news story on the pie-making of the women of the First United Methodist Church
of Gauthier, Mississippi. The women were recently featured on The Early Show on
CBS in a segment entitled “As Sweet as Pie.”

In May the staff of UMTV (United Methodist Television) produced a news story on the women of First United Methodist Church, Gauthier, Mississippi who bake pies and sell them to fund mission and ministry. They have raised over $50,000 in the past ten years.

The ladies say they can’t end world hunger, but they can help someone who needs assistance for eyeglasses or needs help paying their gas bill. Every dollar they’ve earned, they’ve given away. They’ve helped support a soup kitchen and the church’s food bank.

But Hurricane Katrina put a stop to their baking as Gauthier was hit hard and many of the pie-bakers lost their homes or sustained severe damage.

The Early Show invited Helen Lindsay and Martha Peterson to New York with their pastor, The Rev. Ron Stanley, ostensibly to honor Rev. Stanley who has done much in the aftermath of the storm.

However, there was a bit of sleight of hand in the invitation as the video segment reveals.

Hopefully, Perspectives is back on-line

This blog was down for a portion of Friday.
Hopefully, it’s back on-line.
Revised Nov. 20, 2005

When I’m traveling and this blog goes down, it’s one of the more frustrating problems I experience with technology. I have a very limited technological capacity, and even more limited patience with technology that doesn’t work. I’m traveling and the blog went down. A reader wrote to tell me about it, which is the best way for me to discover a problem with the blog. So, I hope it’s back. My thanks to Jim for writing.

James Lane has combined his two commentaries on the Judicial Council ruling into one. You can find the commentary in this new link.

I mistakenly attributed the title “The Rev.” to Jim. In fact, he has long been a leading layperson in the church, having served on successive delegations to General Conference, on the General Commission on Communications and in numerous other leadership positions. My apologies to Jim and to readers for this error.

Building Consensus

A consensus is building that people of
goodwill must take responsibility for addressing those problems that confront
the human family, such as ending poverty and the diseases of poverty, and
concentrate our energy on working for the common good. It makes sense. It pays
off in many positive dividends and it’s the right thing to do.

…we do in
fact have
the capability
to end the
worst of
the world’s
Philip Hilts

Do the right thing. I perceive a consensus building that people of goodwill must take responsibility to address problems that confront the human family such as ending poverty, preventing and treating the diseases borne of poverty and creating a climate in which peace can grow. The consensus is that it’s the right thing to do, and more, it’s good for everyone.

It will pay off in dividends that will benefit the long-term future of the whole human family. It’s good politics, foreign policy, economic policy and, most important to me, theology.

Everywhere I’ve been lately I’ve heard frustration with the polarized intransigence that divides us. What I’ve heard leads me to conclude that most people want to put their energy into those things that unite us, things that we have in common, not in those things that highlight our differences.

In RX for Survival, (the companion book to the six-part PBS Series), Philip Hilts writes of “the growing realization that we do in fact have the capability to end the worst of the world’s health problems.” (p. 24)

What is needed, Hilts says, is the political will among major donor nations to work with the poorest countries to bring this reality about. When Bill and Melinda Gates, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Ted Turner, Bono and many, many others put their names and their foundation resources into this effort, they change the dynamic. It’s no longer an ethereal dream. It’s a concrete search for specific vaccines and treatments for diseases that undermine social stability and cause premature death.

I believe, considering all that I’ve seen and heard in the past several weeks, that this dialogue–how to end poverty and how to end the diseases of poverty–is one of the most important dialogues we can have about our common future. Within the faith community, it’s one of the most important theological conversations that we can have about faithfulness today.

I’ll be posting on this in the next few weeks, attempting with all my powers to stay on this message. I think it’s the life-giving message that we must perfect and act upon with urgency. Let me know what you think.

On Not Giving In

Clyde Titus recently died in my hometown.
At 92, he rode his motorcycle sixty miles to take chemo-therapy. That says
something about not giving in.

Here’s to Clyde Titus, from my home town, who died recently. He lived a long and productive life. The word I heard from around town is that at the age of 92 he rode his motorcycle 60 miles to a Tulsa hospital for chemotherapy. That’s a round trip of 120 miles and a feat worth remembering.

A Dissenting Opinion

The dissenting opinion of Jon R. Gray is
circulating. Judge Gray is from Kansas City and is a meticulous legal

This dissenting opinion to the Judicial Council ruling by Jon R. Gray was sent to me by a reader of Perspectives. Judge Gray is a judge in Kansas City, MO. and sits on the Judicial Council.

My thanks to the reader who sent this reference. I invite you to share other opinions you believe are helpful to this discussion.

A Few Commentaries on the Judicial Council Ruling

These are a few commentaries on the Judicial
Council ruling.
Revised Nov. 20, 2005

(I goofed by giving James W. Lane the title, “The Rev.” In fact, Mr. Lane has exercised leadership in The United Methodist Church as a layperson for a number of years. My apologies to Mr. Lane and readers for my error.)

The dialogue about the ruling of the Judicial Council continues. It includes a range of opinions. I offer a few. Not a complete overview, just a few of the commentaries I’ve seen. If you see others you’d recommend, send them to me.

Dr. Rex D. Matthews provides the most comprehensive analysis of the decision I’ve seen.

A note from James W. Lane advises he has combined his two commentaries into one at a new link. You can find Jim’s commentaries here.

General Secretary Chester Jones of the General Commission on Religion and Race writes of “Walls of Exclusion.”

General Secretary James Winkler of the General Board of Church and Society believes the ruling reflects an agenda that isn’t being stated forthrightly.

Send others you think should be seen and shared.

A Statement from The General Commission on Communications

A statement from the General Commission on
Communications affirming open hearts, open minds, open doors.
A Statement from the Commission on Communication
of The United Methodist Church

Communication Commission Affirms ?Open hearts, Open minds, Open doors?

The Commission on Communication is committed to lead in the struggle to embrace what we believe is God?s call to be a people with open hearts, open minds, and open doors.

From its inception, the Methodist movement has followed the axiom, ?Preach faith until you have it.? It is an aspiration. We believe a recent Judicial Council interpretation of church law allowing a pastor to deny membership to a man because of his sexual orientation is contrary to the spirit of the teachings of the church, our history, and most importantly, the teachings of Jesus, who rejected no one. We join our bishops in their unanimous statement that United Methodist congregations are open to all.

Since this decision, some persons have asked us to withdraw our denominational promise, ?Open hearts, Open minds, Open doors: The People of The United Methodist Church.?

While we understand those concerns, we believe that it would be a tragic mistake to walk away from a promise grounded in Christ?s love and his commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. We believe it would be a tragic mistake to walk away from the thousands of congregations who have made the promise of ?Open hearts, Open minds, Open doors: The People of The United Methodist Church? a living reality. We believe it would be a tragic mistake to turn away from congregations who affirm it makes no difference where you come from, how much money you earn, what the color of your skin is, and even, whether you are gay or straight.

This church is about the people who live out what we say as reinforced in our Constitution and Social Principles. We call on the people of The United Methodist Church to keep before the world the fundamental principle that our hearts, our minds, and our doors are open to anyone seeking a new life in Jesus Christ. Christ rejected no one. Neither can we.

Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton

Larry Hollon
General Secretary

United Methodist Communications

Nov. 10, 2005

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