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Gates And United Methodists Followup

It came as no surprise that a conversation between United Methodist leaders and staff of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation would find common ground. But the sense of shared commitment to the claim that every life has value that pervades the Gates Foundation philosophy struck some of us as a strong complement to the religious claim that all life is sacred. So it isn’t just commonality about programs or approaches to confronting poverty, hunger and disease. It’s a shared sense of belief in the value of human life. This became more obvious to me as the conversation progressed. And it made the possibility of partnership seem possible.

Sometimes when I write about values I get a bit defensive because I’m aware of the skepticism about religion that many thoughtful people in the United States feel. And, I’m also aware that religious claims strike many people as having little authenticity. The contentious period we’re passing through makes it more difficult for some to believe these claims and to trust they are genuine. I think this is a bit of the fallout that comes from the close identification of religion with right wing politics and, equally important, the identification of religion with cultural values as if religion and culture are the same. They aren’t of course, but to state even this is to invite criticism of disloyalty to one’s nation in the minds of some.

So, I tend write less about values than I should and when I do, I write more defensively than I should. And honestly, the conversation between the church folks and the Gates folks didn’t even broach this subject in the way I’m writing in this post. But the conversation did lead me to reflect on a growing desire that I believe is afoot. People, religious or not, want to make a difference in the world and to engage the problems that make life so miserable for some.

I take this as a hopeful sign. I’ve been amazed at the way the Nothing But Nets campaign to raise funds for bednets to prevent malaria has taken hold in The United Methodist Church. Every day I get a note reporting another story of commitment and hard work to raise funds for bednets. Some are about children taking up this cause. Others are about youth. And still others are about local congregations, many of whom might have said they can’t be pushed to give more because they’re already stretched to the breaking point financially. Yet, they continue to push to raise funds for bednets.

Despite the current stock market roller coaster ride, the developed nations of the North live in abundance. We are not in a setting of scarcity. I appreciate that the abundance is ill-distributed to the point of being unjust. But never the less, the mainline faith communities exist in abundance, and many in them are motivated to do more than settle into material comfort and forget the rest of the world.

I live in the hope that this percolating concern and emerging good will can be focused into a movement, a movement to improve living conditions and provide the medicines, knowledge and support for ending much of the human suffering that exists unnecessarily around the world today. That’s a visionary hope, I know, and it probably meets with skepticism, but I hold to it none the less. And I wonder what would happen if a global movement took hold to call upon governments and civic organizations to concentrate on saving lives and put an end to the wars, poverty and diseases that are killing children and adults today at a frightening pace. I think I hear the seeds of this movement when I hear young people talk about what they want to do with their lives. And I think I witness it when I hear the reports of people who thought they couldn’t do it, reach financial goals for bednets that make them feel they’ve accomplished something wonderful. And they have.

So these are my ruminations following the much more specific and concrete conversation I was privileged to be part of with the Gates staff. I just keep wondering what would happen if a global movement were to take hold and tackle the diseases of poverty. How many lives would be saved? How many promising children and young adults might live long enough to take up the cause and find ways to unleash life, and turn away from death?
What would happen if people of faith were to take seriously the call of Jesus to live abundantly and to serve others graciously? That would provide a different view of religious faith to the world, it would save lives and it would reaffirm the biblical teaching that all life is sacred. I keep wondering.

Archbishop Tutu on Anglicans Extraordinary Obsession with Gays

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says African Anglicans
are obsessed with gay issues and are “fiddling while Rome burns.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says African Anglicans are obsessed with gay issues and they are not confronting the pressing issues the church should be concerned about–HIV/AIDS, Zimbabwe’s plight under President Mugabe, and the crisis in Darfur. Speaking to the BBC, Tutu said the Anglican communion is spending too much time debating gay issues and same sex marriage while the continent groans under the burdens of AIDS and corruption. Tutu called the debate an “extraordinary obsession.”

Molly Ivins

We will miss the humor, clear thinking and
crafted writing of Molly Ivins.

I will miss the voice of Molly Ivins. Maya Angelou gives a touching commemoration of the loss of this voice who gave us humor, clear thinking and well-crafted writing.

Dr. Muhammad Yunus and the Nobel Peace Prize

Dr. Muhammad Yunus told an audience tonight
in Washington, D.C. that peace is inextricably connected with
(I attended a dinner to honor Dr. Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank and Nobel Laureate. Dr. Yunus spoke about the role of micro-lending enabling people to emerge from poverty.)

Peace is inextricably connected to poverty, according to Dr. Muhammad Yunus. “Where there is poverty sooner or later there will be frustration and possibly terrorism. Terrorism won’t be halted by force,” he told a crowd of supporters and guests of the United Nations Foundation.

“Peace will only come with justice and empowerment of people who feel they are left out of the society,” he said.

Dr. Yunus, who founded the Grameen Bank a micro-lender to the poor, was named a Nobel Laureate by the Norwegian Nobel Committee on October 13, 2006.

Dr. Yunus said the Nobel Committee through the nomination made the connection between poverty and peace. His remarks, which can be found on the Grameen website, reveal the respect he holds for the poor with whom he works. He told the group, “Grameencredit is based on the premise that the poor have skills which remain unutilised or under-utilised. It is definitely not the lack of skills which make poor people poor. Grameen believes that the poverty is not created by the poor, it is created by the institutions and policies which surround them. In order to eliminate poverty all we need to do is to make appropriate changes in the institutions and policies, and/or create new ones. Grameen believes that charity is not an answer to poverty. It only helps poverty to continue. It creates dependency and takes away individual’s initiative to break through the wall of poverty. Unleashing of energy and creativity in each human being is the answer to poverty.”

Mild of speech and disposition, Dr. Yunus said “poverty is not a natural extension of human beings, it is an artificial condition imposed upon people. I would celebrate if only one person left begging to become an entrepreneur because those who leave the begging life see the value of education for their children and they become empowered.”
He said he would be joyful if only eight people moved from poverty to self-support. But, in fact, through the work of Grameen Bank “thousands have left begging and have become self-sufficient.”

When he started Grameen Bank, he said he had no idea how the first $27.00 loan would be repaid, nor how much good it would do. But he learned quickly that a small loan can lead to big payoff. At the start he had “no idea it would reach hundreds of thousands of people. But today we’re reaching 5 million,” he said.

He will receive his award on December 10 in Oslo for his work to empower poor people, especially women, by providing small loans.

Gracia Machel and Nelson Mandela

Gracia Machel and Nelson
Mandela made a surprise visit to The United Methodist Council of Bishops meeting
in Maputo

Calling herself a child of the Methodist Church, Gracia Machel told the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church this evening that it was the teachings of the church that led her to see that she, a girl living in poverty, could become educated and lead. She spoke of her education in United Methodist schools and the empowerment those schools encouraged.

Ms. Machel is the former minister of education of Mozambique and widow of Mozambique liberation leader and first president Samora Machel. She married Nelson Mandela in 1998 and they live only blocks from the hotel where the bishops were meeting. Their presence came as a welcome surprise at the end of a long week of deliberations.

Ms. Machel spoke of the importance of education for all children, but especially for young girls. She said education was a tool for them to exercise their rights.

She spoke of the progress the country has made since the end of its internal war some ten years ago. She told the bishops twenty-five percent of the primary schools across the nation were destroyed in the war. She started the Foundation for Community Development to give hope and a future to children in Mozambique who might otherwise be left out of the country’s forward progress.

Ms. Machel gave startling statistics about the rate of infection of women in Mozambique with HIV/AIDS. She told the bishops that between the ages of 15 to 24, 76% of those in Mozambique infected with the virus are women and girls. Her foundation concentrates on women and children because they represent the future, she said.

“Just to grow food, women have to be healthy,” she explained. “If we are to reduce the rate of infection, we must empower women.”

She said gender relationships are the key to women’s empowerment and she has concentrated on fairness for women and access to education. She thanked the bishops saying, “We, young men and women, had the opportunity to go to school due to your generosity and solidarity.”

Speaking tongue-in-cheek she said she regards herself as “a sort of a bridge between Mozambique and South Africa.” She then said that when she learned she was coming to speak to the bishops she wanted to introduce another “Methodist child.”

Referring to her husband, she told the group, “I don’t know whether you know this” but Mandela attended Methodist schools in his youth in South Africa, “so please welcome your child.”

Mandela, walking with a cane, approached the speaker’s podium as he received a standing ovation.

He spoke of the importance of doing good work while here on earth so that in the future he would not be banished when he knocked on the door of heaven. Picking up on the theme of empowering women, he brought chuckles to the crowd when he spoke of heaven’s gatekeeper as a woman.

He re-emphasized the importance of gender relationships, telling the group to listen to women and learn from them. He said it’s OK to disagree with a woman using words, but not to “beat her with a stick,” a remark he has made before when addressing African men.

Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, President of the Council, thanked Mandela and Machel, telling them that tonight “the bishops know that we are in the presence of the saints.”

Bishop Joao Somane Machado, bishop of Mozambique, asked all the women bishops to stand and be recognized, and closed the gathering by saying he thought it was providential that Mr. Mandela and Ms. Machel were able to address the group. Bishop Felton May closed the meeting with a moving prayer.

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