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Building a Global Community

The barbarism of the London bombings points
us once again to the need for building a more humane and compassionate
community. It’s clear that politicians alone are not able to create the
conditions that create community, they need the encouragement, support and
pressure that comes from an informed citizenry who have a vision for a better
world. This isn’t impractical idealism. In fact, it may be the only real
alternative to the senseless death and destruction that threatens open societies
and the hopes for freedom of those who live in closed

The disgust that we all feel about the death of innocents in the London bombings has once again brought us to consider the human toll that results from terror and war. When the death visits our own cities, ones with which we can identify, it seems more real and more deeply tragic than it seems when it’s in a city unlike our own such as Baghdad. Derrick Z. Jackson, writing in the Boston Globe, says the bombings in London should cause us to look in the mirror.

In our minds, we can limit a car bomb’s destruction to the screen. Somehow it’s not quite the same. It’s distant. Different. And in this difference our sense of urgency is not quite the same as when the death comes closer to home. It’s not that we’re indifferent, nor lack compassion, nor harbor cruel disregard, it’s just a function of distance and difference brought to us on a small screen.

One general even said as much in a Congressional hearing when he said we could change the channel when reports appeared that attributed the deaths of innocents in Iraq to U.S. soldiers.

London, however, is a different story. It’s more like us than not. We can identify in a different way. We can imagine that we could have been on that bus or making our way to work on the train. It’s more familiar than different.

This presents a challenge to people of faith that we must must take up. It’s the challenge to develop an understanding of our common humanity. The deaths of all innocent people offend and diminish us, no matter where they occur nor how different the culture from our own. The deaths of innocent people in Baghdad have been under-reported in Western media through a campaign designed to limit our comprehension of the human toll of the war in Iraq.

To stand for the human community as a gift from a creative God is not to stand in one political camp or the other. It’s to stand in the middle, to find a better way, and to create peace. It’s to stand apart from the death and destruction and to stand for understanding and compassion, healing and hope.

The pain of loss and suffering is the same in any language. In this understanding we are united. Both Sojourners and the National Council of Churches have proposed alternative ways to death and destruction. These seem to me more realistic and promising than the current path. It’s naive’ to assume that the force of arms will resolve conflict.

It’s realistic to look in the mirror, see the face of pain and search for a better way.

Live 8 and the Development of Africa

The Live 8 concert is over and the influence
it may have on the G-8 Summit is yet to be seen. It is a noble effort. But
will it result in meaningful change?

The Live 8 concerts are over and their influence on the G-8 Summit is yet to be seen. The concerts advance a noble idea–to build a global voice to call upon leaders of the world’s industrialized nations to cancel the debt of developing nations and increase development aid.

I thought Brad Pitt was very effective in stating the case for personal responsibility toward Africa’s plight in the clip that I saw. He approached eloquence by keeping his remarks simple and factual. He’s also done a good job stating the case in the interviews I’ve seen.

I think Bono’s and Pitt’s motivations and commitment to end poverty are hopeful signs and both are making a positive contribution toward creating awareness of the need for development aid and debt cancellation.

What happens next is most important, however, and it’s here that such campaigns have been less effective in the past. Celebrity-based “movements” have mostly sputtered. They don’t create a constituency for foreign assistance, at least not in the United States.

In Europe and Scandinavia there has consistently been a stronger constituency for global aid but it’s not the result of mass events such as Live 8. It’s the result of education, past colonial relationships and proximity to the African continent among other reasons. As a result, the European Union has for years provided more financial assistance per capita than the U.S., much of it going to Africa.

The constituency for foreign assistance in the U.S. is a miniscule 1% of the population. Hardly enough to even be recognized by politicians who vote on the budget. To the degree that Live 8 creates a lasting constituency that expresses its support for policy change, it will achieve success. Something less than that, however, leaves us in the same place we were before with the small benefit that a few more people might give ending poverty a second thought. But second thoughts aren’t enough when facing the urgent, critical needs of survival that the world’s poorest people face every day.

Bono and Pitt understand this. We can only hope that those who were introduced to this concern take home a commitment to urgent change as well and that the concert was merely the start of a long-term commitment to find their voice and use it to end poverty.

Bangladesh and the Garment Industry

Dateline NBC is running news documentary on
garment workers in Bangladesh as I write. They make garments for GAP, Wal Mart,
K-Mart and the NFL. Despite signing agreements to treat workers justly the
plant owners surreptitiously violate the agreements. They claim they must do
this because they are squeezed by the corporations for whom they make the

The garment industry in Bangladesh is featured in a solid documentary piece called “Clothes Line,” on NBC’s Dateline as I write this. The piece shows working conditions of female garment industry employees who are paid pennies per hour and work long hours despite codes of conduct signed by their employers.

Their wages are barely enough for survival and certainly not for an acceptable, decent standard of living. That means, for example, that they can afford lentils but not vegetables, cheap but poorly constructed clothing, rent for substandard housing.

Dateline’s Chris Hansen went to Bangladesh and documented conditions there, including interviews with factory operators and employees. The program also brought an employee to the U.S. and took her to a Wal Mart where she learned that the clothing she makes sells for an amount equal to one week’s pay. She grasps the exploitation behind the system and is incensed.

Wal Mart responded to Dateline by reaffirming that its contractors adhere to codes of conduct and denying that it squeezes them to keep prices low. A shopper in Wal Mart who cleans houses for a living tells the Dateline reporter that an increase of 25 cents per garment would not be acceptable to her despite learning that the young woman from Bangladesh is exploited to keep prices low. The shopper is scraping by in the U.S.

Hansen notes that this an up close view of globalization. Further, competition for lower wages with Chinese factories will increase downward pressure on Bangladesh wages.

Two women, apparently more affluent, viewing the video express their opinion that the young women workers in Bangladesh are exploited as “slave labor.” They volunteer that they would pay an additional amount for clothing to increase wages.

The piece was well-written, fair and straightforward. It’s the second global story I’ve seen on Dateline in two weeks. Both stories serve as global education for the broadcast audience. The web package offered by NBC is complete and helpful. Dateline is performing a valuable function by telling these stories.

Dr. Sachs on Africa Aid

Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, chair of the Millenium
Challenge, says the suffering of Africa is on the hands of U.S.

In his most outspoken writing to date, at least that I’ve seen, Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, author of the Millennium Challenge report, says the suffering of Africa is on the hands of U.S. policymakers, including the current administration.

Dr. Sachs writes in a Sunday L.A. Times op-ed piece, “The millions of Africans who die young and the hundreds of millions going hungry are not victims of fate. They are the consequences of U.S. policy.”

It’s a pretty scathing critique of the current policy and it addresses the myths that are often used to buttress that policy. Coming in the wake of the G-8 Summit promise to forgive some African debt, it puts a much more realistic perspective on just how much more needs to be done and it also holds up successful examples of aid that have made a difference in better health and lives saved.

Sachs is an informed, articulate advocate for functional partnerships. I hope he’s being heard by those who can make a difference.

Christians, Jews to visit Palestine-Israel

The National Council of Churches and the
American Jewish Committee have put together a visit by members of both groups to
Israel-Palestine in September in an effort to gain better understanding of the
differences between mainline Christians and Jews over policies in the Middle

Mainline Christians and Jews will travel to the Middle East on September 18-24 where each group will view the region through the perspective of the other. This is an attempt to understand the differences that have developed between the two groups over Israel-Palestine.

This is a great example of a responsible attempt to create a new dialogue, and I hope it results in a new narrative, as I suggested in the post preceding this one.

Mainline Protestants such as the Presbyterian Church USA have begun divestment in Israeli companies as a means to call attention to their dissent from Israeli policies towards Palestinians. Others will consider this in coming months. It’s a move that supporters feel is necessary because their concerns have not been heard and the protagonists remain at loggerheads.

To engage in a conversation of this kind is a serious and constructive move. The American Jewish Committee and the National Council of Churches deserve to be commended for this attempt to create new dialogue.

Bolivian Hip Hop

It’s been said that music forms us. Music
is what it is. It doesn’t represent something else. It stands on its own. So
it’s intriguing that Bolivian youth have adapted hip hop from urban United
States to express their frustration with poverty and an unresponsive government
that discriminates against young, urban indigenous poor.

I do not care
if my music is
pirated. The
money is not
important. What
we want is
to send out
our lyrics so
they can influence.
–Grover Canaviri

Music shapes us. It is what it is. It doesn’t represent something else. It’s an esthetic experience and a message. It’s entertainment and communication.

In a world where everything points to something else, or is used for profit, thus not valuable on its own but valuable because it represents some other form of gain, money, prestige, power or self-esteem, music stands as the last authentic form of communication.

Of course, it too can be exploited, but knowing this, we tune it out because we recognize the cynical use of an art form for commerce. We’re not fooled and we let it pass by without biting the bait.

I read with interest a piece in the New York Times about Bolivian youth who have adapted the pose of urban U.S. hip-hop and are expressing their social discontent through the music,

There is a global youth culture. I’ve seen young folks in Ghana taking the dress and pose of hip-hop. I’ve watched young folks in South Korea not only “do” hip-hop but also break-dance. The global communications delivery system spreads culture immediately and young people appropriate it and make it their own.

As I’ve seen it, it isn’t just affectation. It’s not just kids posing as if they are trying out some new identity. Certainly there is some of that, but it seems to be more than playing a role.

What I’ve observed is young folks taking an expressive form and making it their own. They customize it, if you will, and infuse it with their own life experience and apply it to their own social circumstances. This makes it authentic, I think, in a way that goes beyond the surface appearances and gets at the root of the lived experience in their own culture.

This deserves more discussion than I’ve given it here. But I note it because it seems to be a culture without borders. And it seems to be a culture created by young people themselves, taking elements from wherever they wish and re-mixing them into a fresh expression that is authentic for them in a particular place and time.

I think it’s another example of reality being shaped by the sharing of images, sound and visuals through digital and electronic media. These ingredients are appropriated, re-mixed and transformed into a new and authentic expression of the life experiences of the young people who refine them and use them.

Making a Difference Through Service

Dr. Guy D. Nave, Jr. told a group of United
Methodist church leaders that young people today want to make a difference and
he called upon the leaders to offer them the opportunity to experience service
through self-sacrifice as an expression of faith.

Young people are
looking for an
opportunity to
serve, to make
a difference in
the world
–Dr. Guy Nave, Jr.

“Young people are looking for an opportunity to serve, to make a difference in the world,” according to Dr. Guy Nave, Jr., assistant professor of religion at Luther College, Deorah, Iowa. He was speaking to a group of United Methodist leaders last night who are looking at the future of the church.

He told us his experience with college students on the Luther College campus leads him to conclude that young people want to be a part of a worldwide connection that is contributing something that makes a difference.

“It’s not about what we need, it’s about contributing something,” he told the group.

This is consistent with the results of research United Methodist Communications has done among non-church adults in the United States. There is, I believe, a growing desire to create change, especially change that makes life better for those who are poor, vulnerable and neglected in the global society.

This is a message we are hearing consistently but it’s one that has no quantifiable data behind it yet. We don’t know how many people feel this way. One economist who attended the meeting said he believes it may be at least 10% of the population, but that’s a guess, too.

But my thought goes to this. If 10% of the young adults in the United States are yearning to make a contribution and to create change, and if they are doing this through humanitarian service, as Dr. Nave says they are on his campus, that means a substantial number of people are already engaged in making the world a better place, and they’re doing it quietly, without fanfare.

There’s a lot to be gained from understanding this, if it’s true, and if it represents a harbinger of things to come. They’re not running from the world in fear, they’re seeing problems and trying to fix them. They’re not standing on the curb shouting to impose their views on others, they’re engaging with others to bring about change that makes life better. They’re not withdrawing into mindless consumption of material goods, they’re actually acting in counter-cultural, self-sacrifice to help other people.

I so want to believe this is true, and I so want to hope not only that it’s happening, but that it will increase.

Thomas Freidman Says the World is Flat, After All

Writing in the New York Times Magazine, Thomas Friedman lays out his case that the world’s flat after all.

It’s flat because new technology makes it possible for anyone with the smarts, a computer and an Internet connection to collaborate in a global network of knowledge.

This is the newest wrinkle in globalization, according to Friedman who has written on the subject in The Lexus and the Olive Tree and Longtitudes and Latitudes.

are being
and value
is being
less and
less within
silos and
more and
more through

–Thomas L. Freidman

It’s a
Flat World,
After All

Globalization is the social and business reality in which faith and culture are being shaped and lived out. It’s more than a wrinkle, really. It’s already having profound impact on how corporations function, as Freidman illustrates. The collaborative workstyle he describes is a whole new way of working across distances and other boundaries.

In meetings I attend there is often discussion about a “global church” but the meaning of the phrase is still very murky to me. Is it about organization? Is it about theology? Is it about worship? Is it about changing relationships in mission?

Friedman makes clear that in the corporate world globalization is about basic challenges to existing management styles and organizational structures. I suspect the biggest challenge globalization presents to organizations and individuals is the need to re-think our place in the world.

The potential is profound. It will mean all of us have to re-think our roles and responsibilities as workers and as citizens. What will the future hold in an interactive, collaborative, participatory, always-on, pluralistic environment? What will faith look like in these circumstances?

Corporations are coming to terms with a very different competitive environment that is knowledge-based and geographically distributed across the globe. Imagine what this means for management and control.

It’s not just where we’re heading. It’s where we are. In some ways faith communities have been at the leading edge of thinking about life in a holistic way. We know that we are connected with people in ways far more binding than technology and national boundaries. And, at least as I understand it, Christian faith provides us a basis for viewing this reality in a constructive and expansive way, not in a fearful and defensive way.

I think Freidman’s contention that the world is flat presents us with an opportunity and a challenge. The opportunity is to interpret this new understanding so that we don’t live in fear and to find words to talk about our responsibilities as members of the global community. The challenge is to support policies that provide opportunity to all people–workers in the U.S. and workers beyond the U.S.–in a just and equitable sharing of the world’s resources so that we can sustain the environment and live purposeful lives wherever we are.

I know how grandiose these words sound. But, faith is a fairly grandiose enterprise if it helps us understand our meaning and purpose in life. For me, coming to terms with the flat world means coming to terms with new words to discuss the global community. It means working to create a new global awareness. It’s an exciting challenge, trying to figure out how to get around on this flat world.

Sudan: 10,000 a month

The United Nations reports it has underestimated the death toll in Darfur.

to this
report in the Guardian
, the actual toll is 10,000 people a month dead
from starvation, compromised health and exposure. This number excludes those
killed in the fighting.

The World
Food Program announced today
that it does not have enough food the
meet the needs of the

We’ve long known this
humanitarian disaster was among the world’s worst. It seemed hopeful that a
truce would result in better conditions for those in southern Sudan bearing the
brunt of the government’s attacks, but this has not been the case. A CARE
worker reports visiting one camp in the last three weeks where 200 per day
struggled in looking for food and

Plenty of responsible
voices have called this genocide. I wonder when, or if, we will become outraged
and demand an end to this utterly appalling disaster. An international mission
to halt the attacks under the auspices of the UN is long

and Church World
are among many agencies providing humanitarian

Ending Extreme Poverty Is Possible

In last week’s cover story in Time , Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, head of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, lays out an achievable plan for ending extreme poverty by 2025.

Extreme poverty is living on less than $1 a day, which means living with less income than is necessary to survive. It means chronic hunger, no health care, no safe drinking water, no sanitary waste disposal, no shoes, inadequate shelter, time-worn clothing.

1.1 billion people live like this, one-sixth of the world’s population. They are subject to the ravages of AIDS, drought, war and famine.

It doesn’t have to be this way. A mere 15 cents from every one hundred dollars of national U.S. income could make a substantial dent in this appalling daily reality.

Sachs makes a case for change that is both achievable and rational. He refutes the myth that foreign aid doesn’t work, and that corrupt political leaders are the cause of on-going poverty in the Third World. (He notes, for example, that Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangledesh have prospered while experiencing widespread corruption.)

He makes the point that complex geographic and structural economic factors play as important, if not a more important role, than corruption.

Those regions left farthest behind face special hardships and obstacles: a climate favorable to mosquito production resulting in malaria, drought prone lands unfavorable to irrigation, isolated mountain or landlocked regions and lack of natural resources such as oil, coal or natural gas.

Sachs is both realistic and determined. “The situation is grim, but salvageable,’ he writes.

He believes that multiple factors contribute to poverty and multiple approaches, designed in partnership with local people, can put an end to the most extreme poverty. The structural adjustments imposed by the World Bank have not worked in the most deprived nations. They have led to riots and social disorder and put the Bank in position to act as the collection agency for the wealthy donor nations to recover interest on loans made to indebted poor nations.

More than
of extreme
–Dr. Jeffrey Sachs

Instead, building schools, clinics, roads, electrical grids, ports and providing nutrients for the soil, clean water and sanitation facilities holds more realistic promise. These are the most basic necessities for human dignity, and for an economy to work, Sachs says.

This is also a key to global security, much more effective than allocating billions for military interventions that are creating new terrorists daily.

In fact, the daily toll should weigh heavy on our consciences. Twenty thousand people die every day from conditions of extreme poverty. They lack drugs to fight off preventable diseases. They lack treated mosquito nets to prevent malaria. They have impaired immune systems for lack of proper nutrients to sustain life. They live exposed to the elements, vulnerable to natural disasters that claim a disproportionate number of the poorest of the world.

Sachs is a refreshing, hopeful voice. We need to hear him. Moreover, we need to be even more aggressive in advocating for the “clinical economics” he is advocating. I hope people will pick up this edition of Time, read the cover story and get engaged. There is no reason to allow these life-threatening conditions to continue.

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