Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

10 posts from July 2007

Cool version of the Lord's Prayer

This past Sunday at my church we discussed prayer.  It's part of a summer "Worship Lab" series where we are focusing on various aspects of worship.  We are using the Worship Lab to explore what it means to be a worshiping community and try different ways of worshiping God to stretch our understanding and experience of worship.  We discussed the Lord's Prayer as part of the prayer topic.  Both the role ritual prayer can play, but also how powerful the Lord's Prayer is when you stop to think about its words.  In our bulletin were several versions of the Lord's Prayer and one I really liked is from the Council of American Indian Ministries.

Great Spirit whose tepee is in the sky

and hunting ground is on the earth,

All afraid of You and mighty are You called;

Ruler over storms, over people and birds, and beasts and mountains,

Have Your way over all, over earthways and skyways;

Find us this day our meat and corn, that we may be strong and brave;

And put aside from us our wicked ways,

as we put aside the bad of all who do us wrong;

And let us not have troubles that lead into crooked paths;

But keep everyone in our camp from all danger;

For yours is all that is: the earth and sky,

the streams, the hills, and the valleys, the stars,

the moon, and the sun; all that live and breathe.

Wonder, Shining Mighty Spirit!

Thank you!

All year, Bread for the World's Seeds of Change campaign has focused attention on farm bill reform. Just this week, thousands of you called Washington to support the Fairness in Food and Farm Policy Amendment in the House of Representatives. Last night, the House defeated the Fairness Amendment on a vote of 117-309. Learn how your representative voted.  If your representative voted yes, please call and thank him or her.

The Fairness Amendment would have reformed the farm bill in significant ways to reduce hunger and poverty and help farmers of modest means in this country and in developing countries. Though the amendment didn't pass, the pressure we brought for reform forced congressional leaders to add provisions to the bill that increase funding for nutrition and conservation programs that will help hungry people and promote environmental stewardship.

Most importantly, pressure for reform of the farm bill is now stronger than ever. Bread for the World members played a key role in raising awareness about the inequities of the farm bill and the needs of hungry and poor people in our country and overseas. Without our voice, Congress would not have given serious consideration to the need for reforms in the farm bill. 

The House voted on and passed the farm bill itself today. You will soon find updates and analysis of the farm bill on our Web site. Major farm bill decisions remain to be made in the Senate as well.

You can be proud of the intense and well-coordinated effort that our Bread for the World grassroots membership has poured into this challenging campaign. We have already had an impact, and the story is far from over.

Thanks for your hard work. Stay tuned!

YouTube Message from BFW President

Check it out and call your Representative!

Diane Rehm and the Farm Bill

Listen today at 10 am (EST) to the Diane Rehm show on NPR.  Please call into her show and express support in the Fairness in Farm and Food Policy Amendment.  When you call in please mention BFW's website, www.bread.org or www.bread.org/farmbill for listeners to find out how they can make a difference.  Thanks everyone!

(You can listen to the live feed if you don't have access to your local NPR station.)

Action Needed This Week

The House Agriculture Committee passed its version of the Farm Bill last week. “This is not real reform,” said Bread for the World President David Beckmann. “This is a ruse.” The bill that the committee passed does not significantly change our trade-distorting commodity payments. While it provides some extra money for nutrition assistance, rural development and conservation, these increases are very modest. In a country as wealthy as ours, we can do more for poor and hungry people.

The bill will come to the House floor this week.  Bread for the World is asking Representatives to vote for the Fairness in Farm and Food Policy Amendment, introduced by Reps. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Ron Kind (D-WI). This amendment would help farmers of modest means in the U.S., while also allowing farmers in other countries to earn a living. Using the money saved through these reforms, it would promote nutrition, conservation and rural development programs.   

If you would like to get involved, you can call your Representative toll-free, at 1-800-826-3688. Tell him/her to support the Fairness in Farm and Food Policy Amendment, because the bill passed by the Agriculture Committee does little to address the inequities in our farm payments. The Farm Bill is only reauthorized once every five years, so this is a crucial time to help hungry people in this country and around the world.

Talking Points:

1.)    Over half of laborers in the developing world work in agriculture. Our current commodity payment system lowers worldwide prices, making it difficult for farmers in other countries to earn a living. The Fairness Amendment would support farmers of modest means in this country and does not hurt farmers around the world.

2.)    The average per-person food stamp benefit is only $1.03, which is not enough to support a balanced diet. Half of all food stamp participants are children, who are particularly affected by poor nutrition. The Fairness Amendment significantly bolsters domestic nutrition programs, so that our most vulnerable citizens can purchase healthy foods.

3.)    Poverty and hunger rates are highest in rural America. We can promote rural development through broadband Internet access, incentives for local entrepreneurs and investments in community infrastructure. The Fairness Amendment provides twice as much money for rural development than the bill passed by the Agriculture Committee.

4.)    Conservation is crucial to the future of farming in America and for the preservation of our resources. However, many applicants to conservation programs are turned away because of insufficient funding. The Fairness Amendment includes more money for land stewardship, including more funds to promote clean water and wildlife habitats, as well as the preservation of open spaces.

Florida's Biggest-Ever U2Charist

Floridau2charist_2 In his wonderful keynote sermon at the 2005 Interfaith Convocation at the National Cathedral in Washington, the Most Rev. Njongonkulu W. H. Ndungane, spoke about how he was called into the ministry by the God of Surprises during his time in prison at Robben Island in South Africa.

Many of us have experienced that God of Surprises in one form or another, sometimes through unexpected results in our work to help alleviate hunger and poverty.   

I'd like to highlight the experience of  Eric Johnson, a ONE activist from Tampa, Fla., who tells us a wonderful story of how a huge U2Charist became one of the highlights of the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church in Lakeland, Fla., this summer.   

Rev. Paige Blair, an Episcopal priest, and Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation, are avid promoters of the  U2Charist (based on the Episcopal Church's informal Rite III). The service uses music from U2 and calls on people of faith to rally around The Millenium Development Goals.   The U2Charist was the brainchild of Sarah Dylan Breuer.

Eric, one of my Facebook "friends," had already helped plan a very successful U2Charist at Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa, Fla., in October 2006, which drew 600 people.  "My partner in coordinating our first U2Charist, Warren Pattison and I, met several weeks afterwards, in an attitude of dreaming big with no expectation that it would ever happen, we joked about how cool it would be to do a U2Charist worship at the Florida Annual Conference," said Eric.

But the God of Surprises gives us the gift of vision and the gift or perseverance.   

"With an expectation of being turned down, we sent an email with our idea of doing a U2Charist worship service as part of the 2007 Annual Conference to the primary event coordinator," said Eric.  "She had heard about our service in October and thought it was a great idea.  A quick meeting with Bishop (Timothy) Whitaker, and the next thing we knew we were on the schedule!"

Eric had no doubt that he was merely an instrument.  "What an amazing act of God providence, to provide us this tremendous opportunity to share the message of the Millennium Development Goals, ONE.org, and the fight against poverty and AIDS to a huge delegation of clergy and lay leaders from the entire state of Florida," he said.

This fits with Bishop Ndungane's words at the 2005 Interfaith Convocation: "This is God's work, and this is the year that we have an unprecedented opportunity to make a difference," he said, referring to the emergence of The ONE Campaign and other similar worldwide anti-poverty efforts.

God's grace was evident in the actual event.   "Over 1,500 delegates and guests attended the almost two-hour service, almost 300 signatures were added to the ONE petition, and $127,000 was raised to fight hunger and poverty in Africa and at home," said Eric.

Click here to read a wonderful account about the U2Charist at the United Methodist Gathering (courtesy of the Florida United Methodist News Service).

Rev. Paige Blair, who helps promotes U2Charists around the country, was amazed at the amount of money that was raised at this one event.  Said Rev. Blair:  "In one service we more than doubled what we'd raised in the course of two years. WOW!"

More importantly, it looks like U2Charists are going to become commonplace in Florida.  Said Eric: "Only a few days following the Annual Conference, we received several inquiries on details, and word that one of the largest UMC congregations, located in Orlando, was going to plan a U2Charist for this Fall.  Our God is an amazing God..."

(The above painting was created by Kaley Madden of Flagler University.  She put it together especially for the U2Charist held at the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church).

Focus on the (Poor) Family

Since this is my first post here (thanks for welcoming me!), I should probably introduce myself as a new intern for Bread for the World out in California, officemate of my esteemed blogging Bread colleague, Holly. My internship is geared towards thinking about how conservative Evangelical concerns and social justice concerns might find common ground. In a way, I'm emphasizing the "nonpartisan" nature of our organization in a different way than you might normally think. Not only are we not tied to one particular political party, but we find common cause amidst all members of the Body of Christ, in the spirit of Ephesians-like unity.

Today I'm thinking about the affects of poverty on the family. There was an interesting short article in the Washington Post about this recently and also a post about it (with about a billion comments and counting) over at the God's Politics blog. Meanwhile, I've been thinking on my blog about what Dr. Dobson's Focus on the Family (FoF) might have to say about hunger and poverty. As you might expect, one finds a good deal on the website about how strengthening families is one of the most profound ways to work against poverty. And to that, I say Amen!

On the other hand, this issue is a two way street. Poverty makes it harder to have a strong family. FoF certainly recognizes the negative affect that a bad financial situation can have on families when it comes to gambling. In fact, FoF even goes further to cite poverty as a major cause for divorce. In one report, FoF proclaims that a higher divorce rate in the Bible Belt is due not to religious affiliation, but rather  "is due primarily to increased rates of poverty and of marriage at younger ages" in that region of the country. In other words, according to FoF, poverty is a major threat to the family. Not their words, but it doesn't seem to be an unreasonable conclusion! Rather than getting caught up in doing one or the other (strengthen families vs. assisting people out of poverty; individual responsibility vs. structural injustice; etc.), why not work on both?

Finally, the last paragraph in FoF's Colorado Statement on Biblical Sexual Morality states that, like the example of Christ, we must show love to those who find themselves in hardship (including poverty), whether or not that is the result of their own sexual sin. This paragraph is quite profound and I was surprised to find it, but it is clear as day. And I think that is a call to all Christians to show love to those in poverty, not just as the result of sexual sin, but all sin (even "laziness," God forbid!). So, in the end, FoF says that we should show love to the poor, no matter whose fault their poverty is. Amen! Now these are some "family values" I think we can all get behind.

Halftime on the MDGs

(Special thanks to International Policy Intern Diana Smith for her help on this piece!)

July 2007 marks the halfway point for the Millennium Development Goals, a set of 8 targets to help the world’s poorest countries develop. Seven and a half years ago, 189 nations around the world signed the Millennium Declaration, which states that leaders “have a collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level.” These signatory nations also set eight specific targets for the year 2015, known collectively as the Millennium Development Goals.
How are we doing at this mid-point check in?

Goal 1: Between 1990 and 2015, halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger and who live on less than one dollar a day.

Assessment: Hunger is decreasing around the world, but progress is uneven. Eastern Asia has reduced hunger dramatically, but Sub-Saharan Africa and Western Asia are not on track to meet the 2015 goals.

Goal 2: Ensure that by 2015, all boys and girls will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.

Assessment: In the developing world, 88% of primary school-aged children are enrolled. Girls, minorities and rural populations face the greatest barriers to education. Sub-Saharan Africa has increased enrollment most dramatically, but they must increase another 30% in order to reach the goal of universal primary education.

Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women.

Assessment: Girls are achieving parity in primary school enrollment around the world.  Although female participation in governments has risen worldwide, women currently hold only 17% of elected positions. Rates are particularly low in Northern Africa, Western Asia and Oceania. Women still face barriers to employment around the world, including lower wages and hiring discrimination.

Goal 4: Reduce by two-thirds the mortality rate of children under five.

Assessment: Child mortality rates are slowly decreasing, although not fast enough to meet 2/3 reduction goal by 2015. Each year, 10.1 million children die before their fifth birthday; most of these deaths are preventable. One health big improvement, though, is in vaccinations; measles deaths decreased by 75% in Sub-Saharan Africa between 2000 and 2005.

Goal 5: Reduce by three-fourths the maternal mortality rate.

Assessment: The proportion of deliveries with a skilled attendant has increased in nearly all developing countries. However, maternal mortality remains high in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia.

Goal 6: Halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other major diseases.

Assessment: Overall, the number of people living with HIV has increased. The spread of AIDS is slowing in Africa, but increasing in Eastern Europe. More people have access to treatment, but prevention must be intensified in order to meet the 2015 goals. Malaria still kills an estimated 1.2 million people each year. However, increasing distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets should help to reduce the incidence of malaria in coming years.

Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability. Reduce by half the number of people without access to safe drinking water. Achieve improvements in the lives of at least 10 million slum dwellers by 2020.

Assessment: Globally, access to clean water has improved from 71% in 1990 to 80% in 2004. However, progress in Africa has been slow, and international aid for water and sanitation has declined.

Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development, including more and better development aid, trade reform and debt relief.

Assessment: Development aid decreased in 2006, and is expected to continue to fall in 2007. The U.S. gives around .23% of its Gross National Product to development assistance, and only .08% goes specifically towards poverty reduction. Trade talks that would help developing countries are collapsing. Debt relief, however, is one area in which rich countries have matched promises with action.

Overall, progress is mixed. I hope that with continued attention to global development issues, innovative new approaches and sustained development aid, we can finally overcome extreme poverty in our world. We should use this halftime as any good coach would – as a time to assess, strategize and renew enthusiasm. We have the resources; we can meet these goals. Let’s make sure we do!

I'm inspired!

I recently finished reading Barbara Kingsolver's new book, Animal Vegetable Miracle. Hands_with_beans It's about her family's journey of eating only locally grown/raised food for one whole year.  The book inspired me!  In typical Kingsolver fashion, she makes stories about asparagus and zucchini interesting and fun.  (I loved the bit on asparagus so much that I have made a vow to plant an asparagus bush everywhere I live!)  You may think reading about how she raised turkeys sounds boring, but wait till you read about her description of turkey sex, it's rather intriguing!

Her book does not romanticize the work it takes to eat all locally grown/raised food, but it does highlight the feasibility of it.  Here are some random tidbits I took from this book:

  • I can easily can tomatoes and freeze some extra produce to help me eat more locally grown vegetables in the winter months.
  • I am much more aware of what states/countries the food in my grocery store is coming from (which also is a bit depressing).
  • I should not eat asparagus at Christmas like I usually do - only in April and May.
  • Pasture raised cows have less cholesterol than ones that are not raised in this way.  (This is good news for me!)
  • I can make my own cheese!!  (Mozzarella in 30 minutes...who knew??!!)

To get a taste of the book and her witty writing you can read her Smashing Pumpkins excerpt.  I highly recommend this book - especially as we continue to work on reforming our own Farm Bill.

A Lobby Day Buzz (a month later)

What's that you hear?  A Lobby Day Buzz?  But it's been almost a month since Lobby Day.  And the buzz doesn't appear to be coming from Capitol Hill.

What's that?  Did I hear you right? The buzz is coming from the First Plaza Galleria office building in downtown Albuquerque?  And on the day after Independence Day?

Yes folks.  We managed to get a visit with Rep. Heather Wilson herself on July 5.  We considered this a coup because our appointment in Washington was with an unresponsive aide.  (And even though we had more responsive and engaging aides in our four other Lobby Day visits to the offices of New Mexico representatives and senators, none of those elected officials were present at our Washington meetings last month).

We felt our audience with our congresswoman went extremely well.  There was a more relaxed feel about it.  There's something about meeting outside the Beltway in our home turf (and dare I say the congresswoman's home turf).   In fact, I wouldn't call it a meeting.  It was more like a conversation.   Rep. Wilson was very aware of Bread for the World's concerns regarding the Farm Bill.  After all, she had received almost 300 letters from about a dozen offerings of letters in Albuquerque!

Another plus about having the meeting here in Albuquerque was that were able to invite a couple of friends who represent coalition partners (the Community Food Security Coalition and the New Mexico Association of Food Banks) to support our Bread for the World positions and add their two cents to the discussion. 

Rep. Wilson listened closely to our requests to boost the Food Stamp program, promote rural development, support producers of specialty crops, strengthen nutrition programs and place a limit on subsidies for the five "big" commodities. In the end, she made no specific promises, although she nodded her head in agreement several times during our meeting.  Of this we can be sure: that our requests will be prominent on her radar screen when farm-bill legislation reaches the floor of the House.

Now that we've had a taste of  this outside-the-beltway "Lobby buzz," we are thinking that perhaps we should occasionally schedule other meetings on the home turf during future congressional breaks.  (And not only with Rep. Wilson, but with Rep. Tom Udall, Rep. Steve Pearce, and Sen. Pete Domenici and Sen. Jeff Bingaman).   

Read another version of this piece on the Bread for the World- New Mexico blog

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