Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

54 posts from December 2012

Welcome the Word Made Flesh


[Editor's note: This Advent season, we published a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. The reading for this post is John 1:1-14. This is the final Advent reflection from SFTS.] 

By Rev. Dr. Jim McDonald

Welcome the Word made flesh!
At Christmas we celebrate not only Christ's birth, but also the possibility of our rebirth. The Incarnation speaks eloquently about what we can become as well as what God has become. As Christina Rossetti put it: "Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine."
John's Gospel (and our own experience) tells us that one of the responses people make to Christmas is to resist it. We resist because the life we have is the only life we can imagine. We see our lives as do-it-yourself, progressive improvement projects. Every day, every year, we do a little bit better, achieve a little more, advance a little farther, add another feather in our cap. We do our duty and fulfill our goals, until slowly but surely we achieve something—wealth, fame, power, security, whatever. And we reject anything that interferes with "our little project"— including "God with us."
But "progressive improvement" is a fantasy, a figment of our imagination. Life is not linear or predictable. It surprises, amazes, frightens, troubles—moves in quantum leaps and on cautious tiptoe, with twists and turns, like a glacier or at the speed of light, greeting us with unanticipated moments of wonder, discovery, joy and delight, scarring us with uninvited moments of grief, disappointment, emptiness, and hurt.
The birth of Jesus Christ is God's ultimate affirmation of our humanity, and of life itself. The gift of God invites us to open ourselves to a new relationship with the God of love, one that will change all our relationships, making us more humble, appreciative, generous, kind, forgiving, and compassionate-in other words, more God-like and more fully human, all at the same time. Once again, Christina Rossetti:
Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and everyone,
Love for plea and gift and sign.
Merry Christmas all!
Rev. Dr. Jim McDonald is president and professor of faith and public life at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

The Hopes and Fears of All the Years, Part Two


[Editor's note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. The reading for this post is Luke 2:1-14. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]  

By Rev. Scott Clark

This Advent, I've been more than a little weepy.  Maybe you have too.
As a community, and as a nation, we have absorbed the blow of the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. We have grieved with the families there, and with our own.  We have struggled for words to explain the inexplicable, or to speak comfort in response to the unspeakable. We have railed at our broken culture of violence. We have sat in stunned silence. We have wept. While we have held all of this, the day-to-day challenges of life have still come, steadily, as they do.
It has been a hard December.
And, at the same time, in our community here on campus, this December we have also been expecting the birth of two new members of our community. And we are celebrating as they arrive. And somehow that has made me weepy too.
In the first devotion of our Advent series, I asked the question: What is our hope for the Advent season? But that question for me has shifted now, and what remains is this: What is God's hope for us? In this messed-up world, what is God's hope for us?
And on Christmas Eve, we come again to this story that persists and will not let us go:
There they were, keeping watch in the night. And an angel from God appeared, and light shone in their midst. And the angel said, "Be not afraid. Behold.  I bring you great tidings. Good news. Even joy. For unto you, Christ is born. Not far from here.  And you will find a child. And he. Or she. Will be a sign." And suddenly, there were many - light shining in the darkness - many - singing in one voice: "Glory to God.  And on earth: Peace. For everyone."
Into this messed-up world, into the darkness, Christ keeps on coming unto us - to save us from all that would do us harm. God with us.
And God's hope for us this day? God's hope for all the earth?
Rev. Scott Clark is the associate dean of student life and chaplain at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

Joyful Space

Photo by flickr user Mccun934
[Editor's note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. The reading for this post is Luke 1:39-56. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]  
By Katherine Buck                     
Mary is on a journey in this text. She has just encountered an angel and agreed to become pregnant by the Holy Spirit. After this intimate, erotic encounter with the divine, she needs a change in her life.
She is on the road to her cousin Elizabeth's, and Elizabeth greets her with a question: How is it that you come to me? We should examine this question: What is an unexpectedly pregnant teen doing on the road, visiting distant relatives? Is she visiting away from home because her immediate family is frightened, and doesn't know what to do with her?
But Elizabeth and Mary subvert our expectations. Mary is not frightened or ashamed, she is joyful. The two women laughing together over their pregnant bodies are not deserving of our pity or scorn. Mary, who knows who she is and knows who God is, doesn't spend too much time worrying about what others think of her. She and Elizabeth, in their laughter and through their bodies, create a feminine space of safety and love and joy together. It is this environment that offers us two incredible things: first, the idea that women's spaces produce laughter and joy and delight in the unique experiences of women's incarnation, and second, Mary's deep affirmation and commitment to her God, whom she magnifies as the primary actor for social justice in our world. Her understanding is that God changes everyone: God lifts up the oppressed and scatters the mighty. God blesses God's humble servant, Mary, and sends the rich away empty. Mary's God is a God of mercy and love and deep caring concern for the least of these. Before we even arrive at the birth event, Mary and Elizabeth give us reasons to celebrate.
Katherine Buck is a San Francisco Theological Seminary master of divinity student.

Waiting for News, Waiting for Change


[Editor's note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. The reading for this post is Isaiah 52:7-10. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]                        

By Dori Kay Hjalmarson      

How beautiful is the messenger who brings the gospel. Who is the messenger in our Christian nativity story? John, the son of Elizabeth, who comes before to announce the Christ. The angel Gabriel, who brings the message to Mary, blessed among women. Mary herself, the literal bearer of good news. The starlight dancing on the mountains, leading shepherds and magi to the birthplace.
In our Christmas carols, we ourselves are the bearers of the news: "Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere! Go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born!" Later on in the Christian story, the apostle Paul will write of the gospel—of Christ, Immanuel—as both the message and the messenger. The news the messenger brings is not just notice of peace, but peace itself. The message has transformative, blessing power.
We know of moments like this in our own lives. Moments when knowledge touches not only our minds but our hearts and very bodies. They are moments of sickening tragedy, when we learn of the death of dozens of innocents in a senseless school shooting. They are moments of tender care, when our sister or brother comes out of the closet and the life of our family is never the same. They are moments of empowered solidarity, when a marginalized group stands up and proclaims justice and peace. They are moments of soaring joy, when the news of a baby's birth, long awaited, changes the world, and hope enters in.
Dori Kay Hjalmarson is a San Francisco Theological Seminary master of divinity student.

Bethlehem Longing

Photo of olive trees in Bethlehem by Flickr user amanderson2

[Editor's note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. The reading for this post is Micah 5:2-5a. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]  

Rev. Gail C. Doering

I beg all of you to not assume Jesus Christ as you read this passage of scripture. Please, please, please, wait and read this as if you had never heard of the one who was to be born in Bethlehem. Wait just a few days longer for the unexpected coming of the Prince of Peace. For now, sit in the wonder and expectancy of what has not yet been born.

As you let these words fall over and around you, imagine what the people in Bethlehem are hoping for today. What is the desire of their hearts? What pregnant possibility is waiting to be born in us this day? What labor pains might be lifted by our prayers and our works?

I returned from two weeks in Bethlehem in mid-November, and I am flooded with memories and images as I read this passage: The separation wall, a Palestine baby boy dedicated in a worship service in Beit Sahour, the unemployed men wandering the streets at all hours, the hundreds of workers lined up outside the wall at 6:30 a.m. waiting for rides to work (a process that can take 1 to 2 hours), the faithful Orthodox, Muslims and Christians each taking seriously the acts and devotions of their traditions, the numerous checkpoints and incredibly young soldiers, the lack of infrastructure in Palestinian territories, the 2000-year-old olive trees on the Mount of Olives, and much, much more.

It seems the prophet Micah speaks just as clearly today, and that the plight of Bethlehem and the ways of the world have changed drastically and not at all. So, don't jump too quickly to Jesus, but do jump to prayer.

Rev. Gail C. Doering is a member of the San Francisco Theological Seminary alumni council.

Plan B Would Hurt Low-Income Working Families

Plan B would hurt families like Heather Rude-Turner's. Rude-Turner credits the Earned Income Tax Credit with helping her get back on her feet and allowing her family stay out of poverty. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

[UPDATE, 8:30 p.m. The House did not take up the "Plan B" measure this evening as planned. The House adjourned and will return after Christmas.]

By Amelia Kegan

Are you frantically making final preparations for Christmas? So is the House of Representatives. The House is trying to take some action—any action—so its members can say they have done something in response to the impending fiscal cliff. But when we’re dealing with issues this important and this big, we shouldn’t be content with a half-baked proposal—especially one that would hurt low-income working families.

This evening, the House will vote on H. Res. 66, also known as “Plan B.” This bill would extend many of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for the first $1 million of income. But Plan B fails to address the real problem: the long-term deficit problem and the approaching fiscal cliff. The bill raises only $300 billion over ten years. That is a far cry from the $2 trillion in deficit reduction needed to put the country on a fiscally sustainable path. The resulting spending cuts required would devastate our country’s ability to address hunger and help people, both in the United States and abroad, move out of poverty. Under Plan B, even multi-millionaires would receive a tax cut. Only income earned above and beyond the first $1 million would be taxed at the 2000 tax rate of 39.6 percent. The Tax Policy Center estimates that Plan B would allow millionaires an average tax cut of over $100,000, compared to current law.

But the most disappointing part of this bill is what it would do to poor working families. Plan B ends the 2009 improvements to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit. These tax credits help more Americans escape poverty than any other anti-poverty program in the country. In 2011, the EITC and Child Tax Credit lifted 8.3 million people out of poverty. These credits reward work, promote economic mobility, and help struggling working parents put food on the table. A majority of EITC recipients only receive the credit for one or two years before moving to higher income levels. That is exactly what we want our anti-poverty programs to be doing. Why would we want to cut programs that are doing so much to help low-income working families move out of poverty and into the middle class?

But that is exactly what Plan B does. If enacted

  • Over 13 million families, including 25 million children, would see their EITC and Child Tax Credit benefits reduced or eliminated.
  • Nearly 3.75 million families, including almost 6 million children, would lose access to the Child Tax Credit entirely.

And this is just one of the bills the House will be voting on in response to the fiscal cliff. The other (H.R. 6684) includes drastic cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), cuts the Child Tax Credit further, and eliminates the Social Services Block Grant, which helps fund Meals on Wheels, services for seniors and children who are victims of abuse or neglect, and child care for low-income families.

Plan B isn’t an answer. It would harm millions of low-income families. Congress should stick with Plan A. They’ve been debating deficit reduction for the past two years at the expense of many other necessary priorities.

Christmas is a time of hope, promise, and togetherness. This is a moment when members of Congress should seek common ground and work together to solve our nation’s fiscal challenges while remembering that we have a responsibility to our most poor and vulnerable brothers and sisters. It’s time for Congress to set aside politics. Rather than voting on a proposal merely to say they’ve voted on something, Congress should do the work to negotiate a comprehensive, balanced, bipartisan plan that addresses our long-term deficits and prioritizes a commitment to ending hunger in the U.S. and around the world.

Amelia Kegan is Bread for the World's senior policy analyst.

The Bread for the World Difference

Beckmann_and _bread_mosaic

By David Beckmann

As I write this, every interest group in Washington is pounding the halls of Congress, trying to weigh in on the fiscal cliff negotiations before Christmas.

And so is Bread for the World. But while other groups are looking out for their own interests, Bread is determined to make a difference in the lives of hungry people.

It's a difference that's worth supporting.

Right now, when you support Bread for the World you can make an even greater impact. A few generous donors will match every dollar you give during these final 11 days of the year—up to $100,000.

Donate now and your gift will be doubled!

Bread for the World isn’t just different because of our mission—we're different because we're effective. On Capitol Hill, Bread is a well-known and respected voice of the faith community, allowing us to bring together people who usually can't agree on anything. Our reputation gives us access to our nation’s leaders—from Speaker Boehner to President Obama—which is essential to winning the fight against hunger.

Please make a generous donation now to support our dedicated work on behalf of hungry and poor people.

Bread's advocacy work has a huge impact in caring for the most vulnerable. If Congress cuts federal nutrition programs, millions of people will suffer. That's one reason your support right now is so important.

Donate today to help us do even more to advocate for the funding of critical programs that fight hunger at home and abroad. Your gift will be matched, dollar for dollar, when you donate by Dec. 31.

Together, we are powerful, compassionate advocates for hungry people — driven by our faith in Jesus Christ. I am so grateful for your partnership. I look forward to your support so that we can do more vital work in the year to come.

May Christ's birth among us bring you hope and joy.

David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World.

Thoughts on a Christmas Eve Night

Photo by flickr user Luigi Mengato.

[Editor's note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. The reading for this post is Hebrews 12:1-2. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]  

By Rev. Tim Lanham

I. Watching

I watch as the candlelight spreads across the sanctuary. The gentle light grows with a gathering momentum until the darkness gets pushed back and away. The sanctuary is aglow in the soft, sacred light. As I watch, I see all these faces—faces which, over the course of my tenure here, have grown dear and familiar. I see all these faces. But for one face in particular do I watch. I look for it as I do every Christmas Eve night. I watch.

II. Listening

I listen as the music reaches out along with the candlelight—moving gently but inexorably until it fills the sanctuary. While I listen to the music and the singing, I listen also for her voice. For without it, something is missing. The celebration of this mystery of the Word made flesh is not quite right without it. I listen for her voice to join and complete the song. I listen.

III. Hoping

Amid the candlelight and the music, I hope for the Day to come where history concludes and the Promise is made good. As I celebrate Christ's advent, I hope for Christ's return. For beneath the Season's kitsch and sentimentality, that hope is what this celebration is really all about. My hope on this night is for the Lord's Coming and Kingdom. I hope.


And she is a part of that hope. The unfulfilled promise I made half a lifetime ago to my wife's mother haunts me to this day. "Hey Maxine!" I exclaimed, "I'll see you later!" I still get mad at myself for not realizing that before I could see her later she would be dead. But on this night, that nagging regret is transformed by hope. In the candlelight, I glimpse that great cloud of witnesses. Among those gathered faces, I see her face. In the quiet, I hear her voice whisper: "Kid, I made it!" I have my Christmas gift. And there is grace.

Rev. Tim Lanham is a San Francisco Theological Seminary Trustee.

Bread Members Cultivate Growth at World Food Prize Event

Photo: Each October, anti-hunger advocates gather at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates in Des Moines, Iowa, for a special award ceremony established by Nobel Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug. Bread for the World President David Beckmann received the World Food Prize in 2010 for his advocacy work. (Bill Kuhn)

It was mid-October 2009, harvest season. Harry Hinrichs organized what he hoped would be an annual gathering to introduce fellow Iowans to Bread for the World. Several dozen community members met at Harry’s home and heard from Dave Miner, then chair of Bread for the World’s board of directors.

The following year, the gathering gained special significance when David Beckmann, Bread for the World’s president, became a corecipient of the 2010 World Food Prize. The late Norman Borlaug founded the award—now presented each October in Des Moines, Iowa—with funds from his Nobel Peace Prize for boosting agricultural productivity in developing countries.

In late October of this year, hundreds from agribusiness, academia, government, and nonprofits converged on Des Moines for the annual World Food Prize and the events that surround it. The annual Bread for the World gathering there welcomed a guest list that has grown tenfold.

Event advisory committee member Loree Miles is a longtime marketing executive who manages a Des Moines-based company that franchises extended-stay hotels. She was new to the event—and to Bread for the World. A strong proponent of healthy, locally grown food, Loree is known in her circle of friends for delivering baskets of produce from her backyard garden.

And it was her friends who drew her to the Bread for the World event. "We have several friends who’ve served on the advisory committee," she says. "These are pretty extraordinary people who take philanthropy and service seriously. So you take notice when they are all involved in the same cause."

This year's Bread for the World event in Des Moines took place in the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates. There, nearly 200 business and community leaders gathered for a presentation by Beckmann on progress in the fight to reduce global hunger. Among the guests were Congressmen Tom Latham and Leonard Boswell of the Iowa delegation. Kim Reynolds, Iowa's lieutenant governor, was also in attendance.

Attendees—many like Loree who were new to Bread and our mission—heard how we have made a difference for those who struggle with hunger. Loree says she enjoyed learning more about Bread for the World's fight to end hunger in God's world. She was especially moved to hear Sarai Schnucker Rice, who directs the Des Moines Religious Council, talk about hungry families in Des Moines.

"My feeling is that there is just no reason, no excuse for that," she says. Loree expresses pride that the event drew such a great turnout and raised $40,000. One of the many event guests who were energized and inspired by what they learned at World Food Prize Headquarters, she is eager to take action. Her next step was a visit to Bread’s website, where she and her husband David will sign up for updates on issues and actions to take on behalf of hungry people.

This piece originally appeared in Bread for the World's December 2012 newsletter.

Comfort in Affliction

'#453 Winter light' photo (c) 2010, Mikael Miettinen - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

[Editor's note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. The reading for this post is 2 Corinthians 1:3-11. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]                      

By Donald P. Hammond

If there were any two words that could be used to summarize essential tenants of Christian faith, "παρακαλεω" and "θλιψις" would be strong contenders. Not because they are written more than any other two words in the collection of works we call scripture. And not because they are imperative commands uttered by the Lord of the Hebrew Scriptures, nor Son of Man of the Gospels. But because of their meaning. Now of course attempting to essentialize the faith into two words must be considered futile, if not ludicrous, yet I am not the first to do so, nor will I be the last.

Παρακαλεω rendered phonetically is parakaleo which is translated as "to exhort, comfort" and is used with nuances to mean calling for aid, inviting comfort or beseeching something from a divine source. Θλιψις on the other hand, rendered phonetically is thlipsis which means "to hem in, to oppress or to vex." Thlipsis is also a term that means "to be hostile to."

In the scripture for today parakaleo and thlipsis are translated (in the NRSV) as "console" and "affliction." This text is the go-to place wherein we remind ourselves that God consoles us in our affliction. Where we humbly remind ourselves that as Jesus suffered, so we suffer. And this is good and fine and true. I cannot read this passage without a sense of the ironic. As Paul does, we are quick to place ourselves in the role of the afflicted: the ones who need consolation. I believe this to be a grievous self-serving error. For those outside of the church, or outside our particular hermeneutic, we are not consolers, but in fact we are the ones who afflict. If we did essentialize our faith into just two words then we must make ourselves the consolers who focus outside ourselves and seek to comfort the afflicted-other.

Donald P. Hammond is interim assistant to the director of enrollment at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

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