Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

48 posts from February 2013

Lenten Reflections: Universal Temptations of the Soul


Photo by flickr user Luigi Mengato.

Sunday, Feb. 17                                                                           

Lectionary passage:

Luke 4: 1-13

By Rev. Beth Braxton

A number of years ago I read a little book on Christian leadership by Henri Nouwen, who is a Roman Catholic priest and who had been a professor of pastoral theology at Harvard, Yale, and Notre Dame. At the time of the writing of this book he had moved from the academic community to the L’Arche Community for the mentally handicapped.  The book, entitled In the Name of Jesus, had a profound effect on my own understanding of servant leadership. Uniquely, Nouwen’s model for this leadership came from the temptations of Jesus, our scripture for today!

Nouwen realized how much his own thinking about what is important in life was influenced by the desire to be relevant (“turn this stone into bread”) the desire to be powerful (“I will give you glory and authority if you fall down and worship me”), and the desire to be popular (“throw yourself down” from the pinnacle of the temple).  Are not Jesus’ temptations universal—our temptations for today? Think with me:

Are we not tempted to do something that gives notoriety? We want to be recognized, we want to do something noteworthy, we want to make a name for ourselves and our families?

Are we not tempted to have as much power and control as possible? We are often seeking power over another—economic power, intellectual power, political power, moral power.   

Are we not tempted to seek applause, to do something spectacular, to be a super- hero?  We want to do something to be seen by all.  We want stardom and individual heroism!

Yet we follow One who did not cling to divine power, but emptied himself and became a servant of love.  After his time in the wilderness, Jesus went to his hometown and into the familiar synagogue and read from the prophet Isaiah:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news for the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…” (Luke 4:18).  After wrestling with the demons of the desert, Jesus discerned his true calling— as a servant of love.  Is this not the true calling of every Christian?

In the Benedictine Rule it says “only what turns to love in your life will last.” Amen!

PRAYER: O God of the counter-intuitive and the paradox, give us hearts to understand your way – that in surrender to your will is our strength and power.  Save us from the temptations of our self-centered ways.  Lead us through our Lenten wilderness of lost purpose, sickness, technology overload, broken relationships, difficult children, estranged relatives, spiritual deserts to the resurrection light of new life.  We pray in the name of Jesus, who died that we might live! Amen.                                                                      

Rev. Beth Braxton is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission,  from NYAPC's 2013 Lenten Meditations booklet PDF Icon.

Lenten Reflections: Devotion Deeper Than Convenience

''Two Beers Here!'' photo (c) 2010, 3dpete - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Saturday, Feb. 16

Lectionary passages:

Judges 8:22-35
John 17:20-26
Hebrews 12:25-29

By Rebecca Davis

I gave up my car a year-and-a-half ago.  Now, each Sunday, I ride the subway—I exit a Red Line train at Metro Center and walk up the escalators on the 12th Street side. Most weeks in the fall, and many in winter, the platform is full of people wearing jerseys for the Redskins or the Caps.  They stagger around in groups, clutching tickets, or kids, looking for the transfer line or hopping on my train to move on to the Gallery Place station.

Sports, after all, is the one true religion of the United States, with high priests, special garb, ritual, hefty tithing, and passionate eschatological debate.  I subscribe myself, following along the Nationals through seven painful years and triumphant playoff berth in 2012.  My friends tell me to lighten up, that this is better than the gladiator alternative from Roman times.  (I get it.  I really do.  Sometimes I find myself misty at sports games, so thankful that we live in a place where we can peacefully gather.)

Lately, however, it appears only marginally better.  Between Lance’s painful (if long overdue) admission, Azarenka’s dubious “injuries” during the Australian Open semi-final, the RGIII knee surgery, A-Rod’s denials and the rampant head injuries “under study” by the NFL, sports magnifies our human foibles.

And there is something about the way we follow—with such devotion—that reminds me of the Israelites in the first passage.  I don’t blame any of us.  It’s impossible to resist the barrage of television, social media, and culture that demands we pay attention.  That, and it’s fun.  We feel great when our teams win, love the stories, share with neighbors.

The Israelites, truly thankful for Gideon’s leadership, offer the spoils of their battles, and their devotion for a time.  It lasts for a generation or two.  But soon enough, when Gideon dies, when the magnetism of the leader is gone, the Israelites’ loyalty is no deeper than convenience, and they chase the gods of Baal.  “The Israelites did not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hand of all their enemies on every side.”

I wonder if my devotion is no deeper than convenience.  I’m easily distracted, and often disloyal.  I make this decision week by week, as I choose where to spend my time. 

I give thanks to the Lord, with my whole heart. —Psalm 9

Rebecca Davis is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission,  from NYAPC's 2013 Lenten Meditations booklet PDF Icon.

Protecting Poverty-Focused Development Assistance

Jane Sabbi, a farmer in Uganda, learned to plant more nutritious crops like these beans after joining a Ugandan nonprofit farming collective that receives U.S. foreign assistance. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

By Alex Loken

It’s no secret that these are tough times, and unfortunately our nation’s ability to provide aid to people in need around the world is in serious jeopardy. While the debate over our country’s fiscal health rages on, deficit-reduction proposals that include spending cuts to international food aid, Feed the Future, and other programs related to poverty-focused development assistance (PFDA) continue to be part of the discussion.

Not to mention the fact that the threat of across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration, continues to loom: unless Congress acts, these cuts will take effect at the beginning of March. An estimated 5.1 percent cut would result in over $1 billion cut from PFDA programs—that means millions of people would be without food aid, farmer training, education, and lifesaving medicine.   

Poverty-focused programs accomplish so much and reach millions of people around the world, while representing less than 1 percent of the entire U.S. federal budget. These programs are vital to lifting people around the world out of poverty. They also promote a positive image of the United States overseas, strengthen our national security by encouraging stability, and support jobs both at home and abroad.   

Funding for PFDA has more or less flat-lined over the past few years, but these programs have continued to provide lifesaving food aid, help thousands of farmers learn techniques that help increase their yields and incomes, slow mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS, and educate children. Still, our work is not done: there are 900 million people who go to bed hungry every night and more than 1 billion people who live on less than $1.25 a day. But if PFDA funding is cut, it will be incredibly difficult to continue to work toward a world without hunger and poverty.

We all agree that America’s budget deficit must be dealt with, but cutting PFDA won’t help balance the ledger. As those on Capitol Hill work to come to an agreement around the debt ceiling and government spending, we urge Congress to protect programs that serve the world’s poor and vulnerable people.

Alex Loken is the government relations research assistant at Bread for the World.

For more information on PFDA, please see the Bread for the World Policy brief "Poverty-Focused Development Assistance 101."

Lenten Reflections: Our Journey is the Destination

'The long journey ahead' photo (c) 2009, Andrew Bowden - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Friday, Feb. 15

Lectionary passages:

Judges 7:19-8:12
John 17:9-19
Hebrews 12:9-17

By Matt Ford

Life is a journey, not a destination. I could find some manifestation of this maxim anywhere I turn. Advertising, music, film. Stories that remind me to focus on the present, to enjoy the simple things in life; the rest will work itself out.

Usually we only think of the journey when things get hectic—when we don’t have what we think we need. Time, money, experience. Sometimes I catch myself enjoying the journey. Preparing dinner, learning a language, or drawing. For a moment I notice the color of the vegetables, the fluidity of a foreign phrase, and the weight of a line across the page.

Why is it so difficult to live the journey? How do we know which journey is right for us? These questions come to mind as I read the passages. In Hebrews, we find a reassuring answer—our journey is the destination. Like a discipline, it is through our daily actions and our interactions with others that we grow closer to God. Gideon’s triumph shows that our journey is driven by faith and often met with resistance. In John, we also see that God is with us every step of the way.

As we enter Lent, it’s comforting to know that we have God’s grace. It shifts my thinking from outcome to process, and helps me focus more on being open to God. When our own notions of immediacy and necessity are put into perspective, we can live more abundantly through God.

Matt Ford is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission,  from NYAPC's 2013 Lenten Meditations booklet.

How WIC Helped Tara Marks Get to Law School


Tara Marks, a Bread activist from Pittsburgh, once used WIC and SNAP benefits. She is currently in law school and gave testimony to the Senate Budget Committee on Feb. 13, 2013. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

By Robin Stephenson

Today, Tara Marks is in law school—and yesterday she told members of the Senate Budget Committee that her journey from poverty to an advanced degree program was possible thanks to WIC and other similar federal programs.

Many of you remember Tara as the face of the 2012 Offering of Letters video "A Hunger for Advocacy." Her story of poverty so extreme that she skipped meals to provide enough for her son is an inspiration for many advocates at Bread for the World. Pell grants, WIC, and SNAP were the stepping stones that helped Tara escape poverty.

Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) invited Tara to give testimony. Sen. Murray has said that budgets "...are about the families across America whose lives will be impacted by the decisions we make. They are about their jobs, their children, and their future, and we owe it to them to make sure they have a voice in this process—and that their values and perspectives are heard.”

Tara’s journey plainly shows that budget discussions are about more than numbers—fiscal decisions have real consequences.

For Tara, a budget that funded domestic nutrition programs created a path out of hunger and poverty for her and her son, Nathan. During her testimony, Tara noted that when she was hungry, abundance surrounded her. “This was not a question of availability of food, but a question of affording it. I did not live in a food desert; I lived in a food mirage. I had many grocery stores around me, but I could not afford to go in and shop.”

She passed out from hunger before finally applying for SNAP (formerly food stamps), which gave her access to adequate food.  Food assistance alone did not help Tara move up the ladder of prosperity, but it gave her the stability to get the education that did.

Stories like Tara's and Nathan's not only humanize hunger and poverty, but serve to remind our members of Congress that decisions made today will affect lives tomorrow.  When Murray asked Tara where she thought she would be today were it not for those federal programs, she replied, “I would still be in poverty.”

In a continued effort to give families across the country a place at the budget negotiation table, Murray offers an online platform that allows members of the public to share their stories and ideas. Add your voice to the existing 2,000 submissions.

Today, one of the programs that provided critical assistance to Tara and Nathan—WIC—is in danger.  If the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester are allowed to go forward in the next couple of days, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that roughly 600,000 infants, children, and expectant moms will be without this vital assistance.  Their futures may well depend on your hunger for advocacy.  Call your member of Congress at 1-800-826-3688 and tell them that cutting programs that effectively combat hunger and poverty will not solve our country’s fiscal problems.

Robin Stephenson is national social media lead and senior regional organizer, western hub, at Bread for the World.

Voices of Hunger: "I Will Be Forever Grateful"

In 1983, a North Carolina grocery store publicly notified shoppers that it accepted the U.S. Department of Agriculture WIC vouchers. (Photo courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration/USDA)

Voices of WIC is a regular feature in which people who have received assistance from the federal program give a first-person account of the experience. If you have received or are receiving WIC and would like to share your story, please send an e-mail to Sarah Godfrey at sgodfrey@bread.org.

By Jennifer L. Brown

From December 1997 until May 2010, I worked in the human services field.  I truly believe that I was a very good social worker and gave my clients my all.  In July of 2010, I was blessed with my son.  This should have been the happiest time in my life but, in so many ways, it was the worst time.  I was unemployed, with no health insurance, and had nothing ready for my son’s arrival. 

After the birth of my son, I became a client of the same programs I once ran.  My experience with WIC stands out in particular.  I learned so much and truly enjoyed our monthly classes. The peer counseling and the sharing of ideas to calm a crying baby are just a couple of the life jewels I learned as a client of the WIC program in Charleston, South Carolina. 

For the first six months of my son’s life I was unemployed, and I honesty do not know how I would have provided nutrition for him without WIC.  In our state, the maximum amount of unemployment you can receive is $320, before taxes.  This was the only source of income I had to provide for my son and run our household. When I got my current job, in February 2011, I pledged to become a social worker in the mold of the ladies in the WIC office where I received service.   

I have learned to treat everyone with value, instead of judging or putting down people who are doing their best in an undesirable situation.  I will be forever grateful for what WIC allowed me to do for my son and I will support the program in any way I can.  

Jennifer L. Brown is an employment assistance program coordinator with a community human services agency in Charleston, S.C.

Lenten Reflections: Honoring Maternal and Child Healthcare Workers

Doctors from a Cuban-Haitian medical brigade treat a young woman and her child in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (UN Photo/Pasqual Gorriz)

Thursday, Feb. 14

By Amanda Bornfree 

They start their days early and usually end up staying late. With hearts filled with compassion they work with unfailing passion. They have been blessed with hands and minds that heal. Each day they feel the pain, the struggle, and the sorrow of small children, pregnant women, and mothers. Each day they see the hope and the joy of tender young life. They may miss their own meals in order to feed a child or to relieve a mother’s pain. Carrying stories that are documented on medical papers and stored in their souls, they often share a few simply to make room for more. They study and work and then do it all over again, and again, each day. They know the facts and myths surrounding maternal and child health care, and they perform the gracious acts that are part of caring for mothers and babies. They are maternal and child health care.

Community health workers, caretakers, midwives, nurses, doctors, dedicated volunteers, healers—all of them live their lives to heal.

40-for-1000_logo_blogAs we pray for the anemic pregnant mother and the malnourished 9-month-old, we must remember to pray for the workers whose hearts, minds, and hands are invested in maternal and child health care. We ask the Holy Spirit to bless them with the strength, resilience, patience, and wisdom required of those who help heal the hungry and cure the sick.

During this season of sacrifice, let’s take a moment to reflect on the work of the many selfless maternal and child healthcare workers. Today, light a candle for them. Say a prayer for them. Talk to your neighbor about them. Give one of them a hug. Thank God for them! Because they are incredibly important in making sure that every child receives the proper nutrition and care during the first 1,000 days.

And for that, we show them love and support while offering our prayers. 

Amanda Bornfree is a consultant in the church relations department at Bread for the World.

40 Days of SNAP: Sticking to a SNAP Budget During Lent

A woman shops for produce at a supermarket (USDA photo).

The Herman family, members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) living in California's Central Valley, have decided to follow a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food budget during Lent. They will be blogging about their journey and sharing their stories on the Bread Blog. 

By Ivan and Susan Herman

We live in California’s Central Valley, where the best fruits, veggies, and nuts are grown. We care about food and enjoy eating well.

We are members of the Presbyterian Church (USA), one tradition among many that says “be the body of Christ.” And what is more important to the body–yes, Christ’s body–than food?

So, in 2013 during Lent, we are practicing the discipline of living on a food budget that mirrors, as closely as possible, food stamps—or as it’s now known, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

What will we remove or add to our grocery cart to make the dollars work? How will we deviate from the plan to accommodate the less-movable fixtures of our lifestyle? How will we change our lifestyle to accommodate the plan? What lessons will our children (ages 3 and 7) learn?

Ours is a faith that seeks understanding. We do and we learn and belief follows; we believe and learn and do; the spiral edges outward.

You’re invited to join us on our journey. Please feel free to:

  • Comment on our posts with advice, ideas, tips, and encouragement—honest critique also welcome!
  • Send us links to articles on SNAP and other issues related to food, the farm bill, and making more with less
  • Send us your own stories about hunger and plenty, and what you’ve learned from that experience

Ivan Herman is Associate Pastor at Carmichael Presbyterian Church in Sacramento, California. Susan Herman is an independent editor and coordinates the Northern California chapter of the Editorial Freelancers Association.

Lives Are at Stake: Call Congress Today


By David Beckmann

Just a couple of weeks into her first pregnancy, Amanda Bornfree learned that her husband had lost his job. She was scared. Amanda wondered how she would get the nutritious food that would allow her baby to grow and thrive. After visiting a clinic in her community and signing up for WIC, Amanda was able to set aside her worries and focus on preparing for the arrival of her child.

If automatic spending cuts are allowed to go forward in a few days as scheduled, roughly 600,000 infants, children, and expectant moms will be without the vital assistance that helped Amanda and her baby. WIC, international food aid, clean water programs, and other essential programs are at risk.

President Obama talked about these potentially devastating across-the-board cuts during last night’s State of the Union address. The cuts, referred to as the sequester, could disrupt all of our lives, but hungry and poor people, both at home and abroad, would suffer the most. Lives are at stake, so we must use our collective voice to fight these cuts.

We need your help! Call your U.S. senators and your U.S. representative today! Use our toll-free number, 1-800-826-3688, to tell them that cutting programs that effectively combat hunger and poverty will not solve our country’s fiscal problems.

Tell your members of Congress to take a balanced, comprehensive approach to deficit reduction. Urge them to work on and vote for legislation that

  1. Protects anti-hunger programs and
  2. Balances cuts with revenues.

Make sure hungry and poor people are provided for in our nation’s budget. This is a critical step toward ensuring a place at the table for all.

A movement is underway. Call Congress today and join Bread for the World's primary legislative campaign for the year, our 2013 Offering of Letters, "A Place at the Table."

David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World.

Lenten Reflections: Loosing the Bonds of Injustice

13 girl on mom lap

A Liberian girl sits on her mother's lap during church. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

Wednesday, Feb. 13 (Ash Wednesday)

Lectionary passages:

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Isaiah 58:1-12
Psalm 51:1-17
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

By Rev. Sandra Hasenauer

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly…” (Isaiah 58:6-8a, NRSV)

And so we set off, into the observance of Lent. Perhaps, more accurately, we creep sheepishly into it, or we cower a bit fearfully as we take that first, tentative step. Lent is not an easy season. It causes us to take stock, to seek forgiveness, to throw ourselves on God’s mercy.

40-for-1000_logo_blogToday’s lectionary passages address fasting, worship, religious observance. I can’t help but think of the times I’ve been asked, “So, what are you giving up for Lent?” I’m not of a religious tradition that practices this ritual sacrifice at this time of year, but I live in an area of the Unites States that is heavily infused with a religious tradition that does, which has turned it into a more cultural thing around here.

Everyone in my community simply assumes that if you’re at all religious, you give something up for Lent. I can see the benefit to it, of course, that idea that we’d spend several weeks without something precious to us to keep us in remembrance of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. I have often even practiced it myself as part of my own spiritual discipline for the season. However, as is the case with so many things when they become habit, the idea of giving up something for Lent has, for too many people, become simply something you do at this time of year. A health plan, for many; a required bothersome annoyance for others. Many faithful do still hold to the meaning behind the sacrifice, of course,  but for many others, as celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay is fond of saying, they’ve “lost the plot.”

Isaiah speaks to that here: the fast that God chooses is not giving up chocolate. Rather, the fast that God chooses is to break free the bonds of injustice, oppression, poverty, hunger, homelessness. I am strongly reminded in these weeks that there are those who fast every day, not from religious choice, but from lack of food security. They go hungry not as a spiritual practice, but because they simply don’t have food. There is no “giving something up for Lent” for people who have nothing left to give up.

In these next weeks of Lent, rather than thinking about giving something up, I choose to think in terms of what I’ll take on. How will I engage, in very specific ways, in loosing bonds of injustice? How will I engage in breaking yokes? How will I share bread, cover nakedness, give homes to the homeless? May I then witness Christ’s light breaking forth like the dawn, and God’s healing springing up in the world.

Rev. Sandra Hasenauer is associate executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries, American Baptist Churches USA.

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