Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

Advent Devotions: The Sound of Rejoicing

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This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

By Rev. Elizabeth McCord

Luke 1:57-66             

Dear John,

Today was your brit milah. You will be very glad not to remember this day, but your father and I will treasure it in our hearts. Today you were marked as one of God's own, one of our people. You now bear the sign of God's covenant passed down through the generations.  You stand in a great lineage of those blessed by God. Even so, your father and I could never have imagined how God would bless us with you, you who have come to us past an age of reason or hope.

Today the miracle of your conception and birth continued. Your father regained his voice, having been without speech since the angel told him you were to be born. He couldn't help but sing out praise of God and love for you!  But his speech only returned after the angel's pronouncement had been fulfilled, after you were given your name. Even if others refused to listen to me, your father and I were clear. Your name is John.

Your name is your own, my beloved child. It is not your father's name, nor does it come from my family. It was given to you by God. Because even though you have come into this world through your parents, you aren't really ours. You are God's. Remember this whenever you hear your name.  Remember that you belong to God. Remember that you are part of God's people, but also trust the distinct path God has for you, a path that is unique like your name. Don't be afraid to speak out, to step out in faith. Don't be afraid of anything in this world, because the God of our ancestors is with you.  Trust, listen, and abide in our God. And remember that you are loved now and forever.

With joy and pride,
your Mama

Rev. Elizabeth McCord is the associate dean of vocations at San Francisco Theological Seminary   

 

Urgent: Tell Senators to Pass the Global Food Security Act

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By Eric Mitchell

Thanks to your calls, letters, and emails, the House of Representatives just passed the Global Food Security Act late last night. The Senate has two days left to pass this bill into law.

People told us Congress was too gridlocked to pass this bill, but we proved them wrong. As people of faith, we spoke up with a united voice and convinced Democrats and Republicans alike to authorize Feed the Future, the program under this law. Last year, this program reached 12.5 million children.

Feed the Future is improving the lives of millions of people around the world, ensuring that young children receive the proper nourishment that enables them to grow and thrive. It also gives smallholder farmers access to new tools and technologies that improve yields and boost incomes.

If the Senate can pass the Global Food Security Act (S. 2909) in the next two days, Feed the Future will become law. We need the Senate to vote on this bill before leaving for the holidays. With only a couple of days left in the 113th Congress, we need you to act now!

Call (800/826-3688) or email your U.S. senators today. Urge your senator to pass the Global Food Security Act (S. 2909)!

God is moving in our time to end hunger, and the legislation Congress considers is a part of that movement. You are a part of this movement! A bill that once appeared blocked by gridlock is so close to becoming law. Call your senators today, and push S. 2909 over the finish line.

Eric Mitchell is the director of government relations at Bread for the World.

 

Advent Devotions: The Unimaginable Becomes Real

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This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

By Rev. Daniel Christian     

Luke 1: 5-20             

At bedtime, our five-year-old daughter Tessa and I read a book called The Sparkle Box. It is about a little boy who is excited about all the festivities and anticipation of Christmas. On the mantle above the fireplace is a sparkly box. During the Advent season, the little boy and his parents participate in numerous acts of kindness and generosity toward others.  When Christmas morning finally arrives, the little boy opens up the sparkle box and finds slips of paper on which his parents have recorded all the acts of goodwill that each has done for other people, friends, and strangers alike. The parents explain to the little boy that their acts of kindness and compassion to others are in fact gifts for the baby Jesus.

Generosity is what this scripture from Luke is all about.  Zechariah is in the temple and has a God Moment! The generous news is so overwhelming he can't believe his ears. The angel Gabriel says to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard."

The story of Zechariah hearing the news of a child for whom he and his wife Elizabeth have prayed is a spiritual experience for each of us. We can glean something from this story for our own Advent journey. Advent is about opening our lives to a spiritual hunger from within and a reaching out to God in the beyond. Zechariah in the temple is an invitation to understanding a generous God who radically enters our lives and world. Having faith in a deeper meaning of God's nature as we journey through Advent asks that we have an audacious belief that God can bring the miracle of new life -- a new way of being, seeing, and behaving -- even when all the evidence doesn't add up.

Rev. Daniel Christian is the director of development at San Francisco Theological Seminary

 

Being Free of Hunger and Poverty is a Human Right

FreedompicBy Will Coupe

Bread for the World celebrates today the 66th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the rights it set out. As a voice for and with people who are marginalized, we hold these rights closely and believe in the worth and dignity of all human beings.

Ensuring that all people have the right to live free of hunger and poverty is the reason Bread supports anti-poverty programs like the earned income tax credit (EITC), child tax credit (CTC), international food aid, and the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

The UDHR grew out of the Four Freedoms adopted by the Allied powers as basic war aims during World War II. The Four Freedoms are freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

The freedoms were based on a State of the Union address delivered by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941. FDR proposed that these freedoms were fundamental freedoms which everyone in the world ought to enjoy.

A major emphasis in FDR’s speech, coming during the Great Depression, is the freedom from want, which establishes a minimum entitlement to food, clothing, and housing. FDR began his speech with "freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world."

Article 25 in the UDHR recognizes the freedom from want and reads partially as “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing…”

FDR’s speech became the inspiration for the much-heralded “Freedom from Want” oil painting by Norman Rockwell. The painting, also known as “The Thanksgiving Picture” or “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” depicts a family around a dinner table preparing to share a holiday meal.

The painting is the third in the Four Freedom series by Rockwell. The painting is an idyllic representation of family values and clearly illustrates the concept of the freedom from want. The painting, which was first published in “The Saturday Evening Post,” included a companion essay written by Carlos Bulosan, a Filipino immigrant and labor organizer.

Today’s anniversary is great cause for celebration and to reflect on the progress that has resulted from it. But at the same time, further push must continue to end hunger. Every year we produce more than enough to feed every single person in the world, yet nearly 1 billion go to bed hungry every night. This is the greatest scandal of our age. The problem is not a shortage but rather that undernourished people, who need food most, do not have access to it.

As the world’s largest donor of food aid, the United States can free up even more food resources and prioritize nutrition. A bill in the Senate, The Food for Peace Reform Act (S. 2421), addresses reform, and we are urging senators to cosponsor the bill. Celebrate the UDHR by advocating for the right to live free of hunger and email your senator today.

Will Coupe was a fall intern in the communications department at Bread for the World.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons 

 

Advent Devotions: Rejoicing with Eyes Wide Open

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This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

By Sister Elizabeth Liebert, SNJM

I Thessalonians 5:16-24
             

Two voices:

"Rejoice always?  You've got to be kidding!  How can you rejoice after reading the headlines these days?"

"Ah, but God is so-o-o-o good, and all is right with the world." 

Admittedly they're stereotypes, but I expect we've all heard versions of each of these voices.  One voice finds it hard to rejoice under difficult circumstances (whatever they might be), and the other finds it risky not to see God as the one who fixes everything up so that life is just perfect.  Both voices, I submit, come from views of God that need to be challenged.  This text, in fact, invites us to do so.

The first voice gets one thing absolutely right.  Suffering, struggle, violence, harm done by humans to other humans and to our communities and to our world-these realities must be resisted with everything that is in us.  But this voice finds it hard not to fall into the despair too easily provoked by wrestling with the forces of evil in its many guises.  In its laser focus on the painful, it doesn't see that God is present even there, in the midst of the struggle, pain, and injustice.  It doesn't see that going there-into the heart of darkness-we can actually find God, inviting us to join in the work of building the reign of God. 

The second voice also gets one thing absolutely right. God is so-o-o-o good.  But it doesn't follow that everything is all right with the world.  God is not some kind of cosmic eraser, wiping out all suffering, violence and death, at least not this side of death.  Paul knows this double-edged truth; he has just reminded the Thessalonians that death and destruction are intrinsic to life itself.  So live there in the midst of it all. But it is also true that death and destruction are not the end, so live there too.  At the same time.  In the same life.

Only when we live with our eyes and hearts open to both realities is our view of God big enough to rejoice in the midst of suffering as a gift from the very God who accompanies us through the darkest of nights.  

May the God of peace, God's own self, sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and will do this.  Amen. 

Sister Elizabeth Liebert, SNJM is professor of spiritual life and director of the Christian Spirituality program at San Francisco Theological Seminary

 

 

The Working Poor: 'We Want to Beat Poverty'

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Jasmin Gracia, far left, speaks about her struggles as a low-wage worker during a symposium at Bread's office, as other panelists look on. Laura Rusu/Oxfam America

By Jennifer Gonzalez

For Jasmin Gracia, who works two jobs and is the mother of a preschooler, daily living is a struggle.

Gracia, who is pregnant with her second child, works as a prep cook at a Bronx, N.Y., restaurant earning $8.00 an hour. She spends her hours there chopping onions, peppers, and other foods. At her second job as a receptionist at a nonprofit detox center, she earns $10.50 an hour.

Even with two jobs (neither provides benefits) and government help for food, childcare, and utility expenses, the money she earns is not enough to support her family. The family car recently got repossessed.

She spoke about her struggles last week at a symposium led by Oxfam America and hosted at Bread for the World’s Washington, D.C., office. “Working parents like myself, we want to progress more,” she said. “We want to beat poverty, beat low-wages. God willing, things will get better.”

Gracia’s story is a stark reminder of the millions of Americans struggling every day to live a dignified life. All they want is to earn a living wage so they can provide for their families. Bread advocates for programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC), which keep millions of Americans from falling into hunger and poverty each year.

Last week, Congress was planning to permanently extend tax breaks to businesses and other wealthy interest groups while not extending them for working moms and families trying to escape poverty. The deal fell through when President Obama threatened to veto the measure. However, a deal including tax breaks for race horses and NASCAR was approved in the House.

Any tax-extender package that Congress passes needs to make permanent recent improvements to the EITC and CTC. Both are set to expire in 2017. “If that (EITC and CTC) is orphaned and no longer moves together with the tax breaks for businesses, then we will not get those made permanent. It’s a just job, just wage issue,” said David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, at the symposium.

Oxfam assembled thought leaders, clergy, and academics across faith traditions to take part in the symposium, “The Working Poor, Just Wages and the Future of the American Family.” The symposium unveiled new data on low-wage work and families, and explored social teachings from the Catholic, Evangelical, and mainline Protestant traditions on just wages and the role of public policy in building a just economy and advancing the common good.

Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, laid out some troubling statistics:

•A year-round, full-time worker earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 earns just over $15,000 a year.

•Last year, over 3.3 million Americans made at or below the federal minimum wage, and over a quarter of those workers were struggling to provide for their families.

“The fact that someone working 40 hours a week at minimum wage, often cleaning houses and office buildings, harvesting and preparing our food, and watching over the children of working parents without the opportunity for advancement, that they still fall well short of not only living a full and meaningful life, but even short of not being counted as no longer in poverty, should inspire major reflection among thought leaders, policy makers, and ourselves,” Snyder said.

Take a moment to contact Congress today and remind them to support the millions of low-income, working Americans who are struggling to put food on the table, gas in the tank, and money in their pocket.

Jennifer Gonzalez is the associate online editor at Bread for the World

Advent Devotions: A Song of Ascents by the Migrant Laborer

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This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). 

By Dori K. Hjalmarson  

Psalm 126            

When we had the good fortune to cross safely into this land, O God, we became dreamers.  We laughed with relief, with optimism, and ironically with fear, knowing that the wrong word upon our tongues could end in deportation and undoing.

Those in other nations looked upon us with envy, believing us to be saved, but suddenly we knew in our flesh that it was not yet true.  Some of us are still missing.  We dream of our grandmothers, sons, nephews, sisters, husbands, grandbabies, back in the land where we were born but don't belong.

We rejoice because we may now remit and save and feed the flesh of our torn flesh, the bone of our broken bones.  We praise God for our safety. And we plead for theirs.

Restore us, O God.  Make us a whole family.  Be like the waters of the Rio Grande, so long absent, suddenly bursting forth, washing away the sins and the hurts and the fences, and soaking the soil and renewing life.

May we who sow their fields with our tears then reap with shouts of joy.

May all families who go out weeping, bearing the seeds of dreams, return home with shouts of joy, carrying their own babies, feeding their own families, kissing their own lovers, embracing their own flesh. 

Dori K. Hjalmarson is pursuing her Master of Divinity degree at San Francisco Theological Seminary

 

 

Racism: America's Cancer

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Protesters in Ferguson, Mo., react to the Staten Island grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner. Angelique Walker-Smith/Bread for the World

By Eric Mitchell

I was at a gathering of national faith leaders in St. Louis, Mo., last week discussing criminal justice reform following the Ferguson decision, when I heard the news that a grand jury in Staten Island, N.Y., would not indict a police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.

The fact that a Staten Island grand jury made the same decision as the Ferguson grand jury sucked the air out of the room. An hour later, a young man who had been actively involved with the Ferguson protests broke down crying and left the room. 

In pain, he passionately yelled out, “what more do they need?” referring to the Staten Island grand jury decision. “What did we do to deserve this?” He then declared that he doesn’t even want to have children with all that's going on in the world. Holding back my own tears, all I could do was hug him and whisper into his ear that he is a King (in control of his life), and that he cannot let anyone break him, regardless of the circumstance.

How did we get to this point? When a young African-American man, who wants to have children, is afraid to bring life into this world? What is he experiencing that has led him to this decision? What really hit me was not the tears, but what this young man was saying. I am the father of two beautiful girls. It may sound cliché, but it is my daughters who drive me to be a better husband, a better father, and a better person. I can’t imagine how empty my life would be without them.  

What happened in Ferguson and Staten Island is not unique to those cities. A grand jury in Cincinnati, Ohio, decided not to indict police officers for fatally shooting John Crawford III at a Wal-Mart. These cases have brought national attention to the injustices that many African-Americans have experienced for decades. 

Racism is America’s cancer. Slavery and Jim Crow laws gave this disease time to fester and mature in the body of America. During the last 50 years, there has been great improvement to ensure equality for African-Americans, but the disease of racism has had time to infiltrate other aspects of American culture, the same way cancer attacks different organs. And unless this cancer is treated aggressively, it will slowly and painfully destroy this country. 

While I don’t have the answers on how to cure us of this disease, I do know that it can no longer be ignored or written off. While in St. Louis, I joined many of the young people at the federal courthouse to protest the injustice that many African-Americans have experienced at the hands of law enforcement. And while the recent decisions moved me to go, I was also there to speak out against my own experiences of bigotry as an African-American man in this country. What I witnessed was that we were not out there just to speak out on the injustice of police harassment, but we were speaking out against injustice – period! We were calling for the right to employment and fair pay, access to quality housing and education, and an elimination of the prison industrial complex. These are demands that transcend race, and are not unique to Ferguson.

What we have seen over the past week are African-Americans, whites, Hispanics, Asians, and others standing up to the injustice and inequalities that still exist. In the Christian faith, which has in the past helped to perpetuate the sins of this country, we are seeing white Christians speaking out and standing with African-American Christians.  In my own experience, over the last week, a number of my white colleagues and friends (conservative and liberal alike) have come to me expressing their frustration about the lack of justice as it relates to the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. These events have opened the eyes of many white Americans. 

Regardless of where you stand on the specifics of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, we have to recognize that inequality still exists in this country, and that it will take a collective of people to change it. Apathy is the biggest threat to any movement. While meeting with some of the leaders of the Ferguson movement, they challenged us to find our own Ferguson. There are injustices happening everywhere, whether it is Ferguson, Staten Island, or Cincinnati. And it’s not just the criminal justice system. The remnants of America’s cancer has affected other areas such as hunger, public health, education, wages and employment, and housing. Find your movement. Civil rights leader and Georgia congressman John Lewis often reminds us that “you have to get in the way.”  This is our moment to let the powers that be know that we are speaking up and speaking out. It’s our moment to get in the way.

Eric Mitchell is the director of government relations at Bread for the World.

Editor’s note: Bread issued a statement on the killing of Michael Brown on Nov. 14 and you can read it here. For more information on race and justice, read resources from our partners, the National Council of Churches and the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference. You can download here the latest fact sheet on hunger in the African-American community.

Hunger in the News: Food Aid Shipping is Back, World Refugee Day, Farm Worker Exploitation

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A regular, non-comprehensive roundup of current news links on hunger and poverty issues from around the Web.

Food Aid Shipping Issue Could Block House Bill,” by Tom Curry, Roll Call.  “At issue is the cargo preference, which dates back to 1954 and which requires that a certain percentage of commodities purchased by the government be shipped in U.S.-flagged vessels.”

World Refugee Day: Global forced displacement tops 50 million for first time in post-World War II era,” The UN Refugee Agency. “The UN refugee agency reported today on World Refugee Day that the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people worldwide has, for the first time in the post-World War II era, exceeded 50 million people.”

The Sahel region still at risk of food insecurity,” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (audio).  “Food Security continues to be a major concern across the 9 countries of the Sahel. A humanitarian appeal has been made for the region, due to a lack of funding caused by crisis around the world also requiring significant attention.”

Hardship on Mexico's farms, a bounty for U.S. tables,” by Richard Marosi, LA Times
“A Times reporter and photographer find that thousands of laborers at Mexico's mega-farms endure harsh conditions and exploitation while supplying produce for American consumers."

Poverty Affects 30% Of Children In US Cities, Negatively Affecting Their Health,” by Lecia Bushak, Medical Daily.  “In a new paper released by the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP), a research center at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, researchers found that many children in large cities in the U.S. are living in poverty.”

Why Poor People Stay Poor,” by Linda Tirado, Slate.  “Because our lives seem so unstable, poor people are often seen as being basically incompetent at managing their lives.”

Urgent: Critical Hunger-Related Bill Up for Vote Now

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By Ryan Quinn

Thanks to your recent calls and emails, Congress looks to be voting on the Global Food Security Act (H.R. 5656) this week.

This act would put in place a framework for the federal government that is a smart approach to providing assistance to people who are hungry. It recognizes that, in order to end hunger, we don't just need to make more food available, but we need quality, nutritious food and systems to get it to the people who need it most.

The program this act would put in place would work on a local level to empower small farmers, growing local economies while feeding hungry people. It's a win for everybody.

Congress has only a few days of work left in this session. With this bill coming to the House floor, passage of the Global Food Security Act becomes critical. We need you to act now. Call (800/826-3688) or email your U.S. representative today. Urge your U.S. representative to pass the Global Food Security Act (H.R. 5656)!

Let Congress know that in a world in which nearly 805 million people — one in every eight — grapple with hunger on a daily basis, U.S. leadership is vital in the fight against hunger, malnutrition, and extreme poverty over the long-term. This legislation is a big step on the road to conquer the challenge.

Ryan Quinn is a senior policy advisor at Bread for the World.

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