Sunday, April 12, 2009
Our neighborhood only has about 100 homes so this should be very manageable, I hope. I'm sure many people will not participate and if I have to make two trips in my truck, even though it will burn more gas, I will. In addition to the recycling there is also a new neighborhood bulletin board where people can communicate Online more easily. The overall goals are to reduce the amount of garbage that is thrown out into landfills, increase recycling, and help people in the neighborhood to connect with one another more easily.
Within 6 hours of placing the fliers on mailboxes around the neighborhood I received several emails from excited neighbors who always wanted an easier way to recycle or who were looking for others in the neighborhood to connect with. Thus, as of day 1, I am proud to say that it looks like I will be able to successfully claim that the goals are being accomplished. We'll see how things are going a month from now, but I think this has a good chance of making it...
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
After a long weekend of depressed and narcissistic thoughts during the few moments that I was half awake on Saturday and Sunday, I finally got out of bed and decided it was time to get clean and start doing something. You must understand, this is no simple feat in and of it self, as some of you may know, after being in bed for 40 hours or so, just getting up is a battle all its own. But I did it and I jumped right in the shower.
In the shower I was more distracted by my thoughts than normal. I was deep in my head thinking about how to turn my situation around; how to be happier or feel more purpose in life. I was so caught up in my thoughts that I couldn’t remember if I had washed my hair—I’m almost certain I washed my hair twice, but it did feel extra soft. In the midst of this deep thought I impressed myself with the idea that faith is a non-linear journey; non-linear meaning that it’s not always moving from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ to point ‘C’. Sometimes, it seems we may start at point ‘F’ move to point ‘J’ and then back to point ‘B’ before moving back to point ‘F’ again. Using the alphabet to describe “points” of faith is all too linear in and of it self. The process is three-dimensional.
As these thoughts are flowing through my head and I’m trying to think of a better metaphor for faith over time, I’m literally motionless as I look up to see an image on the tile of my shower. Is that? Could it be? Am I really crazy (rhetorical question)? I see what looks like the common image of Jesus etched out in the marbled colors of the shower tile. It stops me from all that I was doing, my thoughts are frozen. No more concerns about non-linear anything. I stand motionless, razor in one hand, water running down my back, staring at this tiny image that has caught me so unaware and off guard. I’ve showered hundreds, if not thousands, of times in that shower and never seen anything at all in the tile, but today…
As I was frozen still I could feel my heart begin to beat more quickly. What did it mean? Did it mean anything? Somehow I knew it did. I hesitated, I thought briefly, and finally I reached out and touched it as if I were the woman in the Gospel narrative who had been hemorrhaging her entire life who reached out to touch the cloak of Jesus for healing. I’m not sure how to put words to the flood of thoughts and emotions that reached deep within me as I touched, what for me, was the image of the living God in that moment. It was one of those rare times in a life of faith when you know that you know that God is real and that he does still speak to his children and that it is still worth believing.
Of course, this is exactly what I needed. In addition to the strong dose of reassurance, I sensed God speaking into my soul that everything was ok. That my current circumstances were discouraging and that this was ok too. That even my doubts were ok. I’ve certainly missed it, but it dawned on me that God’s been in my shower everyday as well as in my car, at my dinner table, in my office as I’ve worked, and even in my bed as I lie waiting for something better to come—for some sense of meaning to come from the mess of my life. God spoke into my soul, “It’s ok and I know where you are. You are never gone from my sight and you are right, faith is not linear. The journey is three dimensional and even in the deepest of valleys where all hope seems lost and the climb out looks impossible, there is still hope.” Oddly enough there is even a kind of hope that comes from a simple hot shower.
The basic finding of each of these people groups revolves around a solar calendar system that they were able to accurately use to determine dates and future events such as eclipses and solstices. The common theme amongst these groups, who had no contact with one another at any point, was that there would be major shifts or changes in the world system as it is known around or on 12/21/12. The reason for this expectation is based on the alignment of the sun, earth, and the Milky Way Galaxy for the first time in (need to fact check this) over 5,000 years. It is a repetitive cycle, just not very often.
So what, if anything, do I think this means. I'm not completely sure. No doubt if this came up in the last 30 years from a brilliant scientist or religious leader I would easily write it off as nonsense. However, given the overwhelming similarity in the nature of the reporting amongst the various groups and the fact that modern science can confirm that their findings were correct, I am inclined to pay more attention to possibilities and opportunities that may result from any potential changes in our way of life or the earth we live on. In other words, the very rare alignment of the earth, sun, and Milk Way that will take place in December of 2012 leads me to not want to turn a blind eye to these studies.
From what I have read so far, there seems to be a consensus that this is not an apocalyptic, end or the world scenario, but more an end of the world as we know it. What could that mean? Some scientist go as far as to think that there will be major polar shifts caused by increased solar flares and the passage of another object very close to the earth. These shifts will cause massive earthquakes and volcanoes that will ultimately leave the face of the earth altered from its current form. Others think there will be a change in the overall mentality of the people; a movement away from materialism, greed, and wastefulness. These people think their will be a great awakening of human consciousness that will cause humanity to live peacefully and with greater health. A third thought that I have seen involves the collapse of the economic and political structures that govern the world today as we know it. In this scenario there may be some of the changes listed in both of the above suggestions, but the most significant change will be a return to a more rugged and difficult life for the people in the west. We're talking no more gas, no more grocery stores, grow your own food, build your own shelter; pioneer type skills will be required.
Will any of this happen? Who knows. Do I want to continue to learn more about what the ancient cultures discovered and what the potential meaning of these findings could be? You bet. I've posted the clock as a reminder to myself that I have a limited amount of time to investigate this and make decisions. In the meantime, I will keep you updated as I discover more and please feel free to drop any links that you find that are useful on this subject.
The process has four steps:
1. On Guard
The terms are probably pretty self explanatory, but "on guard" basically means that each team member is less likely to put him or herself out there or take risks because the boundaries are not so clear. In general, everyone treats everone else nicely but on a superficial level. The second, is simple the time when everyone lets their guard down and begins working against others on the team with the full belief that in doing so each has the ability to make the team better on his/her own without regards for any other. I was once told by a supervisor that, "sometimes being on a team is all about one person, and only one person matters." This is a great example of dueling. Healing is the mystical place where healthy teams move to once they finally learn that each person has something valuable to add to the overall goals or agenda. It is the point when people begin to listen and stop trying to win. Victory is when trust and respect is built amongst the team members and each is able to open up more freely and take more risks for the advantage of the team. Vulnerability, depending on the type of team comes online in the victory stage.
This book I read was all about business and how college graduates can make it in the "real world" of corporate teams. The irony I found in the four stages of team development is that they are, in definition at least, exactly what I learned ten years ago about forming a team with a complete group of strangers bound by a common cause and mission. The language was a little more colorful but clearly holds the same meanings. It was stated that all teams go through this four-fold process:
Now this was a more casual environment and involved individuals actually living together to accomplish the common goals and the effective team. However, these four colorful "F" words seem to ring true in both the more simplistic team building approach of 20-somethings living together in the inner-city as they do for corporate America attempting to push toward new economic heights, or as of lately, avoid slipping any lower into the pits of despair. It seems that in whatever situation one finds him/herself in, team building is essential to success and it will likely require the same steps in all manner of venues.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Life, having patterns and seasons, is more cyclical than linear. The statement seemed to make sense, but the more I thought about it I wondered, “Could life be a cycle of events or circumstances? Do I really face the same things over and over?” It does seem reasonable given the fact that I face the same types of illness every year (colds, allergies, occasional flu), struggle with the same ideals, wrestle with the same sins, and have similar experiences during special holidays. In fact, even the church follows a religious calendar that is intended to yearly remind me of the significant aspects of my faith: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. Each season reminds me of God’s story and interaction with humanity throughout the ages.
If I can broadly apply this principle to seasons in life could I use it to forecast what to expect in life just as I generally know summer will be hotter than winter? Is it possible to determine times of the year when I will be likely more depressed, healthier, more in touch with my emotions, more eager to serve, less generous, more adventurous? If I can forecast this, could I adjust my yearly goals and expectations to fit reasonably well with the cycles of life?
For example, every fall the weather starts to get nicer, people start to get into more of a routine, the holidays are coming, and I hunger for one last adventure before the year’s end. Thus, we try to travel over Thanksgiving. Before the New Year I like to be quiet and thoughtful, accounting for the year and for the longings God is placing within me. I have a list of books and a routine of finishing my journal and then reviewing it during the last week of the year. I should plan to not travel then, stay away from most difficult relationships, and keep to myself. Every spring, as the weather begins to warm, I am eager to get outside. I want to exercise and enjoy nature. Simultaneously, I almost always get sick during the major temperature changes. Could I predict my next major cold and avoid making strenuous plans during that time?
When will I be most depressed during the year? Not November or December, probably not October, nor April, May or June. If I had to guess it would be August and January. These are the slowest times of the year for my job and the most extreme temperatures in my climate. I feel unnecessary at my job and miserable physically and because of the holidays before January and all of the travel I do in July. I am physically least in shape, have no diet plan, and have been with a higher number of people in the previous weeks during the months of January and August.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Toward the end of the article [http://www.cafonline.org/Default.aspx?page=12183] the authors did address the fact that many of the more highly taxed nations—the one’s I am suggesting provide a larger percentage of their GDP through governmental budget to foreign aid—made smaller personal donations to charitable causes and that this is likely related to the fact that they already pay taxes that they believe make up the difference in their personal charitable acts; perhaps its six one way and a half a dozen the other. Maybe if you add it all up the personal contributions of lower taxed countries make up the difference or even surpass the amounts that foreign governments are contributing to fight hunger, AIDS, lack of education and infrastructure, etc. I’m not sure and I will make an effort to find out. I still stand by my statement last night that the United States government gives the least percentage of our GDP in foreign aid compared to the other industrialized nations.
I will highlight a few points from an article, "Debunking Myths About Foreign Aid" (2001) (http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=2093), I found a few months ago.
Over most of the past 50 years, the U.S. took the lead in advancing foreign aid for developing countries. Foreign-aid priorities were driven by the cold war, and the U.S. saw fighting hunger and poverty as a way to slow communism and woo Third World governments. For example, the biggest recipients of U.S. aid in Africa in the 1980s were dictatorships in Somalia, Sudan and Liberia that contributed to the violence still afflicting these countries today.
Since the end of the cold war, however, funding for aid has dropped. Without a clear statement of purpose for its post-cold-war aid program, Congress has bogged down the work of USAID, the main aid agency within the U.S. government. In the absence of a strong commitment to foreign aid, debilitating myths about such aid have become widespread. Before we sustain a commitment to reducing hunger and poverty around the world, we must debunk these myths (pp.1-2).
This begins to address my concern about only doing “generous” things for other people when you expect to get something in return. There may always be some truth to this notion, even if it is only a sense of wellbeing for doing something helpful, and perhaps it could make a big difference in the predominately poor nations where Islam is the most popular religious system. However, as an individual, or a leader of an organization or agency, and certainly as a member of God’s Kingdom I cannot find evidence for generosity that is based on return on investment. Generosity is an opportunity to share and help others with no expectation of them returning the favor, directly or indirectly.
A recent poll by the Program for International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland showed that most Americans still imagine that 20 percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid. In reality, less than 1 percent of the budget is for foreign aid, and only about one-third of that is development assistance.
U.S. development aid has declined steadily over the past 15 years. The U.S. now ranks last among the 22 industrialized countries in percentage of national income given away in development aid: less than 0.1 percent. Tiny Denmark contributes ten times as much of its national income as American taxpayers do. Japan has been the largest provider of official development assistance for ten consecutive years (pp.2-3).
Additional information to corroborate the US government's contributions, or lack there of, to world aid and development are not hard to find. This document (http://www.globalissues.org/article/35/us-and-foreign-aid-assistance) and website seems to have some interesting data. It notes the failure of all industrialized nations to meet the goals and priorities that were set in the 1970s regarding foreign aid commitments as a percentage of, then GDP, now GNI (Gross National Income). Nonetheless, the US has ranked last, tied for last, or in second to last place out of 22 nations in percentage of GNI to foreign aid (see page 6 of the document for a graphical display).
As shown throughout this web site (and hundreds of others) one of the root causes of poverty lies in the powerful nations that have formulated most of the trade and aid policies today, which are more to do with maintaining dependency on industrialized nations, providing sources of cheap labor and cheaper goods for populations back home and increasing personal wealth, and maintaining power over others in various ways. As mentioned in the structural adjustment section, so-called lending and development schemes have done little to help poorer nations progress” (“US and Foreign Aid Assistance,” p.23).
This article, or group of articles, also attempts to analyze the combined efforts of government aid with private donations (whether through foundations, NGOs, corporations, or individuals). They, however, make a distinction between aid that is given simply for development/raising standards of living and aid that is given with strings attached for the benefit of the donor agency, nation, and/or corporation. Their criteria are:
Adjusting Aid Numbers To Factor Private Contributions and More
1. Quality of recipient governance as well as poverty;
2. Penalizing tying of aid;
3. Handling reverse flows (debt service) in a consistent way;
4. Penalizes project proliferation (overloading recipient governments with the administrative burden of many small aid projects);
5. And rewards tax policies that encourage private charitable giving to developing countries (p.12).
I’m not sure if I’ve digested all of the standards of how they make these considerations and adjustments, but overall it’s pretty disappointing. The highest “Quality-adjusted aid and charitable giving/GDP (%)” is only .5% (Sweden). The lowest is .03% (New Zealand). The US ties with Spain and Greece at .07%. These figures are pretty far off from the figures you found last night, and are likely put through a tough set of standards (1-5 above) before they are finally calculated. The point they are trying to make, and this is what is of importance to me, is that much foreign aid comes with strings attached and ultimately brings more benefit to the corporation or government that is “donating” it. In the end, and for a multitude of reasons, the countries that do receive aid may gain some benefit from it, but the article even puts forth the argument that in some cases countries that receive aid with so many strings attached end up in worse conditions than before they began receiving aid (pp. 13-15).
Recent claims of some "leading industrial nations" being "stingy" may put people on the defensive, but many nations whom we are told are amongst the world’s best, can in fact, do better. Adelman, further above noted that the US is "clearly the most generous on earth in public—but especially in private—giving", yet the CGD [Center for Global Development] suggests otherwise, saying that the US does not close the gap with most other rich countries; "The US gives 13c/day/person in government aid….American’s private giving—another 5c/day—is high by international standards but does not close the gap with most other rich countries. Norway gives $1.02/day in public aid and 24c/day in private aid" per person. (These numbers will change of course, year by year, but the point here is that Adelman’s assertion—one that many seem to have—is not quite right) (p.14).
In the end, as you noted in your email, there are statistics and talking heads who will find evidence for anything and everything that tickles a person’s fancy or scares them into taking action. I find that this article has useful information and deserves a closer look to determine its sources and purposes.
I’ve tried to consistently support my claim that US foreign aid from the government (as a percentage of GDP or GNI) is low compared to other industrialized nations. This was my claim last night and I am comfortable to stand behind it. I realize that there are multitudes of other ways to look at this. A very common one is to note that the efforts of our military to reform, restructure, rebuild, and assist other nations can be considered as a form of foreign aid. To be sure, there is no shortage of our national budget being currently routed through the DOD. I would propose that we may have gotten farther in stabilizing the international relationships over the last 50 years if we would have spent more money on truly helping people, any and all people, and not just the ones that we thought we could benefit from helping. We cannot forget the obvious missteps that our country made in the past when we enlisted, aided, supplied, and supported Saddam Hussein in Iraq because we thought he could be a moderate ally against the destabilizing situation in Iran. Similarly, we supplied many fighters in Afghanistan when it was to our advantage to use them to fight against the Russians, but once the conflict fizzled out we left the Afghani people in a war torn country with no good leadership and said, “thanks for your help, good luck”. Wouldn’t it be nice if we would have stayed in Afghanistan long enough to help them rebuild into a country that had some form of democracy and justice. What we didn’t do then we are paying for now. And it is, I think, not an overstatement to suggest that much of the radical Muslim’s hatred toward the US is based on our spotty history of treating people in the Middle East as fully human as opposed to pawns in our bigger plans. I only wonder what choices we are making now militarily that will come back to haunt us in 20-30 years.
Consider this phase one of my attempt to answer your questions. If I may, I would like to pose a few questions to you. You seem to think that regardless of whether Iraq attacked the US or any other sovereign state that the US did the right thing by changing its long-held policies of not using pre-emptive strikes/wars with other sovereign nations; and this regardless of what the UN or many other nations thought best. If I understood you correctly you believe that invading Iraq was a good thing because (a) they would have likely done something bad or harmful to the US or someone else sooner than later, and (b) there was evidence that Saddam’s regime was torturing, murdering, and otherwise mistreating certain portions of the Iraqi population. Based on these two criteria why has the US not intervened in other dictatorships where torture and death have been dealt to a nation’s people by their own leaders and military (off the top of my head I can think of Rwanda, Somalia, and the Sudan in Africa, but I’m pretty sure there are others)? Similarly, given the noted concern for tortue of Iraqi citizens, why have so many US citizens been able to comfortably accept, if not advocate for, the torture and inhumane treatment of individuals held in US military prisons around the world?
Additionally, is it ethically or morally responsible for the US to maintain ties with Saudi Arabia when it is well known that there are many things that take place in that country that violate standards of democracy, justice, freedom, rights for women and all of the other things we say we are fighting for in Iraq? Based on the two previous criteria that I listed as my understanding of why you think it was good for us to attack Iraq it seems like we have good cause to invade Saudi Arabia too. Or perhaps there is a double standard. Is it possible that we saw Iraq as a convenient target that could be strategically beneficial (oil fields in Iraq and a good central location in the Middle East to try to build a few permanent military bases) and that our attacking Iraq has much less to do with the nice packaging of freedom and democracy or the original scare tactics of WMDs and much more to do with control and access in the Middle East (which we ultimately may or may not get)?
(Citation page numbers in post were determined by converting websites to Adobe .PDF)
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
I'm picking a few sections of our email dialogue to post because there are parts of the conversation that I would like to expand upon with others in the blog realm. I will attempt to break up various sections of the discussion so that no single post is overwhelmingly long.
First Question Friend Wrote:
"I woke up at about 3:00 am this morning, thinking about some of the things you said yesterday. I was really surprised when you said that the U.S. gives less to charitable causes than other countries as a percent of GDP. I was fairly sure that I had heard the exact opposite, but I’ll grant you that it may have been from a source that is more biased towards promoting a positive view of the U.S. Probably either Rush [Limbaugh] or Fox News. Anyway, out of curiosity, I plugged “charitable giving as percent of gdp” and the second listing that came back was this site for something called the Charities Aid Foundation: http://www.cafonline.org/Default.aspx?page=12183 This was a totally random thing and I didn’t research the organization to see which political point of view they’re pushing, but their statistics seem to contradict the information that you’ve gotten."
First Section of My Response:
I read through the entire article at the website you linked in the email (see above link). There are two things that jump out at me in reading through it in comparison to what I said last night during dinner.
- This is a measure of individuals’ charitable giving and there is no tracking on how the donations are used. By contrast, my comments last night revolved around national (governmental) foreign aid as a percentage of GDP. To be fair, individual US citizens are more likely to give a higher percentage of their money to charitable causes (1.7% of GDP according to the article, although I’ve seen some statistics that put this lower). I would not dispute that. However, there is no indication of how this money is spent or what it is used for. I looked around a little online for details on the breakdown of where the money goes. Found this article with a few reputable sources and a few I’ve never heard of: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-10-07-charityfaith_N.htm. According to the figures in this article roughly one-third of individual giving goes to houses of worship (Christian, Jewish, Muslim). I would like to see a more detailed breakdown on which types of organizations, other than houses of worship, that donations are going to, but for now we should focus on what we do know. If the one-third of giving goes to houses of worship is close to being right, then about 35.7% of the 1.7% of GDP (I think I did the math right here but I did get a little confused) that is given goes directly to churches, synagogues, and mosques in the US. The remainder goes to other non-profit organizations such as the Red Cross, Compassion International, The Salvation Army, Education and Arts funding/foundations, etc.
In my experience of working in churches most of the donations that are received never leave the walls of the church that the money is donated to. It goes to pay for buildings, staff, utilities, large gymnasiums, exercise equipment, paving parking lots, church programs and budgets for things like youth groups or children’s ministry. Several churches I’ve been a part of have tried to “tithe” on all donations that they receive. Thus, they take in donations throughout the year and use 90% of the money on operating expenses, running the church, and 10% of the money goes to local, regional, national, or international assistance to the needy and impoverished. My point is, at least with the donations made to churches, the money individuals donate to charitable causes in the US are actually donations made that end up bringing greater value into their own lives in two ways. First, through the indirect benefit of feeling they have contributed to a cause greater than themselves, and second, but just as equally, to the direct benefit of having better facilities to worship in, more paid church staff members, money to buy books for members of the church, the ability to discount youth group trips to Six Flags or Disney Land, etc. Some churches work harder than others to keep their operating expenses down and to donate more to local, regional, national, and international needs, but these are typically the exceptional cases.
One tangential thought about this is whether or not individual charitable giving of 1.7% of GDP is something to be proud of. On the one hand, it is higher than other industrialized nations. But on the other hand, it is still a pretty low percentage especially considering that the disparity of wealth amongst all the worlds’ people—God’s children—is quite large. Consider these statistics:
The personal wealth of the top 400 Americans is more than twice the combined annual GDP of all of sub-Saharan Africa, home to nearly 800 million people, the vast majority of whom live in dire conditions. It is also several hundred billion dollars larger than the GDP of the world’s eighth biggest economy, that of Spain.
The club’s [Forbes’ 400 wealthiest Americans] richest member is Microsoft magnate Bill Gates, whose net worth, $57 billion, is greater than the annual GDP of about 120 of the world’s 180 nations (http://www.wsws.org/articles/2008/sep2008/forb-s24.shtml).
The second article, for me at least, comes from a more reputable source and offers greater detail into wealth inequality throughout the world. It has some particularly interesting charts, maps, and graphs that I think display the dramatic differences between Western wealth and the lack thereof for large portions of the earth’s population. I am mindful that they are basing this on data that is several years old, I think based on 2000.
I’m sure this is not news to you and there are plenty of talking heads who make great speeches about why we should care and do more. Although I do not appreciate all of their methods, I do agree that we can do more. The fact remains that the majority of people who attend Christian churches do not tithe. I’m not sure of the source but I have heard it explained that if the active members of US churches would actually all tithe on their after tax income that the churches would have all the money they need to operate and expand while still having enough left over to end world hunger (this is regardless of governmental aid or of what any other country does to help).
Regional wealth shares are interesting (see the last column of Table 2 [p.8]). North America owns about a third (34 per cent) of the world’s wealth. Europe has a fraction less (30 percent) and rich Asia-Pacific is close behind at 24 percent. The rest of the world shares the remaining 12 per cent. Figure 2 [p.12] shows how these wealth shares compare to population shares. North America has the largest excess of wealth over its ‘fair share’ according to population, which is a mere 5 per cent. Europe has more than double the population of North America, so that its large wealth share is more aligned with its population. The case of rich Asia-Pacific is intermediate between Europe and North America.(http://www.wider.unu.edu/publications/working-papers/discussion-papers/2008/en_GB/dp2008-03/_files/78918010772127840/default/dp2008-03.pdf) (I find particularly helpful the information, maps, and graphs that are on pages 11-15.)
For me, this type of information is more personal. It is lodged deep within my mind and my heart and the “un/fortunate” (and sometimes depressing and also inspiring) reality is that knowing about and having met a few of the billions of people who live around the globe—people with little if anything to eat, no clean water, tribal rivalries, poor medical treatment (if any) for easily curable illnesses and diseases like diarrhea and Malaria—I cannot, no matter how hard I try—and believe me I do—pass this off as a problem that is “too big to be solved” or that it is “just the unfortunate reality of poor people not knowing how to get ahead” or that “eventually wealth creation in the major industrialized nations will trickle down to the poorer nations” or that “it’s their own fault for not having more stabilized governments”. These cliché responses that I hear and sometimes tell myself do not satisfy the deeper part of my soul that knows that God’s dream for this world is much better and that my selfishness, along with many of the other people in the industrialized nations’ selfishness, is directly related to the lack of resources that others have in the rest of the world. The scariest part is that even knowing some of these very people who are struggling to survive day in and day out, I still forget, or rather attempt to forget that their suffering is related to my compulsion to consume.