Saturday, September 25, 2010

Preparing for a Diverse World

September 25, 2010

When I took Alexander to the University of Chicago we were struck by the wide variety of nationalities and interests that were manifest among freshman in his house. His roommate is of Indian descent from Los Angeles. I believe we heard as a first language Russian, Turkish, Korean, Mandarin, Japanese, and Arabic from among the sixty or so freshmen who were moving in. (I sometimes had to ask what language they were speaking.) The President of the University, Robert Zimmer made much of this reality in his remarks at the opening convocation. He was clear that diversity of opinion and perspective was not a substitute for rigorous academic enquiry but wad the context for really difficult work and the formation of appropriate judgments. Diversity of the kind he applauds does not mean ‘multiple truths’ or relativism, but what I would call hard spiritual work.

For all our socio-economic and other diversity at All Saints’, the world in which we and our children will be living is already much more international and complex than we sometimes experience in our comfort zones. This is why we have said that it is through engaging God and Neighbor that we grow in faith. Learning to recognize, understand and even appreciate difference are critical skills for people of faith. How can we build the development of those skills into our common life?

The work of our 2020 groups looking at various strategic issues such as this one hold promise with clear work in the area of diversity being included in leadership development, global missions, preparation for and reflection on transformational journeys of various kinds and so on. This will demand some of our time and attention and resources as we move forward. Anyone who wants a taste of hat this world is like could visit the student union building at Georgia Tech for a glimpse in to the future that is already present in many of the formative places for students in this country.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Saint Paul and the Redeemer

September 20, 2010

Yesterday, before moving Alexander into his dormitory at the University of Chicago, I attended the 8 am Eucharist at the nearest parish to the campus. St Paul and the Redeemer seemed to be a vibrant place with all the signs of good leadership under a rector called Peter Lane, careful, thoughtful liturgy, an engaged multi racial group of about 15 or 20 for the early service, sounds of a choir practicing in the background, an attractive nave set up in the round with the altar in the center, good visitor information and on and on.

The new assistant Rector, Ray Massenberg preached an excellent homily in which he addressed the hard question of the parable of the unjust steward while introducing an expanded feeding ministry as a spiritual matter for all those engaged in it. I was particularly struck by his description of serving canned food to those in need from the church proper, how some community developed and the organist who was present played some impromptu hymns. We were treated to a careful, thoughtful sermon, inviting congregational response in a new initiative at the onset of the program year from a deacon who had been learning the needs of the surrounding area. This has all the signs of something that will become central to the identity of the congregation which describes itself as “an Episcopal Community.”

Mr. Massenberg referenced the recent report that one in seven Americans are now living below the federally determined poverty level. I picked up a book called Out of Reach (Yale, 2009) by a member of the U Chicago faculty called Scott Allard. He looks at the ways in which the American ‘safety net’ has changed over the years from cash assistance to programmatic and systemic assistance. He looks at the increased role of non profits and faith based organizations in the delivery of help and the question of ‘place’ or ‘geography’ including community y trust in the ability of the poor to access such services. He addresses the difficulty of service providers who are juggling uncertain funding among other challenges in looking at larger policy issues and the tendency of government agencies to become distant from the realties as they focus on ‘block funding’. I don’t know the field well but suspect that this is an important book that should be read by those who ought to be looking at how we respond to the reality of the poor.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Three Vignettes

September 13, 2010

Newsweek (September 13, 2010 p.21f) tells the story of Hafiz Hanif, a young Al Qaida recruit. He goes back and forth to his home while training to make bomb vests for would be suicide bombers, use guns and explosives and the like. He remembers finding the head of one of the trainers after a US drone attack on his camp. He sometimes got sent on the food run to buy supplies for the entire camp. He reported never being short of cash for those kind of necessities. He wrote his last will and testament on his 16th birthday as all would be suicide bombers do, urging his male kinsmen to ”join the jihad, seek martyrdom and see him again in the company of the virgins.” The reporters, Sami Yousfzai and Ron Moreau convey a stunning sense that all this is quite normal in the eyes of their subject who is simply a boy growing up in unusual circumstances.

A friend who has spent a lot of time in Afghanistan in recent years reports the regular rape of recruits by more senior members of the Afghan military and Police. This, he says is all bound up with a perversion of the belief that there will be virgins in Paradise. Muslim women must be kept pure and protected (with the Burqa and other veils for example) meaning that male ‘needs’ must be met with boys or with young Christian women who have been kidnapped for the sex-slave trade. In some strange moral calculus this all seems to be OK.

The Week (#780, August 21, 2010) reprints much of an article from The Times Magazine/N.I. Syndication telling the story of a man in Pakistan who helps rescue young British girls from forced marriages, often contracted for purposes of acquiring visas for men to enter England with, or more often without their brides. Albert David is the rescuer who approves of arranged marriages as a cultural tradition and expression, but not these forced marriages that are akin to kidnapping and imprisonment. The article tells of Tania whose 16th Birthday present was a one way ticket to Pakistan and to a kind of perversion of marriage.

Where do we see the equivalent perversion of all that is good and holy and healthy in Christianity? When does our sense of ‘morality’ lead us off the rails with oppression, degradation and hatred dressed up as religion? We can certainly point to the laws that were proposed last year in Uganda that would criminalize all kinds of associations with homosexuality allowing the death penalty in some cases. We know that in some sense Christians support such moves because they are in competition with legalistic forms of Islam for ‘market share’ and seem to forget the fundamental Christian teaching about God’s grace. But what about closer to home? Are we, as President Obama said of Islam recently, a “religion of peace”?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The War in Iraq and Economy at Home

September 2, 2010

I thought President Obama struck all the right notes in his address from the Oval Office on Tuesday, most especially in his oft repeated and heartfelt praise for those who have fought and those who have died in our wars. He backed it up with improved long term healthcare and a new GI bill. Good stuff. I do not understand to this day why we decided to invade Iraq and continue to hope that our intervention and all the lives that have been lost can yet be the seeds of something hopeful for the people of that region (explicitly including the Kurds in the North).

All of that said, I was also pleased to hear the reminder that we have a long way to go on the home front in a stagnant economy. I‘m among those who believe that rescuing the car companies and some banks (of which I did not approve) and providing stimulus money (of which I did approve) seem to have staved off the worst kind of recession. I see healthcare reform as a great victory even knowing that we have yet to see exactly how things will look in three or five years. The resistance to change was massive and predictable. But no one of good will and good sense can really suggest in good faith that some kind of change was not essential. In other words I’m not disheartened by how things are progressing and am among those who would give President Obama a high approval rating on everything except winning the PR battle.

As I think about what all this means for us and for our parish, I’m aware that we are facing significant capital needs in the not-too-distant-future. We are going to have to be very creative about how to move forward in meeting those needs in a climate that is not auspicious for a traditional capital campaign. Most of the pundits to who I listen are suggesting that ‘recovery’ in Atlanta will not be real and true until the commercial and residential real estate markets show signs of sustained positive movement. For many of us, ‘capital’ is in our homes and that is where we have been most visibly challenged. In one example of how this works, the wonderful ministry of Canterbury Court is facing no waiting list for admission for the first time in many years. This is less to do with the recent and beautiful expansion and more to do, I suspect, with the reality that most people need to sell their homes in order to move to Canterbury. In this climate, that movement is not happening. The ripple effect of the real estate market in our city will be a precondition for our being able to seek the kinds of resources we need in traditional ways. What will non-traditional and creative funding look like for us in the next five or ten or fifteen years? It will be exciting thinking through some answers.