Wanna feed 2 million people – or even 9 million – in less than 10 minutes?

If so, all you have to do is read a little and add your name to a letter. Sometimes advocacy is just that simple.

Illinois residents (along with those of Alaska, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Washington, Wisconsin, and West Virginia) have an opportunity – I would even say a duty – to influence legislation currently being considered in the Senate Commerce Committee that, if passed as is, takes away food from 2 million hungry people. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin is on that committee. Senator Durbin needs to hear that we, his constituents, want Section 318 out of the final version of The Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014. Why? From Bread for the World:

Section 318 increases shipping restrictions for U.S. food aid, and makes our food aid less efficient, increasing shipping costs by more than $75 million per year. The additional cost would be taken directly out of our nation’s food aid programs—literally out of the mouths of 2 million men, women and children. Both U.S. taxpayers and hungry people would lose from this unjust provision.

Additionally, a bipartisan bill, The Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014, was introduced this week. If passed it could feed up to nine million hungry people by making U.S. food aid more efficient. The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society joined several other organizations supporting this bill, asking for it to be passed quickly.

With help from our friends at Bread for the World, each of us can raise our voice with and for hungry neighbors just by adding our name to a single letter which will be delivered to our Senators and Representatives on June 10. (Full text of the letter is also below.)

Will you join me in signing this letter and thereby work to change food aid systems so they feed more people?

Check out the video below for a great song to accompany some justice advocacy. (H/T to Patti Cash for bringing this song to my attention.)

 


June 2014

Dear Sen. Dick Durbin, Sen. Mark Kirk, and our respective U.S. representatives:

As religious leaders across Illinois, we answer the call to help our neighbors in need. Our faith communities are globally engaged, and we know U.S. policy plays a critical role in addressing human needs and fostering global development. Our faith compels us to support policy reforms to our nation’s international food aid that would enable us to:

* feed millions more hungry people,
* deliver life-saving food more quickly,
* support vulnerable communities in becoming self-sufficient, and
* better utilize taxpayer dollars.

Reforming U.S. food aid is the right thing to do from both a moral and a fiscal standpoint. It is also in America’s self-interest, as it would do more to foster peace, stability and goodwill toward our nation and would support the development of new trade partners and consumers for U.S. products.

As you debate legislation and cast votes in Congress, we ask you to keep poor and hungry people at the forefront of your heart and mind, and we ask you to support the following reforms to our international food aid:

1. Improve flexibility and efficiency, so we can more effectively respond to hunger.
2. Enhance nutritional quality, so vulnerable populations (such as very young children) receive what they need to thrive.
3. Protect food aid funding, so policy improvements lead to more lives saved.

We specifically ask you to cosponsor the “Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014,” from Sens. Bob Corker and Chris Coons. This bill will make our food aid more efficient, freeing up as much as $440 million annually and thereby allowing us to reach seven to nine million more people, in a substantially shorter amount of time. At a time when our budget is strained and 842 million people in the world are hungry, we must maximize taxpayer dollars by making our food aid as efficient as possible. Supporting the “Food for Peace Reform Act” is the prudent decision—both morally and fiscally—and we ask you to cosponsor this important legislation.

We also ask you to ensure “Section 318” of H.R. 4005, the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014, is not included in the final bill. Section 318, which increases shipping restrictions for U.S. food aid, would make our food aid less efficient, increasing shipping costs by more than $75 million per year. This provision would make our food aid less efficient, increasing shipping costs by more than $75 million per year. The additional cost would be taken directly out of our nation’s food aid programs—literally out of the mouths of 2 million men, women and children. Both U.S. taxpayers and hungry people would lose from this unjust provision, and it must be removed.

We look forward to staying in communication as you consider U.S. food aid, and we are praying for you as you make these and other critical decisions in the months ahead.

With hope,

 

Bad debate

Last week we were treated to excellent content on the relationship between faith and science, first from Deacon Beth’s column and then the music, prayers, and Pastor Jim’s sermon in worship.

In our youth ministries we spent the month of January examining that same relationship, utilizing the experiences of some of our congregation’s scientists (THANKS Richard, Kathy, & Wally!). Add to that all the response to the recently televised “debate” between Bill Nye (TV’s The Science Guy) and Ken Ham, the young-Earth creationist and president of the Creation Museum, and you wind up with a whole lot of words shared on the topic.

My favorite blogger, Fred Clark has an extensive rundown of the Nye-Ham coverage.

Along with all these thoughts, I want to add an image, a quote, and a thought.

First, an image (from James McGrath) to sum up the Nye-Ham “debate”:

Ham-Nye-debate-in-a-nutshell

 

Now, the quote. I don’t always agree with the UMC’s Book of Discipline, but on this topic I find it exactly right:

science’s descriptions of cosmological, geological and biological evolution are not in conflict with theology.

The UMC also has a 2008 resolution opposing using “faith-based theories such as creationism or intelligent design” in public school science curriculums.

See, all this faith versus science stuff really comes down to how we understand (or misunderstand) the bible. UMC pastor and blogger, Roger Wolsey has a terrific post on how we read the bible. I think he describes my position very well.

The accounts – yes, plural – of creation in Genesis 1 & 2 aren’t trying to offer first-hand reporting of how the universe was created. That’s, of course, impossible. Also, those accounts were written millennia before the scientific method. It’s unhelpful, unfair, and, frankly, ridiculous to try to impose scientific standards on pre-scientific material. We just end up looking dumb when we do so. For instance, Genesis 1, when read (il)literally like Ken Ham does, would have us believe that plants grew before the sun was there. Even Middle School students know that’s impossible.

But I’m very glad we have the witness of Genesis 1 & 2. They may not be scientific statements, but they are significant in their own right.

They are very significant statements – by real people who lived in a particular time and, inescapably, had a particular understanding of how the world works – about what the world is like (spoiler alert: it’s good!) and what the Creator God is like. For instance – and I believe this is paramount – unlike the creation stories told by basically every other nation around them, our faith ancestors left us a creation story noticeably absent of war and rape. Instead, we have  that rare depiction of a god who can create without violence of any kind. It is that rare depiction of a god who is intimately involved in, and related to, the world. It is that rare depiction of a god who wants not slaves, but lovers. And not just any kind of lovers, but lovers “made in our image.” That is, lovers in the image of the Triune God: engaged in mutual, egalitarian relationship.

A loving, egalitarian relationship extended to themselves, each other, all people – confoundingly, even their enemies – and to all of creation.

How’s that for a Valentine’s Day tie-in?

 

 

 

 

Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence

As I wrote on Thursday afternoon, word broke of yet another shooting at a school. This time a 14-year-old was shot at a middle school in Atlanta, Georgia. According to police, the suspect is in custody and the wounded student is “alert.” Both suspect and victim are students at the middle school.

This shooting occurred:

  • 7 weeks after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown, CT which left 28 dead.
  • 3 weeks after a 16-year-old shot two students with a shotgun at Taft High School, Taft, CA.
  • 16 days after a student shot an administrator and himself at Stevens Institute of Business and Arts in downtown St. Louis.
  • 9 days after three people were shot at Lone Star Community College near Houston, TX.
  • 2 days after King Prep High School student, Hadiya Pendleton was shot to death in a park in Chicago.
  • 1 day after a gunman shot and killed a school bus driver and abducted a Kindergarten student in Midland City, Alabama.

And those are just the school-related shootings.

To say that all this breaks my heart sounds far too trite, and yet other, better words fail to present themselves. I am sad and I am angry. It seems clear this is not how God intends for us to treat one another. It seems clear that our culture is addicted to violence and in love with guns. It seems clear that I am part of the problem. From the shows I watch to the movies I enjoy to the books I read to the comics I buy, violence is too often a common denominator.

Yet what can we do? After all, Deacon Beth sharply reminded us earlier this month as she considered King Herod’s actions after the birth of Jesus, the slaughtering of innocents is not a new phenomenon. What can we do? Are we resigned to this fate? Beth concluded her post with a brilliant response: “May we choose, as followers of Christ, not to buy guns for an illusory feeling of ‘protection.’ And may we fight, fight, fight for sanity in our gun laws.”

Now a new way to enter that fight for sanity presents itself.

We – as individuals, as families, as a congregation – can emulate The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society and United Methodist Women by joining our voices with Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence. Over 40 denominations and faith-based organizations have joined, including Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs.

This coalition wrote a letter to President Obama and Congress, which reads in part:

Gun violence is taking an unacceptable toll on our society, in mass killings and in the constant day-to-day of senseless death. While we continue to pray for the families and friends of those who have perished, we must also support our prayers with action.We support immediate legislative action to accomplish the following:

  1. Every person who buys a gun should pass a criminal background check;

  2. High capacity weapons and ammunition magazines should not be available to civilians; and

  3. Gun trafficking should be a federal crime.

Adding our voice to this movement will not, by itself, stop all gun violence. A diversity of other actions are needed too. Actions born of our faith that the one we call Lord and Savior is also Prince of Peace. But this is a good step in the right direction. It is something we can do. Join the Faiths United coalition here.

Photo: Reuters
Participants from Newtown, Connecticut, wearing the green and white colors of Sandy Hook Elementary School, walk in the March on Washington for Gun Control on the National Mall. [Photo: Reuters]
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