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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

"The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us? When we begin to take the lowest place, to wash the feet of others, to love our brothers with that burning love, that passion, which led to the cross, then we can truly say, ‘Now I have begun.’"
~Dorothy Day
Here’s an extended version of Ms. Day’s quotation from Loaves and Fishes.

"The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us? When we begin to take the lowest place, to wash the feet of others, to love our brothers with that burning love, that passion, which led to the cross, then we can truly say, ‘Now I have begun.’"

~Dorothy Day

Here’s an extended version of Ms. Day’s quotation from Loaves and Fishes.

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The National Women’s Law Center published this clickable map that allows you to see:
The share of minimum wage workers who are women
The next scheduled increase in the minimum wage
Any recent action on the minimum wage in the state legislature
It looks like my home state of North Dakota has an even split of men and women as minimum wage earners.
~Trent Gilliss, executive editor

The National Women’s Law Center published this clickable map that allows you to see:

  • The share of minimum wage workers who are women
  • The next scheduled increase in the minimum wage
  • Any recent action on the minimum wage in the state legislature

It looks like my home state of North Dakota has an even split of men and women as minimum wage earners.

~Trent Gilliss, executive editor

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The millions who are poor in the United States tend to become invisible. Here is a great mass of people, yet it takes an effort of the intellect and will even to see them.
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Michael Harrington, from his classic 1962 work The Other America

(via trentgilliss)

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Krista’s essay on why she doesn’t do Christmas prompted reader Jeff Jackson to share this video on the Advent Conspiracy. It’s well done.

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Standing in the lowly place with the easily despised, and the readily left out, and with the demonized — so that the demonizing will stop — and with the disposable — so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away. That gives me life, that’s where I want to be. I think that’s where Jesus insists on standing.
- Fr. Greg Boyle, from his interview with Krista Tippett at the Chautauqua Institution
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Transcending America’s Faith Divide to Address Social Injustice

by Altaf Husain, guest contributor

Ms. DiaMs. Dia performs at a Community Café: Just Food event organized by the Inner-City Muslim Action NetworkIMAN Community Cafe events.

As Americans pause today, the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, it is worthwhile to reflect on the culture of service and social justice that were part of his teachings.

While the values King espoused could be internalised by anyone who is passionate about improving the human condition, his teachings resonate especially with faith-inspired people. Muslim Americans, for example, have a profound appreciation for King because he dedicated his life to addressing societal injustices — a central tenet of the Islamic tradition.

Of particular relevance from King’s teachings is the concept of a “world house,” comprised of peoples of different faith traditions. He wrote, “We have inherited a large house, a great world house in which we have to live together — black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu — a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace.”

The concept of a world house is especially relevant when applied to interfaith collaboration on social justice initiatives today. Such interfaith collaboration is an American tradition, and Muslim Americans are integral to it. In fact, social activism among Muslim Americans is at an all-time high.

Inspired by their own faith tradition and responding to invitations from other traditions, Muslim Americans have been noticeably advancing the concept of a world house, especially by focusing people’s attention on hunger in America.

Consider the Interfaith Hunger Initiative (IHI) in Indianapolis, of which the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is a partner. The IHI reports that 16,000 children die from hunger each day throughout the world. In Indianapolis alone, a total of 18,000 children are frequently hungry. With the active involvement of Muslim Americans, IHI aims to end child and family hunger both at the domestic level in Indianapolis, and internationally in Kenya.

Muslim Run leaders at Payless-1Participants of Muslim Run in Action discuss food choices at a local market.

While hunger is an issue nationwide, in inner-city neighbourhoods, a related issue is the disproportionately large number of unhealthy food options being sold in stores. This issue, conceptualised as food justice, is being addressed head on by a Chicago-based organisation, Inner-city Muslim Action Network (IMAN). IMAN is located in Chicago’s south side and was founded by young Muslim Americans. IMAN is unabashedly targeting “food and liquor” stores (including ones owned by Muslims) in inner-city black neighbourhoods, challenging them to take responsibility for the food options they offer. IMAN recently sponsored a forum entitled “Food For Life, A Human Right: Food Justice, Corner Stores & Race Relations in the ‘Hood.”

Muslim Americans are also represented both by ISNA and the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) in the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), an American membership organisation of 300 religious communities. NRCAT asserts that “torture is a moral issue” and aims to end torture in our own backyard. A declaration regarding prisoner treatment, torture, and cruelty states that NRCAT members “agree that the use of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment against prisoners is immoral, unwise, and un-American.” As active and vocal partners in NRCAT, Muslim Americans are exerting tremendous energy in organising campaigns to educate community members about the adverse psychological and physical impact of current practices on prisoners, such as 23-hour solitary confinement; they advocate prohibiting torture outright for mentally ill prisoners, as well as certain interrogation techniques.

As these examples indicate, there are sufficient members of the world house, among them Muslim Americans, who are not only putting into practice the teachings of their own faith and cultural traditions but also exemplifying the continuing relevance of King’s teachings to contemporary social issues. King’s life was cut short nearly 45 years ago; however, his teachings remain relevant today, inspiring Muslim Americans and others to uphold social justice through interfaith collaborations.


Altaf Husain at ISNA 2008Altaf Husain is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Islamic Society of North America. He is a Fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding and Assistant Professor of Social Work at Howard University in Washington, DC.

A version of this article was published by the Common Ground News Service on April 3, 2012. Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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Living in a Material World: Lent and Our Bodies

by Debra Dean Murphy, guest contributor

Lent for EveryonePhoto by John (mtsofan)/Flickr, cc by-nc-sA 2.0

Remember you are soil, and to soil you shall return.
~Gen. 3:19

The language of “spiritual journey” is commonplace in describing the season of Lent — the 40-day pilgrimage Christians undertake as they trek with Jesus from the wilderness to the garden to the garbage heap of Golgotha and beyond. “Spiritual” in this context, as in almost every other, is so vague as to be not merely unhelpful but an actual obstacle to understanding what it is that Lent has called Christians to through the centuries.

Generally, “spiritual” is meant to signal a concern with matters of the heart or the soul or the deepest self. More pointedly, it almost always springs from — even as it continues to endorse — the tired dualisms of modernity that have divided body from soul, matter from spirit, earth from heaven. This false divide, as Wendell Berry has observed, is “a fracture that runs through the mentality of institutional religion like a geologic fault.”

Interestingly, it is geology (sort of) that can help get us back on track or — forgive the pun — onto solid ground. When we Christians receive the ashes on our foreheads we are marked with a visible sign of our mortality, yes, but we are also reminded of our link to all of creation past, present, and future — to elements both earthly and celestial, to the soil and to the stars. We could even say: "remember you are stardust, and to stardust you shall return!"

The season of Lent also reveals how relentlessly incarnational is the faith we confess. When Jesus sojourns for 40 days in the wilderness, it is physical hunger (“he was famished”) that the gospel writers make special note of — except in Mark’s version, this year’s lectionary gospel, which is characteristically spare with the particulars. Fasting from food and its physiological consequences are part of Jesus’ quest for wisdom, understanding, and clarity of purpose.

There is an essential unity among body, soul, and the material world. Jesus is not “freed” of his body — nor of his bodily needs and desires — for the sake of his soul. And his soul is not disengaged from the material realm. As Berry notes about scriptural religion generally: “The Bible’s aim is not the freeing of the spirit from the world. It is the handbook of their interaction.”

In our own time, a relentlessly incarnational Christianity invites reflection on a host of ways that body, spirit, and world interact — ways in which our whole lives and our whole selves are either enriched or impoverished by situations of our own making or circumstances beyond our control. What does it mean, for example, to observe a Lenten fast in the context of social and economic realities like starvation among the poor, increasing food insecurity among the middle class, and growing obesity rates for all of us? How has the formative rhythm of feasting and fasting been obscured, overridden, undone by a culture of excess in which increasingly every meal is a mindless, hastily consumed feast, lacking in both nutrition and conviviality?

Or this: When late in Lent we regard the body of Jesus on the cross, can we see him as he is?

You’re not the figurehead on a ship. You’re not
flying anywhere, and no one’s coming to hug you.
You hang like that, a sack of flesh with the hard
trinity of nails holding you into place.

Can we share in poet Mary Karr’s unflinching gaze of a human body abandoned and broken? Can the “sack of flesh” disabuse us of our tendencies to sanitize the scene, fetishize the cross, and spiritualize the meaning of this first-century revolutionary’s death at the hands of the imperial authorities? With theologian James Cone can we see the reciprocity between the crucified Christ and “the lynched black body” of America’s shameful past? A past, Cone reminds us, that is not so past: one-third of all young black men are in prison or somewhere in the “system.” Bodies, again, alas, abandoned and broken.

37/366: Ash Wednesday

The ashes we Christians will receive on Wednesday may not convey enough of our connection to soil and stars and our sisters and brothers, but they do have deep associations with sorrow and repentance. The charcoal smudge across the forehead is a public sign that says to all I meet: I have sins to confess, wrongs to right. The challenge is to take this penitence seriously but to “wear” it lightly. “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them,” warns Jesus in the gospel reading appointed for Ash Wednesday. The task of repentance grounds us in the work of serving our neighbors, not ourselves.

The materiality of the faith we confess is most evident in a simple meal shared with friends. Christ’s body — taken, blessed, broken, and shared — makes of his followers a body. And for all that this means and for all that it requires, there is this fundamental imperative: we are to nourish and care for our own bodies and the bodies of others, including the earth from which we came and to which we will return. In Lent, we journey with Jesus to the place where his own “sack of flesh” redeems a broken world, revealing God’s love for all of creation, and forever conjoining body and soul, matter and spirit, earth and heaven.

Inset photo by Mandy Jansen/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)


Debra Dean MurphyDebra Dean Murphy is an assistant professor of Religion and Christian Education at West Virginia Wesleyan College and serves on the board of The Ekklesia Project. She regularly blogs at Intersections: Thoughts on Religion, Culture, and Politics.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication with the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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Centenarian Woman Thanks God and Deputies Who Defied Court Order to Evict

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Vinia Hall, 103"I knew that they know what they were doing. God don’t let them do wrong."
~Vinia Hall

Here’s one of those feel-good stories that makes you smile for human decency and feel a little bit sad knowing that this act of kindness may be an exception. On Tuesday, WSB Channel 2 in Atlanta reported that Vinia Hall, a 103-year-old woman, and her 83-year-old daughter were about to be evicted from her home when deputies of the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office and hired movers defied a court order to evict the two from their foreclosed home in northwest Atlanta.

For the purposes of this project, take note of the strong expressions of faith in God “making it right” and citations of the Bible, by Ms. Hall and also by a neighbor and community activist too.

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Where Are the Poor in This Debt Ceiling Debate?

by Debra Dean Murphy, guest contributor

Public Mood Sours, Continued Criticism of Congressional LeadersIt’s by turns infuriating and farcical.

It has become increasingly clear that the debt ceiling and deficit reduction dramas are manufactured emergencies driven by electoral politics, though the consequences of inaction are very real. The desire to stay in office, to hold on to this or that position of leadership, to stick it to one’s despised political foe with a kind of suit-and-tie snarly glee. These pathological needs now trump everything else. And it’s dispiriting to watch.

Words have lost their meaning — their basic correspondence to things and ideas by which we judge the validity and persuasiveness of human speech. Half-truths and blatant falsehoods are spun into implausible narratives uttered in grave tones and with straight faces. And almost always by middle-aged and older white men. Where are the women in this debate? (Women could knock this thing out.)

Partisan politics in the digital age depends on a distracted, uninformed electorate. It’s not helpful to the cause of conservative intransigence for voters to know that, without fuss or fanfare, Republicans voted numerous times during the Bush presidency to raise the debt limit.

And neither side in this made-up crisis has given appropriate attention to the poor. For years now, both Democrats and Republicans have made the middle class their primary legislative concern, their targeted demographic for election and re-election propaganda. The poor, let’s face it, are a drag on our collective hope in the American dream. Deficit Worries Still High, but Job Situation Remains the Bigger ConcernIn fact, we’re not even sure that the poor are really all that poor. I mean, 97 percent of them have refrigerators! How bad could their lives really be?

Having written a reflection on the appointed gospel reading for this coming Sunday, I’m thinking about these matters in light of Jesus’ encounters with the poor in the towns and villages, hillsides and seashores, of the Galilee. In the deserted places of Empire, Jesus met the hungry masses in all of their tiresome, needy, inconvenient humanity. It would have been easier to stay in seclusion, to pass the problem off to the disciples, which he actually did at first: you give them something to eat,” he says to them.

But he takes a meager sack lunch of bread and fish, blesses and breaks it, and gives it to the disciples to give to the crowds. It’s a familiar story and one that strains logic, leaving us skeptical and incredulous, especially the part about collecting 12 baskets of leftovers when everyone had eaten their fill.

At least, though, we can acknowledge that the early Christians preserved and passed on a story like this because their imaginations had been shaped by a story of abundance, not of scarcity. The fear-mongering ways of Empire were rejected and a new way of being — life and health and wholeness for all, even women and children in the gospel of Matthew’s telling of the story — was the good news.

Fear and scarcity are the watchwords of Empire politics today. They divide and diminish us — reducing our elected officials to buffoons one day, calculating schemers the next — and making us, regardless of party affiliation, co-conspirators in the misery they plot.

But we can resist. Without resorting to the hard-edged parochialism of the religious right, we can embrace the politics of Jesus. We can refuse the politics of fear and scarcity and choose instead another way of being: life and health and wholeness for all — even for women and children and the poor in our midst.


Debra Dean MurphyDebra Dean Murphy is an assistant professor of Religion and Christian Education at West Virginia Wesleyan College and serves on the board of The Ekklesia Project. She regularly blogs at Intersections: Thoughts on Religion, Culture, and Politics.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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What about having a new law that made all Cabinet members and leaders of political parties, editors of national papers and the hundred most successful financiers in the UK spend a couple of hours every year serving dinners in a primary school on a council estate, or cleaning bathrooms in a residential home?
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In black and white not princely purpleArchbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams

On BBC Radio 4 Today program’s "Thought for the Day" segment, the leader of the Anglican Church, as The Telegraph reports, “called for  a return to the medieval tradition when monarchs ritually washed the feet of the poor would serve to remind politicians and bankers what should be the purpose of their wealth and power.”

(photo: Steve Punter/Flickr, CC by 2.0)

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor


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The First Baby Shower Unites Women on the Margins

by Onleilove Alston, guest contributor

The Virgin of the Hedges
A statuette of the Virgin Mary in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. (photo: Michael O’Donnell/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

This Advent I am reminded of the meeting Mary had with Elizabeth to announce she was with child. Though this could have been a time of anxiety for Mary, with Elizabeth it became a time of celebration. I playfully call the following account of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth the first baby shower:

"Mary didn’t waste a minute. She got up and traveled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah’s house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out exuberantly, You’re so blessed among women, and the babe in your womb, also blessed, And why am I so blessed that the mother of my Lord visits me? The moment the sound of your greeting entered my ears, The babe in my womb skipped like a lamb for sheer joy. Blessed woman, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true!

And Mary said, I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened — I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others. His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him. He bared his arm and showed his strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts. He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold. He embraced his chosen child, Israel; he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high. It’s exactly what he promised, beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months and then went back to her own home.”

In America, baby showers are times for women to come together and celebrate new life; presents are exchanged, advice given, and games played. Mary and Elizabeth celebrated the new life within them by exchanging presents of joy, encouragement, song, and prophecy. Both women were carrying children of promise: one would pave the way and the other would be the way.

John the Baptist, a prophet even from the womb, jumped for joy because he knew the baby Mary carried was the Messiah. Mary and Elizabeth were both silenced and marginalized in their society, yet in the company of each other they declared prophetic words of what God was doing in their midst. Neither woman had a convenient pregnancy — Mary being a teenager and Elizabeth being an elderly woman, but each allowed herself to be inconvenienced for God’s purposes. Mary and Elizabeth’s celebration shows the importance of women coming together for prayer, praise, and prophecy.

When Mary sings, “He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold,” we see that in the presence of Elizabeth she could freely declare words that may have been dangerous if spoken in public. Mary’s song was more than words of celebration, it was a declaration of the inevitable breakthrough of justice.

In my tradition as a Protestant Christian, Advent is a season of waiting, but this Advent season I am not waiting for Christ. There is no need to wait because his grace breaks into my reality each day. As a young African-American woman, I am waiting for the justice Mary sang about to break through into my community, into the U.S. prison system, into the shacks of South Africa, into the relations we have with each other.

This passage is an encouragement to me as I wait because it reminds me that when women gather in Christ’s name He is in our midst. I believe that if we want justice to break through into our society we cannot passively wait, but like Mary and Elizabeth we have to actively wait singing prophetic songs and taking actions of justice. Let us not grow anxious by the circumstances we see: the holiday parties, gifts to buy and return, or seasonal loneliness. But, during this season of Advent, let us remember that the Gospels included everyday people who God used in extraordinary ways.

Women can continue to come together to rejoice, celebrate, and prophesy about liberation through collective action and prayer. This Advent I will actively wait by organizing for justice in my community, because when we come together the course of history will be interrupted, life birthed, and justice given.


Onleilove AlstonOnleilove Alston is a native New Yorker and a student at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University. She lives in a Christian intentional community in Harlem and is a contributing writer for Sojourners.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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Mennonites Unite Behind Largest Relief Sale

by Anne Breckbill, associate web developer

quiltauction
Hundreds attend the marquee event: the quilt auction. (photo: David Yoder)

The best — and perhaps quirkiest — aspects of being Mennonite were on display in northern Indiana last weekend. The Michiana MCC Relief Sale is an annual fundraising event for the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a world-wide relief organization. The sale is part quilt auction, part junk auction, part garage sale, part bake sale, part county fair, part family reunion.

Although there are 30 MCC relief sales in the United States and 14 in Canada each year, Michiana (Indiana-Michigan area) hosts the largest, attracting between 20,000-25,000 people and raising upwards of $350,000 annually. It also happens to be in my old hometown of Goshen, Indiana.

Horse Carriage
Transportation around the fairgrounds for weary sale-goers. (photo: David Yoder)

So this past weekend I made my pilgrimage to the Elkhart County Fairgrounds with two non-Mennonite friends who have always wanted to experience this sale. They weren’t disappointed, and I was proud to call myself Mennonite.

New and Used Auction
An auction of new and used goods other than quilts. (photo: David Yoder)

The Mennonite denomination, like many others, has struggled with divisive issues over the years, and I haven’t always appreciated how these issues have been — or have not been — resolved. But this weekend we were at our best. Progressive Mennonites, Old Order Mennonites, Conservative Mennonites, and Amish worked hand-in-hand to raise money for a belief they all share in common — that it is our joyful duty to lend a helping hand to those in need.

Church groups have been working all year: quilting, woodworking, baking, and canning to donate these goods to the sale. The weekend of the sale, groups and individuals are selling their items, staffing the quilt auction, cooking food, planning logistics, and cleaning the fairgrounds. Our differences are forgotten as we work toward a common goal.

Kettle Corn
Making kettle corn. (photo: David Yoder)

The sale runs Friday night through Saturday afternoon and features multiple auctions, a garage sale, children’s auction and activities, a 10K run, and lots of food: pies, sausage, cheese, pancakes, kettle corn, moon pies, elephant ears, apple dumplings, and new ethnic foods. For my parents, Friday night is the night to buy their year’s supply of sausage from Mishler’s Meats before they sell out. So, my friends and I went with them.

Walking through the crowds on Friday night with our bags of sausage and Nelson’s Golden Glow chicken was like being at a family reunion. In addition to Goshen being a small town, many Mennonites are related and/or know one another. Mennonites in the area go to the sale; Mennonites who have left the area come back for it. Running into relatives and friends I haven’t seen since my last relief sale in 2007 felt like “old home week” at the fairgrounds.

Selling Cheese
A church group sells donated cheese. (photo: David Yoder)

One highlight of the year is the Penny Power fundraiser in which each person is asked to save pennies as tokens of the privileges and abundance he/she has. During the month prior to the relief sale, participants put aside pennies each day based on a Penny Power calendar. The way the Penny Power project links giving and self-awareness is evident in some of these example days on the calendar:

  • Many refugees are forced to leave home with only the shirt on their backs. Give one penny for each shirt or blouse in your closet.
  • In some countries there is only one doctor for every 125,000 people. Give 4 pennies for each health care professional you see.
  • Many people have only one ragged cloth for cover. Give two pennies for every quilt and blanket in your home.
  • Much of the world exists without consistent electricity. Give two pennies for each light switch or lamp in your home.
  • In Haiti, few people can read and write. Give one penny for every book in your home.

But, without question, the crown jewel of the weekend is the quilt auction. Hundreds of quilts are carefully and lovingly created throughout the year and are put up for auction to around 300 bidders. This year, the quilts alone raised $102,000 with one quilt selling for $5,000.

Quilt and Woman
On Friday night, a woman studies one of the quilts that will be auctioned Saturday morning. (photo: David Yoder)

Perhaps most moving was the traveling quilt. The traveling quilt is a beautiful quilt that began traveling earlier this year. It has gone from one relief sale to another across North America, always going up for bids but never sold. Instead, everyone who bids on the quilt gives his/her bid as a donation to MCC. Bids started at $1,000 for a quilt you can’t take home with you and ended with $25 bids. And now it moves on to the next MCC Relief Sale to be held in Virginia this weekend.

quiltonauctionblock
Two volunteers “dress the bed” with the next quilt at the quilt auction. (photo: David Yoder)

Ultimately, the relief sale is not just about giving to help the poor. It is also about acknowledging our relative wealth and the resources we have. The sale helped me once again appreciate the values with which I was raised — be generous, care for others, work hard, give till it hurts, work for peace, be the hands and feet of your faith.

Photos by David Yoder

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Africa Looks Positive, Sweden Not So Much

by Shubha Bala, associate producer

Nicholas Kristof said during his interview with Krista that he worries about constantly painting Africa in a negative light and recognizes there is a lot of good work taking place too. In this video from the TEDxChange conference, Hans Rosling, professor and co-founder of GapMinder, presented numbers in a new way to demonstrate the great progress being made in Africa towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). In fact, his breakdown of child mortality (minute 11:00) shows that if the MDG expectations were applied to Sweden from the 1800s, Sweden would have been considered a failure.

Mechai Viravaidya at TEDxChangeAnd another little gem: I found the humorous speech by the founder of the Population and Community Development Association (minute 46:00) to be a fascinating overview of Thailand’s progress. He describes how inclusive methods led to a decrease in the average family size from 7 children to 1.5 in under three decades, and more recently, a reduction in HIV cases by 90 percent.

In the screen shot (right), Mechai Viravaidya at the TEDxChange holding up his future Olympic logo idea promoting condoms.

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Helping One Person Matters More than Saving Thousands

by Shubha Bala, associate producer

"If I look at the mass I will never act."
—Mother Teresa

It’s hard for people to relate to statistics and big numbers when hearing about disasters and people suffering. The question for advocates, and journalists, is how big is too big? Paul Slovic says the magic number is two.

In a study from the Decision Science Research Institute, Slovic and his team presented some people with the opportunity to donate to a starving girl named Rokia, and others to a starving boy named Moussa. People responded compassionately to their cause. He then presented a third group of people with the opportunity to donate to both Rokia and Moussa, helping both of them equally. Surprisingly, people were less likely to donate anything at all when they were presented with two starving children.

For New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, our guest on next week’s show, this has meant focusing on one person’s story. Devoted to raising awareness of human rights and poverty, he told Krista, “My job as a journalist is to find these larger issues that I want to address but then find some microcosm of it, some Rokia who can open those portals and hopefully get people to care.”

In the non-profit world, some organizations have found success by creating a model around this idea — child sponsorship organizations or Kiva, for example. Microfinance organizations weren’t new, but a model in which one could seemingly loan directly to an individual was. As a result, Kiva exploded onto the American donor scene. Even though in both of these cases donations aren’t going directly into the hands of the recipient, Kiva capitalized on the human instinct to take action to help one person in need. Organizations like DonorsChoose.org have used this same model to fund education projects within the United States.

It is not altogether shocking that we feel more compassion when we have relatable stories. But what stands out in Slovic’s paper is a study in which groups were either given the story of Rokia, a list of statistics, or the story of Rokia combined with more general statistics.

"Donations in response to the identified individual, Rokia, were far greater than donations in response to the statistical portrayal of the food crisis. Most important, however, and most discouraging, was the fact that coupling the statistical realities with Rokia’s story significantly reduced the contributions to Rokia. Alternatively, one could say that using Rokia’s story to ‘put a face behind the statistical problem’ did not do much to increase donations.”

And, this is one of the points Nicholas Kristof makes in next week’s show — how to make us care enough about massive, global tragedies to act.

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A New Generation, A Simple Revolution
Krista Tippett, host

Shane ClaiborneIn his book The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical, Shane Claiborne quotes the Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard: “The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.” Shane Claiborne has given himself over to finding and emulating “real Christians” — past and present — who “act accordingly.”

We’ve updated and refined our show with Shane Claiborne and re-released it in our podcast and on the radio because he has continued to grow in appeal and influence, even as the politicized Evangelical voices that dominated the news when I first interviewed him in 2007 have receded. We also supplemented this interview with a written Q&A update on his work and thinking that is fascinating and inspiring. I hear echoes of Shane Claiborne’s influence — or rather, echoes of the emerging universe of which he is a charismatic exemplar — in the recent decision of the Southern Baptist Convention to take on Christian responsibility for the natural world and climate in a whole new way. I am confirmed in my sense that he represents something larger than himself and his community when I speak with Evangelical leaders and hear from them that the evolving story of younger Evangelicals is scarcely being told.

And the story Shane Claiborne has to tell addresses a question I encountered in our culture in 2007 and continue to encounter today. Born of longing as much as curiosity, it goes something like this: How can we possibly move beyond the rancorous stalemate of our culture — the culture war divides into which even religion has fallen and which religion itself has inflamed?

Shane Claiborne’s life was at one time a kind of microcosm of that stalemate and is now a tale of contrast to it and life beyond it. It also illustrates how new generations — and others in “older generations” whom they are inspiring — are pragmatically redefining the meaning of a life well lived. He puts it succinctly, I think, when he says that he and his companions are less interested in what they will do — be a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher? — than in what kind of person they will be — what kind of doctor, lawyer, or teacher.

Shane Claiborne’s theological heart and mind were first captured by 40 homeless families in north Philadelphia who moved into an abandoned Catholic cathedral and were rewarded with an eviction notice. As he tells it, he and over 100 students from his Christian college, Eastern University, put their lives alongside them and helped catalyze a minor miracle. The media of Philadelphia was galvanized. People opened their homes. Section 8 housing was made available. In the end, all 40 families had found or been given a permanent place to live. And Shane Claiborne was set on fire by this experience of resurrecting the essence of Christianity quite literally, as St. Francis of Assisi said before him, in “the ruins of the church.”

In making this kind of connection, Shane Claiborne exhibits a capacity I’ve observed in others his age and younger — an ease of movement, in thought and conversation, between what is ancient and what is modern, what is local and what is global. It is almost as though they are not constrained by space and time as previous generations have been. They draw with immediacy, even intimacy, on the words and example of St Francis, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr. And they bring a 21st-century twist to a classic adage of how to be of help to needy others. So, Shane Claiborne says, his community gives people fish and also teaches them to fish. But beyond that, he adds, they are compelled to ask, “Who owns the pond? And who polluted it?”

One could certainly make the case that the culture wars, with a strong religious component, have not ended but simply assumed new forms. And yet, and still, maybe these New Monastics are as much a great story of our time, and ultimately more defining a force, than what will dominate the headlines today and tomorrow. I recall a conversation I had with Benedictine nun Joan Chittister (I’m sure she wouldn’t want to be called an “old monastic”) a good decade ago. She told me about St. Benedict, one of the founders of the entire monastic enterprise. Benedict had his share of problems in his day, the sixth century, including being poisoned and reviled by other religious people who didn’t like what he was up to. And Sister Joan pointed out to me that if you had observed him and his followers in the midst of the great historical drama of the Roman Empire of his time — one little community here, another there — you would never have guessed that they were starting a movement that would endure into the 21st century, and along the way keep European learning and civilization alive — from the margins — during Europe’s Dark Ages.

Happily for all of us, Shane Claiborne knows his history. Ask him if he thinks that the constellation of small communities he’s a part of can really change the world, and he’ll tell you that this is the only way it’s ever been done. The New Monastics are part of larger, important, and underreported stories of religion in the present, including the evolution and diversification of Evangelical Christianity, and the way in which young people are challenging “religion as usual” with their keen insistence on authenticity and spiritual depth.

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