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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.

Shane Claiborne: Interview with a New Monastic

Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer

Your community, The Simple Way, has expanded in the last several years, even in terms of physical space. What used to be one house is now six residences. I imagine life at The Simple Way has changed quite a bit. How has it changed from its humble beginnings?
Shane ClaiborneWe are turning into a little more of an intentional village than an intentional community. We had a big fire about four years ago that burned down our main house and community center, and it caused us to step back and think about where we are headed together. Instead of building back the center, we decided to buy up some of the abandoned and troubled houses on the block and grow into them — and to build a park on the old land where our houses used to be.

What’s cool is we are a little more decentralized and sprinkled in the neighborhood. It is less about a house on the corner with a bunch of missionaries and more about a neighborhood that is on a mission together. So now we still gather for prayer and meals, but it is just as much neighbors as “relocaters” to this neighborhood.

What’s it like living there now?
Growing a community is sort of like raising a kid; there are different stages. Each has its own charm and its own awkwardness. We continue to stay true to our original vision: “To love God, love people, and follow Jesus.” But now, we are not a bunch of young folks in one house. We like to say we are a web of subversive friends plotting goodness together with an open invite for new conspirators. In fact, you can have a bunch of folks living in a house and not have community, and you can have community without all living in one house. Things are still hubbed out of our neighborhood here in inner-city Philadelphia with the gardens and murals and open fire hydrants on hot days, but all sorts of stuff has been born, provoked, and inspired by the story here in Philly. I like to believe we are still committed to doing small things with great love. After all, Mother Teresa’s mantra has always been close to our heart: ‘We can do no great things, only small things with great love.’ What is important is not how much we do but how much love we put into doing it.

What’s gained and lost with this type of success and growth?
The world is infatuated with success and growth, bigger is better. So we started The Simple Way as a prophetic critique, calling ourselves a 501c3 anti-profit organization. I guess The Simple Way is less simple now. Ha ha ha. But no less fun. Now we just get to give more money away. We are helping to rebuild a hospital in Iraq that was bombed by the U.S. and that I visited again this year in January. Shane CaliborneWe have a football league now where young men are being mentored and learn character (and conflict management!) on the football field, with over 150 kids on a dozen teams, each sponsored by a local congregation. We still get to help kids with homework, but now we also get to see some of them beat the odds and actually make it through high school and even to college. So we are doing all sorts of new stuff in the neighborhood. And around the world.

We have a magazine now called Consp!re magazine and a directory of communities called Community of Communities. I suppose the great thing is it really does feel like a movement. After all, we are not spreading a brand or a franchise but just want people to inspire each other to live meaningful lives that are not centered around themselves but around God and neighbor. Just as important as choosing a campaign or issue or cause, it is important to choose relationships with real people. We will not “Make Poverty History” until we “Make Poverty Personal.” And, unfortunately, it is often more popular to talk about poor folks as it is to talk with poor folks.

You cited Martin Luther King Jr. in a previous conversation with Krista: “‘We’re called to be the Good Samaritan and lift our neighbor out of the ditch.’ But after you lift so many people out of the ditch, you start to say, ‘Maybe the whole road to Jericho needs to be transformed.’” What does that road look like today in terms of a sustainable, self-reliant community?
Yeah, we can’t just swat at the mosquitoes, we have to do something about the swamp that is producing them. As long as we uncritically care for victims, the systems will continue to produce victims. That’s why charity has to lead to justice, otherwise we just end up accommodating injustice with our philanthropy and volunteerism. In fact, sometimes charity is a way we quell our guilt but do little to change our lifestyle, much less challenge systemic injustice or take on the principalities and powers.

As we mature, we get to ask new questions, deeper fundamental questions about poverty and violence — and not just respond to the symptoms. For a while we were giving people food, then we started asking why people are hungry. You know the old give someone a fish and they eat for a day, teach them to fish they eat for their life — and then there is more. You start saying, “Who owns the pond?” “Who polluted the pond?” “Why does a fishing license cost so stinking much?”

The great thing about community is that we can feel like we are part of something bigger and more holistic than ourselves. We are more together than any of us is on our own. Some folks will love feeding people. Others will love tearing down the gates around the pond. Regardless, we celebrate that each is critically important and incomplete without the other.

One of the things we have really wrestled with this year is the gun violence. In 2006, guns murdered 27 people in Australia, 59 folks in England, 190 folks in Canada, and 10,177 people in the U.S. We have nearly one homicide every 48 hours in Philly. So we are trying to teach kids conflict resolution and nonviolence as we see it exemplified in Jesus and the cross. And eventually, after you hold a kid as he bleeds from gunshot wounds, as I did a few months ago, you also start to ask, “Where are they getting the guns?” And the answer is that there are a few notorious irresponsible gun shops in Philadelphia. So we have begun to approach the owners asking them to sign a voluntary code of responsible business that our mayor and 300 other mayors insist would decrease gun violence. When they refuse, we have gathered outside the gun shops and held vigils and prayer services, even direct action putting our bodies in the way of the trafficking of guns. And it seems to be working; the worst gun shop in Philadelphia closed down last year, but we have many more to go.

We also see things like the bio-diesel coop creating jobs for formerly homeless folks. It’s all about having imagination and creativity as we interact with the patterns of injustice and oppression.

You travel and speak quite a bit, and you’ve been invited to speak in a dozen countries in the upcoming year. What are you learning from other communities that you’re taking back to The Simple Way?
It’s funny. Four years ago when I wrote my first book, the publisher said, “Social justice books don’t really sell, but we like yours because you don’t argue people into social issues. You story people in.” Now after about half a million sales, it seems like I get a social justice book every few weeks to do a foreword or cover-blurb for. There is a new Christianity emerging in post-religious right America. And it is arising from a generation that is convinced that we cannot settle for a Christianity that uses our faith as a ticket into heaven and an excuse to ignore the hells around us. And it comes from a growing movement of Christians that not only care about people, but are genuinely and intimately in love with Jesus. People care about the fragile world we live in. They are reading the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other and asking, ‘How does my faith affect the way I live?’

Can you share a story that illuminates what you’re learning?
Shane ClaiborneWhat’s beautiful is there are many different expressions. Protestants and Catholics are living together in Northern Ireland. Black and white South Africans are raising their kids together outside Johannesburg. Israeli and Palestinian Christians are fighting the home demolitions together. Christians along the U.S. border have created sanctuary houses in places like Arizona and are helping folks get proper documentation and confront terrible laws (We even met folks that had organized worship services along the wall with Christians living on both sides serving each other communion by throwing it over the wall.). That is what I see. Christians living with brilliant courage and creativity and whose faith causes them to engage the world and the injustices facing our world.

I am excited as I see these sorts of communities because they catch people’s attention. And I believe the Gospel spreads best not through force but through fascination. In the past few decades, much of Christianity has become less and less fascinating to the world. But I see so many signs that this is changing, and there is a whole new crop of Christians that are reading the words of Jesus and asking, “What if he really meant the stuff he said?”

Conversely, faced with these commitments that take you away from Philadelphia and The Simple Way community, how do you stay connected to the people you care about and love? What have you learned from them as your stature has grown publicly?
Actually one of the things that’s really hilarious is seeing neighbors who I’ve known for years stumble across a story I’ve done in Esquire magazine or see me on CNN and come over hooting and hollering. The cool thing is, after we laugh it off, we go right back to jumping in the fire hydrants or weeding the garden. Shane Claiborne at Eastern UniversityOne of my favorite moments this year was getting to take a ton of my neighbors along with my family from Tennessee to commencement at Eastern University where I got an honorary doctorate. It was the most beautiful site to see kids I had mentored, and had seen grow up, with my mom and pop and some of my favorite scholars. Then a couple of weeks later I got to go with kids here to the high school graduation around the corner and celebrate them. There are lots of heroes here.

In the end, community keeps you pretty grounded. People who know you well are not overly impressed by you. Ha ha ha. I have a quote on my wall that says:

Dear God, forgive me for thinking too highly of myself.
Dear God, forgive me for thinking too lowly of myself.
Dear God, forgive me for thinking of myself too much.

Is it vital that you stay grounded in The Simple Way community so that your message stays true to how you’re actually living? How does this message deepen as you live and work?
We are always tempted to abandon the small things in pursuit of the big things — to leave community for the sake of the movement or to leave the grassroots to lobby on Capitol Hill. There are book deals and TV shows and clothing lines. Oh my… We can convince ourselves that there are more important things to do than help Tyreek with his homework or sit on the steps and listen to Betty talk about her husband beating her up again. But those are the important things.

As I look at Jesus, one thing that strikes me is how He is constantly present with pain and struggles around him. The Gospels are filled with interruptions and surprises — someone whose daughter just died, a party that ran out of wine, someone pulling on his shirt or asking him for something. He lives in those interruptions, the very things we don’t have time for and try to squeeze out of our predictable routinized lives.

Shane ClaiborneI love trying to connect my public vocation with my life in the neighborhood. I’ve gotten to travel with families here and take homeless folks to Yosemite as I travel. And I continue to try to have integrity with how I travel — having folks offset the carbon footprint and insisting on staying in homes not hotels so I get to meet real people and save real money. Ha ha ha. I am grateful for a community that supports me as I do that.

I also find it utterly important not to think too highly of ourselves if God should graciously use us. One of my friends has reminded me that there is a story in the Old Testament where God spoke through a donkey. He says, “God spoke to Balaam through his ass, and God has been speaking through asses ever since.”

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StoryCorps Moms: Lourdes and Roger Villanueva
Shubha Bala, associate producer

"I knew that we didn’t have wealth to leave you guys. So I always thought that my responsibility was to leave you a legacy of honesty, integrity, and education."

This story reminded me of my own grandmothers who, having been forced to drop out of grade school to get married, both taught themselves how to read so that they could help motivate their own children to obtain the education they did not get themselves. This is a story that is echoed by so many mothers — working hard to be something, solely to help their children achieve a life they did not have.

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Reconciling “Intrusive Paternalism” and “Soft Power”

Andy Dayton, associate web producer

"This is not a natural disaster story. This is a poverty story."

Last Friday, Krista sent around David Brooks’ recent editorial on the disaster in Haiti. As the quote above suggests, he discusses the connection between the scale of damage in Haiti and the nation’s “poorly constructed buildings, bad infrastructure and terrible public services.”

One of the many questions the situation in Haiti raises is how those in wealthier nations can help prevent this sort of catastrophe in the future. Brooks provides his own diagnosis on effective foreign aid, based on a few domestic examples:

In [the U.S.], we first tried to tackle poverty by throwing money at it, just as we did abroad. Then we tried microcommunity efforts, just as we did abroad. But the programs that really work involve intrusive paternalism.

These programs, like the Harlem Children’s Zone and the No Excuses schools, are led by people who figure they don’t understand all the factors that have contributed to poverty, but they don’t care. They are going to replace parts of the local culture with a highly demanding, highly intensive culture of achievement — involving everything from new child-rearing practices to stricter schools to better job performance.

It’s time to take that approach abroad, too. It’s time to find self-confident local leaders who will create No Excuses countercultures in places like Haiti, surrounding people — maybe just in a neighborhood or a school — with middle-class assumptions, an achievement ethos and tough, measurable demands.

As I read this, I couldn’t help but hear Binyavanga Wainaina’s voice in the back of my mind, whom Krista spoke to in our program "The Ethics of Aid: One Kenyan’s Perspective." Wainaina is a Kenyan writer who has often been a vocal critic of foreign aid:

A lot of people arrive in Africa to assume that it’s a blank empty space and their goodwill and desire and guilt will fix it. And that to me is not any different from the first people who arrived and colonized us. This power, this power to help, is just about as dangerous as hard power, because very often it arrives with a kind of zeal that is assuming ‘I will do it. I will solve it for you. I will fix it for you,’ and it rides roughshod over your own best efforts.

I find Brooks’ call for “intrusive paternalism” hard to reconcile with Wainaina’s warnings about the “soft power” of foreign aid. But, the question still remains — what can we do to help prevent another Haiti?

One possible answer to that question comes from next week’s guest, Jacqueline Novogratz, who speaks of an approach to foreign aid that uses “a hard head and a soft heart.” She’s the CEO and founder of the Acumen Fund, which aims to combine the economic accountability of venture capital with the human-centric concerns of traditional philanthropy — an approach that is innovative, but also comes with its own questions.

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It would be harder for a Lao person to be without a family or community than to be without a job…
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— Sarah Zwier, on living and working with Hmong communities in Laos. Read her essay she submitted as part of our series on the moral and spiritual aspects of the economic downturn.

Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

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Eleanor Roosevelt on Noblesse Oblige
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

This 1959 interview with the former first lady surprised me. Introduced as the “archetype of the twentieth-century woman,” Ms. Roosevelt’s plain-spoken manner and repetitive use of the word “obligation” caught me off-guard. In our recent RV conversation with Elliot Dorff, the rabbi was adamant that we shouldn’t view helping others in need as a duty.

My first reaction was to equate “duty” and “obligation.” That was the wrong approach. Listening more deeply, I hear Ms. Roosevelt use “obligation” in the same sense that Rabbi Dorff uses “responsibility.” She speaks with a sense of doing what’s right, of being moral as a shared sense of justice.

I had thought of noblesse oblige as a literary concept, a convention intended to give flesh to fictional characters of another time, of another place, of Faulkner and Flaubert. And, even now, 50 years later, I contemplate if this idea still exists within the wealthier classes who have privilege and position — at least the idea in its humbler sense, without self-congratulation and self-aggrandizement.

Perhaps with the loss of so much wealth in the U.S. and internationally, we collectively might rediscover the best of this manner of conduct. What’s being done in the spirit of noblesse oblige nowadays that just isn’t being covered because of its quiet, serving nature? I wonder.

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Repossessing Virtue: Katie Ford on Poetry, Katrina, and Wasting One’s Life
» download (mp3, 17:21)
Larissa Anderson, Poetry Producer

Poet Katie FordI used to teach The Grapes of Wrath, and I remember it was such a strain on my students’ imaginations. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Joad family these past few months, with the staggering the numbers of people losing jobs, and collecting unemployment, and I wonder how the Joads’ experience can offer some insight into the current economic crisis.

Honestly, it feels like a strain on my imagination to think about how the Joads endured. They lived on lard, flour, and potatoes. (The potatoes I can figure out, but I don’t even know what I would do with lard and flour.) They lost everything except what they could pack in their truck, along with over a dozen people — some too old to live through that kind of journey — and drove, slowly, across the country to find a job, to survive.

I invited Katie Ford to join Speaking of Faith's conversation about the current economic environment. She studied theology at Harvard University, and she studied poetry at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She’s just come out with a new book titled Colosseum; it’s a collection of poems about Hurricane Katrina and the devastation it left behind.

In our conversation, Katie Ford talked about turning to literature to find wisdom and comfort during times like this. She looks to James Wright, a poet who grew up during the Depression in a working-class family and knew what it meant to struggle through economic turmoil. She mentioned one of his poems, “In Terror of Hospital Bills,” and talked at length about some of his most well-known poems like "A Blessing" and "Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota."

We thought this might be an ideal time to ask you about poetry and its role in your life. What poems and/or poets are you turning to in this economic environment? What insight are they offering you? Share your story in the comments section below or, if you prefer, write us here.

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Repossessing Virtue: David Hilfiker on Strengthening and Liberating the Poor
» download (mp3, 10:41)
Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer

We last spoke to Dr. David Hilfiker in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when he gave insight into the issue of poverty and its modern history. We’re hearing from him again after several years and, although much has changed, Hilfiker’s message about caring for the poor has remained consistent. He discusses how poverty is as much of an issue now as it ever has been, and how the current economic situation might provide an opportunity to renew a social contract between the affluent and the needy.

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Wise Words from the “Old Ones” of New Mexico

by Trent Gilliss, Senior Editor

There’s a certain amount of serendipity that offers itself to any person who works on SOF. But I have to be open to it, to be able to acknowledge that chance connection or a life lesson is often garnered during a pause rather than while railing to meet a deadline. This is my pause.

While writing an entry on Robert Coles’ book, The Old Ones of New Mexico, for our particulars page for “The Inner Lives of Children,” I re-read a profile about Señor and Señora Gallegos, owners of a small rural market known simply as “The Store.” I was looking for quotes on the relationship between children and their grandparents. What I discovered were threads of wisdom for living a virtuous life as a businessperson during these economic times.

Our series on the spiritual and moral aspects of the economic downturn is called "Repossessing Virtue." Perhaps we here got that title wrong. Perhaps virtue isn’t a matter of ‘possession’ at all but a series of tiny, indiscrete moments of character that emanates from within. You can no more own it than you can cage an electron. In my bones, I know that Señor Gallegos understands this better than most:

"The people near here like to come by every day. Some mothers send their husbands to the store each morning before breakfast. No wonder I have to be ready for them; they expect me to know by heart what they will be asking for. And why not? After all these years I’d be of no use if I couldn’t predict what my customers want and need. Still, with age one has to think a little harder. So, about six-thirty I am picturing the men, and looking at the shelves to see that I have what they’ll come for. Usually they don’t even have to talk much when they enter. I look at them and go for the milk or some cereal or some cans—and of course, I have the doughnuts near the coffee. They put the money for the doughnuts in the glass jar; that is separate. The rest I ring up.

"We charge more than the big markets in the city. We must. We don’t get to buy at the low prices a chain of stores can make the wholesale people set. Maybe one day there will be no stores like ours left. I apologize all the time to my customers. I tell them that if they would only drive twenty miles, they could do better. I know that some storekeepers like me have a fine time bleeding their customers—the people who can’t travel or are in a hurry for something. But it is not in me to run that kind of business. I am too old to do a dance because I squeezed an extra nickel here, and a quarter there, out of some neighbors of mine. I would have nightmares, thinking of what they wished me: a long stretch in Hell. And I would belong there!

"The older I become, the more I think of others. Have I been a good husband and father? Will my friends think well of me when the casket with me in it moves down the street toward the cemetery? What will my cousins and my nephews and nieces and neighbors and customers think when they stand there and see me put to rest: ‘He is a scoundrel who took away from the poor and cheated people by touching the scale with his hand and raised prices far beyond what was fair?’ or ‘He did the best he could, and tried to be honest, and had a smile on his face most of the time?’ I cannot say for sure; maybe I have been more thoughtless and rude than I will ever know. When God gives you the extra time he has given me, it may be because he expects you to examine yourself very closely, and think about what you have done wrong. I know that when I was younger I worried about money: I wanted there to be some for our old age. Back then I thought: If we live to be sixty-five, or seventy, we will be lucky, and we will no doubt be weak and so our son will have to run the store all by himself. But we lived longer, and here I am, still opening the store, so that my son can have a decent sleep, and see his children off to school.

"I didn’t grow rich; nor will my son. He would like to make more money, I know. He resembles me: he is torn between the desire to make money for his wife and children, and a great loyalty to our customers. How can you take more than is due you—especially when you know you are lucky to have the store and live comfortably as you do, and many of your customers aren’t at all in the same shoes? I have no answers; I wish everyone in the world had enough to eat, good clothes, and a roof that doesn’t leak over their heads. I tell our priest all the time that it is no joy, taking money from people who don’t have much, and who work so hard for the little they do have. He slaps me on the back and tells me that it is not me or Señora Gallegos or our son who are the enemies of the poor. He tells me about other stores he knows of, from his past work: the owners are politicians, and they push the people around and take every cent they can get. I feel good, hearing him speak well of me, but I still worry: God must know that I have had my moments of greed.

"There have been people I have not liked, and they have pushed me hard: Why do you charge such high prices? Why do you try to bleed us? I have tried to answer: it is trying and lonely running a store like this one, and if I give everything away, I will have to beg myself, rather than run the store. But I can hold firm; no one will knock me down, not when I think I am in the right. Sometimes I feel ready to fight; and sometimes I have said to myself, ‘Take all you can get, because they are the mean ones, and they will only respect a man who is as mean as they are.’ And you know, that is true: there are people on this earth who have contempt for a man who tries to be generous; he is seen as a fool, or up to some clever trick. That is God’s way—to put many different kinds of people here, and let us all prove ourselves to him."

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Repossessing Virtue: Humility Is the Basis of My New Faith Jessica Sundheim, Guest Contributor

Editor’s note: We asked our listeners and readers to tell us their stories about the moral and spiritual aspects of the economic downturn. In the coming months, we’ll be featuring some of these on SOF Observed an as part of our First Person project, "Repossessing Virtue."
Jessica Sundheim reminds us that personal transformation and understanding happens at any age. She kicks off this first person exploration, and continues our series of interviews with wise voices, including Martin Marty, Prabhu Guptara, Esther Sternberg, Rachel Naomi Remen, and others to come.

Since I was very young, like just about everyone I know, I had a strong mechanism deep within that could smell injustice, layer upon layer of it. I knew at age three that going to daycare sucked, and I knew that my peers were favored because we were cared for by their mother. However, the complexity of greater social injustices didn’t really begin to sink in until I turned 25. Before then I think of myself as a protestor/whiner. I saw the injustice at face value and whined about it. Growing up on poverty and years of watching PBS documentaries of war demonstrations, the liberation of concentration camps, civil rights marches, The Wonder Years, and listening to my parents old LP’s of The Beatles and Janice Joplin had left their mark.The tragedy of 9/11 took place just weeks after my 23rd birthday. It was shaking, like someone had struck a chord that had resonated for years and then on 9/11 someone struck a new chord, a chord no one knew. I quit my job to stay home with my kids. I flew home to Tennessee with my toddler and eight-month-old baby to visit family. We bought a new car. We waited. I was ready to act, but no direction came. I also began to seek out spiritual renewal and joined a very fundamentalist Bible study. Soon, my car was tuned to a different station, one that focused on my family and my role in it instead of news and the world. My head was filled with directives to isolate, seclude my young, and become as perfect as possible. My goal was to be Jesus Christ and to get everyone else to be just like me.
The mechanism that smelled injustice began to be tweaked. “Could it really be injustice if the person isn’t a Christian? God works for the good of those who believe in him.” Personal behavior and faith status became the stick with which I measured out those who suffered for no cause of their own and those who deserved it. No longer a sheep in the flock, I wasn’t even the shepherd; I was the butcher, me and about 5 million others. So when the war that I had been fated to protest for years came, I was blinded by a belief system that mandated an eye for an eye.My belief system had little sympathy or compassion for people who could not control their sinful nature. I didn’t even believe in funding public schools, or that women should work outside the home. Our society was falling apart because of working women, sex, Godless public education, taxes, and fast food. I really, really believed in this.Shortly after 9/11 my husband became the director of an environmental learning center. Two years later, when the funding was cut and the center folded my life changed. I started a cleaning business at seven months pregnant because no business would hire me, and I got a job as a coordinator for an after school program (in a public school). I also became vehemently opposed to any business that would have the audacity to discriminate against a pregnant woman.My husband worked endlessly. He had three jobs. He went to tutor at the school at 3:00 p.m., from there he went to his overnight factory job at 6 p.m. He got home after working an 11-hour shift at 5 a.m. At 9 a.m., after four hours of sleep, he went on call as an EMT with the local ambulance service. He could still catch some sleep if he didn’t get a call. Without the paycheck that we had become accustomed to, public school began to look like a good deal, my dream of home schooling was fading. Something I had railed against for years (welfare) began to look like a social safety net. I’ll never forget the time I was at a Christian women’s meeting and the director of the food shelf leaned over and said, “You can go to the food shelf so many times per year. You should go.” She squeezed the life out of my hand, as if to say if you don’t go I’ll hurt you. I went.I’ll never forget that experience. I, a hard working, educated, sober, business woman was going to a food shelf! The people were so nice. The form was one page, about five questions. I thought we’d get enough food for one meal, but I had to pull my car around so that I could unload box after box into my car. We were given so much, I couldn’t fit it all in my cupboards. We ate every last can of tuna, box of instant potatoes, and even SPAM with relish.Humility is the basis of my new faith.I do not look at the state of our country’s economy as a crisis in the same way as most. The state of affairs is an opportunity, in many ways. I still have a sense of justice, and so I think that someone should pay for the frivolous, machismo, arrogant politics and policies of the last 15 years. But, I know that for the most part the powerless, not the propagator, will suffer most in this mess.
However, poverty for me is no longer a judgment handed down to the lazy, uneducated, drunken, egocentric sloth. I no longer define poverty by neighborhood, class, education, or even bank account. Poverty is to lack the ability to help others as one would want to help oneself. Poverty is the inability to forgive — the blind, misinformed faith that isolates and secludes a person from joy, self-forgiveness, compassion, and love for one’s neighbor.Our family has gone through a financial crisis much like what the country is facing now. We have learned a lot and I feel that we are better off. The leadership I am looking for at this time is a leadership that believes in everyday people. Leadership that doesn’t look at the person’s bank account or position of status to find value, but instead a leadership that understands the inherent value of every citizen of this country. A leadership that doesn’t seclude or isolate, but reaches out to all of us and in turn gives some useful direction, a map.What am I doing differently? I am no longer a secluded housewife. My kids go to school. We moved to a new community. I am grateful for welfare, food stamps, and Medicare even though we no longer use them. The food shelf still rocks. Involved in my local political party, I fought hard for a candidate with real vision as a delegate to the DFL state convention. (I am the former chairperson for the Big Stone County Republican Party). For the last year I worked two jobs, helped plan a fundraiser, door knocked for Barack, had a house party, marched in a lawn chair brigade in many parades for my local candidate for Minnesota House Seat 10A. As the volunteer coordinator for A Center for the Arts, I naturally voted “yes” on the constitutional amendment.
I find wisdom at a unique church. The church is actually two churches, United Church of Christ and a Presbyterian church, which came together to worship in the same house when a tornado blew through town almost a hundred years ago. The six of us live in a two-bedroom house on the tracks in the “ghetto” of Fergus Falls, and I let the kids play with the neighbors. I could not be more different, or any further from my old idea of “perfection.”I find leadership in my elders, veterans, the people who grew up during the Great Depression, and my grandmother. I also look for ways to be of use. I find spiritual renewal in many forms of art, but my favorite is dance. I enjoy other’s points of view and I don’t always know mine. I like collaborating.I once called into an MPR pledge drive during SOF to protest the show and withdraw my membership. I am sorry. Now, I want to tell you thank you. This [essay] is humongous, but it’s been a journey and I wouldn’t be the person I am now without having listened to the different ideas and perspectives (especially an interview with an Evangelical fundamentalist a few years back). Your show makes a difference, so I look forward to tuning in.
Jessica Sundheim was born during the Carter administration and lives in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.
Repossessing Virtue: Humility Is the Basis of My New Faith Jessica Sundheim, Guest Contributor

Editor’s note: We asked our listeners and readers to tell us their stories about the moral and spiritual aspects of the economic downturn. In the coming months, we’ll be featuring some of these on SOF Observed an as part of our First Person project, "Repossessing Virtue."
Jessica Sundheim reminds us that personal transformation and understanding happens at any age. She kicks off this first person exploration, and continues our series of interviews with wise voices, including Martin Marty, Prabhu Guptara, Esther Sternberg, Rachel Naomi Remen, and others to come.

Since I was very young, like just about everyone I know, I had a strong mechanism deep within that could smell injustice, layer upon layer of it. I knew at age three that going to daycare sucked, and I knew that my peers were favored because we were cared for by their mother. However, the complexity of greater social injustices didn’t really begin to sink in until I turned 25. Before then I think of myself as a protestor/whiner. I saw the injustice at face value and whined about it. Growing up on poverty and years of watching PBS documentaries of war demonstrations, the liberation of concentration camps, civil rights marches, The Wonder Years, and listening to my parents old LP’s of The Beatles and Janice Joplin had left their mark.The tragedy of 9/11 took place just weeks after my 23rd birthday. It was shaking, like someone had struck a chord that had resonated for years and then on 9/11 someone struck a new chord, a chord no one knew. I quit my job to stay home with my kids. I flew home to Tennessee with my toddler and eight-month-old baby to visit family. We bought a new car. We waited. I was ready to act, but no direction came. I also began to seek out spiritual renewal and joined a very fundamentalist Bible study. Soon, my car was tuned to a different station, one that focused on my family and my role in it instead of news and the world. My head was filled with directives to isolate, seclude my young, and become as perfect as possible. My goal was to be Jesus Christ and to get everyone else to be just like me.
The mechanism that smelled injustice began to be tweaked. “Could it really be injustice if the person isn’t a Christian? God works for the good of those who believe in him.” Personal behavior and faith status became the stick with which I measured out those who suffered for no cause of their own and those who deserved it. No longer a sheep in the flock, I wasn’t even the shepherd; I was the butcher, me and about 5 million others. So when the war that I had been fated to protest for years came, I was blinded by a belief system that mandated an eye for an eye.My belief system had little sympathy or compassion for people who could not control their sinful nature. I didn’t even believe in funding public schools, or that women should work outside the home. Our society was falling apart because of working women, sex, Godless public education, taxes, and fast food. I really, really believed in this.Shortly after 9/11 my husband became the director of an environmental learning center. Two years later, when the funding was cut and the center folded my life changed. I started a cleaning business at seven months pregnant because no business would hire me, and I got a job as a coordinator for an after school program (in a public school). I also became vehemently opposed to any business that would have the audacity to discriminate against a pregnant woman.My husband worked endlessly. He had three jobs. He went to tutor at the school at 3:00 p.m., from there he went to his overnight factory job at 6 p.m. He got home after working an 11-hour shift at 5 a.m. At 9 a.m., after four hours of sleep, he went on call as an EMT with the local ambulance service. He could still catch some sleep if he didn’t get a call. Without the paycheck that we had become accustomed to, public school began to look like a good deal, my dream of home schooling was fading. Something I had railed against for years (welfare) began to look like a social safety net. I’ll never forget the time I was at a Christian women’s meeting and the director of the food shelf leaned over and said, “You can go to the food shelf so many times per year. You should go.” She squeezed the life out of my hand, as if to say if you don’t go I’ll hurt you. I went.I’ll never forget that experience. I, a hard working, educated, sober, business woman was going to a food shelf! The people were so nice. The form was one page, about five questions. I thought we’d get enough food for one meal, but I had to pull my car around so that I could unload box after box into my car. We were given so much, I couldn’t fit it all in my cupboards. We ate every last can of tuna, box of instant potatoes, and even SPAM with relish.Humility is the basis of my new faith.I do not look at the state of our country’s economy as a crisis in the same way as most. The state of affairs is an opportunity, in many ways. I still have a sense of justice, and so I think that someone should pay for the frivolous, machismo, arrogant politics and policies of the last 15 years. But, I know that for the most part the powerless, not the propagator, will suffer most in this mess.
However, poverty for me is no longer a judgment handed down to the lazy, uneducated, drunken, egocentric sloth. I no longer define poverty by neighborhood, class, education, or even bank account. Poverty is to lack the ability to help others as one would want to help oneself. Poverty is the inability to forgive — the blind, misinformed faith that isolates and secludes a person from joy, self-forgiveness, compassion, and love for one’s neighbor.Our family has gone through a financial crisis much like what the country is facing now. We have learned a lot and I feel that we are better off. The leadership I am looking for at this time is a leadership that believes in everyday people. Leadership that doesn’t look at the person’s bank account or position of status to find value, but instead a leadership that understands the inherent value of every citizen of this country. A leadership that doesn’t seclude or isolate, but reaches out to all of us and in turn gives some useful direction, a map.What am I doing differently? I am no longer a secluded housewife. My kids go to school. We moved to a new community. I am grateful for welfare, food stamps, and Medicare even though we no longer use them. The food shelf still rocks. Involved in my local political party, I fought hard for a candidate with real vision as a delegate to the DFL state convention. (I am the former chairperson for the Big Stone County Republican Party). For the last year I worked two jobs, helped plan a fundraiser, door knocked for Barack, had a house party, marched in a lawn chair brigade in many parades for my local candidate for Minnesota House Seat 10A. As the volunteer coordinator for A Center for the Arts, I naturally voted “yes” on the constitutional amendment.
I find wisdom at a unique church. The church is actually two churches, United Church of Christ and a Presbyterian church, which came together to worship in the same house when a tornado blew through town almost a hundred years ago. The six of us live in a two-bedroom house on the tracks in the “ghetto” of Fergus Falls, and I let the kids play with the neighbors. I could not be more different, or any further from my old idea of “perfection.”I find leadership in my elders, veterans, the people who grew up during the Great Depression, and my grandmother. I also look for ways to be of use. I find spiritual renewal in many forms of art, but my favorite is dance. I enjoy other’s points of view and I don’t always know mine. I like collaborating.I once called into an MPR pledge drive during SOF to protest the show and withdraw my membership. I am sorry. Now, I want to tell you thank you. This [essay] is humongous, but it’s been a journey and I wouldn’t be the person I am now without having listened to the different ideas and perspectives (especially an interview with an Evangelical fundamentalist a few years back). Your show makes a difference, so I look forward to tuning in.
Jessica Sundheim was born during the Carter administration and lives in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.

Repossessing Virtue: Humility Is the Basis of My New Faith
Jessica Sundheim, Guest Contributor

Editor’s note: We asked our listeners and readers to tell us their stories about the moral and spiritual aspects of the economic downturn. In the coming months, we’ll be featuring some of these on SOF Observed an as part of our First Person project, "Repossessing Virtue."

Jessica Sundheim reminds us that personal transformation and understanding happens at any age. She kicks off this first person exploration, and continues our series of interviews with wise voices, including Martin Marty, Prabhu Guptara, Esther Sternberg, Rachel Naomi Remen, and others to come.

Since I was very young, like just about everyone I know, I had a strong mechanism deep within that could smell injustice, layer upon layer of it. I knew at age three that going to daycare sucked, and I knew that my peers were favored because we were cared for by their mother. However, the complexity of greater social injustices didn’t really begin to sink in until I turned 25. Before then I think of myself as a protestor/whiner. I saw the injustice at face value and whined about it. Growing up on poverty and years of watching PBS documentaries of war demonstrations, the liberation of concentration camps, civil rights marches, The Wonder Years, and listening to my parents old LP’s of The Beatles and Janice Joplin had left their mark.

The tragedy of 9/11 took place just weeks after my 23rd birthday. It was shaking, like someone had struck a chord that had resonated for years and then on 9/11 someone struck a new chord, a chord no one knew. I quit my job to stay home with my kids. I flew home to Tennessee with my toddler and eight-month-old baby to visit family. We bought a new car. We waited. I was ready to act, but no direction came. I also began to seek out spiritual renewal and joined a very fundamentalist Bible study. Soon, my car was tuned to a different station, one that focused on my family and my role in it instead of news and the world. My head was filled with directives to isolate, seclude my young, and become as perfect as possible. My goal was to be Jesus Christ and to get everyone else to be just like me.

The mechanism that smelled injustice began to be tweaked. “Could it really be injustice if the person isn’t a Christian? God works for the good of those who believe in him.” Personal behavior and faith status became the stick with which I measured out those who suffered for no cause of their own and those who deserved it. No longer a sheep in the flock, I wasn’t even the shepherd; I was the butcher, me and about 5 million others. So when the war that I had been fated to protest for years came, I was blinded by a belief system that mandated an eye for an eye.

My belief system had little sympathy or compassion for people who could not control their sinful nature. I didn’t even believe in funding public schools, or that women should work outside the home. Our society was falling apart because of working women, sex, Godless public education, taxes, and fast food. I really, really believed in this.

Shortly after 9/11 my husband became the director of an environmental learning center. Two years later, when the funding was cut and the center folded my life changed. I started a cleaning business at seven months pregnant because no business would hire me, and I got a job as a coordinator for an after school program (in a public school). I also became vehemently opposed to any business that would have the audacity to discriminate against a pregnant woman.

My husband worked endlessly. He had three jobs. He went to tutor at the school at 3:00 p.m., from there he went to his overnight factory job at 6 p.m. He got home after working an 11-hour shift at 5 a.m. At 9 a.m., after four hours of sleep, he went on call as an EMT with the local ambulance service. He could still catch some sleep if he didn’t get a call. Without the paycheck that we had become accustomed to, public school began to look like a good deal, my dream of home schooling was fading. Something I had railed against for years (welfare) began to look like a social safety net. I’ll never forget the time I was at a Christian women’s meeting and the director of the food shelf leaned over and said, “You can go to the food shelf so many times per year. You should go.” She squeezed the life out of my hand, as if to say if you don’t go I’ll hurt you. I went.

I’ll never forget that experience. I, a hard working, educated, sober, business woman was going to a food shelf! The people were so nice. The form was one page, about five questions. I thought we’d get enough food for one meal, but I had to pull my car around so that I could unload box after box into my car. We were given so much, I couldn’t fit it all in my cupboards. We ate every last can of tuna, box of instant potatoes, and even SPAM with relish.

Humility is the basis of my new faith.

I do not look at the state of our country’s economy as a crisis in the same way as most. The state of affairs is an opportunity, in many ways. I still have a sense of justice, and so I think that someone should pay for the frivolous, machismo, arrogant politics and policies of the last 15 years. But, I know that for the most part the powerless, not the propagator, will suffer most in this mess.

However, poverty for me is no longer a judgment handed down to the lazy, uneducated, drunken, egocentric sloth. I no longer define poverty by neighborhood, class, education, or even bank account. Poverty is to lack the ability to help others as one would want to help oneself. Poverty is the inability to forgive — the blind, misinformed faith that isolates and secludes a person from joy, self-forgiveness, compassion, and love for one’s neighbor.

Our family has gone through a financial crisis much like what the country is facing now. We have learned a lot and I feel that we are better off. The leadership I am looking for at this time is a leadership that believes in everyday people. Leadership that doesn’t look at the person’s bank account or position of status to find value, but instead a leadership that understands the inherent value of every citizen of this country. A leadership that doesn’t seclude or isolate, but reaches out to all of us and in turn gives some useful direction, a map.

What am I doing differently? I am no longer a secluded housewife. My kids go to school. We moved to a new community. I am grateful for welfare, food stamps, and Medicare even though we no longer use them. The food shelf still rocks. Involved in my local political party, I fought hard for a candidate with real vision as a delegate to the DFL state convention. (I am the former chairperson for the Big Stone County Republican Party). For the last year I worked two jobs, helped plan a fundraiser, door knocked for Barack, had a house party, marched in a lawn chair brigade in many parades for my local candidate for Minnesota House Seat 10A. As the volunteer coordinator for A Center for the Arts, I naturally voted “yes” on the constitutional amendment.

I find wisdom at a unique church. The church is actually two churches, United Church of Christ and a Presbyterian church, which came together to worship in the same house when a tornado blew through town almost a hundred years ago. The six of us live in a two-bedroom house on the tracks in the “ghetto” of Fergus Falls, and I let the kids play with the neighbors. I could not be more different, or any further from my old idea of “perfection.”

I find leadership in my elders, veterans, the people who grew up during the Great Depression, and my grandmother. I also look for ways to be of use. I find spiritual renewal in many forms of art, but my favorite is dance. I enjoy other’s points of view and I don’t always know mine. I like collaborating.

I once called into an MPR pledge drive during SOF to protest the show and withdraw my membership. I am sorry. Now, I want to tell you thank you. This [essay] is humongous, but it’s been a journey and I wouldn’t be the person I am now without having listened to the different ideas and perspectives (especially an interview with an Evangelical fundamentalist a few years back). Your show makes a difference, so I look forward to tuning in.

Jessica Sundheim was born during the Carter administration and lives in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.

Comments

"How Not to Help the Poor"
Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer

We’ve been talking about doing a program about the ethics of aid for a while now (Trent first wrote about it here in early June). I’ve been looking forward to this one since it was first discussed at one of our production meetings, and it’s looking like the production wheels will finally start turning relatively soon; next week Krista has interviews with Katherine Marshall and Binyavanga Wainaina.

Until then, take a peek at the above video. The angle is a bit different — we’re looking for a broader international view, this video is about U.S. domestic aid from a primarily Christian perspective — but it’s still based on the same general question: when do charity and aid help, and when are they counterproductive?

UPDATE: You can now to the program mentioned in this post, The Ethics of Aid: One Kenyan’s Perspecive.

Comments

Blog Action Day 2008 - Poverty
Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer

Do you have a blog? Well, this October 15 (tomorrow), why not use it to highlight the issue of poverty for Blog Action Day. Bloggers around the world are going to flood the Web with talk about poverty — personal stories, political ideals, solutions, problems — to bring increased awareness to this “other” global economic crisis. There’s no limit to the ways we can talk about this. You don’t need to have Nobel Prize-worthy thesis or anything. Check out some suggestions for ideas on how to talk about the subject, regardless of your passion and your blog’s focus.

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The Ethics of Aid

Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

Every six weeks, we convene as a staff and talk about ideas for shows for the next two to three months. We’re never lacking in ideas, but finding knowledgeable voices that can carry an hour conversation takes some effort. One of the subjects near the top of our list is the ethics of global aid, particularly with Zimbabwe’s recent crackdown on CARE, a multi-national, non-profit organization fighting global poverty.

For me, the subject came to the forefront while reading Paul Theroux’s challenging, insightful travel account in Dark Star Safari. After serving in the Peace Corps in the 1960s, he revisits Africa and sees a starkly different and yet an eerily similar continent. He’s pretty hard on charitable aid organizations and missionaries, to be sure, and wonders — well, actually posits — whether good intentions have led to an industry that needs to sustain itself in order to carry on its business model:

"…this was the era of charity in Africa, where the business of philanthropy was paramount, studied as closely as the coffee harvest or a hydroelectric power project. Now a complex infrastructure was devoted to what had become ineradicable miseries: famine, displacement, poverty, illiteracy, AIDS, the ravages of war. Name an African problem and an agency or a charity existed to deal with it. But that did not mean a solution was produced. Charities and aid programs seemed to turn African problems into permanent conditions that were bigger and messier."

Theroux’s idea that aid and missionary organizations might actually undercut the stability and long-term efforts of people they are trying to help is challenging. The spot of “tough love” seems to be drenched in the hard-nosed, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality that I often experienced growing up in North Dakota. I cringed initially. But, some germ made sense. Although I’m not in Africa, I face these tests while walking to work in downtown St. Paul when the same destitute man regularly asks me for five bucks. When do I become that microcosmic institution?

Where is that line and when do good intentions steal a struggling people’s identity, raid an individual’s sense of resourcefulness and pride? When do others who prosper have an obligation to intervene and help those who can’t help themselves because of forces beyond there control — political regimes, long-lasting droughts, diseases, etc.? Who are some of the wise voices you’re reading and hearing about that are immersed in this struggle that can speak personally about these situations?

Comments