I know I am not the only one who is sick and tired of Washington’s manufactured crises around budget and deficit debates. Brinksmanship has replaced statesmanship in trying to find a sound path to fiscal responsibility. It is time to make the right moral choices that will defend the most vulnerable and pursue an opportunity agenda to reduce the highest poverty rate in 50 years.
Ideological debates over the role of government are the real battle in the nation’s capital — more than the debt crisis. Political calculations about the next election are more important to many of our political leaders than the common good of the country.
It’s just time to move on from the partisan politics that has polarized and paralyzed us for so long — by committing ourselves to moral issues that could and should bring us together. The first will be comprehensive immigration reform, which will change the lives of 12 million people in this country, lift many out of poverty, and help the economy at the same time. This is a clear example of how the faith community has changed, and now come together to become a political game changer in Washington, D.C., at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue on both sides of the aisle.
And it’s time to make another moral commitment in the midst of our growing economic recovery — to include poor families and change poverty into opportunity. Fighting poverty must not be a partisan issue. When we look at both the causes and the solutions, this battle should bring both liberals and conservatives together. Overcoming poverty, by creating opportunity, happens because of three very basic things that most of us can agree on: family, education, and work. All three are crucial and necessary in moving people out of poverty and into opportunity.
Let’s break it down.
Kabul —Yesterday, four young Afghan Peace Volunteer members, Zainab, Umalbanin, Abdulhai, and Ali, guided Martha and me along narrow, primitive roads and crumbling stairs, ascending a mountain slope on the outskirts of Kabul. The icy, rutted roads twisted and turned. I asked if we could pause as my heart was hammering and I needed to catch my breath. Looking down, we saw a breathtaking view of Kabul. Above us, women in bright clothing were navigating the treacherous roads with heavy water containers on their heads or shoulders. I marveled at their strength and tenacity. “Yes, they make this trip every morning,” Umalbanin said, as she helped me regain my balance after I had slipped on the ice.
About 10 minutes later, we arrived at the home of Khoreb, a widow who helped us realize why so many widows and orphans live in the highest ranges of the mountain. Landlords rent one-room homes at the cheapest rates when they are at this isolating height; many of the homes are poorly constructed and have no pipes for running water. This means the occupants, most often women, must fetch water from the bottom of the hill each and every morning. A year ago, piped water began to reach some of the homes, but that only meant the landlords charged higher rent, so women had to move higher up the mountain for housing they can afford. It only made their daily water-carrying longer and more arduous.
Beau Underwood reminded us at this year’s Sojourners’ Christmas chapel that Jesus was not born into a calm, peaceful world in a serene nativity scene. It was a chaotic world in which the Jews were oppressed by Roman rule and Jesus’ very act of being born freaked Herod out, resulting in a mass genocide of baby boys. All was not calm and peaceful as the birth of Jesus challenged the sinful powers and structures of the world from the very start of his life.
This Christmas the world remains a very frightening and chaotic place for many children around the world. Jim Wallis and I met with former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown just a few days ago and Gordon told us about a group of children in Delhi, India who were being held in unspeakable conditions — forced to work for up to 15 hours a day making Christmas decorations.
Children! Forced slave labor, some of them as young as 8 years old, imprisoned, beaten, and required to make decorations intended celebrate the birth of the savior of the world. Making matters worse, these are only a few of millions of young children trafficked into slave labor around the world all year long. What horrible irony.
During my first year as a second-grade teacher, I struggled with classroom management. I am a soft-spoken person by nature and habit. I didn't have the experience to help me set up great rules and procedures for my students. My classroom was noisy and chaotic. I think you could hear us all around the school.
A well-meaning colleague stopped me one day after school and offered, "Trevor, you need to find your teacher voice. Most of the children at our school won't listen to you unless you yell at them. You need to show them who's boss."
After five years of teaching, I agree that it is important to find your teacher voice. I disagree, however, that your teacher voice needs to be mean and bossy. I found my voice. It’s nurturing and supportive and one that students can internalize for positive growth and change.
I thought about this teacher voice when I met 7-year-old Maria. On her first day in reading intervention classroom, she made a mistake on a skill sheet. She asked for an eraser but I said, "Don't worry if you make a mistake. You don't have to erase it. Just cross it out and fix it. I'll never be angry with you if you make a mistake. I just want you to try to fix it."
It’s been said before, but it’s worth saying again. One of the surest ways to reduce poverty is to provide an education for girls. Yet, as AFP reports, a new study shows there is still a long way to go.
“Millions of girls worldwide are condemned to lives of hardship because they don't go to school, an education gap that entrenches broader extreme poverty, a new report said. The report, "Because I am a Girl: The State of the World's Girls 2012," was released in New York by Plan International on the first International Day of the Girl organized by the United Nations.
"The estimated 75 million girls missing from classrooms across the world is a major violation of rights and a huge waste of young potential," the child poverty alleviation group said in launching the report.”
The full 200-page study is HERE.
Speak out for those who cannot speak,
for the rights of all the destitute.
Speak out, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
~ Proverbs 31:8-9
ADDIS ABABA — These words of King Solomon have been running through my mind since our ONE Moms delegation — 13 mothers from the United States, the United Kingdom, and France — arrived in the Ethiopian capital on Sunday.
I hear these verses as a clarion call to action. As someone who strives humbly to follow the Way of Jesus and be involved in The Work that God is doing in the world, I want to respond and do what these verses command.
And as a believer who also happens to be a mother (a fairly novice one, still learning the ropes, if you will), I must do.
Sunday afternoon, after us ONE Moms dropped our luggage at the hotel, piled into our chartered bus, and drove to the outskirts of the city to the Mary Joy Aid Through Development Association, we met our Ethiopian sisters who are speaking out for those who cannot; who are advocating on behalf of the destitute, judging with righteous wisdom, and defending the rights of the poor and the needy.
In 2007, I boarded a plane bound for Africa for the first time.
That trip took me to Kenya, Tanzania, the island of Zanzibar, and Malawi.
And that trip changed me — heart, mind, soul — forever transforming my family and my world.
Today, five years almost to the day since I flew to Nairobi to begin my first African adventure, I'm sitting in the international terminal of Dulles airport in Washington, D.C., waiting to board a 787 Dreamliner bound for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
An adventure lies ahead. And yet, so much more than that.
I've been to Africa twice now (this is my third visit to continent), and each time the people I've met and experiences I've had on the journey — all of it dripping with a grace so palpable I could almost smell it like so much sandalwood smoke wafting from an incenser — have shaped me and recalibrated my spirit.
I don't know specifically what Ethiopia has in store for me, but I am sure of one thing: The Spirit will be there.
Bralyan loves bugs.
I met him during the first week of school as I conducted the standard assessment of how many words he could read per minute from a second-grade story. After the assessment, I gave him the customary caterpillar sticker to put on his shirt to show everyone that he was going to emerge as a great reader during his second-grade year.
You would have thought that I had given him a piece of gold.
"Oooh, I love bugs," he marveled as I handed him the sticker. "I have seen caterpillars around the trees at my apartment. They spin a chrysalis and turn into butterflies.
“Have you seen a roly poly bug?,” he continued. “They're my favorites!"
And so a friendship began around the pyrrharctia isabella, the armadillidum vulgar and other bugs that make up the most diverse group of animals on the planet.
This interaction told me some crucial things about Bralyan. It told me he is a smart kid, and it also told me that keeping him engaged in school would likely include bugs.
I later learned that Bralyan and his family moved here from Mexico when he was a baby. His mom and dad speak only Spanish at home. He speaks English at school.
Being a teacher is like being a farmer. You rise early in the morning. You irrigate and fertilize the field that is your classroom. You plant the seeds that are reading, writing, and arithmetic. You hope for good soil, warm sunshine, and gentle rain that are good homes, healthy foods, and adequate healthcare for your students. You work with your hands, feet and heart with your plants who are your students.
Your harvest is your students.
Your winter season of fallow fields is your summer break of empty classrooms.
I try to teach in the present. With Billy, though, I found myself thinking about the future. Will middle school be a challenge for him? Will he be an outcast in high school? Or a target for bullies?
I wondered what contributions he might make to society as an adult. Would he start a revolution in the art world?
If his peers constantly slap their hands down and say there's no room for him, how will he react? Will he become a part of what author Alexandra Robbins calls the "cafeteria fringe,” those people who are not a part of the school's or society's in-crowd? Because he seems different, will he be labeled “geek,” “nerd” or “weirdo?”
As a teacher I want to help him overcome. But what can I do?
Baseball players Larry Doby was black and Steve Gromek was white. Gromek was from the working-class culture of Hamtramck, Mich., and Doby from the Jim Crow culture of Camden, S.C.
One year earlier, on July 5, 1947, at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Doby had become the second African-American behind the great Jackie Robinson of the immortal Brooklyn Dodgers to play for a major league baseball team and the first African-American to play in the American League.
It was a revolutionary picture because it showed the world a way white supremacy and racism could be overcome.
Whether encouraging children to succeed, caring for elders at the end of life, or investing in struggling communities, strong families can make all the difference. Unfortunately, our broken immigration system often negatively affects families, increasing both their emotional stress and financial burden. Too often our laws actually separate family members from each other in ways that create lasting damage.
Recently, the federal government announced a policy change designed to keep families together as they navigate the process of applying for green cards. While this shift will also streamline the process and reduce the complexity of application, the new rules can still be confusing to those seeking help. That is why the Interfaith Immigration Coalition is working to educate the faith community about these developments. On September 10, the Coalition will host a webinar from 4-5 p.m. EDT for faith leaders interested in learning more. Take this opportunity to hear from policy experts, legal advocates, and faith leaders about this important topic.
When: Monday, September 10th from 4- 5 p.m. EDT
I love to receive letters. When I was a little boy, I lived on a long, straight street and I could see the mail truck coming from a long way off. After the mailman stopped in front of our house, I ran with hope in my heart down our front walkway, between our two giant maple trees and across the street to our mailbox. Would there be a letter for me? Was someone in the world thinking of me?
One day last year it was not the mailman, but a second-grader on the school playground, who handed a letter to me. I unfolded it.
"Dear Mr. Barton, hi it Odeth from 2th grade I miss you a lot I wanted to know about you so much I am being good I am in 4th grade Do you miss me. I live in __________ I go to school in __________ I hope you will come to my school … can you come visit me in school ask for my name…I am 10 year old I want you to come to my school.
Your best student,
What a wonderful thing, to be remembered by a student.
Imani walked down the hall with a paper cup in her hands.
She stopped and held up the cup to me. Inside of its paper walls were soil, water, and seeds — all those humble and elemental things that build a third-grader's scientific knowledge.
Imani was growing cabbage.
She was my student last year. She loved science and writing. I remember the look of wonder in her eyes when we studied weather. We learned about tornadoes. In my classroom, I had two 2-liter bottles connected by a tornado tube, a plastic piece that allows you to make a tornado by swirling the water around and around in one of the bottles. Imani held the bottles in her hands and marveled as her water formed into a giant, powerful funnel cloud.
"Wow," she whispered.
I love the sound of learning.
In Roald Dahl's classic children's book James and the Giant Peach, 7-year-old orphan James Henry Trotter escapes his two rotten, abusive aunts by crawling into a giant peach. The peach rolls, floats, and flies him to a new life of wonder and love.
I'm reading this book aloud for the first time, and my listeners are spellbound by the story, especially the part where the very small old man opens the bag filled with magical crocodile tongues that will help a barren, broken peach tree grow fruit as big as a house.
"There's more power and magic in those things in there than in all the rest of the world put together," says the man.
“What do you want to be when you grow-up?” is the pressure filled question that people begin asking as soon as they feel young people are old enough to answer.
From there it only gets worse. It’s a question I hated answering. Adults and media filled my mind with careers that would make me financially secure and, in their minds, happy. So these careers filled my answers: doctor, lawyer, and pharmacist. I would be something important, and life after college would be financially easy.
I babysat often through high school and remember a mom asking the dreaded questio
This year, as we start Sunday School and churches come back from summer schedule, I want to introduce you to one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Bryan Moyer Suderman. It’s rare that you find music that appeals to all ages with a strong social justice focus, healthy theology, inclusive language, environmental concern, and really good musicianship.
As Brian McLaren and Dave Csinos wrote in the intro to Bryan’s new CD:
Bryan takes up the challenge of uniting the old and the young, the tall and the small, with songs of faith that echo the depth, beauty, struggle, complexity, and unconventionality of walking in the way of Jesus.
Bryan is a minstrel, a prophet, a visionary, and a follower of Jesus who invites listeners of all ages to join him in “infiltrating the world with the love of God.” His music is captivating, his lyrics are theologically-rich and thought-provoking, and his voice invites us all to live God’s kingdom wherever we are.