Saturday, May 2, 2009

Bread for the World

Rev. David Beckmann, Lutheran pastor and president of Bread for the world, appeared on C-Span Saturday morning. Americans are a generous people. It's central to the belief systems of many faiths and an American civil relegion creed. This morning, however, many, many calls, Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike, challenged Beckmann with words such as, "In this economic recession we have so many suffering people, how can you dare to ask us to give to people in other countried?" One said, "We are supposed to help our neighbor, not people around the world."
In the midst of loss of jobs and homes and a general atmosphere of fear, even those of good faith, want to draw in, take care of "our own."
Beckmann, of course, pointed out that the U.S. gives only about1% in foreign aid, and a much small percentage of that to poor people around the world and that the U.S. gives a much smaller percentage than the U.K. or Germany or France. And, Beckmann reminded callers that helping poor people around the world and their nations be more stable and productive, actually will help the U.S. get out of this recession. And, of course, it has long been a scandel in the U.S. that we have so many hungry, homeless people. He stressed that we are called to do both, help here and abroad.
Worth noting is the phenomenon of fear redefining in the minds of people of faith who is our neighbor. What is our basic belief about the Creating, Providing God?
For more information about Bread for the World go to Also check into the legislation calling for reform in foreign aid so that our aid agencies, national and private, are more coordinated so that aid is more effective. The call to help one's neighbor is a call to care for those down the street and around the globe.


Anonymous said...

Fear is such a fickle thing. It clouds our thinking and makes us forget what we know. I suppose that's why the angles always greet people with the words,"Do not be afraid." People forget that angles are good when they are startled. Fear makes us pull into ourselves - and as far as survival goes, that's a good thing! We cannot ever help anyone again if we are ourselves destroyed. Anyone who works with crisis situations knows this well. A firefighter cannot ever rescue anyone again if they die in the fire.

In this economic situation, some people are feeling the fear and pulling in. Well more realistically, alot of people are feeling the fear and pulling their resources into themselves. Sometimes that's sensible and sometimes is idolatry - turning fear into a god and worshiping it through hording of resources.

When we ignore fear and sensibility, and simply go on and on about how much bigger God is than our fears, our words have no meaning. It is very true that the Spirit of God is far from sensible at times. We discern that together. The Spirit comes to us, each in our way, and says, "Do not be afraid." Many times though, the Spirit works through our everyday, steady, patient ways.

When I think about discerning how to love my neighbor as myself, and who my neighbor is, I like to use the old analogy about gardening. There are many things one does as they garden, but three big ones are Tending, Feasting, and Surprising.

When one is in a garden, tending to it, it is almost inevitable that somebody will stop in. Usually, they have a question about gardening. As the gardener talks to the visitor, they are loving their neighbor. They are sharing their skills and caring for their neighbor. They are helping the hungry through training and prevention.

Next, there is feasting. Most years, when tomatoes or zucchini, or (fill in the blank) are in season, there is more than plenty to share. Gardeners have cookouts, hand out canned goods and buckets to everyone who is near them. Everyone eats, and they eat alot, whether they like tomatoes or not! This is caring for one's neighbor as themselves by feasting together. Nobody goes hungry when there is plenty when the time of feasting comes.

Then there is the time of surprising. Whether this is an apple pie in June, or rhubarb bread in December, or seeds from the plant you've been admiring all summer, or money for the bread for the world project from that extra zucchini they sold - surprises from the abundance usually happen. We care for our neighbor as ourselves by spreading Joy through being able to surprise people with the earthly things that make them happy.

So who is our neighbor? It is the one in the garden, the one at the door, the one across the way whom we surprise. Is a person always going to be able to tend, and feast, and surprise in the same ways - well no. That's obvious. Am I always going to be able to trust in God's tending and feasting and surprising? Well, yes! That's obvious to me too.

We can do the surprising work of bringing Joy to those around the world because as we tend to those near to us, the ones farther away get invited to the feasting (Eucharist!), and then the Spirit moves the blessings in all kinds of surprising ways. Ways that surprise the fear right out of us!


Allison said...

I have to confess that this makes me angry. Amanda does a much better job than I of reacting with understanding and her gardening analogy is quite beautiful.

I agree that to operate out of either fear or guilt is neither good nor sustainable, but I am not sure that fear is what prevents us from caring about the rest of the world. Perhaps it is something more reprehensible - like willful ignorance, or shear selfishness. Do we really think that people in other countries or neighborhoods aren't people? Or that they are less people than us? I am sometimes afraid, particularly in the vaguely nomadic student life my family and I have lived lately, of homelessness, not being able to pay the bills, having to ask for financial help from family or from a social service agency. I have an active imagination, I can imagine having to sleep in the car and wash my hair in an airport. But I have met women who woke up in the morning not knowing what to give their children to eat and have sold their bodies to provide for their families. I have met women who aren't counted in a census because they are not really considered people. And those women were amazing people - people who loved their children, who when given a chance put forth amazing efforts to learn and to improve their lives. People who have as much right as I have to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness - American or not. I doubt that anyone who called David Beckman was in situations near as dire as those Haitian women. Yes we need to keep ourselves and our families alive, but we also need to know ourselves and our world a little better.

When Jesus told the story of the good samaritan, he wasn't answering the question asked of him: "Who is my neighbor?" He was asking his own question: "Who was neighbor to the robbed and beaten man?" He was asking the somewhat self righteous lawyer to consider who might help him if he was ever in need. If we get into a situation where we need help and no one will help us, we might need to consider what neighbors we have driven away. In America today it is so easy not to know who our neighbors, next door or around the world are.

We are deluding ourselves if we believe that we can really ever be safe and whole and well while any one the world over is starving. In the history of the world how many conflicts do not have something to do with unequal balances in resources and with the greed of those who are in a dominant position?

Now more than ever is the time to figure out how to ensure that people everywhere can eat. It is perhaps only our belief in a Creating, providing God that can allow us the courage to do this. And maybe one place to start is by getting to know people as people.