Saturday, July 28, 2007

Pray for...


The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee has posted a great video on YouTube that outlines the conflict and highlights some ways we can all help.

The number one thing we can do: Pray.

This week, pray for Darfur. Visit for more information and ways to help.

Pray without ceasing. (1 Thes 5, 17) With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit. (Eph 6, 18) Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. (Phil 4, 6)

"Therefore I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours." (Mark 11 , 24)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Solidarity Without Spending

I enjoy giving to charity; in fact, I'd like to do more because there are so many amazing organizations out there doing all sorts of wonderful things. But Take the Poor With You isn't really about throwing money at the problem (although that helps, no mistake.) The main thing I'm interested in doing is changing my lifestyle and the way I think, the way I blithely go through my day surrounded by wealth and comfort and hardly even stop to recognize my blessings, let alone truly appreciate them.

So I've been trying out ways of living that take the poor with me. Today I shortened my shower. This is a big thing for me, because I'm always cold. Something about my circulation is off, I don't know, but my feet and hands are always freezing and I'm generally the first one in a room to put on a sweater or make a cup of tea. So the joy of a nice hot shower in the morning is an indulgence I've always looked forward to. Nothing else really warms me the way a shower does, nothing else dissolves my back pain and limbers the stiffness of sleeping all night curled around a nursing baby. I could happily spend 20 minutes just enjoying my shower (providing the kids are happy, of course.)

But water's one of our most precious resources. Social scientists are predicting that within 50 years we'll be viewing water like we view oil today, complete with violent conflicts over access and supply. In Darfur, women leave the safety of their camps every day for water, knowing they will be raped. Yet they go anyway, because they must.

In light of that, indulging myself in a long, hot hower just seems too selfish and irresponsible. True solidarity would probably be to stop showering altogether, sponge bathe myself in a tub of rainwater, or shower in cold water. But I'm not willing to go that far at this point. However, I can use less water. I can shorten my shower. I can pray for Darfur and for all refugees and victims of rape.

I've also been limiting myself to vegetarian entrees when I go out to eat, and when I do our grocery shopping, I buy only sustainable foods. At home we only cook meat twice a week (which really saves on our grocery bills, let me tell ya.) Ordering the vegetarian option at a restaurant helps me honor the poor in several ways:

1. It is a sacrifice for me to turn away from the plank-grilled salmon or turkey bacon club sandwich I really want. I can offer up this sacrifice for people who are hungry.

2. While the main problems our food supply creates are with factory farming as a method, and not with the raising and slaughter of animals per se, the vegetarian option has less cruelty, oppression and waste associated with it.

3. It's almost always cheaper, and considerably so. The money I save can be donated to organizations that help migrant workers, provide support to those injured at work, or promote small, local farms.

The last thing I'm working on is a strictly personal effort. Right now, my husband is at our home in Colorado studying for the bar while I am in northern Michigan with his family, giving him space and quiet. I miss him. A lot. I'm also tired of being the sole person responsible for the kids' routine: I feed them, I entertain them, I dress them, I read the stories, give the baths, put them to bed, etc. My husband has spent the last two months either at work, at class, or studying, and though I get to talk to him every day, we haven't had the chance for any real conversations and he just doesn't have any time to help with the kids. It's not OH GOOD GRACIOUS THIS HUGE BURDEN or anything, but it's exhausting and I really really really want a break. I also really really really want to see my husband again and have the opportunity to talk with him and reconnect.

Whenever we discuss the situation, he always mentions how much worse things would be if he were in Iraq right now, instead of safe and comfortable at home. It really humbles me to think about the servicemen and women around the world who have left their families and put their lives on the line for our country. The justification of their sacrifice is neither here nor there; the point is they're making one. A big one. So whenever I miss him, I say a prayer for the women who are missing their husbands and worrying about their safety. Whenever I just don't feel like cajoling more green beans into the stomach of my 4 year old, I pray for those moms left as single mothers while their husbands are away for years at a time. Whenever my 10-month old does something new and I wish my husband were here to see it, I pray for those fathers and mothers who miss years of their kids' lives (first steps, births, first teeth, first smiles, first days of school, graduations, etc.)

If awareness is my goal, this really achieves it.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Q & A

What is all this exactly?

Take the Poor With You is a way of thinking, mostly centered around awareness of the many people in this world who are much less privileged than I. When I am aware, I am grateful. When I'm grateful, I want to give back. My goal is to always be thinking globally, so that everything I do benefits the world instead of just myself.

What does that mean in practical terms?

The general guidelines are explained best in the "Three Rs to Remember" post. Basically, I am trying to reduce my consumption and live more simply, support companies that are responsible to the poor, and balance my spending on myself with donations to charities.

Why not just sell everything and go live on a commune in Africa?

Some people are called to that vocation. Others are called to support them. Jesus called us all to be His disciples, but He only called twelve to leave their families and walk with Him as He proclaimed the Gospel. In my vocation as a wife and mother, in my location in America, in my own capacity and with the talents God has given me, I want to do as much for the poor as I can. So while taking care of my family and providing a loving, God-centered home, I'm trying to live simply, be responsible with my money and time, and donate where I can to assist those who are directly ministering to the poor.

Is this some sort of religious thing?

I am a devout Catholic. Everything I am and everything I do will be impacted by my faith. Take the Poor With You is not about religion, it is about love. For some, the two are synonomous, but you don't need to be a Christian to understand that there are those who need our help, and we are morally bound to provide it if we can.

I work hard for my money. Why should I give it away?

If hard work were the only requirement for wealth and prosperity, then most of the world's rich people would be poor and most of the poor would be rich. The real disparity is not in effort, but in opportunity. So if we've been blessed with opportunities and talents, it's our responsibility first to make good use of them, and then to turn around and share them with others. That means building schools, providing food and humanitarian aid, working for justice and democracy, promoting fair trade and international business ethics, working to cure and prevent deadly diseases and ensuring that basic human rights are met in every country around the world.

If everyone adopted this method our economy would tank. We need motivated workers for businesses to succeed and active spending to support commercial enterprise. Living "simply" and giving to charity sound like good ideas in theory, but people just won't work as hard if there's no benefit for them.

There's plenty of benefit. It's the difference between enough and too much. Imagine a restaurant with two tables. The first is piled high with food: omletes, salad, roast beef, smoked salmon, honey glazed ham, onion rings, green beans almondine, spinach pies, bread of all kinds, drinks of all kinds. The people at that table are eating, laughing, talking with their friends, pushing back from the table and rubbing their stomachs. "Oh, I ate too much!" "I'm so full!" The other table has nothing but bread. Does it make sense for the first table to call out for dessert and tip the waitress to add extra chocolate sauce, when they are already so full they can't sit comfortably? Does it really matter in this scenario who has money and who doesn't? Will the restaurant go under if the first table buys a decent meal for the other table instead of ordering dessert?

The purpose of money is to buy things. Of course. But it's what we buy, why we buy it, and for whom that matters.

But you're taking things too far. Your posts sound like you consider it wrong to buy a chai at Starbucks. Shouldn't you enjoy life once in a while?

I think there's room for a discussion on why we enjoy buying things so much. We truly do not need most of the things we own. So why do we buy them? To impress our neighbors? To feel the pride of ownership? To soothe an anxiety or distract us from a worry? Simply because we can? Why do I want that chai latte? It isn't the caffine fix. I can spend 7 minutes boiling water for tea at home and it would jolt my system in the exact same way, and for pennies. A treat from Starbucks fills a desire in a specific way that homemade tea or free office coffee does not. THAT'S what we're buying. Starbucks, for the most part, treats their employees well and offers fair trade varieties of their coffee, so I'm not saying we shouldn't support Starbucks! I am saying that we cling to our rituals and our freedom to spend frivolously for the wrong reasons.

Of course we should enjoy ourselves once in a while. God is a loving father who wants to provide us with good things and see us happy. But we can think before buying that chai: is there someone who needs this money more than I? Can I buy a tall instead of a grande and donate the difference? Can I get a plain coffee instead of an iced frapuccino with caramel swirl and donate the difference? Can I donate the same amount I'm spending to charity? Can I go without coffee today and strengthen my will? How can I take the poor with me, right here, right now, and make a difference that matters?

And that's the point.