Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Food for the Hungry

Earlier this month I wrote about the problem of domestic hunger in the U.S. Today I am writing about the problem of hunger in the poorer countries of the world and about combating that serious and ongoing problem.
For a long time I have been a supporter of the organization known as Food for the Hungry. FH was founded in 1971 and has for many years been an international organization. FH/Japan was formed in 1981, and for many years Eisuke Kanda was the head of it.
In the 1980s, we invited Kanda-sensei to be the Christian Focus Week speaker at Seinan Gakuin University, and I was able not only to get to know him personally but also to hear firsthand about the good work FH/Japan was doing overseas. (Domestic hunger has not been much of a problem in Japan for quite some time.)
Last month I was in Cambodia and spent some time with Hwang Ban-suk, a Korean missionary who is partially supported by, and thus who works with, Korea Food for the Hungry International. I was also impressed by Troeun Nhao, the Cambodian man who works with Hwang and KFHI.
In response to the chronic hunger problem in Cambodia, especially in the rural areas, Hwang literally and directly supplies food for the hungry. He takes bread to malnourished children several times a week.
Mrs. Hwang is a volunteer kindergarten teacher in a small school on the outskirts of Siem Reap, the city where Angkor Wat attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists yearly. I was told there are some 600 hotels and “guest houses” in Siem Reap. Numerous Western and East Asian restaurants line the main roads through the city.
But just a few miles out of town, most people live in poverty. For some families, their yearly income is no more than a party of four spends for one dinner at one of the Japanese or Korean restaurants in town.
On my first full day in Siem Reap, I helped distribute food at the school where Mrs. Hwang teaches, handing out bread to the children who lined up and thankfully received what we gave them.
For a long time, though, I have thought that even more than helping those who are hungry now, attention needs to be given to dealing with the causes of hunger. Of course the former needs to be done, but only helping with the present problem of hunger is never enough.
Whether domestically or overseas, it is more important to work toward decreasing hunger in the future than to simply give food to hungry people in the present.
That is a problem with most local food distribution groups. To be sure, they do a good and important work in helping needy people now. But usually they do nothing to help solve the underlying causes of the hunger problem.
Thankfully, Food for the Hungry focuses on both. Hwang is involved in development projects as well as in relief efforts. (I was sorry the language barrier kept me from learning more specifically about what he is doing in working for long-term solutions.)
Part of the needed change in Cambodia is in the mind-set of the people. This seems quite clear from reading Joel Brinkley’s book “Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land” (2011).
That is why I am glad to support the work of Food for the Hungry, a Christian organization, and the work of Missionary Hwang, now partly centered in New Hope Church, which I wrote about previously.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Trayvon and Abdulrahman

The name Trayvon, sadly, has become a household name in the U.S., and elsewhere. But many of you may not know the name Abdulrahman. Both young men, though, were U.S. citizens born in 1995, and both were tragically killed – but in greatly different circumstances.
Trayvon Martin, as you know, was killed at short range in February 2012 by George Zimmerman. Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, as you may not know, was killed at very long range by a U.S. drone.
Abdulrahman was born in Denver, Colo. in September 1995, nine months after Trayvon; he was killed in Yemen on Oct. 14, 2011, ten weeks before the Florida teenager was shot and killed.
The justification of Trayvon’s slaying is highly questionable, although the jury concluded that under Florida law Zimmerman was not guilty of second degree murder or manslaughter.
The killing of Abdulrahman, though, seems completely unjustified and an unmitigated tragedy. It is hard to compare justification for taking someone's life, but the killing of Abdulrahman seems much more unjust that the “self-defense” killing of Trayvon.
Abdulrahman’s father, Anwar, was also an American citizen, born in New Mexico in 1971. And he was killed by a “Hellfire missile” fired from a U. S. Predator drone just two weeks before his son.
The father was clearly linked to terrorist activity. There is no evidence at all that the son was.
Details of Abdulrahman’s tragic death are told in Jeremy Scahill’s 2013 book, “Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield.” The final chapter of that 642-page book is “Paying for the Sins of the Father” and is about Abdulrahman’s annihilation.
On June 28, I attended the opening screening of Scahill’s documentary film with the same name as the book. In it, Scahill interviews Nasser al-Awlaki, Abdulrahman’s grandfather, who is a former Fulbright scholar, university president and Yemeni public servant.
Last week the New York Times ran an article by Grandfather Nasser. It was titled “The Drone That Killed My Grandson.” I encourage you to read that article at this link.
Even though Abdulrahman’s father was involved in terrorist activities, he was an American citizen. Nevertheless, he was never charged with a crime and evidence of his criminal wrongdoing was never presented to a court.
He was just put on a kill list and “taken out” by a drone.
Still, we have been in a “war on terrorism” since 2001, and in a war you target and kill your enemies. So most Americans probably support the killing of Abdulrahman’s father.
And most Americans support continuation of the war on terrorism, according to a Fox News poll. Last month after President Obama said that the war on terrorism “must end,” 77% of the voters polled said the war on terrorism “should continue to be a top priority to the government.
But should that mean targeting and killing a 16-year-old American boy? Surely not!
In responding to questions about his killing, Robert Gibbs, a former White House press secretary, said that the boy should have had “a more responsible father.”
But maybe we need a more responsible government. And maybe there needs to be more outrage about the killing of Abdulrahman.
Many of us are against profiling and the mistreatment of young African-American men like Trayvon, as we should be.
Why shouldn’t we be even more strongly against the profiling and the killing of a young Yemeni-American man like Abdulrahman?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

"The Glad River"

“There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.” These words of Psalm 46:4 (KJV) are cited on page 291 of Will D. Campbell’s “The Glad River (1982) and are apparently the source of the title.
I recently finished reading Campbell’s novel, deciding to read it shortly after hearing of his death early last month. He would have celebrated his 89th birthday this week, on July 18, had he not passed away on June 3.
Campbell was often referred to as a “maverick.” Among other newspapers and websites, headlines in the New York Times on June 4 and on HuffingtonPost.com on June 5 described him that way.

The central character in “The Glad River” is Doops, a young man born in Mississippi in 1920, four years before the author. And while Campbell said his novel was not autobiographical, Doops is also a maverick as was his creator.
Although having a Baptist mother who tries for years to convince Doops to be baptized, he continually refuses to do so until late in the book—and I can’t tell the details without it being a spoiler for those of you who have yet to read the book.
Doops is continually seeking to find “real” Baptists – such as those of the 16th century who were known as Anabaptists and about whom he wrote a story during his time in military service during World War II.
As Doops correctly understood, those baptists (intentionally not capitalized) were pacifists, did not believe in the death penalty, and believed in the complete separation of church and state. That seemed to be what Doops also believed. And that was why he couldn’t be a conventional Baptist in the South.
So, Doops was probably somewhat autobiographical after all.
In an article published shortly after Campbell’s death, noted Baptist historian and author Bill Leonard wrote how Campbell was “obsessed with grace.” That seems to be a correct assessment. While he didn’t write about it directly, grace is an underlying theme of “The Glad River.”
As a result of God’s grace, undeserved and unreserved forgiveness, another of Campbell’s themes, is clearly seen in the novel.
James Wm. McClendon, Jr., was a prominent baptist theologian, born the same year as Campbell, although he died in 2000. (He is the one who emphasized being baptist with a small “b,” as I wrote about in a blog article found here.)
In his highly acclaimed “Ethics: Systematic Theology, Volume I,” McClendon cites a passage from The Glad River at the beginning of Part II. Then in writing about “The Politics of Forgiveness,” McClendon tells of Campbell’s discussion with his non-believing friend P.D. East.
As I wrote on this blog three years ago today, on one occasion, P. D. asked Will, “In ten words or less, what’s the Christian message?” Campbell’s pungent answer was, “We’re all bastards but God loves us anyway” (“Brother to a Dragonfly," p. 220).
That is essentially the meaning of grace. And that is the type of God’s love and acceptance experienced by the beer-guzzling, rough-talking young men in “The Glad River”: Doops and his friends Kingston and “Model T.”
Whether we admit it or not, many of us “good Christians” think we are morally superior to others, such as, perhaps, fundamentalist Christians and bigoted Southerners with whom we disagree – or even superior to people like the young men in Campbell’s novel.
A serious reading of “The Glad River” can perhaps help us reflect on our pharisaicalism and even on our judgmental attitudes towards others, those bas----- whom God loves just as much as he loves us.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Aren't You Hungry?

For several years up until 1986 Burger King’s main advertising slogan was “Aren’t You Hungry?” The mug in the picture is said to be from the 1970s – and if you happen to have such a mug youll be happy to know that it is now a collector’s item and is reportedly worth $102.

For most of us, hunger is only a temporary discomfort which can be quickly remedied by stopping by Burger King or any of the numerous restaurants competing for our business.
But not everyone has the means to buy a Whopper, Big Mac, or whatever – although, sadly, many financially challenged people spend too much of what little money do they have on fattening fast-food items rather than on more nutritional food.
As we all know, there are multitudes of people around the world and in our own country for whom hunger is a chronic problem, not just a temporary discomfort.
In the U.S., though, buying food is a SNAP for many of the poor people – that’s SNAP as in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, long referred to as “food stamps.”
According to the DoA’s webpage,
SNAP offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities. SNAP is the largest program in the domestic hunger safety net.
But, as most of you have heard, the government’s provision of funds for SNAP is facing the possibility of decisive cuts. Last week in a highly partisan vote, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Farm Bill without any provision for food stamps.
Hunger assistance has been part of the Farm Bill since the 1960s, mainly for political reasons. And now, also mainly for political reasons, funding for SNAP has been separated from the Farm Bill by the House.
That doesn’t mean that there will no longer be any food stamps. The Senate will most likely not pass the House bill, and the President would most probably veto it if they did. And the House will doubtlessly pass a bill making some funds available for SNAP, although far less than is in the current budget.
Most fiscal conservatives declare that there are far too many people getting food stamps. And there are a very large number of recipients. But the problem is not that so many are getting government assistance. The problem is that there are so many people living below the poverty line, or at least beneath 130% of that line.
In April of this year there were 47.5+ million people on SNAP, which was down slightly from March but up from the 46.2+ million in April 2012. And note this: 47% of the recipients are children below the age of 18.
The financial situation in the corporate world, though, is quite good now. Last Friday both the Dow and S&P 500 closed at all-time highs. Those of us with investments in stocks and bonds are quite happy with our portfolios at this time.
But those who live below 130% of the poverty line do not have investments. A record number now do have assistance from the government in order to buy food. But if the Tea Party Republicans and those who agree with them have their way, there will soon be considerably less money available for SNAP.
As a result, there will be a growing number of people, including many children, who, hearing the question, “Aren’t you hungry?” will have to answer “Yes” when they go to bed – night after night after night.