Category Archives: faith

World Vision fires human staff, replaced by ‘biblically pure’ drones

Gregg Brekke for FCN
March 26, 2014

In its second mea culpa in a single day, in addition to a reversal of a previous policy decision extending employment opportunities to married LGBT persons, World Vision announced it will phase out ‘biblically imperfect’ human staff members in favor of what the organization is calling ‘compassion drones.’

The decision comes after World Vision president Richard Stearns and board members met with key leaders from the Evangelical religious right, being assured of continued financial support if World Vision sustained efforts to implement more strident biblical hiring policies.

“After prayerful reconsideration of our reconsideration with partners and their bank balances, we have come to the conclusion that a human workforce that complies with biblical lifestyle mandates is impossible,” said a smiling Stearns as he held an oversized check cosigned by Halliburton, Raytheon and the Koch brothers.

“Therefore, we are partnering with these fine Evangelical organizations to provide the best direct care around the world using a fleet of compassion drones designed specifically to fulfill the emotional longings of our donors,” he continued.

Citing further discord within the Evangelical community and questions about what a biblical lifestyle for his employees would entail, Stearns threw his hands in the air in frustration, almost losing control of the big check, but composed himself to respond.

“As I’ve said before, we are committed to the authority of Scripture and how we apply Scripture to our lives, including our code of conduct for World Vision employees,” he emphasized.

“I mean, we have plenty of men working at World Vision who shave their beards, and that just isn’t biblical,” he said citing Leviticus 19:27. “And who doesn’t like a good cheeseburger or pulled pork sandwich now and then? We all know what Exodus 23:19 and Leviticus 11:7-8 have to say about that!”

“And there are women here – right in our offices, in opposition to Leviticus 15:19-24, dirtying up the place when they are menstruating. I can’t just give all the women 7 days off because Aunt Flo is visiting,” he said, recognizing that anyone who touches such a woman or even touches something she touches is considered biblically unclean until sundown. “And don’t even get me started on head coverings and short hair on these women – sheesh…”

Acknowledging his own inability to live biblically, Stearns lamented, “Dangit, just look at me wearing my 80/20 Docker stretch chinos. I can’t even uphold Leviticus 19:19 which forbids wearing clothing woven of two types of material.”

In light of such admissions, World Vision board members have decided to ramp up efforts to automate delivery of its services and eliminate all human employees within the year. A small band of blind eunuchs raised in isolation will be on hand to accommodate phone calls from donors until such time as they are no longer strategically necessary.

CompassionDrone-X4

Photo by Stephen Cinch – http://www.rcgroups.com

Prototypes of World Vision’s “CompassionDrone-X4” have already been deployed to Namibia and Thailand. Using high definition imaging technologies and infrared scanning, the biblically infallible drones scour the landscape looking for people who are brown skinned and have few possessions.

On initial contact, the drone’s auditory and holographic imaging systems offer a presentation that promises clothing, food and school supplies upon conversion of the potential target (also known as a ‘sponsored child’) to a fundamentalist form of Christianity popular in their region. Once this conversion has been obtained, the drone compiles video evidence of its target living in squalor.

Potential sponsored child information is then transferred to World Vision’s central computing system, CareNet, for matching with donors in the United States. No human interaction for matching donor’s emotional needs to sponsor child’s daily necessities is entailed, as CareNet has recently become self-aware and no longer requires oversight.

“We’ll keep those eunuchs around for a while,” said a confident Stearns. “But from what we can see in these early tests, CareNet has things under control.”

Assembly of care packages will occur in an automated factory in Vietnam where CareNet will transmit packing list and distribution information. Stearns assured reporters child labor would only be employed during loading and unloading of delivery vehicles.

“Our core mission and vision is to care for those Jesus called the least of these – mostly the brown, the poor, and the forcibly converted. With the way the Vietnamese economy is growing these days, I’d hardly call them ‘the least’ of anything,” he chuckled.

But Stearn’s mood turned somber as he set the big check down and took a step back from the podium. “With all the mistakes I’ve made in the last three days, I know I’m not perfect. So in accordance with my failings of living up to Matthew 5:48 – to be perfect as my father in heaven is perfect –  I’m going out to find a cadre of righteous and biblically perfect male church elders to cast stones at me.”

As of press time, requests for comments had not been returned by any biblically impure World Vision employees.

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Is this the fast that I choose?

(This blog was originally published to the New Media Project site as Easter 2012 approached. Found it today – Easter 2013 – and thought it was time to repost.)

Icon panel: St. Anthony Tormented by Demons

Icon panel: St. Anthony Tormented by Demons. The dude was well versed in solitude…

I write this post as the Christian season of Lent is winding down. Just three days until the Hallelujah is proclaimed and Christians everywhere recall the story of Christ’s resurrection.

Lent is the time in the Christian calendar for reflection, repentance, personal sacrifice, and reception of new members into the church. Beginning with Ash Wednesday (or following the bacchanal of Mardi Gras if that’s your thing), Lent spans 40 days until Easter morning.

One of the hallmarks of Lent for many Christians is the idea of fasting or “giving something up.” Modern Catholics are most noted for abstaining from meat, and substituting fish, on Fridays during Lent. Other traditions recommend various forms of fasting – carbon (reducing dependency on oil/coal), coltan (reducing dependency on electronic devices), alcohol, desserts, etc.

Other religions have similar periods or “holy days” for fasting: Yom Kippur for Jews, Ramadan for Muslims, Durga Navami for Hindus, and an extended fast as the first stage of self-realization for Buddhists.

One form of fasting that has been largely lost in the Christian tradition is the fast of solitude. Biblical characters such as Moses, Elijah, and Jesus each spent 40 days alone at one point in their ministries. It was seen as a transformative point of their stories.

A quote from Anne Morrow Lindbergh helped inspire this post and may serve to explain the desire for solitude, even in a social-media driven world. It appears as a meditation for the first day of each month in the devotional Celtic Daily Prayer.

“It is a difficult lesson to learn today, to leave one’s friends and family and deliberately practise the art of solitude for an hour or a day or a week. For me, the break is most difficult… And yet, once it is done, I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before!”

Tracking down those fasting from social-media via social-media is not as hard as one might think. Fortunately most of them maintain email contact, even when fasting from Facebook and Twitter. The responses I received were varied and intentional.

Will, a pastor in Toledo, Ohio, says fasting from Facebook has freed up time for prayer and meditation and “to focus on real relationships.” The act of discipline – not regularly checking Facebook – has helped him reconsider what are his “daily necessities.”

Will also says he has learned “the real self, the perceived self and the projected self have much in common, but are also worlds apart,” especially in social-media where “the illusion of intimacy” is facilitated by immediacy.

Anne, who was my professor of pastoral care in seminary, says she has taken up to a month off of Facebook at a time, usually because of relational overload. As an introvert, Anne says she doesn’t “take lightly” the personal interactions that seem flippant to others but are recorded for all time on some server.

“I take it all too seriously, and care too much about what I’ve shared. I would rather invest that kind of attention in the fewer intimate relationships I would maintain anyway if Facebook did not exist,” she says.

Finally, Mick, a musician in Florida, says he primarily uses Facebook for entertainment. Leaving it behind to focus on “increased works of charity and service” is a hallmark of Lent for him.

Learning “what is and isn’t important” has made Mick more aware of how he spends his time online. All his Facebook friends are people he’s met and interacts with, so Mick noted that rather than chatting or commenting on Facebook with these friends, his phone call volume went up.

We live in a connected world. Some of our jobs depend on social-media interactions. Many great world-expanding, justice-seeking, and action-taking messages are relayed though social-media channels – for which we are grateful.

But what would your world look like if sought digital solitude for a day, a week, a month, or 40 days? Would life come rushing back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before?

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I have AIDS (and so do you)

You are the body of Christ and parts of each other. – 1 Cor. 12:27

The results of my HIV test at the UCC”s General Synod in 2009: one line – negative; two lines – positive.

I’d first like to clear up that no, I am not HIV positive. I know for sure. I’ve been tested.

But if we take the words of 1 Corinthians 12 seriously, the church – and by that I mean everyone who calls themselves a believer within this Body of Christ – is affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic even if one, as an individual, is not infected.

So what would incite me to make such a radical claim? Why do I believe HIV/AIDS currently carries a different level of importance for people of faith than, say, clean water or malaria?

It is a matter of responsibility.

I’ve recently returned from the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., covering the event as a photographer for the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance. I’ll be the first to admit that HIV/AIDS has not been my “big issue,” though as a pastor I always involved my congregation in World AIDS Day remembrances, advocated for and supported caregivers, and participated in discussions with my denomination’s HIV/AIDS ministry – UCAN (United Church HIV & AIDS Network.)

I also have a handful of friends living with HIV – all are responding successfully to antiretrorival (ARV) treatments that keep the most damaging symptoms of the virus at bay. They are living long, and relatively healthy, lives. By all appearances, they are no different than me.

And therein is the point of convergence – it’s what finally hit me about the importance of HIV ministries within communities of faith. What is the church to do when those infected look just like me? This question, using the 1 Corinthians 12 text, was posed by Dr. Rosalee Velloso Ewell of World Evangelical Alliance in Brazil at the closing session of the Faith & AIDS pre-conference to AIDS 2012.

You see, it’s easy to externalize a response to “the sick” – people of faith are fortunately really good at taking care of the sick. It is part of what Jesus commanded the church to do. But as a result, the church’s care for those living with HIV or vulnerable to the virus has largely been seen through the lens of those who are extremely sick with AIDS, ghettoized in sub-cultures, or in remote countries.

Within this context, there are two tales of the church’s reaction to HIV/AIDS and why our current response matters.

The baby of an HIV positive mother smiles as she comforts him with patting. At the time of this photo, the newborn’s HIV status was not yet known.

On the one hand, are the silent thousands who have extended care and comfort to AIDS patients when others wouldn’t – churches (and synagogues, mosques, temples) and ecumenical ministries that have been in the long-game of providing services for those infected. They have been involved in critical care, hospice, testing, counseling, education, and family services that have fallen under the grand radar screen of what some people of faith consider “ministry.” Like the Good Samaritan, they have come to the aid of those who have been discarded by those concerned with respectable religion.

On the other hand (if you hadn’t guessed where this was going), are people of faith who have shunned and condemned those infected with HIV. To them, the virus is a well-deserved punishment for wrong choices – mainly unprotected sex, anal sex, multiple sexual partners, intravenous drug use and the sharing of needles. Infection due to these choices has even been described by some as God’s plague – a necessary act of divine justice – that would rid the world of homosexuals and drug users. Having clearly made immoral choices, they say, God has no choice but to punish the infected for wrong behavior.

If, upon reflecting on this second reaction, you aren’t offended and angry that some people of faith continue to think this way, you may not want to read any further. You aren’t going to like the rest of this post.

As with most moral absolutes, the second response to HIV – judgment, stigma-building, ostracizing – runs into snags when people are personally touched by the disease. These moral absolutes are confronted by those who have gotten the virus from blood transfusions, accidental transfer in emergencies and other rare cases. They are challenged when a family member becomes infected. And they are weak smokescreens for  fear in the light of the infection of the innocent – children who contract the virus from their mothers (becoming more rare, thankfully) or unsuspecting husbands/wives/partners who contract the disease after their partner acquires HIV through sexual activity or drug use.

It is here that the discussion gets murky in the church. Many don’t want to talk about sex and sexuality, condoms use, or about respect and dignity within sexual relations. They don’t want to address homophobia or talk about the mechanics of transmission. And they’d definitely prefer not to educate their children and potentially sexually active young adults regarding safe sexual practices and integrated sexual health. They would rather talk about abstinence as the best method to prevent transmission. (It is. But the church’s response must also be realistic…)

Jack MacCalister marches in a protest calling for better access to generic antiretroviral drugs that help those living with HIV live healthy lives. The July 24 march was part of the 2012 International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C.

This conflict in the church – at times extremely generous and compassionate, and also seen as responsible for inciting a climate of fear, hate and isolation – is why people of faith and conscience are uniquely positioned to, and even bear a burden to, love, educate, provide care for and remove the stigma from those who are HIV positive and those who are vulnerable or made vulnerable to the virus.

I had an interesting discussion with a French ACT Up! member at the conference in which he blamed the Christian community for recently dragging HIV/AIDS treatment and education back 20 years in sub-Saharan Africa. I tried to explain that not all faith groups had an abstinence-only or homophobic approach to prevention and that many were doing good and comprehensive work. It was to no avail, he had seen the worst in some Christians and could not be convinced otherwise.

The Christian organization he encountered primarily works to “save” AIDS orphans, prevent mother-to-child transmission and help women infected by their “whoring” husbands. And he is correct in pointing out that some of these same groups refuse to address the vulnerability of sex workers, men who have sex with men and intravenous drug users.

He’s right in calling this group to task – there can be no moralizing the church’s response to those infected with HIV. The parable of the Good Samaritan doesn’t involve the Samaritan asking how the man was injured, or chastising him for being on a dangerous road, or withholding care until the injured man made a confession of faith. The Good Samaritan simply showed true love – to a foreigner, to someone who didn’t share his religious convictions, to someone unclean – without question.

And if I’m reading 1 Corinthians 12:23a right, it isn’t so easy for us to pick and choose those for whom we will care either – “The parts of the body that we think are less honorable are the ones we honor the most.”

A protestor wears a shirt advocating condom use as a preventative step in the spread of HIV at a July 24 march during the 2012 International AIDS Confernece in Wahsington, D.C. (Photo Gregg Brekke/EAA)

I was inspired by a Pentecostal pastor from Malawi who told me he actively preached condom use from the pulpit. When I recounted a conversation I had several years ago with a Kenyan pastor who said he could never speak of such things in church, this Malawian pastor replied, “How can I not [tell people to use condoms?] My calling is to preach life, and it abundantly in Christ. I have no choice … I must preach life.”

People of faith are responsible to proclaim life – it isn’t an option.

HIV now looks like me, and I cannot externalize my response.

HIV is a matter of life and death, and I can’t be selective about who is worthy of care, education, treatment or prevention methods.

HIV lives all around me and I among it, not in stigmatized subcultures or remote corners of the world, and I refuse to separate myself from the HIV positive part of humanity to avoid discomfort.

This post is the first of a three part series on the 19th International AIDS Conference. Part 2 – Let’s Talk About Sex. Part 3 – AIDS and the Good News

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Todas las personas (all the people)

At a UCC communications team retreat…
Todas las personas

Thinking of the UCC’s new ad campaign scheduled to begin Oct. 5, 2008:

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Rockin’ the Flock!

Product Alert:

Is nothing sacred?

My 14 year old son (a MUCH better Christian than I am) has been totally inspired by the Guitar Hero franchise. His guitar skills and interest are enhanced by exposure to some great guitar music on the original Guitar Hero and GH3. “Anarchy in the U.K.”, “Black Magic Woman”, “The Seeker”, “Bulls on Parade” – just to name a few – offer a broad overview of musical styles.

Too bad many “Christian” companies feel they have to either sanitize what our kids see and hear or “God it up” so that it barely resembles the thing they were trying to achieve.

The music and game industries are just that – industries. As is the Christian merchandising industry. They wouldn’t be making what they are making unless it turned a buck. Profit and altruism are generally mutually exclusive. I don’t think the Digital Praise Corporation is producing a quasi-Guitar Hero game because it will make converts or better disciples – they are producing it because they hope it will make money.

As an aspiring guitarist my son needs to know less about Petra’s “Backsliding Blues” and more about Eric Johnson’s “Cliffs of Dover” (as performed at this HS talent show – WOW!!!):

Now those guitar skills are heroic!!!

I’ll reserve my final opinion until I can actually test this product (hmm, I am soon to be the editor for a major denominations news sources.)

One final note – too bad it isn’t compatible with existing Guitar Hero systems and controllers. It would have been really cool (and likely more profitable in the long run) if Digital Praise had partnered with Red Octane to produce a “Guitar Heroes – Christian Rock!” disk for their various platforms. There are lots of good rock guitarists recording on Christian labels – seems like that would have reached the broader audience that has already tapped into the craze and fame of Guitar Hero.

Admittedly, the song list for Guitar Praise (at the bottom of the project page) isn’t bad. But why is it that “Christian” products feel the need to copy what “secular” companies have already perfected?

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Saint Joseph – Sell our House!

OK, we’re looking for some good house selling mojo now.

Our house has been on the market for over a month and we barely have a month left until we need to move to Cleveland! We’ve added a seller’s agent incentive and dropped the price hoping to get more interest but no offers yet…

So in comes St. Joseph – patron saint of carpenters, homeowners and fathers. I couldn’t find a statue so we’ll give this medallion a week or so. If nothing happens I’m headed back to the Catholic book store hoping they have some more St. Joseph statues in stock by then!

I also printed some prayers with St. Joseph’s picture on them to read then put under doormats and found a nifty St. Joseph prayer card (below) to put behind a valuable picture or under a pillow.

20080731-R0011453

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Border Volunteer Trial

nmd

July 22, 2008

Trial for Border Volunteer, Cited for Littering while Picking Up Trash

Tucson, AZ-Tuesday, July 22, 2008:

A humanitarian aid volunteer goes to federal court Friday over a littering citation received while picking up trash along the Arizona – Mexico border. No More Deaths volunteer Dan Millis, 29, has entered a plea of not guilty to the Class B Misdemeanor offense of littering on a National Wildlife Refuge. He faces a maximum penalty of six months in jail and/or $5,000 in fines.

The trial is this Friday, July 25, at 9:30 a.m., at the DeConcini federal courthouse, 405 W. Congress, in Tucson. A press conference will be held in front of the courthouse at noon or immediately following the trial.

Millis and three other humanitarian aid volunteers were picking up trash and leaving jugs of drinking water along border trails in Brown Canyon north of Sasabe on February 22, 2008, when they were confronted by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Law Enforcement. Officers informed volunteers that they could neither leave water nor recover trash without proper permits, and Millis was presented with a $175 ticket for littering.

“I didn’t pay the ticket because I’m not guilty,” says Millis. “Littering is a crime, humanitarian aid is not.”

Millis, a volunteer with No More Deaths since 2005, has previously brought groups of high school students to the border to pick up trash. He coordinated an educational partnership with the Leave No Trace program and currently coordinates No More Deaths’ participation in the Pima County Adopt-a-Roadway program.

“I felt especially compelled to leave drinking water out that day, because only two days earlier I found the body of a young girl in the desert. She was only fourteen,” states Millis. “It was heartbreaking.”

238 migrants were found dead in the Arizona borderlands during the 2007 fiscal year. During the summer of 2007, No More Deaths encountered 388 migrants along the Arizona – Mexico border, including twenty seven women, fourteen children, and one pregnant seventeen-year-old. Many required serious medical attention. No More Deaths has been working to provide humanitarian aid to people along the border since 2004, including the Brown Canyon area where Millis was cited.

“The Samaritans and No More Deaths have been working in Brown Canyon for several years. We’ve never had a problem like this before,” says Millis.

No More Deaths is concerned that vandalism and confiscation of life-saving water and other humanitarian aid supplies is an egregious offense that is becoming too common in the Arizona desert. U.S. government policies of walling people into the remotest deserts, continuing human rights abuses, and impeding attempts at direct relief are unjust and need to be stopped.

Southside Presbyterian Church Pastor Emeritus and No More Deaths co-founder John Fife states, “Regardless of the outcome of this trial, we’re going to continue our humanitarian aid work whenever and wherever it is needed, until there are no more deaths in the desert.”

For more information, please visit http://www.nomoredeaths.org, write us at action@nomoredeaths.org, or (928) 821-0331.

En Español…

22 de Julio, 2008

Juicio el viernes de voluntario humanitario, multado mientras recogía basura

Tucson, AZ-Martes, 22 de Julio, 2008

Un voluntario de asistencia humanitaria va al juicio federal el viernes por una citación recibida mientras él recogía basura por la frontera de México y Arizona. Daniel Millis, 29, voluntario con No Más Muertes, se ha declarado no culpable al delito menor de Clase B de ensuciar espacio público en un Refugio Nacional. Millis se puede recibir una pena máxima de encarcelamiento de seis meses o una multa de $5,000 (US).

El juicio es a las nueve y media de la mañana, este viernes 25 de Julio en la corte federal DiConcini, 405 W. Congress en Tucson. Habrá una rueda de prensa a las doce o inmediatamente después del juicio frente a la corte.

Millis y tres más voluntarios de asistencia humanitaria estaban recogiendo basura y dejando jarras de agua en los caminos fronterizos de Brown Canyon al norte de Sasabe el 22 de febrero 2008 cuando se vieron enfrentados a oficiales policiales del U.S. Fish and Wildlife. Los oficiales les informaron a los voluntarios que no se permite recoger basura ni dejar agua sin permisos especiales y Millis fue presentado con una multa de $175 (US) por ensuciar espacio público.

“No pagué la multa porque no soy culpable,” dice Millis. “El ensuciamiento de espacios públicos es un delito, mientras la asistencia humanitaria no lo es.”

Millis, un voluntario con No Más Muertes desde el 2005, ha traído a grupos de estudiantes de escuela secundaria a la frontera para recoger basura. También coordinó una colaboración educativa con el programa Leave No Trace (No Dejar Rastro) y hoy en día coordina la participación de No Más Muertes con el programa de Adoptar una Carretera del Condado Pima.

“Me sentí especialmente animado y obligado a dejar agua en los caminos aquel día, porque dos días antes yo había encontrado el cadáver de una joven en el desierto. Solamente tenía catorce años,” dice Millis. “Sentí lástima en mi corazón.”

Se encontraron hasta 238 migrantes muertos en las tierras fronterizas de Arizona durante el año fiscal 2007. Durante el verano del 2007, No Más Muertes se encontró con 388 migrantes por la frontera de Arizona/Mexico, incluyendo veintisiete mujeres, catorce niños, y una joven de diecisiete años embarazada. Muchos requirieron atención médica muy grave. Desde el año 2004, No Más Muertes trabaja con la meta de proveer asistencia humanitaria a la gente por la frontera, incluyendo la región de Brown Canyon, donde Millis fue citado.

“Los Samaritanos y No Más Muertes han trabajado en Brown Canyon por varios años. Nunca antes nos ha pasado un problema tal como este,” dice Millis.

No Más Muertes se preocupa por el vandalismo y la confiscación del agua y otras provisiones de asistencia humanitaria. Opinan que tal vandalismo es una ofensa vergonzosa que se está haciendo demasiado común en el desierto de Arizona. La política del gobierno estadounidense de forzar a la gente a los desiertos más remotos, continuar los abusos de derechos humanos, e impedir los intentos de asistencia directa no es justo y necesita ponerse fin.

El Pastor Emeritus de la Iglesia Presbiteriana Southside y el co-fundador de No Más Muertes John Fife afirma, “A pesar de cualquier resultado de este juicio, vamos a continuar nuestro trabajo de asistencia humanitaria cuando sea y donde sea que se lo necesite, hasta que no haya más muertes en el desierto.”

Para mayor información, favor de visitar a sitio Web http://www.nomoredeaths.org, escribirnos a action@nomoredeaths.org, o (928) 821-0331

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