Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

Advent Devotions: Magnificat 2014

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This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

By Rev. Dr. James McDonald

Luke 1:46-56              

Two Jewish kinswomen, both unexpectedly pregnant, meet in an obscure city nestled in the hills of a tiny country and get caught up in the wonder of God's saving ways. Elizabeth is an old woman, upright and well-to-do, from the priestly family of Aaron. Mary is a poor, peasant girl, young, perhaps 12, of uncertain lineage.

There is something marvelously mystical in the moment of their meeting: an unbounded enthusiasm, an unfettered joy, a comprehension of crystal clarity. Two people could not be more fully present to each other than were Elizabeth and Mary. Two people could not share more fully the sense of God's presence, could not have been more connected to the continuing story of God's faithful action in history, could not have embodied more freely the joy and humility of participating in God's salvation than these two women, one old, one young, one rich, one poor.

The fact that some ancient texts put the words of the Magnificat into the mouth of Elizabeth instead of Mary is simply confirmation of the unity of feeling and understanding that was present at the moment of their meeting. God was doing a new thing, something marvelous. God was turning the world upside down, and setting it right.

Could this happen to us? Could we get so caught up in the wonder of God's unexpected ways, God's saving grace, that some confused scholar might one day place the words of the Magnificat in our mouths?

"My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior."

Can we embrace the truth that good news for the poor and lowly is actually God's way of saving the world from itself? To fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty sounds heartless to the rich. But the judgment upon the rich and powerful is God's way of saving them/us too.

God has remembered and come to save us, rich and poor, young and old, powerful and lowly. This Advent can we sing Mary's song with open hearts and full voice? And can we live it? 

 

Rev. Dr. James McDonald is the president of San Francisco Theological Seminary. 

 

Advent Devotions: The Hidden Power of Women's Solidarity

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This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

By Min-Hee Kim

Luke 1:39-45              

I ponder the hidden power of women's solidarity in this encounter between two pregnant women. I see Mary as the first woman to exercise her right subjectively to her own womb. In a time when women were not allowed to have their own voices, Mary was willing to make a decision about how to use her womb by herself to bear the Word. She exactly accounted for the expense of exercising her autonomy against a patriarchal/kyriarchal society. She knew that the world was supposed to expel her from her family and from her community by nullifying her status as a valid member of the society, or to stone her because of her decision to be an unmarried and pregnant woman.

In that world, where would Mary have been empowered after having the Holy One conceived in her body?  How would Mary have taken care of her terrifying emotions occasioned by this unexpected blessing? How would Mary have protected her body and her baby from a world hostile to her?

I am sure that she was aware of where her blessing was from. She knew that in such a trustful relationship with God she did not need to have any external authority to exercise her right to her body.  She understood that her womb was hers, not her fiancé Joseph's, not her father's, not the temple priests'. Mary's decision made it clearer that a woman's body is her own. In other words, Mary did not ask for her partner's understanding, nor her father's protection, nor religious vindication. She did not even beg for help from women participating in patriarchal society. She knew whom she needed in that time: She did not hesitate to go to see a woman with a common life-experience, a child conceived/gifted by the Holy Spirit.

Imagine the moment when Mary visited Elizabeth. I sense that their solidarity and mutual support offered a safer and more comfortable space for two babies conceived/gifted by the Holy Spirit. From reading their praise toward God in this scripture, I clearly feel that her anxiety about her social status was relieved, and her self-esteem as an unmarried single mom had been renewed while she stayed with Elizabeth for three months. Through their mutual support, they must have empowered each other so that Mary was able to praise God through her body and her voice.

In this encounter between two pregnant women, the hidden power of women's solidarity makes the Word flesh.

 

Min-Hee Kim is pursuing a Master of Divinity degree at San Fransciso Theological Seminary.

   

 

 

Holiday Gifts That Give Back

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Wikimedia Commons

By Jennifer Gonzalez

Everyone knows that Christmas is the season of giving. So this year, why not try something a little different? Ditch the clothes, electronic gadgets, and expensive jewelry and instead embrace socially responsible gift giving.

Give your family and friends gifts that show them how much you really care about them. With less than a week before Christmas, here are some ideas to help you:

Give your time

  • Make a homemade dinner and deliver it to the person’s house.
  • Provide a ride to someone in need.
  • Remember those who cannot get home for the holidays. Invite them over to your home so they can experience a Christmas filled with food, laughter, and good company.
  • Offer to house and/or pet sit for friends and family traveling out of town.
  • Offer babysitting services for a night to parents so they can have a “date night.”

Give your experience

  • Share your love and expertise by teaching someone how to play a sport, write a poem, play an instrument, how to cook, use a computer, or take a photograph.
  • Sign someone up for language or dance classes.

Homemade gifts

  • Remember that ceramic bowl you made in art class for Mom and Dad years ago? Well, it’s time to turn it up a notch. Embrace your artistic and crafty side and create photo albums, collages, and scrapbooks.
  • Put together an oral history by recording interviews with family members. Share the stories on Christmas Day or New Year’s Day.
  • Draw your family tree and frame the artwork.
  • Put together a book of family recipes or family stories.

Give your money

  • Donate money to a nonprofit organization in the name a friend or family member. Bread has received high ratings from charity-rating organizations.

Jennifer Gonzalez is the associate online editor at Bread for the World.

Thank You For a Successful Year of Advocacy

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By David Beckmann

From all of us at Bread for the World, thank you! Despite a year defined by gridlock and partisanship in Congress, your advocacy accomplished a lot. We saw some tremendous victories this year!

During 2014, you sent hundreds of thousands of letters and personal emails and made thousands of calls to your members of Congress on such issues as food-aid reform, protecting SNAP in the farm bill, tax credits for working families, addressing the root causes of hunger, poverty, and violence that are driving refugee children to flee Central America, and Feed the Future. Although Congress did not pass many major bills, we did get important provisions included in bills that did pass, and we blocked some bad policies that were pushed by powerful corporate lobbyists.

Our legislative wins are so numerous that we cannot fit them in this email. Starting next week, we will be blogging and promoting them via Facebook and Twitter. You’ll also be able to see the whole, long list in our January 2015 newsletter.

Our victories during a very difficult congressional year prove you can make a real difference. These victories affirm that God is truly moving to end hunger in our time.

As we prepare for Christmas, I want you to know how much we value you and your work for and on behalf of people who are hungry. Merry Christmas!

David Beckmann is the president of Bread for the World.

World Prayers for Dec. 21-27: Ghana and Nigeria

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In Ghana, Feed the Future, the U.S. global hunger and food security initiative, has provided agricultural development assistance to this woman and other members of a women’s rice processing group. Louis Stippel/USAID.

This is a weekly prayer series that appears each Friday on the Bread Blog.

One aspect of Bread for the World’s new Bread Rising campaign is prayer. The campaign is asking Bread members to pray more, act more, and give more. In this blog series, we will provide a prayer for a different group of countries each week and their efforts to end hunger.

This prayer series will follow the Ecumenical Prayer Cycle, a list compiled by the World Council of Churches that enables Christians around the world to journey in prayer through every region of the world, affirming our solidarity with Christians all over the world, brothers and sisters living in diverse situations, experiencing their challenges and sharing their gifts.

We will especially be lifting up in prayer the challenges related to hunger and poverty that the people of each week’s countries face. In prayer, God’s story and our own story connect—and we and the world are transformed. In a prayer common to all of us—the Lord’s Prayer/the Our Father—we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This line from this prayer can also be a prayer for the end of hunger.

We invite you to join Bread in our prayers for the world’s countries to end hunger. And we encourage you to share with us your prayers for the featured countries of the week or for the end of hunger in general.

For the week of December 21-27, we pray for Ghana and Nigeria:

Lord Christ, you reconciled us to yourself through sacrifice. We pray today for your followers in Ghana and Nigeria as they work for peace and reconciliation with their Muslim neighbors. Thank you for their faithfulness to the Gospel and their witness of your power to us. Continue to bless their work.

Almighty God, you have given us this world and charged us as its stewards. We pray for our brothers and sisters in these countries as they fight for a more just and equitable society. May it protect the rights of minority groups, provide needed healthcare, especially for those living with HIV/AIDS, and properly administrate natural resources. Give the leaders of both the church and the government wisdom in how to accomplish these tasks to your glory.

Advance your Kingdom through the Holy Spirit for your glory, so that all people might live peacefully in the saving knowledge of Christ. These things we pray in His name. Amen.

Percentage of the population of these countries living below the national poverty line (2014 figures):

Ghana: Not available
Nigeria: 46.0

Source: World Bank World Development Indicators as found in the new 2015 Hunger Report

 

Advent Devotions: Listening from Tomorrow

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This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

By Rev. Dr. Virstan Choy

Luke 1:26-38           

"(I am) the Lord's servant.  Let it be with me according to your prediction."

The theme for this year's Advent devotions is a helpful reminder of the multi-sensory nature of Advent and other journeys of hope:  It is not just about seeing (vision); it's at least also about hearing (listening). And according to Donald Zimmer, as with Advent journeys, so with leadership:  "To govern effectively within the church, leaders must first be able to listen individually and together to God."(Zimmer,Leadership and Listening: Spiritual Foundations for Church Governance).

But in my work with leaders of congregations in search of hope in the midst of uncertain futures, and leaders seeking hope in the midst of seemingly intractable conflicts, the key to listening is what organizational consultant Michael Black calls "listening from tomorrow," rather than listening from yesterday or even today.  To listen from tomorrow is to engage in what Otto Scharmer calls "generative listening" in his book, Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges -- listening in which one intentionally seeks to let go of the perceptions and attachments that inevitably form when what one is hearing is information that arouses one's feelings.  Such listening requires that we suspend our judgment about how things are or ought to be so that we can be more open to the potential that surrounds us and fills us.  

And in the passage for today, Mary's listening moves from listening--to to listening-from.  Gabriel lists a number of tomorrows that are about to happen-tomorrows involving God, but tomorrows involving Mary herself, too.  Mary listens to and begins to respond from her place of today--what is true today ("But how can this be?"), but then shifts to listening from tomorrow.

Is not Mary's movement a movement from listening to/listening from today to listening from tomorrow?   Robert Brawley's translation above in the recently-published Fortress Commentary on the Bible helps us to hear Mary's "Let it be with me according to your word about the tomorrow God is bringing into being."

And Advent is our opportunity to remember tomorrow, the tomorrow that is the destiny of humanity, the destiny which is embodied in Jesus, as Roger Haight tell us: "Jesus is one of us-- what occurred in Jesus is the destiny of human existence itself: et homo factus est." (cited by James Carroll in Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age). 

What seeds for our destiny are being planted by God within us and around us this Advent?  How are we seeking such hope--listening as well as seeing from tomorrow?  

 

Rev. Dr. Virstan Choy is the director of advanced pastoral studies and associate professor of ministry at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

 

 

Transforming Fear Into Action

On-faithBy Rev. Ann Tiemeyer

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, ...

"Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, ..."   (From Psalm 46)

Fear can be paralyzing. Fear can paralyze a person, a city, a nation, and a global community. When Ebola appeared in the United States, fear seemed to spread at lighting speed through Dallas and across our nation to our "leaders" in D.C. Calls for canceling flights threatened to paralyze a positive global response. As Christians, when we see fear that points a finger and blames innocent people — people who are sick, people who offered help to those who are sick, people who are different from us — how can we respond? How do we keep from being paralyzed by the fear? One powerful response is prayer — to take our fears to God. Psalm 46 reminds us that "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble."  

When I turned to prayer in the face of the U.S. Ebola fear, I found a deep sense of thanksgiving welled up my heart. I am thankful for the privilege of living in a country with a medical system that can, within two months and three days after the tragic death of Thomas Eric Duncan in Dallas, give thanks for Dr. Craig Spencer's release from the hospital free of the Ebola virus. 

When I turned to prayer in the face of the global Ebola fear, my heart was filled with thoughts of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Laymah Gbowee, whose foundation — begun with her Nobel Prize funds — immediately activated grants to stem the spread of Ebola. In the midst of her advocacy work, Gbowee experienced the loss her father. On her Facebook page she reflected:

The last few weeks have been a roller coaster week for me. Beyond the Ebola nightmare, I lost my dad two weeks ago in Ghana. This has been a hard time for me; however, I think my dad taught me a very valuable lesson before leaving me. Every day for the last nine days of his life, I sang his favorite hymn "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." The song's chorus chides us to take all of life's trials and tribulations to the "Lord in prayer." There we will find comfort, and most importantly wisdom and knowledge when our human understanding fails us. Today, I think I understand why my dad had me sing this song to him. He was telling me to talk to God in every situation: Talk to God, ...

When we take our fears to God in prayer, the overwhelming recognition of God's love for all of us can transform our fear into thankfulness and our thankfulness into action and advocacy. 

So, as we gather with our families during this time of year, may we take time to be still and be in prayer. Let us utter out loud our fears. Fears such as our government continuing in deadlock, causing suffering for the poor, people who are un- and underemployed, hungry, undocumented, or incarcerated. As we transition from Thanksgiving to Advent, let us remember the biblical stories for this church season, how angels, sent from God, visited both Zechariah and Mary and told them, "Do not be afraid…"

We can carry into Advent our Thanksgiving gratefulness and prayers. Together in prayer, our fears will transform to thanksgiving — a thanksgiving for a loving God who is ultimately in charge. Thanksgiving for a God of love, forgiveness, empowerment, and life, who can move us to action and advocacy. Fear through prayer becomes thankfulness that can empower us to advocate for change that reflects God's love exalted among all nations.

Rev. Ann Tiemeyer (pictured), a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), is the former Associate General Secretary for Joint Action and Advocacy of the National Council of Churches.

Help When I Needed It

Joe-molieriBy Joseph Molieri

My dad worked hard as an auto mechanic when I was young, spending long and difficult hours to support his wife and five children. But the truth is, no matter how hard he worked, it wasn't always enough to feed the whole family, and like many Americans, we relied on school lunches and food stamps to make it through hard times.

There were moments when we felt ashamed for needing that help. It wasn't easy being "the poor kid" at my school — but it was our reality.

The essential child nutrition programs that helped me and my family are set to expire in 2015. If we don't do anything, Congress could enact harmful cuts that put children at risk. Please donate now to Bread for the World to help protect the programs that keep kids from going hungry.

I've worked at Bread for almost two years now, and it's been a blessing to give voice to people struggling to put food on their tables. I've seen firsthand what it takes to protect the programs that kept my family safe —the same programs that millions still rely on today.

As we're putting together our strategy to defend vulnerable kids and families, we urgently need your financial support to:

  • Mobilize individuals and churches to write, call, and meet with their members of Congress
  • Identify and train new leader activists
  • Organize lobby visits with key members of Congress

We know there will be powerful forces pushing for cuts to these programs. We can't let them succeed.

Now is the time to step up and give as generously as you can. Bread for the World has a key role in preserving and improving programs that end hunger, and it's up to you and me to make sure that Bread can continue to protect these programs that help millions of people escape hunger.
I can't imagine what my life would have been like if organizations like Bread didn't stick up for the programs that helped my family years ago, and I'm going to fight to make sure nobody ever has to. 



Are you with me?

Joe Molieri is the multimedia manager at Bread for the World.

Photo: The Molieri Family, 1991. 

Advent Devotions: Weather Report

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This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

By Alexander Wendeheart

Isaiah 52:7-10              

This passage tells of the long-expected proclamation of peace and salvation; the good news repeated and called out by those in the watch towers on Jerusalem's walls. It is a long-awaited answer to the prayers of all who anticipated the return of captives taken to Babylon. It is a sign that the Lord has comforted the sorrows of God's people, and they will see the salvation of our God.

Simeon and Anna also are those of the tower watch, those waiting for the consolation of Israel. Simeon proclaimed not from Jerusalem's walls, but by taking the child Jesus in his arms and praising God, saying: "Sovereign Lord, you may dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." In like manner, Anna came up to Mary and Joseph and she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Each announcing as a tower watch, that God has comforted the sorrows of God's people.

Those that stand in our watch tower now proclaim the evening news. This past week our newscasters have broadcasted warning of the approaching weather and alerts of the coming mid-December storm in the San Francisco Bay Area. Their prolific reporting has passed over the reality of the need for rain to fill our reservoirs, and it hasn't halted our fear of rationing, or reduced water restrictions for the future. The TV meteorologists are the ones calling from the watch towers. But, regardless of the fanfare, and the atmospheric disturbances, we cannot forget to speak of the drought, which has changed how some earn their livelihoods and how others lead their lives, especially if they are dependent upon the land.

Though Advent announces the coming of the Christ child, our sole purpose cannot focus on the awaited good news. Let us remember why Christ was born into the world: there is a thirst for the love and grace of God. This thirst is not only for the people of biblical times, but for us as well; we too suffer from a spiritual drought. In John 4:14, Jesus reminds us, "The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." We are in need of Christ's renewing waters that will fill our internal reservoir, halt our fear, and reduce our apprehension of what tomorrow will bring.

As I sit here watching the long anticipated storm, I choose to forget all the fanfare, and conditions, and remember all the good that the rain brings upon the land, to the world, and to our souls. Amen.

Alexander Wendeheart is pursuing a Master of Divinity degree at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

 

 

Coffee and Conversation with US Sen. Jeff Merkley

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Sen. Jeff Merkley and Robin Stephenson. Photo: Sen. Jeff Merkley’s office.

By Robin Stephenson

On any given Thursday when Congress is in session, the smell of Oregon’s finest coffee wafts through  U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley’s Washington, D.C., office. Oregonians gather in a bright blue conference room exchanging greetings and stories as they wait to meet the senator for a quick conversation.

As an anti-hunger advocate, I am always trying to get a message to my members of Congress, but I rarely meet with them personally. I usually pass my message through a staff member. Because legislative assistants advise members of Congress, it is important to communicate with them. However, face time with elected officials themselves can leave a lasting impression.

While in Washington, D.C., last week, I dropped by Merkley’s office for coffee and spent several minutes talking to him about an issue I am really worried about: schools eliminating free and reduced-price lunch programs in rural Oregon, where child food-insecurity rates are as high as 30 percent. I also talked to him about a food-aid reform bill I want him to cosponsor. He asked me some questions before we took a photo together. Afterward, he sincerely thanked me and told me that my advocacy work was very important.

It is no secret that I am a fan of the senator. I learned about the power of advocacy by working on a payday loan campaign in Oregon that he spearheaded. It might be easy to think he doesn't need to hear from me, but my showing up reminds him that he has constituents at home who count on him to continue being a champion for vulnerable people.

Many senators host weekly meet-and-greets for their constituents who are visiting the nation’s capital. Some offices have traditions that go back decades. These events are one way lawmakers can connect with constituents from home.

Using coffee chats as an opportunity to talk about poverty is nothing new to Bread for the World members. U.S. Sen. Tom Udall’s office does coffee with a distinctly New Mexican flair; they serve biscochitos (butter-based cookies flavored with anise and cinnamon) and green chile pistachios, says longtime Bread activist and current board member Carlos Navarro.

In addition to one-on-one time with Udall, Navarro says he enjoys meeting other New Mexicans working on anti-hunger issues in his state. He met AARP state director Gene Varela at a 2013 coffee meet-and-greet in Udall’s office. “The contact turned out to be very important, since I was able to connect with him later about the Hunger Summit in New Mexico in the summer of 2014, which AARP was cosponsoring,” he says.

And there is something about meeting over coffee that makes talking to a U.S. senator less intimidating. Rev. Libby Tedder Hugus has written about how coffee eased her nerves when speaking with Wyoming’s Sen. John Barrasso. I can totally relate. Part of why I like “constituent coffee” is because it brings a little bit of home to our nation’s capital, and I’m just one Oregonian talking to another.

If you are planning to visit Washington, D.C., for any reason, call your senator’s office ahead of time and find out if they host a constituent coffee.

Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and senior organizer at Bread for the World.

 

 

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