Recently sports fans mourned the death of Dean Smith, legendary coach of the University of North Carolina basketball team. He was a Hall of Fame coach, but more important, a Hall of Fame human being. As tributes poured in, one stood out, pointing to his living a life of justice and integrity. He began his career in segregated North Carolina and was determined to challenge the system of segregation by inviting an African American friend to dinner at a local restaurant. After a delay, both were finally served. He knew keeping integrity intact was more important than success on the basketball court.
In their annual report, Bread for the World states: "Discrimination against women is a major cause of persistent hunger. Women are the primary agents the world relies on to fight hunger. Discrimination is the reason women are paid less than men, have lower levels of education and fewer assets, and have to spend more time on unpaid care. Thus, development policies and programs that empower women contribute directly to ending hunger."
Every year Bread for the World provides a clear and comprehensive report on hunger, its causes and solutions. The plight of women living in poverty and denied basic human rights remains a cornerstone of the problem, and the need for a change in attitude toward women remains an ongoing challenge.
The most recent horrific actions of ISIS make watching the news extremely difficult. From beheadings to setting a human on fire, torturing, raping and killing children and strapping explosives on mentally challenged children, making them suicide bombers, ISIS rage seems to know no bounds. It is challenging to get beyond the brutal, barbaric actions of extremists to understand the why of such actions. Religion is a pretense used to serve as a reason for such action. ISIS will cite the U.S. initiating a war against Iraq, torturing Muslims at Guantanamo Bay, using drones that have killed many civilians, as well as having a military base in a holy site in Saudi Arabia as reasons for a "holy war." Regardless of reasons given, there is no justification for torture. It is, however, important to understand the validity of the complaints and outrage expressed.
Cash Cow, Payday Plus, Fast Buck. These are just a few of the predatory lenders or "loan sharks" that continue to prey on the working poor around the United States. The stories are similar: a pharmacy tech in Virginia borrowed $800 to pay bills, car loan, etc. She managed eight $50 fee payments and another $280 toward the balance, for a total of $680; however, interest at $212 a month brought her repayment to $1,249.
Earl Milford lives on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico and depends on a civil service pension and veterans disability benefit check. He spends $1,500 each month to lenders just to cover the interest on what he intended to be a "short-term" loan.
For some, demonstrations are a symbol of the 1960s. The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act did not become a reality because of luck or good timing, but through the relentless effort of African Americans and people of many cultures who demonstrated in the streets, in restaurants, schools and other areas off limits to African Americans. This was "holy work" because it was a model of nonviolence, prayer and a refusal to demonize those who upheld segregation.
"We have inherited a big house, a great world house in which we have to live together—black and white, Easterners and Westerners, Gentiles and Jews, Catholics and Protestants, Muslims and Hindu, a family separated in ideas, culture, and interests, who, because we can never again live without each other, must learn somehow, in this one big world, to live with each other." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
In a recent issue of The Atlantic, Pope Francis is portrayed as a radical on the environment. In a talk at the Italian University of Molise he expressed his concern about the environment as "one of the greatest challenges of our time." He said, "...When I look at so many forests, all cut, that become land that can no longer give life...this is our sin, exploiting the Earth. This is one of the greatest challenges of our time - to convert ourselves to a type of development that knows how to respect creation." This is not only a sin, but "our sin," "the major sin of our time." A papal letter about humankind’s relationship with the environment will be published this year.
For some, the election of the country's first African-American president demonstrated the end of or the reduction of racism in the United States. I believe that theory had a short life. The examples of racism in our culture remain numerous.
When President Obama gave a State of the Union address early in his presidency a representative in the chamber shouted, "You lie!" Never in the history of such an important gathering did white presidents experience such disrespect. This representative received the largest donations for his reelection than ever before. At the last Republican National Convention a delegate threw peanuts at an African-American cameraman and shouted, "This is what we feed the animals!"
The sound I have often heard in the last few weeks is a collective sigh of relief that 2014 is almost over. This year has challenged the strongest person of faith and greatest optimist. The terrorism of ISIS fighters, violent rhetoric from North Korea, an Ebola outbreak, and ever escalating gun violence challenge us each day. We often respond with petitions, phone calls to legislators, a national demonstration in New York or Columbus, Georgia and prayer. Our voices and resilience remain important.
I love the Christmas season. The spirit of the season is energizing, with parties galore, neighborhoods enveloped in lights, music that lightens the day, but above all, generosity that touches many lives.
Christmas is the season when we notice the homeless and poor more than any time. Go to any grocery or shopping mall and a Salvation Army volunteer is ringing a bell. Parishes and stores sponsor angel trees, with the opportunity to sponsor a family in need. Even with a generous response to all the requests for donations, nonprofit groups are falling short of reaching goals. The Salvation Army has only reached half of its goal, with three days left until Christmas.