Friday, January 22, 2010

you can do something

So do it now.

Mission Lazarus, along with Healing Hands International and Mobile Medical Disaster Relief, has identified a specific problem that they are uniquely situated to address: the lack of anesthetics for necessary surgeries for the survivors of the Haiti earthquake. Right now, several members of Mission Lazarus are in Haiti, delivering the first rounds of these medications, and we can help them supply more.

CCfB is taking up a special collection for this effort on Sunday. For those of you outside of CCfB who would like to contribute to this specific effort, go to and make your donation through PayPal--don't forget to include the word "HAITI" in the details area to indicate what your donation is for.

And thank you.

by Steve Leveen, for the guys: I'll bet you know women in your world whom you can support

Why men should read this book about women, then help make it the most influential book of the decade

At any given moment it's easy to identify successful books. All you need do is scan the bestseller lists or check out the winners of awards. What's hard to identify are the new books that will have lasting influence as agents of change. Who knew that Silent Spring would be celebrated as a game-changing book so many years after its initial publication?
But what if we could have known in 1962, the year of its publication, that Silent Spring would contain a message of change necessary to save our very world? My guess is that we would have acted faster to head off what we're desperately trying to fix today.
So it's important to try to fathom which books will become the most influential books of our time, in order to add force to their nascent power. In this hazardous task, I hazard a prediction: the most influential book of the decade will be Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.
Of course I don't know that Half the Sky will be the most influential book, but I believe it should be. And in my own small way, I'm going to help make it so. More important, I invite you--especially if you're a man--to do the same.
It's not (just) about women
The oppression of women is breathtakingly evil, it's frighteningly pervasive in the developing world, and it is alarmingly consequential in its damage--those messages come across vividly in the able hands of authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. They write from first-hand experience as reporters, and also from a deep understanding of their subject through years of research.
Reading their book is like being taken on a frightening but irresistible ride. You don't want to see what you're seeing, but you can't close your eyes either. When the ride is over, they help you understand what you saw and what you can do to make a tangible difference.
The curious thing is that while the book is about the oppression of women, it's not a book about women's problems to be classified under gender studies. Half the Sky is about human rights. The authors argue (successfully, in my opinion) that women's oppression is the human rights issue of our century -- as totalitarianism was of the twentieth century and conventional slavery was of the nineteenth century.
I say "conventional" slavery since it's likely that today's global sex-slave trade is larger in absolute numbers than the transatlantic African slave trade of the nineteenth century.
What's more, helping women not only helps the most humans--women and men--but it is an almost magical leverage point for tackling the dark domes of suffering afflicting the world today. This is especially true when women are given access to education. Two examples: educated women have children later and fewer of them, and they have more opportunities to earn money. Thus the problems of overpopulation and poverty become a bit more surmountable.
The female half of our human capital is desperately needed to understand and effectively fight obstacles facing developing nations, not only overpopulation and poverty but even disease, terrorism and calamitous climate change. The way to hold up our whole sky is to free women to take part in the lifting.
The education of an average white guy
I wouldn't have thought a book about women's oppression would, or should, be the most influential book of our times. I've lived only in the United States, and at 55, I'm smack in the middle of the boomer generation. I've witnessed first hand the progress women have been making. I'm the son of a well-educated professional woman, the brother of strong sisters, and the husband of a beautifully caring and capable woman who founded Levenger as an equal partner with me some 22 years ago.
I've traveled to a good number of countries, including underdeveloped ones, and met professional women in all of them. From my vantage point, things seemed to be working out pretty well for women.
But in truth, I've lived a sheltered life.
My limited education in the oppression women face began 15 years ago when I saw Bandit Queen, a movie from India based on the life of Phoolan Devi and directed by Shekhar Kapur. In 1995 I introduced Kapur at a conference in what was then Bombay, shortly after the movie came out. (He is a celebrity in India, something akin to Robert Redford in the U.S.)
Kapur's movie rocked India with its depiction of sexual brutality as told through the true story of Phoolan Devi, a girl married off at age 9 who fought back with a brutality of her own. The movie deeply affected me, as it did millions of other viewers in India and elsewhere. (The real Devi was imprisoned for murder, pardoned, became a politician, and was assassinated at age 37.)
But then my education slowed to a stop. I started learning again only in the last couple of years, mainly through books that I read about efforts to build libraries around the world. The first book was Leaving Microsoft to Change the World by John Wood, and then Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea. Both men saw with their own eyes the lack of schools and libraries in remote areas of the world, and learned the powerful leverage to be gained by helping girls. Girls help educate other children at rates far exceeding boys.
Those books led me to Paul Polak's brilliant Out of Poverty, and then Muhammad Yunus's inspiring Creating a World Without Poverty. A common theme in all these books is the leverage to be had by educating girls and financially empowering women, since they pour their knowledge and earnings back into families.
But not until Half the Sky did it come together for me. Kristof's and WuDunn's mix of riveting storytelling and fact-based expository writing, topped off with practical calls to action, is a potent mixture. Their book is engineered to elicit action, and it's working.
Nadereh Chamlou, Senior Advisor for the Middle East and North Africa at the World Bank, praises the book for its call for education and micro-finance, while at the same time cautioning that even more is needed: what she calls
"a paradigm changing shift in society... eliminating any kind of legal and institutional discrimination."
Chamlou says in her region, girls are getting comparable educations to boys, and even more so in college, yet gender roles and laws keep women far from economic and political parity. Here is a link to a video from the World Economic Forum's Gender equality report.

Will Sky's influence grow or die out?
From their pulpit as Pulitzer-winning reporters at The New York Times, Kristof and WuDunn were able to launch their book with force. Oprah has endorsed the authors and their cause, and so has Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Yet even with these and other media powerhouses behind the cause, it's amazing to me how many of my friends--women and men--have heard of Going Rogue but haven't heard of Half the Sky.

Might this important book be lost in the noise?

Despite every reason why it should influence great action in the years to come, it's quite possible that Half the Sky will not be the agent of change its authors, and so many others, hope. That's why men, in particular, should step up to make sure it does.
Why men?
The men reading this are not the men oppressing women--at least, not in the worst ways. Yet millions of men are. (And so are women, by the way, as so much of the oppression is baked hard into culture.) Consider this from page 61: "Women aged fifteen through forty-four are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined." Isn't that stupefying?
Yet we know men are also capable of heroism, self-sacrifice and even, I hesitate to say, chivalry. If I'm not mistaken, men still control most of the power and money in the world. So let's use what we've got--and show what we've got.
We need to cover their backs while women walk through saloon doors, kick some ass, take names, and then walk out. After the dust settles, it would be nice if we picked up the tab at the bar and set the chairs back down on the floor.
Here's the paradigm shift, guys: Seek out women you can help. Then do.
More than just blue sky
Start at home. As the senior Bill Gates says, "...what I find remarkable is that more men around the globe don't realize how much stronger they would be if partnered with a strong woman." That's just what his son has done with his wife in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Next, seek out other women whom you see doing great things wherever they might be. Here are some examples I've seen in the course of running a business.
Laura Roberts-Niner is the CEO of a green chemical company in the U.S. that is growing rapidly by showing how sustainable practices can help big companies make better profits. After reading Half the Sky, she refined her focus even further.
"I loved the last part of the book--about what you can do now. It inspired me to change our charities inside the company to focus on feet-on-the-street organizations overseas, and in this country, that are doing miraculous things for children and women. When women get to the table, things improve--including sustainability."
Roberts-Niner is also launching a website featuring women's charities.
Reading, then doing
Sometimes the women to support work at large public companies, such as Ann Marie Bushell, Group Executive Vice President of R.R. Donnelley.
Bushell personally supports Heifer, which promotes buying cows and other animals that keep on giving to those in the developing world, as well as SIFE, which joins students with pros to bring sustainable business practices to developing countries.
"But Half the Sky stopped me in my tracks," says Bushell. "It's just staggering to me that I can spend $25 for gift wrap, or I can use that same $25 and make a tangible difference in some girl's life--and not even as a gift, but a loan." Bushell went to Kiva to make a micro-loan and then personally recommended Half the Sky to 10 people, "friends, co-workers, even a friendly competitor."
Were any of the 10 people men? I asked.
"Actually, no."
After a moment's hesitation, she added: "I wanted people to act on the book, and there's no way a woman can read this book and not act."

Other women lead nonprofits, such as Darlene Kostrub, CEO of the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County, for which I volunteer.
Gwenny So owns a leather-goods business in China that makes some of the best-constructed leathers I've ever seen, including for Levenger. Most of her executives are women and, like our other Chinese manufacturers, she employs more female workers than males. As Half the Sky points out, with all the very bad parts of communist Chinese history also came very good parts. The freeing of girls to go to school and to participate in the labor force on an equal standing with boys has been a critical component of China's economic miracle.
I'll bet you know women in your world whom you can support so that their influence becomes magnified.
Looking backwards in 2059
Fifty years from now I hope college professors assign an anniversary edition of Half the Sky to their students so that they can see the amazing progress that's been made. I would like to believe that those students will shake their heads and say, "Can you imagine when the world was actually like this?"
But that won't happen by wishing it. It's time for men to open the doors for girls and women, and help make sure it does happen.
Watch this 2:23 minute video called The Girl Effect.
Visit the Half the Sky website.
But most important, read Half the Sky, and see if it doesn't galvanize you. See if it doesn't become one of the books you buy lots of to give away. See if you don't want to discuss it with your buddies. (My all-guys book group is doing that.) See if it doesn't get you to take action.
There are a whole lot of women who could use our help.

by Steve Leveen @HuffPo

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dear Pat Robertson

To Pat, from Satan (by way of Lily Coyle, Minneapolis Star-Tribune)
Dear Pat Robertson,
I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I'm all over that action.
But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating. I may be evil incarnate, but I'm no welcher. The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished.
Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth -- glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle. Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake. Haven't you seen "Crossroads"? Or "Damn Yankees"?
If I had a thing going with Haiti, there'd be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox -- that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it -- I'm just saying: Not how I roll.

You're doing great work, Pat, and I don't want to clip your wings -- just, come on, you're making me look bad. And not the good kind of bad. Keep blaming God. That's working. But leave me out of it, please. Or we may need to renegotiate your own contract.
Best, Satan

To Pat, from his God (as I imagine it)

Dear Pat Robertson,

I recently viewed the correspondence between yourself and Satan from my omniscient perch up in the clouds--though that pesky beard everyone insists I keep got in the way every time I leaned down for a better look--and I have to say, in my omniscience, I'm not surprised. But it is a little disappointing, since after all, you do seem to think I've called upon you to represent Me to all of my people down there on earth.

You've read Job, haven't you, Pat? You remember how at the beginning I make this deal with Satan to test my servant Job to see how faithful he really is to Me? Has it occurred to you that perhaps you don't know all the details of my infinitely wise Plan as I obsessively micromanage everything from parking spots to hurricanes and earthquakes?

I also happened to catch that bit on the Daily Show--love that guy Jon Stewart, after all he's one of My Chosen People, even if he does curse too much on TV--and I have to say, it sounds like he's read my Words a little more thoroughly than you have. May I suggest a review course of My Book focusing specifically on the theme of Divine Compassion? For after all, if I choose to smite folks--for inscrutable reasons that I choose to keep to Myself, and by the way, I'd prefer for you to stop speculating on them in public--I also like to hang around for the aftermath to show My compassion.

Finally, Pat, if you thought what you signed in blood awhile back was a contract with Me, I hate to tell ya, but Satan's been working on that impersonation for all of eternity, and he's really starting to get My booming voice down...he's tricksy like that.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Once he got into office, however, Hitler, like Mussolini proceeded to destroy the democratic system he used to win the office. He pushed through the Reichstag an “Enabling Act” that gave him four years of executive power without needing to get the backing of the Legislature. In other words, Hitler used democracy to destroy democracy. One is reminded of Lenin’s quip: “The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.”
Would you believe that something alarmingly analogous is about to happen in our country?
Um, no. I wouldn't.

If I posted the by line "Rush Limbaugh" under this I'm sure no one would be surprised. Probably not even Rush. But it would be wrong, because the byline is:

Arlie J. Hoover is a professor of history at Abilene Christian University.

I don't know Professor Hoover. And I'm not going to argue with him. But I do want to post just a few of the comments that this article has spawned on the Abilene Reporter News site, which take note of Prof. Hoover's institutional affiliation, explicitly mentioned in his byline.
*Arlie I will never send any child to ACU. Any school that supports the type of history you apparantly teach can be up to no good at all.
*Is this smuck really a professor? Now I see why my college age students laughed when I asked them to stay in town to finish their education. Can you imagine what he preach if he were a minister....

*ACU must be proud. Thank God I took my classes at HSU.

*Its easy to see where this man is coming from.
ACU+Professor= The Far Right. I know you folks have to be smart enough to see that this "Professor" is nothing more than a far right bible wielding Limbaugh loving Foxx watching Republican.

*Remember back before the election when Sadler used to post regularly? Sadler=ACU + Professor=Left winger.
So your Hoover=ACU + Professor=Right wing does not work. You really cannot assume that all professors at ACU think alike.
What I take from these two examples is that ACU + Professor=Academic Freedom and Diversity of thought.
Note that the one not-negative comment referencing ACU, the last one, is a rather weak defense that not every professor is a paranoid right wing pigeon from outer space. Every other comment characterizes the institution on the basis of its representation here by the good professor.

Should Dr. Hoover have not written his op-ed at all? No--I shoot my mouth off irresponsibly here on my little blog all the time, so it's not like I can seriously start telling people they should shut the hell up for their own good or because it's smart or prudent or whatever. What pisses me off is that ACU--an institution I love and am proud to affiliated with--is being represented by this article. Professor Hoover, print your wacky half-baked historical analogies in any venue that will take them (and Abilene Reporter News, you might re-think your publication-of-crap policy, BTW) but please, leave my alma mater out of it. You're not speaking for ACU. So sign your name. Use your title if you want to feel cool. But leave my school alone.

Monday, January 18, 2010

3BT for epiphany

At CCfB, we're embarking on an "experiment to see the good" for the season of Epiphany...a spiritual discipline, which, unfortunately, I kinda suck at.

But some people are good at it. In fact, this one woman in London is so good at it that she makes practice of blogging three beautiful things for every single day. So I thought it might be interesting to try this at church, and invite everyone to consider what beautiful things they've experiences over the past decade, year, week, and day.

Here's my list (composed in the wee hours of Sunday morning):

3BT for the decade:
  1. Living in New Jersey. Yeah, Jersey.
  2. Making a baby. With some help. She is THE beautiful thing of the decade.
  3. Finding a voice on my blog—and discovering my voice has a personality of her own.
3BT for the year:
  1. This fall the red maple in front of Cimi and Mira’s house stayed a beautiful vibrant red long after the trees in our yard were bare—I could see it from the back steps. It is the most beautiful tree.
  2. There are two hash marks on the door jamb of the dining room. Clare has grown like three inches since we moved here.
  3. My dissertation starts with a cartoon, and I got away with it.
3BT for the past week:
  1. Lunch with a friend.
  2. Leaving flowers and a note on a doorstep.
  3. Lesson plans. Yeah. Plus, I live that all of these ones start with “L.”
3BT for Saturday:
  1. Watching other grown-up people befriend my daughter and make her laugh with abandon.
  2. Getting a proposal of marriage—from my daughter. And then explaining marriage rather lamely as “two friends who really love each other and decide to live in the same house and be with each other forever.” Clare decided this fit our present arrangement just fine, and was not to be deterred by the excuse that I’m married to her dad.
  3. Brent listens to me even when what I’m saying is not particularly nice, or fair, or possibly even coherent.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bev's blog

from Bev's blog:

Does religion cause the violation of women's rights?

As I read through the Bible this year I am taking note of the story of men, women, and God as it unfolds. I have already noted that though men are definitely the power brokers, at least the women were not circumcised in Genesis. Okay, so a virgin daughter or two are offered to crowds of men in lieu of offering male house guests—virtual strangers for—sex. Okay, so Abraham gives his wife with benefits to several men to avoid being killed.

Observe, I still, even after reading more than twenty chapters in Genesis, hold out hope for a good story to unfold for women.

Also note, I made a decision when I was about 24 years old to keep my mouth shut about woman’s role in the church. I convinced myself that I would not have any credibility in the Church of Christ unless I could prove that I could be a good wife and mother. I would have to hold my tongue on my the view that women are marginalized in church practice due to a misappropriation of a few select verses written by the good bachelor Apostle Paul—until I was 50.

Well, I would not approach the issue with such reasoning today—now that I am well over 50. Certainly titles, offices, and power are not what Jesus sought. He did, however, come to “preach good tidings to the poor...proclaim the release of the set at liberty them that are bruised.” Throughout the world, women fall into these categories day in and day out.

Juxtapose the above proclamation of Jesus with a comment I heard many times through the years in women’s Bible studies in Churches of Christ, "Remember, in Christ, we have no rights.”

Did you ever hear this? How would you have responded? Sometimes people would say it in response to the hymn in Phillipians 2 in which Jesus did not claim his equality with God, but made himself a servant. However, how damaging is it to re-write this and tell women they should not claim rights?

New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, in his January 9 piece entitled, "Religion and Women" challenges leaders in world religions, those who devote their lives to their faith, to take steps to stop the oppression of women. He says, “Today, when religious institutions exclude women from their hierarchies and rituals, the inevitable implication is that females are inferior.”

I have a thought, and I wonder if you agree. Many leaders in Churches of Christ agree that women can speak in the regular assembly—as they do in Sunday school classes, small groups, and after the “closing prayer,” but they do not make it a practice in their churches for fear of offending some—in particular, the more conservative women. When will those male leaders in our churches stand up for the women of the church whose gifts are stymied and marginalized while they enjoy using their talents in full employ?

I think most of the church leader fellows I know are nice guys thinking they do not want to rock the boat for the more conservative members of their congregation. I wonder if they ever consider that they may be part of a very big global problem?

What do you think?

some days are like that, even in Australia

Some days Clare sprints into her classroom with barely a glance back.

Those days are not today. Actually, we haven't had one of those days in awhile. I don't know if it's the aftermath of the Holiday Routine Shake-up, or the fruitbasket turnover at school that's bumped two of her BFFs up to the 4-YOs, or if she is maybe getting sick, or if there's something else going on I haven't even guessed at yet. But the mornings are getting worse and not better.

The thing is, with Clare, if I just stick around for long enough, eventually, she'll decide she doesn't need me. So it's not like there's some inevitable, frantic, teary, howling, monkey-clinging scene every morning (which, of course, you see with some other kids). But there is the steady relentless stubborn insistence that I must "stay a little longer," until she gets her morning snack, or goes inside the gym. If I cooperate with her plan, then eventually she sets me free with a little sunny smile and a (I kid you not) "mom you can go now." If I don't, well, you guessed it: let the howling monkey-clinging begin.

Most days, as a Theologian-at-Large working from home, I have fifteen or twenty or even thirty minutes I can spare. Today I don't really. (I don't have time to be blogging either but my lunch date is also a parent so he'll understand why I'm late, I reckon.) But there I was, feeling stuck between either causing a ridiculous tantrum that I knew could be avoided, and that awful feeling of 'my kid is manipulating me and I have no personal dignity left in this relationship.'

But then, I got to walk out of the gym with my daughter smiling, saying 'I love you,' and blowing kisses at me. And I think, I've got it wrong. She's not manipulating me. She's just looking for some proof that I really do love her like I say I do, that she's more important than Princeton, that she's more important than my computer, that she's more important than mommy's mysterious work as a "theologian." And for God's sake, she IS. So why resent showing it upon request? Do I just need to get my mind right? Chuck the reflexive mulishness at the suspicion of manipulation? Chuck the deep-down embarrassment of once again demonstrating in public that I am not in "control" of this relationship? Do I want to "control" my daughter? Do I want to "control" anyone? Not really. But yeah, maybe.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

by Nicholas Kristof

Religion and Women
Published: January 9, 2010

Religions derive their power and popularity in part from the ethical compass they offer. So why do so many faiths help perpetuate something that most of us regard as profoundly unethical: the oppression of women?

It is not that warlords in Congo cite Scripture to justify their mass rapes (although the last warlord I met there called himself a pastor and wore a button reading “rebels for Christ”). It’s not that brides are burned in India as part of a Hindu ritual. And there’s no verse in the Koran that instructs Afghan thugs to throw acid in the faces of girls who dare to go to school.

Yet these kinds of abuses — along with more banal injustices, like slapping a girlfriend or paying women less for their work — arise out of a social context in which women are, often, second-class citizens. That’s a context that religions have helped shape, and not pushed hard to change.

“Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths, creating an environment in which violations against women are justified,” former President Jimmy Carter noted in a speech last month to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Australia.

“The belief that women are inferior human beings in the eyes of God,” Mr. Carter continued, “gives excuses to the brutal husband who beats his wife, the soldier who rapes a woman, the employer who has a lower pay scale for women employees, or parents who decide to abort a female embryo.”

Mr. Carter, who sees religion as one of the “basic causes of the violation of women’s rights,” is a member of The Elders, a small council of retired leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela. The Elders are focusing on the role of religion in oppressing women, and they have issued a joint statement calling on religious leaders to “change all discriminatory practices within their own religions and traditions.”

The Elders are neither irreligious nor rabble-rousers. They include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and they begin their meetings with a moment for silent prayer.

“The Elders are not attacking religion as such,” noted Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and United Nations high commissioner for human rights. But she added, “We all recognized that if there’s one overarching issue for women it’s the way that religion can be manipulated to subjugate women.”

There is of course plenty of fodder, in both the Koran and the Bible, for those who seek a theology of discrimination.

The New Testament quotes St. Paul (I Timothy 2) as saying that women “must be silent.” Deuteronomy declares that if a woman does not bleed on her wedding night, “the men of her town shall stone her to death.” An Orthodox Jewish prayer thanks God, “who hast not made me a woman.” The Koran stipulates that a woman shall inherit less than a man, and that a woman’s testimony counts for half a man’s.

In fairness, many scholars believe that Paul did not in fact write the passages calling on women to be silent. And Islam started out as socially progressive for women — banning female infanticide and limiting polygamy — but did not continue to advance.

But religious leaders sanctified existing social structures, instead of pushing for justice. In Africa, it would help enormously if religious figures spoke up for widows disenfranchised by unjust inheritance traditions — or for rape victims, or for schoolgirls facing sexual demands from their teachers. Instead, in Uganda, the influence of conservative Christians is found in a grotesque push to execute gays.

Yet paradoxically, the churches in Africa that have done the most to empower women have been conservative ones led by evangelicals and especially Pentecostals. In particular, Pentecostals encourage women to take leadership roles, and for many women this is the first time they have been trusted with authority and found their opinions respected. In rural Africa, Pentecostal churches are becoming a significant force to emancipate women.

That’s a glimmer of hope that reminds us that while religion is part of the problem, it can also be part of the solution. The Dalai Lama has taken that step and calls himself a feminist.

Another excellent precedent is slavery. Each of the Abrahamic faiths accepted slavery. Muhammad owned slaves, and St. Paul seems to have condoned slavery. Yet the pioneers of the abolitionist movement were Quakers and evangelicals like William Wilberforce. People of faith ultimately worked ferociously to overthrow an oppressive institution that churches had previously condoned.

Today, when religious institutions exclude women from their hierarchies and rituals, the inevitable implication is that females are inferior. The Elders are right that religious groups should stand up for a simple ethical principle: any person’s human rights [and abilities] should be sacred, and not depend on something as earthly as their genitals.