Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Give Us Strength

Abandoned after birth in Natalspruit Hospital in the Gauteng Province of South Africa, his little body was already shutting down. In a country with the highest HIV/AIDS infection rate in the world, his desperate mother was probably very near death herself. Infants born into this suffering develop symptoms rapidly: respiratory infection, liver and spleen enlargement, emaciation, stunted neurological development, and painful skin conditions. As this child’s body wasted away, his head became swollen and a CT scan confirmed that his brain tissue was already shrinking away in response to the disease.

Then the kind and brave women from Lambano Sanctuary found him. They gathered him up and brought him to their home in Johannesburg hoping they could nurse him to health, but knowing that more likely their role would be as comforters as he journeyed to his death. But something called hope grew within him, flashed through the pain in his wide eyes, and refused to let him go. He knew he was loved.

Siphamandla, meaning “give us strength”, responded well to antiretroviral drugs for two years before developing a resistance to them. No one knows how long his body will be able to repress the viral load or what will happen if he has to go on the drugs again. But today this AIDS orphan is fully present and thriving.

When I met Siphamandla this summer—four years old, running across the playground, bounding onto my lap like an overgrown puppy dog—I could see the hope still twinkling in his smiling eyes. His joy, sensitivity, and affection transparently display the greatest needs of our human condition: to live, love, and be loved.

For me this son of Africa embodies the prayer of a people, a continent, a world… Give us strength. May it be my prayer and yours as we continue to seek a cure, to raise awareness, to fight for accessible medication for the poor, to care for the sick, and above all—to love one another.

Thursday, December 1st is World AIDS Day. Wear a red ribbon, say a prayer, tell others, take action!

To learn about Lambano Sanctuary and how you can help, visit:

Monday, November 28, 2005

Tis the Season to Consume...

How did the season traditionally about Giving become so filled with Consuming?
I was sickened and embarrassed to hear the news stories of greed, violence, and immaturity demonstrated by crazed holiday shoppers on the day after Thanksgiving (a time presumably dedicated to humble gratititude, right?).

Did you know that since 1950 America has consumed more than all people in the history of the world combined? What is happening to us? In a documentary called “Affluenza” aired on PBS consumerism is studied as a cultural disease that is breaking down our mental, spiritual, and emotional lives at a personal and societal level. Sadly, our illness has dramatically eaten away the natural resources of our planet and become a major cause and perpetuator of extreme poverty for the rest of our human family. It is a deadly addiction that is strangling us and destroying our world.

The documentary has recently been expanded in book form, Affluenza: The All Consuming Epidemic by Scott Simon. Here are some excerpts from an insightful book review by Badrinath Rao in “Frontline” an Indian magazine:

"Affluenza, according to the authors, is "a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more". This metaphor of a disease is an apposite characterisation of a malignant condition that is eating into the entrails of America. Americans' insatiable urge to acquire things, whether or not they are necessary, has indeed reached epidemic proportions. It has caused severe social and cultural dislocations and warped the basic values of American society.
Simple though this thesis might seem, it just cannot be overstated for three reasons. First, overspending and overconsumption engender a variety of problems such as social fragmentation, excessive ego-focality, "time famine" and chronic stress, factors that seriously imperil social harmony. Second, hyper consumption in America has deleterious consequences for the rest of the world. For instance, though Americans comprise just 4.7 per cent of the earth's population, they account for 25 per cent of its global warming and greenhouse gas emissions.
THE most corrosive impact of consumerism has been on human relationships. It flourishes by promoting a use-and-throw culture, a culture of planned obsolescence. The authors rightly posit that "attitudes formed in relation to products eventually get transferred to people as well". Just as things are discarded after use, people too are cast off if they lose the capacity to participate in the cycle of consumption. In a consumerist culture, therefore, one's master status is linked exclusively to one's ability to buy.
Another commonly observed aberration that crass consumerism creates is "chronic self-absorption". The unremitting craving for things leaves people with little time and patience to think about others. Hence most Americans are unmindful of the maladies of their society. For instance, how many of them know that "on any given night, at least 750,000 Americans are without shelter, and nearly two million experience homelessness during the course of the year"? Over three million children are abused every year. America has incarcerated over two million of its citizens, the largest number for any nation. "

So at this time of the year what are our alternatives?

Well, according to Adbusters Magazine...just say no! They encouraged a worldwide “No Buy Day” on November 25th, the biggest shopping day of the year, with critical mass events aimed at getting the "stop consuming" message out.

But really, if we must buy, is there such a thing as “ethical consuming”? I think so, and here are some ideas to get you thinking about ways you can buy differently this holiday season…

· Barter for goods and services. You’d be surprised at the number of people who are willing to trade for something you can do or make.

· Offer a skill or hand-made gift instead of store-bought presents to your friends and family this holiday season.

· Buy second-hand. There are plenty of treasures to be found at thrift stores, and your money will not support a corrupt garment industry but usually goes towards a charity instead.

· Buy local. Support small businesses and farms in your community rather than huge corporations that drain money from your community and often practice unethical employment and trade practices.

And my favorite…

· Buy Fair Trade! Increasingly available products labeled with a fair trade certification provide consumers an opportunity to use their purchasing power as a means for social justice. Fair trade products ensure marginalized producers in developing countries receive a fair “living” wage, work in safe conditions, and have equal employment opportunities. What’s more, fair trade products are kind to the earth: environmentally sustainable practices are required in the manufacturing of fair trade certified goods. Check out the following links for resources on where to buy fair trade products…

Global Exchange Fair Trade Store

Ten Thousand Villages

Fair Trade Federation

Equal Exchange

Fair Trade Resource Network

Transfair USA

Co-op America Green Pages

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


"I beg have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer..."

-Ranier Maria Rilke

Monday, November 14, 2005

A Motherhood Blessing

I dreaded the idea of yet another boring baby shower, dragging on with endless gift opening, silly games, and a host of labor and delivery horror stories. I had been given the opportunity to create a celebration around the pregnancy of a dear friend, but instead of just focusing on the material needs of the baby to be, I wanted to honor the rite of passage my friend was about to enter into motherhood. It seems that often in our society this incredible moment in the life history of a woman is relegated to the ranks of unpleasant medical procedures. Other cultures seem better able to recognize the beauty and magnitude of this sacred journey and give place and time for reflecting and rejoicing in the traditions surrounding a new birth.

During my search for an “alternative shower” a friend introduced me to the idea of doing a blessing ritual. As I did some more research I found lots of information on the topic, a loose interpretation of a Native American tradition called “the blessing way”. One of the primary intentions of a ritual like this is to nurture and “fill up” the mother-to-be to help prepare her for all that will be required in her new role. There are many creative ways to accomplish this, here is what I chose to do…

A small group of Lesley’s intimate friends gathered in my candlelit home. Each brought with them a handful of flowers that we arranged on my coffee table like an altar, the centerpiece of our evening together. With incense burning and a CD of Native American women’s chants, called “Matriarch”, playing in the background, Lesley arrived and was ushered into her place of honor for the evening.

What followed was a “gift opening” of the most meaningful kind… poems, stories, prayers, songs, and a foot washing were given to Lesley as blessing offerings. We each presented a special bead that had significant meaning to us and strung them together as a labor bracelet for Lesley to wear as a symbolic reminder that she is continuously surrounded by our love and support.

As Lesley expressed some of her fears about birthing and becoming a mother, we each wrote down a single word of prayer regarding those concerns on a strip of ribbon. Grace, Endurance, Dignity, Harmony, Trust, Confidence…the pieces of ribbon were then tied around individual candles. At the end of the evening each of us took one of the candles home with us, promising to light it and remember her concern when we are notified that she is in labor. A large candle with pieces of each of the ribbons tied on it was also given to Lesley so that whenever she looks at it she will remember that we are lifting her up.

We then presented unique coupons we had each decorated expressing our ongoing commitment to Lesley after the birth by offering cooked meals, babysitting, and coffee dates. The evening culminated with the surprise arrival of a henna body artist. This ancient practice has been used in healing rituals and celebrations in many cultures for thousands of years. Beautiful designs were created uniquely for each of us including the masterpiece on Lesley’s belly. The lovely henna stains, which last 10-15 days, were to help us keep the spirit of this special ceremony close to our hearts as we went our separate ways.

Joining in a circle to close the evening, we gave thanks to Mother God for our feminine capacity to nurture and for Lesley’s sacred passage into motherhood. We honored the circular cycles of earth, life, womb, and friendship. We recognized our bonds as sisters and renewed our commitment to Lesley and one another.

As we parted there was a tangible sense that something profound had occurred between us. Somehow in the simple act of setting aside place and time to honor our journey together, we had suddenly stepped on holy ground. This is ground I want to come back to time and time again. So I continue to seek out creative ways to add ritual to my life. Just as my ancient ancestors, I am trying to punctuate my calendar with ceremony and celebration, memorializing both the milestones and the (seemingly) mundane. God can be found in these moments, I have experienced, if I will only pause and recognize her.

Learn more about how to do a "blessing way" here

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Let us work together

Lilla Watson, Aboriginal activist, reminds us, “If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is tied up with mine, then let us work together.”

Homeless eyes

I roll down my window and stuff a small wad of crumpled bills into his weathered hand. Then for an instant my eyes meet his…deep blue pools of regret and desire. The light turns green and I pull away. I feel my chest constrict imprisoning the sob that is trying to escape with my next breath. I’m not sure why I guard my tears so militantly. Maybe it’s because I’m afraid that once the weeping escapes, there will be no end to it. The truth is, an oceanic tide of grief engulfs me when I encounter eyes like his. I grieve for his condition…and for mine. I mourn because of the chasm that exists between us, which for one sacred moment disappears. And all at once I am his mother, his daughter, his sister.

Monday, November 07, 2005


On October 22nd, I walked a few miles through downtown Seattle on one of the last mild autumn Saturday evenings before the cold rains began. I joined with over 15,000 participants clad in official orange t-shirts in an event called GuluWalk occurring simultaneously in 37 other cities worldwide that day.

Gulu is a large city in northern Uganda where over 50,000 children flock every night, traveling as far as 20 km from surrounding villages, seeking asylum until morning light. They are desperately trying to escape roving militias that have already stolen over 30,000 of their siblings to use as child soldiers and sex slaves in the region’s brutal 20-year civil conflict. The situation has been dubbed “the world’s most neglected humanitarian crisis” and “one of the biggest scandals of our generation,” by U.N. Under-Secretary General of Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland. So as the tangerine river of Guluwalkers poured onto the city sidewalks of the world that night the purpose was simple: awareness, solidarity, action.

The worldwide GuluWalk movement was spurred by 2 Canadians determined to get the message to their community by attempting to come to grips themselves in a small, but significant way with the plight of these young “night commuters”. This past July Adrian Bradbury and Kieran Hayward walked 12.5 km every night into Toronto, Ontario to sleep on the steps of the city hall for four hours before walking home at sunrise in time for work the following day. They succeeded in gaining media attention and began organizing fundraising efforts, such as the walk, to benefit the organizations that are providing shelter, food, and healthcare to the Ugandan children.

I believe it is crucial to our own wholeness to connect emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally, and financially with the things that are happening in our human family around the globe. For instance, why do we know the names of every US soldier that has been killed, but not one single name of a child that has been stolen, abused, and murdered in Uganda?

At one point during the GuluWalk another participant turned to me and asked if I could imagine how these children must feel as they journey in the darkness. But, quite honestly, as I walked those few short miles in my comfortable clothing and hiking boots, on a balmy evening, through a safe and pleasant cityscape—I simply did not have the capacity to imagine. Terror, loss, hunger, exhaustion…their tender, battered souls have known more suffering in a few short years than I may know in a lifetime. I wish I could somehow carry some of their burden, but for now I will carry their story to help us not forget them. And if you will carry their story too, then as an old Ugandan saying goes, “one by one makes a bundle”, our voices together will begin to move our own hearts and the world.

Please visit: to learn more about how you can get involved.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

True Compassion

"A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth."

- Martin Luther King Jr., in his speech "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence"

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Who's saving who?

I grew up in an evangelical Christian church culture that taught me it was my duty to “bring people to the Lord.” This could be accomplished through a variety of inelegant means, including standing on street corners and handing out tracts featuring cartoon figures writhing in hell’s flames with the 5-step salvation plan on the back cover.

In better moments we served the poor in our community, but always with the caveat that our service needed to result in converts. It was their souls we were after, and if that meant filling their bellies first, that was merely a means to an end. I always felt uneasy about that even as an impressionable youth who had barely begun to form my own ideas about things. Now after years of deconstructing my childhood religion and coming to embrace my faith in a different paradigm, I am struck by the self-centeredness of those old attitudes.

As I see it now, being the very love and compassion of Christ by caring for the needy is an end in itself. Christ said we should love our neighbor. It’s that simple. He did not say, “feed your neighbor so you can get him to pray the sinner’s prayer.” And whoever made the assumption that we could “bring” anyone to Christ anyway? Seems a little self-glorifying to me.

In my experience with “Moveable Feast”, a grass-roots homeless feeding program I participate in with Queen Anne United Methodist Church in Seattle, it is quite the opposite. When I go to Pioneer Square to share some hot food with the homeless, it is in fact I who am being “brought to Christ.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes
and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you
came to visit me…I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of
these brothers of mine, you did for me.
–Matthew 26
I participate in “Moveable Feast” because in the tired, bloodshot eyes and dirty, chapped hands I encounter, I am suddenly face to face and hand to hand with the very Christ. I am humbled by the great honor.