Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Charitable Results?

Back in the late 1980's, Cabrini-Green, one of Chicago's largest high-rise public housing projects, was in a state of complete disrepair. The buildings constantly smelled like urine, gangs took over and occupied all of the units on an entire floor, and some of the buildings were not even being managed or maintained at all. The Chicago Housing Authority needed the units to house the poor, but didn't have enough funds to pay for the renovation to make all of the units in the buildings livable. Several Chicago area Churches along with Moody Seminary got together and offered to provide volunteer labor to renovate the unlivable units if the Chicago Housing Authority would pay for the supplies. A deal was struck and the upgrades began.

I jumped at the chance to be part of this volunteer project. I loved spending my Saturdays wearing old jeans as I scraped and painted and laid tile. Most volunteers showed up once a month. I showed up every week. I would have showed up every day if I could. It felt great to be part of a team that was turning old dilapidated buildings into livable space for the needy. The difference in the buildings from the time we started the first unit until the time we finished the last unit was remarkable. I felt a sense of accomplishment along with a sense of joy that I was helping to make this part of the world a better place. I especially loved the children that would come running up to me with big smiles on their faces when they saw me walking toward a building carrying a paint brush and a paint bucket. These kids, in the middle of complete poverty, were some of the happiest kids I had ever seen. Why wouldn't they be happy since they had what every kid wants; lots of friends, lots of space, and little supervision. In many ways, they had a better life than what I had growing up. They would follow us up in the elevators to the units and we let them help paint until they got tired and wanted to go find something else to do.

For the first several months I was pretty oblivious to anything except the work I was doing and good feelings it gave me. But as the months went by, I started to make observations about what was happening around me, and I started to think about the affect my charity was having. I noticed that none of the residents of the units we upgraded ever volunteered to help upgrade other units and I especially started to notice that after the boys and girls passed a certain age, they quit coming out to greet us, and they weren't smiling anymore when I saw them. Then I had another one of those light-bulb-turning-on moments. The Chicago Housing Authority, Moody Institute, the Churches, and my charity was having the exact opposite of the intended affect. It was a Gremlin affect. We were turning good kids into monsters.

At six years old, everything in the life of Cabrini Children was good, but as they got older, they started to believe that their lack of money made them inferior to those of us who had enough money to show up and volunteer. The children who lived in Cabrini-Green didn't have a father to walk five dollars back across the street in order to demonstrate the unimportance of money. At six, they wanted to help. At six, they knew how to operate a paint brush, but by the time they turned ten, they no longer wanted to help and they were no longer willing to do something as simple as painting a wall in order to make their home environment better. Not only did the adults who lived at Cabrini not appreciate us, they hated us because they believed that they were inferior to us. We conditioned a whole segment of adults to need charity and those who received the charity hated those who were providing the charity. When we treat adults like house pets, is it any wonder we get the results of more disease, more crime, and more poverty?

Throughout the Middle East today, this same phenomena is taking place. An entire generation of Muslim Adults are growing up feeling inferior to people in the West and feeling inferior to the rulers of their own country who are financially wealthy. It is a complete misconception, even a lie in some cases, that money has anything at all to do with individual worth. Even most Christians and their Pastors believe that money makes a person better, better off, and superior to those without money. They may not say it with their mouths, but they demonstrate it by their actions. Pastors and Christians propagate this myth every day with some what they teach and some of what they do regarding charity. It is quite a shame that those who should know better, don't make more of an effort to understand the poor as well as teach and demonstrate the unimportance of money.

I can't tell you how happy I was to learn that Cabrini-Green has finally been demolished. I just wish that some of the ideas about helping the poor could be demolished along with it.

In my next post I will discuss some of the similarities and some of the differences between the financially rich and the financially poor.

Monday, February 27, 2006

The Least of These Brothers

Almost nothing could be further from the truth than the misconception that people who are poor are also suffering and unhappy.

Growing up, I shared a bedroom with four brothers. My four sisters shared another bedroom. We all slept in beds that were built by my dad. Those of us who weren’t assigned hand-me-down clothes to wear, wore cheap mail order clothes, two new shirts and two new pants a year. When we outgrew the clothes we were wearing, the clothes were passed down to a younger brother or sister or turned into rags when the holes become more prominent than the material. Clothes that become rags were still valuable for cleaning around the house. Most of what we owned could be used for more than one purpose.

We ate potatoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My mom had more recipes for potatoes than Forrest Gumps’ friend Bubba had for shrimp. Our Sunday treat was a roasted hen with dumplings made from white flour and chicken fat. Often while eating a meal, my parents told us the very same stories as every other parent in our neighborhood told their children about walking three miles to school and eating everything on our plate so the children in China wouldn’t starve to death.

Very few of my childhood memories include memories of unhappiness and almost none of my memories include suffering. I probably suffered more in my first week of Marine Corps boot camp than I suffered in my first eighteen years of life. Like everyone else, with or without money, I sometimes wanted things that were not affordable to my family. I learned to accept the fact that the gratification that I desired usually needed to be delayed longer than some of my friends had to wait and sometimes even delayed indefinitely, but I never walked around unhappy because waiting seemed normal. This experience as a child has served me well as an adult.

However, once I started school, I began to get the feeling that those people with money thought they were better and better off than those of us without money. As a child, I wondered if the people with money were right, and for a while I even started to believe that they were superior to me and my family because of their monetary wealth. Then I had one of those light-bulb-turning-on moments.

Around the time I was ten years old, we had a neighbor who couldn’t get his television to work. None of our neighbors could be considered wealthy, but this was a neighbor with one of the better jobs and bigger houses in our neighborhood. The neighbor came and asked my dad if he would take a look at the television and figure out why it didn’t work. My dad took the television apart and discovered that a couple of the vacuum tubes needed to be replaced. After my dad replaced the tubes and put the television back together, my neighbor opened his wallet, pulled out a five dollar bill, which is probably equivalent to eighty dollars today, and started to hand it to my dad.

I almost yelled “alright” out loud. I knew what an extra five dollars would mean to my family. But my dad wouldn’t take the money from my neighbor. He told our neighbor to put the money back in his pocket. My dad said he would not even consider taking money for something he did for a neighbor. Later in the evening, the oldest daughter of the neighbor knocked on our door with the five dollars in her hand. She told my dad that her dad wanted him to take the money. My dad took the five dollars, walked back across the street, and returned the money to our neighbor.

At first, my brothers and sisters and I couldn’t believe what our dad had just done. But the more I thought about what had happened, the more I understood. Better, better off, superior, and inferior didn’t have anything to do with size of a bank account, the number of possessions, or the value of possessions. Better, better off, superior, and inferior however did have everything to do with the size of the character of a person. I went to sleep that night knowing I was one of the wealthiest kids in the whole neighborhood.

When Jesus says, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”, he isn’t usually talking about people with money sharing their money with people who don’t have money. The “least” Jesus is talking about is the person who has a need that we, as neighbors, can help alleviate. The need is rarely a monetary need. The need is much more often a need to see someone else living a life of Christian values through sacrificial actions. Many of the needy (the least), have very large bank accounts, but are still in severe sprirtual need. I will get to this point in a future post.

My dad wasn’t a perfect man by any stretch of the imagination. He had a temper that sometimes went over the top, but he also had a reputation as a truly good man; a reputation that had nothing to do with the lack of money he made, the simple house he owned, or the causes he failed to advocate. When he died of cancer in 1972, he didn’t leave his family with any money because he never earned much money, but he did leave us wealthy.

In my next post, I will adress what happens to the financially poor when they are incorectly treeated as “the least of these brothers of mine”.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

(Mis)Understanding the Poor

I suspect that many of the advocates for the poor, including the organizers and promoters of the ONE Campaign, have never been poor and don’t really understand what it is like to be poor. There are at least two main reasons why people with money don’t understand the lives of people without money.

The first main reason why the wealthy are misinformed about poverty is the same as why people are misinformed on most issues. The news media, particularly the major networks and newspapers, present an unbalanced view of poverty. In mainstream media reports, the poor are always depicted as needy, helpless, and abused by the uncaring wealthy, which is true in some situations, but completely false and misrepresented by the media in most situations.

The second main reason has to do with feelings about money. People born into wealth, people who have spent a lifetime working to acquire wealth, and people with big ambitions, place a disproportionate amount of importance on wealth, including possessions, activities, and everything else that can be purchased with money. Similar feelings about money are true for some of the poor, but the vast majority of the people who are poor have other priorities besides wealth and the trappings of wealth. People who are wealthy may not understand how money can be unimportant to others, or even believe that money is unimportant to others, but for most of the poor, poverty is a choice; a logical, moral, and good choice.

Misconceptions wealthy people have about poor people can cause all sorts of unintended problems for the poor people when the wealthy people, either out of guilt or misplaced compassion, decide to use their wealth, power, and influence to try to help the poor people. Guilt and compassion can lead to the right behavior when the behavior is based on the truth and not the misconception. Therefore, it is vitally important for the wealthy people to know the truth and start to change how they view and treat the poor.

In my next post, I will address and correct some of these misconceptions.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

You Did For Me

“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

As a follower of Jesus Christ and as someone who believes that Jesus Christ is God, I don’t have an option or even a decision to make about how I treat anyone who is less fortunate than me. What I do for those less fortunate than myself, and what I fail to do for those less fortunate than myself, I do or fail to do to God himself. My obligation to the poor and my behavioral standard, as prescribed by Jesus Christ himself, is to treat others the way I would want to be treated.

I’m sure God wants all of us to do the right things for the right reasons. One of my daily prayers is to ask God to give me a heart after his heart. I want to care about what he cares about. However, I am just as certain that God has a higher standard for our actions than he does for our hearts. In the passages I quoted, Jesus emphasizes what we do to others, not how we feel about ourselves or how we feel about others. He is prescribing the right behavior, not the right feelings.

Most believers are in agreement with me about the poor. Practically every Christian Church is involved in charity. We all believe in helping the poor. However, the ONE Campaign and the supporters of this campaign have really opened my eyes to the damage that is being done to the poor by Christians in the name of Christ. A large number of Christians, including prominent Christian leaders, have elevated their feelings about helping the poor way above the correct actions to really help the poor.

In my next few posts, I will elaborate on the causes and solutions to poverty and address what I consider to be misconceptions about poverty.

Friday, February 24, 2006

ONE Questions

After methodically working his way through most of the issues regarding the ONE Campaign, Pastor Mark Roberts made some questionable statements in this entry as he continues to reflect on the goals of the ONE Campaign.

Throughout his series, Pastor Roberts has been asking his readers to consider various Bible passages as well as the practical implications of the methods and goals of the ONE Campaign. He has thrown his support behind the goals of the ONE Campaign, while remaining neutral on the methods. He has asked many good questions, but let his readers draw their own conclusions regarding the ONE Campaign methods. Today, I have a few questions for Pastor Roberts that came to my mind after reading his piece that I summarized yesterday.

Pastor Roberts, since you claim that it is terribly easy for Americans, most of whom live far removed from the horrors of poverty, to minimize what is surely the most horrible problem in our world today; isn’t it just as easy for Americans who live far removed from the people who are labeled as poor to over emphasize the horrors of poverty? Why can’t a moral person choose to be poor? Why can’t a poor person choose to be left alone?

Pastor Roberts, since you claim that widespread poverty in our world is unacceptable and that it is simply wrong that there are so many poor people on this earth; what is the right number of people who should be poor? Also, exactly what does it mean to be poor?

Pastor Roberts, why do you take the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and Bread for the World at their word when both organizations have a vested interest in separating tax payers from their money? Is six million children dying each year and two billion people who are chronically malnourished the truth? One out of every three people on earth are chronically malnourished? Where do they get the energy to reproduce?

Pastor Roberts, why do you assume that people who live in relative luxury have little concern for the poor since most of the ONE Campaign organizers, promoters, and spokespeople are some of the wealthiest people on our planet? Is it possible the wealthy are too far removed from the problem to understand the real solution to the problem? Is it possible that people like Bono are using their fame and influence to force us to make poverty throughout the world worse? Is it possible that the poor need to be protected from the wealth and influence of people like Bono? Is it possible God wants the poor protected from the powerful people like Bono?

Pastor Roberts, do you really believe that poverty which is often a result of choices, but not always, is a bigger problem for the world than terrorists who blow up themselves along with innocent people who have no choice? Aren’t there certain degrees of culpability for those who are poor? Is a child dying of malnutrition the same as a hungry terrorist? Is a child suffering from malnutrition the same as an adult suffering from malnutrition? Is there a difference between suffering and extreme suffering? Is a hungry person who can work the same as a hungry person who is disabled? Does discernment matter in regards to Global poverty or is everyone who claims to be hungry a victim?

Pastor Roberts, why do you assume that most of us are self centered and would rather not think about poverty? Would you believe that many of us think about poverty all of the time? Would you believe that some of us have thought about poverty for over 40 years and some even longer? Did you know that the picture you showed on your site is similar to pictures that have been used for over 50 years for nothing more than eliciting a guilt response?

Pastor Roberts, did you not know that paying less for imported goods is helping to solve the problem of poverty throughout the world? Why would you want to stop doing something that is actually solving the problem in favor of something that would only make the problem worse?

Thursday, February 23, 2006


In his series addressing the purpose and methods of Bono and the ONE Campaign, Pastor Mark Roberts has been very supportive of the goals of this organization while questioning some of the methods. I have been a little surprised by his reluctance or unwillingness to make definitive statements regarding the methods of ONE, but I have been very impressed by the way he has thought through most of the major issues regarding this cause and by the questions he has asked his readers to consider.

Today however, I was disappointed to see him making definitive statements about matters I consider to be very debatable since he has shown reluctance in the past to make definitive statements regarding matters that are far less debatable. In his latest entry titled Why the ONE Campaign is So Important, Pastor Roberts makes some assertions that need to be scrutinized, and not just digested as truth.

Pastor Roberts starts his piece by making the claim that poverty is the most horrible problem in our world today and that the suffering caused by poverty is greater than the suffering caused by all other global problems. Terrorism and the differences between Muslims and the rest of the world are the two other problems he lists. He bases this belief on a claim by a United Nations organization that hunger and malnutrition are killing almost six million children each hear and a claim by a Christian lobbying organization that two billion people throughout the world are chronically malnourished.

For three straight pieces Pastor Roberts has questioned the wisdom of using tax money to combat world hunger, but today he didn’t see a problem in using a figure supplied by an organization that has a sole purpose of extracting tax money from tax payers to support the cause of global hunger.

He then goes on to make the following statement:

Of course we can and should debate the root causes of poverty, and work on eradicating these. But I would add my small voice to chorus of people who are saying that, no matter what causes poverty, the fact of widespread poverty in our world is unacceptable. It's simply wrong that there are so many poor people on this earth. The wrong is made even more obvious by the fact that many of us live in relatively luxury, often with very little awareness of or concern for the poor.

Following this statement, Pastor Roberts credits the ONE Campaign with reversing the lack of awareness of poverty and he also praises Bono for using his fame and influence to force us to think about that which we’d rather avoid. Pastor Roberts then states his belief that global poverty needs to be a much more prominent feature of American concern and conversation and he finishes with this paragraph:

I realize this might sound overly idealistic. Okay, fine. I admit that most of us are self-centered, and that we'd rather not bother about poverty on the other side of the globe, especially if taking it seriously might require us to make certain sacrifices, like paying more for imported goods, or buying fewer designer shoes (not my weakness) or electronic gizmos (my weakness). Nevertheless, I believe that it would be possible for millions upon millions of Americans to become committed to the cause of eliminating global poverty. I say this, in part, because I believe many Americans have, underneath a shell of selfishness, generous hearts. The more they realize the human cost of poverty, the more they will want to help. Moreover, around 150 million American claim to acknowledge biblical authority. This means, in principle, that there are a whole lot of folks in our country who could be persuaded to join the war on poverty with their prayers, their activism, and their giving.

In my next few pieces, I will have some questions for Pastor Roberts regarding some of his statements and claims as well as a few definitive statements of my own.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

More ONE

Pastor Roberts continues his fair and balanced evaluation of the goals and methods of the ONE Campaign here, here, and here .

His analysis asks many good questions and raises just as many valid concerns. I was hoping for more definitive answers from him, but I am grateful for the way he has systematically thought through the major issues regarding ONE.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

2 Good Questions

Mark Steyn asks a couple of very good questions:

* Is abortion in society's interest?

* Can a society become more Muslim in its demographic character without also becoming more Muslim in its political and civil character?

Solution to Poverty

As a systems analyst and computer programmer, it is my job to solve software problems. I get paid to design and code system enhancements and solutions to software problems. In order to learn my trade, I had to take a few college level computer programming classes, ask lots of questions, and make more than a few mistakes. Before long and with a little experience, I was able to learn the difference between a temporary solution that appears to fix a problem, but in reality only prolongs a problem, and solution that actually fixes a problem permanently. Sometimes, the permanent solution takes a little more effort and a little more time up front, but in the long run, it saves time and effort.

I now have enough experience that I don’t have to start from scratch to analyze and solve a problem. I know what will work because a solution that has worked in the past will always work to solve a similar problem. Experience has reduced my rate of trial and error and increased my rate of immediate success in designing software solutions. However, I would not be able to design the right solution if I was not able to make the right analysis. More lines of computer code will not solve a software problem without the proper analysis and the right solution.

Poverty throughout some parts of the world including Africa is a real problem. Just as in software development, in order to solve the problem of poverty, we need to make the right analysis of what has caused African poverty, and then implement the right solution to the problem.

The poverty in Africa is not caused, has never been caused, and never will be caused by too little money or resources for the poor. It takes very little money to grow crops and raise livestock. The poor in Africa do not need more money from western governments. More money will not solve the problem of poverty in Africa because the problem of poverty in Africa is not caused by a lack of resources in Africa. Poverty in Africa is caused by the control and abuse of citizens by corrupt governments. Money from western governments will only make the problems worse.

The solution to poverty in Africa and other parts of the world does not require any more trial and error. Enough mistakes have already been made to know what will not solve the problem of African poverty. The redistribution of wealth will not all of a sudden start working in the future because it has never worked in the past no matter how many times it has been tried.

However, we do know from experience exactly what will work to solve the problem of African poverty. The problem of poverty is always solved by freedom. Free people making free choices about what to own, what to sell, where to work, how hard to work; and just as importantly, when, where, and how to give. With the exception of the mentally disabled and some physically disabled, people really can care for most of their own needs. Freedom works every time, past, present, and future to solve the problem of poverty.

God and the Poor

Pastor Roberts is stretching out his series on Bono and ONE and keeping me nervous. Although I'm not sure why. So far, everything he has written has been excellent. Here is his latest entry.

Pastor Left Turn

I am often chastised by my lovely wife for having a style of communication that is inappropriately caustic. On occasion, she does have a point. However, this post by Steve Camp about Rick Warren and Global Warming takes sarcasm to an entirely new level. It makes me feel downright amiable. It is also astute and well worth reading.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Know ONE

Mark Roberts, Senior Pastor at Irvine Presbyterian Church and blogger extraordinaire is one of the most balanced thinkers and writers on the Internet. I admire how he is able to incorporate multiple perspectives into everything he writes. He is a recognized authority on Scripture and a model of temperance and fairness. I don't necessarily completely change an opinion based on his explanations, but I do always rethink, and usually modify, an opinion when he presents an explanation that conflicts with my own beliefs. I am extremely grateful for him, his dedication to truth, and his blog.

For the last three days, Pastor Roberts has been writing about the sermon Bono gave to the invited guests at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. on February 3rd. So far, his remarks have been very complimentary towards Bono. His pieces can be found here, here, and here. I’m sure there will be several more to follow. I can hardly wait!

I have been reading this series with some nervousness and trepidation though since it is also an analysis of the ONE Campaign that I have previously criticized here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

I want to know exactly what Pastor Roberts believes, but I also want him to articulate a position that is similar to my own and I don’t want to have to rethink this matter [Pride - Of course I will give this matter more thought based on Pastor Roberts remarks.] I have been convinced from the start of the ONE campaign that it is just a repackaging of the same failed policies that have created and perpetuated the poverty and problems that currently exist in Africa.

The goals of the ONE Campaign sure seem to be Biblical, but the methods are the antithesis of an application based on Biblical principles. Taking from some and giving to others is wrong. The circumstances of the person doing the taking (government), the circumstances of the person being robbed (tax-payers), and the purpose of the theft (African Poverty) are all irrelevant.

Monday, February 13, 2006

The West Can't Save Africa

The West Can't Save Africa:

"The West's focus on sensational tragedies obscures the achievements of people such as Patrick Awuah and Robert Keter, who are succeeding even against tremendous odds. Economic development in Africa will depend -- as it has elsewhere and throughout the history of the modern world -- on the success of private-sector entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs and African political reformers. It will not depend on the activities of patronizing, bureaucratic, unaccountable and poorly informed outsiders.

Development everywhere is homegrown. As G-8 ministers and rock stars fussed about a few billion dollars here or there for African governments, the citizens of India and China (where foreign aid is a microscopic share of income) were busy increasing their own incomes by $715 billion in 2005."

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Evangelical Leaders Join Global Warming Initiative

I had a smile on my face all the way to work this morning. Today felt like it was going to be a great day. Then I do a little early morning surfing and find out that 86 evangelical Leaders are encouraging congress to take legislative action to reduce global warming.

You can read more about the busy body's here.

Is it time for Christians to start boycotting Evangelical Churches? Just where are we supposed to go to Church when our leaders become part of the politically correct class in America?