Saturday, October 17, 2020

Assembly of PIGS: POP!

We all have people that we do not know, but admire immensely.  One of mine is Paul Farmer who is a medical physician in the fields of internal medicine and infectious diseases from Harvard.  He has a PhD from Harvard in medical anthropology. He is chair of the Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard’s Medical School.  He is brilliant and has a deep commitment to the poor of the world.  He started and continues to work in Partners in Health. 

We were given a book about Paul Farmer, Mountains Beyond Mountains (author Tracy Kidder) by a dear friend, Al Jenkins.  After reading it I felt so guilty because I had not done in Nicaragua what he had done in Haiti. 

By the way, Mike helped me get over that guilt. 

I realized I have not the brains nor the resources that he does, but I do have his writings and books.  His writings help me focus the vision of the clinic on what is important.

One of the core principles of Farmer’s life is POP! as he calls the Preferential Option for the Poor.    Farmer was a lapsed Catholic who began reading the teachings of Father Gustavo Gutierrez regarding liberation theology which stresses liberation from economic, social and political oppression as a way to bring ultimate salvation to all.  From this theology Farmer started implementing liberation and POP! into his medicine and work.

Many years ago, we sat together as a community and talked about what we believed.  The Preferential Option for the Poor was a belief that we all held.  We believed that we are called to address the needs of the poor way before addressing the desires of the rich.  We believed that the Divine has a special love for the poor and the oppressed.  We believed that the Bible is filled with passages calling for social justice for the vulnerable.

I have heard Christians say, “God takes care of His own.”  Are the poor not God’s children as well?

Liberation theology and the Preferential Option for the Poor stand at a juxtaposition with Prosperity Christianity or the idea that God blesses His own with riches.

I have heard Christians say, “I believe that God loves us all the same.   He does not love the poor more.”

If you are a parent, you know you love your children the same.  But if you are a parent and one child is suffering and the other siblings are not relieving the suffering then you will advocate and help the suffering child more than the others… because the need is greater.  And the siblings not helping the one suffering will break a parent’s heart.

Again, are not the poor God’s children as well?

Whether you are an atheist or theist of any kind, there is a common blood in all of us that makes us one family.  And in healthy families or clans we stand with each other and help each other.  Dysfunctional families hurt, harm, and shut out their members.

Having the Preferential Option for the Poor… addressing the needs of the poor as a priority of faith or a priority of society, economy, and politics will heal our world.  It is a belief that anyone can take.

In the Assembly of People Into Giving a Sh*t, we hold firmly to the belief and creed that the poor have to take priority.  We work for a world where the poor are cared for, because we are part of that world.

We do this because if our own children… say our son, Daniel and his family, were poor - and we could not help - we would want people to make the world right for them to live with their needs met.  If our son, Coury and his family, were hungry we would want others to give them food.  If our son, Joseph and his love, were homeless we would want someone to provide them a place to live.  If our daughter, Jessica and her children, were taken captive, we would want the world to move heaven and earth to free them.  If our son, Tiff and his wife, were sick, we would want society to provide them with health care. If our Community’s daughters, Eibhlín, Orla, and Samantha, were limited in their options because of their sex and/or race, we would want marches and demonstrations of millions to make the laws that will protect them.

In the Assembly of PIGS, all people are ONE family and POP! is a creed to live by.


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Thursday, October 15, 2020

Future Fridays: But Do You Understand?

The last blog that we published on climate change was after the presidential debate when Chris Wallace asking if Pres. Trump could now believe in the science of climate change.  I saw a quote from Bill Moyers, a Christian and journalist, who said that we should not be asking if people believe in the science of climate change but rather “do you understand the science of climate change?”*

I heard Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist, explore the whole notion of believing in science on Real Time with Bill Maher.  His basic idea is that science is not a belief system.  It is facts.  And when the facts change science does as well. 

Neil deGrasse Tyson on Real Time with Bill Maher

Science is theories, facts, and a few laws that have been thoroughly examined and scientifically shown to be true.  The method of science is speculation, then research, data collected, trials tested, and conclusions formatted. 

Faith or belief is in things not seen.  I believe - as well as many scientists - in the Divine.

There is much in science that I do not understand.  I remember asking Sarah’s brother, a nuclear physicist, about electricity because it just seemed like magic to me.  He patiently took the time to explain it to me and I understood.   Bill is one of those scientists who also believes in the Divine.  I would say that he finds science as a way to see the Divine in “the things not seen.”  His faith is deep and his love of science is also deep.

I think one of the modern-day problems of science research is the money being poured into the laboratories.  Too many labs and scientists are funded in order to get results.   "Companies that sponsor research have an interest in producing research results that can support the development and marketing of their products or services. "

For example: a coffee company funding research tends to find results showing the benefits of coffee.  A tea company funded-research tells us how good tea - not coffee - is for us.  And an independent medical research team says both are horrible in excess, but a little of either is okay.

And this is the argument around climate change research… there have been scientists and labs funded by oil companies… so their research is the research that so-call climate change deniers use to continue to confuse people.

But when the vast majority of actively publishing climate scientists – 97 percent – agree that humans are causing global warming and climate change,” then it is long past time for us to understand the science and start working on a solution.

photo -

As Desmond Tutu, South African bishop, said, "Twenty-five years ago people could be excused for not knowing much, or doing much, about climate change. Today we have no excuse."


*I have tried to find this quote again, but cannot.  I apologize.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Did the WHO backtrack?

The World Health Organization has not backtracked its advice on lockdowns as some people think.  What was said on Monday is this:

"We really do appeal to all world leaders, stop using lockdown as your primary method of control," Dr. David Nabarro said.

"Lockdowns have just one consequence that you must never ever belittle, and that is making poor people an awful lot poorer."

"The only time we believe a lockdown in justified is to buy you time to reorganize, regroup, rebalance your resources; protect your health workers who are exhausted," Dr Nabarro added. "But by and large, we'd rather not do it."

We have learned a great deal over the last year regarding COVID-19 and what works and what doesn't.  The countries that have had the greatest success at lock-downs are those that did complete lock-downs for short periods of time.  COMPLETE.  In that the government brought food and medicines to people’s doors and NO ONE left their home except those needing hospitalizations or working in the providing and transporting of food and medicines or working in health, like in China and New Zealand.

I remember a conversation with our son Coury who studied medicine and whose wife, Cassie, is a doctor and has a public health master’s degree.  He was so angry at the way that California and the United States as a whole was shutting down… because they really weren’t.  Grocery stores, pharmacies, COSCOs, etc. were all open.  “We are doing this half a**!  If we shut down, we should SHUT DOWN and hire people to safely bring necessities to people’s doors.”

Nicaragua, like Sweden, has not shut down and we have the lowest confirmed infection rates in Central America.  A Nicaraguan friend has a relative who works in a Nicaraguan cemetery and who said that the normal burial rate for that particular cemetery is two a day.  The 2020 spring burials were up to sixteen a day, but are now back to two burials/day.

The CDCA closed in June and I’m glad that we did, because it gave our infirmed staff time to recover fully from COVID-19 and gave others time to care for sick family members, but as of July the first we are back open, with heightened disinfectant and protection policies in place both in the clinic and in our other work spaces, including mandating the policy of mask wearing.

Through the pandemic, Nicaragua is doing better than most Latin American countries economically,  but it  has suffered from the loss of tourism.  Given that Nicaragua is still the second poorest nation in the Americas… can you imagine the rate of poverty if Nicaragua had shut down?  Or in the words of our son, “Half a**ed shut down”? 

Nicaraguan public schools stayed open, but those who wanted to learn from home could… on-line or with television and radio as one channel on each was dedicated to teaching classes.  Now the schools are open and even with all of that, students have still fallen behind, but not as much as if the schools had closed completely.  Public schools here provide education and food.  Can you imagine the increase of hungry children with no school meals provided in a nation as poor as this?

Other nations like Nicaragua that depend on tourism are suffering terribly… Caribbean and Pacific Island nations are experiencing tremendous increases in poverty and hunger.

The U.N.’s World Food Program won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work in feeding the world.  Today with the pandemic and climate change, their main concern is the rapid increase in starvation, not just malnutrition.

The World Health Organization pleads with leaders to open up unless the hospitals are becoming overwhelmed and health care staff need rest.  When a society shuts down…then shut all the way down and for a short period while the leaders reorganize, regroup, and MAKE A PLAN.   Make sure health protection is available for hospitals, health care staff, and then the rest of the population.  Those who have money and resources need to reprioritize for hospitals, health care, supporting the economy, public health education, safe schooling... not funding and using bombs, guns, and ammo.

And for heaven’s sake... mask up, social distance when you can, and wash your hands.  These are proven to work.  Look to the WHO and CDC for guidance.

COVID-19 will be with us for a long, long time.  There is no herd immunity because the virus is mutating.  A vaccine, if developed, may help with the severity of the virus, but a mask is more valuable.   Presently a cure has not been developed and when a cure or vaccine are developed both have to be available globally and need to be cheap or for free… or more serious mutations of the virus will occur.

We are really ONE world.  Remember, even if you don't care about the poor the reality is if the poor get sick, we all get sick.

And again, mask up, keep your distance and wash your hands… frequently.


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Saturday, October 10, 2020

Assembly of PIGS: Who Do You Trust?

Last Sunday we published our first Assembly of PIGS homily/sermon/thought for the week… 

Last week I mentioned a Presbyterian Peace Conference and I will again this week. 

One of the keynote speakers was Dr. Rev. Will Campbell, a civil rights activist, Southern Baptist minister and so, so much more.  He related a story between his daughter and him regarding seeing a bumper sticker that said, “Honk if you love Jesus”.  His daughter said something like, “It should be ‘Honk if you love Hitler’ because everyone loves Jesus.  He is easy to love.”  It was a shocking statement, but it is true. Jesus is easy to love especially the Jesus that is recounted in documents 2,000 years or so ago.  The hard love is one’s enemies or the despicable.  Those who have hurt so many. 

Will went on to talk about the easy love we have for Jesus, but the question needed to be not “do we love Jesus?” but rather “do we TRUST Jesus?” 

Who or what do we trust? 

The United States currency says “In God We Trust”, but do we?  Really? 

Where do we spend our money as a nation?  Who do we give the most support to?  What economic system reigns?  Why do so many of us keep guns to protect ourselves?  Who do we trust?  Or where do we place our trust? 

We have insurance policies for everything…cars, homes, houses, apartments, health, death, hands, feet, careers, etc. Is it here that we think we'll be kept safe from the climate, pandemics, fire, storms, and accidents? 

Is the enormous military budget going to keep us safe from war, nuclear bombs, or foreign attacks? 

And I can hear most of you saying, “Well, will Jesus? If we trust him?  Will God keep us safe?” 

And my answer is I don’t think so.  Trust is deeper than keeping one safe and well-fed.  “Trust starts with truth and ends with truth,” wrote Santosh Kalwar, a Nepalese author.  And in the gospels, we learn that “the truth will set you free.” 

On my better days, I hold close Martin Luther King, Jr.’s comment, “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”  I believe that is true.  I trust in that moral arc and that someday we will arrive at justice. 

Mike and I had a seminary professor and dear friend, Don Coffey, who told me once, “God will accomplish what he intends.  If he says, ‘I will break that boulder’, then the way he may choose to do it is not by an earthquake but a slow drip, drip, drip of single drops of water.  In time, the boulder WILL break.” 

I trust in the drip, drip, drip of water… on my better days. 

I’m not the kind of believer who thinks that the Divine extends a special hand to shelter from harm only those who trust in the Divine, because who do I see that truly put their trust in the Divine more than any other?  Poor people.  They HAVE to trust in something that is not human because humans abuse them, keep them oppressed and hidden.  Who is more at risk from wars, storms, fires, pandemics, and all the horrors of life than any other population?  Poor people. 

There is a reason Jesus said “that is where you will find me.”  With the hungry, the naked, the imprisoned, the sick, the poor.  That is where we find Jesus for those of us who are Christians.  In the broken, in the hopeless, in the dumps looking for food, in the alley ways shot up on heroine…we, Christians, find our Lord there.  And as we work for those suffering…as we trust in the Divine to reside in these people…we can see Jesus and we can trust that the poor will be lifted up, the imprisoned will be set free, songs will be sung in the houses of death, and we can love… 

As we trust in the moral arc of the universe and the drip, drip, drip of water…we can love and act, because without trust we cannot truly love. 


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Tuesday, October 6, 2020

The Faceless Millions

 I heard on the news, I think, that people cannot wrap their heads around big numbers.  Like the deaths from COVID-19 are now (6 Oct)1,046,568 people globally, 210,716 in the United States and 153 in Nicaragua.  In the U.S. the numbers could be a quarter higher with the number of deaths not attributed to but caused by the virus…and -I suspect – that is true worldwide.

Shutterstock licensed photo

I remember a skit by the British comedian, Eddie Izzard, illustrating the same thing.  It went something like this: “Kill one person and they lock you away.  Kill three people and they put you in a padded room with a hole to look at you through.  Kill millions they say, ‘Well done.  You must get up very early in the morning.  Kill. Kill. Kill.  Breakfast.  Kill. Kill.  Kill. Lunch.  Kill. Kill. Kill. Afternoon tea.  Whenever do you have time to work out?’”

When thousands and millions of people die, we shrug our shoulders because we cannot imagine the extent of the horror.  This happens as well with stealing and destruction of private property.  We know a homeless guy who got six months in jail for stealing a package of ham and a loaf of bread; while on Wall Street the theft is in the millions breaking families apart and nothing happens.

People who deface government property or who burn stores during protests are call ‘terrorists’, while bombs drop destroying whole cities…and we - as a society - say, “Well done.”

We seem to be able to handle small atrocities and demand atonement and retribution; but the enormous ones, we blank out.  Those are the faceless millions.

Unless you have been in Nicaragua and seen with your own eyes and remember, those who live in poverty…poor Nicaraguans are faceless to you.  So, what do we do?  We certainly can’t and probably shouldn’t fly around the world putting faces to the sufferers.

Rebecca Aist photo

Becca was taking a group around Nueva Vida and someone said, “Well those houses don’t look so bad.”  Becca responded with, “Oh! So, you can image your grandparents living in one?”

This is a good way to help us wrap our heads around the atrocities in order to move and to act.

When someone unknown to us dies of COVID-19, imagine that it is your parent dying or your spouse dying…that someone you adore died from this deadly virus.  When your Target burns, think about your whole neighborhood including your apartment or home going up in flames.  When you hear about the increase number of people going hungry, imagine your child or your sibling going hungry.  When you hear about people living in squalor, imagine that it is your mother living in a leaky lean-to.  Best of all, imagine that it is you, because it could be, and someday very well may be…life is never certain.

This putting faces on people struggling…faces that we know and love…can help us to move and act…and if it were our loved ones or us dying, being bombed, going hungry…we would want others to act to stop the horror.


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