Friday, November 28, 2008

The Advent Conspiracy: A Cautious Embrace...

Well - I've received emails from far and wide referring me to The Advent Conspiracy and I made very brief mention of it at the tail end of my last blog. I'm going to say right up front that I think this is a great idea - a movement with sincere good intentions. And who can argue with the outcome when the bottom line is a shift away from self-indulgent consumerism to an emphasis on compassion and relationship? So why do I have a sense of unease in the pit of my being? It's probably not a big deal, but it's a persistent sense that something could be a little amiss. I certainly don't want to be the Scrooge of Advent Conspiracy, but here's the thing - or things:

1. Christmas may be as good a time as any to call people to a more authentic and accurate representation of their faith, but is there a danger that the goodwill that the Advent Conspiracy generates may dissipate when the trees come down and the turkey settles? After all, come the first of January the Christmas glow often fades and we go back to life as usual - the hustle and bustle of the holiday season is replaced by the more mundane hustle and bustle of our frantic lifestyles - getting the kids to the rink and the pool and the gym and putting in our own 40+ hour work week, plus keeping up (or down!) with the Jones's, the housework and yardwork and - well - you get the picture. We may have done a little bit of good for the global poor, by providing safe water or a bit more food or even houses that won't wash away or blow away, but what if lack of access to food and water and safe housing are only symptoms of much bigger and deeper issues?

2. And, what if we participate in the Advent Conspiracy as a way to alleviate guilt - our own, that is. Maybe it's just me, but I find it's really tempting to fall in line and celebrate the euphoria of our wonderful generosity as we scale back a bit and then use a bit of the money we didn't spend on ourselves to help others. Again, maybe it's just me, but I struggle constantly with this tension between wanting to really live simply, justly and faithfully and the very strong urge to have the things I want that make my life comfortable, productive, safe. I sincerely hope that this is a reflection of MY selfishness and that YOU are actually far more genuinely generous than I am.

OK - so what's the point of this blog? Perhaps it's just me, confessing my struggle with consumerism and thinking on paper about the deeper, darker issues of the global economic and political systems and the injustices that are perpetrated by those systems so that the richest 20% of the world controls 86% of the planet's wealth and the poorest 20% control only 1%. I don't want to rain on the Advent Conspiracy parade - honestly! I seriously DO think it's a good start and I encourage you to check it out, but be careful. Don't let it be a quick fix or a passing fad. Let it be an entry point into a a whole new relationship with people - both near and far - and stuff and the environment and God.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7 TNIV)

Be part of the Advent Conspiracy but know this: we may be a whole lot more tied to our consumer culture than we realize and as we follow this path, we will - I predict - discover that the rabbit hole is WAY deeper than we thought! But it's ok - we're not alone and I believe that whatever trouble we find on the way, God will not leave us or forsake us!

Oh - and by the way, if you're looking for a good place to put some (or better still, ALL!) of the cash that you're not using to buy obligatory and often frivolous gifts for family and friends, check out the CBM gift catalogue: and /cbm/giftcatalogue and the Kids Care Catalogue - and give a gift in their names.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Coronation Grow Project

As promised at the end of my last blog, I'm going to tell you about the Coronation Grow Project that raises money - LOTS of money - for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB). It's a story about some farmers in Alberta - in Coronation, to be precise - who share CFGB's vision: a world without hunger.

These farmers plant a 270 acre field and the entire harvest is donated to CFGB. Not only that, but through a 4:1 matching grant from Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), that money is multiplied. Last year, the Coronation Grow Project was able to raise almost $3,000,000 for CFGB - all money that is used to fund food security projects in low income countries. In this case, the money was deposited in Canadian Baptist Ministries' (CBM) account with CFGB and used by CBM for projects with partners in Africa, India, Central and South America.

But let me back up a bit and tell you about CFGB. This year is CFGB's 25th anniversary. Here's how the website describes CFGB:

Canadian Foodgrains Bank is a partnership of Canadian church-based agencies working to end hunger in developing countries by: · increasing and deepening the involvement of Canadians in efforts to end hunger; · supporting partnerships and activities to reduce hunger on both an immediate and sustainable basis; · influencing changes in public policies necessary to end hunger.

Check out the website at: But there's more to the story. Last year, Lorne Park Baptist Church in Mississauga, Ontario, partnered with Brownfield Church in Alberta. As I understand it, the farmers - many of them from the Brownfield Baptist Church, near Coronation - provided the knowledge, labour and equipment to make the harvest a success, and the Lorne Park Church provided cash for input costs. So - an urban church (Lorne Park) partnered with a rural church (Brownfield) - each contributing what they had in order to raise an enormous sum of money so that people in distant lands might have access to funds that would help them develop projects to ease hunger and food insecurity.

Just think of all the players involved in making this happen: the farmers and the local community folks in Alberta, the Lorne Park folks, CFGB, CBM and The Sharing Way (CBM's relief and development arm), CIDA (which contributes money through matching grants - that's money gathered from Canadian taxpayers), our partners in Kenya, Rwanda, Angola, India, Bolivia and El Salvador. That's a lot of people, working together, to ease hunger!

Now - before I leave you I want to mention a website you might want to check out as the Advent season begins: Enjoy!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Hunger for Change

For the last two weeks of October I had the incredible privilege of traveling across the country with two of our international partners - Sam Mutisya from Kenya and Dr. Judson Pothuraju from India. We - along with several others who varied from venue to venue - were presenting a workshop we called: Hunger for Change: Responding to the Global Food Crisis. What an amazing journey it was for me!

I heard Sam and Dr. Judson present their material on how the global food crisis is affecting people in their communities a total of eight times - and each time the picture got a little clearer. But it wasn't just the presentations that stretched me - it was also the opportunity to get to know these two gracious men as we traveled across this land of plenty to try to help people understand that there really is a link between our relative affluence and the abject poverty so many people experience every day BECAUSE of global forces which favor us and not them. Sometimes it's hard for us to really believe that there IS a global food crisis since our grocery stores continue to carry an amazing array of food - fresh, frozen, processed, modified, transported - it's all there waiting for us when we zip into the grocery store to stock our own shelves.

After extending Kenyan greetings, Sam began his presentation by noting that "world hunger and a food crisis are a contradiction in our time." There's an irony that we musn't miss that while the diet industry in North America is booming because we have and we eat TOO MUCH, about one billion people (that's about one in six!) are chronically hungry and many of them are seriously malnourished and literally on the brink of starvation.

It's pretty easy, actually, to see that there's something terribly wrong with this picture, but the more difficult issue is understanding the causes of the food crisis and - tougher still - working through possible solutions. There seem to be two competing and maybe even contradictory camps on this. On the one hand there's Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, who heads up a pilot project which has seen the creation of 12 "Millennium Villages" in an effort to provide a model for the eradication of poverty and hunger. Sounds like a good idea, but the catch is that they are based on some assumptions about development that may ultimately be counter- productive. Like, for example, as I understand it, agricultural production will be heavily reliant on commercially manufactured seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. See for more details.

Michael Pollan is a spokesperson for a different approach. He advocates a development model that harnesses natural inputs. He's written an open letter (published in the New York Times - see to the next president of the United States (who we now know will be President-elect Barack Obama) concerning the global food crisis and the way forward. Quite a different way forward than the Millennium Villages model for agricutlural production, mind you.

So - what I've been pondering is this question: is it possible for us (humanity at its best, that is) to produce enough food to feed the growing world population, without relying on genetically modified food and chemical fertilizers and pesticides? I don't have the answer to that question, but I'm guessing that in the immediate short term it may be necessary to combine philosophies and approaches in order to get food - and that is, food of any kind at this point - into the bellies of hungry and starving people around the world. That's the first priority. But in the long term decisions must be made about what kind of food we want and need. We need to consider the costs of artificial inputs and of a whole series of assumptions that we make about food production and distribution. Perhaps the "answer" will lie in a dynamic balance between two models....

In my next posting I'm going to talk about a Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB) grow project in Coronation, Alberta, where farmers donate their time, equipment and labour to harvest grain which is donated through CFGB, along with matching grants (up to 4:1) from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and is invested through The Sharing Way of Canadian Baptist Ministries with our partners in countries like Kenya and India - to improve food security. It's a great story and an inspiring example of mustard seed faith!