All posts tagged “Afghanistan

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Repaso: July 26, 2013

1. Partnership and solidarity in Guatemala
Lemonade International, the organization that hosted us in Guatemala in April, has published its 2012 Donor Impact Report, and for anyone who’s taken an interest in what they’re up to in La Limonada, it’ll be encouraging to peruse. Plus, Katie and I make a cameo – and our sponsored child Cristian can be seen elsewhere blowing bubbles like it’s his job.


2. Unfazed and unsettled in Kabul
With the specter of civic and political disintegration looming after U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan next year, many wonder what’s in store for the beleaguered nation. Jeffrey Stern writes about the future of its capital city in The Atlantic:

Kabul is still a segregated city, but it is also a city squeezed together by mountains, and even as squatter houses creep higher and higher up the hillsides like they’re trying to escape, it’s harder for people to isolate themselves. A leader of one ethnic group once told me I should not write too much about ethnic conflict here, because his country wasn’t ready, those wounds had to heal before they could be examined. “It took ten years, didn’t it,” he said, “for people to begin calling what the Nazis did the Holocaust?” I found that troubling, but coded in his admonishment was the notion that someday his country would be ready, and that that day was in the imaginable future. There are signs now that unevenly, haltingly, the day may be approaching.

3. Loving Leviticus
I know that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” but I admit I don’t find it easy to love books like Leviticus. In the current cover story for CT, Old Testament scholar Chris Wright sets out to convince people like me it’s a love worth cultivating:

The point is that on one hand, all of these kinds of laws were intended for Israel’s society and not directly for us. They are culturally specific and limited. Yet at the same time, as Paul says, all of the laws were “written for our instruction” and are “useful” for us. So we should not find ourselves asking, “Which of these laws do I have to obey, and which can I ignore?” Rather, we should ask, “What can I learn from all of these laws about how God wants me to live and how he wants his people and society at large to live?” Not, “What rules do I have to keep?” but rather, “What kind of relationship do I need to cultivate with God and live out among others?”

4. Public theology reading list
Gideon Strauss (@gideonstrauss) has compiled a great “introductory list” of books and articles to read for those interested in public theology. On Twitter he’s also been soliciting additional suggestions, so if you have any to add, go for it!

5. Changing the paradigm
I really like what the folks at The Paradigm Project are up to.

[Photo: Clothesline in La Limonada, Guatemala via Scott Bennett, photographer extraordinaire]

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Repaso: February 22, 2013


1. Community development for the 21st century
Chris Smith, the editor of Englewood Review of Books, wrote a great piece for Christianity Today on how Christian community development is changing:

For the past three years, I’ve managed the bookstore at the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) annual conference. Each year I see old friends and make new ones, all the while putting new books into the hands of conference participants. It’s a place where I can observe which voices are shaping ideas about what Christian community development is and how it should be practiced in neighborhoods. Authors like founder John Perkins, Bob Lupton, Amy Sherman, and Wayne Gordon represent the longstanding tradition of CCDA. However, I have noticed over the past few years a growing interest in food, ecology, and Native American communities—topics not always considered part of Christian community development. Books by the late Richard Twiss (a Native American and a popular speaker at the last two conferences) and Wendell Berry, for instance, were among the top sellers at last fall’s gathering. I wondered: Did the book-buying habits of conference participants suggest that the vision behind Christian community development is changing?

2. Marketplace pastoring
Lukas Naugle on what pastors should teach those called to the marketplace:

The marketplace, the everyday world of trade and economic activity, is where most people spend the majority of their days. In modern history, the marketplace has played an unparalleled role in shaping our world. Globalization has turned countless local markets into one massive global market. Advances in technology and communication have managed to bridge enormous geographical and cultural gaps with blinding speed. Meanwhile, the language and norms of the marketplace have changed the way other social institutions, including the church, think and operate. Even family life has been shaped by the marketplace in seemingly indelible ways… So what should pastors teach to those called to the marketplace?

3. Are missionaries the henchmen of empire?
You may recall my thoughts last November on The Poisonwood Bible and the question of whether missionaries destroy cultures. If so, this piece by Robert Joustra may be of interest:

It’s long been accepted that missionaries are the ideological henchman of empire—maybe not by the missionaries themselves, but by much of the public. Just last week the Globe splashed the Christian ministry Crossroads across its front page for its lifestyle beliefs, arguing its religious content contradicted Canadian values and so invalidated its work digging wells in Christian Uganda. It’s a bad brand for folks that are generally sincere in their good intentions, and—further—that do so much actual good (even) in the name of religion. Whether religion invalidates development work today, or whether religious content and savvy religious literacy may actually be essential in a religious world, is another matter. But what about this easy history of missionaries as cultural imperialists? Is this a fair story?

4. Afghan youth on the future
WhyDev has started a fascinating series featuring guest posts by university students in Afghanistan, offering their views on “a range of topics from social media to security and education to aid effectiveness in Afghanistan.” The first two posts are deeply personal and painfully honest, and that’s why they’re important.

5. Northern Lights in Iceland

Dramatic Aurora Borealis. Iceland – Time-Lapse of a Winter Fairytale from Anna Possberg on Vimeo.

Repaso is intended as a thought-provoking compilation of news and commentary related to the intersections of faith, development, justice, and peace. As always, I welcome your thoughts on any of the links and ideas in this roundup!

[Photo credit: John M. Perkins via]

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Repaso: October 5, 2012

1. Thinking as Christians in an election year
Stephanie Summers and Steve Monsma write this timely essay for Q Ideas:

Great are the dangers of dishonoring our Lord and being used by political operatives more worldly wise and cynical than we are. Instead, we must practice slow politics: renewing our minds and making every thought obedient to Christ by careful study and deliberate thinking about our aims before we act. In this essay we focus on two basic, underlying, biblically grounded truths and how they lead to what we term “principled pluralism.” Together, these truths lay what we are convinced is the foundation for a thoughtful, God-honoring approach to the political realm.

2. Creating places where people can flourish
The architect David Greusel was interviewed for the Faith & Leadership blog from the Duke Divinity School:

From ballparks to churches, architecture has a significant impact on people’s lives and should therefore be about the creation of places where people can flourish, said David Greusel, an architect who specializes in the design of public buildings. Unfortunately, much architecture today, both sacred and secular, has not been about human flourishing, Greusel said. Instead, architecture in general has been about originality at the expense of tradition, while church architecture has been marked by mediocrity born of pragmatism.

3. Discipleship for faithful service in the city
David Kim of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York explores how the church can best disciple her people for faithful service in the city:

One quickly discovers that there are, in the geographic space of this one city, two realities representing two very different loves—eloquently stated by Augustine as the “City of God” and the “City of Man.” There is common grace and antithesis in New York City, and it is critical for the church in fulfilling the great commission to prepare her people to engage this fearfully and wonderfully made city. Discipleship, rooted and flowing out of the gospel of Jesus Christ, must find its mature expression in the engagement of our world, taking seriously the sin and grace that pervades every inch of our world.

4. Monkey bars of the kingdom
Kyle Bennett invites us to spend more time at the park:

Parks force us to truly interact with others in and as a community. Those we meet at the park are created in the image of God. We were created and called to interact with them and live with them. Sin doesn’t change anything in this regard. We must learn to live with them as creatures of our God, even if they are morally bankrupt individuals, incompetent parents, obnoxious neighbors, unfaithful friends, or irresponsible citizens. This can be the space for us to practice what we preach. It can be the place for testing, implementing, and applying love of our neighbor or enemy.

5. FLW and PHX in the NYT
Off and on over the past couple months, Katie and I have been doing a Frank Lloyd Wright architecture tour, checking out the many homes and other buildings he created iaround Phoenix. It all began when we learned that one of the homes he designed was in danger of demolition, and we wanted to see it while it lasted. The story got picked up by the New York Times this week:

It’s hard to say which is more startling. That a developer in Phoenix could threaten — by Thursday, no less — to knock down a 1952 house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Or that the house has until now slipped under the radar, escaping the attention of most architectural historians, even though it is one of Wright’s great works, a spiral home for his son David.

6. Skateistan
This is a fascinating nine-minute short film called Skateistan: To Live And Skate Kabul, following the lives of young skateboarders in Kabul (thanks to @talaazar for the link).

SKATEISTAN: TO LIVE AND SKATE KABUL from Diesel New Voices on Vimeo.

Repaso is intended as a thought-provoking compilation of news and commentary from the past week related to the intersections of faith, development, justice and peace. As always, I welcome your thoughts on any of the links and ideas in this roundup!

[Photo credit: The David and Gladys Wright House in Phoenix, by Scott Jarson via]

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Three cups of deceit

Five months ago, scandal engulfed a guy from Montana named Greg Mortenson.

He’d made a name for himself through a book called Three Cups of Tea, which is his story of accidentally becoming one of the world’s most inspiring humanitarians. Through the book, which remained on the New York Times bestseller list for four years, Mortenson inspired tens of thousands — if not millions — of people to support his nonprofit organization, the Central Asia Institute. He even managed to get himself nominated on more than one occasion for the Nobel Peace Prize. President Obama himself donated a hundred grand to the cause.

Then came April of this year, when 60 Minutes aired a report suggesting that this seemingly unanimous enthusiasm might have been misguided, citing allegations from well-known writer Jon Krakauer and others that some of the most impressive and inspiring stories in Three Cups of Tea were either grossly exaggerated or completely bogus, and that Mortenson was responsible for appalling misuse of his organization’s funds. Here’s the 60 Minutes segment, in case you’d like to get up to speed that way:

Mortenson responded to CBS with a short statement and a longer statement, and the CAI board issued a response to the accusations as well; you can read them for yourself if you’d like. I didn’t blog about any of this at the time, partly because deep down I wanted to believe Mortenson was being falsely maligned (honestly, who didn’t love Three Cups?), but also because about a million other bloggers suddenly took it upon themselves to publicly crucify him, rendering my two cents a bit redundant.

Recently, however, with Borders going out of business and selling books at steep discounts, I came across Krakauer’s 70-page exposé Three Cups of Deceit, and decided to give it a read. For those who have seen the 60 Minutes report, the gist of the accusations come as no surprise. Krakauer arranges the book into three sections which are, broadly speaking, the three problems he sees with Mortenson and Three Cups. First, the problem of fabricated stories presented as fact. Second, the problem of lack of financial accountability. And third, the problem of lackluster results in the places where Mortenson claims success.

The accusations do seem fairly damning, and I don’t think that Mortenson’s or CAI’s responses sufficiently defuse them. So in the midst of profound disappointment and disillusionment it’s only natural to want to demonize the man, to throw out your copy of Three Cups, and to distance yourself by pretending you never liked it in the first place and would never fall for such deception. But I think there are at least three big lessons we can all learn from this.

First, it is good to be reminded of the need for organizations and their leaders to be held accountable. Charity Navigator is one of the leading nonprofit watchdogs, and while it isn’t perfect (it failed to flag CAI’s shady accounting ahead of time), it has been evolving to become a more accurate measure of financial accountability and program effectiveness. There are good places to put your money to use for the common good, so please resist the two extremes: either donating on a whim just because someone asked you to, or refusing to donate at all because scandals like this exist.

Second, it is good to be reminded of the seduction of power and money, to which none of us are immune. Mortenson discovered a formula for pulling on people’s heartstrings, for enlarging his personal bank account, and yes, for helping a lot of people at the same time. Mixed motives are hardly foreign to any of us, so while it does seem that Mortenson has engaged in manipulative, greedy, and deceptive behavior and has taken advantage of people’s generosity and goodwill in the process, we simply cannot say that we’d be immune to these temptations were we in his shoes.

Third, and finally, it is good to be reminded that we live in a messy world full of complicated people and conflicting reports, and that a nuanced perspective is almost always helpful. Krakauer himself is quick to affirm the good that Mortenson has done — and the good he has done is considerable — and that is perhaps what I most appreciate about the book. While obviously first and foremost an exposé, Three Cups of Deceit demonstrates that for those confident in the facts, we can afford to be honest about the good, the bad and the ugly. And that’s what separates Krakauer, a true journalist, from so many bandwagon bloggers: in lambasting a man who misled people through looseness of facts, it’s all too easy to disqualify our critiques by doing the same.