All posts tagged “Africa

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Repaso: March 29, 2013


1. Unsung heroes in Africa
Jenny Trinitapoli and Alexander Weinreb think the standard narrative about the reduction of AIDS in Africa is wrong. I don’t think we should underestimate the positive impact PEPFAR and other Western efforts have made, but I’m sympathetic to the argument that local heroes deserve the bulk of the credit:

Most of the measured improvements in AIDS in Africa are actually the result of cumulative, widespread behavior change that has led to a reduction in new HIV infections. In other words, the standard narrative is wrong. The narrative is wrong because it ignores local African responses to AIDS and characterizes religion and religious leaders as part of the problem. We have systematically studied the role of religious leaders in sub-Saharan Africa for about a decade. As a single class of people, local religious leaders sit at the very top of our list of who should receive credit for the behavior changes that have curbed the spread of HIV in Africa.

2. The danger of faith-based humanitarianism
Ziya Meral (@Ziya_Meral), a Turkish researcher based in London whose work focuses on religion, politics, and human rights in the Middle East, writes about the largely positive rise of faith-based humanitarianism, while noting one common way it can get its proponents into trouble:

When faith-based humanitarianism slips into working only for their own brethren and into the narrative of “the world is against us,” it fuels dangerous misperceptions and prejudices. This does not help the suffering of their co-religionists in the long run, and empties their humanitarianism by reducing it to partisanship carried on the global stage. The solution to this vulnerability of faith-based initiatives does not lie in secular humanism, but in faith traditions themselves.

3. Science and doxology
Anyone who has met Jimmy Lin (@cjimmylin) knows what a brilliant guy he is, and that his vision for finding cures for rare diseases is, well, contagious. The BioLogos Foundation published an interview in which he discusses his work with the Rare Genomics Institute. It also includes part of an earlier interview, where he draws upon J.I. Packer’s line that “Theology is for doxology”:

That’s not just true for theology, it’s for everything: biology is for doxology; chemistry is for doxology. That’s when I started to think, I should consider myself, first and foremost, as a person who praises God in what I do. And then no longer make “Christian” the adjective, right? “Doxologist” is the noun. But then what kind of doxologist am I? So I call myself a medical and scientist doxologist. I would call someone, for example, in the marketplace, a business doxologist. Or, someone who does art, an artistic doxologist. To really have the noun as our identity, and then our vocation as just a descriptor of how we do that.

4. Justice and the future of Guatemala
Over the past two weeks, Guatemala’s former dictator Rios Montt has been standing trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. Because of widespread impunity in the country, nailing the dictator was seen by most as a nearly impossible task. In a New York Times op-ed, political science professor Anita Isaacs (@AnitaIsaacs) writes about the significance of the trial for Guatemala’s indigenous people:

Convicting Mr. Ríos Montt is not about sending one person to jail. Survivors are adamant that justice will not bring back their loved ones and that it can never be commensurate with the brutal massacres described in court… Those implicated in wartime atrocities hope the trial will satisfy victims’ demands for retribution. Survivors, however, see the trial as opening up the floodgates of justice. They have a long list of perpetrators they want to see punished next. Nor is the right to try perpetrators for war crimes the only right demanded by indigenous Guatemalans. Having mobilized for over a decade to bring Mr. Ríos Montt to justice, they take enormous pride in making the trial happen. They are emerging more confident and resolved to continue fighting to claim all the political, social and economic rights they are owed as Guatemalan citizens. The contours of Guatemala’s democratic future are up for grabs, and the stakes have never been higher. While a failure to convict could be the greatest blow to the rule of law since the genocide itself, success has also never been so close within Guatemala’s reach.

5. Death In His Grave


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African men, Hollywood stereotypes, and the Golden Rule

This video has been going around the interwebs the past few days so you may have already seen it, but if not, it’s a must-see.

Benard, Brian, Derrick and Gabriel came up with this idea after watching Alex presents: Commando from Mama Hope, a nonprofit doing community development work throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Here’s more on Mama Hope’s “Stop the Pity” campaign:

Take the word AFRICA… without thinking, what images immediately come to mind?

War? AIDS? Genocide? Or maybe the vision of a small child with a swollen belly, surrounded by flies? … Too many non-profits ask for your pity by depicting poor, helpless Africans. But like any stereotype, this portrayal has more exceptions than truth.

Mama Hope feels it is time to re-humanize Africa and look to the positive change that is happening. Through a series of videos Mama Hope wants to show the light of the people we serve in Africa. We aspire to introduce our partner communities to you with the integrity and brilliance that we witness everyday. In these videos we feature the shared traits that make us all human—the dancing, the singing, the laughter and bring the compelling truth of their lives to your living room. This is a campaign to build awareness of the simple fact that we are more similar than different. It’s time for us to change the way we see people across the world and start to see other communities for the people they are instead of the stereotypes we’ve been trained to expect. It is time to stop the pity and unlock the potential!

Moving from pity to emphasizing untapped potential is a big paradigm shift for many of us, but it’s so important. To give you a bit more to chew on, I thought I’d share a recent article from Christianity Today by Kent Annan, who  works with Haiti Partners and has written a couple of books, including one I reviewed last year. In this new piece, Annan reflects on KONY 2012 and the Golden Rule, and offers six principles to keep in mind before telling someone else’s story. Here are some of the questions raised:

If you’ve ever talked about your experience on a short-term missions trip in front of your church, tried to start a new project for disadvantaged people in your neighborhood, or raised money to help others, at some point you might have felt an uncomfortable twinge: Did I make the case strongly enough to motivate people to step up and help? Did I selfishly make myself the hero? Did I paint people as one-dimensional victims instead of as the people I know them to be? Did I overstate how much good we’ve done? I know I’ve made these mistakes many times during my 15 years in nonprofit work.

What can we as Westerners do to stop perpetuating stereotypes? What would it look like if we approached our storytelling through the lens of the Golden Rule? What would change? What would stay the same?

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Repaso: Advent, lost books, screen-printing, journalistic ethics, Bruce Cockburn, LEGOs, theology & culture

1. Advent reflections from Paul Burkhart
Paul Burkhart, a friend of mine in Philadelphia, has a series of thoughtful posts on his blog for Advent. Here’s an excerpt from his most recent one:

In his Advent, Jesus does lots of miracles, but his miracles are particular in nature and function. None of his miracles are weird. You have no lasers coming out of people’s eyes, no shape-shifting, no invisibility, etc. What you have is a God that comes and ushers in the future world to come and brings it into the present. In other words, all of his miracles are restoring things to the way they will be and are intended to be; they are acts of justice. People were not meant to be blind, or die, or go hungry, or be handicapped, or be sick. And so he ushers in this future reality into the present by healing these things. The future world begins with a wedding feast with much wine, and so his messianic mission begins with turning water to wine at a wedding feast.

2. Ariel Dorfman’s lost library
NPR has an interview with novelist and activist Ariel Dorfman, who was forced to flee his home in Chile after the overthrow of President Allende in 1973. Going into exile he lost a lot, but here he reflects on the impact of losing his personal library.

3. Big Planet Apparel on The Lancast
My good friend Chris Newcomer is the guest on the latest episode of The Lancast, a podcast focused on interesting people in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Chris is an entrepreneur and here he talks about how his company, Big Planet Apparel, came to be. You’re not likely to hear more laughter in a 34 minute interview anywhere else, and hopefully you’ll now know where to turn when you need to make t-shirts.

4. Misrepresenting “Africa” and “the poor”
In this TED Talk, reporter and researcher Leslie Dodson urges those who engage in storytelling about the poor (researchers, journalists, NGOs, etc) to do so ethically, not misrepresenting them through simplistic depictions or by robbing them of their dignity in the process (Thanks to Jennifer Rohde Williams for passing this along).

5. Photographs of homelessness around the world
Okay, here’s a chance to think critically about the ethics of photographing the homeless, based on what Leslie Dodson had to say in the video above. In this photo essay, I was struck by the prevailing “namelessness” of the poor. There were a handful of those in the US whose names were given, as well as the name of the recently deceased homeless man (not pictured) whose funeral two unnamed (but pictured) homeless women attended. What do you think of this namelessness in photos of the poor and homeless?

6. “Kicking at the Darkness”
Byron Borger has some brief comments on Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination, a new book by Brian J. Walsh that I’m eager to read. Here’s the blurb Byron wrote for the back cover of the book:

I’ve been listening to Cockburn for three decades and reading Walsh almost that long, and I can hardly imagine surviving these times, let alone believing that joy will find a way, without the artistry and insight of both.  This is an extraordinarily ambitious project, years in the making, and there is profound insight on every page.  Whether you are a seasoned Cockburn fan or not, this is a rewarding, provocative, experiment in criticism.  I recommend it with great enthusiasm and with immense gratitude.

7. The Year in LEGO
A cool collection of LEGO reenactments of key events of the past year, apparently submitted to The Guardian by various Flickr users (HT Chris Blattman and Gideon Strauss).

8. Coming together on theology and culture?
Tim Keller writes that a convergence may be happening within evangelicalism on a “third way” of considering the relationship between Christ and culture, beyond the “Two Kingdoms” and the “Transformationist” views. Here’s a great snippet on an important aspect of this third way:

While the mission of the institutional church is to preach the Word and produce disciples, the church must disciple Christians in such a way that they live justly and integrate their faith with their work. So the church doesn’t directly change culture, but it disciples and supports people who do.

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: Clint McMahon via The Guardian]

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Emotion, geopolitics, and the reshaping of our world

What does emotion have to do with geopolitics? Everything, according to Dominique Moïsi, author of The Geopolitics of Emotion: How Cultures of Fear, Humiliation, and Hope Are Reshaping the World (Anchor Doubleday). Moïsi, a French political scientist, Harvard professor, and son of an Auschwitz survivor, argues that we cannot understand the events of history without careful consideration of the role of emotions, “which seem to control us much more than we control them.” The world, he says, is characterized by three key emotions: fear, hope and humiliation.

The reason I have chosen these three emotions is that they are closely linked with the notion of confidence, which is the defining factor in how nations and people address the challenges they face as well as how they relate to one another. Fear is the absence of confidence. If your life is dominated by fear, you are apprehensive about the present and expect the future to become ever more dangerous. Hope, by contrast, is an expression of confidence; it is based on the conviction that today is better than yesterday and that tomorrow will be better than today. And humiliation is the injured confidence of those who have lost hope in the future; your lack of hope is the fault of others, who have treated you badly in the past. When the contrast between your idealized and glorious past and your frustrating present is too great, humiliation prevails.

Moïsi argues that today, Asia is the region of hope, the Middle East is the region of humiliation, and the West (Europe and the United States) is the region of fear. The book reminds me of The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria, which basically says that the world has changed and while that fact is unsettling for the West, it’s not all bad news, especially if we can learn from Asia’s successes. Here, Moïsi paints for the most part in broad strokes, akin to Thomas Friedman’s sweeping assertion that the world is flat.

These generalizations are true as far as they go, but they both have their fair share of exceptions, and Moïsi concedes as much. While Asia is the region of hope, this isn’t particularly true in Japan, with its aging population being a deciding factor. While humiliation sets the tone in the Middle East, the emirates are for the most part exempt, enjoying relative prosperity and stability, at least for now. And while the West is largely gripped by fear these days (largely in response to Asia’s hope and the Middle East’s humiliation), the United States has always had an underlying sense of hope, and it surfaces here and there even still.

To his credit, he also includes a chapter on the countries — Russia, Israel, and possibly Iran — and entire regions — Africa and Latin America — that don’t fit into his sweeping generalizations. He explains these exclusions:

In the beginning of the twenty-first century, the jury is still out on Africa and Latin America. Policy makers, businesspeople, and those concerned with human development cannot ignore these two continents. But they are not, not yet, the places where the future of the world is being decided, nor will they become so in the foreseeable future.

It seems a bit short-sighted to simply exclude from a book on geopolitics two huge continents with a combined 1.6 billion people* in 80 countries**. Also, though the book was published relatively recently (in May 2009), parts of it are noticeably outdated, particularly considering the events that have swept the Middle East over the past year or so. Would Moïsi still consider the Middle East to be a region of humiliation, or would it now be better characterized as one of hope? I’m not sure.

But all in all, I can’t fault Moïsi too much for these shortcomings. The so-called Arab Spring caught just about all of us by surprise, and despite my own biases, maybe he’s right that at least for now Africa and Latin America aren’t going to decide the future for the rest of the world. He is right that emotions certainly do shape how we live our lives, and reflecting on broader emotional patterns at the geopolitical level may help us better understand the complicated world in which we live.

How does Moïsi’s argument sit with you, that the world is characterized by fear, humiliation, and hope? What significant exceptions do you see? How might a better understanding of the role emotions play in shaping our world help us in our pursuit of the common good? And while I’m at it, what role do you see the rapidly growing church in Africa, Asia and Latin America playing in the reshaping of our world?

* Based on populations of 572,039,894 in Latin America [source] and 1,022,234,000 in Africa [source].
** 56 countries and territories in Africa [source] and 24 in Latin America [source].

[Photo credit: Karim Selmaoui/EPA via The Guardian]

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Repaso: Economic hitman on CSR, Mark Hatfield essay, Bono and justice, evangelicals and evangelism, planking, and more

1. “Economic hitman” talks corporate social responsibility
John Perkins — not the one who started Christian Community Development Association, but the one who wrote “Confessions of an Economic Hitman” — was interviewed by, by and large a very pro-business outlet. The interview is on corporate social responsibility, or CSR, and how Perkins sees business changing. He had this to say about recent trends in Latin America in reaction to what has been business as usual:

These countries are not getting rid of the corporations, not nationalizing them, not driving them out – because they recognize that they need them – but saying to these corporations, “If you’re going to drill for oil here in Ecuador, or if you’re going to drill for gas here in Bolivia, or grow bananas in El Salvador, that’s okay, but you must share a larger percentage of the profits with our people.  You’ve got to pay higher taxes, and you’ve got to pay higher wage rates.  You must make sure that the people working on these projects are adequately compensated and that they’re not working as slaves to you. And you have to offer the same protections for our environment as those required in Alaska and other states.

2. Mark Hatfield: Christ’s call to service
The Center for Public Justice has reprinted an essay from 1977 by Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-OR), who died this week. I didn’t know much about Hatfield before this, to be honest, but this is a great essay on how Christian faith should shape political responsibility:

We must not suppose that Christ was a-political. On the contrary, His message could not have been addressed more pointedly to the social and political injustices and realities of His time. The Sermon on the Mount, for instance, contains four beatitudes which deal with giving comfort and hope to the oppressed, and four others which give encouragement and blessing to those who help the cause of the oppressed. The truth is that our Lord set forth a hope for social and political renewal, for achieving God’s purposes and standards of justice, which was far more radical in its dimensions than any of the movements of His time. That hope is rooted in a response to the good news of the kingdom of God, and involves, today as then, a total transformation of the way life is defined.

3. Justice and the pivotal moment
Charlie Peacock, longtime Nashville music guru, has a post at the Art House America blog about catching up with Bono when U2 recently came to town, and reflecting back on “the pivotal moment” in 2002 when American evangelicals first really started getting on board with justice issues, and HIV/AIDS in Africa in particular. Though I’d prefer to say my commitment to justice and development wasn’t because of a rock star, 2002-3 was a pivotal moment for me too, and yes, Bono had something to do with it. Here’s how Peacock describes that time:

Because the Spirit of Justice is never just blowing through one person or one town, all sorts of people simultaneously met and heard similar messages bouncing off God’s satellites. Grass roots and grass tops were all up in the mix. It was a strange mixture of people mobilizing across America and the planet to fight the worst of disease, hunger, and extreme poverty. Political enemies put down their blue/red rhetoric and championed help for Africa. Christians who previously groaned that AIDS is nothing but a sex problem became infected with the love that Christ has for the poor and inflicted. They turned and returned to a better way of being human — one that cares for all that God loves. Countries, institutions, and corporations released some of the brain trust and wealth they had stored up for themselves. They offered it for the good of people and planet. In short, for a moment in time, an ad hoc gathering of people sought justice and loved mercy, and those who named it as such woke each day to walk humbly with God.

4. Why evangelicals should stop evangelizing
For those who stay on top of social media discussions about faith, it may be obvious that I’m a bit behind on this one, but this post about evangelism by Carl Medearis, a Christian and “international expert in Arab-American and Muslim-Christian relations” has been widely circulated and discussed over the past few weeks. This obviously has a lot to do with the post’s provocative title, but its 3,600+ comments show that it’s a topic people feel strongly about. One good response I came across is this one from Adam Jeskewith InterVarsity.

5. Help the poor, help the world
Byron Borger from the one-of-a-kind Hearts and Minds Books (not far from Lancaster) reviews two excellent books on Christian responses to poverty over at the Q Blog. I like to think I’m connected to both authors. The first is “The Hole in our Gospel” by Richard Stearns, World Vision’s president. We met once, at a Christmas party at the DC office and along with my fellow interns we sang him a couple of Christmas carols. It was weird. Next is “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger” by Ron Sider, one of my heroes, who heads up Evangelicals for Social Action, for which I’ve done some writing. We met briefly after he spoke at Eastern a couple of years ago. Both books are very worthwhile, and both authors are stand-up guys.

6. Planking
My friend Brandon, who is a youth pastor and much more in touch with pop culture than I am, has been getting into “planking” this summer — a trend that strikes me as both puzzling and painful. Well, as it happens, he and his planking made the front page of Lancaster’s paper yesterday. Whether this is proof of Brandon being cutting edge, or just a lack of real news in Lancaster, is up for debate, but it’s cool either way. Here’s my favorite quote:

“This will not be a lifelong passion,” he said.