Homeless Has A Name

In the 1990s, Mark Horvath was homeless, one of many “nameless” faces we avoid seeing. Now he and supporters of this effort, called “Invisible People”, are trying to do something to end homelessness in the United States. It’s an ambitious goal, but he’s leveraging the power of the Internet and social media to get word out about the need and his mission. Now there’s a documentary project underway, funded via Kickstarter, to highlight his work and the reality of life on the streets. It’s called @home. Check out the trailer below and keep an eye out for the documentary when it’s complete. You can also follow Mark and Invisible People on Twitter at @invisiblepeople.

See also:

Meaning and Purpose on the Pale Blue Dot

Look at the brown band in this picture. Scan down until you see a little pale blue dot. Got it? That’s earth, and this was a picture taken by Voyager 1 in 1990 at distance of 3.7 million miles (6 million kilometers) from earth. The picture was taken at the request of Carl Sagan, and here’s what Mr. Sagan had to say about the image in a speech:

“Look again at that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.“

Reading Sagan’s words, I find myself agreeing and disagreeing at the same time. Seeing our world from such a distance certainly makes us seem quite insignificant in the vast scheme of things. Our conflicts seem all the sillier when put into the perspective of the vastness of space, the infinitesimal tininess of our planet hurtling through that great deep and the unfathomable enormity of time.

"When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-4 NRSV).

There’s nothing particularly new about the idea that humanity may be less even than an afterthought in the grand scheme of things. Many ancient cultures had creation myths that involved gods at war, beasts slain and the universe and all that’s in it coming forth from the rotting carcass(es). There was nothing special about this world or it inhabitants, according to this view. Into this scenario a powerful counter-narrative was sewn together and spoken.

It began with the universe:

“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day” (Genesis 1:31 ESV).

And culminated with humanity:

“…then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7 ESV).

Arguments centered around questions of creation and evolution generally miss the point of these passages. They were never meant to be read or understood according to Enlightenment rationalism. The overriding argument of Scripture is that all life matters and this world has real value. Just because a person doesn’t hold a certain status in society doesn’t make her worth less than others, and the simple fact that the earth seems miniscule when compared with the great expanse of the universe doesn’t make our world any less important.

I said above that I find myself both agreeing and disagreeing with Sagan’s “pale blue dot” commentary. Think about it. Why do people fight? For stupid reasons? Perhaps. Because they were deceived into fighting? It happens. The fundamental motivator, regardless of whether the cause is truly just or nothing but a massive lie, is a belief that some things matter.

Nationalism, family, pride, wealth, fame, religion, etc can all be reasons people march in wars, but there are also causes that motivate people to march for peace, for understanding and for equality. Are these also meaningless, given that they are sought out on a pale blue dot no bigger than a pixel? I say “no,” and I say it because my faith, based on the words of Judeo-Christian Scripture, tell me so.

You may choose to believe and base your life on the popular narrative in its modern form. That would be the one that says the universe is a confluence of random factors and life is therefore only what you make of it, and not more. Many have believed this story in its countless versions down through the ages. My choice is to embrace the Biblical counter-narrative. This universe exists intentionally and humanity has a purpose.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31 NRSV).

“For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him” (Colossians 1:16 NIV).

In Poverty, What Would You Do?

Marc Tindall, missionary in Honduras, posted the following as his Facebook status recently.

If you have kids – Have they ever been hungry and you could not give them anything because there was nothing in the house and no money to buy anything? What would you do, would you steal to feed your kids? Where would you draw the line? Would you work in the dump? Would you prostitute yourself? Would you try to escape? Would you give your kids away?

Honduras is a nation that has a poverty rate of 70%, abject poverty is more than ½ of those in poverty, and 50%+ unemployed. Little girls with no man in the house are becoming pregnant at 13 – 15 years old.

Hungry people need food and hope and likely won’t listen to the message of hope if their bodies are crying out for food – especially if their kids are hungry.

See also:
Jesus Banquet 2011
Someday When I Grow Up

Thoughts on Brazil’s Proposed Anti-Spanking Law

When I first heard of Brazil’s proposed “spanking law” back in 2010, I was furious. What right did the government have in interfering in the discipline practiced in homes? Now that I’ve done a little more reading, including a look at the bill itself, I’m reconsidering. Still, reservations remain.

According to a recent article in Época, the law itself doesn’t actually prohibit corporal punishment, at least in the sense that there would be punishments for parents using this method without injuring a child. What it does is create a permanent awareness campaign on the part of the governent at all levels. It would promote alternative methods of discipline and aim to make society more aware of the rights of children and adolescents.

In serious cases, wherein children are taken to the emergency room for domestic violence, the law would call for children and parents to be sent in for counseling. Another aspect of the law would require educational professionals to report suspected cases of abuse, something that is already an obligation under Brazilian law. The difference is that now fines would be applied in the case of failure of professionals to report.

If the above is true, as I believe it is, I have no particular problem with it. Spanking is something that served my family well when my children were small, and we never caused actual harm to our children. There are alternative methods to discipline children that can be very effective as well. The keys to any method being successful, it seems to me, are consistency, fairness and moderation.

First, always disciple children the same way for the same misbehavior, unless there are extenuating circumstances.

Second, never discipline a child in anger or fail to explain to the child why she is being correct.

Third, only apply discipline when it seems clearly necessary. Frequent discipline becomes meaningless, when applied in situations that are trivial.

My main reservation with the proposed law is that it seems a little unnecessary. Laws against domestic violence and child abuse already exist, and an ongoing campaign will certainly be expensive.

I’m including the full text of the proposed law below, in Portuguese. The opinions, in English or Portuguese, are welcome in the comments from any who can read it.

*Note to Brazilian readers: “Spanking” in English refers to “palmada” or “apanhar,” not “espancar.”


19 New Brazilian Millionaires Every Day

It would be easy from watching the video above to come to the conclusion that everything is wine and roses in Brazil, but this simply isn’t the case. While there may be as many as 19 million new millionaires there every day, on average, the hard reality is that there continues to be a massive part of the population living in poverty. Favelas aren’t going away and “cracolândias” (“crack lands”) seem to be proliferating.

It can be hoped that with the rise of the new middle and upper classes in Brazil, there can also be an increase in philanthropy. Historically, Brazilians have looked to their government to solve social problems, and the high rate of taxation may leave many feeling justified in doing not much more than paying their taxes. Still, I can’t see new wealth as a bad thing. It’s a hopeful sign for the countries, future, at the very least.

Residents Removed from Pinheirinho Left With Few Options

Photo: Anderson Barbosa 

It isn’t being reported outside of Brazil, so far as I can tell, that a neighborhood in the city of São José dos Campos, Brazil, is being demolished this week. The reason for the destruction is that this was a community of people without legal title to the land they were living on. Eight years ago they “invaded” the land, which reportedly belongs to a now-bankrupt company, and began building homes. There came to be small businesses and even churches in the neighborhood. It was the hope of many residents that they would eventually be granted title, but such has not been the case. The decision came from the jusicial system recently that the land was to be returned to its legal owner, and this was followed with police and other officials moving into the area with heavy machinery to remove the stuctures there.

Pinheirinho, as the neighborhood was called, existed due to a long-standing need in Brazil for adequate housing. I’ve heard objections to squatters rights in Brazil, based on accusations that many who live in these places have other properties, and/or simply live there long enough to gain title and then sell. This may be the case, but it doesn’t explain the enormous numbers of people and the individual stories that can be told of people with no other home to call their own.

As the son of a long line of farmers, I’m sympathetic to those who suffer from squatters trespassing on their properties, and believe that these landowners must have their rights protected. I’m also not inclined to care much about a bankrupt business’s claim on land, but understand the need for well-respected property rights. At the same time, something needs to be done about the housing situation in Brazil, and the vast holdings of idle land in private, corporate hands is a point of concern.

In the case of Pinheirinho, people were “registered” and moved out of the community in haste, most scrambling to salvage what furniture and other household items they could before the bulldozers destroyed what little they owned. What good this “registration” will do remains to be seen, as the government has made statements to the effect that those recently displaced will have to take a place in line behind those already awaiting affordable, subsidized housing. In other words, these folks were kicked out of their homes without another option being made available to them.

Due to media attention within Brazil, I suspect that politicians involved may act now to remedy this situation. In the meantime, people are struggling, camping out in local churches and other improvised shelters.

For those who understand Portuguese, the following report covers the situation of people displaced from Pinheirinho.


Fighting the Child Sex Trade in Southeast Asia

While there are many excellent NGOs working to fight the sex trade in Southeast Asia, I’d like to present two here that I believe are doing fantastic work to save the lives of young women in that region.

The first is Rapha House, an outreach that works to liberate enslaved girls in Cambodia, providing them and education and vocational skills as well as counseling.
The second is The Sold Project, an effort focused on liberating children from sex servitude in Thailand.
Both ministries are worthy of support and prayers as they labor to end child prostitution.

If you are familiar with non-profits that are combating child slavery and prostitution anywhere in the world, please share a link to it and perhaps a brief description in the comments on this post.

See also:
Child Prostitution in Brazil

From One Favela to Another

Traffickers Fleeing a Favela
When the police “pacification” forces first started rolling into the Vila Cruzeiro community of Rio last year as part of an initiative to prepare for the upcoming World Cup and Olympic events (oh, and to bring peace and security to neighborhoods), images like the one above were transmitted by news crews. Hearing that the government occupation force was coming, drug dealers and other wanted felons fled like rats from a burning warehouse. Authorities and the official media celebrated the taking of the favela with no real gun battle. Officials have continued to laud the UPP project, while not really dealing with what should be a rather obvious question: “Where are the bandits going?”

The answer is that they are going to other communities and establishing themselves, as reported by GlobalPost.

While I believe that the government truly is in the right to use force in pursuit of freedom and security for law-abiding citizens, if the underlying causes of the drug trade and other criminal activities are not dealt with, this is a futile effort. Use of violence alone, simply to push out the violent, only accomplishes their relocation, not their rehabilitation. Chase the criminals out of one community and they’ll move elsewhere.

Investments in quality education and consistent social work efforts will not pay off as quickly and visibly in the public’s eye as armed officers driving out criminals, but the long-term benefits will be far greater.

See also:

Faith, Baptism and Becoming a Disciple of Jesus

All Scripture references taken from the
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible.

In the 1800s in the United States it was common among many churches to find a “prayer altar” where “sinners” could “pray their way through to salvation.” By the mid-1900s it had become even simpler, involving only a brief “sinners prayer,” some version of which began to be included inside the covers of Bibles. Earnest as these practices are, they do not reflect what we find in the teachings of the New Testament.

One time I was chatting with a friend whose church was contemplating going to “open membership.” This would mean that although the congregation would continue baptizing new members by immersion, it would permit people to transfer their membership in from non-immersing congregations without themselves being properly immersed. In other words, life-long Methodists or Catholics who had been sprinkled as infants would be able to join the congregation without being baptized by immersion. My friend supported this proposed change in membership requirements, citing to me Romans 10:8-10.

“But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.”

To my friend and many others, this passage seems crystal clear. All that’s required is faith and confession that Jesus is Lord. It is never a good idea, however, to lift a single passage out of context and hang all of one’s beliefs on it, especially about something so important as salvation. Although the apostle Paul did write these words, two facts must be remembered:

1) The above passage was written to people who were already Christians. This was a letter from the apostle Paul to a church in Rome. It is not a letter written with non-Christians in mind as the primary recipients.

2) This passage was preceded by Romans 6:3-6.

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.”

Paul had already established baptism as the point at which new life begins, well before ever getting around to his comments on confessing the Lordship of Jesus.

After I left the Roman Catholic Church I continued for around two years considering myself an “evangelical” and studying the Bible alone and in groups. I really did study the Bible, which made it all the more shocking to me when my eyes were opened to what it says about baptism. I remember flipping from passage to passage that I had used before to support my belief in “faith alone,” only to discover that I’d missed where baptism and even repentance (the latter I’d always pretty much understood) were mentioned. Galatians 3:25-26 was one of those passages I sought out for reassurance:

“But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.”

Had I stopped there I would have continued with my old belief. I kept reading, though:

“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Galatians 3:27)

It goes on and on.

In the British science fiction show “Doctor Who” there’s a device called a “perception filter.” Essentially, it keeps people from noticing things that someone doesn’t want to be seen. For instance, a perception filter on a door in a home could keep a family from noticing a room in the house for years. The only way to see it is, generally, to know you are looking for it. Then you can force yourself to see that which you feel as though you don’t want to see. Sometimes I think it looks as though a perception filter has been put on baptism in the Bible, keeping people from seeing the full and very simple truth about this practice.

If you would like to learn more about baptism, why don’t you seek out a Christian Church or Church of Christ that holds to what the Bible says about it? You may already be a member, even for years, of another Christian denomination. If you’ve never been baptized by immersion, you are truly missing something important for disciples of Jesus.

Church Locators:
International Churches of Christ
Christian Churches (USA only)
Churches of Christ