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:

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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.”

http://docs.google.com/gview?url=http://www.camara.gov.br/proposicoesWeb/prop_mostrarintegra;jsessionid=689BC131950829E0C6A8B32102C8BF6D.node2?codteor=790543&filename=PL+7672/2010&embedded=true

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.


http://s.videos.globo.com/p2/player.swf