About 15 years ago I got into an argument with radio personality Dr. Laura over a verse in 1 Corinthians 13. Dr. Laura was discussing love and wanted contributions on what it meant. Being a newly minted Christ follower I was quick to respond by sending her an email (quite advanced technology at the time) with the famous ‘love chapter” of the New Testament cited above. So far so good. We’ve all heard it sometime or other. Usually at weddings, but it can pop up just about anywhere church folk congregate. Sometimes even in church. Most often it is reduced to a strong into followed with a string a poetically presented platitudes like the string in Verse 4: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.”

Dr. Laura bought off on all of them with great praise, until she came to the first sentence in Verse 8, “Love never fails.” This pronouncement really tweaked the good Doctor. She went off on how love fails all the time. And that sometimes instead of love,  people just need a proverbial good smack upside the head.

The “Love Chapter” is usually easy to love until any reader comes up with the difficulty of putting it into practice. There’s where the Love Chapter becomes easy to hate.

When Dr. Laura’s logic kicked in, the idea that “love never fails” blew her mind. We all have been in love. We have all loved our kids, our families, our friends. And we all fail. But Dr. Laura’s logic is tragically flawed. God has offered us a self description in scripture, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” —1 John 4:8. In case we we’re being really dense He repeated the description in 1 John 4:16 “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.”

So, if God is Love like He claims, they we must accept the statement “Love never fails”. Over the next few posts we will explore some of the lessons I learned about love since my encounter with Dr. Laura.  I also hope this encourages more of us toward an understanding of God’s unconditional love for us. And that His love can move us, in our humanity, to try to imitate His being with our actions toward others.

chicken sandwichThe following is something I posted today on the Tyson Hunger Relief  Blog written by Ed Nicholson.  It was brought to my attention by Steve Thomas on his Oneicity.com blog.  Ed asks if “hunger is boring”

Ed-  I was reading one of my favorite blogs by Oneicity‘s Steve Thomas and he directed me to your  post.  Awesome question!

Maybe it’s not “boredom” by “guilt” that stifles the discussion?  We just don’t want to talk about it, and it’s easier to buy our way out with a donation here and sponsorship there.

My good friend Ken Loyd, of homepdx.net in Portland has created a community of his “friends who live outdoors” and part of what he and his supporters do is help with needs like food and clothing.

A major difference I’ve noticed with Ken is that he treats the people he serves like customers!  He  refuses to give them what he wants them to have…he actually goes into the streets and asks what they want.  I remember watching Ken created a donor funded prototype he called a “Space Bag”, a mylar bag that would contain the basic calorie an nutrition contents for a day.  Ken spent weeks “test marketing” items to put in the bag, until he had a mix he knew would be a hit.

Now, doesn’t that put some excitement into feeding?  Give us back the challenge and the relationship part of marketing.  Help us see our poor or hungry as customers.  Give them the respect they deserve and God’s created.

PS:  on that topic, the book “The Blue Sweater” by the Acumen Fund’s Jacqueline Novogratz paints a marvelous picture of how to meet the needs in the Third World through principles of entrepreneurship.  It makes feeding and serving anything but BORING!

bully scholar Seattles Newest Act: Screamin Marky DThe veins were bulging in his self proclaimed “eighteen inch neck”.  His pointed, shaking finger meant to be smack in the face of every man in his church.  And then he said, this was not from him…this was from God the Father, the Holy Spirit…these men in his church, it seems, are pissing off God and Seattle’s trendiest young media darling pastor is mad as hell and not going to take it any longer.  Hearing this on my iPod on the way up I-5 from Portland, I had to pull over so I could watch the video of this moment.  Here he was the paragon of the Gen X pastors screaming at a room full of millennials until he was horse, and claiming them as losers, whimps, babies, mommas boys and worse.  For over an hour!

Holy crap, as the saying goes!  This very intelligent, and accomplished young man totally missed the irony of this bombastic moment in a sermon where he largely exhorted the seated men to stop being macho, screaming, threatening bullies.

It was a classic high school moment — the school thug showing off for the girls in the audience. It was also a classic OT moment renewing the false perception of a vengeful God just waiting for us to screw up so he could smite us.  It did not remind me at all of Jesus giving up his right to life for us.

I took this photo in a village in Burkina Faso in 2007. This is very typical of village life in West Africa.  The kids are beautiful and hopeful and totally fascinated with digital photography.

I took this photo in a village in Burkina Faso in 2007. This is very typical of village life in West Africa. The kids are beautiful and hopeful and totally fascinated with digital photography.

The Blue Sweater

By Jacqueline Novogratz

I was standing in a small village, in the Northwest corner of Ghana, West Africa, just steps from the Mali border.  I, my son Willy and our traveling party had just traveled ten hours over butt numbing roads from the city of Kumasi, a bustling, cheerful, sprawling metropolis of about two million people and growing daily.  In Kumasi we had been told that the average income for a Ghanaian was about US $2 a day, maybe $60 a month.  As I looked around I remembered that averages were made up of the high and the low, and only on rare occasion represented a true middle.  What we were looking at in this village, as is thousands just like it was the lower part of the equation. These villagers who worked hard were fortunate to approach even $1 a day in earnings.  There income level, however, was not something you could discern from their big smiles, ready high-fives and sincere hugs.  And we, from the west on a mission to help, at that moment were feeling pretty helpless.
In The Blue Sweater, Acumen Fund director Jacqueline Novogratz spins the story of her life from college woman to banker to expatriate worker in Africa and India who would parlay her myriad experience to launch an entire new genre of social service and social justice institution. Novogratz was to become a major innovator, leader and philanthropist turning the non-profit work, literally upside down. Novogratz shared, in most dramatic and poignant ways, her life in Africa and India.  The daily experience was one adventure, hardships, exhilaration and betrayal.  As she met and built relationships with the powerful women of Africa Novogratz was absorbingnew ways to lift people out of the crushing poverty so many experience.  She saw courage, determination, character and pure joy.  All of which was tempered with the reality of poverty, partriarchy and oppression. Somewhere in the first quarter of the book the author reveals the inspiration for the title, The Blue Sweater. Her anecdote reminded me why I don’t believe anything is a coincidence. Mid-way through the book Jacqueline began revealing the inspirations for what would become the Acumen Fund and how they would invest instead of give.  One example that struck me personally was of an African entrepreneur they funded and advised who was able to furnish 60-million treated mosquito nets a year through many parts of Africa.  A part of my experience in Ghana that left me feeling so helpless were several long days of passing our treated mosquito nets in remote village.  We purchased the nets in Kumasi from a Ghanaian merchant, they were manufactures in The Netherlands. We had a nurse with us, to help with minor treatments and to and pass out basic medications for malaria, infections and other common (life threatening) ailments.  They were exhausting but rewarding days.  The major downside, however, was the fact that in each village, we only had enough nets to meet the needs of young children and pregnant mothers, the two groups judged to be at most risk.  And even then, we would run out of nets before we ran our of moms.  How hard it was to turn away people whose very lives and well being could be saved or enhanced by a simple $8 low tech device.  And how disheartening is was when we heard that often the nets were taken home and displayed in a place of honor in the home so all could see the gift they received from the Americans.  We learned that despite our best intentions and the warm welcomes, simply waltzing into a village and handing out our preconceived “solutions” was not and effective way to inspire lasting social change.
Novogratz shares her many years of experience in delivering well-meaning philanthropy in this powerful, inspiring and refreshing work. Novogratz challenges her readers rethink long-held premises of philanthropy. It’s very clear that part of Jacqueline’s mission in the Blue Sweater is to introduce readers to a new way of thinking about dealing with the large part of the world that does not share in the benefit of the bulk of its resources.  She introduces us to profit/loss thinking for the nonprofit world. She talked about accountability and about helping people learn how to help themselves.  She makes her point beautifully.  But most of the time she sweeps us up into the context of her marvelous life journey.  We meet characters, antagonists, good guys and really, really bad guys (mostly women in both cases).  We feel her pain, her frustration, her longing and ultimately her joy.  She gives us much insight into her time in Rwanda as she formed strong bonds with emerging women leaders.  She then returns to Rwanda after the genocide and takes us with her on a journey as she reconnects with women from her earlier life there and tries to process how the women whom she knew so well and loved so much could be part of such evil and mayhem.
I love her story telling.  I also appreciate Novogratz’s teaching.  From her diverse times in Africa, Manhattan, Stanford and India, Jacqueline pieces together example and observation that puts a new spin on solving poverty and empowerment issues.  She finds people who bring to bear on the issues of poverty the profit motive, entrepreneurship, accountability principles to  bring the poorest of the poor clean water, efficient farming, mosquito nets, medication and other essential needs. She point out the power of seeing the world’s most poor as customers, rather than recipients of handouts. She shows how to invest in the people who can find the solutions to come up with solutions that scale as opposed to proving handouts that run out when the donor moves on.
The story of the Acumen Fund is inspiring.  I do believe anyone reading this book will be affected in a couple of ways.  You are certain to be will be highly entertained, or at risk of being moved and changed.  Most likely it will be both.

Watch Jacqueline Novogratz discuss The Blue Sweater in a book talk video taped at the Aspen Institute.

Jacqueline Novogratz speaks at the TED conference….

The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz

The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz

Ken Loyd checking or the winter meeting place for home.pdx

Ken Loyd checking or the winter meeting place for home.pdx

April 30, 2007

Yesterday my daughter, Mary, went to a church in Portland called “The Bridge”*. I went to a church in Portland that met under the Hawthorne bridge** called “Home.pdx”. “Home” was the name chosen by a handful of young people who don’t live in houses and who are the make up of this church. They wanted to call their new church “Home” because that’s what it represented to them. My friend Ken Loyd, the pastor of “Home”, had come up with a very clever and edgy name for this edgy gathering, because Portland is an ‘edgy” city. But he was overruled. “Home” is it.

It was a nice Sunday, except for the reoccurring thoughts of injustice.

The church I normally go to is full of really nice people, most of whom live in really nice houses, and I don’t think any of them live outside so they don’t need to name their church “Home.”

The kids who don’t live in houses and attend Home are very poor. Last month my son Willy and I went to Ghana where we went to church with a lot of really wonderful, and really poor people. Those people, poor as they are, all live in houses. And are definitely NOT poor in spirit.

I thought about injustice a lot. What would it be like if you we’re 14, 15, 18 or so and had to choose to live at home or live on the street, and you chose to live on the street because the street was safer?

Later the same day back in Seattle, Mary and I joined my son Willy as we celebrated by first granddaughter, Carmen’s, second birthday. We celebrated inside the nice warm home of my Daughter Sandra and her husband Rob. Carmen was surrounded by her paternal grandparents, Bob and Mary Ann Gray who love and protect her. Along with her aunt, my other daughter Victoria and her husband Jose, who love and protect her. Carmen’s younger cousin, my other granddaughter, Lily was there. I suspect Carmen and Lily will grow up to love and protect each other. Carmen and Lily have lots of family who will love and protect them.

What would it be like if you knew the street was where you could trust your fellow street dwellers to look after you more than you could trust the people back at what was supposed to be your home? And supposed to by your family. Injustice really sucks.

The Bridge Church where Mary attended is different in some ways and the same in others. Most of those people live in houses. Some even own homes, which is a recent development. Some of them learned about loving a protecting each other my learning about Jesus by being in community at The Bridge. The Bridge is meeting in a rented hall that costs way too much each week to rent. They do this because they can’t afford a building. This kind of thing happens to poor people a lot. They have to pay more or make a choice that is not financially in their favor just because they are poor. They people who are not poor wonder why poor people are “so bad with the their money”.

The church I usually go to is about to build a brand new building. It’s going to be very nice. We have most of the money already. It don’t think that’s an example of injustice, but if I was one of the people pouring my life into the people of “Home” under the bridge, or The Bridge under the gun for a place to meet, I would be forced to wonder even more about injustice.

I really love my friends Ken and Deborah who started and respectively pastor both these churches. I’m sure that from time-to-time they ask God the injustice questions, too. But most of the time they get up, pray, love each other, then do without much for themselves so they can keep on helping these young people who’s poverty breaks Gods heart.

Wondering about injustice is OK, I think. Doing something about it is OK, as well.

At least that what Jesus teaches us.

*The Bridge Church is a powerful metaphor for “connecting people”, spanning gaps in generations and cultures, crossing over to the other side, and of course an architectural feature very connected to Portland.

** Bridge—An actual structure (the Hawthorne Bridge in downtown Portland) that serves as the current meeting place for a gathering of friends known as home.pdx. Pretty nice on a warm spring day. I hope they still don’t have to meet there on those bone-chilling, soggy Portland days in November

Harrods Department Store, the epitome of British opulence

Harrods Department Store, the epitome of British opulence

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Give it Back
My page has a photo showing the flag of Ghana flown on the campus leading to Buckingham Palace with Big Ben in the background. it’s just three days after Ghana celebrated their 50th year of independence and Willy and I are taking great joy in finding this little bit of Ghana in London.

Later on during our visit we toured the Tower of London. That was our most truly “tourist-y” undertaking. The preserved history is truly magnificent and there is a lot to be learned from the British respect for their past. However, much of the celebration at the Tower dwells on weaponry, the tortures of the dungeons and long imprisonments for government and religious dissenters. And it wasn’t done with apology. In fact we walked by a docent giving a very gory and Saturday Nigh Live-ish acount of what it was like to the hung, drawn and quartered. Our Tower tour included an exhibit on the Crown Jewels, including massive amounts of gold and many spectacular gems with names like the Star of Africa 1 and Star of Africa 2. Willy’s wry comment to me was “isn’t it about time to give this stuff back to the people they stole it from?” A good question. I’m sure India, Ghana, Nigeria and many others would appreciate the gesture.

Think of this in the context of the new park and monument being erected on Bainbridge Island to help us never forget the abysmal way we treated our neighboring citizens of Japanese ancestry with their interment during World War II. To err his human. To forgive is devine. To apologize (repent) is that important stepping stone from one to the other.

The ubiquitous London pubs.

The ubiquitous London pubs.

School boy in Kumasi, celebrating Ghana's 50th year of independence

School boy in Kumasi, celebrating Ghana's 50th year of independence

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

“At long last, the battle has ended. And Ghana your beloved country is free Forever.”
Dr. Kwame Nkrumah March 6, 1957

One of my favorite memories is of our friend and Ghana host Pastor Emmanuel from Ghana walking along side the Island Church rock band float in the Bainbbridge Grand Old 4th of July parade. He was dressed in red, white and blue and had great fun passing out logo’d water bottles celebrating this bit of Americana, perhaps more than anyone else in the crowd.

For those of us who grew up in the States with 200+ years of freedom the significance of our annual celebration can become dulled by familiarity.

This past Tuesday in Kumasi, Ghana my traveling partners and I had the privilege to celebrate another country’s freedom.

We decked ourselves out in red, yellow and green with the Ghana “Black Star” as we joined throngs of Kumasi revelers gathered around the green of Kwami Nkrumah University of Science and Technology . The occasion of all the hooting and hollering was a nation-wide celebration of Ghana’s 50 years of independence on March 6, 2007.

What we in America did by force in 1776, the Ghanians did in peace in 1957. They sent the British colonizers packing. Ghana was the first colony in Africa south of the Sahara to become independent. The past 50 years in Ghana have seen some ups and downs, coupes, famines and great difficulties, but through it all the strong and proud people of Ghana have creating a working democracy and have begun rescuing the failing economy their Colonizers left them with. It’s a great story and it’s not finished. (To get a taste of the celebration visit the official web site: http://www.ghana50.gov.gh/).
For weeks the city of Kumasi prepared, for the celebration with most businesses festooned with the Ghana colors (there will be a lot of red, yellow and green dresses in someone’s future) we well as sprucing-up projects like curb painting, neighborhood clean-ups and the like. Street side vendors sold commemorative cards to be worn on ribbons around the neck (their version of a Seafair pin fundraiser). School children from the large cities to the small villages practiced marching and drill routines for the big parades.

When the time came for us to join the crowd, our friend Frank was able to get us onto the parade grounds right up to the white chalk line that separated the crowds from the participants. I don’t know how Frank pulls this stuff off, but I’m very glad he’s on our team! What a view! We were taken from spectators to participants.

One school boy, about 11 years old, asked me if we ever did anything like this in American and I was able to share with him that both counties have a common heritage of being freed British colonies. He was amazed and proud. So was I. We need to look deep into our roots to see just how far we have come. And like our friends in Ghana, look into the future to see how far we have to go. Both counties can have a bright future, but we need to remember where we came from and the fact that freedom is never free.

The colors of Ghana fly proudly over Buckingham Palace with Big Ben in the background during the week of Ghana’s 50th anniversary of independence from the British Empire.

The colors of Ghana fly proudly over Buckingham Palace with Big Ben in the background during the week of Ghana’s 50th anniversary of independence from the British Empire.

Village elders in Burkina Faso

Village elders in Burkina Faso

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

It’s about 9:30 p.m in the far reaches of the Burkina Faso bush. We are so far from everything that just last week in this village our host Kevin Oberg was taken to a woman’s home for a visit because she had never seen a white man before. The sun has been down for about two and a half hours now. Several hundred villagers have walked onto to the crude soccer field where Kevin, our team and the local believers have set up benches. At the very front in a large movie screen, probably 18 feet wide and 12 feet high, set at the back of a stage assembled on Kevin’s trailer. Big speakers are poised to blast sound into the darkness and a generator has been hauled a hundred feet away to power the whole set-up.

This is remote. This is Africa. Here I am walking in with Pastor Emmanuel from Ghana and we are about to experience a convergence of cultures, time and space unlike anything else I’ve ever encountered. There on the screen, in living color mated with a twangy steel guitar sound-track is the unexpected spectacle of American Rodeo bloopers.

So,for the next half hour I get to be in Africa,which I love, with Pastor Emmanuel, whom I love, explaining the intricacies of bull riding, bareback and saddle bronc, steer wrestling and calk roping along with the art of rodeo clowning and wild horse riding. Rodeo, too, has always been a passion of mine. Rodeom represented the ultimate slice of Americana.

As the Burkina-bae villagers around us wince and giggle, Pastor Emmanuel is about to bust a gut as he watches more crazy Americans do their thing! He’s totally amazed to learn that that young men who are getting tossed toe over tea kettle on the screen actually paid an entry fee for the privilege. I’m getting nostalgic for days I spent at the Ellensburg Rodeo, one of my first and longest running advertising clients.

The Rodeo bloopers has the intended effect of warming up the crowd. They are amused, bemused and most likely a little confused by what they see, but entertained none the less. This is Kevin’s kick off for two nights of evangelism. Right after the bloopers,thelocal believers perform a few worship songs in the Jula language. It’s quite simple, yet stirring. I have some video for those interested. That is followed by a strong message in Jula, then a showing of the first half of the “Jesus Film” of word-wide fame. It was initially produced by Campus Crusade for Christ and has been translated into hundred on languages. This is the Jula language version which also has a prolog added that establishes and Old Testament connection helpful to Moslem and Arabic population. The conditions in this village are so simple that Willy asked how the village would know this story is set 200 years in past. Some of the homes, buildings, temples, clothing and tools of Bible times used in the film might even look futuristed to these folks. Kevin said in the past some villagers have asked a similar question “did this story just happen?”

The second evening in the bush was similar to the first with a second half of the Jesus film followed by a very strong call by the Jula speaking pastor. At least five men came forward to follow Christ, which is a very strong start for this work.

Kevin and Bonnie Oberg are doing an amazing work in this part of the world. What’s even more stunning is the way God has been preparing a way for their ministry. The villages Kevin is working in have all had recent additions of strong believers in Christ. In some cases there are enough for small churches and groups that can embrace and disciple new believers. This kind on impact in this region was unheard of just a couple of years ago.

Kevin is obviously the right man for the job with tremendous support from Bonnie, his fellow C&MA missionaries and the national C&MA church.

Kevin and Bonnie are the point people for reaching these people groups with the National church taking responsibility for moving the ministry forward.

For nearly two and a half months Kevin will be spending most of his time in the bush, repeating what I described. We were honored to spend three days and two nights with him on one of these trips. The days consist of difficult travel over very crude roads, then a fair about of protocol. The village chiefs and elders must be visited and the local believers brought up to speed. Nights are very interesting. For our two nights we slept under a “hanger” which is basically a grass covered eating shelter and is very much like sleeping in a barnyard. All night long I could open my eyes to see groups of pigs and piglets, guinea fowl, chickens and goats pass by. A few villagers also made the trip so they could get a closer look at the while people. The evening was quite bright with a full moon, tons of stars and a sound track punctuated by the braying of a donkey in heat. That is quite a sound, believe me. One that Pastor Emmanuel also found quite hilarious.

Rice for lunch. Rice for dinner. Rice for breakfast. That’s Kevin’s bush diet.

These are his conditions most nights now through late April when the dry season ends and the villagers return to their fields.

Pray for him. And give large thanks. God has this family in the right place at the right time. And like the Rodeo blooper film proves, Kevin has maintained a great sense of humor and healthy perspective on what he is doing.