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Sari Bari

I’m so thankful that I get to know these people:

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Adriana Ciobanu, John Koon and I just finished reading and discussing the book presented here:

Reinhold Niebuhr – Part I: Human Nature

I’m finally getting into the thought of Reinhold Niebuhr. I’ve read his brother’s, Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture. While Richard’s book still influences the discussions on the topic (for examples, see Culture Making by Andy Crouch and To Change the World by James Hunter), his impact on 20th century theology, especially ethics, fades in comparison to his brother’s, Reinhold.

I knew that Reinhold Niebuhr was influential in his day, especially in political thought. He was given the cover of Time Magazine in 1968. But it was interesting to hear his name continues to be used as a touchstone for the Bush, Jr. administration and, even more, for President Obama (see interview with David Brooks, “Obama, Gospel and Verse,” The New York Times, April 26, 2007).

So, I’ve been working my way through The Nature and Destiny of Man. It’s a mammoth of a book. I’ve just completed part one, which focuses on human nature. 

At the half way point of the book (300 pages), I can say that I am surprised at how conservative Niebuhr was. From the place he was writing and the audience he was writing for, I assumed he would be similar to other more liberal theologians of his day.

His central goal in his discussion on human nature is to emphasize the doctrine of sin. If I were to critique the often unquestioned support of democracy, of capitalism, of the virtues of the wealthy class, of justified war, inter alia, I would say that they all lack a doctrine of sin. So, Niebuhur’s argument, in this instance, is as relevant today as it was 60 years ago.

It was interesting that Niebuhr saw as one of the major motivations for sin as being anxiety. While we usually understand anxiety as something to be diagnosed and treated medically, he identifies it as a root for sin. When we do look at the causes of sin, we often point out those things that feed false identities or false programs for happiness, Niebuhr says that beneath these lies insecurity.

One major concept that is missing from Niebuhr’s treatment of human nature is human relationships. After being versed in Orthodox theology in recent years years (like John Zizioulas’ Being as Communion), it is easy to see Niebuhr’s anthropology as being overly individualistic. This certainly comes from his strong Reformed treatment of humanity and his engagement with the Enlightenment philosophies of individuality. Niebuhr talks about humanity’s relationship to herself and to God but not about human nature in relationship.

More to come after I manage to work through part II…

Development as Freedom – Amartya Sen

I finally read Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom – a book I should have read 10 years ago.

I definitely recommend it, especially to those interested in development.

Years ago, I read Sen’s On Ethics and Economics, which continues to lay out the thought for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics. In Development as Freedom, he develops his thesis that by securing freedoms for people, development follows, and development further perpetuates freedom. Individuals experience freedom through access to food, education and medical care. This applies especially to women who suffer the most globally from “unfreedom” and disappearance, but who also contribute most effectively to development when they experience freedoms. For Sen, basic human rights of individuals are promoted in a blend of utilitarian and libertarian approaches, which he calls a “goal-rights system.” That is, he ties rights to their consequences (utilitarian) and also affirms their intrinsic importance (libertarian).

Freedom for Sen also includes political freedom (democracy), economic facilities (Smithean Capitalism), social opportunities, transparency guarantees, and protective security.

I do have a few questions for Sen. He talks about the environment as a public good while approving corporate farming and its benefits on increasing the food supply without mentioning any of its costs on the soil, water table or non-renewable energy consumption. As the poor suffer the most from these effects on the environment, how does he square this with his task that development is first and foremost an ally of the poor (p. 144)?

Sen acknowledges the irreversibility of globalization and criticizes its destructive effects on traditional cultures. Yet, in his promotion of capitalism, Sen has no critique for the destructive economic effects caused by multinational corporations and supranational institutions like the IMF and World Bank. In a book in which he is careful to nuance the positives and negatives of different positions, where is his nuanced position toward economic globalization?

Sen is straightforward about his approach being atheist. Freedom and development are the products of human efforts. His ethic is based on self-interest or, if one can move beyond that, the greater good of humanity. In his system, sin, what he calls “unfreedom,” is identified as being social or political. Here, it seems to me, his thesis moves from pragmatism to an unsustainable idealism. What about the unfreedoms of the individual? How is the individual set free from his own unfreedoms? Where do they have the power to act for freedom when the basis for action is compromised by unfreedom? And, when freedoms compete and conflict, whose freedom is pursued?

This week we’re beginning a book discussion on this:

30 Life Skills

Developing life-skills is one of our major foci in working for better futures for the vulnerable youth at our Community Center. Although we literally have books filled with different levels of and lessons for life-skills, here is a short list of 30 life-skills and action-steps. We work on these in particular through our cognitive development exercises. While some of them may need some elucidation, most of them are self-explanatory.

Life-skill: 1. Mental Picture

Action-step: I will consistently make use of my mental picture process

16. Blur, Break, Recovery

I will be aware of the blur, break, and recovery process related to stress.

2. Motor Match

I will perfect my motor match so that I can see, hear and move simultaneously.

17. Stress Behavior

I will take responsibility for inward and outward tendencies under stress.

3. Warning

I will be trust the “warning light” within me.

18. General to Specific

I will view all things as a whole, and then deal with the specific parts.

4. Process

I will be aware of the processes involved in every learning experience.

19. Adapt

I will be aware of the continuous changes in my environment and adapt.

5. Goals

I will set overall and intermediate goals.

20. Evaluate

I will evaluate all criticism.

6. Challenge

I will deal with all life’s problems and still reach my goals.

21. Value

I will value what I work for.

7. Simplicity

I will break any task down into small enough pieces to complete.

22. Question

I will ask the questions: who, what, where, when, why and how.

8. Success

I will project success in all my activities.

23. Environment

I will study my environment (work, school, home, etc.) and approach it successfully.

9. Progress

I will note my progress and give myself credit for my success.

24. Enthusiasm

I will project enthusiasm by correct use of energy and posture.

10. Praise

I will give and accept praise.

25. Examine

I will frequently ask myself, “Where have I been? Where am I now? Where am I going?”

11. Perseverance

I will keep trying and I will succeed.

26. Cooperate

I will play by the rules to succeed.

12. Mastery

I will master each step before proceeding to the next.

27. Integrity

I will do what is right rather than what is convenient.

13. Stress

I will use stress to enhance my mental picture.

28. Cause and Effect

Most of what happens to me is the result of my own decisions and actions.

14. Control

I will take responsibility for my anger, fear, fatigue, etc. in order to achieve success.

29. Manipulation

I will appreciate others for who they are rather than what they can do for me.

15. Accomplishment

I will always work to a success point before stopping and then enjoy my accomplishment.

30. Sensitivity

I will understand how a person feels by observing his/her actions.

Whenever I teach these skills, I always discover deficiencies in my own skills for life. What about you? Are these skills you have and practice in your life?

The Prayer of Quiet by Richard Rohr

A Lament for the Children of Galati: the closing of “Nova 2002”

As we traversed the celebrations of Christmas and entered into a new year, the people of Galati were given reason to lament.

New Year’s parties are usually times of delight and of hope for the new, the possibility of change, and the expectation of something better. Sadly, Galati enters the New Year with a loss and with a change for the worse. On January 1st, the Association “Nova 2002” is closing its doors.

“Nova 2002” is a non-profit organization that was founded in 2002 to help vulnerable young mothers and their infants. They established an Emergency Center, which cared for infants that were abandoned or at-risk of parental abandonment. (http://www.stiriong.ro/detaliu-csc/vrs/IDcsc/4092) “Nova 2002” specifically targeted underage mothers.

Although the number of underage mothers (ages 12-18) continues to grow, Galati is now in a worse position as we enter 2013 than we were in 2012.

Of course, “Nova 2002” could not resolve all the cases of vulnerable infants and young mothers. There are over a hundred each year. But the organization did provide care, counseling, education and support to many of them. They created a solid methodology and an efficient administration, and they offered rich experience and expertise. And they did this at great personal cost. The staff of “Nova 2002” did not have high salaries. They worked out of a personal desire to help little babies have a better start to life.

The major reason why “Nova 2002” shut down is the lack of support from the local government authorities. As with almost all non-profit organizations, “Nova 2002” struggled to raise funds. They successfully covered their budget through donations from outside the country and from within Galati. But the majority of their budget was covered by public funds allocated through the Galati council. 

In 2012 the Galati council allocated 1.7 million lei (about USD 530,000). Of that sum 1,027,000 lei (about USD 320,000) was allocated to six foundations affiliated with the Romanian Orthodox Church, while the rest was designated to another 10 NGOs. “Nova 2002” received 79,000 lei (about USD 25,000). (For the specifics see: http://www.viata-libera.ro/politica-administratie/26604-pentru-nefericitii-galatiului-asistenta-sociala-de-17-milioane-de-lei).

In October, the newly elected Mayor breached the contract made with “Nova 2002” and most of the other non-religiously affiliated NGOs by blocking the promised funds. While the Mayor, Marius Stan, refused to respond to the official requests for an explanation, he did state to the press that local NGOs claim to help the needy but are really just siphoning money for themselves. (For the full statement, see: http://www.viata-libera.ro/politica-administratie/34660-galati-viata-libera-politic-bani-sifonati-asistenta-sociala-fundatii).

Although the Mayor did release the money shortly before Christmas, he failed to respond to requests by the local NGOs for a response to their requests for local funds through law 34 for the year of 2013 and for the Mayor’s objectives for social assistance during his mandate.

Although “Nova 2002” desired to continue to help infants and vulnerable mothers, the instability of the local government forced them to close down. This is a loss to all of Galati. We lose beneficial infrastructure. We lose an organization that we developed by the contributions of the local citizenry. And, what is worse, some of our most needy compatriots are now more vulnerable than before.

As all of this happened around the joys of Christmas, I was reminded of the laments of the first Christmas. The government pursued a policy of infanticide. And the tears of the people were described as the wailing and loud lamentation of Israel’s mother: Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be consoled, because they are no more.

While our local government is not actively pursuing the annihilation of the children, its practices are actively hurting them. And so, we too lament.

Oxfam: the cost of inequality

Oxfam: the cost of inequality

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