Thursday, July 30, 2009

Going Old School: Early Predictions of the Iraq War

So, for my birthday (which hasn't happened yet) El 3atal got me a ipod. Yep, I'm finally joining the 21st century. Prior to this, I haven't really been into getting an ipod. But, I've been noticing that El 3atal gets to keep up with 2 things:
  1. Car talk: in case you haven't heard of this, these are a couple of crazy guys in Boston who have a call-in car show. Can you imagine, a call-in car show? It's two brothers who diagnose people's car problems by having them make the various noises and describe the problems with their cars. I car tell you that my two favorite owner was the one with the Elvis idle (his car went, unh hunh unh hunh just like Elvis).
  2. Tony Campolo's sermons: For those of you who have never heard of Tony, he is a pastor in the Philadelphia area. He's an evangelical in a new mold (I've talked about him before). He's a liberal evangelical. Blows the mind, hunh? He is what he calls a "Red Letter Christian." And what that means is that they believe in a literal following of the words in red letters in some Bibles. That would be the words that Christ spoke. He challenges each of us to take these words seriously, literally, and live by them. In his book on this topic, Tony has this to say about these Red Letter Christians, "Declaring that there are more
    than 2,000 verses of Scripture that call us to express love and justice for those who are poor and oppressed, we promote legislation that turns biblical imperatives into social policy." What a challenge.

So, one of the first things I did as part of the ipod set up process was download all of Tony's free pod casts I could find. The first ones (which I started listening to today) hearken back to 1983. Yep, you read that right, 1983. It's not exactly a sermon (although with Tony it's a bit tough to tell) but rather a graduation address to students at a Christian college.

I found the message striking in many ways. One of the primary premises of his address is that Christianity is not about power. Christ tells us, very clearly, it's about love. Power and love and diametrically opposed and as Christians, we are called to love. Radical, hunh? Certainly not necessarily the Christian message that many heard from well-known evangelicals, a fact that breaks my heart. Tony went on to say a few other interesting things (including the prediction I referenced in the title). Please note these are paraphrased but are Tony's words, not mine. Not intent of plagiarism is intended in any way...:

  • If power is the way to change the world, Jesus would not have come as a baby. He would have come with an army.
  • The Christian church was doing great as a subversive element in the Empire until Constantine in the 3rd century made it the "official" religion. He made it the "moral majority" of the time.
  • When the church is powerful, it always foster crusades. These crusades contradict the gospel of love.

When I heard that last statement, I had to remind myself that he was speaking in 1983, the time of communism not 2003, the time of George W. Bush. I saw such a striking parallel in his words. When George W. Bush made Christianity (self-proclaimed) powerful, it spawned a crusade. The crusade was the mess we are mired in in Iraq. It caused suffering to thousands. Campolo was accused at the time (1983) of being unpatriotic (sound familiar to anyone). He readily agreed that he is unpatriotic. In fact, he noted that his citizenship in the United States is of the second class variety. His first obligation, his first citizenship is in the Kingdom of Heaven. And that citizenship must take priority over anything else.

He makes the concrete point that the God worshipped in churches is often not the God of the Bible. And, we need to strive to find the God of the Bible and ensure we are worshipping him. And, in looking for that face of God, we find the strong message of servanthood. The one with love will overcome the one with power every time. Every single time. Jesus was hung on a cross to die for us. Pilate had the power to put him up there. One of them came out of this better. Jesus is promised everlasting life, Pilate, not so much. The challenge he issue is a valid one. He puts into words things I believe about my faith that I could never express so eloquently. As Tony notes in his inspiring message, "those who are put down shall be lifted up." Amen.

Happy Prescience!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Addiction to Foreign Aid?

So, if you haven't seen it, check out the Editor's Note titled Domestic Disturbances in July's Jordan Business. Marwan Kardoosh takes a hard look at the dependence of NGOs on foreign aid. It's an interesting dichotomy I've noticed since living in Jordan. There is a fairly prevalent anti-colonialism mentality (rightly so), while at the same time a hunger for, really an addiction to, foreign aid. The idea seems to be, we don't want your ideas or advice, just give us your money.

The challenge in this is that this dependence on aid encourages two primary negative behaviors. First, NGOs find aid that is available and create programs to get the aid. In other words, they don't spend time doing due diligence on what the group they serve needs, they don't build annual plans (or 3 year plans) and seek aid-granting organizations that specialize in those types of programs. If US AID is having a sale (excuse my literary license here) on funding for democracy programs, the NGOs rush to create a new program to receive this aid. If the EU is giving out money to create a strategy, the NGOs rush to find someone to give them a quote on the strategy work. In neither case do they necessarily need these items, but it's the funding they can get, so...

This behavior pattern leads to the second major challenge - sustainability. When organizations create a program to meet funding availability, it typically has neither local passionate support nor funding. As a result, once the original foreign funding is terminated, the program is unable to stand on its own. Creating a new custom-built program every year is simply not sustainable. Without an accurate and compelling business case, new programs should be tabled.

Mr. Kardoosh suggests that "assisting, not insisting, on particular policies and solutions" is necessary. I agree that this is absolutely vital. Equally as vital, though, is the building of more civic-minded funding and local social and corporate social responsibility. While we see a few very wealthy families support and fund causes of their choice, there is little recognition of the necessity across the broad range of the social spectrum. In the US, most giving comes from the middle class rather than the wealthy. And those who can't give money typically look to ways to give time. In Jordan, the time of educated, experienced volunteers is worth more than all of the foreign donations put together. I do agree whole-heartedly with Kardoosh's assessment that we should "place more emphasis on ... the need for independent local innovation in development, rather than full reliance on foreign know-how." And, I would add, foreign funding.

At any rate, I'm glad to see people like Mr. Kardoosh placing emphasis on this topic and beginning the conversation. All in all, the July issue of Jordan Business was well worth the read.

Happy Addictions!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Summer Days Drifting Away... I'm such a failure!

So, I am owning up to my mommy-failings (well at least some of them, teehee). I'm going to start a mommy failures anonymous chapter here in Amman. Hi. My name is MommaBean and I'm a failure. Haha! I can see it now. Please don't think I'm down on myself as that's truly not the case. But I was thinking today about my plans for the summer, all the things we were going to do: practice our handwriting, get focused on reading, solidify friendships with friends, practice Arabic. And, well, we've suffered a mommy failure. So far this summer, we've had two play date other than our weekly standing visit with Lil Kinz. We practice Arabic only when the tutor is here and we've practiced reading twice. We haven't practice writing even once. Yikes!

Lest you think we've accomplished other worthwhile things, we haven't done any art projects, special trips, anything. Okay, we did one family trip to Ajloun castle, which has been the highlight so far, but still...

We've fundamentally had the summer of my childhood, time spent doing not much of anything. Time to play and get bored (how wonderful is boredom as a learning method). The kids are spending time making up new games based on things they've seen and heard. They're taking their favorite shows and reenacting them, improving them, changing them. And, I find myself thinking, maybe this is what summer should be all about. But I will own up to my failing as one who doesn't like to call people I don't know well and arrange social gatherings. I think I need a social secretary for the kids... Teehee. Any thoughts?

Happy failures!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Moral of the Story is, Don't Trust Your Cell Phone Provider?

So, not that we all love our cell phone providers anyway, but... the recent news out of the UAE makes me glad I don't have a BlackBerry. If you haven't heard (which I expect you haven't), the UAE's major cell phone provider sent out an SMS to its BlackBerry customers advising them to "upgrade" their software. When they did, suddenly their batteries began to drain in an hour instead of a few days. Seems, according to this article, that perhaps the phone company used the opportunity to encourage users to install spyware.

You know, if you can't trust your phone company who can you trust?

Ha! Fortunately for El 3atal, he ignores SMS's when he's in Amman and has remained unaffected. His CousinBeans have not been so lucky. Makes me long for the days at IBM where they tested, checked, tested, checked and then had four additional people check and test before allowing employees to install any new software...

Happy Battery Drain!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Suggestion for decreasing the roving hoard of dumpster divers...

Several months ago, Kinzi told me about a project that madrasat Konouz (her kids' school) was doing to help the Filipinas living within their consulate. These poor souls are stuck living in no man's land until either their employers release them or their families raise the money to get them home again. When we went, we met many of the young ladies most of whom told stories of non-payment of wages (six months into the contract), working from 5 am until 2 am every day with no pay forthcoming at the end of the month, refrigerators locked so that they wouldn't eat the food in the house and other such inhuman situations. One of the faculty at the Konouz's school started a program collecting aluminum cans to raise funding to feed and house them within the consulate. So, we began to collect our cans and give them to Kinzi. And then our next door neighbor's Filipina helper did the same... and then her upstairs neighboring Filipina did the same. Great ideas spread quickly.

But, imagine the unexpected upside. We used to be literally plagued with men coming to dig through our trash. While I have no issue with people finding usable items in the trash, these men would rip open bags, toss trash onto the ground, and grab the cans leaving a terrible mess. Much of that mess blew into our garden. It was terrible. But let me tell you something funny, I haven't seen a dumpster diver in about 6 months. Seems that's probably about the same amount of time we've been saving our cans for the Filipinas. I expect that with three families keeping their aluminum out, it became less lucrative. I expect our family alone is the largest consumer of beverages in cans (not me, but El 3atal does like his Diet 7 Up) on the block. And, since the dearth of dumpster divers, our trash-in-the-garden problem has improved significantly as well. We see far fewer floating papers, plastic bags, and general debris. If ever I've heard of a good reason for recycling, this is it... Forget the long term environment (okay don't but if that doesn't motivate you) and think of your trashy garden, teehee.

Happy Resuability!