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Archive for the ‘Social commentary’ Category

Propaganda

Be it religious or political I thought that this would be a good time to remember what Propaganda is and how it is delivered so that we don’t succumb to it either at the polls or in the pews.

Assertion:

Assertion is commonly used in advertising and modern propaganda. An assertion is an enthusiastic or energetic statement presented as a fact, although it is not necessarily true. They often imply that the statement requires no explanation or back up, but that it should merely be accepted without question. Examples of assertion, although somewhat scarce in wartime propaganda, can be found often in modern advertising propaganda. Any time an advertiser states that their product is the best without providing evidence for this, they are using an assertion. The subject, ideally, should simply agree to the statement without searching for additional information or reasoning. Assertions, although usually simple to spot, are often dangerous forms of propaganda because they often include falsehoods or lies.

Find more here : http://library.thinkquest.org/C0111500/proptech.htm

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http://www.stufffundieslike.com/2012/09/sri-lanka-acknowledgments/

Sri Lanka: Acknowledgments

The last ten days have been inspiring and life-altering for me but none of the things I have written about would have happened without the love and help of so many people that I felt it appropriate to list a few of them here.

First of all I’d like to thank Matthew Paul Turner for considering me to go on this trip at all. We had never met in person and I know he took a risk asking me to come sight-unseen.  He may still well live to regret this decision when he finds the snake I cleverly hid in his luggage. (Just checking to see if you’re reading this, Matthew)

I also have to thank World Vision for investing in this trip by paying our traveling, lodging, and meal expenses. I only hope that the return on their investment in a lifetime of kids sponsored is an astounding success.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also thank Lindsey Minerva and Carla Gawthrop from World Vision for their leadership on this trip. Together they presented the perfect mix of cool confidence and amusing weirdness that was just what we needed to get us through the rough patches. Lindsey and Carla, I’d travel with either of you again pretty much anywhere.

From the World Vision team in Sri Lanka I have to thank our interpreter and communications specialist Hasanthi. I’ve never met a person who has been more patient and kind to a bunch of silly Americans than she is. She is a rare and beautiful shining light in Sri Lanka. Along with her I also have to mention our drives Nixon and Manjula who (for all Matthew’s screaming) got us where we needed to be safely every time through some pretty harrowing traffic situations. They even provided an oldies soundtrack for some of it.

While mentioning the support team in country, I’d also like to thank the staffs of the Carolina Beach Hotel and Amagi Lagoon Resort for their amazing customer service and and attention to our needs during the few precious hours we had each day to write about our experiences. They made our live as easy as was physically possible. If I ever start a hotel chain I’m staffing it completely with Sri Lankans.

Many thanks to Joy, Allison, Roxy, Tony, Shawn, and Laura, my fellow bloggers on this trip who put up with my wise cracks and constant reminiscing about my childhood without (as would be understandable) leaving me stranded on the side of the road. They have the patience of Job and great shall be their reward in heaven. (Except for Tony because he doesn’t go in for that sort of thing.)

And last I need to acknowledge so many of you.  Our own RobM lent me the laptop that I’ve been using all week. Others of you sent gifts of money to help with my passport, immunizations, travel supplies, and other expenses. And most of all so many of you have offered words of encouragement, prayers for safety, and advice on dealing with charging cows. (Actually you didn’t do that last one but it would have come in handy if you had.)  You all share in the success of every child that is sponsored as a result of this trip.

I offer you all my weary, jet lagged thanks. It has been an amazing week.

Oh, and I’m taking tomorrow off.

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http://www.stufffundieslike.com/2012/08/sri-lanka-a-cup-of-cold-water/

Sri Lanka: A Cup of Cold Water

August 30th, 2012

A Buddhist priest, A Muslim imam, and a Christian World Vision staff member stand together at the ADP closing ceremonies.

If you spend any time at all in Sri Lanka you quickly learn that it is a land of diversity and contrasts. There are Sinhalese Buddhists, Tamil Hindus, and Muslims who speak Tamil but aren’t ethnically Tamil just to keep things interesting. Buddhism is by far the dominant religion, of course, and the Buddhist priests (as the leaders of the majority religion) have great respect and political power in the communities. Organizations that openly proselytize may soon find themselves effectively shut out of a community or even asked to leave. So if the great commission to Christians is to preach the gospel then how does a person live authentically as a Christian in a place where explicit gospel presentations are not allowed? How do you sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

When World Vision goes into an area they make no secret that they are Christians. They introduce themselves as a Christian organization that is funded mainly by other Christians. But along with that they also try very hard to build a relationship of trust between themselves and the other faiths in the community that they are not there to exploit the poor and use aid as a lever to get conversions. The reality here is that the religious leaders have a lot of respect and power within their communities and winning their trust is the only way to make sure that the help that is being given is sustainable.

This sensitivity to the community plays out in many ways. The World Vision staff schedule the religious services for themselves at different times than the observances of the other religious faiths so as not to create conflicts. When working with street kids they will actually give rides to the children to the temple or mosque so that they can worship in their own faith if they want. They exert absolutely no pressure on anybody by implying that the help they give is quid pro quo for a religious conversion. Their witness is one of love and charity so that when people eventually do ask “what makes you different?” they then have the opportunity to tell them that it’s Jesus who makes all the difference in the world to them.

This kind of witnessing does not bear quick fruit. In some areas the opposition from local Buddhists especially has been fierce. I was told one story by the staff about an area they were working where the head priest continually incited the people against World Vision, claiming that they were exploiting the poor and trying to force them to be Christians. At one point someone even threw a grenade into an empty World Vision office in an attempt to scare off the staff. Little by little as they continued to work and demonstrate what they were about through their actions, they began to win the trust and respect of the people and the priests alike.

During the closing ceremonies at the end of that same project, the head Buddhist priest who had been so antagonistic came to attend. He approached the local World Vision leader and the national World Vision leader and got down on the ground, kneeling in front of them and touching their feet in the manner of a common supplicant to ask their forgiveness for his fear and ignorance. When is the last time you saw a Christian pastor do that to a Muslim or a Buddhist? It’s food for thought.

That story is hardly unique. At the closing ceremonies that I visited the local Muslim imam and the Buddhist priests sat side by side to celebrate what a Christian organization has done in their community. In fact, the imam himself had been a child in one of of the World Vision “children’s societies” (a.k.a. “youth clubs”) and talked animatedly with our team members about how he loves to talk and eat and cooperate with the Christians in his are. These are the stories that give me hope not only for Sri Lanka but also for the world. Perhaps love can win after all. Maybe a cup of cold water given in Christ’s name really is the answer to religious conflict. Perhaps someday we can defeat both fear and poverty by working with one person at a time. I’m glad to be a small part of that this week. I’d love for you to be a part of it too.

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http://www.stufffundieslike.com/2012/08/sri-lanka-a-tale-of-two-fathers/

 

Sri Lanka: A Tale of Two Fathers

I worry.  In fact I worry almost all the time. Of course I don’t call it “worry” that because it sound weak  and needy so I call it “concern” or “caution” or “just thinking ahead” but the truth is that over the last few years I’ve let a lot of worry consume my soul. I worry about my job and the uncertainty of my future with pay cuts and layoffs as an ever-present threat in my industry. I worry about my children and how to raise them into healthy and happy and educated adults.  I worry about where we will live, how we’ll pay our bills, and a thousand other unknowns that the future hold.

Today I traveled to the brand new work being founded in the village of Mundalkaduwa and I met another man who worries about most of the same things I do. Amila is only four years older than I am and like me he has a wife and two children. He works when he can find work but sometimes there isn’t any to find. He and his wife plan and fret over how to come up with enough money for their children’s education. He wonders what his future holds and whether his life will ever improve.

There is one major difference between Amila and myself.  While I make about the median income for an American household, he worries about these things on an average wage of less than five dollars a day when he’s lucky enough to find work at all. To put that in some perspective, that means that it takes him almost six weeks to make as much money as I make on a normal day. Or put another way, I look to him like what a person who makes over two millions US dollars a year looks like to me. The disparity is staggering

 

Someone asks him through our interpreter what kind of work he does. He says he climbs the palm trees to pick coconuts. A glance as his feet shows the callouses and shaping of long hours spent clinging to the tops of swaying trees as they tower above the ground. We tell him he must be very strong to do this work and he smiles but when we ask him what other work he does when there are no coconuts he raises his hands wide. “Anything” the interpreter tells us. “He’ll do anything because he needs to feed his family.”

In the world of this kind of subsistence living there are no easy answers or quick fixes because Amila’s story can be repeated throughout this entire village and likely through surrounding villages as well. The issue is food security. Because the biggest worry of all whether or not you’ll have enough food to eat or if your family will starve. When your main focus is just getting enough rice to make it through a day there is no money to get an education or start a business or improve your life in any visible way. Until the food and clean water issues are settled, there is nothing else that matters more.

So how does child sponsorship help an family like this one? Here’s how it works:

When you give money to a sponsored child in the area we visited yesterday, those dollars are funneled into projects within the community that are selected by the community itself, and managed by community-based organizations. World Vision provides support, resources, and experience in advising these groups but they do the work themselves. This creates long-term sustainability in these projects since even after World Vision reaches the end of its project and leaves the area, the benefits continue to serve everyone.

So then the question becomes, if the money is going into community projects, then why are we talking about sponsoring individual children. The answer is quite simply that World Vision has found that connecting donors with individual children helps them see the benefits that their dollars are reaping. If you sponsored one of Amila’s children, for example, you’d receive regular updates on their schooling, their health, and what’s going on in their lives. This helps you realize the personal benefits of a broader program in a way that just wouldn’t be possible if you simply wrote a check to World Vision every month.

In the brand new Mundalama Area Development Program there is much work to be done so that parents and older siblings don’t go hungry at night so that the smallest children can eat. So that clean water is a universal expectation and not a luxury paid for with hard earned money. So that every child can go to school and dream that same kinds of great big beautiful dreams that we wish for our own children to dream.

So once again I’ll make my plea. Don’t be afraid to let you heart be open to the opportunities to help children through the child sponsorship program. At this writing I’m sitting here with tears in my own eyes as I think of the needs I have seen over the last few days and the potential to turn such profound sorrow into unimaginable rejoicing. Don’t fear to weep with me. Don’t shrink back from writing yourself into the story of a child’s life. There is such joy just ahead and I want you and I and the people of Sri Lanka to share in it together.

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Sri Lanka: Meeting A Sponsored Child

Tony Jones has been bringing his own unique perspective to this trip and blogging about it over at Patheos. Yesterday he got to meet his sponsored child and made this short video.

To learn more about how child sponsorship works, you can check out the World Vision website.

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http://www.stufffundieslike.com/2012/08/sri-lanka-beginning-at-the-end-2/

Sri Lanka: Beginning At The End

Let’s start today’s story at the end.  After all, every story has an ending place and without that goal in mind the beginning doesn’t matter much at all. A pretty smart fellow named Solomon put it this way: Better is the end of a thing than its beginning. Today we got to see the end result of something amazing and rejoicing such as I’ve rarely encountered. Here’s how it happened…

The morning began the same way the day ended with dancing and celebration.  After fifteen years and countless lives changed for the better, World Vision is closing up shop in this community because they’ve now worked themselves out of a job. Every function of leadership and change is now worked in a sustainable fashion by local people within those communities. Even today’s events were completely planned and organized by the community not the World Vision staff. To mark the occasion, a convoy of vehicles with World Vision staff, local community leaders, and a few wide-eyed American bloggers took off to visit different groups within this location and to bid them farewell.

I’m not sure I can do justice to what we saw along that trek.  The harvest is over this time of year and in this dry season the roads are mostly dry earth with hot breezes moving the palm trees and few remaining bits of greenery.  The houses we saw and the livelihoods represented would have made the poorest person I know in America look fabulously rich by comparison. Often nothing but mud walls and a few palm fronds woven into fences marked the spot where an entire family lives and works.

But something strange was afoot in these villages. Somebody apparently forgot to remind these people that the appropriate emotion for people with so few possessions or modern conveniences is abject misery. Everywhere we stopped we were greeted with smiles and tears of joy. Young girls danced in forms as old as time and women old enough to be their grandmothers danced too, clapping and laughing aloud and thanking us for honoring them by being there.  You see, to these people we are responsible for their success simply by being American because to them America is World Vision. To them our little group represented the people who helped make the radical transformation in the lives present. Children now get healthcare and education.  There is better food to eat and better farming techniques to cultivate it.  Most of all there is now hope and hope sings loudly from every smile that beams out wherever you chance to look.

We received flowers from Buddhists, traded blessings with Hindus, and ate food made by Muslims. We shared a delicious meal (eaten with our fingers in good Sri Lankan style) with teachers and children in their school building. “Look at us!” these gifts all but shouted “we were once weak but now we are strong. You gave gifts to us, now here are gifts from the labors we do.  Now we are proud to give back to you.” Although poor by American standards, this area is now completely self-sustaining needing no outside World Vision support to pay teachers, hire community leaders, and continue the work of improving lives by building healthy children, strong families, and unified communities.

But World Vision’s work is far from over in Sri Lanka. At this writing there are forty other areas in need of sponsorships and funding so that they can repeat the story of success we saw here today. The end of this work brings a new beginning as the staff relocate to a new area to begin the work anew.  With help from you this same celebration happen over and over again.

I wish you could have seen those children smile and dance.

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http://www.stufffundieslike.com/2012/08/sri-lanka-in-the-neighborhood/

 

Sri Lanka: In The Neighborhood

Tonight I knelt on stony ground and watched people walk on fire. The crowd chanted in a religious fervor that approached a fever pitch almost as hot as the coals glowing on the ground and rushed forward to meet the fire walkers with such vigor that I actually feared for my own safety as the crushing weight pressed me back against the barriers where we were standing. All I could think was that my dad was right when warned me that Pentecostals sure do get crazy sometimes.  (That last statement  is a joke and is not intended to have any basis in reality. I do that sometimes.)

All joking aside, Hindu people present took great pride showing us their devotion and sacrifice giving us seats so close we could feel the heat of the coals on our faces. We’re told that the fire walk is the culmination of a vow to their gods wherein a person promises that if something they want comes to pass that they will return that honor to the gods by literally walking through fire. Earlier in the day we saw a man walk with shoes made of nails and a woman with both cheeks pierces through with a metal rod as a sign of the same type of sacrifice in response to a vow. It made me think how petty our Christian “worship” must seem sometimes when we merely sing about how great our God is but often fail to follow through with any physical sign that we are serious. A few tears and a rockin’ guitar doth not worship make.

It would be all to easy to look the complete differences between that fire walk and the average Western church service and draw the conclusion that what Sri Lanka really needs is to clean us its theology before working on its economics. After all, to those of us who grew up in fundamentalism, the word “mission” means “church planting.” The theory goes that if you send missionaries to a foreign land and convert the heathern there, and get them tithing to a good Bible-believing church that their lives will then automatically improve. God will bless them and give them enough food to eat, better homes to live in, and (most importantly) enough money to support a full-time pastor. But even if the people stay poor, then at least they’ll be rich in spirit and if they should happen to die of hunger or disease then their eternal soul is safe and that’s what really matters. Isn’t it?

For some strange reason, however, the Scripture is full of instructions to take care of the poor – even the poor who haven’t joined your church or professed to love your God. At some point we have to ask ourselves if our charity is merely a calculated means to some religious end. What if we give some of those  children who surrounded the fire pit tonight enough to eat, a place to stay, and an education only to realize they never became a Christian as a result of our efforts? In an eternal sense was that money and time a waste? The churches we grew up in would probably say that it was. There’s no point saving the body if we lose the soul. In fact, a little suffering is good for the unsaved person. We want them physically miserable enough to look to us for spiritual answers.  A little pain is a great motivator.

If the Christian life is one of neighbor-love then does only helping those who are keen to believe as we do really love at all? When Christ identifies himself as being the sick, the hungry, the imprisoned and states very plainly that charity done to those in need is in fact done to HIM, are we then to believe that he then implicitly added “but only if they’re either believers or likely to get saved shortly after you help them.” But unfortunately we all too often are found sitting in the lawyer’s seat asking “who is my neighbor?” as if we hadn’t already heard the resulting parable and still think that we’ve found a clever way to avoid helping those who are not just like us.

Sri Lanka is a country that is majority Buddhist and Hindu. It’s also a country of great need. The mission here is focused not on conversions but on showing neighbor-love through works of charity and kindness to children of all religions and background. Food, medicine, and clothing is not bait for some gospel trap set to snag the vulnerable. World Vision helps sponsor children because our God is love. And love is not a feeling it is an action verb and it requires action to make itself reality.

Just because our God does not require that we walk on hot coals to show our love and sacrifice does not mean that He does not require outward signs of the love we claim to have for Him. Who is your neighbor? Who is mine? I’d encourage you to search your own heart and then look to the needs around you for the places where you can show that love in a real and physical way.

If you’re not sure where to begin, check out the child sponsorship program and find out about kids who at this moment need a meal more than a sermon, a friend more than a tract, and most of all need to know that somebody in this world care about them enough to be their neighbor.

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http://www.stufffundieslike.com/2012/08/sri-lanka-old-and-new/

 

Sri Lanka: Old and New

The more things change the more they stay the same. Thursday morning I woke up, took my daughter to school, made lunch, and then got on an airplane that took me on a trip halfway around the world, flying past news-worthy cities with names like Baghdad and Allepo and over the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.  Thirteen hours of flying landed us in Dubai where midnight found us riding in a taxi with a driver who explained to us that in Dubai the Old Town is the section that contains all the new buildings. Soon we were sitting in the baking desert heat and eating pizza while watching a Vegas-Style fountain show blast out (among other things) the music of Thriller.  Then we went to the mall with the Starbucks and Ikea and Subway. It was all strange and exotic, yet so oddly familiar. It never ceases to amaze me what America has as its chief exports to the world.

A few hours more and another airplane and we wearily stumbled through the doors into the tropical sun of Colombo, Sri Lanka to negotiate with beggars who try to manhandle your luggage for you and then charge you for that privilege. As my nostrils were assaulted by the mixed scent of salt air, exhaust fumes, and the faint scent of decay that no tropical city is ever without the first word that popped into my head was “home.”  The looks and sounds and smells all have so evocative of the West Indian island where I grew that I immediately understood why Columbus thought he had had managed to reach the East Indies by sailing around the world. Even the insanity of the bus ride out of the city had an odd sense of rightness to it as we tried our best to abide by the Sri Lankan rule that no two cars may follow behind each other at any given time. It’s a different place in a different world but it’s still so much the same.

There are distinctions, of course. The surf of the Indian ocean roars just a few steps from our lodgings but the sand is an unfamiliar shade of brown not white or black like the coral-laden beaches of Grenada. The people here find their roots in Asia not Africa and the stream of liquid syllables that characterize the Sinhalese language are nothing like that Jamaican-style English pronouncements of my adopted homeland. Perhaps the starkest contrast of all to me is that the religion here is majority Buddhist and though I saw a few signs of Catholicism during the bus ride to the hotel there was nary a Protestant church or mission in sight.

For all the little differences, being here has sent me on a sentimental journey through my past as I sit here basking in a tropical sun (that is strangely hotter during the morning than the afternoon because of where it sits below the equator). I’m sure that by now my traveling companions have long since tired of hearing me say the words “well, where I grew up…” as I compare this island nation to one that my heart has been missing for a decade. Perhaps it’s just some trick of memory combined with jet lag that warms my soul for scenes both old and new. But I’ll take it. I’ll love every minute of it. Sri Lanka may not be home but the feeling that it could have been is never far from the edge of my senses. The Dubai cab driver had the right of it. What is new is old for me. And what is old has once again become new.

Tomorrow we’ll be out in the field and I can’t wait to start sharing with you what we see.

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http://www.stufffundieslike.com/2012/08/sri-lanka-hit-me-with-your-best-shot/

Sri Lanka: Hit Me With Your Best Shot

View of the lake at Kotamale, Sri Lanka

Today I’m getting on a plane for Sri Lanka. (Actually, I’m getting on a bus and three planes but who’s counting?) I’ll try to keep the SFL Facebook page and Twitter feed updated whenever possible on the trip to let you all know that we’re all still alive.

In the meantime, I’d like to invite you to ask whatever questions you might have about Sri Lanka, World Vision, and the Child Sponsorship program. People from our shared background tend to be as suspicious as we are generous because we’ve all seen organizations that say one thing and do another. The great news is that I’m headed to Sri Lanka as SFL’s ambassador to get the facts and see what’s really going on.

So ask me the tough questions, voice your concerns, and generally engage in the kinds of shenanigans for which we are famous. I love you all and I’m excited to bring you with me on this trip. I’m praying that it opens all of our hearts to a world of outreach that we never experienced in fundamentalism and that we’ll all be better for it.

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The biblical Basis for Election.  Not merely the opinion of man.. but what the Scripture says regarding election.

 

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