Friday, September 30, 2011

Gandhi's 7 Deadly Social Sins and 11 Ashram Observances

My brief stay at Gandhi's ashram in 2007 continues to fuel my imagination

Early one January morning in 2007, our bicycle entourage that was making a 2000-mile trek from the southern tip of India to New Delhi was sent off by staff and students of Yavatmal College for Leadership Training in central India. Five Indian riders from the school would accompany us to Nagpur. The more the merrier! Early in the day, we passed through Wardha, a major intra-India train exchange depot. We then rode on in overwhelming sun and heat, finishing a long day of pedaling at a little place called Sevagram.
Gandhi's dirt-floor hut at Sevagram, where he lived simply
and from where he led India non-violently to independence.
Not much more than a wide place in the road, Sevagram became the rural home of Mohandas K. Gandhi in 1936. From this quiet place Gandhi not only practiced the simple, powerful principles of his convictions, but led India in a long, sustained non-violent march to independence until England finally "quit India" in 1947. Gandhi guided India to independence not with military force, but with the force of non-violent spirit and actions of civil disobedience.
Three years after English rule ended, the Indian democracy was established on January 26, 1950. Republic Day is commemorated across India with great affection.  There were flag-waving parades in very village we pedaled through. We spent the night of January 25 in guest huts at Gandhi's ashram in Sevagram. It seemed fitting that we should begin Republic Day from the birthplace of Indian independence. 

Visiting Sevagram was a deeply moving experience for me.  At the ashram (retreat center, community, commune, monastery, etc.) where Gandhi lived, weaved, farmed, served, taught, and strategized, I read the sign posting the "Seven Deadly Social Sins" that Gandhi defined and which I have frequently contemplated before and since. They are:

Politics without principle
Wealth without work
Commerce without morality
Pleasure without conscience
Education without character
Science without humanity
Worship without sacrifice

I was also interested in the 11 Ashram Observances, which I had not seen before.  I have since contemplated the impact--and potential impact--of the power of the use and abandonment of these practices both in India and among Americans. Here are the 11 Ashram Observances at Sevagram:

1. Truth
2. Non-violence
3. Chastity
4. Non-possession
5. Non-stealing
6. Bread-Labor
7. Control of palate
8. Fearlessness
9. Equality of religions
10. Swadeshi (Gandhi's description: "a call to the consumer to be aware of the violence he is causing by supporting those industries that result in poverty, harm to workers and to humans and other creatures")
11. Removal of untouchability

At the bottom of the sign was an additional directive from Gandhi: "Follow the above observances with humility and resolve."

Is the Sevagram ashram an exception to the rule? Sure it is.  Are the Seven Deadly Social Sins front and center in what is ripping at the fabric of our personal lives, communities, and world today?  Yes.  Do the 11 Ashram Observances offer disciplines, practices, and principles that could reweave the fabric of personal integrity, interpersonal fellowship, community vitality, and world progress?  Absolutely.  Taken together, they could be again transformative.

I would say of Gandhi's experiment at Sevagram and its initial freedom-winning impact on India what G. K. Chesterton said of Christianity: "It is not that it has been tried and found wanting, it is that it has been found difficult and left untried."

But, perhaps there are those who are hungry enough for justice and authenticity in this and the next generation to have the courage to try again.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Investments in developing countries and children's lives are resulting in unprecedented breakthroughs in disease, education, and poverty.

International Child Care Ministries, the initiative I work directly with, is always asking for sponsors, for support for our food funds, and for contributions to special projects.  Hundreds of other international charitable organizations do the same.  Is it making any difference?


You likely miss it in the news media, but in the face of still unimaginable poverty, suffering, and death, there are unprecedented breakthroughs.  These are a direct result of caring people who persistently invest in some of the most impoverished places in the world.  Consider this good news from developing countries:

  • The number of children under age 5 who die annually has fallen from 12 million in 1990 to 7.6 million in 2010 (UNICEF & WHO). This is attributable to clean water initiatives, anti-malaria campaigns, investment in immunizations, and education of young women.
  • The proportion of underweight children younger than age 5 declined by 1/5 between 1990 and 2005.
  • 29 million more African children are in schools today than in 2000.

  • Enrollment in primary schools in developing countries increased to 88% in 2006.

  • More girls are attending school now than ever before.

  • 1.6 billion people have gained access to safe drinking water since 2001.

  • 17 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have since 1995 increased the average income of their people by 50% and reduced poverty by 20%.  14 of these countries have also become democracies.
These breakthroughs, noted by David Beckmann in his recent book Exodus from Hunger (Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), have been hammered out in the face of huge obstacles, resistant ideologies, marginal resources, and constant violence.  But Beckmann, head of Bread for the World and winner of the 2010 World Food Prize, notes:

"Hundreds of millions of people have escaped from hunger and poverty in our time, and all the nations of the world have acknowledged that further progress is possible.  Given what the Bible teaches about God's concern for the poor and God's presence in history, doesn't it make sense to thank God for this great liberation?  Doesn't it make sense to see it as an experience of God's saving action in our own history?  Isn't God present in whatever efforts we make to help people escape from hunger and poverty?"

Global needs continue to be overwhelming.  Thousands of children die every day of malnutrition and preventable diseases; many thousands more have their futures compromised for lack of opportunities.  Yet, it seems appropriate to take a moment to stop, take note, and give thanks for these breakthroughs--all the while intensifying our prayers and investment to see more lives saved physically, educationally, socially, and spiritually.   

I'm thankful for the 12,000+ partners who invest in children, families, and communities in 30 countries through ICCM in the small part of this great effort that Free Methodists have been given to share in.  I'm grateful, also, for millions who carry this torch through manifold efforts under breathtakingly diverse banners.

In the face of the specter of dramatic cuts to basic domestic and international hunger-prevention and development funding being considered by Congress (thus setting back long-term progress that's been made in our generation and overriding the will of a vast majority of good-hearted Americans), this is an important moment to let our national leaders know directly where we stand and what we desire.  Advocates at Bread for the World can help you reach your Congressional representatives right now -
To learn more about ICCM, explore a $25-a-month sponsorship, or get involved, click hereTo contribute to an ICCM food fund, click hereTo view an ICCM video story, click here.  To receive an ICCM Church or Small Group Action Kit, click here.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


How do we respond to our complicity in our neighbors' struggles?

We’re way beyond innocence,
past naïvetés
that excuse
and justify.
We’re in territory
of responsibility,
amid raw choices,
ethical dilemmas,
spiritual strongholds.

We’re in deep,
over our heads with
the future hanging
in the balance.

Yet we play
games of disguise
with ourselves
and our neighbors,
feigning sincerity,
acting as if all is well
(or nearly so),
as if our desires
and possessing
were disconnected
from any foreboding
impact beyond,
as if we were unaware
our choices destroy.

But love opens
eyes as well as hearts
with an ever widening
peripheral vision,
revealing connection
and complicity,
inviting confession
and repentance,
fueling hope
and possibility.
Love turns us
toward our neighbors
for a painful embrace
that heals the world.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Not knowing what was ahead, I wanted my four kids to know my heart and responses to 9/11.

Dear Abby, Jared, Molly, and Sam,

I want to tell you my feelings and responses to the World Trade Center tragedy, the terrorism that caused it, and our nation’s responses.  So much has happened so quickly, things too big for rational minds and hearts to handle alone and in so short a time.

This is the most grave and awesome thing that has occurred in my lifetime.  Nothing compares to it.  It stretches my senses and challenges what I believe about humanity, evil, good, God, hope, our nation, and the world.  It tests my faith and causes me to search my heart.  Someday you will better understand what I am trying to express.

In one sense, the scenes and replays on TV are distant.  They seem like an unreal video game.  Our family was not harmed, our community was not attacked; we know no one whose life was taken in New York City or Washington, D.C.  The events occurred in other parts of our country and it appears that we are safe.

In another sense, this tragedy comes very close to home.  It makes many Americans feel vulnerable to terrorism here in our own land.  Because of it, a lot of safety and security measures will begin.  And, because of it, the United States may likely take military action intended to prevent it from happening again.

I have felt fragile since the tragedy, many times this week at the point of tears.  I tell myself it is over, that it is distant, and that we need to get on with our normal lives.  But I have this lump in my throat and pain in my heart.  I hurt for those people who lost loved ones and friends.  It is so sad and so senseless.

I am also feeling anger about the tragedy.  I feel anger at the terrorists and people who provide a place for them to plan and train for their destructive schemes.  Anger is a natural and powerful emotion at such terrible acts that snuff out life—whether one or many.  Anger, however, need not be vented as aggression or rage or destruction.

It may sound strange, but at the same time I am also feeling love for the terrorists.  For all their meanness and despicable actions, I believe they are still children of God.  My faith leads me to this feeling.  These must be desperately hurting and angry people to have done something like this.  Perhaps it is their own outrage at their own losses, or the loss of people whom they love, that has driven and twisted them.

I do not know why they did this, or why they hate as they do.  But I believe that God loves them as God loves each of us.  And I know that the Scriptures speak of a Spirit of love that overcomes hate and makes possible a love for one’s enemies.  Romans 12:17-21 challenges me: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Do not take revenge…but leave room for God’s wrath.  On the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

You have seen and heard President Bush and our national leaders call for war against terrorism and vow to retaliate against these terrorists and the governments that harbor them.  I have very mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand, to act to prevent further acts of terrorism on our soil seems reasonable.  So does seeking out and bringing the perpetrators of this crime to justice.  On the other hand, to lash out broadly in vengeance with the destruction of lives is contrary to my sense of the Scriptures and of Christianity.  And I have reminded myself this week that I am a Christian first and an American second.

I do not believe war is justified simply because leaders call for it or because such a crime has been committed.  There are other strong but peaceful ways to see justice prevail.  “Seek peace and pursue it” is the prevailing guidance of the Scriptures.  Perhaps there are rare situations in which peaceful methods cannot bring resolution to international conflicts.  But most often peaceful measures—including sincerely seeking to understand our enemies’ pain and changing our own agitating behaviors—are not given a fair chance.

I am also feeling somewhat afraid in the wake of the tragedies in New York City and Washington, D.C.  Fear, too, is a natural response to such attacks.  But I am shaping my fears  into prayers.  I am reminding myself of the constant call of the Word of God: “Do not be afraid.  I am with you.  I will never leave you or forsake you.”  I have found comfort and hope in Psalm 46 this week.  Also in hymns like “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”  In your times of fear, I hope you will find such as these helpful to you, too.

I just wanted you to know my feelings and responses to this tragedy.  It is sometimes hard to talk about these things and our feelings about them, but it is important to me to try to convey my feelings and thoughts to you.  I do so because I love you very much.  I hope for the very best for you and for your futures.



Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Thoughts in the Presence of Fear

Wendell Berry's 2001 reflections on 9/11. Prophetic then, they are uncannily telling now.

 These 27 brief, connected responses shine in stark contrast to popular reactions then and broken policies now.  One of America's clearest voices of critique and re-centered renewal, Wendell Berry calmly reflects wider awareness and deeper faith in the face of despair and insanity. This piece appeared in Orion magazine not long after the September 11 terrorist attacks.  Rereading it 10 years later, I recognize the prophetic nature of what he wrote. It is uncannily telling now. I wonder, in the words of the folk song, "when will we ever learn?"

I. The time will soon come when we will not be able to remember the horrors of September 11 without remembering also the unquestioning technological and economic optimism that ended on that day.
II. This optimism rested on the proposition that we were living in a “new world order” and a “new economy” that would “grow” on and on, bringing a prosperity of which every new increment would be “unprecedented”.

The dominant politicians, corporate officers, and investors who believed this proposition did not acknowledge that the prosperity was limited to a tiny percent of the world’s people, and to an ever smaller number of people even in the United States; that it was founded upon the oppressive labor of poor people all over the world; and that its ecological costs increasingly threatened all life, including the lives of the supposedly prosperous.

The “developed” nations had given to the “free market” the status of a god, and were sacrificing to it their farmers, farmlands, and communities, their forests, wetlands, and prairies, their ecosystems and watersheds. They had accepted universal pollution and global warming as normal costs of doing business.

There was, as a consequence, a growing worldwide effort on behalf of economic decentralization, economic justice, and ecological responsibility. We must recognize that the events of September 11 make this effort more necessary than ever. We citizens of the industrial countries must continue the labor of self-criticism and self-correction. We must recognize our mistakes.

The paramount doctrine of the economic and technological euphoria of recent decades has been that everything depends on innovation. It was understood as desirable, and even necessary, that we should go on and on from one technological innovation to the next, which would cause the economy to “grow” and make everything better and better. This of course implied at every point a hatred of the past, of all things inherited and free. All things superseded in our progress of innovations, whatever their value might have been, were discounted as of no value at all.

We did not anticipate anything like what has now happened. We did not foresee that all our sequence of innovations might be at once overridden by a greater one: the invention of a new kind of war that would turn our previous innovations against us, discovering and exploiting the debits and the dangers that we had ignored. We never considered the possibility that we might be trapped in the webwork of communication and transport that was supposed to make us free.

Nor did we foresee that the weaponry and the war science that we marketed and taught to the world would become available, not just to recognized national governments, which possess so uncannily the power to legitimate large-scale violence, but also to “rogue nations”, dissident or fanatical groups and individuals - whose violence, though never worse than that of nations, is judged by the nations to be illegitimate.

We had accepted uncritically the belief that technology is only good; that it cannot serve evil as well as good; that it cannot serve our enemies as well as ourselves; that it cannot be used to destroy what is good, including our homelands and our lives.

We had accepted too the corollary belief that an economy (either as a money economy or as a life-support system) that is global in extent, technologically complex, and centralized is invulnerable to terrorism, sabotage, or war, and that it is protectable by “national defense”

We now have a clear, inescapable choice that we must make. We can continue to promote a global economic system of unlimited “free trade” among corporations, held together by long and highly vulnerable lines of communication and supply, but now recognizing that such a system will have to be protected by a hugely expensive police force that will be worldwide, whether maintained by one nation or several or all, and that such a police force will be effective precisely to the extent that it oversways the freedom and privacy of the citizens of every nation.

Or we can promote a decentralized world economy which would have the aim of assuring to every nation and region a local self-sufficiency in life-supporting goods. This would not eliminate international trade, but it would tend toward a trade in surpluses after local needs had been met.

XIII. One of the gravest dangers to us now, second only to further terrorist attacks against our people, is that we will attempt to go on as before with the corporate program of global “free trade”, whatever the cost in freedom and civil rights, without self-questioning or self-criticism or public debate.

XIV. This is why the substitution of rhetoric for thought, always a temptation in a national crisis, must be resisted by officials and citizens alike. It is hard for ordinary citizens to know what is actually happening in Washington in a time of such great trouble; for all we know, serious and difficult thought may be taking place there. But the talk that we are hearing from politicians, bureaucrats, and commentators has so far tended to reduce the complex problems now facing us to issues of unity, security, normality, and retaliation.

XV. National self-righteousness, like personal self-righteousness, is a mistake. It is misleading. It is a sign of weakness. Any war that we may make now against terrorism will come as a new installment in a history of war in which we have fully participated. We are not innocent of making war against civilian populations. The modern doctrine of such warfare was set forth and enacted by General William Tecumseh Sherman, who held that a civilian population could be declared guilty and rightly subjected to military punishment. We have never repudiated that doctrine.

XVI. It is a mistake also - as events since September 11 have shown - to suppose that a government can promote and participate in a global economy and at the same time act exclusively in its own interest by abrogating its international treaties and standing apart from international cooperation on moral issues.

XVII. And surely, in our country, under our Constitution, it is a fundamental error to suppose that any crisis or emergency can justify any form of political oppression. Since September 11, far too many public voices have presumed to “speak for us” in saying that Americans will gladly accept a reduction of freedom in exchange for greater “security”. Some would, maybe. But some others would accept a reduction in security (and in global trade) far more willingly than they would accept any abridgement of our Constitutional rights.

XVIII. In a time such as this, when we have been seriously and most cruelly hurt by those who hate us, and when we must consider ourselves to be gravely threatened by those same people, it is hard to speak of the ways of peace and to remember that Christ enjoined us to love our enemies, but this is no less necessary for being difficult.

XIX. Even now we dare not forget that since the attack of Pearl Harbor - to which the present attack has been often and not usefully compared - we humans have suffered an almost uninterrupted sequence of wars, none of which has brought peace or made us more peaceable.

XX. The aim and result of war necessarily is not peace but victory, and any victory won by violence necessarily justifies the violence that won it and leads to further violence. If we are serious about innovation, must we not conclude that we need something new to replace our perpetual “war to end war?”

XXI. What leads to peace is not violence but peaceableness, which is not passivity, but an alert, informed, practiced, and active state of being. We should recognize that while we have extravagantly subsidized the means of war, we have almost totally neglected the ways of peaceableness. We have, for example, several national military academies, but not one peace academy. We have ignored the teachings and the examples of Christ, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and other peaceable leaders. And here we have an inescapable duty to notice also that war is profitable, whereas the means of peaceableness, being cheap or free, make no money.

XXII. The key to peaceableness is continuous practice. It is wrong to suppose that we can exploit and impoverish the poorer countries, while arming them and instructing them in the newest means of war, and then reasonably expect them to be peaceable.

XXIII. We must not again allow public emotion or the public media to caricature our enemies. If our enemies are now to be some nations of Islam, then we should undertake to know those enemies. Our schools should begin to teach the histories, cultures, arts, and language of the Islamic nations. And our leaders should have the humility and the wisdom to ask the reasons some of those people have for hating us.

XXIV. Starting with the economies of food and farming, we should promote at home, and encourage abroad, the ideal of local self-sufficiency. We should recognize that this is the surest, the safest, and the cheapest way for the world to live. We should not countenance the loss or destruction of any local capacity to produce necessary goods

XXV. We should reconsider and renew and extend our efforts to protect the natural foundations of the human economy: soil, water, and air. We should protect every intact ecosystem and watershed that we have left, and begin restoration of those that have been damaged.

XXVI. The complexity of our present trouble suggests as never before that we need to change our present concept of education. Education is not properly an industry, and its proper use is not to serve industries, either by job-training or by industry-subsidized research. It’s proper use is to enable citizens to live lives that are economically, politically, socially, and culturally responsible. This cannot be done by gathering or “accessing” what we now call “information” - which is to say facts without context and therefore without priority. A proper education enables young people to put their lives in order, which means knowing what things are more important than other things; it means putting first things first.

XXVII. The first thing we must begin to teach our children (and learn ourselves) is that we cannot spend and consume endlessly. We have got to learn to save and conserve. We do need a “new economy”, but one that is founded on thrift and care, on saving and conserving, not on excess and waste. An economy based on waste is inherently and hopelessly violent, and war is its inevitable by-product. We need a peaceable economy.

Friday, September 2, 2011


You've seen Ansel Adams' iconic photos of Yosemite's Half Dome. I'll hike to its peak on Labor Day

Like you, probably, I've been viewing this Ansel Adams photo of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park since I was a child.  Adams' black and white photos in Yosemite put the park's peaks into the realm of legend.  And none of his photos have been more widely viewed and copied than this one of Half Dome.

At the invitation of my son-in-law, Alex Butler, I plan to join him for a day-long hike to the peak of Half Dome on Labor Day.  We'll take what's known as the Cables Trail--a long route which ends with a final steep trek up the side of the peak stepping our way upward via steel cables that are fastened to steel poles embedded in the sheer rock surface.  Every time I view photos of the jutting peak and of people using the cables, I get a little queasy.

I'm assured that this hike, while difficult, is readily doable.  Though there are a limited number of passes issued for each day, thousands of people make this trek each year.  I know I'm in the best physical condition of my life (yes, at age 52) and that I'll be fine.  Still, looking at it from whichever angle... It has my respect.

I am aware that 17 people have fallen to their deaths from various hikes and climbs in Yosemite this season--the highest number on record. Will I be careful?  Absolutely.

I plan to share tweets ( along the trail on Monday.  I hope to share photos as well as observations.  I invite you to tune in. And, you might say a prayer during your Labor Day cookout.