“The Least of These.” Jedi Christians. Millions. World Vision.

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Today we meet at the confluence of a chapter from my new book “Christian Wisdom of the Jedi Masters”, an exceptional new movie “Millions,” and an editorial by Rich Stearns, CEO of World Vision. This, the week before G8 and Live 8.

First an excerpt from my chapter “the Least of These” (‚© used by permission) from “Christian Wisdom of the Jedi Masters,”.

[ “You should be proud of your son. He gives without any thought of reward.” Qui-Gon to Anakin’s mother, Shmi

“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it unto me.” Jesus to his followers.

Serving without thought for reward is a mark of the Jedi. Likewise, the Jedi Christian serves the disenfranchised because Jesus commands us to love them and showed us the way with his own example.

Down-and-out “losers” who went unobserved, or worse yet, were ignored and avoided by religious people, took a central place in the life of Jesus– a woman caught in adultery, lepers oozing disease, unkempt shepherds, handicapped beggars on the side of the road. In my travels to many developing countries I’ve seen street scenes not that different from those Jesus saw: homeless children begging, large families crowded into cardboard shanties, teenage girls pushed into prostitution so their little brothers and sisters can eat, hopelessly deformed kids abandoned and left to fend for themselves on heartless streets.

In our own country I’ve visited housing projects in the inner city, witnessed filth and the drug deals; the drugged-up hookers trawling the street for the next trick; the innocent child lying in a pool of blood, caught in the crossfire of gang revenge. I’ve seen the churches flee the urban centers and move to the suburbs, and like the religious people in Jesus day, sometimes I’ve looked the other way. The shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept,” just got longer; “Jesus weeps.” (End of excerpt. Read the full chapter in “Christian Wisdom of the Jedi Masters,”.)

I go on to answer the question what do the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned have in common by reporting 1) There are a lot of them; 2) Each is created in God’s image; 3) They are powerless; 4) God loves them.

Last night I saw the heartwarming story of one little boy’s generosity for the poor told in a truly magical film, “Millions.” If you haven’t seen it I urge you to find that small arts theatre where it is playing and go this weekend. Here is an excerpt of Roger Ebert’s review of “Millions.”

[It isn’t the money’s fault it got stolen.?That is the reasoning of Anthony Cunningham, who at 9 is more of a realist than his 7-year-old brother, Damian. Therefore it isn’t their fault that a bag containing 265,000 British pounds bounced off a train and into Damian’s playhouse and is currently stuffed under their bed. Danny Boyle’s “Millions,” a family film of limitless imagination and surprising joy, follows the two brothers as they deal with their windfall. They begin by giving some of it away, taking homeless men to Pizza Hut. Damian wants to continue their charity work, but Anthony leans toward investing in property. They have a deadline: In one week the UK will say goodbye to the pound and switch over to the Euro; maybe, thinks Anthony, currency speculation would be the way to go.

Here is a film that exists in that enchanted realm where everything goes right — not for the characters, for the filmmakers. They take an enormous risk with a film of sophistication and whimsy, about children, money, criminals and saints. Damian collects the saints — “like baseball cards,” says Richard Roeper. He knows all their statistics. He can see them clear as day, and have conversations with them. His favorite is St. Francis of Assisi, but he knows them all: When a group of Africans materializes wearing halos, Damian is ecstatic: “The Ugandan martyrs of 1881!”] (End of excerpt.)

In “Millions” young Damien learns he can save entire villages by buying a pump so they can get clean, fresh drinking water. The final scene of the movie could be a clip out of a World Vision photo shoot. (I won’t spoil the movie by telling you how.)

That brings us to World Vision CEO, Richard Stearn’s editorial in this week’s Seattle Times, “The face of America should meet the face of poverty.”

In the article he reminds us that this years G-8 will explore ways to fight poverty in the world’s poorest nations, many of which are in sub-Saharan Africa. And that President Bush is being urged to increase foreign assistance by just 1% of our total federal budget. To put this in perspective Stearns points out “Currently, we spend four-tenths of 1 percent for the poor overseas; in contrast, military spending totals 49 percent of the president’s $818 billion discretionary budget.” and goes on to remind us of some grim global statistics:

¢â‚¬¢ 500 million children have no access to sanitation;
¢â‚¬¢ 400 million children do not have access to safe water;
¢â‚¬¢ 270 million children have no access to health-care services;
¢â‚¬¢ 140 million children have never been to school.

Stearns puts a face on poverty by introducing us to an impoverished 9-year old Chafuli and then telling the moving story of how a well and a few goats entirely change the life of this little boys village. As seven year-old Damien learns in “Millions,” it IS possible to make a difference.

Stearns concludes with a final observation and a sobering question about our American legacy. “Through Chafuli, President Bush can see what Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, calls “the end of poverty.” He can grasp that international aid, distributed wisely and used effectively as “a hand up, not a handout,” can bring life-changing solutions to the 2 billion people who live on less than $2 a day. Many of those 2 billion people have no understanding of the discussions in which President Bush will engage his G-8 colleagues. But the decisions coming out of this meeting will set the course for the next generation of people in the Third World.

So, what will America be known for? Regrettably, to many people the United States is known for its military power and the war on terror, not the power behind our 229 years of freedom, justice and compassion. Not the greatness of our values. The president himself has said, “One of the most important weapons in the war on terror is the hope of hundreds of millions of impoverished people for a better future.” Their future and Chafuli’s as well as our nation’s legacy in the world may be determined by whether President Bush makes a commitment to devote 1 percentage point more of the federal budget for international aid for “the least of these.”

A chapter in a Star-Wars based book about “the least of these,” a movie about a little 7-year old boy who shows a deep consistent concern for “the least of these,” and the CEO of an international Christian humanitarian organization pleading for our nation to take the lead in showing generous compassion on the “least of these.”

Nice ramp-up to G-8.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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