World Day of Social Justice

 

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“We’re stuck in fear and in not wanting to cross that most important bridge of understanding that we’re more alike or not. We have to want the same thing. I’ve got to want the same thing for your son or daughter I would want for mine. I’ve got to make sure that your son is as educated as mine, or vice versa. We’ve got to make sure we all live in communities that are safe. We’ve all got to feel there’s a non-existence of ‘driving while black,’ ‘driving while brown,’ ‘walking while black.’ We want to see equality.” 

Stevie Wonder on an interview to Rolling Stone Magazine, Feb 15th, 2015

 

The United Nations has declared today, February 20th, World Day of Social Justice.

For me, Every time I think about “social justice”, I tend to conjure ideas of something big; large humanitarian projects in African countries; multinational initiatives aiming to eradicate the world of the great injustices people face. Thank God these social justice projects exist – I shudder to think what our world would look like without them.

UN Secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon was quoted saying that “the World Day of Social Justice is observed to highlight the power of global solidarity to advance opportunity for all.”[1] He went on to say that as inequalities widen, the social fabric of societies is both stretched and strained, which often leads to a downward spiral of economic and social uncertainty and even unrest. He also reminded us that the violent conflict present in many parts of the world is often rooted in deep inequality, discrimination, and widespread poverty.

After reading his message I began thinking about his words, especially his mention of discrimination as one of the root causes of inequality and social injustice. Interestingly, the secretary General’s message came at the same time I started participating a program called Faculty Institute For Inclusive Excellence at Colorado State University, where I am an employee. The program’s aim is to empower us as college professors with tools and resources to improve it in our day-to-day activities in a way that creates an inclusive classroom setting. The program kicked off with a conversation about prejudice and discrimination about various topics. We then moved onto a topic called “implicit bias”.

The idea of implicit bias was a project developed by three scientists – Tony Greenwald (University of Washington), Mahzarin Banaji (Harvard University), and Brian Nosek University of Virginia) They ended up founding a non-profit organization called Project Implicit and international collaboration between researchers who were interested in implicit social cognition – thoughts and feelings outside of conscious awareness and control.[2]

Project Implicit’s goal was and is to educate the public about implicit social cognition and provide a “virtual laboratory” – a novel way for researchers to collect data on the Internet.

The results of the virtual laboratory have shown a variety of implicit bias examples in America. For example, data suggests that minorities are not sought-after and not being hired in the proportionate to their white counterparts. Studies also show that gender biases were found in the evaluation of identical resumes. Similarly, biases in promotion to tenure favor men. A research observing two professors with same level of education and teaching style showed the straight professor had 22% of negative comments compared to 81% of negative comments from the gay professor. The list goes on and on.

This project allows participants to actually take a test online to determine your own implicit biases. I went online and took the test myself and was not very happy with my results for certain categories. To be honest, it was very disappointing.

I realized that I also have implicit biases towards certain social groups in society. The truth is, we all do, but we don’t pay enough attention to those cultural mind-sets that cause them.

So as I thought back to Ban Ki-Moon’s remarks on social justice and the disappointing results of my implicit bias test, my view of social justice completely changed. I realized that in order for social injustices in our society to change, I need to change myself first. It’s good to talk about social justice at a large scale, but the truth is, if we don’t change the way we see and think of people, social justice will take much longer to occur and social patters will continue to persist.

Hidden prejudices fleet across our minds much more often than we would like: seeing immigrants from X country simply as “people who steal our local jobs”, crossing the street when we see a homeless because we are fearful, not favoring certain policies even if they’re good just because we are a liberal/conservative. It’s so easy for us to take people loved by God and make them into “those people” in our minds.

I came to the conclusion that we can only practice real social justice looking at what Jesus said in John 8:31-32:

 

“to the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “ if you hold to my teaching, you’re really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”.

 

I believe that the only way to set me free from all my implicit biases (hidden prejudice) is to know and meditate in the Word of God. When you become a disciple and allow the Holy Spirit to guide you and transform you by the renewing of your mind, you also become a leader and a leader of change around you. A leader that changes the status quo as Jesus did in His time. A leader that can actually be socially just free from all the prejudices and implicit biases embedded in our culture and mindset.

Let’s examine ourselves and see what we should change to stop social injustice.

Are you ready to change your mind in order to change the world?

 

 

 

References:

[1] http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=47180#.VOOku0LWv8k
[2] https://www.projectimplicit.net

 

 

Your ideas can help combat climate change

Hello followers,

 

MIT’s Climate CoLab recently launched 16 contests, seeking a wide variety of ideas and proposals on what can be done to address climate change, and we want to make sure your community has the opportunity to participate.

At MIT’s Climate CoLab you can join a global community working to develop ideas on what we can do about climate change, right now.

If you submit one of the winning ideas, you’ll be able to present it before government officials, business executives, NGO leaders and scientists who can help move proposals toward implementation, as well as share it at an MIT conference, where a $10,000 Grand Prize will be awarded.

Even if you don’t have new ideas yourself, you can help improve other people’s ideas and support the ones you find most promising.

Current contests address low-carbon energy, building efficiency, adaptation, geoengineering, shifting public attitudes and behaviors, and over a dozen other topics.  Entries are due July 20, 2014.

Can crowdsourcing save the planet?  Join the crowd and find out at the Climate CoLab (http://www.climatecolab.org/?utm_source=catalyst&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=contest)

Paulo Brito

Climate CoLab Catalyst

http://www.climatecolab.org/web/guest/member/-/member/userId/1433130

A God’s story written in the sky

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I recently read a book written by a friend of mine called “Stars of Light: the Hidden Message of Redemption”.  The book explains how the twelve constellations of the zodiac actually tell the story of God’s redemption. The author explains that the story is divided into three sets of four constellations; which tell the biblical story of Jesus’ birth and life prophesy, His dealings with His elect people, and His coming in triumph over Satan respectively.

The author, Chris Siegel, writes that the constellation Libra depicts the Easter story; its stars telling us of God’s redemptive plan for us. The word “libra” means scales in Latin and similar meanings are found in many languages and cultures: weighing, or purchase, redemption of some sort, scales of justice, balance.

Within the constellation Libra, there are three main stars that reveal the message of God: The first star, Zuben al Genubi, means “the price deficient” and represents our need for a Savior (Matthew 19:16-17; Romans 3:9-20). The second star, Zuben al Shemali, means “the price which covers,” represented by the blood of Christ that covers our sins (I Peter 1:18-19; 2Cor 8:9). And lastly, the third star, Zuben Akrabi, means “the price of conflict,” which speaks to the ongoing war of Genesis 3:15 (Siegel, 2012).

Libra also has three decans (groups of smaller sets of constellation that are part of major constellations) – Crux, Lupus, and Corona – that Seigel explains have great significance to the Easter story God wrote in the stars:

Crux,  (the cross) means “the cutting off” in Hebrew and represents how Jesus willingly became filled with sin and cut off from life with His Father for our sake. Crux depicts the sacrifice of Christ for mankind, thereby tipping the scales (Libra) in our favor before God (Siegel, 2012).

Lupus (which means “slain” in both Hebrew and Arabic) is a picture of a victim and signifies the cost of sacrifice. It represents Jesus offering Himself as for mankind so that we could be reconciled with God.

Lastly, Corona is a picture of a crown of victory. This is what we celebrate on Easter, His victory on the cross. He overcame death and He’s risen! The resurrected Jesus!

What I loved about Seigel’s book was the realization that the message of redemption, God’s love letter to us, is written in the stars! What a beautiful way to tell us a story; I imagine it as though we, being God’s children, are playing with Him in a beautiful sky, standing before him as he paints his beautiful message before us in the stars.

This message God put in the sky is so well summarized in Colossians 1:19-20a:

For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all fullness to dwell in Him and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself having made peace through the blood of His cross.

It is incredible that even the stars tell the story of His reconciliation with mankind and creation! Who would imagine that? Redemption through the blood of Christ on the cross, right in the sky freely for all of us to see. That tells us something profound that is in God: He uses His creation to show us His plans, His messages, His stories, His love.

Happy Easter!

To see more about the study of the stars and God’s plan for us see the book Stars of Light: the Hidden Message of Redemption: Message One by Chris Siegel.

 

 

Sources:

Siegel, Chris G. (2012). Stars of Light: the Hidden Message of Redemption Message One.Bloomington: CrossBooks.

 

First-ever World Wildlife Day

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3 March 2014: World Wildlife Day was recognized by the UN as a day for the international community to celebrate wildlife, its relationship with people, and to find pathways for a sustainable future where people and wildlife can coexist harmoniously. The first-ever World Wildlife Day is being celebrated on 3 March 2014.

Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, urged all sectors of society to end illegal wildlife trafficking and commit to trading and using wild plants and animals sustainably and equitably. John Scanlon, Secretary-General, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) stressed the importance of this day to draw global attention to the collective responsibility of bringing illegal wildlife trade to an end.

In a joint editorial with Bradnee Chambers, Executive Secretary, Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), Scanlon emphasized the role of wildlife conservation in bringing together states that may be in conflict. In another joint editorial, Chambers and Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), highlighted the relationships between migratory species and climate change.

Also on the Day, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director, Achim Steiner, drew attention to wildlife crime and illegal logging. UNEP noted the estimated US$19 billion in illicit trade derived from wildlife crime, as well as current efforts to combat it, especially in regard to elephants, rhinoceros, apes and forests. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Executive Secretary, Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, highlighted the benefits provided by wildlife, noting also, efforts under the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity to halt biodiversity loss.

The International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) stressed the role of tropical forests as an important habitat for wildlife to mark the Day. The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) called for holistic policies to protect wildlife as an important part of dryland ecosystems and to save endangered species from extinction. Finally the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC) underscored that legal, well-regulated and sustainable hunting is important for conservation. The World Bank also emphasized connections between wildlife and sustainable development.

For more information look at http://www.wildlifeday.org and http://www.un.org/en/events/wildlifeday

Let nothing be wasted

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The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released a study in September documenting the environmental impacts of global food wastage and its direct economic impacts, which it reports add up to $750 billion annually. The study provides a global account of the environmental footprint of food wastage (both food loss and food waste) along the food supply chain, focusing specifically on how it impacts climate, water, land and biodiversity. The FAO stresses the moral issue of 870 million people going hungry while 1/3 of all food produced goes to waste.

The study also indicates that food waste is responsible for 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions[1]; if food waste was integrated into a country ranking of top emitters, it would be the third highest global GHG emitter, after the US and China.[2] It notes that 54% of wastage occurs during production, post-harvest handling and storage, and 46% of wastage occurs during processing, distribution and consumption, with production losses occurring most in developing countries, and consumption losses highest in high and middle income countries.[3] With Thanksgiving upon us, I was curious to know how much turkey goes to waste every year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that Americans throw away about 35 percent of the turkey they buy; whose monetary value was estimated to be approximately $282 million dollars in 2012. [4]

After reading this report, I realized that these problems are far from new; they have been around since Jesus lived on Earth. The well-known biblical passage on John 6:1-13 talks about Jesus feeding a crowd of five thousand people. Although the main focus of this passage is on the actual miracle of multiplication of bread and fish, it also teaches us a lesson of waste management.

The passage in verses 10 and 11 says that Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted and did the same with the fish. However, in verse 12 it says:

“When they all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.”

This passage demonstrates some amazingly practical principles that all of us can apply in our daily lives. First, Jesus gave thanks and then distributed what he had to the crowd. Even just having a small amount of food available for that large crowd, God miraculously provided. We need to have faith that our small efforts add up to make a difference in the world. If each of us contributes to the greater good even in the smallest way, the total of all efforts will make a difference. Individual behavior can affect a social change that will impact our society in the future.

Second, there was both an environmental and a social component to why Jesus didn’t want any of the food to be wasted. From an environmental perspective, Jesus understood how creation worked and knew if the waste wasn’t collected, it could pollute the environment, hence why he asked the disciples to clean up after everybody was fed. From a social perspective, he understood the practical needs that could be met by refusing to waste food. Although the Bible does not specify where the leftover food ended up, I have to wonder, could it have been used to feed more people the following day? Was Jesus expecting to feed more people in the coming days since it was near the Jewish Passover Festival? However it was used, the point is that it was used, and not wasted.

We can apply these social-environmental principles in our ordinary lives. The “let nothing be wasted” principle is still one that businesses and households still struggle with, but we mustn’t forget that all of our small efforts to reduce our waste do make a difference.

May we all practice this simple principle as THANKSGIVING WEEK IS APPROACHING so that we can have a better planet.

Support the Philippines

Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines on Friday, Nov. 8 causing mass destruction.According to UNICEF around 1.7 million children are believed to be living in areas in the Typhoon’s path.

Currently electricity is out in major cities. According to CNN.com, nearly half a million people were forced out of their homes due to the storm.

This storm has rendered thousands of children and families displaced and helpless, in need of urgent help.

You can help. Donate to the Disaster Relief and Stability fund today by clicking below:

Help Children Affected by Philippines Typhoon

When God calls us to dream with Him

“God writes the Gospel, not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”

Martin Luther

Many people have asked me how I got involved with environmental work. It all started just after I returned from an exchange program in London, U.K. I still had about a year and a half left before I could graduate with my Bachelor’s in Economics from Mackenzie University in my hometown, Sao Paulo, Brazil. In the beginning of 2000, I got an internship in the Sao Paulo Agricultural Economics Institute, a branch of the Department of Agriculture. As the time passed, I became interested in research about economics and the connection with the environment and I became involved in a research program about the synergy between both areas. When I completed my internship, I started an environmental economics course in my senior year at college, which continued to pique my interest in the topic.  I started thinking about working in this area and I could see God guiding me. However, I still had no idea what I wanted for my future professional life after I graduated.

During that time I was also part of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (ABU). I used to attend their meetings and, in one of them, they talked about Peter Harris’ book Under the Bright Wings[1], which had just been released in Portuguese. They mentioned that the book talked about environmental conservation and Christian Faith; a subject that I knew nothing about but intrigued me nonetheless. I decided to buy the book and started reading it. As I read, I wanted to know about the subject more and more; I began to see a practical way that I could connect my economics major with my faith.

Then the Lord gave me a sign so clear that I could not ignore. As I reached the last pages of the book, I saw the addresses of A Rocha’s headquarters 7 or 8 countries where they were active at the time with the U.K. being one of them. When I got to the address of the A Rocha U.K. ‘s office, I was shocked to see that it was exactly the same address where I had lived on my exchange in 1998:

“13 Avenue Rd, Southall, UB1 3BL, United Kingdom”

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I read the address twice. I couldn’t believe it! The first thing I thought was that it was God calling me to start looking deeper into this organization and how I could get involved. I immediately got in touch with A Rocha U.K. and found out that the host family during my exchange program moved to another city in England and that house was then used to establish A Rocha U.K. exactly a year after I had left to come back to Brazil.

I started researching more about Christianity and creation care and also get more in touch with A Rocha to see about starting a chapter of the organization in Brazil. My inquiries led me to A Rocha’s chapter in Portugal, where it had originally begun where I contacted Marcial Felgueiras, the director of the Portuguese chapter. Marcial helped me connect Brazilians who were also interested in getting involved in the organization.

Besides me, two more people got in touch with Marcial about the same time I did and Marcial introduced us to each other. There we were, three young men, all from different parts of our enormous country, with neither experience in creation care nor knowledge on how to start or run a non-profit. We didn’t know where to start, but  we did know that we all wanted to be part of this great journey: to build A Rocha in Brazil.

This dream of rebuilding the story of God’s creation on Earth according to Romans 8:18-25 seemed so far from becoming a reality. But, all that God wanted from us was a step of FAITH!

Learning as we went, and with a lot of faith, trial, and error, from the three of us, two ended up being the founders (including myself) of A Rocha Brazil in 2003. A Rocha Brazil has now  three full time workers, a scientific advisory committee, a national board of directors, a board of reference, and a significant number of volunteers. They also have two main environmental education projects working with local churches in several parts of the country. Moreover, the organization worked with no money at all in 2003 and now it has been working with about 70,000.00 dollars a year (from donations and project grants).

One of the main lessons I ‘ve learned from this chapter of my life is that even if we don’t know where and how to start, God leads us and enables us with the necessary skills and knowledge along the way. He also brings other people with complementary skills to join the dream. All we need is faith, courage and strength to persevere. That was a beautiful journey learning to dream with Him.


[1] Harris, Peter (1993). Under the Bright Wings. Regent College Publishing: Vancouver, Canada.