something to believe in


“Commit to something you believe in,” was the title of one of the twenty-two email messages that greeted me when I signed on this morning.

I considered it a bit of a sign, or at least a nudge.

I opened the letter from Sojourners Magazine (I’m on their sojomail list) to find they were asking for donations and subscriptions to their organization. Their logic was I get their stuff and I share some of their passion; I should pony up. I can’t fault their logic, but the title of the email had already sent my mind spinning in other directions.

I’m still wrestling with this chocolate thing. My posts last week generated some ongoing conversations between several folks, not the least of which is at church. Some of us have started talking about how we can become a “free trade congregation.” I like the sound of that. But there’s more. I went back to the Millions website because I’m thinking about showing the movie to my high school youth group in a couple of weeks, and found a link to WaterAid, who says their vision “is of a world where everyone has access to safe water and effective sanitation.” They are doing amazing stuff. I was humbled to see what the five bucks I plunk down for a case of Poland Springs half liter bottles will do in Mali or Burkina Faso.

But there’s more. When I searched to find the Sojourners site, I first typed in and that led me to Sojourner’s Place, an organization in Wilmington, Delaware that helps homeless people get off the street. (Part of the reason I was intrigued is I’ve never actually met anyone from Delaware; I was almost convinced it was a fictitious land, sort of like Narnia or Middle Earth.) Thanks to Bono and others, the “Make Poverty History” campaign is getting necessary and deserved attention. I can go on: Habitat for Humanity, Amnesty International, Compassion, Human Rights Campaign, and the Pine Street Inn (a Boston homeless shelter) are some that get my attention.

The world is bleeding with need and there are a lot of folks trying to do something about it, which is both comforting and overwhelming. Every issue brings a rush of resolve, guilt, hope, and helplessness in me; I want to do something even as I feel incredibly inadequate to do so.

Commit to something you believe in.

I can’t do it all. I can do something. The creative tension that lies between those two statements holds the power to change the world. Years ago, Compassion had a poster filled with cartoon images of people, each one thinking, “What can one person do?” The poster didn’t need a caption. Which leads me, finally, to my point.

Almost two months into this blogging thing, I’m amazed by the sense of community that can develop online. I check in everyday, hoping for comments, recognizing names of people I’ve never seen, yet to whom I somehow feel connected. I want to know what you’re committed to doing. I want to know what you believe in. So I’m asking for links and stories, for connections to the things that matter, for suggestions about how we get off our butts and do as well as talk about what is important.

I’ll be happy to work as a clearing house of sorts, creating a links list so folks can follow up on what we share with each other. I’m hoping for ideas and encouragement for all of us to not feel alone or insignificant in the face of a world so desperately in need of people to believe it doesn’t have to be this way.

I’m looking for a conversion experience here. I want to be changed by what happens here. I want to be called to a life different than the one I’m leading. I want to claim for my own the phrase I see plastered all over the Olympics: “passion lives here.”

Conversion is not a solo sport; neither is life.

All together now . . .



  1. Hi Milton,

    I’ve posted here before (on ee cummings and Steve Earle) but I haven’t figured out how to set up an identity. I am committed to a church that decided, about 15 years ago, to let the homeless of downtown San Jose come in and sleep on the floor of the social hall at night. We try and connect with social services, the Buddhists serve up breakfast and haircuts on Sundays, but essentially what we provide is a place for homeless families with children to get off the street. It has caused all kinds of problems with the city and the surrounding neighborhood – you can imagine – and many, many members have left. It’s hard and it’s messy and it has left us poor and sometimes feeling foolish. (A city council member once called and demanded to know, “Isn’t there anyone there I can talk to who is sensible?”) Sometimes I long for a more sensible church myself, but I feel like I have to stick around and see how the story turns out. Passion lives there, and I am so grateful. I fear going on too long, but here’s something that I learned there. It’s very nice when a church can provide a homeless person with a holiday dinner, but better the loan of a kitchen where they can cook Christmas dinner themselves for their children. And let’s not stop until everybody has their own kitchen.


  2. Thanks for the good word. I wish I knew how to tell you to create an identity on this site. A lot of the Blogger stuff is still a mystery to me.

    Reading your story made me realize “feeling foolish” is what I’m after. Sometimes when I start talking about some of these things I watch people’s eyes glaze over, or they turn their heads like my schnauzers do when they hear an unfamiliar sound. The mistake is to think that it makes sense that some will never have their own kitchens.


  3. Some of my saddest church moments have been when I mention/suggest paying more for recycled paper, free trade coffee… and I get just blank looks or apologies about how we can’t afford…

  4. I clicked Other, then entered a name (“gander”) and a web site. then you type in the word verification and off you go. I could NOT do this from my machine at home though.

    Anyway, I volunteer at the food pantry in my town every Wednesday night I can. We distribute food to everyone who comes by. It’s the very end of the chain from those who give money and food to the pantry, and it’s always humbling. When someone asks, “Can I have one more can of soup, please?”, it can break your heart. Take two; they’re small.

  5. I have two ministries that are pretty much solo activities, but they are ones where I experience God more that I do at our parish “Loaves and Fishes.” I believe that your real ministry is whatever you are doing when you experience God.

    Because of the devastation I went through when my son died and the depression it threw me into for ten years, I am a volunteer on the pastoral care staff at the hospital here. I’m on call one night a month to deal with whatever happens. But especially, I’m on call all the time in the maternity department and the pediatrics department when a baby or child is critically ill and the parents need support.

    I also do an adult christian education forum at my church. Way too many folks think that our call as Christians is to go around wagging our fingers in the faces of sinners, admonishing them to repent and be saved. I am doing my level best to convince them otherwise.

    Grace and peace.

  6. Hi Milton,

    A quick intro…I’m an old friend of your brother…college pals. You and I met once, I think.

    Another organization you might be interested in knowing about is the Interfaith Hospitality Network. There are several chapters in big cities in the U.S. In this program, the affiliate provides a Day Center for the guests to use for a physical address, phone and computer access, etc, as well as counseling and guidance from a trained social worker. During the evenings, the guests sleep and are fed in the churches. The goal is to provided a temporary place to stay while the guests make arrangements for housing, employment, etc. It’s a terrific program that has helped many people and puts a human face on the homeless for church folk. Just thought you’d like to know.


  7. Hey gander, thanks for the tip.

    My sister is a volunteer for a group called PADS — Public Action to Deliver Shelter. It operates in Wheaton, Ill, and surrounding areas and has an incredible model. Can I just say I’m knocked out by the fact that my sister does this. She has two children and a demanding job and sometimes she puts in an overnight shift and goes straight from there to the airport.

  8. Milton,

    The organization responsible for starting the shelter at First Christian Church in San Jose is called the Community Homeless Alliance Ministry (CHAM) and here is a link to what they are doing: CHAM holds services at the Church, as do three other congregations.

    The “parent” church is First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) although our congregation is the smallest of any of them. We give about half of our income to operate the shelter. We don’t have a website, although we should and know we should. (I lately have been wondering if it would be practical to use blog software to set up a church website.) Here’s a link that describes a Sunday morning.

    thanks for asking and thank God for Paul Farmer!


  9. I have two “passions”. One is being a volunteer for the American Red Cross Disaster Services. Despite the (well deserved) criticism levied at the organization last year, there are thousands of dedicated people across the country leaving the warmth of their beds every night to respond to fires, floods and other disasters. I personally don’t do this often because of where I live but I have the utmost respect at those who do – it’s difficult work but also rewarding.

    But my primary mission is volunteering for IMOM, Inc. – a charity that helps people help pets needing veterinary care that they cannot afford. I’ve had people dismiss us because we help pets instead of people, but we’ve yet to have an animal complete their own application :). Our applicants are seniors, the disabled, or people just down on their luck that have a sick pet and cannot afford treatment. Many of the owners have no one in their lives but their pets, and have no where else to turn. When our community comes together to raise funds for treatment, we heal a pet but often as much, heal a soul. Our website is and our community forum is

    Thanks for this post – I think it’s very uplifting!

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