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Rethink the News

Perspective matters.

Reducing news to hard lines and side-taking leaves a lot of the story untold. Progress comes from challenging what we hear and considering different views.

June
28
Wednesday

It’s important to speak up.

We were reminded of that this week when China moved Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, who is seriously ill, from prison to a hospital.

Mr. Liu has been an enduring voice for democratic reform – first, during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, and later as a contributor to Charter 08, a 2008 petition for political liberalization. His participation landed him in prison in 2009 with the longest sentence ever meted out for “inciting subversion of state power.” He was barred from accepting his 2010 Nobel, and his wife and brother-in-law have both suffered retribution from the state.

President Xi Jinping has little appetite for dissent, a distaste that was further underscored today when his government strengthened legal grounds for state surveillance and monitoring. And China’s economic clout has blunted many nations’ eagerness to engage it on human rights. The US ambassador to China, however, did urge Beijing to let Liu seek medical care "elsewhere."

Liu, for his part, sets a high standard for valuing ideals above all. “Hatred can rot away at a person’s intelligence and conscience,” he said at his 2009 trial. “I hope to be able to transcend my personal experiences ... to counter the regime’s hostility with utmost goodwill, and to dispel hatred with love.”

1. How Supreme Court may redefine 'wall of separation' on religion

Would lowering the wall of separation of church and state help religious groups that feel they're losing ground? Legal victories for religious liberty could yield unintended consequences.

Amelia
 

The 30 Sec. ReadAmerica has had a “wall of separation” between church and state since the colonial era. But that wall may be coming down, legally speaking. Even as more religious conservatives say they want to be treated like any other group within the public sphere, as per the Constitution’s establishment clause, many have tried to carve out more special protections under the free exercise of religion. The clash was on full display in Monday’s  7-to-2 Supreme Court decision on the Trinity Lutheran case hailed as a victory for religious liberty. Also on Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to review an issue that has deeply roiled the country – hearing the appeal of a Colorado baker with religious objections to same-sex marriage, who lost a discrimination case after he refused to bake a cake for a gay couple. For some critics, there’s an inconsistency in these differing approaches to a wall of separation. “Does the church want to be treated like any other entity when it comes to getting public money, but then, I would bet, not want to be treated like everyone else when it comes to how they’re regulated?” says Holly Hollman at the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

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1. How Supreme Court may redefine 'wall of separation' on religion

For Holly Hollman, an active member in her Baptist church in Virginia and a frequent volunteer for its Sunday preschool program, religious freedom remains one of the most unique and hard-won rights in American history.

And as an attorney with the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C., Ms. Hollman, a mother of two teens, has been at the center of an issue that has sparked one of the most contentious – and deeply personal – debates in the nation over the past few years.

She has long defended what she sees as an essential part of her own religious heritage: the idea of a “wall of separation” between church and state.

“America has a really strong, vibrant, and proud history of protecting religious freedom for all,” says Hollman, whose organization submitted a brief supporting Missouri in Trinity Lutheran case. “And we’ve done that by keeping government out of religion. Separation has protected their vitality, their independence, the respect they garner in the public square as vital institutions that thrive on their own.”

Yet the “wall of separation” metaphor – which was first introduced into the American political lexicon by Roger Williams, the spiritual progenitor of the Baptist movement during the colonial era – has in many ways begun to lose its legal hold.

And it is religious conservatives who are behind the push to lower, if not dismantle, the wall, experts say. That comes amid shifting cultural beliefs on everything from LGBT rights to a diminishing number of Americans who identify as Christian.

“Increasingly, conservative evangelical Protestants tend to believe that they’ve lost, or are losing, the ‘culture wars,’ if you will,” says Dennis Goldford, chairman of the political science department at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. “And they see themselves now as more of a minority – which is why they tend to couch their concerns and claims in terms of the free exercise of their religion. Because when you are a religious minority, you’re concerned about carving out an area in which you’re still free to practice your faith.”

Religious liberty vs. ‘wall of separation’

Rejected by many religious conservatives, “separation” has often been dismissed as an extra-constitutional cliché – or even a dangerous concept that could foster antireligious discrimination.

The clash over differing conceptions of religious liberty and the idea of “a wall of separation” was on full display in Monday’s  7-2 Supreme Court decision that religious conservatives hailed as a victory for religious liberty.

Missouri had refused to give Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia a grant to improve its preschool playground. The state constitution, like 37 others, forbids government from providing any public funds to “any church, sect, or denomination of religion.”

Chief Justice John Roberts said Missouri’s decision denying Trinity Lutheran Church a grant violated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.

“The express discrimination against religious exercise here is not the denial of a grant, but rather the refusal to allow the Church – solely because it is a church – to compete with secular organizations for a grant,” Justice Roberts wrote.

While the majority opinion stated the ruling should be limited to “playground resurfacing” and does “not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination,” both supporters and critics of the decision believe it could open the door wider for more taxpayer funds to support religious institutions.

“The reality is,” says Lyle Denniston, a National Constitution Center reporter who has covered the high court for more than 50 years, “the court has never, never before allowed a direct payment of taxpayer funds to an activity that will in part be religious.”

School vouchers

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court also told the state of Colorado to reconsider its ruling throwing out a controversial school voucher program. Such programs allow tax dollars to go to private schools, many of which are religious. Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled that its state constitution, with a provision similar to Missouri’s, forbids the use of public funds for religious institutions.

In general, the Supreme Court has already ruled that voucher programs and other sorts of aid do not violate the Establishment clause of the First Amendment if funding is provided to parents who can make a wide choice among public and private and religious schools. Yet, as in Colorado, courts in many of the 38 states with so-called Blaine amendments, which generally forbid funding for religious institutions, have upheld notions of separation being challenged by conservatives.

“There’s a certain brand of liberalism that suggests that we should have two different lives,” says Patrick Wolf, professor of education policy at the University of Arkansas and an expert in the ideas behind school choice programs. “We should have our private life, where religious commitments are fine, and then we should have a public life where religious commitments are set aside or ‘bracketed.’

“But I think the courts are saying, let’s be realistic about what we do as humans,” Professor Wolf continues. “And a lot things we do as humans is, we organize activities that contribute to the good of our society, and we do them as religious people who are motivated by our faith in God and our concern for our fellow human beings.”

At the urging of many religious conservatives, President Trump promised to give churches their “voices back” in May, signing an executive order easing Internal Revenue Service restrictions that limit the political advocacy of religious groups. Those regulations are based on the fact that they enjoy special tax privileges, but some now see them as a kind of forced separation that discriminates against the full participation of religious believers in the public sphere.

Still, religious organizations, and especially houses of worship, remain special entities within the American constitutional system. They generally do not pay taxes that other organizations must, and they themselves enjoy many exemptions from certain laws. Most are free to discriminate when hiring and promoting employees, for example, and may choose its members based on the tenets of their faiths.

The wedding cake question

Even as more religious conservatives say they want to be treated like any other group within the public sphere, as per the Constitution’s Establishment clause, many have tried to carve out more special protections under the free exercise of religion.

On Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to review an issue that has deeply roiled the country, as a number of religiously conservative wedding vendors have refused to participate in wedding ceremonies across the country. The nation’s high court said it would hear the appeal of a Colorado baker with religious objections to same-sex marriage, who lost a discrimination case after he refused to bake a cake for a gay couple.

But in the midst of many painful cultural upheavals, there are signs that even the country’s most religiously conservative populations have begun to shift their views on same-sex marriage – and on the freedom of wedding vendors to opt out of participating.

For the first time, within the panoply of religious groups in the US, not one now has a majority who thinks it’s OK for vendors to refuse service for religious reasons, a Public Religion Research Institute survey found. That includes white Evangelical Protestants, the group most opposed to same sex marriage, researchers said. At the same time, nearly half of young white Evangelicals now say they support same sex marriage – indicating a growing generational divide over marriage equality, according to Pew Research.

For some critics, there’s an inconsistency and lack of symmetry in these differed approaches to a wall of separation.

“Does the church want to be treated like any other entity when it comes to getting public money, but then, I would bet, not want to be treated like everyone else when it comes to how they’re regulated?” says Hollman at the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

In her Trinity Lutheran dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, complained that the majority made the idea of the separation of church and state nothing more than “a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment.” And she took issue with the idea that separation amounted to discrimination: “But in this area of law, a decision to treat entities differently based on distinctions that the Religion Clauses make relevant does not amount to discrimination,” she wrote.

And the idea of the wall of separation, she noted, has allowed religion to flourish, in fact. “Religion was best served when sects reached out on the basis of their tenets alone, unsullied by outside forces, allowing adherents to come to their faith voluntarily,” she said.  

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2. The soldiers of cybercrime: proxies who hack for immunity

Nations have long been willing to cut certain criminals some slack in order to learn how they operate. But cybercrime has complicated that calculation.

Amelia
 

The 30 Sec. ReadMuch remains to be learned about this week’s widespread ransomware attack – including its country or countries of origin. But those who study the action on the front lines of global cybercrime report an ominous overall pattern with regard to its foot soldiers. To beef up their hacking capabilities, Russia, China, and other digital adversaries are offering cyber criminals a bargain: Use your talents for spy agencies in exchange for legal immunity. The collaboration between more-sophisticated hackers and deep-pocketed nation-states and intelligence agencies poses a deepening challenge for US law enforcement officials. The rising use of mercenary hackers – beyond the grasp of the laws of nation-states and potentially immune to domestic prosecutors – could have serious implications when it comes to the spread of international cybercrime.

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2. The soldiers of cybercrime: proxies who hack for immunity

It had taken American prosecutors a long time to hand down the indictment, but finally they had their man. In 2013, authorities had tracked down Alexsey Belan, a notorious Russia-linked cyber criminal, and were getting ready to extradite him to the United States.

But Mr. Belan, a Latvian-born hacker wanted by the FBI for launching assaults on US networks using thousands of hacked computers, slipped from the clutches of European law-enforcement agents.

According to the US government, Russian intelligence officials had brought Belan into a new scheme: hacking a National Security Agency tool that allowed agents to scour millions of personal Yahoo email accounts. The Justice Department believes the FSB, Russia’s top domestic spy agency, coaxed Belan into stealing information from 500 million accounts.

US officials’ struggle to catch Belan illustrates a larger challenge as authoritarian countries integrate cyber tools into their military arsenals. To beef up their hacking capabilities, Russia, China, and other digital adversaries are offering cyber criminals a bargain: Use your talents for spy agencies, in exchange for legal immunity.

“You have to appreciate that [Russians] always use proxies to do their dirty work,” says Tom Kellermann, chief executive officer at Strategic Cyber Ventures in Washington. “The US hunts their hackers and they go behind bars; in Russia, [it’s] well known who they are, and they’re called upon to act. They’re considered untouchable as long as they pay homage to the state.”

More formidable adversaries

American network defenders have gotten used to dealing with more sophisticated hackers over the years. But as such hackers team up with nation states and intelligence agencies that have deeper pockets than even the best-resourced cybercriminal gangs, that poses a much greater challenge for US law-enforcement officials.

“We were kind of used to thinking that there were different levels of adversaries,” says Israel Barak, chief information security officer at Cybereason, a Boston-based cybersecurity company that tracks international cybercriminals. “The proliferation and funding of nation states changes that equation.”

According to a Cybereason report earlier this year, Russia and China – seeking an advantage in the cybersecurity industry – outsource large hacking endeavors to groups and companies that are sometimes interconnected with cybercrime.

Not only does using freelancers and private companies allow US adversaries to quickly build up their hacking capabilities, but the difficulty of pinning down the perpetrators of cyberattacks also makes it easier for Moscow and Beijing to avoid accountability. 

“Because the connection is so tricky [to prove], it gives the state the option to deny all activity.” says Andrei Soldatov, a Russian intelligence journalist for Agentura.Ru.

For example, in 2014 Chinese national Su Bin was arrested for participating in a cyberespionage ring to hack into US defense contractors Lockheed and Boeing and steal fighter-jet plans. Even after it was revealed in 2016 that his co-conspirators were Chinese military officers, Beijing denied any involvement in the operation. A California court sentenced him to four years in prison.

Russia’s ramped-up capabilities, thanks to its cooperation with cybercriminals, has frustrated American officials, who are pushing to bolster US digital capabilities after Moscow allegedly directed a campaign of hacks, leaks, and fake news aimed at derailing Hillary Clinton’s candidacy last November.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said at a June 13 congressional hearing that 70 percent of the Defense Department’s 133 cyber-mission teams were ready for battle, but the US still faces a major hurdle when facing off with authoritarian adversaries around the world: the law. There isn’t an equivalent in Russia and China to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a US law that often lands American hackers behind bars for digital trespassing.

“You don’t have any problems with democracy or accountability,” says Mr. Soldatov, the Russian journalist.

Spreading faster

But using freelance hackers – beyond the grasp of the laws of nation states and potentially immune to domestic prosecutors – could have serious implications when it comes to the spread of international cybercrime. Cybercriminals are not only forgiven past offenses, but also are allowed to continue their illicit activities – perhaps in part because that makes them more valuable assets to the nations who hire them.

Take Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev, a 33-year-old hacker who resides in the Russian resort town of Anapa on the Black Sea coast, who has managed to become one of the world’s most prolific digital scofflaws under the nose of Russian authorities.

In 2009, Mr. Bogachev pioneered “Zeus” a form of malicious software that targeted banks and drained the accounts of unsuspecting victims. Using that same malware, Bogachev also created one of the largest botnets in 2011, known as GameoverZeus. At its peak, it took over as many as 1 million computers around the world – 25 percent of those machines located in the US – and caused $100 million in losses, according to the FBI.

Russian officials may have used Bogachev’s extensive network to gain visibility into sensitive US networks, experts say. US law-enforcement officials, in tandem with authorities from 10 other countries, were eventually able to take down the botnet, and charged Bogachev with computer hacking, bank fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering. Bogachev also was included on the list of individuals sanctioned for alleged Russian digital interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

“They were utilizing some of the most capable cybercriminals in the world as cyber militia members,” says Mr. Kellermann. “They were allowed to operate with impunity as long as they didn’t touch anything Russian, and shared with [Russia’s main foreign intelligence agency]. They were called upon to be patriotic after Crimea, and if they weren’t, they would be targeted.”

By Jack Detsch
Staff writer
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3. China’s bid to reforest shows steep challenge on biodiversity

China is well known for initiatives carried out on a grand scale. But when it comes to re-greening the country, it's becoming clear that quality, not just quantity, matters.

Amelia
 

The 30 Sec. ReadZhang Xiugui is a 67-year-old farmer in Hongya county, a tree-blanketed pocket of China’s Sichuan province. He’s lived here since he was a child: long enough to see the landscape change from forest, to fields, to forest again – the result of the world’s largest reforestation effort, an 18-year project that has cost Beijing more than $100 billion. “Chairman Mao told us to make steel,” Mr. Zhang recalls, “so we cut down all the trees on the mountains.” Backyard kilns and grains took their place as China rushed to industrialize. Now, after a half-century of blistering economic growth, China is increasingly looking back at the environmental damage wrought along the way, and searching for a greener path forward. Since 1999, the Grain for Green Program has paid 32 million farming households to replace cropland with forests, helping protect against flooding and landslides. But as millions of hectares of forests shoot up, scientists are discovering a problem: The forests often fall far short of native forests’ biodiversity. “We call them green deserts,” says Wu Jiawei, a conservationist in Chengdu. “The fear is that some species will disappear and never come back.”

China's forests are growing as world forest cover shrinks

SOURCE: World Bank
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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3. China’s bid to reforest shows steep challenge on biodiversity

Standing on a hillside, Liu Minfang looks down at the lush landscape that surrounds her home in the remote mountains of southwestern China. Terraced slopes that farmers once used for growing crops are now filled with cedar trees and bamboo. A waterfall cascades down a distant cliff. In the valley below, a muddy river flows through a patchwork of rapeseed fields and rice paddies.

The landscape has changed a lot since Ms. Liu was a child. The fields have long been here, but most of the trees are new, planted over the past 18 years as part of the largest reforestation effort in the world. China has spent more than $100 billion on trees in the last decade alone. Nearly 22 percent of the country is now covered in forest, compared to 19 percent in 2000, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection. Places like Hongya County, Sichuan province, have been entirely transformed. 

“It looks completely different,” says Liu, who is raising two young boys while her husband works in a car factory more than 600 miles away. “My children wouldn’t recognize the old valley.” 

Much of China’s forest expansion comes from the Grain-for-Green program. Launched in 1999, the program has funded the reforestation of 31.8 million hectares, an area slightly larger than New Mexico, according to the State Forestry Administration. And the work isn’t over. In March, Premier Li Keqiang promised the government would restore 800,000 hectares of marginal farmland into forest and grassland, an area larger than Delaware.

After a half century of blistering economic growth, China is increasingly looking back at the environmental havoc it wreaked and searching for a greener path forward. It has boosted renewable energy, declared a “war on pollution,” and vowed to lower carbon emissions. But if Grain-for-Green is an indication, preserving biodiversity may represent a new challenge in China's push to go green: protecting and restoring natural spaces with an eye to not just quantity, but quality.

The program has drawn both admiration and skepticism from conservationists around the globe. Many have praised it for its sheer scale; others have pointed to its success in fortifying parts of China against natural disasters such as flooding and sandstorms. But recently scientists have discovered that large swaths of newly planted forests provide few habitats for China’s many threatened species of animals and smaller plants. The country’s biodiversity is at risk.

Xu Jianchu, a professor at the Kunming Institute of Botany, first warned that China’s new forests weren’t as green as they seemed in 2011. In an op-ed published in the journal Nature, he argued that government policies encourage the planting of fast-growing tree species, many of which are non-native and therefore unsuitable for local wildlife. More recently, in a study published in May, he suggests official estimates of China’s tree-planting campaign have overstated its successes, partially by mistaking shrubland for forests.

“Tree coverage is not the issue anymore,” says Dr. Xu. “But under the trees, it's empty. That’s the major problem we now face.”

Clear-cut hillsides

The lives of farmers in any country are inextricably linked to the land. This is something Zhang Xiugui, a 67-year-old farmer with thin black hair and dark eyes, has known well since he was a boy growing up in the countryside of Hongya County.

Back then, in the late 1950s and into the 1960s, Chairman Mao Zedong declared grain and steel production the key pillars of economic development. Mao’s goal was to achieve national self-reliance and rapid industrialization. Farmers plowed up pastures and clear-cut forests as the whole country was mobilized.

“Chairman Mao told us to make steel,” Mr. Zhang recalls, “so we cut down all the trees on the mountains.” Backyard kilns took their place. So too did corn and wheat fields, the result of Mao’s dictum to grow grain everywhere, along with a hundred pseudo-scientific schemes for better yields. China’s Great Leap Forward was underway.

Mao’s visions of socioeconomic engineering helped pave the way for the Great Famine, a subject that to this day remains taboo in China. More than 30 million people starved to death between 1958 and 1962; Zhang’s parents were among them. After they died, Zhang was taken in by a woman he came across at a nearby construction site. Together they survived off a diet of rice, green vegetables, radishes, and potatoes.

The Chinese government moved away from Mao’s economic policies in the late 1970s, but the environmental destruction left in their wake – to say nothing of the human toll – would take decades to undo.

A turning point came in 1998, when devastating floods along the Yangtze River in central China killed 4,150 people and caused an estimated $36 billion in property damage. The disaster was exacerbated by the shortage of trees along the river, which in the past had secured its banks and absorbed rainfall. From the 1950s into 1980s, the Yangtze River basin lost half of its forest coverage, causing severe soil erosion in 40 percent of the region.

The fear of reoccurring floods spurred the Chinese government to start the Grain-for-Green Program in 1999. The program works by paying farmers to restore forests and grasslands where they had previously planted crops, helping to better protect against flooding and landslides.

The view from a valley in Hongya County, China, on April 10, 2017.
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Michael Holtz/The Christian Science Monitor

For each of the program’s first eight years, the government paid Zhang 700 to 800 yuan, just over $100, to plant cedar trees on his small plot of land. The government later cut Zhang’s subsidy in half and stopped it all together two years ago. Now he depends on money from his three children, all of whom found work in China’s flourishing cities. Zhang misses the subsidies, but he doesn’t miss what Hongya County looked like before Grain-for-Green.

“I prefer how it is now,” he says, standing on the side of a tree-shaded road. “The mountains are green and the water is blue.”

Unintended consequences

Since its launch in 1999, the Grain-for-Green program has had considerable success in achieving two of its primary goals: soil retention and flood mitigation. Both increased nearly 13 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to a government survey launched in 2012. The program has also helped many of the 32 million farming households it has enrolled climb out of poverty.

But as Grain-for-Green grew over the years, scientists began to wonder about its unintended consequences. Although the 2012 ecosystem assessment found that the program had helped improve everything from food production to carbon capture, biodiverse habitats were the one exception – they decreased 3.1 percent.

A study published last September in the journal Nature Communications raised more cause for concern. It found that the overwhelming majority of forests restored under the Grain-for-Green program contain only one tree species, creating monocultures that fall far short of native forests’ biodiversity. Hua Fangyuan, the lead author of the study and a research fellow at the University of Cambridge, says the shortfall is a missed opportunity.

“The land under the Grain-for-Green Program is in what’s typically called ‘working landscapes,’ or landscapes which support the livelihood of rural communities,” Dr. Hua says. “Although these landscapes are outside protected areas, there is increasing realization among the conservation community that they serve important roles for biodiversity conservation.”

Hua’s research revealed a significant drop in bird and bee populations, common indicators of biodiversity, at Grain-for-Green sites around Sichuan. Forests comprised of a single tree species actually support fewer species of birds and bees than cropland, the very land targeted for restoration. The few Grain-for-Green forests with two to five tree species are only slightly better for birds; bees were found to suffer from reforestation regardless.

“We call them green deserts,” says Wu Jiawei, a conservationist in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, who helped with the study. “The fear is that some species will disappear and never come back.”

Mr. Wu, an avid birdwatcher, is especially attuned to the changes caused by the Grain-for-Green program. The study found that forests planted under the program had 17 to 61 percent fewer bird species than native forests. The reason is most likely that these new forests don't have the diversity of resources, such as food and nesting habitats, necessary to support the ecological needs of many species.

Liu has noticed the changes too, if in more anecdotal ways. Her family still has a small vegetable garden and a hillside plot filled with a few dozen white tea plants, but most of their crops have been replaced with cedar trees and a scattering of bamboo.

“Sparrows now fly into our kitchen to look for food,” Liu says. “There are no longer as many crops for them to eat.”

Liu Minfang standing in her small hillside garden in Hongya County, China, on April 10, 2017.
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Michael Holtz/The Christian Science Monitor

Going native

The spread of monoculture forests isn’t the only threat to biodiversity in China. Environmental protections have taken a backseat to economic development across the country for much of its modern history, often with serious consequences.

The Chinese government has classified as threatened species – those likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future – nearly 3,800 kinds of trees, flowers, and other plants (10.9 percent of all vascular plant species found in China) and more than 930 kinds of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles (21.4 percent of all vertebrate species), according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

It gets worse from there, according to a report released last month by a group of Chinese conservation organizations. Of the 1,085 endangered plant and animal species in China the report examined, the habitats for 738 of them worsened between 2005 and 2015.The giant panda is a rare exception. The International Union for Conservation of Nature, a leading environmental group that tracks the status of plant and animal species, removed it from its endangered list last September. The panda is now classified as “vulnerable.”

As public awareness about environmental issues grows, the Chinese government has pledged to improve its conservation efforts. Yet it denies that the Grain-for-Green program has caused any harm. The State Forestry Administration, China's forestry regulator, says in an emailed statement that the program “protects and improves the living environment for wildlife” and that it has actually led to an increase in biodiversity in places like Sichuan. It blames the planting of monocultures to a lack of experience in the program’s early years and says it’s working to plant more mixed forests.

For now, the highest levels of government are pushing to keep the Grain-for-Green program and others like it alive as China seeks to remake its image as an environmental steward. President Xi Jinping has called to transform China into “the ecological civilization of the 21st century.” He has also stressed the country's potential as a global climate leader, particularly in the wake of the US withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. But the challenge is how to improve Grain-for-Green for the sake of biodiversity. 

Hua and Xu see opportunity in a new government policy for ecosystems across China. Introduced last year, the draft policy says ecosystems should be protected based on their ecological value and the services they provide – services like flood mitigation and carbon sequestration – with compensation paid to local landowners. But in order to improve reforestation, the policy should encourage the restoration of native forests and include biodiversity as an explicit goal, say Hua and Xu, who are working alongside Princeton University ecologist David Wilcove on related research. 

“Now that we have the political will to restore China’s forest landscape, why aren’t we doing it more properly?” Hua asks. “There is this missed potential. China can do better.”

Xie Yujuan contributed reporting.

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4. Teach for competency – analysis, creativity. But then, how to test?

As schools aim to impart deeper learning skills, the gauge of their success may be what's not happening in the classroom. 

Amelia
Fifth-graders took a math exam in April at Maple Street Magnet Elementary School, in Rochester, N.H. (The cardboard barriers are to discourage students from copying from another student’s paper.) Teachers from around the state are visiting for observation and a workshop during an Innovation Studio event designed to showcase learning environments that promote student choice and autonomy.
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Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
 

The 30 Sec. ReadNew Hampshire is at the forefront of a movement being watched by schools across the country. For more than a decade, schools in the Granite State have been transitioning to competency-based education, in which students are asked to demonstrate mastery of essential skills rather than simply spend a certain amount of time in class and get a minimum passing grade. The focus is on the kinds of skills – analysis, reflection, creativity, and strategic thinking – today’s students will need in order to thrive in an unpredictable world. But new teaching methods require new types of testing. So the state decided to put teachers in the driver’s seat. “You really can’t do competency ed as an externally, top-down-driven accountability system,” says Paul Leather, New Hampshire’s deputy commissioner of education. “We’re building a system where the assessments are back in the hands of educators and students.”

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4. Teach for competency – analysis, creativity. But then, how to test?

Just outside Concord High School, a delivery truck has spilled its chemical supplies. The students’ mission: Investigate the properties of the spill and develop a detailed plan to clean it up safely.

Teenagers wearing safety goggles squat down, sucking up samples of the clear liquid with pipettes. The simulated spill has been “contained” in a fish tank. But the students play along, first by developing some “testable questions” with their partners: How acidic is it? How does it compare with the properties of each substance on the truck?

They’ll have four class periods over the course of several days to collect and record data with assigned partners, and to write up, individually, their plans.

Increasingly, this is what testing looks like in New Hampshire. It’s an activity, much like work students have done in class, though more extensive. They can refer to their notes. What they can’t do is guess.

“Making them get up and kind of prove [their understanding] is a lot more telling than giving them multiple-choice or essay questions, where it’s kind of just repeating what you’ve taught them,” says Concord chemistry teacher Lyn Vinskus.

New Hampshire is at the forefront of a movement being watched by schools across the country.

For more than a decade, schools in the Granite State have been transitioning to competency-based education, in which students are asked to demonstrate mastery of essential skills rather than simply spend a certain amount of time in class and get a minimum passing grade. The focus is on the kinds of skills – analysis, reflection, creativity, and strategic thinking – today’s students will need in order to thrive in an unpredictable world.

But new teaching methods require new types of testing. So the state decided to put teachers in the driver’s seat.

The standardized tests by which schools were held accountable for more than a decade, under the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), did a lot to expose equity gaps. But many educators saw them as too narrowly fixated on basic math and reading.

More recently, coalitions of states have developed tests related to the Common Core State Standards – to better measure a range of relevant skills. New Hampshire uses one of those standardized testing systems, known as Smarter Balanced. But it wanted to go further.

“You really can’t do competency ed as an externally, top-down driven accountability system,” says Paul Leather, New Hampshire’s deputy commissioner of education. “We’re building a system where the assessments are back in the hands of educators and students.”

This teacher-driven approach has strong potential, because “it’s the people on the ground who implement change who are ultimately going to determine whether it’s successful,” says Thomas Toch, director of FutureEd, a think tank at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy in Washington. But state and federal education officials still need to be able to check on those local efforts through “clear, rigorous assessments,” he says.

That’s the blend that New Hampshire hopes it can get right through the system it is piloting known as PACE, short for Performance Assessment of Competency Education. Concord is one of nine school districts (including one charter school) implementing PACE so far, with 11 more in the pipeline, a list that grows each year.

A system Einstein might have liked

As the chemistry students cluster around a cart of materials – everything from pH strips to baking soda – partners Mackenzie Lyons and Yianna Buterbaugh, both sophomores, chat quietly about what they learned in previous labs that will help them analyze the spill.

Mackenzie fills the small wells of a plastic tray with ammonia, hydrochloric acid, and other possible ingredients, and Yianna grabs a conductivity meter. They dip the meter in and then chart, on hand-drawn data tables, the color and brightness of the light on the meter, repeating for each sample.

Einstein – framed, with chin in hand – peers down from atop a cabinet. This genius who never made friends with rote learning would probably be impressed with what’s not happening in Vinskus’s classroom.

“Not one student has asked me yet, ‘How much is this going to count in my grade?’ ” Vinskus says. “None of them will just leave it blank or say, ‘I don’t know,’ ” including the boy who groaned when he walked in, and who has done just that on traditional tests. Kids of all ability levels are “engaging in science,” she says, “and that’s a win.”

Mackenzie says she often gets “stressed out” when she thinks about tests. But with a performance assessment, “I just think about it as a normal classroom activity.” She also likes completing it over several days. “If we have a question, we can go home and research it and then come back on Friday with a solution.”

Looking up information isn’t cheating – because it’s not her memory of basic facts that’s being tested.

“Knowledge is at our fingertips…. But we want to see that our students can really pull that together, can think through, can apply their understanding to real-world situations,” says Donna Palley, Concord’s assistant superintendent.

Mackenzie is considering a science career, and she likes how this approach pushes her: “You have to do analytical thinking more … [and] be able to problem-solve.” Her partner, Yianna, doesn’t see chemistry in her future, but she says the real-life scenarios “make it a little more interesting … and easier to think about.”

The 'perfect teaching to the test'

Educators cite several advantages to performance-based assessments, among them:

  • They can be given throughout the school year when they naturally fit into the curriculum, rather than during a standardized testing window.
  • They can be given in a wide range of subjects, including science and social studies.
  • Scores become part of students' grades, making them more invested than they would be for a standardized test.
  • Instead of waiting for results to come back, teachers can quickly pinpoint what each student still needs to master.

“It’s like the perfect ‘teaching to the test’ ... because it represents exactly what you want students to be able to do,” Ms. Palley says.

Once a year, for each subject tested, students across all PACE districts also do “common tasks” like the one at Concord High, which are developed by teams of teachers.

Many teachers say the related professional development is the best they’ve ever had, because they grow in their ability to move more students toward the goals. “To work with teachers in other districts, that’s really cool – hearing what they’re doing or how to tackle a problem,” Vinskus says.

In Rochester, N.H., another PACE district, Melissa Cunliffe recently took stock of her students’ understanding of force and motion by having them follow instructions from a YouTube video for making a car with cups, straws, and rubber bands.

The mixed class of third- and fourth-graders at Maple Street Magnet School rose to the occasion when they found their cars weren’t working, she says. “Everybody [was] popping up with their own ideas to solve this problem…. They were doing real-life collaboration and … questioning the design, wanting to write to the people who created the video.”

Afterward, students wrote reflective papers, explaining what worked and what didn’t. She evaluated those, but also took notes during the task about their thinking process and verbal sharing. “It’s not just, ‘Here’s your test now,’ ” she says.

Sara Cantrell, another Maple Street teacher, says the performance-based assessments – and the related changes in teaching – help students at all levels. Those excelling in an area continue to get challenging work. For students performing below the targets, test results are no longer “a blanket statement about them,” she says.

Making sure the test scores are useful

New Hampshire has been able to use PACE for federal accountability purposes since 2015, when it received a one-of-a-kind waiver from the US Department of Education.

In PACE districts, students have to take state standardized tests only once in elementary school, once in middle school, and once in high school, while most students take them every year in grades 3 to 8 and once in high school.

But as states adopt new plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaces NCLB, they have more flexibility for how they measure success. From Colorado to Kentucky, a number of states are starting to incorporate performance-based assessments into their systems.

These “alternatives” aren’t brand new. In the 1990s, before NCLB kicked in, some states used performance assessments or graded portfolios of student work. “A lot of this has been tried before, and the problems are really steep,” says Daniel Koretz, an assessment expert at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. One of the toughest challenges: understanding how test scores compare from one district to another. 

Educators here say they haven’t experienced significant public pushback to PACE, though some groups have voiced concerns about the new form of testing.

Multiple steps are in place to reassure people that teachers aren’t inflating grades. First, teachers in a given school and district agree on how to score student work in each subject. In the summer, state officials bring teachers together to calibrate the scoring across all the PACE districts. Finally, the state compares PACE students’ scores on the Smarter Balanced tests with those of their non-PACE peers.

Preliminary research findings “suggest that PACE students are provided an equitable opportunity to learn and are benefiting from the assessment system,” University of New Hampshire doctoral candidate Carla Evans notes in an email to the Monitor. Her analysis of 8th -grade students’ math scores on Smarter Balanced found that in the second year of the pilot, PACE students outperformed those in non-PACE districts, on average. For students with disabilities, the difference was even stronger.

Letting teachers take the lead

For the performance-assessment vision to scale up statewide, several elements would need to fall into place, says Scott Marion, executive director of the Center for Assessment in Dover, N.H., which provides technical assistance for PACE.

A few more years of startup funding – which has largely been covered by foundation grants so far – will be needed, as well as continued leadership at the state level, he says. But the “Holy Grail” they’re still searching for is a technology system to integrate data and to allow for more efficient sharing of student work to be scored by people in far-apart districts.

Cantrell, at Maple Street, says easing into performance assessments is essential, because “it’s a real different mentality, and some teachers have struggled with that more than others.”

Her school welcomed dozens of educators from around the state in April. In small groups led by students, they trooped through classrooms as part of an “innovation studio” run by the nonprofit New Hampshire Learning Initiative.

“Our teachers … are the ones driving this work,” says NHLI executive director Jonathan Vander Els, a former principal in a PACE district.  The state is “recognizing and leaning on the expertise of the professionals who are in our classrooms,” he says, and in a lot of places, “that’s been missing.”

This story was produced with support from the Education Writers Association Reporting Fellowship program.

 

 

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Difference-maker

Drivers of change

5. How one grocer counters waste, food deserts, obesity, and hunger

Poor neighborhoods haven't typically been home to good grocery stores. But a determination to break through old assumptions is changing that.

Amelia
Doug Rauch, former president of Trader Joe’s, founded Daily Table, a nonprofit grocery store that sells healthy, affordable food to underserved communities such as Dorchester, Mass., where its flagship store is located.
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Ann Hermes/Staff
 

The 30 Sec. ReadDaily Table looks like a Trader Joe’s. Blackboards display welcoming messages in colorful chalk, and walls are painted in eye-popping orange and green-apple colors. And there’s the food – stacks of organic cereal, produce piled high on display tables, and precooked meals and fresh salads made on-site. The food that Daily Table sells is excess food – either donated by various organizations or bought at steep discounts from big-name companies. The items are resold at a fraction of retail prices – and yes, they still haven’t reached their expiration dates. It’s a nonprofit grocery store, selling healthy food at bargain prices. There are almost 60 suppliers – a mix of nonprofits like Food for Free and companies like Newman’s Own, Cedar’s Mediterranean Foods, Wegmans, and Whole Foods. Since it opened in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, Daily Table has been a pioneer in its approach to food waste, food deserts, hunger, and obesity. “Quality equals dignity,” says Doug Rauch, a former Trader Joe’s president who founded the low-cost grocery store. Daily Table accepts only food that meets its nutritional guidelines, particularly regarding sugar and sodium. “You won’t find anything here that won’t move you forward,” says Mr. Rauch.

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5. How one grocer counters waste, food deserts, obesity, and hunger

Anyone else in his position would be sitting on a tropical beach wearing a flowery Hawaiian shirt, his toes curled in the sand. But not Doug Rauch.

Mr. Rauch worked for 31 years at Trader Joe’s, the last 14 as a president. He helped grow the small retail chain in California into a grocery store with a national presence. He retired in 2008.

But Rauch wasn’t really ready to call it quits. It took a few tries, but after a while, he started growing another food store – Daily Table, located in a low-income neighborhood of Boston.

“I failed retirement,” says Rauch, his eyes crinkling when he smiles.

Since it opened two years ago, Daily Table has been a pioneer in its approach to food waste, food deserts, hunger, and obesity. It’s a nonprofit grocery store, selling healthy food at bargain prices.

The food that Daily Table sells is excess food – either donated by various organizations or bought at steep discounts from big-name companies looking to unload items that are close to their expiration dates. The items are resold at a fraction of retail prices – and yes, they still haven’t reached their expiration dates.

Rauch came up with this model, which has been received enthusiastically by customers, after a stint as a fellow at Harvard University and through collaborations with others in the Boston area working on food issues.

“I love what Doug is doing,” says Sasha Purpura, executive director of Food for Free, a nonprofit in Cambridge, Mass., that rescues excess produce from local farmers markets and distributes it to local food pantries, as well as Daily Table.

“Here’s somebody who’s coming out of a senior role in the corporate food world with a tremendous amount of experience, connections, and intelligence,” Ms. Purpura adds, “and he’s bringing that into the nonprofit world and doing it in such a collaborative, genuine way.”

Daily Table is located on a busy corner in Dorchester, the diverse Boston neighborhood where the actors-musicians Mark and Donnie Wahlberg grew up, as well as the Queen of Disco, Donna Summer. As of a 2007-11 estimate for the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, more than 45 percent of households in Dorchester had incomes of less than $40,000.

An upbeat scene

Daily Table looks like a Trader Joe’s. Blackboards display welcoming messages in colorful chalk, and some walls are painted in eye-popping orange and green-apple colors. Bouncy music – such as “We Are Family” – plays while shoppers stop to chat with friends.

And there’s the food – stacks of organic cereal, produce piled high on display tables, and in a refrigerated section, precooked meals and fresh salads made on-site. There are almost 60 suppliers to Daily Table, a mix of nonprofits like Food for Free and major companies that include Newman’s Own, Cedar’s Mediterranean Foods, Wegmans, and Whole Foods.

“Quality equals dignity,” Rauch says.

Marilyn Rush is one of Daily Table’s employees. Some 450 to 500 people shop at the store each day.
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Ann Hermes/Staff

Daily Table accepts only food that meets its strict nutritional guidelines, particularly regarding sugar and sodium. This is the reason the store does not sell orange juice.

“You won’t find anything here that won’t move you forward,” says Rauch, adding that one woman told him she’d lost 15 pounds after shopping regularly at Daily Table.

His manager, George Chakoutis, says he and Rauch “get into it” over the self-imposed limitations every so often. “We could have so much more,” Mr. Chakoutis says. But Rauch won’t budge.

Still, each week brings new and different shipments. “Shopping here is like a treasure hunt,” Chakoutis says as a pallet stacked with 60 donated cases of celery hearts rolls into the storage room.  

In its first 20 months, Daily Table enrolled 11,000 members; 450 to 500 customers are served daily. Chakoutis says that the average size of the shopping basket – that is, what people buy – has doubled, as has the number of items the store carries. “We’re a larger part of their diet,” Rauch says.

All that’s required to join is a phone number and a ZIP Code to ensure that the majority of Daily Table customers are people who live nearby. However, people from any ZIP Code – and of any income level – are welcome, Rauch says: “If Warren Buffett walked in, he’s welcome.”

Kim Chan-Hernandez, a home health aide and mother of three who lives and works in the area, often picks up some lunch from the store.

“I like it for the prices. Look at that – 49 cents for 12-ounce cans of Polar flavored seltzer. How can you beat it? I’ll grab something, quick and easy,” she says, scanning the refrigerated shelves.

Daily Table may be operating smoothly now, but the path to developing it wasn’t so simple. After retiring, Rauch figured he would sit on some boards. But then he realized that most of his time would be spent fundraising. “One, I’m not a fundraiser, and two, why not get money by delivering on the business?” he says.

But the question was, what business? He began to shape his ideas during his fellowship at Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Initiative, where he studied food waste and food deserts.

Catherine D’Amato, president of the Greater Boston Food Bank and one of Daily Table’s suppliers, says Rauch met with her to discuss one of his early ideas.

“He was going to collect all this bread because there was so much of it, and give it to us,” she says. “I told him, ‘That’s thoughtful, but nobody wants it.’ His idea wasn’t big enough. It wasn’t the right idea.”

‘Awakenings’

So Rauch returned to Harvard to retool his plans. And there, he had a number of “awakenings.” One was understanding that “hunger isn’t a shortage of calories; it’s a shortage of nutrients.” Second was that “the model for tackling hunger is outdated, designed around people getting food to eat versus getting good food to eat.”

As many as 49 million Americans are food insecure, says Rauch, citing a common statistic. The data have frustrated him.

“We’re one of the richest nations in the history of food production,” he says. “We have far more food than we need as a society. It just seemed so incongruous to me.”

Championing changes to the tax code was another idea Rauch bounced around. He figured better incentives might lead corporations to make larger donations of healthier food. But he recounts that Ray Goldberg, one of his Harvard professors, warned him not to waste years “wrestling with the IRS.” Dr. Goldberg, who along with John H. Davis developed the Agribusiness Program at Harvard Business School in 1955, persuaded Rauch to work in an area he knew well – retail. “His comments transformed my thinking,” Rauch says.

To get excess healthy food into the hands of those in need, Rauch searched for “inefficiencies in the system.” He found them and channeled what he learned into Daily Table.

Although there are about six to eight other nonprofit grocery stores in the United States, such as Fare & Square in Chester, Pa., “Daily Table’s commitment to health and healthy foods is unique,” Ms. D’Amato says.

But a number of US cities are eager to have their own Daily Table. Officials have visited from places with profiles similar to Dorchester’s – including Providence, R.I., and New York City, “particularly for the Bronx,” Rauch says. “But first, our goal is to be sustainable economically. If we can get to break-even, then we become very scalable.”

Funders that support the nonprofit, making it possible to operate, include PepsiCo, Newman’s Own Foundation, New Balance, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, the model is growing again. In April, Daily Table began offering free cooking classes for all ages. “Doug has grabbed the bull by the horns,” writes Anthony Stankiewicz, chief of staff for the Codman Square Health Center, in an email. The health center, also located in Dorchester, is a Daily Table partner and was instrumental in the store’s launch. It built the teaching kitchen.

Rauch says he failed at retirement, but a lot of people may be grateful he did.

For more, visit dailytable.org.

How to take action

UniversalGiving helps people give to and volunteer for top-performing charitable organizations around the world. All the projects are vetted by UniversalGiving; 100 percent of each donation goes directly to the listed cause. Below are links to three groups aiding those in need:

World Food Program USA builds support and resources for the United Nations World Food Program, the globe’s largest hunger relief organization. Take action: Help pay for a project involving smallholder farmers.

Develop Africa is committed to sustainable development in Africa through education and other means. Take action: Make a contribution for girls’ schooling.

Lambi Fund of Haiti aims to strengthen Haiti’s civil society, which the organization sees as a necessary foundation for democracy and development. Take action: Donate to this group.

By Kathy Shiels Tully
Contributor
( 1453 words )
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The Monitor's View

Famine must receive more of the world’s attention

 

The 30 Sec. ReadAs many as 20 million people face the threat of starvation in South Sudan, northeast Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen, according to the United Nations. While enough food is produced to feed the 7.5 billion people on the planet, armed conflicts interfere with the ability of humanitarian groups to reach those in need. And more and more existing extremes of weather are made worse by the creeping effects of climate change. The current US administration has proposed a budget that slashes international humanitarian aid. Still, aid may have bipartisan support in Congress. (The Senate already has set aside nearly a billion dollars for humanitarian relief this year.) With Congress headed to recess, and Washington’s drama in a short intermission, attention to this urgent issue needs to take a more prominent place in news reports – and in the prayers and efforts of Americans and people everywhere.

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Famine must receive more of the world’s attention

That famine could ravage millions of people in the 21st century seems unthinkable. But somehow the same world that is agog at driverless cars and looming trips to Mars is experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis in seven decades.

As many as 20 million people face the threat of starvation in South Sudan, northeast Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen, according to the United Nations.

When the UN declares a famine, it isn’t saying that a crisis looms on the horizon: It means that very bad things are already happening, that many people have already died. Famine is declared only when at least 20 percent of families in a region face extreme food shortages, acute malnutrition exceeds 30 percent of the population, and the daily death rate exceeds two adults out of every 10,000 people, according to the World Food Program.

The “why” behind famine isn’t mysterious. Enough food is produced to feed the 7.5 billion people on the planet. But often wars and other internal armed conflicts interfere with the ability of humanitarian groups to reach those in need. And more and more existing extremes of weather, including drought, are made worse by the creeping effects of human-induced climate change.

Thanks to aggressive humanitarian efforts, earlier this month South Sudan was declared to be technically no longer in famine, at least for the moment. But that headline failed to capture the bigger picture.

“I do urge caution, as this does not mean we have turned the corner on averting famine,” says Stephen O’Brien, the UN official in charge of humanitarian and emergency aid. “Across South Sudan, more people are on the brink of famine today than were in February," when the country was designated as experiencing famine.

In the United States, public attention has been riveted by the colorful new occupant of the White House, and whether Congress will dramatically revise the nation’s health-care system.

President Trump has submitted a budget calling for a huge cut in international humanitarian aid. But David Beasley, head of the World Food Program, has confidence that the aid will receive bipartisan support in Congress. The former Republican governor of South Carolina points out that the US Senate already has set aside nearly a billion dollars for humanitarian relief this year.

“While the European Union and Belgium have been tremendous supporters, the needs at this time are just extraordinary,” Mr. Beasley says. Some “1.4 million [people] are literally on the brink of starvation as we speak. If we do not receive the resources, the food that we need in the next few months, we are talking about the possibility of 600,000 dying. If we receive the funds, we can avert famine and minimize the chance of death.”

With Congress headed to recess, and Washington’s drama in a short intermission, attention to this urgent issue needs to take a more prominent place in news reports – and in the prayers and individual efforts of Americans and people everywhere.

By The Monitor's Editorial Board
( 481 words )
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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Loving our neighbor, or just 'walking by'?

 

For contributor Georgianna Pfost, an opportunity to help a homeless woman on a cold night prompted her to think more deeply about avoiding the temptation to just “walk by” a neighbor in need. Seeing one another as God’s loved creation brings deeper meaning to our understanding of what it means to be a “neighbor,” as Christ Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan illustrates. On this basis we can all find the courage and love to care for others in ways that help and heal.

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Loving our neighbor, or just 'walking by'?

The homeless woman wearing scant clothing seemed to be suffering from hypothermia as her shivering and incoherency increased in the evening chill. I was on my way to set up a public function but stopped to offer a hoodie and stay with her while another woman hurried to phone for help. Several other people simply strode by without a glance.

It can certainly seem easier to walk past such uncomfortable situations than to deal with them. Often, praying for people in this situation has given me courage to not walk past. I’ve also been motivated to actively help by a famous spiritual lesson taught by Christ Jesus. After he pinpointed what he described as the two “great commandments” – love God wholeheartedly and love your neighbor as yourself – he was asked by a listener, “And who is my neighbor?”

The inquirer was most likely expecting a narrow definition (see Luke 10:25-37). Instead, Jesus replied with a story of two religious officials who passed by a badly injured crime victim lying on the road. The one who actually stops to help is a stranger to the community – the “good Samaritan.” In the parable, it is the “foreigner” who is the neighbor, mercifully cleansing and bandaging the man’s wounds and taking him to an inn to recuperate.

This has helped me realize that as we actively love God – including lifting our thought in prayerful communion and gratitude – we’ll more clearly see that everyone is our “neighbor,” because we are all truly created by God, Spirit. Mary Baker Eddy, the Monitor’s founder, described God as “omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent Being, and His reflection is man and the universe” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” pp. 465-466). Seeing one another as God’s spiritual, loved creation brings deeper meaning to our understanding of what it means to be a good “neighbor.” And then, as Jesus urged at the conclusion of the parable, we will go and do as the good Samaritan did, treating others with mercy and care.

To return to that evening on the sidewalk, local law enforcement soon arrived and very gently gathered the woman and her few belongings. They transported her to a shelter. A community had come together to meet a need in a neighborly way.

We can all pause, pray, and seek inspiration and guidance from God on how to work together to attend to each other’s needs with kindness and love. Such loving care – both individually and internationally – does help and heal.

By Georgianna Pfost
( 416 words )
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Viewfinder

Firepower into power chords

Colombian musician César López plays his guitar – which he crafted from a rifle and calls 'Escopetarra' (or 'gun guitar') – during a performance in Buenavista, Colombia, commemorating a milestone in the country’s disarmament process. The United Nations says it has now concluded the collection of thousands of individual arms as part of a peace deal between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebels and the government.
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Fernando Vergara/AP
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( June 29th, 2017 )

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow, when we’ll be looking at how Muslims are starting to see radicalism as something that needs to be addressed from within Islam.

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