Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Bread for the World

One of my most treasured photos was taken at a Lutheran summer camp in Colton, Oregon, in 1946. Obviously I was not alive at the time, but the photo has come down to me as a memento of a happy period in my family's history. In the picture are my grandparents, two other adult leaders, and about forty high school and college students. Among the latter are my Uncle Bob and my Aunt Sally. My Grandfather, Emil Becker, was the pastor-in-residence for that week's group of Walther Leaguers, as they were called in those days. The Walther League was the national youth organization of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, named after the synod's first president, C. F. W. Walther (1811-1887). Its purpose was to encourage young people in the synod "to grow as Christians through worship--building a stronger faith in the Triune God; education--discovering the will of God for their daily life; service--responding to the needs of all men; recreation--keeping their joy of Christ in all activities; and fellowship--finding the power of belonging to others in Christ" (to quote from the original charter of the League).

Senator Paul Simon
In the front row of students, in the very center, sits a young, bow-tie-less Paul Simon. Not the future singer Paul Simon, but the Paul Simon who would later become an Illinois state representative, then an Illinois state senator, later Illinois's Lt. Governor, then one of its two U. S. senators, and along the way a candidate for the office of U. S. President. At the time of the photo he was the Walther League District President for Oregon/Washington, a student at the University of Oregon, and an active participant in the Lutheran Service Volunteer School.

When our paths crossed about fifty years after that photo was taken he told me about those days in the Walther League. I was pleased to hear his positive words about my grandfather and family (he confided that he then had a crush on my aunt Sally) and how influential the League was with regard to his basic religious convictions and political outlook and activity.

For a great account of Paul's development, one could do no better than to examine Robert Hartley's 2009 analysis, Paul Simon: The Political Journey of an Illinois Original (Southern Illinois University Press), which presents the subject as a kind of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washingon" tale.

Paul's parents, Pastor Martin and Ruth Simon, were good friends of my grandparents. Lutheran pastors and spouses in those days would often meet for social occasions, to encourage one another, to give each other an opportunity "to let their hair down," so to speak.

Paul's brother, Art, was close to my uncle and my father. When I showed Paul the picture a few weeks before his unexpected death in 2003, when he was on the campus of his and my alma mater, Concordia University, Portland, to give a public lecture about the relation of his Christian faith to public service, I inquired about why his brother wasn't in the photo. He remarked, "My brother and your dad were probably off galavanting in the woods or out doing something they weren't supposed to be doing."

I've been thinking about Paul of late because his daughter, Shelia Simon, has been campaigning for the office of Lt. Governor in Illinois, alongside of the incumbent Illinois governor, Pat Quinn. As of this afternoon, the race between Quinn/Simon and their republican opponents is too close to call. Its been a difficult race, and given the general outcome of the elections nationwide, it will be surprising if Quinn/Simon are able to pull out a win, despite their overwhelming support in the Chicago area.

Pastor Arthur Simon
I've also been thinking about Paul's brother, Art, who after his Walther League days went on to become an LCMS pastor like his father and the principal founder of the organization Bread for the World, which seeks to develop strategies for ending hunger and poverty. You might be familiar with the organization through its regular advertising just prior to the start of Rick Steves' travel program that airs on many PBS stations. Or perhaps you've read one of Art's books, starting with Bread for the World (Paulist and Eerdmans, 1975), a book that transformed the life of Rick Steves himself and that of so many others. For Art's own account of how Bread for the World began, one can read his recent memoir, The Rising of Bread. (A great review of the book was published in the Washington Post: see

More importantly, you might want to encourage your friends and family members to learn more about the organization's three-year plan to address the problem of hunger. For that, visit

One reason I have been thinking of Art, who continues to work part-time for Bread, was the informative and challenging article that Lisa Miller wrote about the current president of Bread, Pastor David Beckman, and his struggle to address issues of poverty and hunger in the current American political climate (which just got colder, if you as me). The article appeared in the October 11th issue of Newsweek magazine. If you missed that article," Dare to Care: A Minister and the Politics of Poverty," it can be read online at:

Another reason I was thinking of Art is the visit that Pr. Beckman's colleague, Pr. Steve Hitchcock, made to our campus last week. Steve is a Valpo alum, a graduate of my other alma mater, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, a member of the National Council for our honors college (Christ College), and currently the Senior Manager of Special Projects at Bread. During his visit to campus I was privileged to have had two extended conversations with him that focused on the theological basis for Christian social action and engagement. Our immediate interest was whether or not the German Lutheran theologian Oswald Bayer might have something positive to contribute to our understanding of the proper relation of faith to public life and the pursuit of social justice. Steve's concern, and mine, is that so often among evangelicals and other Christians there is not a sufficiently solid theological foundation for why Christians should engage the public (dis)order and its problems, such as the alleviation of hunger. While many Lutherans have tended to separate their faith from public life, perhaps to guard it against harmful impurities or to keep it from being mixed up in secular issues or from being influenced by external issues and ideas, other Christians have often mixed up their faith and public action in ways that often end up losing the goodness of the good news. Steve and I have promised to continue the discussion.

On this post-election day I'm giving thanks to God for the public service of the Simon brothers and for the work of the organization Bread for the World. May I encourage you to learn more about this organization, if you don't know about it already?

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