"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
I was growing up in Tucson, AZ when those Americans were being held hostage in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran for 444 days in the late 70s/early 80s. For us, the local angle was Sgt. Rudy Lopez, USMC, who was from Globe. They covered his family pretty constantly -- though because it was before the era of 24-hour cable crap, it was nowhere near the insanity it would be today.
Then they all came home and he disappeared into oblivion.
But I do remember they all got lifetime Major League Baseball passes...
Speaking of baseball, spring training is here, which always makes me wish I was in Arizona. As big a baseball town as St. Louis is, it amazes me that they don't broadcast all the spring games on the radio.
So, before the first exhibition game is even played, here are my predictions for the season:
National League West - Los Angeles Central - St. Louis East - Atlanta Wild Card -- Chicago
American League West - Los Angeles Central - Chicago East - New York Wild Card -- Minnesota
NLCS - St. Louis over Atlanta ALCS - Minnesota over Chicago
World Series -- Minnesota over St. Louis
...Just finished watching the second season of 24 (loaned to me, as was the first, by my brother). Gotta admit that I'm hooked on it, though I'm definitely not a fan of the torture scenes. Also, had the same thing happen with season 2 that happened to me with season 1, which was there was a while in the 13th through 18th hours that it all seemed so ridiculous (kind of the ER-syndrome where everyone is just being so stupid getting into everyone else's business, going behind people's backs and having helicopters fall on them). Also, I realize there is a certain amount of suspending disbelief, but are we really supposed to buy that these people are driving all over Los Angeles in "real time" and spending almost no time in traffic?...
Radio talk show host this morning kept referring to Arizona senator John McClain. That would be cool. Bruce Willis' character from die hard in the U.S. Senate. Want to cut funding for the Global Fund? Yipee Kay-ya M*#&^@ F(#$*($#!...
Got a new computer. A Toshiba Satellite that is really fantastic. The Dell Inspiron I had before turned out to be a real piece of junk. My father-in-law has one, too -- as does a friend of his. All three of us have had to have batteries replaced as well as the mother board. The last straw was when keys started falling off the thing and I'd get the blue screen every other time it would shut down. This one is great. 120GB hard drive, 15"" widescreen with amazing clarity. 2GB RAM. Completely supercharged .... and I don't have to wait 5 minutes for it to boot up....
Lent starts tomorrow. Haven't figured out what my Lenten discipline is going to be (and, as the left hand is not supposed to know what the right is doing, I won't be posting it here!). Any ideas?...
Also, watch this space tomorrow for a very important reader poll.
I can never stop being astounded at the common definition of obscenity. No, maybe that's not it -- not so much how obscenity is defined but how bizarrely selectively the term is applied.
About 99% of what is counted as "obscene" is either swear words or sexual/pornographic content. The first problem with that is that sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't and a blanket judgment just won't work. I mean, sometimes saying "fuck" is just the absolute best and most honest way to communicate something. And while objectifying and exploiting people and their sexuality is obscene, it's not because of what you're seeing but because of what it does to the personhood of, well, the person. And Madison Avenue does plenty of that to people who have their clothes on.
But all that's is a losing argument. That's the pro/con Puritanism argument, and my experience is you can't win that one ... that a significant segment of the population will always hold to it and -- what is probably worse -- that many who don't hold that view slip into a belief that nothing is obscene ... which is a far more dangerous view.
No, the argument shouldn't be whether or not that "foul language" and some expressions of the body and sexuality are obscene -- but why for all practical purposes we limit our definition to things that, to the degree they are obscene, are outstripped in their obscenity by so many other things.
Maybe it's because it's human nature or our cultural norm to spend a lot of time getting jacked up about things we can separate ourselves from, things we can label as being of "someone else" rather than things that really convict us and force us to face some unpleasant truths -- or force us to change or to act sacrificially or courageously.
I read three articles today. The first two were sent to me by a woman at St. Bart's church in New York who sends me articles about Africa (Sudan, in particular), the third one by Clint Fowler. They're related ... and they're about degrees of obscenity.
Church has failed in its ‘prophetic role,’ WCC speaker charges
by Jerry L. Van Marter Ecumenical News International
PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil — The world’s churches are “missing in action” while 1,000 children die each week in squalid camps in northern Uganda, a former foreign minister of that country said during the global meeting of church leaders in Brazil.
“The worst place in the world today to be a child is in northern Uganda,” said Olara Otunnu, who served as United Nations under secretary for children and armed conflict from 1997 to 2005. “Where is the church?”
He spoke during a media conference at the ninth Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) here.
“People are being decimated in full view of the world,” he said. “I hope the Assembly will provide a response.”
Uganda’s government and a rebel group in the country, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), are named in a recent United Nations report on grave violations committed against children in situations of armed conflict, Otunnu noted in his presentation to the WCC gathering.
The LRA is accused of kidnapping more than 20,000 children to serve as combatants in the 20-year-long conflict. The Ugandan government is cited for conditions in what Otunnu called about 200 “concentration camps” it has set up in the past 10 years to confine more than 2 million Ugandans in the conflict zone.
The situation, Otunnu said, is “far worse” than that in Darfur, Western Sudan, where an estimated 400,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million driven from their homes in a similar conflict. In Uganda, Otunnu said, “the church, nationally and internationally, has not played the prophetic role demanded of it.”
He urged the WCC to become “partners of 1612,” referring to a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted in mid-2005 establishing standards and programs for monitoring and reporting abuses of children by parties engaged in armed conflicts.
However, a “second pillar” is just as crucial, he said: “We should strongly support local communities in their efforts to reclaim and strengthen indigenous cultural norms that have traditionally provided for the protection of children and women in times of war.”
Otunnu spoke during a WCC session intended to highlight the council’s Decade to Overcome Violence 2001-2010, a program that promotes peace and non-violence activities by churches. He directs the LBL Foundation for Children, an independent institution that promotes support for children in communities devastated by war.
I've covered horror stories across the African continent, and every time, I tell myself I've seen it all. But nothing could have prepared me for the scenes I witnessed in the tiny dusty town of Gulu in northern Uganda.
It is in this region that a rebel force -- the Lord's Resistance Army, which claims to base its principles on the Ten Commandments -- has waged a protracted 20-year war against the Ugandan government. The army is led by Joseph Kony, a 43-year-old so-called "Disciple," who is as elusive as he is mysterious. His modus operandi is to kidnap children from villages at night and indoctrinate them into his group. Reports from victims suggest he physically and mentally abuses them into submission. The United Nations says more than 30,000 children have been kidnapped in the last 10 years alone.
In a bid to escape danger over the past three years, every young child in every village surrounding Gulu makes a nightly trek from their village homes to the relative comfort of the town. The locals call them the "night commuters."
They're given shelter at several locations in Gulu -- a canvas roof; a cold, hard floor; and if they're lucky, a blanket. No food, no water, no showers are available. But at least they get to become kids again, knowing Joseph Kony would not attack the well-fortified town. In the morning, they get up and proceed to make the long commute back home, just lucky to be alive.
Those who are kidnapped by Kony's army live a life of horror. While reporting this story, we met Alice, a 19-year-old girl who recently managed to escape after eight years in captivity. She told me blood chilling stories of events no child deserves to witness. She spoke of how the group she was in was made to kill a child who tried to escape by biting him to death, of how she was made to cut up and cook the body of a village chief killed by the rebels and forced to eat the meat from his body, and of how she was raped and eventually had a child from the man who defiled her. She showed us the physical scars of her time as a child soldier -- bullet holes on her leg and shrapnel wounds on her chest.
The International Criminal Court has issued a warrant of arrest for Joseph Kony. Nonetheless, he's able to operate with relative impunity throughout the northern part of Uganda. As long as he's alive and leading his ragtag group of rebels, no child in northern Uganda will ever be safe.
I don't watch Anderson Cooper 360, and I hope this was part of an actual report given on that show ... but I doubt it, because if it was, it would be highly unusual. The genocide in Darfur, the Civil War in Sudan, the silent tsunami of malaria, HIV and other diseases that kill more than 200,000 children under five A WEEK get scarcely a mention in the mainstream media. Right now a group from our diocese is in Southern Sudan, in the middle of a drought that is causing people and animals (which is their livelihood) literally to die of thirst. I saw one article on the inside of the New York Times ... that's it.
This is obscenity. What the LRA is doing in N. Uganda. What the janjaweed is doing in Darfur. Can there be anything more obscene than that. But the truth is, when my honest response is "WHAT THE FUCK?!?!?!?" more people are probably bothered by the word I used than the cause for my reaction.
It's the obscenity we ignore. Part of how we ignore it is by concentrating on other things -- putting all our energy into ridiculous battles like trying to keep loving same-sex partners from adopting a child or 24-hour coverage of one multimillionaire spraying another with birdshot on some Texas ranch. It's obscenity we don't see as obscene because it gets sanitized. It gets sanitized by the so-called journalists who cover it. We don't even get to see the coffins brought off the airplanes from Iraq, much less the decapitated and the dying.
And we need to see them. Not out of some sick desire to see obscenity, but because what we would see would be evidence of the obscenity that is in the act ... and that's the only way the act is going to stop. The only way the obscenity is to stop is for people to see it and be sickened by it. But that's not happening. Not now.
That's the third article, from Normon Solomon at CommonDreams.org. It starts like this;
Death is always in the news. From local car crashes to catastrophes in faraway places, deadly events are grist for the media mill. The coverage is ongoing -- and almost always superficial.
It may be unfair to blame journalists for failing to meet standards that commonly elude artists. For centuries, on the subject of death, countless poets have strived to put the ineffable into words. It's only easy when done badly.
Yet it's hard to think of any other topic that is covered so frequently and abysmally in news outlets. The reporting on death is apt to be so flat that it might be mistaken for ball scores or a weather report.
Pallid coverage of the dying is especially routine in U.S. news media when a war is underway and the deaths are caused by the U.S. government.
The point is that there are degrees of everything. Degrees of persecution. Degrees of suffering. Degrees of obscenity. And when we focus on the relatively benign and ignore or sanitize the extreme; when we fight the wrong fights and cower from the real ones, we are co-creators of the oppression, the suffering, the obscenity.
Telling the truth is a start. And since the media is not doing it, it's an important start. But it's only a start and by itself it isn't enough. We need to tell the truth not just of the reality but of our power and responsibility to change. The truth that whatever happens to one happens to all. That we have the potential for greatness in each one of us, but that potential only becomes realized when we reach out in courage and compassion for those in great need.
There's a scene in Hotel Rwanda where some CNN cameramen have snuck out of the hotel where all the Hutu refugees are holed up and gotten back with some horrible and vivid footage of the Hutu's massacring Tutsi's with machetes. And Don Cheadle, who plays, Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager who is trying to keep everyone alive, says to the reporter (played by Joaquin Phoenix, I think) "when people see this they'll have to do something, right?"
The reporter replies:
""If people see this footage, they will go, 'Oh, God! That's horrible,' and then go back to eating their dinner."
Truth is the first step. But only the first. The battle will begin to be won when relationship get built. When the stories are told and the relationships are built with such power and clarity that we know that we are one and that each one of our salvation is wrapped up in all of our salvation.
Then we will begin the real job of dismantling the greatest degrees of obscenity.
I've emerged from my whinny, "my room is gone" phase and gotten back to having a life ... and while doing that I checked out on sitemeter where people have been accessing my blog. Saw one in the Middle East and moused over it, only to see it say "occupied territories" -- which could mean only one thing -- Steph is in Palestine reading my blog.
Steph is Stephanie Rhodes, one of my former Wash. U. students who is now getting her master's in public health at Alabama-Birmingham. She and I were General Convention deputies together (where she famously and wonderfully wore a Vagina Monologues shirt on the floor of the House of Deputies ... Mike Clark still refers to her as "Pookie"), she's a huge U2 fan and just in general one of the coolest people I know. And she's doing a semester internship working at a clinic or hospital in Palestine.
You can read various things about her trip (and get a flavor for Steph in general) at her blog. (unfortunately, it's Xanga, the crypto-facist blog that will only let you comment if you become a Xanga member)
Anyway ... Hi Steph!
It reminds me that I've got a lot of former students doing quite cool things. In addition to Steph there is:
Jen Coil -- working as an RN in Kansas City, but raising money for AIDS orphans in Tanzania through Project SY. Read a little bit about it here.
and then there's also Christiana Russ and Sarah Stanage, who are in medical residency and med school, respectively, and considering careers in international medicene. Current ECMers Landen Romei (who wants to work in Central and South America on development that is not only sustainable but preserves cultural integrity), Reynolds Whalen (my tukal buddy in Sudan who is working on Darfur awareness on campus and wants to go back to Africa ASAP). Wash. U. student Matthew Miller, who just got back from Guatemala and South Africa and has a job waiting for him when he graduates working to stop child trafficking in Africa.
Then there's all the other young adults I've met through ECM and EGR and other places who want to spend their lives making the world a better place -- people like Steve Scharre, Rachel Colson, Ranjit Mathews, Erica Trapps, Elizabeth Henry, Sarah Bush (from my old youth group at SMSG -- she's now working for a nonprofit in New Haven, CT. that gets young adults involved in global issues!), and many, many others. The risk of naming is that you leave someone out (this is off the top of my head, so sorry if I left you out!).
Anyway, lots of cool people doing lots of amazing things. Remember that the next time you think the world is going to hell!
| Mike at 2/20/2006 09:39:00 AM
Wednesday, February 15, 2006 Last night
It's Wednesday night, and I'm back in my old room at my parents' house in Tucson. This has been my room as long as I can remember ... my family moved into this house when I was 20 months old. Only tomorrow morning, the movers arrive and move them across town into their new, smaller, abode.
It's been a year of a lot of change. New house and new job in St. Louis being the big two. Both good changes ... as is this one for my parents.
But it's weird. Places are important. On New Years' Eve, I was packing up all my stuff from Rockwell House and trying to squeeze it all into the Hyundai and I had to do a final walk-through to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything (which, of course, I had). And everywhere I looked, there was a memory. A conversation. A Eucharist. A time just spent hanging out by the fire. A goodbye. A hello.
And it was sad ... but it was more than that. It was holy. I think that's what holiness is ... it's the process of something being made sacred by the life that is lived and shared there.
That's kind of how I feel as I walk around this house, and especially as I sit in this room. This room looks nothing like it did when I was a kid (probably a good thing, too), but I know what happened in here. All the games I played with my brother. All the times I fell asleep listening to Vin Scully broadcast Dodger games. The time I came home from school senior year and there was the letter lying on my bed saying I'd gotten a scholarship to Missouri. The nights I slept well and the nights I lay awake. Even as I sit here, a different memory just jumps out every time I blink an eye.
I've probably spent more time in this one room than in any single place in my life. And I have to admit that I'm in pretty deep denial that this is my last night here, and that in a few days someone else will call this their room for the first time in more than 35 years.
I know what I'm supposed to say here. I'm supposed to say that all that makes this place sacred really isn't here ... it's inside me. It's all the stuff that happened, and who it made me and who it made us as a family.
I know that's the right thing to say. And I also know it's true.
But that's not what I'm feeling right now. I'm 37 years old. I have a wife, two kids, a dog and a mortgage. But a part of me is still that kid in this room. I think it's because I didn't move around as a kid -- that I put down roots here in this place, and somehow being able always to return here kept a little of that alive.
And there's a way that tomorrow, I will leave that kid behind.
Back in my former life when I was the asst. sports editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune, there was a Saturday afternoon ritual. At some point Blackie Sherrod's column from the Dallas Morning News would come across the wire and whomever saw it first would yell out:
That's because Blackie always started this column (which was a scattershot of random thoughts) by saying "Scattershooting while wondering whatever happened to..." and then there would be the name of some obscure sports, entertainment or political figure.
Then it was up to the rest of us to guess. We'd each throw out some obscure name and, whomever had shouted "scattershooting!" in the first place (it was usually Dave Holzman, who loved this stuff ... wonder whatever happened to Dave -- last I heard he was in the sports department of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette) would judge who came closest. Usually this was by some strange (and usually funny) criteria that he made up on the spot.
It was one of those great workplace traditions that lightened the load -- especially since you were spending a nice Saturday afternoon in a room with no windows while Missouri's football team lost 77-0 down the road.
Anyway, I haven't updated in a while and I feel like taking a page from Blackie, so it's time for some scattershooting. Unfortunately, Google has taken some of the fun out of the "whatever happened to" -- 'cause it's so damned easy to find out now. But it occurs to me that there is someone whose name I haven't seen in awhile. So, I'll resist the temptation to Google and just say that I'm...
Scattershooting while wondering whatever happened to Blackie Sherrod...
When I was growing up, my priest was a firebrand named Clint Fowler (just to say "Father Fowler" is to elicit knowing looks of respect and fear from generations of Tucsonans). He's going strong at 82 in Pennsylvania and I'm on a e-mail list where he sends out 3-4 articles a day -- almost all from the liberal press and almost all excellent and thought provoking. Two came today, which are worth looking at:
Then last weekend, I was in Atlanta with some folks from our board working with this incredible group of people from Tula ... a marketing and design firm in Atlanta (please, check out their website ... they do amazing work). Reid Mizell, who is the CEO, is an Episcopalian who is deeply committed to what we're doing, so she is giving us her services at such an amazing discount (which is all we can afford right now!) that it is practically giving it away. So we spent Friday night and all day Saturday with the Tula team, and they did unbelieveable work in helping us clarify mission and vision, chart out an ambitious but exciting seven-year campaign for EGR and the Episcopal Church, and lay the groundwork for a great relationship. They're going to have a campaign strategy for us by the end of the month and by Mid-March they'll have a new look for us and we can start churning out materials and preparing for the launch at General Convention....
Tomorrow, I'm off to Tucson. My parents are moving out of the house I grew up in. It's time, but it will be very weird. I wish my family could come with me, but it's too expensive and not good for time with Robin's work. Ian and Kathy will be there, which will be great. Also Ian O'Malley -- haven't seen him in a long time. I'll be there until Saturday. Then next week, it's off to New Haven to do the MDG thing for my old seminary -- Yale Divinity School -- and do some fundraising. (And dinner with Maegan and Sharon on Tuesday night!)...
My father-in-law, Ray, gave me his old Treo. Now I can do email and web from my phone and get wireless internet for my computer anywhere their system works (which is just about anywhere). It's amazing. One of those things that you don't know how you functioned without it. Thanks, Ray!...
Someone sent me an email last week filletting me for being a Bush supporter. Wow. People don't read carefully. It's also that we're in an environment where you can't give an opponent any credit at all for doing and saying something good without people coming down on your head. How in the world do we move forward from this?...
Pitchers and catchers report this week. Always reminds me of the day in February in Columbia that Jim Fallis brought a ball and glove to work and we played catch in the alley -- all because pitchers and catchers were reporting to Cubs camp in Mesa. God, I miss Jim....
Arizona's hoops team was looking like it might miss the NCAA tournament for the first time since Eddie Smith and Brock Brunkhorst. But their RPI is high and they've won a couple in a row, so it's looking up. I know I'm spoiled, but what a bizarre March that would be....
The new Cardinals stadium is taking shape. The scoreboard is up and the Busch Stadium sign is out. Looks good. Wish we could have spent the money elsewhere, though...
Spent an hour playing in the park with the boys yesterday. Most of it playing "Dad Monster" -- where I chase them all over every piece of equipment out there. Then we just collapsed on this big disc-swing that we could all lie on together and swung back and forth, looked at the clouds and hung out for about 10 minutes. Can't be a better way to spend an hour ANYWHERE...
Seriously, someone has GOT to come up with a good drinking game for plenary sessions at General Convention...
Got an email today from the folks at the Liberian refugee camp with an accounting of how they spent the $2,700 we sent them. I's amazing. They seriously built from the ground up a fully functional,wired computer lab. Now we're going to work on getting good training for the teachers, and see if we can get the Gates foundation in there to upgrade the equipment and software (though we need to be careful, the training needs to happen on machines and using software they would actually use getting jobs in Accra.)...
Saw "Good Night and Good Luck" this weekend. Really good film and definitely thought-provoking. Obvious connections between what happened then and the current administration ... but also a really great indictment of what the news media has become. Go see it....
And, on a lighter note, the third season of Moonlighting just came out on DVD. It's the best season of one of the cleverest shows ever. And it contains one of the single best hours ever aired on television -- Atomic Shakespeare -- their takeoff on Taming of the Shrew. I picked it up in Chicago and it was wonderful to watch AS while I was sick in bed my last night there. I'm saving the version with the commentary by Bruce Willis, Cybil Shepherd and Glenn Gordon Caron for another time. And the rest of the episodes are top-notch, too...
"If you give Americans the facts, they'll do the right thing." -- President Harry Truman
Sunday morning, I was giving a presentation on the MDGs to a church in St. Charles, Missouri. As I gave the statistics and told the stories, I could tell a man sitting in front was getting more and more excited. When I finally revealed that all the MDGs could be accomplished with only seven-tenths of one percent of the rich nations' GNP this man -- his name was Bob -- could take it no longer. He burst out:
"Has anyone told the people in the government about this!? Do they know how easy this would be!?"
Yes, I told him, they have been told about this ... many times.
"Well, I don't hear them talking about it. Why don't they do something?" Bob said.
It's a good question without an easy answer. For one thing, it is being talked about and some things are being done.
"We show compassion abroad because Americans believe in the God-given dignity and worth of a villager with HIV/AIDS, or an infant with malaria, or a refugee fleeing genocide, or a young girl sold into slavery. We also show compassion abroad because regions overwhelmed by poverty, corruption and despair are sources of terrorism, organized crime, human trafficking and the drug trade.... Shortchanging (development programs) would increase the suffering and chaos of our world, undercut our long-term security and dull the conscience of our country."
And it hasn't been just words. There has been debt relief. There has been more money directed to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Just not as much as was promised. And way less than is needed.
Things didn't get any better today. In fact, at a time when we need to be ramping up of efforts, we're scaling back in some key areas.
It's not that we're doing nothing. We're on the right road, but we're traveling down it way too slowly. And it's a trip where lethargy equals lives. We've gone beyond the point where gesture, rhetoric and symbollic steps are enough. And yet at this crucial juncture the gap between rhetoric and reality seems, if anything, to be widening.
Bob came up to me after the presentation and said, "I wish I had known about all of this five years ago -- I would have been doing something about it!"
"I know," I told him. "But now you do know about it. So really the question is:
"What are you going to do now?"
Well, one thing all of us can do right now is let Congress know that this matters to us ... that this is not only a moment of truth upon which history will judge them, but a moment we will remember the next time we are at the ballot box. We can tell them that there is no excuse worthy of the wealthiest nation in the history of the planet letting tens of thousands of children die each day from a mosquito bite.
Let them know that they have the amazing opportunity to be heroes ... and that's what we expect them to do.
Here is the text of Bono's speech to the National Prayer Breakfast this morning. Good preachin':
+++++ If you're wondering what I'm doing here, at a prayer breakfast, well, so am I. I'm certainly not here as a man of the cloth, unless that cloth is leather. It's certainly not because I'm a rock star. Which leaves one possible explanation: I'm here because I've got a messianic complex.
Yes, it's true. And for anyone who knows me, it's hardly a revelation.
Well, I'm the first to admit that there's something unnatural...something unseemly...about rock stars mounting the pulpit and preaching at presidents, and then disappearing to their villas in the south of France. Talk about a fish out of water. It was weird enough when Jesse Helms showed up at a U2 concert...but this is really weird, isn't it?
You know, one of the things I love about this country is its separation of church and state. Although I have to say: in inviting me here, both church and state have been separated from something else completely: their mind.
Mr. President, are you sure about this?
It's very humbling and I will try to keep my homily brief. But be warned - I'm Irish.
I'd like to talk about the laws of man, here in this city where those laws are written. And I'd like to talk about higher laws. It would be great to assume that the one serves the other; that the laws of man serve these higher laws...but of course, they don't always. And I presume that, in a sense, is why you're here.
I presume the reason for this gathering is that all of us here - Muslims, Jews, Christians - all are searching our souls for how to better serve our family, our community, our nation, our God.
I know I am. Searching, I mean. And that, I suppose, is what led me here, too.
Yes, it's odd, having a rock star here - but maybe it's odder for me than for you. You see, I avoided religious people most of my life. Maybe it had something to do with having a father who was Protestant and a mother who was Catholic in a country where the line between the two was, quite literally, a battle line. Where the line between church and state was...well, a little blurry, and hard to see.
I remember how my mother would bring us to chapel on Sundays... and my father used to wait outside. One of the things that I picked up from my father and my mother was the sense that religion often gets in the way of God.
For me, at least, it got in the way. Seeing what religious people, in the name of God, did to my native land...and in this country, seeing God's second-hand car salesmen on the cable TV channels, offering indulgences for cash...in fact, all over the world, seeing the self-righteousness roll down like a mighty stream from certain corners of the religious establishment...
I must confess, I changed the channel. I wanted my MTV.
Even though I was a believer.
Perhaps because I was a believer.
I was cynical...not about God, but about God's politics. (There you are, Jim.)
Then, in 1997, a couple of eccentric, septuagenarian British Christians went and ruined my shtick - my reproachfulness. They did it by describing the millennium, the year 2000, as a Jubilee year, as an opportunity to cancel the chronic debts of the world's poorest people. They had the audacity to renew the Lord's call - and were joined by Pope John Paul II, who, from an Irish half-Catholic's point of view, may have had a more direct line to the Almighty.
'Jubilee' - why 'Jubilee'?
What was this year of Jubilee, this year of our Lord's favor?
I'd always read the scriptures, even the obscure stuff. There it was in Leviticus (25:35)...
'If your brother becomes poor,' the scriptures say, 'and cannot maintain himself...you shall maintain him.... You shall not lend him your money at interest, not give him your food for profit.'
It is such an important idea, Jubilee, that Jesus begins his ministry with this. Jesus is a young man, he's met with the rabbis, impressed everyone, people are talking. The elders say, he's a clever guy, this Jesus, but he hasn't done much...yet. He hasn't spoken in public before...
When he does, is first words are from Isaiah: 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,' he says, 'because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.' And Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord's favour, the year of Jubilee (Luke 4:18).
What he was really talking about was an era of grace - and we're still in it.
So fast-forward 2,000 years. That same thought, grace, was made incarnate - in a movement of all kinds of people. It wasn't a bless-me club... it wasn't a holy huddle. These religious guys were willing to get out in the streets, get their boots dirty, wave the placards, follow their convictions with actions...making it really hard for people like me to keep their distance. It was amazing. I almost started to like these church people.
But then my cynicism got another helping hand.
It was what Colin Powell, a five-star general, called the greatest W.M.D. of them all: a tiny little virus called AIDS. And the religious community, in large part, missed it. The ones that didn't miss it could only see it as divine retribution for bad behaviour. Even on children...even [though the] fastest growing group of HIV infections were married, faithful women.
Aha, there they go again! I thought to myself judgmentalism is back!
But in truth, I was wrong again. The church was slow but the church got busy on this the leprosy of our age.
Love was on the move.
Mercy was on the move.
God was on the move.
Moving people of all kinds to work with others they had never met, never would have cared to meet...conservative church groups hanging out with spokesmen for the gay community, all singing off the same hymn sheet on AIDS...soccer moms and quarterbacks...hip-hop stars and country stars. This is what happens when God gets on the move: crazy stuff happens!
Popes were seen wearing sunglasses!
Jesse Helms was seen with a ghetto blaster!
Crazy stuff. Evidence of the spirit.
It was breathtaking. Literally. It stopped the world in its tracks.
When churches started demonstrating on debt, governments listened - and acted. When churches starting organising, petitioning, and even - that most unholy of acts today, God forbid, lobbying...on AIDS and global health, governments listened - and acted.
I'm here today in all humility to say: you changed minds; you changed policy; you changed the world.
Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor. In fact, the poor are where God lives.
Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone.
I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill. I hope so. He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff. Maybe, maybe not. But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor.
God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them. "If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom with become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places."
It's not a coincidence that in the scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times. It's not an accident. That's a lot of air time, 2,100 mentions. (You know, the only time Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor.) 'As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me' (Matthew 25:40). As I say, good news to the poor.
Here's some good news for the president. After 9/11 we were told America would have no time for the world's poor. America would be taken up with its own problems of safety. And it's true these are dangerous times, but America has not drawn the blinds and double-locked the doors.
In fact, you have doubled aid to Africa. You have tripled funding for global health. Mr. President, your emergency plan for AIDS relief and support for the Global Fund - you and Congress - have put 700,000 people onto life-saving anti-retroviral drugs and provided 8 million bed nets to protect children from malaria.
Outstanding human achievements. Counterintuitive. Historic. Be very, very proud.
But here's the bad news. From charity to justice, the good news is yet to come. There is much more to do. There's a gigantic chasm between the scale of the emergency and the scale of the response.
And finally, it's not about charity after all, is it? It's about justice.
Let me repeat that: It's not about charity, it's about justice.
And that's too bad.
Because you're good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can't afford it.
But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.
Sixty-five hundred Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about justice and equality.
Because there's no way we can look at what's happening in Africa and, if we're honest, conclude that deep down, we really accept that Africans are equal to us. Anywhere else in the world, we wouldn't accept it. Look at what happened in South East Asia with the tsunami. 150,000 lives lost to that misnomer of all misnomers, "mother nature." In Africa, 150,000 lives are lost every month. A tsunami every month. And it's a completely avoidable catastrophe.
It's annoying but justice and equality are mates. Aren't they? Justice always wants to hang out with equality. And equality is a real pain.
You know, think of those Jewish sheep-herders going to meet the Pharaoh, mud on their shoes, and the Pharaoh says, "Equal?" A preposterous idea: rich and poor are equal? And they say, "Yeah, 'equal,' that's what it says here in this book. We're all made in the image of God."
And eventually the Pharaoh says, "OK, I can accept that. I can accept the Jews - but not the blacks."
"Not the women. Not the gays. Not the Irish. No way, man."
So on we go with our journey of equality.
On we go in the pursuit of justice.
We hear that call in the ONE Campaign, a growing movement of more than 2 million Americans...Left and Right together... united in the belief that where you live should no longer determine whether you live.
We hear that call even more powerfully today, as we mourn the loss of Coretta Scott King - mother of a movement for equality, one that changed the world but is only just getting started. These issues are as alive as they ever were; they just change shape and cross the seas.
Preventing the poorest of the poor from selling their products while we sing the virtues of the free market...that's a justice issue. Holding children to ransom for the debts of their grandparents...that's a justice issue. Withholding life-saving medicines out of deference to the Office of Patents...that's a justice issue.
And while the law is what we say it is, God is not silent on the subject.
That's why I say there's the law of the landø. And then there is a higher standard. There's the law of the land, and we can hire experts to write them so they benefit us, so the laws say it's OK to protect our agriculture but it's not OK for African farmers to do the same, to earn a living?
As the laws of man are written, that's what they say.
God will not accept that.
Mine won't, at least. Will yours?
I close this morning on...very...thin...ice.
This is a dangerous idea I've put on the table: my God vs. your God, their God vs. our God...vs. no God. It is very easy, in these times, to see religion as a force for division rather than unity.
And this is a town - Washington - that knows something of division.
But the reason I am here, and the reason I keep coming back to Washington, is because this is a town that is proving it can come together on behalf of what the scriptures call the least of these.
This is not a Republican idea. It is not a Democratic idea. It is not even, with all due respect, an American idea. Nor it is unique to any one faith.
'Do to others as you would have them do to you' (Luke 6:30). Jesus says that.
'Righteousness is this: that one should...give away wealth out of love for him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and the beggars and for the emancipation of the captives.' The Koran says that (2.177).
Thus sayeth the Lord: 'Bring the homeless poor into the house, when you see the naked, cover him, then your light will break out like the dawn and your recovery will speedily spring fourth, then your Lord will be your rear guard.' The Jewish scripture says that. Isaiah 58 again.
That is a powerful incentive: 'The Lord will watch your back.' Sounds like a good deal to me, right now.
A number of years ago, I met a wise man who changed my life. In countless ways, large and small, I was always seeking the Lord's blessing. I was saying, you know, I have a new song, look after itø. I have a family, please look after themø. I have this crazy idea...
And this wise man said: stop.
He said, stop asking God to bless what you're doing.
Get involved in what God is doing - because it's already blessed.
Well, God, as I said, is with the poor. That, I believe, is what God is doing.
And that is what he's calling us to do.
I was amazed when I first got to this country and I learned how much some churchgoers tithe. Up to 10% of the family budget. Well, how does that compare with the federal budget, the budget for the entire American family? How much of that goes to the poorest people in the world? Less than 1%.
Mr. President, Congress, people of faith, people of America:
I want to suggest to you today that you see the flow of effective foreign assistance as tithing.... Which, to be truly meaningful, will mean an additional 1% of the federal budget tithed to the poor.
What is 1%?
1% is not merely a number on a balance sheet.
1% is the girl in Africa who gets to go to school, thanks to you. 1% is the AIDS patient who gets her medicine, thanks to you. 1% is the African entrepreneur who can start a small family business thanks to you. 1% is not redecorating presidential palaces or money flowing down a rat hole. This 1% is digging waterholes to provide clean water.
1% is a new partnership with Africa, not paternalism toward Africa, where increased assistance flows toward improved governance and initiatives with proven track records and away from boondoggles and white elephants of every description.
America gives less than 1% now. We're asking for an extra 1% to change the world. to transform millions of lives - but not just that and I say this to the military men now - to transform the way that they see us.
1% is national security, enlightened economic self-interest, and a better, safer world rolled into one. Sounds to me that in this town of deals and compromises, 1% is the best bargain around.
These goals - clean water for all; school for every child; medicine for the afflicted, an end to extreme and senseless poverty - these are not just any goals; they are the Millennium Development goals, which this country supports. And they are more than that. They are the Beatitudes for a globalised world.
Now, I'm very lucky. I don't have to sit on any budget committees. And I certainly don't have to sit where you do, Mr. President. I don't have to make the tough choices.
But I can tell you this:
To give 1% more is right. It's smart. And it's blessed.
There is a continent - Africa - being consumed by flames.
I truly believe that when the history books are written, our age will be remembered for three things: the war on terror, the digital revolution, and what we did - or did not to - to put the fire out in Africa.
History, like God, is watching what we do.
Thank you. Thank you, America, and God bless you all.
EGR resources and connects the church to embrace what one person, one congregation, one diocese and one church can do to make this mission of global reconciliation happen.
Want to find out more ... check our our website at www.e4gr.org.
"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."