Friday, 10 February 2006

Brutal Truths & Bridges of Hope

Truth wears no labels.

Truth shows up in surprising places.

Truth cannot be cornered and packaged.

Of course, we all have our own truths, and we get comfortable with the set of truths we know; we hang out in certain crowds; we can't resist packaging the truth as we understand it; but we all get blindsided from time to time.

I suppose I take it as a point of pride that I repeatedly question my own assumptions. Why do I think that? How do I know that's true? What does that person with the opposite opinion know that I may not? It turns some people away. They think I'm wishy washy - a flip-flopper. But it hardly means that I don't have deep convictions.

One such conviction is that it is wrong to judge someone for a trait over which they have no control. Always. But it does not follow that someone who does so wrongly judge others is himself always wrong about everything. He may see a brutal truth to which I am blind. Still I'll more often look for truth among those who first demonstrate the most compassion. It just stands to reason that the odds are better there. But occasionally close examination will reveal them to be dead wrong - about some things.

So we need to confront the brutal truths which come from disparate perspectives. But hatred can sometimes come disguised as brutal truth, so healthy skepticism is necessary to accompany that willingness to listen to opinions which challenge our assumptions. But with no willingness to listen then all is reduced to argument and divisiveness will reign.

Hmm. I can imagine someone reading this as a lot of airy nothing. But humor me, and stick with it for just a little longer. Because I'm not just saying that we need the brutal truth tellers from all sides (and we do) - even as we need the listeners who will help filter out some of the accompanying nonsense and expose it as chaff. We need the doubters like me, and we need those who are really sure of their paths and will not waver - and sometimes I'm like that too. But we need something else.

We need the bridgers. Those who can show us the bridges of hope. The bridgers are my heroes. Bridgers are no strangers to the brutal truths - but they find brutal truths on both sides of the divides and can speak to groups of people who find it difficult to speak to each other.

Today I bought myself a birthday present. A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On 7 audio CDs. King was the consumate bridger. Such bridgers are rare, but there may be more of them than we sometimes imagine. Few attain the profile that King did in his too short life.

Can a wealthy, idolized rock star be a bridger? It doesn't seem likely. But then there's Bono. I've long liked U2's music, but then I like a lot of rock and roll. What I really like is what Bono has done with his celebrity. Thanks to Bob Wratz of BrightEyesDimView for pointing me to Bono's homily (free subscription required) at the National Prayer Breakfast one week ago. I want to excerpt some highlights, but it's hard - it works best as a whole. You know the old "read the whole thing" exhortation. But here's a little after he is talking about how churches came around to confront the AIDS epidemic after a slow start born of judgmentalism:
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 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.
Ok, it was more than a little - but wasn't it worth it? At the National Prayer Breakfast, with Bush and Congressional and religious leaders in attendance.

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