Psalm this morning, for which I want to begin our reflection, actually
begins with a beatitude, with a joyful note, but it's not exactly what
we expect to hear, that we should be joyful about.
I'm reading from the
41st Psalm, the first three verses:
are those who consider the poor;
the Lord delivers them in
the day of trouble.
2The Lord protects them
and keeps them alive;
they are called happy in the land.
You do not give them up to the will of their
3The Lord sustains them
on their sickbed;
in their illness you heal all their infirmities..
You know, poets are
often prophets and prophets are often poets, and this morning I want to
introduce to you one of the people that I think is one of the more
profound poet/prophets or prophetic poets (whichever the case may be) of
I'm curious -- how
many people recognize this man? I'm also curious of the ages of
those that hold up their hands J.
We'll see whether or not if you're "with it". This is
one of those guys who's so well-known in pop-culture that he only needs
one name. And so he goes by "Bono" [pronounced
"BAH-no"]. He's just
known as Bono. And he is the lead singer and songwriter for the
Irish rock group U2. Made famous fairly recently in iPod
commercials -- kicked off the iPod with one of their songs. I
really didn't pay any attention to U2 or Bono until Glen Campbell
[congregation member] introduced me to him, so everything I'm going to
say for the next 10 minutes can be blamed on Glen! He was the one
who gave me their latest CD: "How to Dismantle an Atomic
Bomb". Great title, don't look for it for any instructions --
well, actually, there are in a certain kind of way.
But that CD and U2
received 5 Grammy's just a couple of weeks ago, and you know that the
Grammy is the Oscar for musicians. So, quite significant, they're
really a hot group right now.
Well, it turns out
that Bono is a very committed Christian. As I said, he's
Irish. His father was a protestant, his mother a Roman
Catholic. Hence, Bono grew up in a country where the line between
those two was literally the battle line. As a result, he found
that religion often got in the way of God. Even though he is a
believer in God, he says that he wasn't necessarily a believer in
religion, at least not as practiced by the church.
then some Christians did something in 1997 that forever changed his view
of Christianity and organized religion. Bono, you may know, along
with Bill and Melinda Gates, was named person of the year because of
their unceasing efforts on behalf of the world's poor.
It was back in 1997
that a couple of elderly British Christians in their 70s got to Bono and
convinced him to be one of the lead public spokespersons for the Jubilee
2000 campaign -- that global campaign to get wealthy countries to
forgive the debts of the poorest countries. The whole concept of
Jubilee 2000 is based on the year of Jubilee that we find in our Hebrew
scriptures where every 50 years all debts were to be forgiven, slaves
were to be freed, and land was to return to ancestral ownership.
As a way to redistribute wealth and to ensure that nobody is caught in
perpetuity in slavery and poverty.
Oh, by the way,
that's precisely what Jesus announced in Luke 4 in his first public
appearance in Luke's gospel, in Nazareth, when he said: "The
spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good
news to the poor, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor".
The year of Jubilee.
Now some of you may
recall that we participated in the Jubilee 2000 campaign when Bread for
the World held an offering of letters to support that campaign in 1998
or 1999. We took an offering of letters in support of that
effort. And as a result of the thousands of churches who, like us,
did that (not only here in this country but also throughout much of
Europe), our government, along with most of the Western nations, forgave
literally billions and billions of dollars in debts to those poorest
nations. Made a significant difference.
And so it was the
work of the church which changed Bono's mind about the value of
organized religion and the church. He says he was so impressed,
"I almost started to like these church people" J.
Does that give you a sense of hope?!
Well, Bono has joined
the Bread for the World, World Vision, and many other Christian and
other faith groups as well as other anti-poverty groups, in a new effort
(more ambitious effort) to cut global poverty in half (if not altogether
eliminate it) by the year 2015. It's known as the One
And on February 2nd
of this year, he addressed the National Prayer Breakfast. I
suspect at the invitation of President Bush, because he's actually,
believe it or not, developed a friendship with the President during that
Jubilee 2000 campaign. And so he spoke at this National Prayer
Breakfast in Washington D.C. on February 2nd, and I've heard from
several people that is was the most prophetic speech heard at the
National Prayer Breakfast since our own senator Mark Hatfield spoke
against the Vietnam war in the presence of President Nixon at the
National Prayer Breakfast during the Nixon era.
I want to share with
you a little bit of what Bono said (to view Bono's full remarks, click
He begins with a bit
of humor -- he said "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?" And I suspect that's what got the smile on
President Bush's face right there:
The notion of an
Irish rock star, instead of some prominent clergy member or preacher,
being the one to address the National Prayer Breakfast. And he
continued: "I've always read the scriptures, even the obscure
stuff, like Leviticus 25: 'If your brother becomes poor and cannot
maintain himself, you shall maintain him. You shall not lend him
your money at interest nor give him your food for profit'. And so,
he says: "Whatever thoughts you have about God, the one thing
we can all agree on, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the
vulnerable and the 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".
Very much the
sentiment of Psalm 41. Bono noted in that speech that poverty is
mentioned in scripture, in our Bible, 2100 times. And he quotes
Matthew 25, in that story when the nations appear before the Lord and
are separated left and right, and Jesus says "I
was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something
to drink", and concludes "as you
have done it to the least of these you have done it to me".
if you happened to have been listening to Air America Friday morning,
when Al Franken was in town at Lane Community College (Franken has a
nationally-syndicated radio show that's sort of the opposite of Rush
Limbaugh, the liberal response to Rush Limbaugh, if you will), you may
have caught that segment when I was a guest on the show. I
received the invitation in the middle of the week when I was in
Washington D.C., and made it back just in time. Franken wanted to
talk about church and state issues, among other things that I'll come to
in just a little bit, and he quizzed me on some of the things we have
done here. And I told him about our effort, through Ecumenical
Ministries of Oregon, to bring the Reverend Dr. James Forbes to Eugene
from Riverside Church in New York City as part of the 'Let Justice Roll'
campaign orchestrated by the National Council of Churches, to make the
eradication of poverty a primary issue in the Presidential campaign.
At which Franken interrupted me and said "Wait a second, I'm
Jewish, and I happen to know that Jesus never spoke about
And he of course was
being sarcastic, he wasn't being serious, but that gave me an
opportunity then to tell the story of Matthew 25 which was actually part
of a larger story another time when I was with a group of people talking
to a legislator in the Oregon Legislature who said to us:
"It's our personal responsibility to help the poor but it is not
the responsibility of government. Government should not be in the
business of welfare and food stamps and the like". At which
point, Steve Fietz from First Christian Church in Salem Oregon reminded
him of the story in Matthew 25, when the nations became before the
So I shared that
story, quoted that scripture on national radio on Friday.
Well, Bono takes note
of our country's significant generosity. Especially in response to
the AIDS epidemic and he publicly thanked President Bush on this
occasion for his effort to do something about that in Africa. He
said that we, as Americans, can be very, very proud.
But then--this is
where he gets prophetic--said he was on thin ice. He says:
"Here's the bad news. It's not about charity after all.
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.
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.
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.
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."
so he lifted up the One Campaign that seeks to change that. Two
million Africans have signed a declaration you can find online at www.one.org.
And that declaration says:
BELIEVE that in the best American tradition of helping others help
themselves, now is the time to join with other countries in a historic
pact for compassion and justice to help the poorest people of the world
overcome AIDS and extreme poverty. . . . . . WE COMMIT ourselves - one
person, one voice, one vote at a time - to make a better, safer world
So Bono notes that
left and right have united together in the belief that where you live
should no longer determine whether you live. U2 fans will
recognize that as a lyric out of one of his songs on that album.
"This is not a Republican idea, it's not a Democratic idea, it's
not even, with all due respect, and American idea, nor is it unique to
any one faith. Rather it is what God is doing on behalf of the
poor", Bono says. As Psalm 41 says.
And so Bono issued
the challenge of the One Campaign -- "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.
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."
he notes, America gives less than 1% currently. In fact, we give
.075% of our federal budget to development assistance to help other
countries overseas. The least of the 22 most developed
nations. And so Bono challenges: "We are asking for an
extra 1% to change the world. To transform millions of
lives. To give 1% more is right, it's smart, and it's blessed by
Bono believes that where you live should not determine whether you
live. The reality, of course, is the reverse. If you live in
the Darfur region of the Sudan -- Sudan is just below Egypt, circled on
the map below -- :
-- If you live in
that region, the odds are 1 in 3 that you live in a refugee camp.
And 1 in 12 that you did not survive the last three years. Two
years ago, Secretary of State Colin Powell identified the massacre that
is occurring in the Darfur as genocide. And I have to confess to
you, like most Americans, I did not pay a whole lot of attention.
You know, there are too many other pressing issues.
And then I was
invited this week, in my role as President of Ecumenical Ministries of
Oregon, to join in an inter-faith effort, a lobbying effort, in
Washington D.C. -- one of about 80 Christian, Muslim, and Jewish leaders
that came together to lobby members of Congress. And I learned
about the bloody civil war that has lasted for 20 years, dividing the
Sudan, North and South. And it finally came to an end in a
negotiated peace agreement worked out by Secretary Powell. But,
the killing did not stop. Instead, it simply moved from that
North/South line, to the West, as the government of Sudan armed tribal
militias known as that Janjaweed in an apparent effort to drive out or
exterminate the 6 million Darfur people, who largely are (not entirely)
black Muslims. And hence it's Muslim-on-Muslim violence, mostly
Arab Muslims against mostly black Muslims.
Over 2 million of the
Darfur people are now refugees. 400,000 have been killed.
Thousands of villages have been destroyed -- pictured in the map below
(you see the legend with the red triangles symbolizing all the villages
that have been totally wiped out):
The African Union
negotiated a cease-fire in 2004 in the region and deployed 7,000
peace-keeping troops. But those troops are badly outgunned and
out-manned. There are more police officers in Washington D.C. than
there are peacekeepers in the Darfur, a region the size of France.
And so our goal in coming together in Washington D.C. this week was to
put pressure on Congress and the administration to act quickly to bring
an end to this genocide, especially since the United States now occupies
the presidency of the Security Council of the United Nations, and hence
a golden opportunity that only comes once every 15 months.
We met with the
Deputy Secretary of State, Robert Zoellicke, who's been to the area four
times. And Assistant to the President Mike Gerson, and numerous
members of Congress. I, and two other members of the American
Jewish Committee, met with Congressman DeFazio, Senators Wyden and
Smith, to ask them to give their support to quick action (and I can give
you more specifics about that later if you're interested).
The big question is,
did we do any good? Well, Saturday morning, I opened my paper, as
I suspect many of you may have, and read that the President is asking
for everything that we were asking for, and more! We were hoping
maybe for $100 million dollars to support the African Union force in
place -- the President is asking for $500 million dollars and a doubling
of the troops to stop the genocide. Now I don't honestly know
whether or not our little feeble effort made that difference
(personally, I think it was that Al Franken interview on Friday J).
Whatever the case may be, it was interesting to note that in that
article on Saturday, the one person they cited from the [Bush]
administration was Mike Gerson, the very man that we met with on
Thursday morning in the Executive Office Building next to the White
Now the struggle to
save the Darfur people is far from over. Just because the
President has announced this initiative doesn't mean that it will
happen. One of the things we learned was that there was $50
million dollars in the federal budget last year for this effort that got
taken out of the appropriations bill at the last moment. And so
Secretary Zoellicke said to us "When you go and talk to your
members of Congress, please tell them that we need this
money". We went to our members of Congress, we told them
that, and they laughed at us. They said "Why are you coming
to us? We aren't the ones who pulled it out of the
budget". We never got straight from Congress or the
administration on why exactly that $50 million got removed.
But the point is,
without the public support and pressure it's easy for those things to
happen in the middle of the night.
So I am standing
before you today to tell you that the President needs our support.
Now some of you probably thought you'd never hear me say this J.
But I am asking you to support President Bush in this effort on behalf
of the Darfur people.
I finished my trip by
visiting one place in Washington D.C. that I had not yet seen that I
longed to see, and that was the Holocaust Museum, just off the
mall. And the story that is told there in the three stories of the
exhibit is one very familiar to me. As soon as I walked into the
Museum I immediately recognized the architecture from my time in
Auschwitz (in 1980 when I was there). If you can imagine walking
through that exhibit and seeing all of those faces, and images, and
stories. Listening to the tapes and watching the videos.
It's an incredibly moving experience.
But the one thing
that really got to me, that gave me hope, was the wall of names of all
the people who acted on behalf of Jews, to save Jews, during the
Holocaust. I've known this story, of Denmark and others and the
like. But to see thousands of names of people who were
acting, harboring Jews, helping them to escape out of the country was a
great hope. And you see, that's what it takes. If we are
going to stop genocide it takes all of us working together to make a
difference. The Holocaust Museum's mission is not just to remember
that story and to keep it alive. Its mission is to stop genocide
from occurring anywhere in the world. And hence a couple staff
members from the Museum were working with us in this effort to lobby
I want to leave you
with some images. Many of you remember Paul Jeffrey who spoke here
last year, the photo-journalist who travels around the world on behalf
of Church World Service. He takes pictures of the things that our
money, our Week of Compassion offering and the like, is doing around the
world. I downloaded some of his images right before I went, hoping
for an opportunity to show those to members of Congress. In fact,
what you're going to see here is part of what I showed to Congressman
DeFazio. I think it helps to personalize, to humanize that
situation when we see it and experience it. So I just want to
close then with this presentation:
here to view a movie showing images from Darfur
(will open in a separate
Photo by Paul
Photo by Paul
There are many ways
we can respond to tragedy and times of need. But we are always
called, as a people of faith, to respond in some way, to share our
faith, to show our faith, to live our faith.