What ONE can do

9:55 AM

Busy weekend. It may even have bolstered me out of my low-energy-I-don't-feel-like-writing-and-you-can't-make-me mood. Maybe. There was so much....stuff....that I think I'm still processing, and I may be processing for quite some time. You're just dying to process with me, aren't you?

On Saturday I opted out of my graduation. It was a hard decision, but arrived at after much soul-searching and an inability to locate my student ID coupled with a phone call to the URI Bookstore where they emphatically refused to sell me a cap, gown and hood without the piece of plastic. After much grousing, I was relatively pleased with my decision upon awakening Saturday morning to find that the weather flat out sucked. The drive to Kingston is loathsome on a good day--it is nearly unbearable in the rain. So, I followed through with "Plan B," or attendance at the NH Episcopal Diocesan Event, One Hope, One Heart, One World: Keeping the Promise. In all honesty, I was dreading this. Since leaving my job at the Resource Center, and then returning in a "consulting" capacity, I really haven't felt much like "networking." Originally, I thought if I heard, "I'm just so very sorry..." without an accompanying action plan one more time I would be driven to radically unChristian acts. Eventually, it got to the point where I just wanted to disconnect and disassociate and didn't want anyone to know where I had gone or what I was doing. Healthy, huh? This was compounded by my recent ambivalence toward the subject at hand: the day focused on the Millennium Development Goals, which are noble and laudable and very important--and I just wasn't in the mood.

If you're not familiar with the MDGs, here they are for your edification:

  1. Eradicate extreme hunger and poverty
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Develop a global partnership for development
See? Noble. Laudable. Extremely important. And precisely the subject to which you all want to devote a Saturday in May. Right? Particularly when the day features a U2charist. That'll get you out of bed in the morning, right?

I should explain myself a little bit here: I grew up in the church. My mother is an organist. I have always sung in the church. The only reason I can tell you anything at all about my faith is because I enjoyed singing the hymns--OK, that might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but seriously. It is one of the few venues in which people are routinely exposed to live music. It's important on so many levels, and really not the point of my post (I'll pontificate on the importance of church music another day, never fear), so I'll just end with the fact that the idea of church accompanied by CD--any CD--makes me want to retch. Violently.

A U2charist is a mass accompanied by CD. Instead of standard hymns or psalms, the service is accompanied by selections from the U2 canon. Now, I really like U2. I respect Bono and his work on behalf of the Millennium Development Goals. The use of this type of service in this venue made perfect sense. However, the mere thought of having to attend this service kind of made my skin crawl. I was hoping, as is often the case with church-sponsored events, that Eucharist would be the capstone--right at the end, and skipped by everyone who wanted to hightail it home, possibly salvaging at least some of their weekend.

I was wrong. This was our "opening act," so to say. And, in spite of myself, I actually almost enjoyed it. In context. It is an interesting approach to "doing church," and, if you're familiar with the lyrics to many a U2 song, you will note that they make appropriate points and connections. Sometimes you need to squint a bit to make it work, but it can all come together. And, more or less, it did. I say more or less because the average age of attendant at this sort of event makes one wonder if they are at an AARP convention. That's me--bucking the demographic. While many of the participants appeared to enjoy themselves, the man in the ascot in front of me shook his head morosely for the duration.

But here's the Rev. Canon Tim clapping away and enjoying himself immensely:

Please forgive my photos. Lighting was bad in the auditorium/sanctuary and this was just as good as it was gonna get.

The altar party preparing for communion. If you look really close, you can see the lyrics to Sunday, Bloody Sunday on the screen behind them. A different sort of offertory hymn...

So, not nearly as odious as I feared it would be. Not something I would choose to do every week, but moving and different nonetheless.

We were also graced with an excellent speaker during the sermon. The Rev. Irene Monroe , a Ford Fellow and Doctoral Candidate at Harvard Divinity School spoke to us about our responsibilities to act for change--about being a thermostat instead of a thermometer--about changing the temperature, even if that means causing trouble. And about remembering actions, no matter how small they seem, may lead ultimately to the change you seek: "After all, if Rosa Parks had not sat down on that segregated bus, Martin Luther King, Jr. would not have had the opportunity to stand up." I cannot do her justice here, but if you ever get the opportunity to hear her speak or read her work, I highly recommend it.

We heard from Cynthia Grissom Efird, the Ambassador to the Republic of Angola. Of all the words we heard throughout the day, hers have really stayed with me through the weekend, and though I'm sure I misquote her slightly, this is what I remember:

She began her presentation saying that she knew we all came expecting to see pictures of starving Africans and decimated fields and dying babies. But that wasn't what she came to show us, because it really wasn't the whole story. You see, when we think about people living in extreme poverty around the world, we tend to think of them as victims. Poor them. All the things they lack. And this view is wrong. This view will not get us anywhere regarding the Millennium Development Goals. Because in viewing people as victims, we do not put ourselves on equal footing. We do not believe that we have anything to learn from them. And we do not open ourselves up to relationship--which is really what the Goals are about. Particularly as we approach them from a religious stance--the Anglicans living a working and praying in Angola are not victims; they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. And while we can certainly help provide money and medicine, food and education, they can give us a warmth and welcome and spirit that we have largely lost here in the West. It is truly a two-way street, and we must never forget that simple fact.

The Bishop echoed that sentiment in his closing remarks. No matter how hard it seems--no matter how many door seem closed (which is particularly true when talking to Episcopalians from NH--many Anglicans around the world would like to forget we exist or write us off entirely)--relationship will trump policy every time. If you take the time to build the relationship, it makes the actual work of doing justice and loving mercy seem less like work and more like the right thing to do.

The Millennium Development Goals are overwhelming. I went to a workshop on Goals 4 & 5--reducing child mortality and improving maternal health. And by the end I was overwhelmed and depressed. How do you change cultural views that contribute to poor maternal health? How do you combat child mortality when the leading cause of death is directly related to an absence of clean water? Where do you start? I ran into an acquaintance who attended a workshop on infectious disease (Goal 6)--and all he could think of was how many people would die between the end of the workshop and the time we left for home--and that there was nothing we could do about it. It's enough to drive you to complete and total inactivity. But the moral of the story and the lesson of the day and the thing I'd like for all of you to remember is what one person can do. Think about the things you already do that help further these goals in your neighborhoods, your city, your state. Think about the organizations to which you contribute that work toward these goals in the wider world. Think of the pieces you knit for Afghans for Afghans, the Dulaan Project, Children in Common, or any other organization. And then think of one more thing you can do. You can vote. You can pray. You can rally your friends and colleagues as The Yarn Harlot has done with Knitters Without Borders, or Wendy has done in support of the Heifer Project. Only you know what you can do--but I urge you to think seriously about the Millennium Development Goals and to make a goal for yourself. It doesn't have to be huge--think of Rosa Parks sitting down on the bus. And think of what can happen if each and every one of us actually do one thing.

Check out The ONE Campaign for ideas and inspirations. Leave me comments about ideas you have. I'm off to knit some more Magic 28 socks and think out my game plan for making my goal a reality.

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