Sunday, July 23, 2006

Five loaves and two fish (or: why I love Karl Smith)

The leaders of thirteen Christian denominations have called upon President Bush to begin throwing his weight around to stop rogue Israel's obliteration of Lebanon.
"In the face of such a humanitarian crisis, calls for the fighting parties to be restrained in their actions fall short of what is needed. Your presidential leadership and the full weight of the United States, acting in concert with the international community, must be applied now to achieve an immediate cease-fire and to launch an intensive diplomatic initiative for the cessation of hostilities. This is a necessary first step toward the diplomatic resolution of this crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the way toward a comprehensive Middle East peace."
You can check out the entire letter yourself. Really, it's a pretty impressive list of people who have signed it, representing a pretty significant chunk of American Christians.

The obvious question - is this going to do or mean anything?

Today, Lutherans, Presbyerians, Methodists, Catholics, Episcopalians, and many other Christians heard the same reading in church: the famous story of Jesus feeding the five thousand with only five loaves of bread and two fish. I sat in St. Mark's Cathedral today as the Rev. Janet Campbell beautifully retold the familiar childhood tale into a powerful ethic for societal engagement. After she stepped away from the pulpit, I sat in the pew on the verge of tears.

I can't really do justice to one of the best sermons I've ever heard. Pastor Campbell focused on how the disciples found that they had just five loaves and two fish between them, and despite their skepticism, they offered those up as the best they could do. She suggested that we must always give the best we can without regard to whether it's "worth it" or whether we think it'll make a difference. Our only responsibility and our most important responsibility is to always do what we can do for peace with justice.

Karl exemplifies this civic quality - acting on virtue, not merely efficacy. Going to protests, counter-rallies, and vigils... incessantly writing and updating blogs... it's hard work, and often discouraging work on top of that. The few rallies and actions I've been to, I've felt the scorn of "realistic" people passing by with their shopping bags in disdain for our quixotic naïveté. That can be difficult to withstand. It's enough to destroy a democracy.
"How is your protest going to change anything? Go home!"
"Who are you trying to reach with those signs?"
"Why are you wasting your time?"
Active citizens have probably heard similarly before. These questions, when asked of and borne by isolated individuals, are destructive. But when people come together to make themselves heard because they understand that this is how change begins - these same questions don't stand a chance.

Karl and people like him see how many loaves and fish they have in their own posession - and they give them up to the crowd knowing that regardless of whether it "matters", it is still their responsibility as citizens. Heartfelt and reasoned opinions about the state of our world are the few loaves and fish each one of us carries. It's easy to be convinced that we'll never feed the entire crowd with them. We can offer them up anyway, however, and suddenly, we one day find that our acts of sacrifice have inspired others... change comes.

So following Karl's lead, I've decided that I'm going to write letters to my elected representatives. Perhaps I wouldn't really have done it before today. The voice of "realism" might have set in, telling not to be a silly kid, asking me when I'll finally realize that I don't matter in this system.

But Jesus gives a different question:
“How many loaves have you? Go and see.” (Mark 6:38)

And when I look, I realize that I do have something small of my own to offer. Karl already did.
So will you. An opinion, a perspective, a learning, a voice - loaves and fish for a hungry crowd. Let's feed this world.
"And all ate and were filled." - Mark 6:42
Thank you my friend.

1 comment:

Karl Smith said...

Thank you, Alex. Your post is precisely on point about the need for each person to do what he or she is able to end the suffering. Though each person's individual action may seem miniscule, in the big picture that is the only way change can ever be effected. Together we can change the terms of the debate but speaking up, and then the outcome of the debate may also be shifted.

On a more cynical note, I am on to your continual use of religious themes when talking about me - your use of subliminal messages has failed. ;-)