28 December 2005

Attention and commitment

TIME Magazine recently named Bono and Bill and Melinda Gates "Persons of the Year". I have to say that I couldn't be happier with the choices. These individuals are truly using their fame and fortune to enable the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God in this world on an enormous scale. They may not think of it in those terms (though I think Bono does), but that's what they're doing. And thank God for them.

In a related article on "Charitainment", James Poniewozik opines that,
[T]he most valuable commodity in ending misery is not money or even will but attention. And attention is the celebrigod's lightning bolt. If the most fatuous celebrity plants himself near a problem, he may embarrass himself. But at least someone will see it. And someone will film it. And a few of us may, little by little, be moved to change it.
I heartily agree. The big problem isn't money. People in developed nations have plenty of money. The problem isn't will. Human beings want to be compassionate. We want to help, at least in the abstract. Both of these facts were illustrated in our response to last year's tsunami and this year's hurricane Katrina. But there's so much misery in the world and there's so much else going on in our lives. And we are eminently distractable. So we're like, "Oh, of course, I'd like to help - what did you say the problem is? Uh-huh? Gee, that's terrible - ooh, shiny!" And then we're on to the next thing. But what if the thing that wants to attract us is itself a shiny and glorious celebrity, capable of capturing and focusing our attention, at least for a little while? Then, as the TIME article said, maybe some of us will be moved to action.

But what happens when the next shiny thing comes along? The first challenge - and it's a huge one, so thank God again for Bono and his ilk - is to get our attention. But the second, even larger challenge is to hold it. To really make a difference in the misery of the world, we need people and groups who are committed - deeply and truly. And here, I submit, is where the Church comes in. Bono and the Gateses can call us to action, but it is part of the mission of the Church and other faith communities to call us to commitment and sustained work for change. I know folks who are deeply committed to compassionate action outside of the context of a faith commitment, including my wife and (to the best of my knowledge) Bill Gates. But nonetheless, faith communities - especially followers of Jesus, who are fundamentally people called to a mission of reconciliation and love - have a unique obligation and a unique ability to call people to compassionate commitment and to equip them for that commitment. That's not a complete description of the mission of the Church or of any faith body, but it's a fundamental part of that mission. Bono, Melinda, Bill, Angelina and the rest are doing what they can. We people of faith, who are answerable to God and who are called to love like God does - like God does! - dare not fall down on our own duty.

Loving God, help us to love like that: with commitment strong enough to keep loving despite our cluttered lives, and with love strong enough to call others into that same commitment. Amen!


WMS said...

I love this post! And I agree with both of his views of what makes a difference in this world much more than money-- Attention and commitment. But I want to add one... empowerment. Read more here: http://tortilini.blogspot.com/2005/12/attention-commitment-empowerment-and.html

Anonymous said...

This issue of Time has sat beside my bed for a week. I really need to read it. Thanks!


Unknown said...

i need to be "dual-platform-friendly" and offer sincere kudos to bill and melinda.

bono was already my worship leader. the edge, of course, my priest.