Friday, April 20, 2007
Fasting for Darfur--Hungering for Justice
(Picture courtesy of the Washington Post)
Meet Jay McKinley. Jay has a cross tatooed on his forehead. The cross says Start Loving, and in fact this is what Jay calls himself these days.
I was walking down Massachusetts Ave. (one of the Embassy rows in D.C.) and Jay was standing outside the Sudanese embassy protesting the atrocities in Darfur. At least 450,000 people have died in the horrible ethnic and religious cleansing that has been going on in the Darfur region of Sudan, most victims being Christians living in Christian villages in the western end of that region. Many of those villages have been entirely destroyed, and the Sudanese government has done little or nothing to stop it. Indeed they were one of the instigators who supported and armed a rebel group that got this disaster started in 2003. President Bush yesterday said he found the situation evil and appalling, but took no action, apparently because there may be something brewing in the United Nations by way of intervention. We shall see. But back to Jay.
Jay is an ordinary guy, a former businessman, software salesman, in Pennsylvania, who quit his job and as of March 1 began fasting and and on March 13th living on the sidewalk in front of the Sudanese embassy in D.C., until they do something about the ongoing disaster in their country.
Jay became convicted that this is what the Lord wanted him to do, to raise awareness for the thousands of people, including thousands of Christians that continue to die in the blood-letting there.
Jay is my age, 55, and at this point he has been fasting for longer than Jesus did-- well beyond 40 days. His story was in last Saturday's Washington Post. His mind is starting to slow, he is constantly nauseous, he can barely move, his kidneys have mostly shut down causing his legs to swell, but his heart is strong and he is determined to take this to the end if need be or until something significant is done to help the plight of the Christians and others in Darfur.
Jay sleeps in a green sleeping bag, but is not allowed to sleep flat on the sidewalk or else he will be picked up for vagrancy. Nearby is a statue of Ghandi, who, after Jesus, is his inspiration for doing what he is doing. During the day if someone comes to the embassy he tries to stand up and has a large orange sign explaining why he is there. When no one is around he simply reads his Bible.
Jay has left his family behind in Pennsylvania, so convicted was he that he was supposed to do this. They know he is likely to die soon, and one of his sons recently visited him. I don't really see this as much different than what some of the original disciples did when they were called away from their families by Jesus to come and follow him.
Why is he doing this? Besides saying its what the Lord wants him to do he says: "Babies are being killed. Women are being gang raped and mutilated. What kind of human beings are we if we don't respond?" What kind indeed. Where exactly is the Christian church's capacity for moral outrage about this, when many human beings, including many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being murdered daily?
Now I need to tell you Jay is a pretty normal guy, not a kook. He has a bachelor's degree from Ithaca college and an MBA from Syracuse. He reads his Bible daily and Christian literature. Recently he quoted Teilhard de Chardin one of the more interesting Catholic thinkers of the 20th century: "After we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness the energies of love. Then for the second time in history, man will have discovered fire."
Jay so inspired a local D.C. tatoo artist that he tatooed the cross with Start Loving in it on his forehead for free.
Jay stands alone on the street corner. No one joins him. When I saw this, I wondered if I had the courage and conviction and guts to do what he was doing. When asked by reporters why he is offering up this apparently futile gesture alone he says "I'm here because my brothers and sisters are being killed. It's not my responsibility what others do. Its only my responsibility what I do. I can do nothing less in the face of this atrocity." Choking back tears he adds 'I wish I had a thousand lives to give. But I have mine and this is how I choose to spend it."
What was it that Jesus said-- "Greater love has no man, than he lay down his life for his friends." Well Jay doesn't even know these folks in Darfur, but he knows they are his brothers and sisters.
I am reminded of the great poem by John Donne which says (I am paraphrasing) "No man is an island, entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away from Europe, Europe is the less. Any man's death diminishes me, for I am a part of mankind. Therefore do not seek to know for whom the bell tolls-- it tolls for thee."
God bless you Jay, and God have mercy on Darfur-- soon and very soon.
(with thanks to the Washington Post and Delphine Schrank a Post staff writer for some of this information which I have rewritten).