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).


John said...

Thanks for sharing this.

ChrisB said...

You know, when it comes to things like Darfur, I just really don't know where to begin. I guess we're waiting for the next Wilberforce.

rutterbrian said...

Hey Ben,
I was thinking about his situation the other day when I was watching the news. The scene was some international committee meeting about European Union Regulations. One of the people on the committee offered his opinion about the matters at hand and their hierarchy of importance saying, “What we need to be asking about here is what are we going to do about the immigration problem coming from Darfur?”
Upon seeing this it was pretty plain for me to see that they were being cold by ignoring the problem in Darfur and seeing it more as a burden. It also occurred to me that perhaps America is facing a similar problem from Mexico. When people are immigrating at so rapid a rate, it is because there is a problem within the country that needs fixing, not something at the borders. Are Americans ignoring a problem in Mexico?
Which then is it more important for Americans to try to fix, their own or Europe's?

rutterbrian said...

Sorry, not to diminish from the story. But what about for those of us who don't feel called in a specific direction.

Ben Witherington said...

Since when is Darfur part of Europe? Last I checked there is no genocide going on in Arizona as a result of Mexicans coming to America so the two situations are not analogous in any way. Mexicans are coming to America for the same reason immigrants from all over the world have come here-- to better provide for their families and hopefully have more freedom.


Ben W.

Paul said...

We need more like him - especially in higher office. We seem to have a curious situation in which today's "man on the street"is more enlightened than heads of state.

Shea said...
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Shea said...


Give us hearts like that. Like Jesus. As a church we sure do need the passion that we lost so long ago. Use Jay's small flame to like a world wide revival of justice, peace, and love. Use us as your hands and feet to clothe, feed, and love the people of Darfur.

Ben thanks for this message.

Bill in Boston said...

I admire Jay's devotion and willingness to sacrifice himself for this terribly important and just cause. It is long past time that our leadership, beginning with President Bush, take action to stop the slaughter in Sudan.

However, I am disturbed about Jay's methodology. It is clear that his fast has morphed into a hunger strike. I do not believe it is morally right to choose to destroy the temple of the Holy Spirit. Jesus chose to allow the human authorities of his day to carry out perverted justice against him, but this is not equivalent to committing suicide. Jesus did not take his own life, others directly took it.

Again, I do not write this to criticize Jay, who I am convinced is acting out of pure motives, but rather to point out that his approach isn't quite right.

M.L. said...

I really admire Jay for what he's doing. His sacrifice is so touching.

Benson said...

Boston Guy...

Would you not consider Jay to be acting out "greater love has no man than this... that a man lay down his life for his friend." Is this not what Jay is doing?

cfg said...
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cfg said...
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cfg said...

What Jay is doing is utterly challenging. I agree Ben, he has understood something of the truth of what Donne was saying - "any man's death diminishes me". As the Post article states, he feels the pain of those in Darfur as if his own family.

But reading his blogs (e.g. made me a little sad (quite separate from anything about Darfur). There's a lot about Jesus the ultimate example and great moral teacher, but so little about Jesus the only Saviour of the world. I want to tell him, there's so much more! I hope he knows.

If only the church was so willing to be obedient. To live sacrifically, to lay down our lives. To love. To love those who can't love us back.

We get so caught up in 'holiday-living', thinking that life should be fun and comfortable, that we forget we're in a warzone. As soldiers, pleasing our commanding officer and advancing the Kingdom is our priority, nothing else. I think Jay has understood something of this..that there is nothing else - and certainly not a comfortable life - nothing but obedience and love.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi cfg:

Jay does speak of Jesus as deity. He says that if you take the deity out of Jesus, you end up with Ghandi, which, in the way he means it in terms of his actions is mostly true.



Curtis D. said...

"If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me." - Luke 9:23

"Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity." John 12:25

"There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." - John 15:13

God bless Jay.


Bill in Boston said...


As I said, I think Jay has nothing but pure motivations, and yes, I believe that his intention is to demonstrate the very kind of self sacrifice that you referenced from scripture.

However, the issue that I raised is whether or not suicide is a morally valid method by which to demonstrate the love of Christ. I definitely do not think that Jesus endorsed suicide in the passage you quoted. He was clearly making reference to His own death, which was self sacrifice within the context of a homicide committed against Him, not suicide. I do not think there is a basis to say that Jesus was also endorsing suicide in His statement.

I don't think that as Christians we want to take the stand that suicide is wrong unless some threshold of self sacrifice for others is exceeded. Many people who are suicidal convince themselves that the world would be a better place without them. It would be a simple matter for them to rationalize to the point where they believe they are sacrificing their life like Jesus did. To cite a very extreme example, the Virginia Tech shooter referred to the sacrifice of Jesus in order to justify his demented acts. Certainly Jay is at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of the purity of his motivations, but I believe he is taking the wrong approach in taking his own life.

Indeed, may God bless Jay, but pray that he does not take his own life.

Start Loving said...


I am honored and pleased to see this dialog. My clothes are starting to speak to me, so I took that as a sign to accept refuge from friends to do laudary, bathe, and blog tonight. Back to the Embassy tomorrow morning. I'm down to about 130 lbs as a result of burning about 2000-3000 calories per day by marching with the posters 9-12 hours per day, and now taking in about 600 cal/day - mostly juice. My goal is to be a visual of the Holocaust there in Mass. Ave in DC asap. When I hit about 110lbs (I was 175) I'll take calories sufficient to last until June 30 God willing. Then? Whatever I understand our Father and Master to want.

You demonstrate much courage, Truth and Spirit in how you view my story. Commendations.

As to committing Suicide, I really think that this issue is one we have to get past. Does a mother that goes into a burning building to get her child commit suicide? Did Jesus going into Jerusalem KNOWING he would be Crucificed commit Suicide? Does a soldier going an a "suicide mission" commit suicide? The 911 fire fighters? Etc. Etc. Etc.

Who knows? But what is important is not this fine point in the scheme of things, certaninly. Jesus is our Master and BROTHER. "As you do unto the least of these my family." Jesus has billions of us down here suffering Sprititual (U.S.) and or physical (Darfur and elsewhere) mutilation and horror. Would He be horrified if Start Loving out of some selfish angst or self pitty killed himeself? YES!

But Jesus is the one that has me walking willingly into exactly what killed Him - Selfishness / Cowardice / Neglect. King did the same thing. So did Gandhi. I can avoid that evil easily! But so could they. No. The only Christian thing to do is to place our bodies between the evil, Selfishness / Neglect and the victims that it may kill us if it will, and maybe spare them.

As Dr. King said, "Unearned suffering is redemptive." If Start Loving dies it will NOT be by his own hand. It will be at the hand of my wealthy, heartless U.S. brothers and sisters - at their neglectful, cowardly, non-brotherly, selfish hand - the hands that currently has the blood of 450,000 Darfuries on them. Why their blood on our hands? Because we have the power to protect, and they do not. I am not talking about Bush. I am talking about you and me as the guilty parties. "I was in prison, and you did not visit me...."

Some believe, as I do, that although on our entrance interview for Heaven there is much we COULD be asked, there is really only one thing we will be asked about - DID YOU LOVE YOUR BROTHER AS YOURSELF - DID YOU DO UNTO OTHERS ALL THAT YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO UNTO YOU.

If I perrish, if I am not saved by my U.S. brothers and sisters from the lot I throw mine in with - that of my neglected Darfur family - I am not the one Jesus is going to be upset with.

Your always Loving brother, Start

Start Loving said...

More than anyone I know or have read of with the exception of the likes of Gandhi, Jesus, King and Teresa I believe in, trust in, and throw my life totally on what I imagine God wishes for me to do. I just don't know exactly what God is. But I feel Him/Her/It as clearly and surely as I feel gravity.
My point? I believe that Jesus was the most perfect "child" of that God of Love / Life / Truth / Joy / Brotherhood. I do not believe less nor more than that.
One of your wonderful posters expressed deep sadness that I seemed to believe not more. I thank your poster, but I am almost completely certain that I grieve more than can be imagined that others believe "more" than I do. And I am certain that Jesus shares that grief.
My God. Jesus didn't want to be worshiped. Jesus wanted to be followed. Jesus saw with perfect clarity that:
A. Any and every individual that would go to the cross with her/his life for "the least of these" would immediately, for their life on earth enter Our Father's Kingdom - Heaven. I'm doing it every minute of every day. It is complete Love, Life, Peace, Joy and Agony JUST LIKE HE PROMISED. It dwarfs all of life's other "pleasures" that I've drowned in most of my sinfully "privileged" life.
B. "Thy Kingdom come[s as] thy will is done...." As true as E=MCsqd. Jesus saw with perfect clarity that He/we could bring about Heaven on Earth - or it was gunna be complete Hell.
Friends, I see no Christians (ok maybe 100 or 1000 on the planet.) I see no Followers of Jesus. Oh what grief. Oh what sorrow. We are missing the entire, the ENTIRE thing.
If we followed Jos. Lister like we "follow" Jesus we would all die from dirty, infected scalpels.
If we followed Tiger Woods like we "follow" Jesus Tiger would go undefeated every game.
And on, and on....
Jesus was the Albert Einstein of Humanity / How to Live / Heaven on Earth / Family of Man / Brotherhood / Human Psychology. He told us how to make this place Heaven absolutely: For those who try; and for all when they succeed. My God, isn't this enough? Of course it is, unless we want to have no faith in Him, and hang on to our "Fleshly," Sinful, Error filled, SELFISH Lives (which of course exactly what we "Christians" are doing - nothing more, nothing less; nothing else.")
After a lifetime of prayer, study, experimentation and now extreme experience nothing can change my mind on this I expect.

And if I am right (and God help me, I am)? Think of the implications for you, and for the world.

Gandhi did. Look what happened when he followed Jesus the man. Imagine if we all did. My God, do we really need more than this? What a Miracle.

WE DO NOT NEED MORE THAN THIS. AND IF WE START FOLLOWING HIM AN STOP WORSHIPING HIM DO YOU REALLY THINK HE WILL NOT GIVE US THE REST IF THERE IS MORE? Come on now. If Gandhi, a devout follower of Jesus the man, while a devout Hindu is not in some Heaven after this life... I don't know about you, but I don't want to be there either.
Your Loving brother, Start

Bill in Boston said...


I would like to talk about more topics, but tonight I only had time to type something up on suicide.

I believe there are problems with the analogies you cite. When a mother runs into a burning building to retrieve her children and dies in the effort, it was the very fire that threatened the children that killed her. This situation is not equivalent to the mother setting herself on fire to attract the attention of others in order that they might intervene on behalf of her children. When Jesus went to Jerusalem knowing He would die, other human beings put Him to death. It would have been a very different matter if He had simply committed suicide, blaming it on all mankind. When a soldier dies on a suicide mission, enemy combatants kill the soldier. The soldier does not shoot himself in order to inspire other soldiers to complete the mission.

We cannot create an abstraction and call it reality. A hunger striker cannot deprive himself of food to the point of starvation and claim that others caused his death. Deprivation of food was his decision, not that of others. While perhaps it is true that others could avert the death by meeting the hunger striker's demands, the hunger striker is still the one killing his own body -- this is the reality of the situation.

It is important to give this controversy careful consideration because the following scriptural passage makes it clear that it is imperative that we must be cautious not to carelessly destroy our bodies:

I Cor 3
16 Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? 17 If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple.

Also, consider the fact that the only apostle to commit suicide was Judas. The rest, with the possible exception of John, died as true martyrs -- they were killed by others because of their belief on Jesus, the Christ.

Start Loving said...

Dear Brother Bill,

I respect the sincerity and thoroughness of your thinking.

I am certain that despite your best efforts you miss the point of Jesus. Whatever else He is/was He is our Brother and loves us all extraordinarily - our pain is His pain, our Joy is His joy.

Jesus chose death to save us - to make manifest the evil of a lifeless, death filled set of institututions and hearts of his day. Nothing has changed. I am quite certain that Jesus would say that your empasis is all wrong, to focus on who's hand as opposed to what force - SELFISHNESS. Whose hand is a technicality.

If, IF my death by Hunger Strike would stop the genocide and save one life, or millions of lives, what will Jesus have to say to me? Where will he send me, Heaven or Hell? If to Hell then that is where I want to be; if that is indeed His value system. He knows my Heart. My heart is not interested in my death, it is interested in Life for our family in Darfur and in the Heart-Dead, Humanity-Dead, Soul-less U.S.

He gave us our bodies to be used for His purposes - to serve the least of these His family. That is what I am doing following His exact call to me as best I can hear it.

Start Loving

Dave said...

"Now I need to tell you Jay is a pretty normal guy, not a kook."

Sorry, but I think Jay is a bit of a kook. Leaving a job and abandoning family in response to some nebulous "call" to perform a Quixotic task which will only result in Jay's death is a sign of kookiness.

Start Loving said...


I must agree. If you consider the norms of this culture to be healthy and sane, then what I am doing is absolutely crazy.

But if you think that this culture is sane, then God help you, your children, their grand children.... If you think this most selfish of all societies, this ultimate worshiper of Mammon is sane, then God have mercy on your Soul, and that of His 5 billion children that we nice folks in the U.S. continue to exploit as though they were rolls of toilet paper (not one of my better anologies.)

In all seriousness, to me it is clear that the only thing more crazy than doing what I am doing, is that millions of folks like you are not yet acting similarly in the face of Genocide. Our standing on the sidelines as individual citizens in the fifth year of a genocide is pathologically insane.

Start Loving

Snobfreelady said...

Three teenagers from Northwest High School in Germantown, MD organized a march calleds,
"Steps 4 Darfur". I produced a show in April 07 titled,"Students 4 Change in Darfur", and during the march I had a chance to interview jay and I went back two weeks later to see and chit chat with him. I was wondering if anyone has heard anything about Jay. Is he still alive?.