Saturday, November 14, 2009

the world is our parish

I find myself, in rambling around cyberspace, listening closely to a few voices who seem to have their ear to the ground made holy by the suffering of women and the diseased of the majority world. While we have been legitimately concerned with health care in the U.S.---and I have preached and blogged about this subject this fall---there are nevertheless crises beyond our borders that demand our attention.

In particular I think of Nicholas Kristof, of the New York Times, Tracy Kidder, author of Mountains Beyond Mountains, and more recently Strength in What Remains, and Paul Farmer, subject of Mountains Beyond Mountains and co-founder of Partners In Health. Kristof, along with his wife Sheryl WuDunn, authored Half The Sky, and maintains a relentless focus on the plight of women in this troubled world: their lack of access to health, their minimal ownership of property, their victimization through sexual trafficking, their yearning for education. He also casts a wide net inclusive of anyone who might be an ally in this cause. And he uses social media in an expert way, particularly Twitter. Tracy Kidder is, quite simply, an exquisite writer. I had read his Soul of A New Machine and House years ago; I came upon his treatment of Paul Farmer as I began to travel on a regular basis to Haiti, and then I happened to see the two of them on C-Span (full disclosure: I am something of a Book TV nerd on the weekends). Years later, through the good graces of a friend I was honored to serve on a panel discussion with Paul Farmer at Wofford College.

Mountains Beyond Mountains is so well-written that you will think it is actually authored by Farmer, it is that transparent. It touches on issues of global health, the preferential option for the poor, and the merits of helping persons in structurally desperate circumstances. I took Jacques Lamour, from Haiti, with me to meet Farmer, who is a congenial and hospitable man. Tracy Kidder has moved on to chronicle, more recently, the journey of an immigrant from Burundi to the U.S. Strength In What Remains is a briefer volume than Mountains Beyond Mountains, but it covers, in a way, the same encounter, and yet from the reverse direction: not what it means to move from the U.S. to Haiti, but from Burundi to the U.S.

I am thinking about Kristof, Kidder and Farmer because my own Christian denomination, which has considerable resources, has strategically lifted up the importance of global health and young adults in the recovery of an authentic mission over the years ahead. These three figures, for me, model what we might begin to do in the coming years: they are present in other areas of the world, even if they reside in major urban centers here; they have a laser-like focus, in particular, on the plight of women and global health; they attract young adults, even disciples, to their causes; they use traditional and non-traditional media; and they are not unaware of the good that is done in the cause of the gospel. In fact, they will work with anyone who joins hands with them (and here, and this merits another conversation, they are similar to Bono).

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the world is their parish.


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