Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing.”
Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States of America
Photos & Text by Patrick Scriven, Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries
Last week my wife and I finally got out to see the film, Lincoln. It was a moving tribute to this very determined man that we remember as one of our greatest presidents. The decision to depict Lincoln as a complex individual, giving air to some of his contemporaries criticism of him, helped to personalize the man and redeem Hollywood for the other 2012 film starring Abraham Lincoln … and vampires.
This week I am in Washington, D.C. for the Imagine No Malaria advocacy days on Capitol Hill. On several occasions I’ve been drawn to think about the film I just saw, the optimistic vision of the city I had as a young school kid, and the contrasting realism/cynicism I bear as an adult for what is politically possible.
During some opening words for the event, Jim Winkler, General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society, recounted an email his office had received in response to the invitation to this advocacy event. The author, a lay leader of another annual conference, discarded the efforts of lobbying as old-fashioned and suggested people needed to rise to the adaptive challenge by studying the Scriptures more and praying harder. Assuming that the author was sincere and well-intentioned, does his suggestion reflect reality or is it an overly cynical response to a system that needs a fixed and resolved pressure?
The line between cynicism and realism is often hard to discern. A cynic might recognize the dysfunction in Washington and decide that attempting to meet with their congressional representatives is a waste of time and treasure. A realist might come to a similar conclusion depending on the data available to them. The difference, as I perceive it, is the reason why and what they do next.
As Congress debates the looming fiscal cliff, I’m compelled to believe that people of faith speaking out in favor of global health funding, might make little difference. But while the realist (or perhaps cynic) in me recognizes that our work may be foolish, I do know that praying and reading Scripture, good practices that they are, have no chance of making change if we never allow our spiritual discernment to move us forward toward action.
For what it’s worth, I had very pleasant meetings with aides for both or Washington state’s senators and received their assurance that both supported and appreciated the work of the Global Fund and groups like The United Methodist Church.
Regardless, The United Methodist Church isn’t relying solely on politicians in this cause to reduce malaria-related deaths. The Imagine No Malaria campaign set a goal of raising $75-$100 million by 2015. Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, chair of the Global Health Initiative and bishop of the Western Pennsylvania Conference shared with attendees that Conferences have just pushed past a goal of $26 million; a marker the campaign had hoped to meet in January of 2013.
When United Methodist’s first began to work on this issue, a life was taken by malaria every 30 seconds. Recently we learned that our work together has cut that number in half. In partnership with government agencies and NGOs, we are truly making a difference in the world in ways only a cynic could deny.
Rose Farhat, a seminarian from the Liberia Episcopal Area shared a message on the Gospel story of Peter and Jesus to attendees of the event. She said Jesus called Peter, and calls us, to “Go beyond your (our) professional wisdom; go into the deep.” She argues that Jesus encourages us to step beyond what we know we can do, so we can do what we are called to do.
According to Farhat, “Malaria is killing more than our people; it is killing our souls” as each death leaves a grieving family struggling to understand the meaning of their loss. Rose shared that she “pray(s) that the Gospel of Christ will go with our nets” highlighting the opportunity we have as the Body of Christ to bring not only help but also meaning and hope.
For a church in the U.S. that struggles to see its own hope, I wonder what we might find if we stopped looking and got to work. The world needs change agents and we have wallowed in doubt, and a myopic focus on our decline, for far too long.
After a long day of sitting and listening I needed a walk, so I wandered out of the church we were in, past the Capital building and down the long, long mall. At the far end was the Lincoln Memorial, reflecting beautifully on the dark pool between it and the Washington Monument. Walking up the steps I began to wonder what we might be capable of if we had but a fraction of our 16th President’s resolve.
If there is one task that I believe the church is called to, it is to offer the world the gift of hope. And I would submit that our faith is most vital when that hope makes a difference in people’s lives in the here and now, not just the hereafter. Like Lincoln we may never see all the fruits of our labor, but for the sake of the world, I pray we never tire in wanted to see just a little bit more.