This summer, for a few minutes on a steamy, southern, “cat on a hot tin roof” evening, Andi and I reconnected with Bono. He was in Nashville for his day job as the world’s biggest rock star fronting U2 on the 360˚ Tour. We had the privilege of introducing him to Nate Yetton as well as Joy Williams from The Civil Wars. Hugs, kisses, and photos for all. But most importantly Bono and I connected on what drew us together in the first place — justice for all. “That really changed things, that was a pivotal moment,” he said, referring to a meeting he led at our home — the Art House in Nashville — December 2002. So what happened?
First and most importantly the Spirit of Justice blew through town, and normally Spirit-resistant people let the wind blow. Then came a prophet dressed up as a rock star riffing on two-thousand-year-old words like: “Do unto others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). Jesus says that.
The messenger gathered together a room full of artists in the business of making a name for themselves. He told them: "The attention of the world might sometimes be elsewhere, but history is watching. It's taking notes. And it's going to hold us to account, each of us. When the story of these times gets written, we want it to say that we did all we could, and it was more than anyone could have imagined."
Then he prayed, because prayer is a way of breathing when the worst of disease, hunger, and poverty have sucked the oxygen out of people and planet. You talk to God about matters of mutual concern — it’s a conversation about goodness and health becoming present in the world as in heaven. Prayer is showing up for the life you’ve been given, a way of saying to God, I’m here, I’m listening, and I’m ready to move — just give the order, and point me in a good direction.
Because the Spirit of Justice is never just blowing through one person or one town, all sorts of people simultaneously met and heard similar messages bouncing off God’s satellites. Grass roots and grass tops were all up in the mix. It was a strange mixture of people mobilizing across America and the planet to fight the worst of disease, hunger, and extreme poverty. Political enemies put down their blue/red rhetoric and championed help for Africa. Christians who previously groaned that AIDS is nothing but a sex problem became infected with the love that Christ has for the poor and inflicted. They turned and returned to a better way of being human — one that cares for all that God loves. Countries, institutions, and corporations released some of the brain trust and wealth they had stored up for themselves. They offered it for the good of people and planet. In short, for a moment in time, an ad hoc gathering of people sought justice and loved mercy, and those who named it as such woke each day to walk humbly with God.
Then real change happened on the ground in the worst-hit areas of Africa and in the hearts of the American Church and American politicians. For a time, people who could never agree on anything locked arms to work for the restoration of rightness and the reconciliation of people and planet. But it wasn’t about charity. It was about justice. It’s worth the time to repeat Bono’s words from the 54th National Prayer Breakfast, February 2nd, 2006:
It’s not about charity after all, is it? It’s about justice.
Let me repeat that: It’s not about charity, it’s about justice.
And that’s too bad.
Because you’re good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can’t afford it.
But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.
6,500 Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drugstore. This is not about charity, this is about justice and equality.
Because there's no way we can look at what’s happening in Africa and, if we're honest, conclude that deep down, we really accept that Africans are equal to us. Anywhere else in the world, we wouldn’t accept it.
Art House America is an American non-profit dedicated to exploring the intersection of imagination, creativity, and the life of following the person and teaching of Jesus. We do this for the common good because we hold to the idea that Jesus taught a better way of being human, one that takes very seriously the call to be one kind of person and not another. We hold that a follower of Jesus, above all things, loves God and neighbor.
The government refers to us as a religious education organization. As if anticipating that religion would always be in the vernacular of both the zealous and institutions, James the brother of Jesus said this: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Going back even farther to the early Jewish prophets, Jeremiah tied one’s knowledge of God to this very idea when he spoke of the good King Josiah: “He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?”
For the imaginative, creative human interested in people and planet, every day is an opportunity for a pivotal moment. When the power of imagination and creativity pivots toward the needs of the world anything can happen — good can happen. Justice can happen.
History is watching. The story of how we are reacting to disease and extreme poverty and hunger is being written. How are you using your imaginative and creative abilities to tell a good story? Art is about making, but it is never better than when it accompanies a life well made. Set your compass toward living a seamless creative life where the full weight of your gifts are offered to the great needs of the world, from the need for beauty to the need for vaccines for the poorest children. This is the just and artful life.
Here are a few game-changing people and organizations that have prospered from the pivotal moment Bono mentioned. I wonder what we’ll see from your moment? These are good places to serve and use your imagination and creativity:
In addition, there is a form of advocacy that seeks to make public justice systems work for victims of abuse and oppression who urgently need the protection of the law. No organization does this better than International Justice Mission
Andi and I are co-chairing the Nashville Benefit Dinner for International Justice Mission this year, 2011. If you’d like to learn more about how you can attend and become an active part of this amazing justice movement, click here.
Charlie Peacock and his wife, Andi Ashworth, are Co-Founders/Executive Directors of Art House America. A long-time advocate for social justice, Charlie continues to serve the ONE Campaign, a fruitful relationship that began in 2002 when he hosted co-founder Bono, and later, co-founder Jamie Drummond and former ONE President David Lane, putting them in front of Nashville’s artistic community. Charlie and Andi are the 2011 Co-Chairs for the International Justice Mission Nashville Benefit Dinner. Charlie contributed the chapter “Taking it Personally” to The aWAKE Project: Uniting Against the African AIDS Crisis (Nashville, TN 2002) with various authors including Nelson Mandela, Bono, Kofi Annan, and George W. Bush. That chapter was reprinted in Mission: Africa: A Field Guide (Nashville, TN 2003).