And not surprisingly, guitars, and a keyboard, are at the heart of why I am here, as they should be.
More than ten years ago I gave a lecture for the Veritas Forum on the responsibility of knowledge, an important question in and for the university where “knowing” is the reason-for-being. In a time when we can know so much about everyone and everything, the 24/7 reality of the “news” and so much more, can we find ways to learn that “implicate” us in what we know? That make us care more, now that we know more? Where our sense of responsibility is deeper, and greater, now that we know what we know? Most of the time most of us decide, for intensely personal and complex reasons, that we aren’t interested, if knowing “this” will require “that.” From the most personal, like a marriage, to the most public, take Washington, DC, for example, we conclude, “Now that I know what I know, I am going to step away…..” After the lecture, I met a group of guys who had some serious questions, and we began to talk.
The best part of the story is that that conversation has had consequences—the best conversations always do. The Blood:Water Mission, we have called it, and as of this week, literally, there are now one million people in Africa with access to clean water, and many, many, many others whose lives been transformed by the gift of clean blood, because of the vision that began years ago among those guys with guitars and keyboard who called themselves the Jars of Clay.
Growing out of the crisis in Africa brought about by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and for years led by Jena Lee Nardella, there are now scores of good people doing this good work, both here in the U.S. and in Africa. I flew in today to take part in the board meeting, where we will step in again to the on-the-ground complexity of addressing the critical place of tension where hope meets history. (This weekend is also the 20th anniversary of the band, and so on Saturday night the Jars of Clay will be doing a concert for Nashville, and we will attend, of course.)
Can we know the world, and still love it? Especially in this Information Age, the info-glut culture it is, where most of the time we are overwhelmed by what we know, in fact “numbed” by what we know—and we turn the barometers of our hearts down.
For years I have taken Edge’s song, hauntingly titled “Numb,” and have shown the MTV version all over the world, asking people to ponder its question. Poetically, plaintively, U2’s lead guitarist asks all of us to think again about the world where modern technologies are the air we breathe, where we have no life without our iPhones, where we are always “plugged in” in one way or another. Can human beings flourish in that world, our world that it is? Can we really know anything? What does it mean to care about what I know? And what does it mean for us and the world when, with U2, all we can say is, “I feel numb… I feel numb… I feel numb”? Knowing what I know, I feel numb.
So yes, we are still talking, as we must. And over time the words have become flesh, as they should. Never perfect, not ever all that it might be, and yet the Blood:Water Mission is a signpost, a good story of people who have chosen to connect what they know with what they do, who, for love’s sake, are taking responsibility for the way the world is, and ought to be.
(The photo was taken this morning in the Nashville airport, and U2’s song, “Numb,” on YouTube.)