Bob Geldof said recently that he regrets writing “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, which was probably one of the most heart-felt songs of compassion ever written. While I do agree that some of the lyrics were a bit inaccurate — there is snow on the continent of Africa — the intention was more than honorable.
“Feed the world, let them know it’s Christmas time again” was not only touching, but it also spoke to what was needed in the world. In 1984 the primarily British rock stars who came together to sing this song were trying to raise money to fight hunger in Africa, primarily Ethiopia.
In the U.S., rock, pop and R&B artists recorded their charitable call to arms, “We Are the World.” It too was a big hit and raised considerable money for the cause of world hunger.
And of course the passion to end hunger and the compassion that spurred these efforts on died down and in many quarters faded away altogether. For some it even provided an opening for racist jokes about Ethiopians and their lack of nutrition.
Since that time there have been philanthropic efforts to help those who have suffered from natural disasters. More recently, Haiti has been the recipient of our generosity — and now the poor country is being ravaged by cholera, an entirely preventable disease. It’s also being undermined by an unseen hand that pretends to advocate democracy while doing all it can to assure that the Haitians will be governed by those whose primary interest is in lining their own pockets.
There is an international effort underway to limit the purchasing of what are being called “Conflict Minerals” by suppliers of electronic companies in primarily the Eastern Congo. There has been a civil war brewing in Congo for nearly 10 years, which according to estimates has taken nearly five million lives and resulted in thousands of rapes.
Most of the monies to continue the fighting come from the sale of tungsten, tantalum, tin and gold. These metals are used primarily in the making of computers, laptops, iPods, cell phones and other electronic gadgets.
Efforts to curtail these war funds are indeed laudable, but sometimes these crises are clear indications that something is wrong. There is something wrong with the way business is conducted when it encourages corruption in foreign countries and bribery becomes the order of the day while whole populations suffer.
And while we struggle in our country to reconcile ourselves with that nagging doubt, deep down we know that something may be wrong with a system that allows some folks to sleep on the street, or go hungry, or go without a job that really makes ends meet. We sense that something is amiss, but we duck our heads hoping that we won’t be next.
What will make it so that there are no glaring crises each year is a global system that is just and equitable. Martin Luther King once said, “An edifice that continues to produce beggars needs restructuring.”
While we celebrate this Christmas either from a religious or secular perspective, we must remind ourselves that the real meaning of Christmas is about leveling the playing field. Mary in her celebration of her pregnancy cried out that the very idea of her son coming to earth “has exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”
The coming of Jesus meant the end of injustice, poverty, hatred and war, or things as they were. And now, over two thousand years later, it seems that the message will never be fulfilled.
But the other part of the Christmas message is that there is hope; that we will make it so!
Mel Reeves will be contributing a regular column to the MSR. He welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.