More Than a Sexy Cause
NASHVILLE—Don Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz, admits that it's difficult to keep social justice from becoming just another sexy cause, and that it's extremely difficult to maintain one's passion for changing the world—not to mention actually doing the difficult dirty work of pursuing justice in the first place.
"Raising awareness is very easy, especially in the age of Twitter, Facebook and websites," Miller said at a Blood:Water Mission (BWM) event here Friday night. "We can dress it up and make it sexy for a moment, but that's not the purpose of it. We can create this incredible image of compassion but never really ask the question, 'What is being done here?' The actual work is incredibly difficult and complex."
Miller was one of several guest speakers and musicians who appeared at "Love (As it Turns Out) Is a Battlefield," an evening of live music, conversations and film sponsored by BWM, an aid organization founded by Christian band Jars of Clay. More than 600 turned out for the event, which focused on "faith in action's flirtations with fashion, and its connection to sustainable transformation," said organizer Matt Ward, grassroots director for BWM.
Traveling from as far as Washington state and Maine to attend, audience members, including BWM's 2009 Ride:Well Bike Tour cyclists, packed out Downtown Presbyterian Church in a night highlighting modern society's tension between "cause fatigue vs. continued action," as Ward terms it.
Donations were designated to help continue BWM's commitment to provide 150,000 locals in Marsabit, Kenya sustainable solutions for Africa's HIV/AIDS and water crises.
Sarah Masen, Justin Caldwell, Sandra McCracken and Matthew Perryman Jones, four local singer/songwriters who have long been involved with BWM, entertained the energetic audience with simple, three-song acoustic sets, before authors David Dark (Sacredness of Questioning Everything) and Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz) engaged in an on-stage conversation about culture's faddish response to social justice, creating trends rather than lasting change.
Citing Miller's Blue Like Jazz as a perfect catalyst for "expanding the space of the talkaboutable," a phrase Dark coins for media that instigates conversation, the two modern-day apologists conducted a live discussion dissecting fashionable philanthropy.
Both began by mentioning U2's Bono as a major player in promoting social justice and raising the collective conscience through pop culture over the past two decades, becoming one of the first international celebrities to portray caring as "cool." Which Miller says is great. But he admits, is only a beginning.
In an often humorous address, Miller noted that "the flip side [of social justice being cool] is that caring about justice became a great way to attract the opposite sex. The problem with fashion is fashion changes. So the problem with justice being a fashionable issue, or the problem with Africa being an issue that can attract the opposite sex, is that it can go away for those who just found a new way to get laid."
Exposing his own elementary motivations, Miller reminisced over his desire to start The Mentoring Project, a faith-based initiative to provide community male role models for boys ages 7 to 14, a few years ago, and the sobering steps it would take to see his dream realized. "I didn't want to do the work. I wanted to be somebody who started a mentoring program. I loved raising awareness," admits Miller. "I certainly didn't want to mentor a kid because that's getting into the messy part."