Reverend Herb Daughtry, an African-American pastor in Brooklyn famous for his "Marry Baby Daddy Day" has left three messages now on my machine. I tried to call him back twice, reached his assistant, and we fell into in an overtime game of phone tag. "My heart and head are telling me to act now on Darfur," he said when we finally got in touch.
This metaphor is apt — when genocide looms, and governments can't work with others to prevent further bloodshed, the communication somehow breaks down. With news that UN envoys are now being thrown out of Sudan, it is no wonder that Darfurians are in a state of despair.
And what do we in the U.S. spend our time talking about when the topic of Africa rolls around? Madonna's newly adopted son from Malawi. Will she go on Oprah? Yes! Will she do a photo shoot with her new son for Vanity Fair? Stay tuned. Perhaps we are suffering from "save Darfur fatigue."
Daughtry has a simple and moving idea to remedy our syndrome — a Sabbath for Darfur in which Muslims, Jews, and Christians reflect over a weekend, in prayer and action, for the sake of the two million displaced, malnourished people of Darfur. But Daughtry has his obstacles. Why should Christians and Jews spend their time focused on atrocities committed by Muslims against Muslims? Shouldn't Muslims be the ones who are praying and acting to end this bloodshed? Isn't Christian and Jewish concern for Muslims simply a veiled critique of Islam?
I want to suggest that the plight of the Darfurians crosses religious boundaries. We have already heard reports of massacres and brutal sexual violence from Darfur and most experts sense that another wave is already underway. Whenever the world looks on at a situation of this magnitude and feels helpless to stop it, or even to simply feed the hungry, we experience what the great Jewish philosopher Martin Buber once called the "eclipse of God."
In the years after the Second World War, Buber saw that the promises of modernity had fallen flat, and that even with more technological communication, we were growing more distanced from one another's humanity. Needless suffering of non-combatants, particularly of women, children and the frail elderly, eclipses the presence of God.
For more on Darfur see my column this week running on UPI....