Thank God for the Prophets of Late Night Comedy

The Bible and other sacred texts are filled with prophets who blow the whistle on danger, fraud, waste or abuse of power. Other prophets alert us to the good news of hope and possibility.

Now that we finally have cable and decent streaming capability on our computers, my husband and I have become faithful to the late night fake news shows of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. We’ve also maintained our loyalty to Bill Moyers on PBS, whose prophetic guests are not always amusing.

The big difference between prophetic comedians and the people we usually think of as prophets is that we’re more likely to listen when we get to laugh first.

When we invite comedians into our living rooms, we accept the truth that when we laugh at the craziness, illusions and pretenses of the powerful and celebrated, we might also be confronting our own truths. With Stewart and Colbert, we also meet authors and thought leaders that get lost in much of the mainstream’s media obsession with the latest shiny (tawdry?) thing or its dependence on press releases from the powerful.

Were it not for Stephen Colbert’s fake news show, I might never have heard about Leymah Gbowee, a perfect role model for how spirit in action can benefit the lives and economy of a huge community.

Gbowee was once just another war-weary Liberian single mother. Then she had a crazy dream that led her to organize the country’s “market women,” some of whom had originally helped run guns that fueled a war among various warlords and against ruthless and corrupt Liberian president Charles Taylor. Armed only with quiet courage and white tee-shirts, this Christian and Muslim group of market women grew so large that they eventually helped topple Taylor and banish him from Liberia.

Now Taylor is on trial in The Hague at a U.N.-backed court for his alleged war crimes against Sierra Leone, and Liberia’s new president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, is the first democratically elected female head of state in Africa.  Liberia is in the process of rebuilding a country where years of war had left 1/3 of the people homeless. Now “market woman” is a term of honor, and a major job of the new president is to help market women build better lives

Even for stories about work with meaning and purpose, it always helps get the story out if it has a sexy angle.

Naturally, in interviewing Ms. Gbowee, comedian Colbert started with the sexy bits, and how one of Gbowee’s major strategies was to organize a sex strike.

Colbert: You shut down the playground for Liberian men, you might say. .. How did you get other women to join in on this?

Gbowee: Desperation. … I had no idea about that Greek play [“Lysistrata” by Aristophanes, first performed in 411 B.C.] … But we had just gotten to the point where we were really fed up and we thought our men folk were not really serious about ending the conflict So we needed to find a way to get to them and we thought that was one of the best ways.

Colbert: How did you word it?

Gbowee: We just said “no sex.” No sex until the conflict ends. .. So, even if you were not a fighter, if you had a friend who was a fighter, you had to stand up to him as a man [and tell him] “put the guns down, no sex until the war ends.”

Put together the Colbert Report segment with Bill Moyers’ show on Gbowee and you’ve got a powerful role model for dealing with everything from gang warfare to economic and healthcare reform … or even reclaiming the soul of the media.

“Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” the award-winning film about Gbowee and others who created the market women movement, will be shown on PBS some time in 2010. In the meantime, here are some things you can do:

  • Watch the Colbert and Moyers clips with Ms. Gbowee and catch her contagious spirit.
  • Foster your spirit by praying for guidance on how you can best put it to work.
  • Find a screening of the film or arrange one for your group.
  • Have fun with friends proposing your own “sex strike” or other creative strategies to local, national or world problems.
  • Look for groups in your own area, like Life Skills for Peace, which is impacting youth in gang-ridden areas of Richmond, CA.  Help those groups and/or create one of your own.

Remember Viktor Frankl’s words from yesterday’s post: if we were immortal, we put off following our calls to make the world a better place. But we are very mortal, and we are designed to care.

Many blessings as always, Pat McHenry Sullivan