And there were questions — as well as words of affectionate tribute — from M*A*S*H-lovers attending the General Assembly Media Luncheon, sponsored by the Presbyterian Media Mission and Presbyterian Communicators Network. One listener, born in the 1980s, told of having meaningful conversations with his dad while watching M*A*S*H reruns.
“It continues to move me,” Farrell said, “that we reached people in a way we never could have imagined. He said the show struck a chord because it “dealt so much with the human condition, with the horrors of war and with the ways people deal with one another.”
But Farrell’s presentation focused on more somber topics. The sellout crowd listened in rapt attention for more than an hour as Farrell, now a respected human rights activist, spoke about goodness, evil and the power of love to overcome fear.
He told of visiting Rwanda shortly after the 1994 genocide and viewing a church that still contained piles of bones and possessions of people slaughtered there. He sat in his room that night unable to sleep and wrote about what he had seen. “Everything I believe was challenged by the infernal tableau displayed in this place,” he wrote.
Farrell grew up Catholic but is not active in a church, though he describes himself as one who believes in “a force that is greater than I.” He said the horror of Rwanda made him wonder whether “the divine spark” in human beings had been extinguished.
The lesson to be learned from Rwanda — and today from Darfur — Farrell said, is that “any human being, with limited life experience and even more limited education, is capable of being directed by accepted authority into behaviors that, on reflection, are stunningly, shockingly inhumane.”
In his advocacy on behalf of people unjustly imprisoned, torture victims and others, Farrell has seen more than his share of suffering. He said we should deal with the suffering in the world “by loving instead of fearing.”
Fear promotes “the lie that says some human beings are immaterial, inconsequential, invisible,” he said.
The Japanese survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki point to a better way of relating to other human beings. They say, “We are all Hibakusha,” meaning “downwinders” to the atomic blasts. They have recognized that all people are affected by acts of violence, Farrell said. Whether perpetrators, victims or bystanders, all are interconnected.
Farrell liberally sprinkled his speech with quotes from mentors ranging from John F. Kennedy to St. Augustine to Dennis Williams, a prisoner exonerated in 1996 after 18 years on death row in Illinois.
He challenged listeners to move forward and help America “live up to its promise.” We must understand, he said, “that we are on a journey from the caves to the stars.”
Farrell has worked on media projects with the National Council of Churches and with Presbyterian Media Mission, a 25-year-old organization, based in Pittsburgh, PA, that assists churches with outreach through media.
Before Farrell’s speech those at the luncheon heard updates from representatives of PMM and the Presbyterian Communicators Network, a 300-member group linking Presbyterians across the country involved in communication ministries.