This event served as the kick-off for the Festival of Faiths, and I joined with 10 other religious leaders from various faith traditions in giving testimony to the drive. The idea came from a similar experience of interfaith cooperation in London, England.
The organizers asked us to keep our witness to two minutes or less, and so I chose the Gospel reading from the Sunday beforehand from John 10:18 in which Jesus speaks of giving his life for another. Jesus says in that one verse, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father.”
St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, returns to this theme when he said that it is unusual for someone to give his life for a friend but we, while still sinners, received the unmerited gift of salvation.
There was a richness to the witnesses of the other 10 religious leaders. Some quoted sacred texts that speak of blood as the commonality of all human beings. Others spoke of the command to help brothers and sisters and even the stranger.
The history of Christianity is marked dramatically by the martyrs — those witnesses to their faith whose faith was so strong and clear that even death did not stop them from their witness. The long line of martyrs gives testimony to the words of the second century Tertullian: “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.”
While donating blood is a far cry from shedding one’s blood for the faith, there are elements of similarity worth examining.
First, we use the expression of “giving blood” rather than “taking blood.” This voluntary nature is key. A story is told of a man who jumped in front of a speeding car to save a child in the car’s path. Afterwards, in the hospital, the surgeon told the hero the sad news: “Sir, I hate to tell you but you have lost your right arm in the rescue.” “No,” said the hero, “I did not lose my arm. I gave it to save that child!”
I found it interesting that the Red Cross representative told us that the only way to get the blood needed to help victims is by donations. No artificial means exists. That was the reason our yes to giving was so important.
Second, there is a community aspect to giving blood. There is something about giving blood that can capture the imagination as we think about where and how our donations might be used. When we freely give blood, we do not know its ultimate destination, though we know that some other human being in need will be the beneficiary — an anonymous victim whom the Red Cross will help through this gift. There is a certain aspect of building up the community, and we know that the building up of the church on earth always has that element of affecting the greater good of a community.
Finally, I reflect on the commonality of all human beings. Sacred Scripture holds blood as sacred precisely because of its nature as a source of life that sustains us. There may be many different characteristics in human beings. The religious testimonies provided the richness of such diversity, but we all have in common blood that courses through our veins each second of our lives.
I did look up my blood type — B positive. It is the third most common type but found in only 8% of the United States population, and it is donated to AB and B types. Thus, I was consoled that the pint from my left arm will likely be put to good use.
I must admit that it was truly gratifying both to join with religious leaders and to take part in giving a pint of blood to help those in need. If you get the opportunity to give blood, do so. This voluntary act can serve as your concrete way of being joined to other human beings and sharing with someone in need. Also, coffee and snacks follow the donation!