I was listening to an NPR spot this morning on the drive in to work. On it, a man named Gene Sharp was being interviewed. He is being hailed as a leader and scholar of the non-violent resistance movements that are in the process of rapidly reshaping the world's political, social and economic scenes. Something big is happening, and as he reflects on our times, I find myself musing on a pattern that for all intents and purposes seems to be pointing to a new reality for human structures of authority and dominance. Old systems of physical, political and economic repression and oppression are breaking down. Who knows how long this trend will last, or how far it will extend, but what a time to be alive!
Something in the course of the interview struck me, hard. When questioned about what he had learned from the protestors in Egypt (and by extension, from the uprisings in other parts of the world against strong-man dictators), he pointed to the statement that was offered by many of the protestors...that they no longer had any fear. Their fear of the regime, of the possibility that they would personally be subject to reprisals...all of it was gone. The last tool of the oppressor had fallen. Sharp pointed to his guru, Gandhi, who in so many ways adjured his followers to "cast off your fear." Once that is gone, then you simply can't be overcome. You can be harmed, hidden, disappeared....true...but you can no longer be overcome.
Not an easy lesson to learn, when the worldly powers out there insist on reminding us that we are just one person in a sea of humanity. What power can one, or even a hundred, accomplish without force? Without influence? Without power?
Quite a bit, actually.
If our Christian faith is to mean anything, then we have to be willing to embrace that one person can not only change society. One person can, quite literally, redeem Creation itself. Why? Because in our belief, in our faith, we bear witness to the reality that one person did accomplish that supreme act of resistance to oppressive power. One person, even "unto death on the cross" was able to insist on life, on justice...on hope for the redemption of even the worst of what humanity does to pervert God's handiwork.
Fear is a tough thing to let go of, though. In the end, fear is the thing that most often preserves us. It's done that for millenia. That little surge of adrenalin, that prickling of the hairs at the back of our neck....that herd instinct to RUN when the predators lunge out of the bushes. All of that means that we just might live for another day. We might, just might, have a tomorrow.
But, with God's wisdom and the reality of our call to challenge the powers of this world that are not of God, it is time to realize that fear can no longer govern out hearts, our souls.
Sad thing, really...because so much of our lives are still based on fear. Most of our decisions, even here in the richest country on earth, are based out of an overwhelming fear. Don't think so? Turn on the 24 hour news channels. Most of the commentators and talking heads are either propagating fear (we have to fight them, because if we don't we will die and our children will die), or seeking to install a distrust of "the other" whomever that is (who is acting contrary to their agenda). If we seek to challenge that fear factor, either rationally or irrationally, then we are branded (at best) ignorant or (at worst) a traitor. Rhetoric kills, as much as bullets.
Case in point, the adamancy on all sides of the current budget debate raging in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states wherein the desire to link cost-cutting to breaking collective bargaining agreements is generating massive unrest. The unions refuse to release their place at the table, even when indicating willingness to accept cuts in benefits structures. The Governors are pursuing their original agenda. Submit or flush the whole system down the toilet.
This is not Gospel-based striving for justice and peace....even as the violence in Libya is the worst expression of a hope for a new age in that society.
Going back to Sharp's ethos....what matters most is being willing to speak to power with an agenda of liberation without assuming the lexicon/verbage of negotiation that is a pale offer of change. Real change comes from us being willing to meet each other face-to-face, to surrender power imbalances to mutuality. To embrace grace instead of absolutism.
So, my prayers today are with all people who are choosing today to speak to power in an attempt to present an agenda that brings life, peace and opportunity to all....
May God give us the strength to walk the walk, and talk the talk that leads us to that kingdom of grace bought with the price of Christ's blood....for us and for all who strive for justice and peace.....