What Shape, Courage?
Courage shows up in many forms and places. The courage it took to storm the beach at Anzio, for example, also took the point on patrol outside Da Nang. The courage it took to enter the smoke-choked stairwell in the first World Trade Center Tower also walked into the mine-strewn caves of Bora Bora.
It takes courage to change and feed and love an AIDS-stricken baby, to stop an abusive home situation, or to intervene when a family member is an alcoholic.
Courage cuts across racial, cultural, and national boundaries. Dr. Martin Luther King’s eloquent courage in Birmingham echoes Ghandi’s in New Delhi or Nelson Mandela’s in Capetown.
At the same time, courage does not require language. A dominant 20th-century image is the unknown student on Bejing’s Tiananmen Square standing before the menacing Red Army tanks. The haunting spiritual “Dey Crucified My Lord” begins with “An’ He never said a mumbalin’ word.”
Jesus spoke on the cross, but his silences said more. He didn’t “call ten thousand angels” as the old hymn says. Awash in unfathomable temptations, he obeyed his Father.
Luke said that Jesus looked at his tormenters and said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Moments later he comforted the dying criminal: “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Meanwhile, I am not in Little Rock, walking to school with a handful of frightened African-American children. I’m not on the crater-scarred battlefield of Verdun. I’m not even in a leper ward in Calcutta.
I work in a nice, quiet, air-conditioned office.
And that’s the thing about courage. It takes courage to confront a colleague who tells a racist joke. It takes courage to resist a superior’s subtle pressure to doctor the books and show creative accounting.
We think of Paul and Silas’ heroic singing in the dank prison, but frequently fail to remember the story in Acts 28:15: Paul is traveling to Rome, to an unknown future. As he arrives at the Appii Forum and the Three Inns, the sight of his brethren—his fellow Christians—renews his courage. “When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.” Paul was anxious about his fate, but just the presence of Christian “brethren and sisteren” is encouragement to do the right thing.
That’s good news. We can all receive and give courage at home, the office, or standing outside the Three Inns. Christ, who so bountifully gives us love and acceptance and forgiveness, also gives us courage. It’s there for the asking.
“Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)
And remember this: “Always” means everywhere.
Even next to the water cooler at work.
Questions for discussion:
• With recent scandals involving multinational corporations and their CEOs, have you thought about the Christians in those companies who faced pressure to break or bend the law?
• What if a CEO asked you to shred a document?
• What are ways to handle that kind of pressure?