Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Courage and Cowardice

We live in a world filled with fear. Fear is all around us.

Courage is what exists in us when we embrace our fears. Sometimes this means that we embrace them and just sit with them for a while, doing our best to understand them. Other times it means embracing them while moving forward in spite of them. Fear is not a bad thing, rather it is necessary because where there is no fear, there is no courage. I am not afraid of breakfast cereal, so for me to wake up in the morning and pour myself a bowl of Cheerio's is not a courageous act. It is, rather, painfully normal. Adversely, I am quite afraid of heights. I hate them, so for me, a quiet, docile person who loves to have my feet on the ground and away from high ledges, to go skydiving for example would take an incredible amount of courage. In fact, it takes an incredible amount of courage to even sit with the idea that I am afraid of heights, and then more still to walk toward the landing at the top of the stairs that overlooks the living room. For an adrenaline junkie, walking toward this ledge takes no courage at all, for them it would be like me eating Cheerio's, not an act of courage, but an act of painful normalcy. 

Cowardice on the other hand should not be defined as giving into fear, as much culture would have us believe, but rather cowardice is rejecting the idea that we are afraid and labeling the things that we are afraid of as bad, wrong, or evil. It is taking an active stance, that something we don't understand should not be tolerated. Cowardice takes fear and turns it into prejudice. If I were to take my fear of heights and then decide that anyone who goes skydiving, or cliff jumping, or walks toward the edge of the landing is foolish for doing so, then I have let my fear turn into prejudice and act the part of the coward. If I look at another person and decide that they are worth less than I am because I don't understand what it is like to be in their shoes, I act the part of the coward. 

Cowardice often masquerades as courage, but in reality it is nothing but a cheap facsimile. Yet this is just where our culture often lands. When we don't understand something, instead of embracing the fear of the unknown, we label it as bad, wrong, and evil. We cowardly choose to build walls around us that we believe will keep us safe from everything outside,  but in reality, only separate from one another and from ourselves. Most often this manifests through the means of things like religious legalism, political absolutism, and racism. 

Here we begin to neglect the grays areas of life, let alone the reds, oranges, greens, blues and purples. We do our best to build a monochromatic worldview and to get everyone around us to subscribe to the same shade that we have chosen to color with. 

We call this "safe." 

Yet, it is in this place where we have truly let cowardice define our lives, and thus where we are really most vulnerable for when we reject our fear and the things that we are afraid of, our cowardice leaves us isolated and alone.

Like the people in Plato's cave, we are spiteful, hateful even toward those that tell us that the world outside of our walls is actually filled with beautiful light and color (or colour maybe). We choose then to fight tooth and nail to stay within the confines of the prisons we have built for ourselves rather than explore the beauty of the real world around us because we have built this false notion of safety.

Yet God did not mold us to live in the obscurity of darkness, but rather to venture out and experience the fullness of his marvelous light. This means choosing courage over cowardice. This means facing the things that are painful and difficult in our lives. This means occasionally risking comfort and perceived (but potentially false) safety, in order to experience the beauty and the wholeness that God truly desires for us.