Brave anyway

When I was a junior at IU, I took a class I will never forget.  It was my favorite class because it made me think and feel deeply,  and the literature was exceptional though the subject was dark:  Literature of the Holocaust.  I would recommend it to anyone, whether you are interested in literature, history or the Holocaust, or not.  Because beyond those things,  it was a class about all of us and always will be. 

Every time I left that late afternoon course and walked across campus, I felt heavy like someone had put suitcases in the hands of my heart.  Twice, I walked home in tears.

On the first day of class, my professor began the semester by passing out a black and white copy of a photograph.  In it was a woman pointing a rifle at a man, who looked like he was dressed in uniform. There was no caption, no explanation of what was happening or who the people were.  My professor silently waited until all 70 of us had a copy and then asked us this haunting question:

What separates you from the people in the picture?

My first thoughts?  Um, well, I would never do that.  And, I pretty much would want to be as far away from that scenario as I could be.  I looked at the photo copy and tried to come up with an explanation of who the people were.  Scenario after scenario was arranged in my mind,  of how this picture came to be.  I waited for our professor to tell us what this was a picture of and why the man and woman were pictured as they were.  He never did.  He just asked another time:

 What separates YOU from those in the picture?

As I allowed my heart and head to clash and rub against each other while we explored the disturbing realities of the Holocaust, Jesus’ death and resurrection and pursuit of my heart took on on new meaning.  Though place in history, culture, geography and circumstance separated me on the surface, none of those things could truly separate me from being either of the people pictured in another time or place.  I could have been either person given the right situation.  Couldn’t we all?

The beautiful, terrifyingly raw literature from that semester has marked my heart.  Throughout the months in that course – two themes stood out:  The reoccurring theme of ignorance and fear and the theme of brave compassionate souls.  I learned that there were people, many Americans even, who knew what was happening in Europe.  Many chose to not allow themselves to realize what was happening.  Whether for fear, for being overwhelmed by the magnitude and distance of what was happening, or not knowing what to do, many did nothing while this atrocious, horrific, dark event in our history occurred.  I remember sitting in anger and disbelief as I thought about those who knew and did nothing.  I also remember feeling horrible fear in the pit of my stomach as I allowed myself to wonder what I would have done – Would I have been too afraid to get involved?

Why do we hold back from brave things?  Is it because we don’t know just how truly unseparated we are to both of the people, perpetrator and victim, in the black and white picture I described?  And beyond that, because we do not know just how deeply we are loved despite that truth?

Fear has always been natural for me.  I could tell you story after story of how fear has gotten the best of me.  And yet, somewhere along the journey of my fearful heart, God has met me and continually introduced me to Bravery.  I have learned, one trembling step after another, that I do not have to get rid of the fear to walk with her.  She is undefeatable grace in the most fearful of hearts.   His perfect love makes her real.  She shows up for those of us who are most afraid, not for those who claim to have no fear.

 I am beginning to believe that each brave step we take, because we know we are loved and we love others as a result, is a stand against some of these atrocious parts of our global past.  Brave for bravery’s sake has never really worked for me.  I left my literature class in tears and heavy because I wanted to go back and do something.  That time is gone. But today is not.  And one look at the headlines or look into our neighbor’s hurting heart,  and we will see that injustice and horror abound.  Will I keep myself tucked away into the illusion of the safe and busy suburban life?  Or will I keep allowing myself to be aware and to step forward when Bravery extends her hand?
Every conscious decision to take a stand against darkness because we know we are loved and those around us are just as loved, matters.  The part we play doesn’t have to be the biggest role or most remembered role.  Sometimes it will feel like a tiny step but tiny steps turn into bigger steps.  And it all matters.

Do you know how deeply he loves you?  And if so, where is he nudging you to take a step for the sake of his love for you and those around you?  Can you see Bravery close by, extending her strong hand?  Will you take it and taste and see that He is good?