The Case of Courage
Take the case of courage. No quality has ever so much addled the brains and tangled the definitions of merely rational sages. Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. ‘He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,’ is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers. It might be printed in an Alpine guide or a drill book. This paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if we will risk it on the precipice.
He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape.
He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine. No philosopher, I fancy, has ever expressed this romantic riddle with adequate lucidity, and I certainly have not done so. But Christianity has done more: it has marked the limits of it in the awful graves of the suicide and the hero, showing the distance between him who dies for the sake of living and him who dies for the sake of dying.
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Covered by the Blood
On a Saturday in September, 2013, one of the most deadly terrorist attacks in history took place in an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Four Gunman, part of the Al-Qaeda affiliate al Shabab, took the lives of 67 people, with over 200 injured. It was by all accounts a horrible disaster. But one story of the shooting ended up receiving media attention. It was the story of a young mother named Sneha Kothair-Mashru. Sneha was at the mall having coffee with a friend when the gunfire began.
Having dropped to the floor she heard a cell-phone going off near her. Not wanting the gunmen to come closer, she reached under the person next to her to silence the phone. It was at this point that she realized the man next to her was bleeding heavily.
“When I put my hand under him that’s when I realized that this guy had been shot because he was bleeding,” she told NBC News. “He was bleeding heavily. There was a lot of blood there.”
At this point, the woman made a difficult, life-changing decision. She decided to smear the blood of the man on her own body, in hopes that the terrorists would assume she was dead and they would “pass over” her body.
Her grisly camouflage probably saved this woman’s life.
“I’d love to know who he was, because I think his blood protected me, saved my life,” she said.
Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material from NBC News
Do You Know Who I Am?
In a story circulated among an ancient monastic community, a vicious warlord intimidated whole villages, sending it’s entire population into the hills to hide in caves, waiting for the ruler to move on. One day the warlord entered a small village and asked, I presume all the people have fled by this time?” “Well, all but one old monk who refused to flee,” the aide answered. The warlord was beside himself.
“Bring him to me immediately,” he snarled. When they dragged the old monk to the square before him, the commander shouted at him, “Do you not know who I am? I am he who can run you through with a sword and never even bat an eye.” And the old monk gazed up at the commander and replied, “And do you not know who I am? I am he who can let you run me through with a sword and never bat an eye.”
Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material from Joan Chittister, Between the Dark and the Daylight, 2015, The Crown Publishing Group.
The Everyday Virtue of Courage
In this short excerpt written by the Christian Ethicist Stanley Hauerwas to his Godson, he pontificates on the topic of courage:
Usually courage is identified with dramatic and heroic acts. Though I certainly don’t think it’s a mistake that many associate courage with heroism, I want to propose to you that courage is an everyday virtue. The courageous usually don’t think of themselves as intentionally heroic. That’s because courage has been such an integral part of their lives that they seldom think they should “try” to be courageous.
For instance, think of those who say “I was just doing my job” in response to being praised for a courageous act. That they respond this way seems right. Because when confronted by a particular challenge, courageous people don’t stop to think that they must act courageously. It follows that courageous people aren’t usually aware of their courage or that they’ve done something courageous. Like most of the virtues, courage isn’t something you try to have; instead. you discover after the fact that you have it.
The Man in the Arena
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;
but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Theodore Roosevelt, Speech: Citizenship In A Republic, Paris, France on April 23, 1910.
Play the Man
Like a scene straight out of Gladiator, Polycarp was dragged into the Roman Colosseum. Discipled by the apostle John himself, the aged bishop faithfully and selflessly led the church at Smyrna through the persecution prophesied by his spiritual father. “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer,” writes John in Revelation 2:10. “Be faithful, even to the point of death.”
John had died a half century before, but his voice still echoed in Polycarp’s ears as the Colosseum crowd chanted, “Let loose the lion!” That’s when Polycarp heard a voice from heaven that was audible above the crowd: strong, Polycarp. Play the man”.
Days before, Roman bounty hunters had tracked him down. Instead of fleeing, Polycarp fed them a meal. Perhaps that’s why they granted his last request—an hour of prayer. Two hours later, many of those who heard the way Polycarp prayed actually repented of their sin on the spot. They did not, however, relent of their mission.
Like Jesus entering Jerusalem, Polycarp was led into the city of Smyrna on a donkey. The Roman proconsul implored Polycarp to recant. “Swear by the genius of Caesar!” Polycarp held his tongue, held his ground. The proconsul prodded. “Swear, and I will release thee; revile the Christ!”
“Eighty and six years have I served Him,” said Polycarp. “And He has done me no wrong! How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”
The die was cast.
Polycarp was led to the center of the Colosseum where three times the proconsul announced, “Polycarp has confessed himself to be a Christian.” The bloodthirsty crowd chanted for death by beast, but the proconsul opted for fire.
As his executioners seized his wrists to nail him to the stake, Polycarp stopped them. “He who gives me strength to endure the fire will enable me to do so without the help of your nails.”
As the pyre was lit on fire, Polycarp prayed one last prayer: “I bless you because you have thought me worthy of this day and this hour to be numbered among your martyrs in the cup of your Christ.”
Soon the flames engulfed him, but strangely they did not consume him. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego before him. Polycarp was fireproof. Instead of the stench of burning flesh, the scent of frankincense wafted through the Colosseum.
Using a spear, the executioner stabbed Polycarp through the flames. Polycarp bled out, but not before the twelfth martyr of Smyrna had lived out John’s exhortation: be faithful even to the “point of death. Polycarp died fearlessly and faithfully. And the way he died forever changed the way those eyewitnesses lived. He did what the voice from heaven had commanded. Polycarp played the man.
In the final pages of his great epic The Lord of the Rings, J.R R. Tolkien writes of his heroes, Sam and Frodo, and their desperate quest to reach the cursed Mount Doom to cast the ring of power, a device that held much of the dark lord Sauron’s power, into the fires and destroy it. As they came closer to the mountain, their situation grew more desperate.
They were wasting away physically, Frodo’s spirit was failing, and their quest seemed hopeless. In a key moment, Sam attempts to encourage Frodo by asking him if he remembers the taste of strawberries and cream, the sound of water, the beauties of spring in their far-off home, the Shire. This should be instructive to us. Love of small things, fidelity to small places, these are the things that matter and ultimately enable great deeds of courage.
Taken from: In Search of the Common Good: Christian Fidelity in a Fractured World by Jake Meador Copyright (c) 2019 by Jake Meador. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
A Second Opportunity
Winston Churchill was once asked what prepared him most to speak out against Hitler and risk political suicide during the 1930s. At that time, the official British position (most notably espoused by Churchill’s predecessor Neville Chamberlain) was an appeasement of Hitler and his continual invasions of sovereign nations.
To speak against appeasement was politically risky, to say the least, and suicidal at the most.
So, what gave Churchill the courage to stand up to the political establishment and Hitler himself? Repeating a grade in elementary school, he remarked. “You mean you failed a year in grade school?” he was asked. “I never failed anything in my life. I was given a second opportunity to get it right.”
Stuart Strachan Jr.
A Simple Act of Courage
Many, many great things have begun with a single act of courage, throughout history and today. A person steps out and makes one courageous decision and that one domino starts many other dominoes falling. We have to step out and take that first step, and we may never know the ripple effect of that one courageous decision. Catalyst leaders—your decision to do something courageous may result in something greater than you ever imagined.
Step out. . . . Fear in leadership usually is connected to the uncertainty about the future. But uncertainty about the future is nevergoing to go away. I tell leaders all the time—uncertainty is why there are leaders. Uncertainty gives you job security. Wherever there is uncertainty, there will always be a need for leaders, which means always stepping out into the unknown, always requiring courage.