by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
We just got back from making retreat at Conception Abbey. Retreatants read and discussed Henri Nouwen’s chapter called “Displacement” in his older book, Compassion.
I am reminded again that none of us ever change violently or drastically – all at once. We may want to change the world (I realize not everyone expects to change the world, but for those who do…) but we do not change the world quickly. We do not change quick. We change slowly. It took me 15 years to begin giving away significant income, and then mostly because I was forced to by church-planting.
Displacement doesn’t happen all at once. To be a change-agent is to feel displaced in one’s own society – and then take some small incremental step.
I don’t think Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. just suddenly work up one summer day and decided to begin a boycott of the Montgomery transit buses. No, he didn’t jump from A to say H – instead he progressed in smaller steps of risk and chance, A to B to C… so forth. I suppose one of his first steps was reading the words of Jesus –
Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. – Mt. 10
If King was like most of us, at first he did nothing with this statement of Jesus. But King read Gandhi and his teaching on non-violent revolution, which Gandhi learned from Jesus.
Pile on Paul:
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Gal. 3
Pile on the prophets:
For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. – Amos 5
The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice. – Ezek. 22
Then comes Jesus in his decisive moment:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” – Luke 4
…and MLKjr makes another “small incremental step”- to be like Jesus, he too must MOVE. Quickly he is in jail. Step G. Somehow King is convinced he MUST do something, the next logical thing: a boycott – actually it sounds rather harmless; yes, inconvenient, but not deadly.
April 4th King unknowingly and unwillingly (unbidden) makes his H-move: he simply steps out of his hotel room on the second floor overlooking a parking lot. And in his death he moves America like no ever had all the way back to the Civil War and Lincoln.
What is my next move, what is your next move? What does the Lord require of us? As Erwin McManus once said, “There are those who want to follow Jesus, and those who must follow Jesus.” We change slowly, step by step. But a refusal to take the little step leads to “want to” and not “must.”
Keep stepping. If it feels a little uncomfortable, do it anyway. Our greatness lies in our nothingness – just like Jesus.