Recently I posted an anecdote from the life of A.J. Muste (1885-1967), a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church who became one of the leading activists of his time in the areas of war resistance, civil rights, civil liberties, civil liberties and disarmament. During the Vietnam War, Muste stood in front of the White House night after night with a candle – sometimes alone. A reporter interviewed him one evening as he stood there in the rain. “Mr. Muste,” the reporter said, “do you really think you are going to change the policies of this country by standing out here alone at night with a candle?” A.J. responded, “Oh, I don’t do this to change the country, I do this so the country won’t change me.”
I have tried to wrap my mind and soul and heart around recent events in Charlottesville, VA where neo-Nazi and white supremacists rioted in the streets, killing a young woman. Just as mystifying and horrifying were our president’s comments about it all. I thought about Muste and how important it is for each us to stand out in the world with our candle. Everyone has a different calling and a different candle, but we all have the charge by Jesus to be a light on the world and to stand with others in a city on a hill so that light can be seen (Matthew 5:14).
So I’m starting a new series of occasional blogs called This Little Light of Mine (from the Negro spiritual often sung at civil rights rallies) to suggest ways that each of us can hold our candle in this dark time. I would love to feature the ways that you are planning to do that as well. Just describe your ideas in the “Comments” section below.
This first idea is very general. It’s our life-long strategy of living a life of surrender. In his book The Walk, the Life-Changing Journey of Two Friends, Michael Card describes a time in his life when he was frustrated and bitter about the state of the Christian music industry. His emotional state was affecting his work and relationships. His mentor, Bill Lane, gave him this advice. “Let the excellence of your work be your protest.” He went on to say, “Take the energy you are wasting with complaining and bitterness and focus it on your craft.”
This strikes me as a useful, though very difficult, strategy. Closing our mouths, remaining pleasant, and concentrating on our “craft” of living a life of obedience to God are much harder than obeying our fight-or-flight impulses when we or a cause or a person we are passionate about are attacked or demeaned. First we use that helpful little word “choose.” We always have the option to choose our responses to the negative and evil forces in the world. My guideline has become the Serenity Prayer. Can I change this situation? If so, what action will give the best results without harming someone or escalating the situation? If I can’t change the situation, the next step is to just move on.
Local and/or national political battles – complete with lies and misdirection that fly like bullets into the atmosphere – can be infuriating and draining and harmful. Instead of pumping up our will power to refrain from attacking back, acting defensively, or just ignoring the situation, we can concentrate on a positive response. We can let the “excellence of our work” as apprentices of Jesus speak for us. This is one way we can light a candle in our families, in our neighborhood and in the darkness of a bitter and angry world.
And as Muste, stated, lighting my candle can keep this world from changing me.