A few days ago, I was at my desk and couldn’t muster what needed mustering, so instead I scavenged the internet and listened to archived radio shows. One highlight was from this episode of This American Life on “Turncoats.” One act is about the story of Brandon Darby, a dedicated activist/revolutionary who has a moment of truth while in Venezuela. He is asked to meet with the FARC (a guerilla group in Colombia, that, from my brief reading on Wikipedia, is the real deal in a way that I thought only existed in decades past, A-team episodes, and Bel Canto (jungle locales, kidnappings, military organization, communist ideals, child soldiers). Darby identifies as a revolutionary, and is being offered the chance to meet acting revolutionaries. But he also knows that there is a good chance that he will be kidnapped, as the FARC has kept hostages for decades and as an American he is a potential catch. His commitment to the cause is on the line, and he realizes that he is, in fact, not a revolutionary. He doesn’t take the offer, goes home, and changes his talk and his walk. The radio piece is great; it documents how he comes to work for the FBI as an informant, while also highlighting the successes, failures, and complications of activist work.
Also, as I was perusing the internet, I started reading about nuns. I found this under “Discernment” on the Sisters of St. Joseph, Los Angeles Province webpage in a discussion on vocation:
Signs pointing to a particular ministry or vocation may be evident when you reflect on the following questions:
- What is most life-giving for me right now?
- Where is my deepest desire?
- What are my gifts, personal qualities? Where am I best suited to serve?
- What are my commitments?
- What do I hear God saying?
- If I were on my deathbed, which choice would I wish I’d have made?
- What motives are driving me to choose one ministry over another?
I thought about Darby’s moment of truth in Venezuela when I heard the news about the murder of Dr. George Tiller yesterday: the OB/GYN who was a late term abortion provider, and famous for decades of attacks against him, and for his dedication to his patients. I didn’t know until recently that there are only a handful of late-term abortion providers in the country (I think the number is as low as 5 or 6), or that the majority of women who seek a late term abortion are dealing with the tragedy of a health crisis with their wanted pregnancy. Tiller was famous for the counseling and care that his clinic offered, and he helped several women through immensely devastating times in their lives. His work is hard to think of– –it brings the question of abortion forward in a way that most of us don’t want to ever have to really look at– –but he was willing to engage with the hardest situations and help women in extreme need. For it, he was constantly under attack. As listed in several articles, he was shot in both arms, his clinic was burned down, his car windows were smashed, he dealt with court cases, the gutters on the clinic roof were blocked to create thousands of dollars of water damage, he had death threats for decades.
Tiller was the real deal. Metaphorically, he would meet the FARC. As I write this, I worry about nasty comments we might get from people who disagreed with Tiller’s work: not only would I not go meet the FARC, I’m even afraid of what a few comments will be. Tiller must have made peace with his risk years ago, and I’m guessing his family must have, also. If you’ve been shot at once, and you keep going, then you have made some decisions. And while I find it horrific that he was killed in church while his wife was singing in the choir, it also seems fitting that he was in a place of personal belief where he openly went in peace.
I bring this up because activism, in its truest form, seems to me a miserable and terrifying sacrifice. You have to be solid on a level I haven’t even seen in myself yet– –a great reckoning with the very ions that make up your matter. As an undergraduate, I had a Haitian professor who once came to class in tears, announcing that a friend had just been assassinated in Haiti because of a radio show he produced. Until that moment, I didn’t really think things like that happened anymore. And to be killed for such a small work (a radio show), seemed surreal, or at the most, the stuff of a melodramatic movie where Don Cheadle would show how important radio was. But it was not fiction, and instead showed me that small steps bring on gigantic risks. And so, small steps are incredibly important, complex, toilsome, and hard to start.
The solace that my professor gave us that day was sublime in the sense that it was gutswingingly demanding, equally beautiful and off-putting. It was two fold: one, the wake up call that the world is not healed and post-activist no matter what our very comfortable lives and mini-series about past struggle made us think, and two, James Baldwin’s answer to what the price of freedom was: “The price of the ticket is… everything.”