My family watched The Help again last night. Set in Jackson, Mississippi in 1963, a zealous college graduate, Skeeter, returns home with a craving to write, but to write to make a difference. She persuades a household maid to tell her story. They convince a dozen other maids to cooperate as well.
Jackson perpetuated some of the worst forms of racism in the U.S. in the early sixties. Revealing that racism from the black woman’s perspective, Skeeter risked her reputation and status in that dense social community. The maids, on the other hand, risked their lives. This movie chronicles a story of great courage.
The cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz held the wrong notion, that fear negated courage. The wizard corrects him, “There is no living thing that does not fear when it faces danger. The true courage is in facing the danger when you are afraid.” Aristotle noted that the vice of a shortage of courage is cowardice, and the vice of an excess of courage is recklessness.
Appropriate fear orients a person to the reality of risk. Increased risk should amplify fear. Acting in the face of that fear constitutes courage.
Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird, said it this way, “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know your licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.”
Change frequently induces fear. Sometimes the risks associated with the change are evident, but often the fear results from the risk of the unknown. When I pledged my life to my bride, I could not begin to imagine how my life would change, but I knew that it would. (Ignorance insulated me from excessive fear.) I vowed to remain faithful to her regardless of the risks and any dangers we might encounter.
The affluence of middle class America dramatically reduces risks. We are accustomed to talking about risk management with the goal of risk displacement. Consequently, we have abridged the practice of courage. Life still throws enough bean balls at us that we cannot eradicate risk altogether, but we may practice the art of avoidance more than the virtue of courage.
Perhaps this explains our growing obsession with super hero stories. Movie studios discovered a gold mine when they began converting comic books into screenplays. We count the weeks until the release of the next blockbuster action movie, replete with displays of great courage. Even our super heroes have to face fear.
Watching The Help reminded me of the courage required to live the Christian life. I am not talking about practicing quiet times, memorizing verses, attending Bible studies or even witnessing (although that can be terrifying to some people). Jesus confronted the sinful beliefs and practices of his day, exposing hypocrisy and denouncing injustices. Eventually, the authorities could no longer tolerate him. His life posed a substantial threat to the status quo, especially to those who held power. His courage got him nailed to a cross.
At first, his disciples ran like scared rabbits. Fearing the same script for their lives, they deserted Jesus, denying any relationship with him, in spite of earlier boastful claims. Fear dictated their behavior. They congregated secretly. Hopelessness began to submerge their souls.
Then the Holy Spirit came upon them, bringing with him courage. They picked up where Jesus left off, proclaiming the infusion of the kingdom of God into a godless world. They lived out that kingdom by faith with courage. They confronted their crooked generation with truth. Now, they abandoned their old lives as they knew them, and embarked on the adventure of an unknown future.
The men and women who followed Jesus faced criticism, rejection and persecution. The kingdom they introduced to their world clashed with the structures of power, as it always does. The stoning of Stephen precipitated a violent outburst against followers of the Way. To live for Jesus demanded courage, super-hero kind of courage.
The Help stirs something inside of me. I am deeply moved by the courage of Skeeter to give a voice to the voiceless, to expose the delusions of an unjust social order, to resist lies with the truth.
It’s not like my generation has adopted the values and habits of the kingdom of God. I witness the same hypocrisy and injustices that Jesus and his disciples courageously renounced. So what would it take for me to step out of my comfortable cocoon and bring the kingdom of light into the hallways of darkness like Skeeter did, like Jesus did, like the disciples did?
The same Spirit who filled the disciples fills me. Maybe I am not listening to him. Maybe I am too distracted by the worries of this world to notice the demands of the kingdom. Maybe I’m too afraid to listen or look. Who knows? But I do know that I don’t have to look far to find someone who needs a super hero – or just someone with a little courage.