I ran to the store early Sunday morning after hearing the news of another mass shooting in our country. This time, it hit too close to home. This time, the ache too deep for words. This time, I wondered in anxious concern whether the names of the victims would be names I knew.
I’ve walked the streets of the Oregon District. I’ve enjoyed time and a meal with friends there. As all those self-centered thoughts stirred in my mind and soul, I didn’t have words.
I sent a text to a friend who serves as a pastor in Dayton and continued my sighs too deep for words, hoping God understood. I trusted the words would come with time.
One step out my front door I heard a group of crows squawking at one another. They sounded angry, lost, and trying to tell one another something. I silently thought to myself, “You’ve got that right.” Before you think I’m crazy for carrying on a silent conversation with a group of squawking crows. Let me ask you this: Do you know what a group of crows are called?
Perhaps there was a reason they were making such a ruckus. Perhaps there was a reason I seemed to concur with their expression. A murder came together and, unfortunately, it wasn’t the first time.
Here are the words that finally came on Sunday afternoon. Words that challenge me and I hope they will challenge you.
A Failure of Courage
I consistently wonder if our inability to effectively respond to the violence and hate consuming our culture is a failure of courage. I believe our failure of courage is tied to two distinct things:
1) For too many people, the connection between the head and heart has been severed. The result is a disembodied existence, at worst. At best, it’s a lack of integrity.
2) People, especially leaders, have not learned the skills required for courageous leadership. Therefore, our “go-to” behavior is to numb ourselves and add another layer of armor to protect ourselves in times of crisis and dis-ease.
Here’s the thing: Until we’re willing to recognize the armor we wear and systematically commit to lay down our armor, we will be unable to practice the basic skills of courageous leadership. Instead, we will continue to deflect, deny, blame, and avoid the complexity of the challenges we face – whether in daily life or in response to a crisis – and everything in between.
A Call to Ordinary Courage
There was a time that the meaning of courage was this: to speak one’s mind by telling one’s heart. It had nothing to do with heroics, but the ordinary courage of speaking one’s mind by connecting it to our heart. Somewhere along the way, we’ve not only lost that meaning of courage, but we’ve lost the connection between our heads, hearts, and actions.
To make matters worse, when leaders do not demonstrate the capacity to speak their mind by telling their heart, let alone connect their head and heart, it is unlikely the people around them will be able to do so.
So, no, we should not be surprised at what is happening. We continue to decay as a culture into disembodied beings that not only fail to connect our heart and head but fail to connect our heads and hearts with each other.
There are certainly heroes in our communities. But, “Heroics is often about putting our life on the line. Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today’s world, that’s pretty extraordinary.”¹
A Culture of Violence
And in case you’ve missed the point, yes, I am speaking to violence and hate in our country. And, yes, my fellow Americans this is OUR culture. No other culture or country accepts mass gun violence.
So I will leave you with this question to ponder: would any human being in relationship with another human being – connected by head and heart – open fire with a weapon of war on a group of people in a store or bar?
No. The answer is no.
Even our soldiers are trained to be in relationship with one another – against an enemy. That is where they find the courage to fight with the very same weapons that were used to kill in our stores, synagogues, churches and night clubs, city centers and community hangouts. And if you’ve listened to any soldier share their story – they are never the same.
Something Must Change
So, yes, things must change. Yes, laws must change. Yes, it must become illegal to own weapons of war as a civilian. And, yes, better treatment for mental illness must take place. Yes, we must do better for our military veterans. Yes, we need elected officials to respond.
But, change happens when disruption happens. And disruption of the status quo doesn’t happen at the above levels until there is enough discomfort to change. If decades of violence and the murder of thousands of children, teens, and adults aren’t enough discomfort for us, I do not know what will be.
But there is another way that change happens. It is through ordinary courage – the courage that calls us to put our vulnerability on the line.
It Begins with You
So if, like me, you find yourself saying, “something must change.” Dear reader, here’s the cold hard fact: It must begin with you and with me.
Until we are willing to step into ordinary courage, I’m more and more convinced we will continue to deteriorate as well-armored by-standards to life.
The path we are on is a path of destruction.
The path of self-destruction includes ongoing numbing and accumulating armor so we no longer feel outraged at a mass shooting. Perhaps 250 mass shootings in just over 8 months of one calendar year say we already have passed this point.
The Road to Ordinary Courage
But here’s what I know.
You and I can take off our armor. We can choose to not pick it up. And that will require learning what ordinary courage is all about. It’s about choosing courage over comfort. It’s about being clear and kind. It’s about tough conversations, trust, and living into our values.
I’ll be honest.
Is it easy? Hell no.
Is it what is needed? Absolutely.
I would rather take the difficult, challenging road of ordinary courage than a disembodied, disconnected path of slow-burning self-destruction. How about you?
A Fork in the Road
There’s a murder of crows squawking at the fork in the road. At that fork in the road you must make a choice: Will you choose ordinary courage or disembodied destruction? I am not one to present binary choices. But, truly, I only see two options. Which will it be for you? Which are you choosing by not making a choice?
If I may continue to meddle, it’s because the crows are still squawking.
Pastors, it’s time to challenge your people to ordinary courage. Because they’re looking to you for answers. Answers you do not have if you’re not seeking to be a courageous leader.
And to be clear, courage will bring more questions than answers. It will bring more questions that bring you into a relationship with more people you don’t know, don’t understand and may not even like. Because with ordinary courage comes it’s partner, love.
Yes, please write to your senators and elected officials. But your senator can’t answer the call to courage for you. Neither can your Pastor, District Superintendent, Bishop or denomination.
You will not find the answer in your Mayor, or the police or firefighters in your community. Not even the school teachers, principals, and superintendents can answer your call to courage.
Only you can. So if you hold one of these positions, my invitation to you is this: speak your mind by telling your heart, then follow through with your actions.
You cannot do it alone & neither can I.
Together, let’s learn the way of courage. Our communities and culture are crying out just like that murder of crows.
How can you become a courageous leader?
Learn the skills in Dare to Lead
Rumbling with Vulnerability is a skill. Explore Episode 055-059 of LeaderCast to learn more.
- Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection