Since early August we have held our first in-person class in several years. It ended just last week. The class was called, How We Got Here: Straight Talk on Democracy, and it was led by Dr. David Hilfiker, a long-time leader and teacher at the Servant Leadership School, the forerunner of the School for Liberation.
The class focused on the state of democracy in the United States right now; its written foundations as well as its unwritten norms. It was historical in nature and all of the participants in the class wrote papers each week to discuss. We came to class knowing without doubt that democracy has been under attack since the beginning of the last administration and it culminated in the unprecedented attack on the US Capitol January 6, 2021. We are in a dangerous time as our nation risks a slide into authoritarianism as a significant number of people in the United States continue to believe the 2020 was stolen.
Things right now are scary in many ways.
Every time we met together we had rich discussions not only about what is wrong with democracy, but about what is needed to strengthen democracy and create a reawakening among the public of an appreciation of the institutions and norms that uphold democracy. Our conversations from class to class seemed to go deeper and even build on one another, as we challenged one another to pierce through the veneer of easy answers or sloganeering. We wanted wisdom; wisdom that does not always give us the knowledge that makes us comfortable, but that does shed light on the paths that need to be traveled to create a world God desires for all created in God’s image.
Thus, it was during the last class that we all sensed a call was forming as a result of our discussions and study; a call focused on advocating and organizing for specific legislative reforms to strengthen our democracy and protect the rights of all residents through election reforms. The emerging call was a recognition that merely studying problems and solutions was simply not an adequate response to an increasing refusal to abide by norms, continuing attacks on democratic institutions, and the growing interest in authoritarianism.
Several of us felt a need to act.
Receiving a call from God to a specific mission often comes out of times of silence and prayer. However, I have found that receiving a call just as often comes out of action or study, as it has here. In fact, Scripture shows God’s call can conveyed in a myriad of ways. For instance, in all four of the gospels we find the story of a Rich Young Ruler who comes to Jesus because, though he has kept all of God’s commands, he still lacks fulfillment. Jesus’ response to him is intriguing because he does not tell the young man to go to synagogue, or to read Scripture, or to create a committee and study the challenges of an unfulfilled life. All of these things can be avenues of how God might communicate God’s call, but in this instance, Jesus communicates his call to the young man through action: go sell all you have, give to the poor, and then come and follow me. The sad ending to this story of course is that the young man is not ready to receive Jesus’ call and he leaves his presence alone and empty, though still holding on to his riches.
As God continues to convey a call in so many wonderful and creative ways, it is so important that we remain open to that call through our disciplines of silence, our openness to the movement of the Spirit, and our commitment to study and action. None are more important than the other. God moves in multiple and various ways – both in a still small voice during our times of quiet and through taking to the streets as we march and protest against injustice. May we listen for God’s call at all times.