On all sides, I hear myself being summoned to take action, to do something to change the course of our nation, to change wrong-headed decisions being made, to change the course of my community, my church, my world, my individual life. Some days it seems as if everything, everywhere, is sliding towards disaster and leaping into action is needed to prevent disaster. When I read or listen to these calls to action, I usually hear anger and/or fear as the motivation. The words that constitute the call may be eloquent—but the emotion is anything but, is emotion that comes from our survival instincts and is thus likely to be implacable, unrelenting, single-minded, as survival motivations are required to be.
Given the negative trends all around, that anger and fear would drive the calls for action makes sense. Yet I wonder whether any action, however creative or forceful, that is rooted in anger and fear will prove to be wise. I know I do not do my best thinking when I am furious with another, when I am scared witless. Driven by those fundamental survival instincts, convinced my very life is at stake and I must do whatever is needed to preserve it, I am likely to resort to blind, blunt action, to grasp and push and fight until the anger is spent, until safety can be assured. And in the wake of a struggle for survival, I may destroy quite a lot just to ensure I stay alive.
So the calls to action that try to rile me up into doing something, or frighten me into doing something, may not elicit my best self nor produce results that will prove helpful and constructive in the long run. Further, I can only be mad or terrified for so long, and then a kind of exhaustion sets in from being in high gear. At that point, I tend to stop listening, which is again an unhelpful, unproductive response.
One of my favorite hymns, “Standing on the Side of Love,” recently underwent a change of language when the composer, Jason Shelton, realized the image throughout the song of standing had resulted in excluding individuals with disabilities that kept them from literally being able to stand. Shelton changed the image with the new title and words, “Answering the Call of Love.” As I sing the hymn with the different words, I notice a different response in myself, a gentler but paradoxically stronger response, where I reach towards another in love. To stand on the side of love for me is energizing and suggests I have been roused to action; to answer a call of love suggests I am drawn in compassion, and I reach my hand to clasp the hand of another. We may stand, or sit, or walk, or pray, or do nothing whatsoever—but we are now joined, in love, for whatever comes our way.
Our lives presently offer no shortage of reasons to be angry, to be afraid, and to act out of those emotions. A call to love may also be in there somewhere, and I am more likely to want to listen for that call, and to answer it with action. Maybe we will in time, through singing the new hymn and listening for a loving call, find ourselves taking action that truly does change the world for the better.