In my childhood I was well trained for the eventuality that one day someone would slam a boot against my chest, a gun to my head, and threaten to kill me if I didn’t relent and confess that, in fact, I had no faith in God. The time was swiftly coming, maybe even in my lifetime I was told, when evil would prevail (for a season) and all that is good and lovely would be snuffed out if we did not stand firm even unto death.

We prepared for this outside threat but we did not prepare for a much more insidious threat, the possibility that one day it would be our own feet wearing the boots, our own hands holding the gun; that evil would prevail against us not by killing us suddenly but destroying us slowly. Who would believe that evil could make us like itself without us even being aware? It is easy, or at least straightforward, to prepare to be a sacrifice if it comes to that; but it takes constant vigilance, humility, and surrender to become a living sacrifice, constantly starving the evil within ourselves and feeding only the good. Deciding to die rather than renounce Love is a one-time decision, but deciding to live in a way that is loving requires much, much more. Yet it is the second that is the deciding question in most of our lives.

We all tend to think that there are good guys and bad guys. Which of us wakes up one morning and decides to cross over to the dark side? If we see ourselves as the righteous ones it stands to reason that those who oppose us are evil; if we see ourselves as in danger it follows easily that we should defend ourselves against this oncoming darkness. But I propose that it is at this moment that we turn from light to dark.

When we are convinced of our rightness we stop looking deeply at our faults with humility, stop looking to understand and love the ones who are different from us, even as we ourselves have been loved and understood. When we are convinced that we need to protect ourselves from an outside danger we begin to isolate ourselves; we stop trusting, start fearing; stop giving, start taking; stop comforting and defending, start judging and demeaning. We may not be killed physically for denying Love, but the love in us will be snuffed out when we do not submit to it when things are hard and scary and ugly.

The culture that raised me has not yet found itself physically threatened as we feared. But I believe the threat of evil against goodness and loveliness was no less real for that. It attacked, as it so often does, not by killing us but by changing so many of us through fear and self-defense. If we are ready to lay down our lives in an instant for Love, we must be ever more prepared to lay down our lives and comforts and rights in the name of Love, Justice, Mercy and Compassion. Otherwise, we become the people wearing the boots.

This post is inspired by Sarah McCoy’s where we are drawn into Elsie’s life in Germany during the last year of WWII. Join From Left to Write

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