Daring Greatly through women... with the courage to step outside the box
Carmel Murphy writes:
In the last couple of weeks, the stories of two courageous women have appeared in my inbox that have:
fuelled my thoughts on what it might mean to ‘dare greatly’
reminded me of the often harsh reality that awaits when we ‘step outside of the box’
and (despite the difficulties) beckoned me back to the boundaries
The first woman of valour I was recently reacquainted with was Dorothy Day (8 November, 1897 - 29 November, 1980). In the article commemorating the anniversary of her death, she was introduced as a radical social activist, pacifist and journalist, who cofounded the Catholic Worker movement, which began with the publication of the Catholic Worker newspaper in 1933. Seeking to offer hope to those hit hardest by the Great Depression, her and her friend Peter Maurin used the paper to highlight the plight of the poor, encouraging people to take action and find creative ways of fighting issues of injustice. A convert to Catholicism, Day was educated by Maurin in a theology which resonated strongly with her socialist roots and became the foundation of their work together. It reintroduced what would be deemed ‘the radical edge’, reminding people that to be a person of faith is to be profoundly political, which means not only helping those in need but also working to challenge and transform the very systems and structures which oppress, marginalise and create the need in the first place. Daring Greatly involves challenging the powers.
Although with hindsight, Day is now heralded a heroine, recently being referenced by the Pope himself as a ‘great American’ in a speech he gave to Congress, at the time she was deemed deeply controversial. She was often considered too communist to be Catholic and made a habit of holding both the Church and the country to account. For example, more than thirty years before the Catholic Church accepted pacifism as a legitimate Christian stance (preferring to promote Just War), Day advocated the complete renunciation of war and constantly challenged the decisions made to go to battle declaring “we have failed as Americans to live up to our principles”. Daring Greatly involves going against the flow.
The second woman of valour I was reminded of was Rosa Parks (4 February 1913 - 24 October 2005). The first of December is one of two designated ‘Rosa Parks Days’ (the other being her birthday, 4 February). This year it marked 60 years since she refused to give up her seat in the ‘colored section’ of a public bus, to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama, resulting in her arrest for civil disobedience. At the time, Parks was 42 years old and had been an active member within the civil rights movement for many years, fighting the cause of oppressed individuals and campaigning for racial equality. On the day of her arrest Parks was tired, not particularly physically tired, but tired of 'giving in', stating “I had not planned to get arrested. I had plenty to do without having to end up in jail. But when I had to face that decision, I didn't hesitate to do so because I felt that we had endured that too long. The more we gave in, the more we complied with that kind of treatment, the more oppressive it became.” Daring Greatly involves standing up for what we believe in.
She was not the first to fight the segregation laws in this way though; others before her had also refused to yield their seats. However, it was in response to her arrest that the movement organised a bus boycott, encouraging the black population of Montgomery to avoid taking the bus, in a non-violent act of protest against the ongoing persecution. The boycott lasted 381 days and resulted in the city repealing it’s law regarding segregation on buses. It was a monumental moment in the civil rights movement which propelled Parks into the limelight. She has since been named ‘an iconic figure’, ‘the first lady of civil rights’ and ‘the mother of the freedom movement’ but like Day, this all came at huge personal cost. Following her arrest she lost her job, was regularly in receipt of death threats and had to move away from Montgomery. Daring Greatly involves giving sacrificially.
These stories have reminded me that conjuring the courage to step outside of the box commences with the conviction that ‘something is not right’, whether that be in me, my neighbour or within the wider world. This is coupled with the conviction that ‘another world is possible’, that things do not have to remain the way they are. In fact, I am called to make difference because ultimately daring greatly is (in the words of Tom Sine) “to respond to the invitation to join in with God, to be co-conspirators with him, and get involved in subverting the craziness, the dysfunction, the sinfulness of the world, with acts of compassion and love. These gestures may seem small, insignificant and at times foolish but they add up and go a long way towards revealing the Kingdom in our midst.”
Carmel Murphy is a Baptist minister living in Stoke-on-Trent where she co-leads an Urban Expression Team and works part-time as a Community Organiser. She’s a tea drinker, conversation maker, cake baker and craft creator, who has a weak spot for words and an appreciation of aesthetics.