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Small Acts of Resistance

We’ve talked about the Spirituality of Resistance for three weeks now: Resisting Personal Bias, The Power of Resisting Together, and Counter-Cultural Resistance.

Because we can find ourselves overwhelmed by the magnitude of things that need to be resisted, and even wonder what good one person can make, it's time to talk about Small Acts of Resistance. 

It's true, you and I may not be another Dorothy Day, or Martin Luther King, Jr., or Gandhi or Mother Theresa, but there are small ways to resist injustice, negativity, indifference and despair on a daily basis that are just as important.

Ephesians says, "Live as children of the light. Light produces every kind of goodness, justice and truth."

This is who we are at a cellular level, children of light. The challenge is remembering this and behaving in alignment with our very souls, a way that asks in every situation: what would light do? How can we bring hope in the darkness, how can we be a guide to a better world, how can we provide warmth when the world seems so cold? How can we produce goodness, justice and truth?

Diana Butler Bass, in her blog last week told a story set in 1954 at the beginning of the desegregation of schools. At the time her mother was a sophomore in an all girls high school in Baltimore. Here is part of that story for you: 

One of the strategies deployed by white parents — primarily mothers — was pressuring students to strike. Parents hoped to shut the schools down until city officials reversed their desegregation plan. My mother vividly remembered how her friends were excited to skip school on the day the first African-American girls were scheduled to arrive. They urged her to join them. It wouldn’t be violent, they assured her, because it was a protest by absence. Nobody would get hurt.

When my mother demurred, her friends continued to pressure her. But she wouldn’t budge. School was school, and she wouldn’t skip or otherwise protest the arrival of the new students. Thus, on the day Eastern High was integrated, when many of her peers stayed home, she went to school. And she decided to stand outside the main door waiting for the bus and to welcome her new classmates. She didn’t greet them with a cruel sign, but with her presence. And, knowing my mother, that welcome included a smile and open hand.

“Mom,” I asked her, “how in the world were you so brave? To say ‘no’ to your own friends? To go against that tide of hatred?”

“It wasn’t that hard,” she told me, without hesitation. “If I was a new girl at a school, I hope someone would show up and welcome me. I’d want someone to meet the bus.”

Her act was one small kind, loving act of resistance to the anger, fear, and hatred that was blazing through the country. Perhaps it went unnoticed, or perhaps it gave a little boost of courage to the new black girls entering school that first day. 

There are so many small acts of justice available to us every day. We can take a stand for environmental justice by using reusable grocery bags, planting a tree or garden, picking up trash or cutting out invasive species. We can sign petitions, march in protest, or attend rallies, we can be kind to someone on the margins, or better yet, become friends with them. We can read banned books, write our congresspeople, create art, and refuse to put up with racial slurs and jokes.

Even going to church, in my humble opinion, is an act of resistance. Why? Because, especially here at Sacred Journeys, we are counter-cultural. We seek to live life deeper than the surface of things. We strive to remember what is really important in life and rearrange our priorities. We see every human being as having sacred worth. We try to get past our egos and all the things that divide us. And, since our mentor, teacher and guide was anti-establishment, we're doing our best not to drink the institutional kool-aid, but to learn, study, have important conversations and grow spiritually, intellectually and emotionally.

If you're still not convinced that the small things we do can make a difference, let me share a story with you by Jaroldeen Asplund Edwards called the Daffodil Principle.

Several times my daughter had telephoned to say, “Mother, you must come to see the daffodils before they are over.”

I wanted to go, but it was a two-hour drive from Laguna to Lake Arrowhead. “I will come next Tuesday,” I promised a little reluctantly on her third call.

Next Tuesday dawned cold and rainy. Still, I had promised and, reluctantly, I drove there. When I finally walked into Carolyn’s house I was welcomed by the joyful sounds of happy children. I delightedly hugged and greeted my grandchildren.

“Forget the daffodils, Carolyn! The road is invisible in these clouds and fog, and there is nothing in the world except you and these children that I want to see badly enough to drive another inch!”

My daughter smiled calmly and said, “We drive in this all the time, Mother.”

“Well, you won’t get me back on the road until it clears, and then I’m heading for home!” I assured her.

“I was hoping you’d take me over to the garage to pick up my car. It’s just a few blocks,” Carolyn said. “But I’ll drive. I’m used to this.”

After several minutes, I had to ask, “Where are we going? This isn’t the way to the garage!”

“We’re going to my garage the long way,” Carolyn smiled, “by way of the daffodils.”

“Carolyn,” I said sternly, “please turn around.”

“It’s all right, Mother, I promise. You will never forgive yourself if you miss this experience.”

After about twenty minutes, we turned onto a small gravel road and I saw a small church. On the far side of the church, I saw a hand-lettered sign with an arrow that read, “Daffodil Garden” We got out of the car, each took a child’s hand, and I followed Carolyn down the path. Then, as we turned a corner, I looked up and gasped. Before me lay the most glorious sight. It looked as though someone had taken a great vat of gold and poured it over the mountain peak and its surrounding slopes. The flowers were planted in majestic, swirling patterns, great ribbons and swaths of deep orange, creamy white, lemon yellow, salmon pink, and saffron and butter yellow. Each different-colored variety was planted in large groups so that it swirled and flowed like its own river with its own unique hue. There were five acres of flowers.

“Who did this?” I asked Carolyn.

“Just one woman,” Carolyn answered. “She lives on the property. That’s her home.”

Carolyn pointed to a well-kept A-frame house, small and modestly sitting in the midst of all that glory. We walked up to the house. On the patio, we saw a poster. “Answers to the Questions I Know You Are Asking” was the headline.

One woman

Two hands, two feet

Very little brain.

One bulb at a time.

Began in 1958

In 2009, after planting over 1 million bulbs - by hand, with a trowel - opening the land to visitors became too much for Gene Bauer and she closed the garden to the public, but the lesson remains for all of us to learn from. Her garden was an act of resistance. Into to a world that can be so ugly and broken she brought beauty and art. And it reminds us that one bulb at a time, one action at a time, one kind word at a time, they all add up to thousands and thousands of bright lights in a broken world.

We’ve come to the end of this series on resistance and I want us to ask ourselves: who are we? Who do we want to be?

I hope our answer is that we want to be aware of our unconscious or implicit biases and be people who seek to change and manage them.

I hope our answer is that we are people who are not afraid to ask others to stand with us against injustice, nor are we afraid to stand with them.

I hope our answer is that we want to be counter-cultural, not getting sucked into the culture of fear that surrounds us but to be transformed by love over and over again.

And, finally, I hope our answer is that we want to live our lives as light in the darkness, determinedly, tenaciously, consistently planting one daffodil bulb at a time, always mindful of the small, yet important ways we can resist injustice on a daily basis.

Love & Light!