Piercing the clouds

An article on the Zimbabwe Situation website last week called for individuals to “invest in change”. It unleashed a storm of vitriol because it was critical of the leaders of the country in wild language. Once again I was reminded of the difficulty of debating issues coolly and objectively. By judging people - and not their ideas and actions – you poison the atmosphere.

The writer did not say exactly how people should change but I hope he was talking, for a start, about inner change; a change of the heart. Everything starts from there. There is a story in the gospels about two men who go up to the temple to pray. One spends his time reciting a checklist of all the things he does in the week and ends up pretty pleased with himself. The other doesn’t even “dare to raise his eyes to heaven” but looks into his own heart and is horrified by what he sees.

“Investing in change” has to start there. To those who are impatient and want to force the pace of change one can only say, “you are building on sand.” For too long, people have longed for change “out there”, for “them” to change, without realising that change begins within people, one heart at a time. You cannot push the river. We are not a herd that can be stampeded into change by a word or a flick of the wrist.

But if we do that inner work, of looking into my own heart, and if we live the consequences of what we see there, change will come. The man who “did not dare to raise his eyes” was, in fact, “piercing the clouds” and his prayer was accepted and he went home “at rights with God” (Luke 18:14).

Once a person has looked into his or her own heart, as Ghandi did, that person finds strength to make small changes in their own life. And small things become bigger once the initial fear is overcome. A child is afraid of water until he is in it. A man is afraid of speaking up in a crowd until he has done it.

Perhaps the vitriol flies because the one who ticks off the check list is secure and wants no disturbance to his way of life. He feels threatened by the presence of the humble man who asks questions, of himself first, but then of his community and society. Jesus said, “I have not come to bring peace but division” (Luke 12:51). We don’t like division. It unsettles us. But, if we respect its rhythm and its advocates, it is the one thing that stretches us and challenges us to do better.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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