The news is, frankly, rotten. Corruption is everywhere. We have allowed ourselves to be divided into subsets of disconnected groups all constantly at war with each other. The fabric of our society is unraveling, with everything from constant vulgarity to unchecked violence becoming the norm instead of the exception. The list is almost endless.
It’s easy to give in to the temptation to crawl into the nearest closet, lock the door behind us, and hope that Gabriel blows that trumpet soon.
It’s also wrong.
This is not the first time in history that a society faced chaos.
And in those times of challenge, there were those who refused to yield. We know some of their names, and some will remain hidden from our view until the end of time. In most cases, they were not folks that the world would consider to be among the proverbial rich and famous. In fact, many of them died in less than wonderful circumstances.
We often refer to them as martyrs.
Martyr is a funny word. When we use it to speak of someone who lived in the past, it is a word that carries an air of honor and integrity. But when we use it to refer to someone who is currently alive and well, it is almost an insult. Someone is "just being a martyr."
You have to wonder if the martyrs we remember with honor heard the same insulting tone during their own lifetimes. It’s a good bet that they did.
The word, which simply means witness, implies that there is one particular thing for which a person will stand in witness, no matter what the cost.
Not everyone is willing to be such a witness.
But when an individual makes the decision that there actually is something that he is willing to witness, no matter the cost, that individual becomes a force in society. The power of that one person’s witness increases as the cost of that witness grows.
There is something incredibly compelling about something that a person is willing to sacrifice all he has or is to preserve his witness to it. That is why, for example, that the more the Roman Empire threw the early Christians into stadiums filled with lions, the more other Roman citizens decided that they should look into a faith that was so strong that believers would die rather that recant. In the end, the Empire itself bowed to the power of that witness.
Thankfully, for most of us, death will not be the end result of our witness. That does not diminish its necessity or its power.
So, in a world filled with corruption, we can decide NOT to be corrupt – to be the one person who is known to be completely honest and fair our dealings with others. In a world filled with anger and hatred, we can decide NOT to give in to our own negative feelings – to be the one person who is known to have a kind word for, and about, everyone around us. In a world filled with vulgarity and rudeness, we can decide NOT to be a bore – to be the one person who is known for courtesy.
It seems like such an effort would be meaningless. It’s not.
It reminds those around us that there is a different, and a better, way. It gives them a vision of what America is supposed to be.
So, are we going to stay in the closet, or are we going to become witnesses to the values that made America great?