“It has been told to me that Bravery exists only in relation to fear; an act is not a brave one unless you are afraid.” – Dr. Ruth Green (Kanien’kehá:ka)

By Steve Heinrichs

Before European contact in 1835, the population of the Haida Nation was upwards of 9000 strong. Fifty years later, disease brought by foreign merchants decimated the people, and there were less than 1500.

Let that sink in.

Over 80% of your community… gone. It’s an apocalypse. And yet the Haida’s experience, unbelievably, was far from unique amongst the nations of Turtle Island.

How did the surviving Haida live on? How were they able to keep on keeping on “post” apocalypse?

Today, Indigenous land defenders and climate scientists warn of another apocalypse— the breaking of planetary boundaries through global heating. We all know the terrifying facts, so I won’t repeat the numbers, losses, and causes. Instead, consider an appeal to the heart from climate scientist Sir David King.

“I have a grandchild who is 2 years old, and she will live to the end of the century. Will she be able to look at her children, if she has children, and say that they will be able to live to the next century?

No. Not at the moment.”

Let that sink in.

We are facing ecological collapse. It’s an apocalypse that threatens the possibility of human civilization.

When humanity’s house is being set ablaze by merchants of death, how do we live, move and have our being?

Here’s one response.

We need bravery. But not just any bravery. Bravery amidst fear.

In Mark’s gospel we find Christ mobilizing his friends, amidst immobilizing fear, into paths of radical change (4:35-41). Here’s the scene:

Having spent the day with the masses, Jesus wants to take his organizers to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. That’s Gentile territory, and not a place that these Jewish boys desire to go. But Jesus gets them in the boat, and as soon as they embark on their voyage a storm kicks up. And it’s fierce.

Now ancient sea-storms, as we know from the Hebrew tradition (think Jonah and Job), are like today’s rising seas. There’s a surplus of meaning at work. Just as super-charged hurricanes proclaim the violence of extractivism (for those with eyes to see), the ancient storm communicates the disciples’ fears toward “the Other” on the other side of that lake.

Moreover, since the storm symbolizes the natural order, “everyone knows” that coming together of Jews and Gentiles is not only difficult, but impossible.

But not Jesus.

Though all around him declare, “inconceivable,” “too dangerous,” and “not worth the risk,” he summons bravery and organizes his comrades to face their fears. Head on.

And miraculously, they make it.

[Jesus] rebuked the wind and… the wind ceased (v. 39).

The disciples thought they were going to die, and for good reason. The storm was real. The ship “was nearly swamped” (v. 37). But together, in and through the One who refused defeatism, they get through the climate crisis, to then arrive— like so many climate refugees— in a foreign land.

Reading this word in our world, what do you hear and see?

I hear a call to enter the biggest struggle of our time, with intention, even though it scares the living heck out of us and we think that “salvation” is impossible.

My eyes see Indigenous and vulnerable frontline communities out there on the lake, in the midst of chaotic waters, courageously fighting climate injustice and the powers of capital at cost.

But where’s the church?

Are we in one of those boats, trying to silence the storms? Or are we playing it safe back on the shore? Maybe we’re cheering on those who are running the risks? Maybe we’re even crafting an e-petition and book study group on the issues? Maybe we want to be on the waters and in the fight, but fear holds us back. Maybe we think, “I cannot do this!”

We’re often told, “Do not be afraid.” But how can one not be afraid as we live in this pre-apocalyptic moment? As Dr. Ruth Green and the Anishinaabe “Way of Life Teachings” remind, bravery is not found in the absence of fear. But in the midst of fear itself.

Today, the Haida population is more than 4500.

Let that sink in.

The fearful storms of settler colonialism “nearly swamped” their canoe. Yet the Haida organized (check out Davies’ The Haida Gwaii Lesson), and through persistent bravery, made their way to the Other Side.

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