Shepherd’s Care: The Violence of Activism

In his classic work, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Thomas Merton captured the essence of the problem when we violate the pace of grace…

There is a pervasive form of violence…activism and overwork. (p. 86)

These words were written more than 50 years ago, and they are only more true than they were when Merton first observed the soul-damage which comes when we try to live against the grain of God’s will for us.

You’d think we would get the message, because study after study confirms the deadly effects of prolonged stress, sleep deprivation, evaluating ourselves by quantity rather than quality, etc.

In the economy of God there is no justification for activism.  Of course, there are times when individuals, groups, and systems will move at such a speed that we can barely hang on—that’s one thing.

But when we fall prey to activism due to our own decisions to “speed up” (for whatever reason our ego tells us to), the “soul drain” (to say nothing of the stress-related illnesses that attend activism) will either actually do us in, or will make us what Merton called elsewhere “hollow men”—people who maintain appearances right up to the last, while becoming increasingly empty on the inside.

E. Stanley Jones, who suffered mightily in his early years from a self-inflicted activism but finally came to himself, put it this way, “The person who is available to everyone is soon no good to anyone.”  And if the activism is not checked, the “anyone” becomes our own selves.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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1 Response to Shepherd’s Care: The Violence of Activism

  1. reithien says:

    I very much value your writtings and the resulting thoughts. Please be aware that I think that there are a lot of us, who wished they had a cabin in the mountains for a week. Just myself and God; the silence so great that the thunder of God’s voice is all we hear; but thank you for your writings as a lot of us are like the man waiting for the angel to stir up the waters. Did you realize that saying I love you as a brother in Christ is fantastic- because often we feel like I am alone and who really, really does care?

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