In 1699 the religion of Sikhism was born, its beginning recounted in the story of the creation of the Khalsa warrior community. With his sword by his side, the tenth Sikh guru Guru Gobind Singh, gathers his disciples and calls out for volunteers to give their own heads to him. When one brave follower steps forward, the Guru takes them into his tent, and all that’s heard is the slash of the sword and an object falling to the ground. The Guru walks out with his sword drenched in blood and asks for another volunteer; four more brave volunteers step into his tent and the process is repeated, each instance more gruesome and shocking than the last. Finally, the Guru steps out of his tent, calmly washes his sword in a basin and dramatically pulls back the tent’s curtains, revealing five headless goats and five perfectly comfortable and fully intact disciples.
In this particular version of the story, we slowly come to the frightening conclusion that the Guru is a madman, only to find that he is actually an ingenious leader who tests the bravery of his followers. It is a brilliant story on its own, but there is another layer of this tale that illuminates the call to action to any movement that promises radical social transformation.
At one point or another we will be inspired by incredible leaders, outstanding ideas, and enormous movements to unite with a purpose that is far greater than ourselves; it may be in the form of the Dare to Be Yourself movement or discovering the ‘Secret’, but nevertheless, there is always some risk involved. The important caveats to answering the call are always something like “It won’t be easy”, or “It may cost you”, and are introduced so we don’t feel that we are being ‘tricked’ when we find out how great the sacrifice really is and are reminded that it will be worthwhile despite our efforts.
What this story brilliantly demonstrates is that when we are called to something ‘radical’ and ‘socially subversive’ to the point that it scares us, we find out that it was not as bad as we thought. We often breathe a sigh of relief and commend ourselves for rising to the occasion and accepting the challenge.
But what about those who wanted the challenge?
As the now-evangelically estranged Christian pastor Rob Bell used to say, we sign up for a revolution and get a bureaucracy. Often the revolutions we sign up for have a spirit of vitality and of optimistic renewal through quick-paced usurpation drive by emotion. Instead, revolutions are a gradual process driven by a rational (which really means subdued) spirit of navigating the pre-existing framework. We desire a revolution but get a reform. For those of us who are frightened by the revolution, the disclosure of the goats behind the curtain comes as a relief. But for those of us who were willing to give our heads but were spared, we wonder if we were deceived and if the truly radical thing that we are looking for is yet to be found; like Bono, we still haven’t found what we’re looking for.
The let-down is universal. In Christianity they tell you to pick up your cross, without giving you any wood. In atheism they proclaim freedom from a belief in God, yet still provide a form of security.
The let-down is universal. In Christianity they tell you to pick up your cross, without giving you any wood. In atheism they proclaim freedom from belief in God, yet still provide a form of security. In politics they want peace, but do not ask you to drop your weapon. In Hip-Hop they promise you knowledge, yet allow you to be ignorant as long as you’re ‘real’. Teachers are given the great task of molding minds, yet do not have to go as far as to engage the heart. Scholars endeavor to discover the truth because it is vitality important, but do not demand you to personally engage with that truth.
Since the Enlightenment, we have been given the challenge to grow up yet are allowed to stay children as long as we like. With the creation and prolongation of ’adolescence’ brought about by the industrial revolution, we have excess entertainment at our disposal to keep us distracted. However we are confronted with the dichotomy of expectations since responsibility is professed but frivolity is accepted in order to temporarily relieve the pressures of responsibility.
For those of us in the crowd looking on somewhat disappointedly at the sight of all the headless goats and past revolutions, perhaps we should be honest with ourselves as to why we were so readily deceived in the first place. We should also wonder what we are actually giving ourselves to – if true social transformation takes sacrifice, and we are not sacrificing, then we are wasting our time and our hopes.