Of Mountains and FlagPoles: The Courage to Scale and Risk it All

Bree Newsome at the South Carolina capital. (Reuters Media Express/Adam Anderson Photos)
Bree Newsome at the South Carolina capital. (Reuters Media Express/Adam Anderson Photos)

“I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” -Matthew 17:20b, NLT

All paths come with obstacles. All roads will eventually lead through roadblocks and tollbooths, construction and detours. In my part of the country, those “blocks” might include a mountain or five. But no one driving west from Philly says, “Welp, can’t go to Chicago because of all those mountains in the way.” Nope, we keep driving. When our intricate network of interstates were built, the mountains were carefully considered and evaluated, but not a one stopped the work.

And so it goes with our lives. There will certainly be mountains. Monstrous obstacles that seem to impede our progress. And we will certainly be called to evaluate the role these mountains play in our journey; we must consider the risks and costs. But as travelers on this road called life, nothing happens, there is no movement, if we don’t press forward.

What does “pressing forward” look like?

There will be times when we’ll have to climb over a mountain. Other times, we’ll have to take some extra time and go around it. But I believe that God calls some us to a radical, fearless approach. Some of us will have to, like those who constructed the Pennsylvania Turnpike, BLAST right through the middle of that thing in our way.

Ask Bree Newsome.

Bree is the woman who, in a fearless act of civil disobedience, scaled a flagpole in South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag.

Sure, she could have gone around that mountain. Although this is the long way to change, she could have avoided places where such racist symbols and icons exist. Not spent her money in places that support injustice. She could have turned the channel when some random pseudo-pundit is spewing hatred or ignorance. Those are important measures that many will take in order to protect their sanity and mental health.

She also could have taken the tedious route of going over the mountain. She could have signed petitions, marched on Washington, and done any number of things to express the outrage that so many of us have over what that flag represents–in a way that is societally appropriate and legal. This is also an effective move. We need people who are going to call out the system, infiltrate it even; those who will work as lawyers and activists to bring about change.

But Bree’s task was different. Still very strategic, but much more direct.

Climb the pole. Remove the offense. 

I know, I know. You’re thinking, Well, what good did that do? They just put right back up. 

Of course they did. That wasn’t the point. The point was to make a statement that would reverberate and resonate throughout this country. To maximize the viral nature of social media and have her act playing over and over again on the screens and in the minds of people. You see…how many people who experience racism and injustice on a daily basis, who watched this Black woman calmly climb that flagpole, recite scripture, and remove that flag, will now feel emboldened and empowered to stand up for RIGHT and JUSTICE in their own neighborhoods and communities? How many writers like myself, who can sometimes feel the weight of our particular callings, will press on another day to use our pens to shed light on issues that matter?

So in that way, I suppose, Bree not only blasted through her own proverbial mountain but the obstacles of complacency and fear that stand in the way of many of us who are exhausted, grieved, or clueless.

See, many of us are called to blow up mountains of injustice…not with sticks of dynamite…but with powerful acts of righteous defiance. Like Jesus did the moneychangers in the Temple (see John 2:15), we are called to drive out those who dare to defile and cheat and disparage others who are made in the image of God. It’s not a easy calling, for sure. And some of that “blowing up” may not make it to Facebook and television. Maybe your act of righteous defiance is demanding that your local public school system be a suitable place for children to learn (instead of snatching your kids out and doing nothing). Or maybe you are called to stand armed on the street corners ensuring that drug dealers don’t set up shop (instead of moving away because YOU can). Maybe you must demand accountability from the police officers in your neighborhood; filming their behavior every chance you get until they change.

To a certain extent, I wonder if we all, at some point, must be willing to risk our reputations and livelihoods for the greater good. As Mark 8:36 says:

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

Do we lose our souls if all we do is, while watching the magnified intensity of hatred against Black and Brown bodies nowadays, pay lip service to the ‘tragedy’ within the comfort and privacy of our homes and churches?

I ask myself this: what mountain will I go over, around, or through today? What flagpole will I climb?

I ask you the same.


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