Fake Popes and Fake Courage

It’s interesting to me how overuse can render a word completely meaningless. Take epic for example. 99.99% of its usage describes something that is not even in the county adjacent to epic. But if you looked at Facebook, you’d think that we were living in a world that was some sort of combination of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars (the first trilogy).

I was thinking about this as we watched the Grammy Red Carpet broadcast last night. It was a pretty sedate red carpet until Nikki Minaj came out of her limo with a guy dressed up as the pope (he looked more like JP II than Benedict). The fashion experts rambled on about it, comparing her to Lady Gaga and such. Then British female fashion expert proclaimed, “That took a lot of courage.”

No. No. The red carpet at a big Hollywood event is probably the safest place in the world to do something like that; partly because it’s the kind of place where people will call you courageous for pulling a publicity stunt. Besides I don’t think Minaj gives a flying cardinal what the Vatican thinks. Here’s the deal. She has an album coming out. She wants attention. Mission accomplished. But let’s not get crass commercialism trying to disguise itself as art confused with courage.

But I’m not surprised. I think we live in a world where we want to be courageous. Let’s face it. Many of us are fortunate enough to lead low-stakes lives. And I’m not even sure that fortunate is the right word, because life is supposed to be something that is higher-stakes. But for whatever reasons, we are not quite willing to stick our necks out for that kind of life.

So we call things courage—Facebook statuses, tweets, preaching to our choirs, blogs, acting out in places where the numbers are on our side—when they are actually something very, very safe.

I’m not saying that those acts cannot be courageous (well, except maybe the last one), but we’re settling. And we’re kidding ourselves. Too often our “courage” is disguised self-interest, like Minaj’s, or it’s conscience-soothing half-action. We’ve watered down courage to something that one can achieve without any sacrifice, without love. This low-cost courage is perpetuated in our churches, our schools, our media.

Of course, the equal and opposite error is assuming that courage can only be achieved by the select few: the fireman that risks his or her life, the missionary that chooses to live a world away. Courage can be demonstrated by any person regardless of who they are and from where they come.

So a twofold plea: Let’s stop watering courage down into nothingness and let’s start living lives that are worthy of what the word truly means. Otherwise it’s all just hype and fake popes.

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