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Faces of Moral Courage

Moral courage is speaking truth to power within your own community -- for the sake of the greater good.
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My favorite Roman Catholic priest was defrocked, but not for the reasons you might suspect. In the early 1990s, a friend handed me a copy of Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality Presented in Four Paths, 26 Themes, and Two Questions. Thus began my love affair with The Reverend Doctor Matthew Fox (we're talking the platonic variety, I've never met the guy). For starters, Fox said that the Vatican should return the gold and silver it stole from South America. He said that women should be ordained as priests. He said that LGBTQ people should receive full affirmation and equality. In his books and lectures, Father Matthew Fox said the kinds of uppity things that alarmed Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later known as Pope Benedict XVI), enough that Ratzinger himself expelled Fox from the Dominican Order.

Fast forward about 12 years. My husband and I visit an old friend, T. We proffer a fresh VHS recording of NOW on PBS. Bill Moyers lets that whippersnapper, David Brancaccio, interview a spiky-haired pixie: Irshad Manji. Manji is a Canadian TV producer and Muslim Reformist who wrote a provocative bestseller. She trumpets the legacy of Ijtihad, Islam's tradition of independent thinking. Our friend T. had recently converted to Islam. She's intrigued with Manji's discourse. We give her the cassette so she can share it with her husband (who was born and raised in the Muslim faith). A few days later, T. tells us that Manji's discourse inflames her husband's wrath. Her marriage ends, yet T's faith flourishes.

Truth is volatile. I'm grateful to all who pursue it. To that end, Fox and Manji helped me chart processes of integration rather than conciliation. I can criticize (even denounce) aspects of my faith, yet depend on the communion of saints. I am free to accept Jesus not only as my savior, but Satguru as well. And whilst wrestling the frailty of my faith, I marvel at how these two captain their all-consuming quests for truth and justice. They persist despite hostility, ostracism, and in Manji's case, death threats.

Fox and Manji have something in common. They practice moral courage. Moral courage is speaking truth to power within your own community -- for the sake of the greater good. Robert F. Kennedy said that moral courage is essential in the progress of civilization. As we witness environmental, economic and social collapses, we will practice moral courage or perish. While it's right to publicize corruption via social media, marinating in its attendant outrage is useless, until we are morally courageous people who act from integrity.

Rebels with moral courage "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable," which is also the highest expression of journalism, storytelling, science and satire. My latest fount of rebel inspiration is Moral Courage Television. MCTV profiles folks from all walks of life who exercise freedom of speech, critical thought, social responsibility and purposeful action. MCTV is the brainchild of that Canadian pixie, who may have changed her hairstyle, but still declares that asking questions is a basic human right. As a New York University professor, Manji created a signature curriculum on public leadership and moral courage. Download the syllabus, here.

Here's how to practice moral courage:

1. Drop your neo-Nazi crew and buddy-up with a rabbi. TJ Leyden spent years recruiting for über-violent neo-Nazis. Then he woke up like Scrooge after a ghost-fest and dedicated his life to deprogramming unhinged white kids. The people he used to hate are now the same people who welcome him. TJ is in constant danger of mortal retaliation from his old gang, but he'll tell you moral courage is the legacy he wants to bequeath his sons.

2. Show a little skin. When Internet trolls pressure Omnia Hegazy to cover up, she lets down her hair. A Muslim singer-songwriter, she's sometimes vilified for baring her heart and singing about women's dignity. Omnia won't give up her voice because there are too many girls denied their own. Artists take note: when anonymous people curse you to hellfire, it might mean you're flashing moral courage.

3. Turn yourself in. Kenneth could've gotten away with manslaughter, but he freely chose to confess, serve hard time, and more important, serve his Brooklyn community. Criminal turned counselor, violent felon turned violence interrupter, Kenneth doesn't run away from mayhem, he runs towards it. He won't accept gunshots as normal and challenges everybody in the neighborhood, from grandmas to gangbangers, to act on moral courage.

4. Get sent to the principal's office. Shelby was a mild-mannered high school student from Lubbock. Then she fell in truckloads of trouble for saying abstinence-only sex "education" was ineffective (because keeping kids in the dark about sex always makes them less curious). Shelby got her car windows smashed for wrestling the USA's most conservative municipality and her own Baptist faith, because everything's bigger in Texas, even moral courage.

5. Love that rebel in the mirror. Everyone needs inspiration on a regular basis (just like flossing, or you get that waxy apathy build-up). Follow @moralcourage on twitter and get your free subscription to Moral Courage TV, which spotlights rebel leaders who operate on behalf of their communities. The revolution is being televised. Tell us your rebel hero story at MCTV and #bemoralcourage so others get inspired, too.

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