What Do The Risks of Aleksei Navalny and Jesus Say to Us?

When Aleksei Navalny returned to Russia from Germany in January 2021 after recovering from being poisoned, prison was certain and death was likely.   Navalny died on Friday, February 16 at the IK-3 Penal Colony, located 1200 miles northeast of Moscow in the arctic circle.  His death shocked the world, but it was not a surprise.  The circumstances surrounding his demise are still unclear. Questions continue: how did it happen? who is responsible? Where is his body? And the conundrum that befuddles most of the world:  why did he go back to Russia in the first place, knowing he would be jailed, sentenced (three different times on bogus charges), and probably be killed? He was safe outside of Russia, his family was safe.  He had a platform.  He was a much-followed prophet.
Aleksei Navalny was on a mission.
In my first visit to Israel/Palestine nearly twenty year ago I asked a similar question.  Why did Jesus, who had a following in Galilee, more than a day’s journey from the religious and political capital, go back into the lion’s den of Jerusalem? The Roman occupiers kept close tabs on Jesus’ teaching and healings (what the Romans no doubt considered to be cheap  parlor tricks), but they won’t particularly worried.  At some level they recognized that all the attention Jesus received from the locals made their life easier, in that Jesus distracted them from Roman oppression.  But when Jesus went back to Jerusalem, rode into the city being proclaimed as king of the Jews, and then created a disturbance in the temple when he turned over the tables of the money changers, Jesus became a threat. Prison was certain and death was likely.  Jesus knew that; in fact he predicted it. His inner circle didn’t believe him, but Jesus knew his fate, and he willingly walked into it.
Jesus was on a mission.
Two thousand year separate Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and Aleksei Navalny flying into Moscow in an airplane.  Both were on a mission.  Navalny’s mission was — and is, to bring hope and justice to Russia by shining a bright light on Putin’s corruption and cruelty.  Jesus’ mission was, and is — to shine a light on oppression AND (and this is an important difference between Aleksei Navalny and Jesus), what happened after Jesus’ death (his Resurrection) changed the trajectory of history — and transformed millions and millions of lives.  We can hope that Navalny’s martyrdom will empower the people of Russia to, if not change the oppressive regime, than challenge it with greater courage and effectiveness.
Both Navalny and Jesus took life threatening risks, which led to each of their deaths, in the service of greater life for those who remained.  And that’s where we come in. William Sloan Coffin, the late Christian minister and social justice advocate, left us with a blessing, which I offer every chance I get:
    May God give us the grace to never sell ourselves short;
    Grace to risk something big for something good;
    Grace to remember that the world is too dangerous now for anything but truth,
    And too small for anything but love.
We are called, Christian or not, believer or not, to risk something big for something good.  When we do that we become manifestations of the Christ.  Aleksei Navalny was, and is, a manifestation of the Christ.  He is not the Christ; Jesus was and is.  Martin Luther King was a manifestation of the Christ.  As was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as was Mahatma Gandhi.  As is anyone who has risked something big for something good.  The risk doesn’t need to be our very life; it can be something that enhances and empowers the life of someone else.  Jesus himself refers to something as simple as giving someone a cup of water as a  life-giving gesture, which in some cases can be a big risk (Matthew 10:42).
Given the frenzy and cruelty of the world, there is a temptation in all of us go hide under a rock,  until the storms pass over; and avoid any sort of risk at all costs. 
Taking risks can change — not just our lives, but the lives of others. Into something good.
Let it be our mission.

Scams: Preying on Vulnerability and Violating Trust

I fell for a scam last week.  My computer froze, a pop up alarm appeared and said needed to call Microsoft immediately to protect all that was stored on my desktop, lest foreign hackers steal my data, documents and identity.  The Microsoft number was prominently...

Easter: Breaking Through a Contraining System

He broke out.  He got up.  In faith Christians proclaim that Jesus rose from the grave:  Alleluia!  Christ is Risen.  What follows are hymns of praise, expressions of joy, a profusion of flowers – all offered to gatherings that are double the size of a normal Sunday...

Ep 11 – “Passion and Patience” with The Rev. Dr. Amy Peeler

Amy shares about her journey of faith, path to ordination as an Episcopal priest, passion for and vocation of studying scripture, and the blessings and challenges she has experienced along the way.

Fake News, Misinformation, and Truth

When I arrived in Japan in late August, 1973, for a two year fellowship, the country was preparing to honor the 50th anniversary of the Tokyo earthquake, which upended the city for four minutes on September 1, 1923.  140,000 people were killed, many by the 7.9...

Reflections on Christian Nationalism

“The opposite of faith is not doubt”, a wise mentor once said to me, recalling a line from Christian writer Anne Lamott; “the opposite of faith is certainty.”  Religious claims of certainty have been surging on public platforms and in various political expressions. ...

Fighting Insults and Condemnation with the Power of Love

We were at the breakfast table.  My daughter, then about a year and a half, was in her highchair, scrambled eggs on the tray in front of her.  With an impish grin, she threw some of her meal on the floor.  “Don’t do that,” I said in a rather stern tone.  With an even...

Contrasting Interpretations of Discipline

“We will not allow for a policy of ‘anything goes’”.  So said the Chair of a plenary meeting of Anglican bishops in 2008.  There were about seven hundred bishops from around the world attending the once every decade gathering in Canterbury, England.  The plenary took...

Selling the Soul to the Ego

I don’t know people who have literally sold their soul, a metaphor that goes back centuries, but there are many of us who have abandoned, ignored, forgotten or dismissed the very concept of soul.  There are ancient and medieval legendary characters — Theophilus, a...

Aging, the Election and a Pathway Through the Chaos

Are Joe Biden and Donald Trump too old to be President?  This question is getting a lot of attention, with no end of commentary.  Assessments are being made as to each candidate’s physical stamina, mental acuity, and psychological health.  Recommendations have been...

Immigration: Moving Beyond Technical Fix to Adaptive Challenge

In 2013 I spent a couple of days at the southern border with a group of fellow bishops.  We stayed in Douglas Arizona, but several times made our way through the checkpoint into Agua Prieta, Mexico.  A small group of us helped deliver water to the several water tanks...
Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join my mailing list to receive the latest blog updates.

You have Successfully Subscribed!