Courage = Trust: The Testimony of Fred Shuttlesworth

We are meditating on holiness in our time and what the signs are that reveal it.  And Dr. King’s message that we must love something more than the fear of death if we are to live fully.  Surely holiness has something to do with living fully and generously. 

A brief bio-documentary about Pedro Casadáliga, missionary bishop, poet and writer serving in the Brazilian Amazon. Video by Mathew Paul Vattamattam

We spoke yesterday of the love that brought courage—a “big heart”—alive for so many in base communities in Central and South America responding to the call to preserve the rainforest and the people there.  I am blessed that I had the privilege to know Bishop Casigalida and his co-workers in the Amazon as well as Sister Dorothy Stang who died a martyr there and was a student in our ICCS program. 

Surely the civil rights movement was such a call also.  

Fred Shuttlesworth was a street minister and leader during the civil rights movement in Birmingham, Alabama.  His life was threatened regularly.  He was beaten by chains three times by the Ku Klux Klan, his two children were put in jail by sheriff Bill O’Conner.  And his house was blown up—with him in it—by the KKK.

Brief bio-documentary on civil rights leader Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, who worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., co-founded the SCLC and refused to waver even after he was brutally attacked. HISTORY

I was invited to dialog with him at the civil rights museum which if I remember correctly was located across the street from the church where six black girls perished when a bomb exploded in the church basement on a Sunday morning.  The topic Fred and I were to discuss was “Racism and the Environment.” 

I was struck how this civil rights warrior was still at it in his eighties and was turning his attention to the new topic of environmental justice.  I was pleased that creation spirituality was in his horizon.

We sat down to share a sandwich before our public dialog and I said to him, “Fred, I have a question for you.  Where do you get your courage?”  He answered: 

A memorial of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth after his passing in 2011. WLWT.

You can call it courage if you want, but I don’t.  I call it trust.  When they blew the roof off my house and I walked out alive I said to myself, ‘they cannot kill me.  Oh, some day they might kill my body; but they cannot kill my soul and they cannot kill the movement.’

What a lesson!  What a teacher.  If you want to know about courage, hang out with courageous people whenever possible.  Courage is about trust.  And trust is the primary meaning of faith.

See Matthew Fox, “Trust,” in Fox, Original Blessing, pp. 81-88.

See also Matthew Fox, “Bishop Casalgalida,” in Fox, The Pope’s War, pp. 45f., 54-62. 

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: Martin Luther King Jr. (left), Fred Shuttlesworth (center) and Ralph Abernathy, pivotal leaders of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, hold a press conference in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. Photo (c) AP Images through U.S. Embassy The Hague on Flickr.

Queries for Contemplation

How do you see the relationship between courage and trust?  between courage and holiness?

Recommended Reading

Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality

Matthew Fox lays out a whole new direction for Christianity—a direction that is in fact very ancient and very grounded in Jewish thinking (the fact that Jesus was a Jew is often neglected by Christian theology): the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality, the Vias Positiva, Negativa, Creativa and Transformativa in an extended and deeply developed way.
Original Blessing makes available to the Christian world and to the human community a radical cure for all dark and derogatory views of the natural world wherever these may have originated.” –Thomas Berry, author, The Dream of the Earth; The Great Work; co-author, The Universe Story

The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved

The Pope’s War offers a provocative look at three decades of corruption in the Catholic Church, focusing on Josef Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. The final section in the book focuses on birthing a truly catholic christianity.
“This book should be read by everybody, not only for its ferocious courage, but also for its vision for what needs to be saved from the destructive forces that threaten authentic Christianity.” ~ Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope.
“In the gripping The Pope’s War, Matthew Fox takes an unwavering look at the layers of corruption in the Catholic Church, holding moral truth against power.”   — Jason Berry, author of Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II

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7 thoughts on “Courage = Trust: The Testimony of Fred Shuttlesworth”

  1. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    Shuttleworth made a profound statement in today’s DM, that really captured my attention. He stated that, “Others weren’t trying to kill me, but rather the idea.” An idea is defined as a belief, a purpose.

    Shuttleworth and many other martyrs like him, not only believed in the idea of love, compassion, mercy and justice; but rather they lived it as the meaning and purpose of their lives… fearlessly, courageously, sacrificially… trusting in the truth of this reality, defined by God!

    Often, humanity searches for its meaning and purpose, in the ideas this world defines it as. In fact, it’s become big business, often marketed with statements targeted towards self-gratification, success, wealth and the illusion of the power of these ideas.

    It takes courage, faith, hope and trust, to willingly and fearlessly surrender to the idea, the holy vision, of what God has already defined and revealed; as our true natures meaning and purpose in life… founded and rooted in love, compassion, mercy and justice… the “just is” of this spiritual essence and presence that desires to be, live and move more freely… in unique and diverse ways… in us, for us, and through each one of us all… for the greater common goodness and beauty, of all that which exists.

    The martyrs live this out in greater measure… yet we are all invited to contribute our part, to the expanding largess of this holy vision!

    1. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      Yes, Jeanette, it’s a lot to process, a lot to approach in new and deeper ways – layers of new meanings and understandings. Sometimes, I want to simply sit with these profound words and absorb the multifaceted and focused reality of those who live in this way of understanding. I imagine how my life would be different, if I opened myself to living in this way of understanding. It is quite the challenge for me. You??

  2. Avatar

    There have been many martyrs in human history who inspire us to have faith/trust in God’s Spirit of LOVE~WISDOM~TRUTH~PEACE~JUSTICE~HEALING~STRENGTH~CREATIVITY~BEAUTY~JOY…
    Present within, through, among Us, especially in our compassionate relationships within our True Heart Selves, with one another, with beautiful and sacred Mother Earth and all her creatures and graceful abundance, and with All our sacred multidimensional-multiverse Cosmos and beings within God’s ongoing co-Creation-Incarnation-Evolution in LOVING DIVERSE ONENESS….

  3. Avatar

    Courage depends on utter trust, that is so beautifully expressed in Romans 8:35-39. Nothing, including death, can separate us from the love of God. And, there is nothing more sacred. I do not know if we have enough in this country today who have that kind of courage that grows stronger when it is most threatened. But there are many facing execution in Iran simply for speaking the truth to power. Journalists around the world are being attacked, imprisoned, and murdered for the same reason. They inspire me. How many church folk are speaking out and risking what they are risking, their very lives?

    1. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      This is the time you and I, all of our friends and acquaintances and loved ones; this is the time we were born for! What are each of our risks? What are we each best equipped to speak to, stand up for, risk all that we have and are for? Gosh! these are some powerful questions, aren’t they? “Sometimes, it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble!”
      Back to the beginning of this REPLY: This is the time you and I, all of our friends and acquaintances and loved ones; this is the time we were born for! Big breath. In her book, “We Are The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For. ….Inner light In A Time of Darkness!” Alice Walker encourages readers to take faith in the fact that, despite our daunting predicaments, we are uniquely prepared to create positive change. see for details. This book might be a good partner for the journey Matthew has invited us to travel. Great reviews -I haven’t read it yet – soon.

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