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  • Writer's pictureThomas Norris


Updated: Feb 21

Throughout history, we have witnessed the existence of certain people who seem to be unique and special. They have an aura of truth, authenticity, and courage mixed with a compelling charisma that inspires and draws people in. Their energy just feels right and good, and you want to trust them. They are typically humble, so power, ego, and wealth seem to have little hold on them. Spiritually, we might call them Christ-like figures, which has nothing to do with Christianity. It simply means that they represent a higher calling, a higher sense of humanity. We could equally say they appear Buddha-like or Messiah-like. Some who come to mind might include St. Frances, Muhammad, Sojourner Truth, Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Dalai Lama, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr, Bob Marley, John Lennon, and Nelson Mandela—to name just a few. In ancient and modern times, all cultures bring forth these extraordinary human beings, men and women, including Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Australian Aborigines. Still, the Western world may never have heard of them. The point is that whatever we call God, Goddess, or Divine Oneness, humanity receives many messengers of hope, love, and change. Like Jesus, they are also rebels fighting systems of oppression and autocracy. Of course, they are not perfect people—they are human—but they are great people. Please note among the examples I gave, only a few were not assassinated, and Mandela, the chief of the Zulu nation, spent over twenty years in prison under the racist Apartheid government of South Africa. The Dalai Lama has had to live in exile since the 1959 invasion of Tibet by China—or face probable assassination. Muhammad survived several assassination attempts. Bob Marley was wounded in an assassination attempt just before his 1976 Peace Concert. It appears that spiritually volunteering to be this type of rebel spiritual leader may often carry a death sentence.

Thus, it was with a sense of profound grief that I learned of the death of Alexei Navalny yesterday. He was one of those people. His poisoning in 2020 at the hands of Vladimir Putin’s thugs nearly succeeded. This time it worked in a freezing arctic Gulag. Many Russians and people around the world were deeply affected by his death. They felt it was the death of hope for a future for Russia. He was supposed to lead his people to the new Russia. A Russia that joined the family of nations and was a good neighbor. A Russia that was a democracy. A Russia that cared about its people. He was that kind of light. His widow, Yulia, in the midst of her devastation and grief, has vowed to carry on his work. Will that be a death sentence for her as well?

Over the past twenty years, Putin has murdered all his political opponents and many dissidents. These Putin-directed assassinations did not just happen in Russia but were carried out in England, Spain, Germany, and Chechnya and even attempted in the United States. In addition to what he is doing in Ukraine, he represents a worldwide menace by his belief he can get away with anything anywhere, his vision of a new militarily mighty Russian Empire reclaiming the old Soviet states and Eastern Europe, and his persistent attempts to undermine democracy and freedom.

I rarely like to think in terms of good and evil because it appears too simplistic. However, a line needs to be drawn somewhere. Putin has joined the ranks of some of the most evil people in modern history, Stalin, Hitler, and Mussolini. These monstrous megalomaniacs and sociopaths are responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people, including many of their own citizens, as well as the destruction of whole societies and countries. As people of faith, hope, and love, it is our responsibility to keep them from power. To always work for the betterment of humanity, for all our brothers and sisters. Consequently, it was quite chilling recently to hear a reporter interview people participating in a Trump MAGA rally. He asked them if they would prefer four more years of Biden or Trump as a dictator. Young and old, all replied that they wanted a Trump dictator and that America needed a “strong man.”

Politics aside, I could not believe I was hearing this in America, the land of Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. The land of the Declaration of Independence and a Constitution that set the standard for all democracies thereafter. These people would throw all of that away under the cultlike sway of a leader who is not morally defensible by any measure. They would throw it all away for the belief that a white, evangelical Christian nation is the only right way. How have we fallen this far that we allow avowed Nazis to march in our streets? How has our amazing, creative, vibrant diversity become the enemy? How can we believe autocracy is better than democracy?

My father fought in some of the worst battles in Europe against Hitler, the Nazis, and all that they stood for. I feel these misguided MAGA people are spitting on his grave and the graves of all the brave men and women who fought (and died) for our freedoms. I do not think they really understand what they would lose in a dictatorship. If you talk to anyone who lived under autocratic governments in South America, Europe, or Asia, they will tell you how bad it was. That it was a life of fear, lack, rules, and suspicion. In 1989, when the citizens of East Germany were liberated, they overran the STASI headquarters, where the Communist secret police kept all their files. To their horror, they found that nearly every citizen had been compromised. Everyone was spying on everyone—neighbors, friends, relatives, and co-workers. STASI had managed to frighten an entire nation with their threats of losing a job or promotion, not being approved for housing, being kicked out of the university, bringing harm to family and children, or being jailed. This is what autocracies do. It is not what spiritual people or spiritual leaders do. Universalists especially cannot abide living under tyranny as it violates all the principles of Universalism.

Alexei Navalny told us what to do. At the end of the CNN Documentary, Navalny, he said, “If they decided to kill me, then it means we are incredibly strong. We need to utilize this power to not give up, to remember we are a huge power that is being oppressed by these bad dudes. We don’t realize how strong we actually are. The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing, so don’t be inactive.”

That is my call to action and yours! Spirit is calling us to do what is right and be fearless—like Alexei.

(I recommend you see the CNN documentary. I found it on CNN, HBOMax, and Amazon Prime.)



Rev. Dr. Tom Norris

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