In 1699 the religion of Sikhism was born, its beginning was recounted in the story of the creation of the Khalsa warrior community. With his sword by his side, the tenth Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh, gathered his disciples and called out for volunteers to give their own heads to him. When one brave follower stepped forward, the Guru took them into his tent, and all that was heard was the slash of the sword and an object falling to the ground. The Guru then walked out with his sword drenched in blood and asked for another volunteer; four more brave volunteers stepped into his tent and the process was repeated, each instance was more gruesome and shocking than the last. Finally, the Guru stepped out of his tent, calmly washed his sword in a basin and dramatically pulled back the tent’s curtains, revealing five headless goats and five perfectly comfortable and fully intact disciples.


     In this particular version of the story, we were slowly coming to the frightening conclusion that the Guru was a madman, only to find that he is actually an ingenious leader who tested the bravery of his followers (i). It is a brilliant story on its own, but there is another layer of this tale that illuminates the ‘call to action’ of any movement that promises radical social transformation.

            At one point or another we will be inspired by incredible leaders, outstanding ideas, and enormous movements to unite with a purpose that is far greater than ourselves; it may be in the form of  ‘Daring to be one’s self’ (no matter how terrible one is, which makes the doctrine all the more frightening) or discovering the “Secret’ that the world revolves around you if you’re willingly to imagine your desires, but nevertheless, there is always some risk involved. The important caveats to answering the call are always something like “It won’t be easy”, or “It may cost you”, and are introduced so we don’t feel that we are being ‘tricked’ when we find out how great the sacrifice really is and are reminded that it will be worthwhile despite our efforts.

            What this story brilliantly demonstrates is that when we are called to something ‘radical’ and ‘socially subversive’ to the point that it scares us, we find out that it was not as bad as we thought. We often breathe a sigh of relief and commend ourselves for rising to the occasion and accepting the challenge.

            But what about those who wanted the challenge?

            We often signed up for a revolution and got a bureaucracy (ii). Often the revolutions we signed up for had a spirit of vitality and of optimistic renewal through a quick-paced usurpation drive by emotion. Instead, the revolutions turn out to be gradual processes driven by a rational (which really means subdued) spirit of navigating the pre-existing framework. We desired a revolution but got a reform. For those of us who are frightened by the revolution, the disclosure of the goats behind the curtain comes as a relief. But for those of us who were willing to give our heads but were spared, we wonder if we were deceived and if the truly radical thing that we are looking for is still yet to be found; like Bono, we still haven’t found what we were looking for.

            The let-down is universal. In Christianity they tell you to pick up your cross, without giving you any wood. In the “New” atheism they proclaim freedom from belief in God, yet still some form of spirituality or religion. In politics they want peace, but do not ask you to drop your weapon. In Hip-Hop they promise you knowledge, yet allow you to be ignorant. Teachers are given the great task of molding minds, yet do not have to go as far as to engage the heart. Scholars endeavor to discover the truth because it is vitality important, but after your long endeavours remind you that its your opinion. Since the Enlightenment, we have been given the challenge to grow up yet are allowed to stay children as long as we like.

            For those of us in the crowd looking on somewhat disappointedly at the sight of all the headless goats and past revolutions, perhaps we should be honest with ourselves as to why we were so readily deceived in the first place. We should also wonder what we are actually giving ourselves to – if true social transformation takes sacrifice, and we are not sacrificing, then we are wasting our time and our hopes. Perhaps the let-down is universal because we went seeking for the spectacular and euphoria the mystical which inspires, instead of the love of Christ that transforms.


(i) For the Story and its scholarship:  Dhavan, Purnima. “Introduction: The Origins of the Khalsa.” When Sparrows Became Hawks: The Making of the Sikh Warrior Tradition, 1699-1799. : Oxford University Press, 2011-11-22. Oxford Scholarship Online. 2012-01-19. Date Accessed 25 Jun. 2013

(ii) This excellent line, I’m almost certain comes from Rob Bell, but I was unable to trace the source.