Lately I have been thinking about counting the cost. I have spent two decades struggling for the liberation of Indigenous people, yet those I advocate for remain imperiled.
Do I have what it takes to complete the task? Or is it too costly?
In my Christian upbringing, I was taught that counting the cost means evaluating whether an endeavor is realistic before committing to it. This is the logic of rationality, of safety.
Before I invest in a risky venture, I should calculate whether I can afford to lose what I invest. If the answer is yes — if I have the time/energy/money to spare — then I should go ahead. If the investment is too costly, I should demur.
This is how my investment began: Twenty years ago, I was a young re-searcher on a risk-assessment team. An Indigenous elder asked for my help. Her entire rainforest community had been removed from their village in the South American country of -Suriname because an economic interest had received a land concession from the government.
It is perfectly legal for an economic interest to eject a community from its home if doing so is financially advantageous to the landowner — in this case, the government.
When Dina asked for my help, I was not sure how I could. I was young, unimportant, inexperienced. I was still chasing the dream of assimilation and did not yet understand my own story as an Indigenous woman. But I told her I would help her, unaware of how this commitment would light a fire that would change my life.
After two decades of struggle for my people — Indigenous people across the world — I no longer count the cost. All that I thought I knew, all my swagger, all my youthful certainty that my action could result in my imagined outcome are burned away. Yet a fire still burns within me.
In Luke 14:26-27, Jesus says discipleship will cost everything: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even their life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
This verse is followed by two examples: calculating the cost of building a tower and of winning a war. These examples seem to say that we should be sensible and think out what we can give or are willing to give before embarking on a great task.
Then verse 33 says, “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
So, which is it? Should we give up everything? Or make a rational calculation about what we can afford?
Empire building — building a tower, waging a war — requires sensible decisions. Failure to count the cost will result in disaster and humiliation.
But am I building a tower, a monument to myself that demonstrates my cleverness and importance? Am I monarch waging a war?
No. I am following a call that leads me far from achievement or a desire for victory. My choices do not make logical sense if my aim is personal success or gain.
What Jesus asks is the opposite of sensible. He asks that we give everything, without calculating the outcome.
Pursuing a safe bet — calculating a decent return — is the opposite of following. We are instructed here not to calculate the cost. The cost is immeasurable. We are incapable of imagining it.
At the beginning of my journey, I could not estimate, much less bear, the cost of joining the struggle for Indigenous liberation. I would not have had the strength to choose it.
Can I be sure my effort will be rewarded? Will the world change as a result of my labor?
I do not know. I choose to leap into the dark, joining my ancestors in the flow of time. I give my life because I must.
It does not matter if there is an impact discernible to me. I cannot live for rewards defined by my lifetime. How can I predict outcomes? I leave that to the Spirit of Life.
I choose to foolishly give everything. I am one flame added to the conflagration, the Spirit of Life burning throughout creation, a small candle though my life may be.