Your fear is frightening!

10 01 2020

The Bible is full of passages about fear!  “Even though I walk thru the valley of death, I will fear no evil.”  “The Holy One is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?”  “Do not fear for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.”  “I sought God and my prayers were answered; I was delivered from all my fears.”   “God did not give us the spirit of fear, but of love and of power, and of sound mind.”

Fear is paralyzing!  It takes control of our lives and distorts everything we do: constricting our minds and closing our hearts.  It too often leads us to over-react to the situations that are before us, dragging us down the road of irrational beliefs and destructive behavior.  Sometimes it leads us to ‘flight’ – an attempt to get away from that which is tormenting us in order to avoid the pain that is believed to be in just around the corner.  But too many other times it leads us to ‘fight’ – confronting the perceived threat in ways that are often harsh, violent, and harmful to all.  Sadly, this ‘fight’ response has become way too common today, and for many of us, it is extremely frightening!

This is what was on display in Richmond last weekend.  People, almost all White and predominately male, marched through the streets of Virginia’s capital with guns and ammo strapped to their bodies as if they were going to war.  And why?  Because they are afraid.  They said so themselves.  They are afraid that the government is trying to take away their Second Amendment Rights.  They are afraid that Democrats are trying to restrict their access to weapons.  And they are afraid because crazy Liberal Socialists are trying to prevent them from being able to protect themselves from anyone who may want to hurt them or their families.   They believe that the Constitution has given them the right to own guns, and only over their cold dead bodies is anyone going to ever take them away.  Their fear has led them to illogical beliefs, and those illogical beliefs have led them to frightening behavior!

This is the real issue behind so much of the right-wing extremism that exists in our nation today.  Fear!  Far too many people spend far too much time living in fear.  They are afraid of Muslims, because those who believe differently than they believe challenge their worldview.  They are afraid of science, because education is regarded as the enemy of religion.  They are afraid of gay marriage, because that somehow threatens their heterosexual unions.  And yes, they are afraid of women, simply because that is the largest group of people over whom they like to superior.

But as distressing as these beliefs are in and of themselves, the behavior that results from these beliefs is even more frightening.  Walking around with an AK-47 strapped to one’s waist is not normal.  In fact it’s quite disturbing.  And no, none of us feel safer when we see people doing that.  “Nationalizing” the Christian faith, as so many White evangelicals are seeking to do today, makes that faith look nothing like the faith that Jesus proclaimed.  And this is not just heretical, it is downright wrong!  And refusing to vaccinate children, persecuting homosexuals, and failing to listen to or to honor the voices of women — is unjust, oppressive, and harmful to healthy functioning society.  It is behavior that should frighten everyone!

Which is why people need to continue to speak up!  Silence is indeed consent, and so someone needs to remind the extremists that when it comes to our Second Amendment rights, legislation is NOT confiscation?  No one wants to outlaw guns – we just want a few restrictions.  Someone needs to say that while we all have every right to believe whatever we want to believe, we do NOT have the right to mandate that everyone else believe the same way!  That’s what freedom of religion is all about.  And, someone needs to shout from the mountain tops that “science is NOT our enemy” and “our government is NOT full of evil people out to hurt us!”  Someone needs to say all of these things and more.

Why?  Because frightened people are frightening.  And frightened people of faith are the most frightening of all.  If anyone should know that we cannot allow fear to rule our lives, it should be people of faith.  But when we forget that, the very faith we claim, falsely, and disturbingly, gives too many fearful followers permission to behave in ways that are the most ungodly!

Fear IS real.  But it need not be given the power to rule our lives.  And when our fear becomes irrational, it leads to behavior that must be deemed unacceptable!  No one’s fear should ever lead us to believe that imprisoning people of color or passing a Muslim ban is an acceptable course of action.  No one’s fear should even lead us to believe that mandating prayer and reading the Bible in our public schools is going to make our schools safer.  Homosexuals do NOT need to stay in the closet and women do NOT need to stay in the kitchen simply because some people are afraid of the alternatives!  No one’s fear will every justify any of this; for indeed . . . the only thing we have to fear is fear itself!

Perhaps rather than allowing fear to govern our lives, we just need to better learn how to deal with it!  Perhaps we need to stop covering it up and suppressing it, and instead try to address it.  Because as real as fear may be, the actions to which it so often gives birth, if often far too frightening to inflict upon a society!

Fear is not from God, and there are all kinds of spiritual practices that can help us deal with it.  But if that doesn’t work, then please – realize that what is needed is not another gun.  What is needed is a therapist!   That will help not only you, but the rest of us . . . who are frightened by your fear!




A Plea to those Praying for Peace

8 01 2020


The events of the past several days have led many of my friends and colleagues to offer prayers for peace, and to encourage sisters and brothers in their respective faith communities to do the same.  Donald Trump’s ordered assassination of Qasem Soleimani has brought America to the brink of a war with an Iranian nation that is justifiably angry and understandably eager for revenge; and their lobbing of missiles into Iraq, striking two military bases with hundreds of American troops is of grave concern to everyone. So it only seems appropriate that for the past 12 hours faith leaders of every stripe have been calling people to prayer.  We’ve been told to pray for peace, to pray that cooler heads prevail, and to pray that our swords might be beaten into plowshares!

Sadly, we live in a world, and many of us are part of faith communities, that have taught us to believe that this is the extent of a faithful and effective prayer life.  And as a result, people of all faiths are quick to get down on their knees, bow their heads, and beg God to intervene in the affairs of the world.  We plead for an end to the violent actions of narcissistic nationalists, power-hungry political parties, and a bunch of maniacal and misled men.  We’ve been led to believe, at times even encouraged to believe, that prayer is little more than asking God to do what we think we are unable to do, or . . . to do what we are unwilling to do!  We put the task of maintaining and sustaining creation on the Creator, and completely abdicate our responsibility to build and grow a peaceful world.  We like to sing, “let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”  But in reality, we think that bringing peace to our world is God’s job.

For three years, most White Evangelicals, blinded by their anti-abortion cause, have failed to hold the American President, his administration, and the Republican Party accountable to the things of God.  For three years, too many Liberal Protestants have only silently opposed the actions of the American government; and fearing their own people, and believing the lie that when it comes to things like misogyny, racism, and homophobia, there are acceptable ‘purple’ positions, they have failed to speak truth to power.  And for three years, people like me have been guilted into believing that our strong opinions were nothing more than that – opinions; that our soapboxes had become too big, too all-consuming, and too annoying, and that instead we simply needed to ‘get over’ the 2016 election, and go back to preaching ‘the way we used to preach!’

So I ask, is it any wonder that the world today does not know peace?

Should we be praying for peace?  Of course we should!  But prayer is not about asking God to do what we are unwilling to do ourselves.  In fact prayer is not ultimately about asking God to do anything.  Prayer is about our putting ourselves in a place where we can become aware of the God’s movement and guidance in our lives, and in a position where we will be more open and receptive to the Spirit’s calling.   Prayer is about mindfully becoming conformed to the image of Jesus; and recognizing our responsibility as members of the risen Body of Christ in the world today, to actually become peacemakers.  And this means active resistance to that which is not of God.  Prayer is about having the courage to speak up and speak out when we see people behaving violently, and hatefully, and destructively.  It involves correcting those who would distort the teachings of the Prince of Peace.  It includes voting for people whose lives reflect the God we claim to serve.  It means working for justice: for where there is no justice, there can be no peace.  And prayer is about seeking wisdom, trusting that she will not be found in the teachings of empire, but in the practices of community.

Of course we should pray for peace.  But peace is something that only WE can build!  So my plea this day is that our prayers become more than our pleading with God to send it to our world.  My plea is that each of us would recognize our responsibility, particularly as people of faith, to seek peace and to pursue it!  Because if we are unwilling to do that, and all that is involved, then our prayers will accomplish nothing, and they will mean . . . nothing!