I’m pretty sure this is how it works. You probably are, too.
Someone tells you what you should be afraid of. You might not know any better, and when that same person tells you who to blame for it and that they have the answer to your fear, you’re their’s. All you have to do to be saved from this fear is whatever they tell you. Fear is a great motivator. The solution to it is a great power.
Fear comes to us pretty easily. I wonder, sometimes, if it isn’t the downside to our constant need to know more, our quest for knowledge. Remember the tree who’s fruit Adam and Eve weren’t supposed to eat? It was the tree of knowledge. Because we want to know more - everything, even - we can easily come to fear what we don’t know.
We’re easily afraid of things that are different, too. Like people. Or culture or faith or even just, simply, ideas. That can often be because of what we don’t know. Things sometimes aren’t so different when you get to know them. But even when they are, why would we be afraid, rather than recognize and respect that difference? Maybe that thing that’s so strange to us might be meaningful to someone else. Or maybe we might learn something new, maybe we might broaden our view of the world, maybe we might be changed in some way.
Ah, change. We’re afraid of that, too, aren’t we? I don’t know why I say “too,” because isn’t fear of change really an advanced form of fear of not knowing? We might not know what change will do to the future, but we sure know what we like, what we’re comfortable with and what we think’s good for us. Change can be pretty scary.
I don’t suppose the unknown is the root of all fear and I don’t mean to minimize anyone’s experience of fear - each of us, as unique individuals, will know it our own unique way. But look around you. How much of our world, big and small, is ruled by fear mongering?
Politics is a pretty obvious place to look for examples. Governments should be elected and governance practiced on the basis of what good can be done for all people, not who you should be afraid of, who’s to blame for things and who’s telling you they can fix that if only you’d vote for them. Demonizing people, culture or ideas may get votes, but it doesn’t get truth. I could point at more than a few politicians who do that, but that would just reflect my opinion, wouldn’t it? Whoever it is, whatever party, whatever country or culture, if they suggest you be afraid, you should ask why. And don’t just settle for their answer, find the truth.
Law doesn’t always help when we treat it as simply a rule to follow or else. Our motivation ought to be what’s right and just, not that you’ll be punished. Fear of punishment doesn’t build a great society, belief in value of life and respect for others does. Laws should encourage good living and safeguard justice. If they don’t, shouldn’t you ask why?
And religion, oh religion. Like politics and law and any system we’ve created, there’s such potential for good and yet, we’ve so often let it become about power and control. And fear has been a useful tool. It’s God’s love that makes the world a better place, not the presumed authority of someone or something that claims to represent God and demands your allegiance or worse, your servitude. To serve God is to love. If someone tells you different, you should wonder who they’re really speaking for and why.
And yet, Jesus says “don’t be afraid.”
I know, you’ve heard this before. I hope so, because Jesus says it often, I say it often and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one to be constantly reminding people to not give in to fear. “We are not alone,” the United Church creed proclaims. And, again, we don’t corner the market on that.
But it’s not just about the comfort factor. It’s not just a “relax, chill, Jesus is here, God’s here, we’re all going to be okay.” This is the moment at which your action is required. With the comfort of God’s presence is the strength of the Spirit to act. And Christians, as much as any faith tradition or religion, have an example of what that looks like: it’s Jesus. We must not be afraid to live as Jesus.
The day I write this, there’s a story in the paper about Pope Francis commenting on Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall between the US and Mexico. Please don’t let the context or your views on church and state deter you from seeing the essential truth in his words. He said “a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel.”
Don’t be afraid. Get building.