catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 5 :: 2005.03.11 — 2005.03.24


Whom shall I fear?

Each year the nonprofit organization ?Doctors without Borders? publishes the previous year?s most underreported humanitarian stories. 8 of the 10 headlines reported by Doctors without Borders were directly about war and its aftermath?from Angola to Cambodia to the Congo to Liberia, Somalia, the Sudan, and Chechnya. Oh yeah, and there was that story that got slightly more coverage in our news media?our own war in Iraq.

Clearly we live in violent times?and we search for reasons as to how this could have happened. Too often we look for an easy way out. Like the parable of the lamppost, there are always forces pushing us to look where the light is better when it comes to dealing with human problems. But if the keys to the problem lie elsewhere, in the dark places in our society, in the dark secrets of our culture, in the dark places of our own souls, then working where the light is good will produce few results.

Recently, a group in my church watched Bowling for Columbine

. The movie if you?re not familiar with it is a documentary that looks at violence in America. It points at all the usual suspects as causes for this violence?poverty and unemployment, easy access to guns, the violent history of our nation, and our children?s exposure to violent videogames, music and movies. But in the end, the movie seems to stumble upon a darker ethos in the collective mindset of America?one of fear.

Something about this film was still resonating with me the next morning. How many times do I think that taking some precaution seems like overkill but I do it anyway because the haunting refrain of ?What if?? echoes in my mind? No misfortune, it would seem, is out of the realm of possibility. Even as I locked my doors that night (and incidentally, I have no reason to lock my doors other than the fact that I am told it is the ?responsible? thing to do), I felt a vague feeling of fear creep into me as I became aware of being a woman alone in the night.

Now I?m not saying violence isn?t real. Clearly it is. But how do we makes sense out of Barry Glassner?s findings in his book Fear that as crime rates plunged throughout the 1990s, two-thirds of Americans believed they were soaring? And what does my faith have to say about it? My favorite reflection for meditation is on God?s instruction to ?be still and know that I am God.? My favorite greeting and farewell is ?peace be with you.? Jesus says, ?Do not be afraid.? And over and over again the scriptures remind me that if God is with me, whom shall I fear? In fact there is only one time that fear is actually the recommended emotion in the scriptures and that is in the command to ?have the fear of God.? There is an important distinction to be made here.

To be afraid is to be in an apprehensive state, to fear someone or something. This is the fear that leads to terror that moves us to panic. This is also the fear we are told we can lay aside, give up, and be freed from. But to have fear is to have a profound measure of respect and reverence for the divine.

Too often the Christian community seems to get these mixed up. We give reverence, respect and awe to people and things, to money and sports teams and celebrities and to the good ole? US of A, and we are afraid of God. Too often we preach grace, but refuse to give up our own sense of shame and guilt until we are filled with fear that somehow we alone may be beyond God?s saving grace. We fear that the bad things that happen to us are God?s little acts of vengeance for our sins. And I can?t tell you how tired I am of getting e-mails telling me that we shouldn?t be surprised that God won?t protect us anymore because we don?t pray in schools. God is pissed off and we better start being afraid or things are going to get a whole lot worse!

And if we have to be afraid, than doggone it, we want everybody else to be afraid, too. So we are sure to tell Muslims and Jews and Buddhists and Atheists that if they don?t believe in God the way we do, they are in big trouble. Jesus said to go spread the Good News, and throughout the centuries human beings have perverted a message of peace and love and the reality that we need no longer be afraid into ?evangelism by terrorism.? Somehow we managed to turn something as wonderful as a gracious and merciful God into a holy scare tactic: ?Here?s the good news and if you don?t believe it, then you better be afraid because if we don?t getcha, God will.?

And if we?re afraid of God, how can we possibly live a life free of fear? To be afraid is to live with the kind of anxiety that makes us fearful of talking to a neighbor, offering help to a stranger, listening to the point of view of our enemy. The Greek word for fear is phobos and if you change just one letter you have phonos, which means murder. Incidents of violence stir up anger and fear. Fear festers an attitude of “we’re-not-going-to-take-it-anymore.” Violence breeds fear and fear breeds more violence and the cycle keeps spinning further and further out of control.

How can I possibly come to know the peaceful realm of the kingdom of God if I am living in such suspicion and anxiety? How can I hear the words of a messiah who came to set me free of such fear?

Tony Campolo was recently quoted in Christian Week magazine as saying, ?I find it strange that the last place I can really quote Jesus these days is in American churches. They don’t want to hear ‘overcome evil with good.’ They don’t want to hear ‘if your enemy hurts you, do good, feed, clothe, minister to him.’ They don’t want to hear ‘blessed are the merciful? and ’love your enemies.’"

It?s a hard message to carry?this teaching of Jesus Christ. It involves stepping out of the light of the lamppost, shaking off our fear and embracing with awe and reverence the true light that will lead us into the dark places where true answers lie.

The Holy Spirit is working among us to wrench us from fear and violence, and to transform us into people who can trust God and live in community with one another. More than ever, we need each other. Together we can learn to confront our fears. Together we can find new ways of cultivating peace and nonviolent resistance to the injustices that surround us. Together we can be strengthened and equipped to go out into that world with the least welcomed message of all?the message of peace.

Guiding us is a vision of the age-to-come in which people are free from fear, justice is done, and peace reigns throughout the land. The Lord is my light and my salvation?whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life?I shall not be afraid. Amen.

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