Do Not Be Afraid

Do Not Be Afraid

Do Not Be Afraid: February 15, 2017

I’m writing this at the end of a long Valentine’s Day.  The day of love and romance began with everyone in my house waking up late and grumpy. 

Now, the school morning routine is already dicey, with little room for speed bumps.  And in the spirit of full disclosure, I’m not a cheerful morning person.  I can be cheerful in the mornings, but I’m much more cheerful if I’m alone.  Not so good with three people and a dog needing so much of my groggy attention.  This is why Mark is normally the morning parent. 

But today we all got up late.  And people needed to get dressed and eat breakfast and brush teeth.  Lunches needed to be fixed.  Dogs wanted to be fed. And it’s Valentine’s Day, so there were cards to open and decisions about appropriate times to eat candy to negotiate and extra things to remember to take to school.  You don’t want to rush love. But there it is.

We all rallied.  There was a lot of love.  And.

I missed meditating.  I missed starting the day in darkness and what passes for quiet in my house.  I missed the luxury of beginning slowly.  I missed beginning with calm and an awareness of God’s presence before facing the adrenalin of the ticking clock and the morning news.

And the news these days is hard.  Not just hard, but scary.  And the part that really irritates me is how much of it is intentionally scary.  Presented as scary.  Interpreted as scary, which intentionally creates an immediate response of adrenalin instead of measured consideration.

In times past this has been called fear-mongering.  That is, trading in or peddling fear (as opposed to, say, fish.)

The Republican Administration is hell out of the gates with a flurry of executive actions.  People affected by those actions—and their advocates—responded with full court press.  And everything is dire.

I feel like I’m straddling both worlds.  Each ‘side’ is flaring up with outrage, and the challenge to my peacemaker nature is to synthesize. To honor the intentions of both, but to call both out for their extremism.

One side: I love a lot of politically conservative, kindhearted, Christian people trying to walk the tight rope of wanting political change: smaller government; pro-business or pro-life; gun rights; maybe Constitutional originalism; but not wanting to be tarred with the brush of crazy that the duly-elected Republican president is presently wielding.  And kinda confused about where to stand on Mr. Trump’s non-Republican stances. These are the folks who want Facebook to be ‘nice’ again; to be a community bulletin board of family pictures and notices of personal life events.

The other side: I love a lot of politically liberal, kindhearted, Christian (and Jewish and Muslim and agnostic and atheist) people freaking out that everything in their world feels diminished and threatened and feeling compelled to do something about it.  These are the folks who are stoked that Facebook has turned into a political game theory of personal-is-political protests and instruction manuals and strategies for successful dissent.

I sympathize with both sides while identifying more with the second side.  Each has important wisdom.  But each is screaming with fear language.  And it only serves to drive the sides further apart.

I just erased a long paragraph cataloguing the screaming.  I don’t need to catalogue that for you.  You know what it’s like out there.

I’m not an expert on the Weimar Republic, but even I can detect chilling similarities with the current political climate.  The rise of ethnic nationalism; the suppression of dissent; the willingness to curtail constitutionally protected civil liberties; the attempt to limit the press; the unilateral decision-making and subsequent challenging of the authority of other branches of government; the stereotyping and scapegoating of non-Christians.  Add to that attacks on environmental protection and we’ve got plenty of fear to go around.

I think all of the fear is making all of us extreme. So much that we gather in safe communities of agreement and shut out the scary outsider.  But isn’t that exactly what creates the fear in the first place?  We all use the facts to bolster our personal version of reality, and defy other people to challenge it.  This past Sunday on Face the Nation, Senior White House policy adviser Stephen Miller came right out and claimed that President Trump’s national security decisions “will not be questioned.”

What?  I’m hoping that, no matter your thoughts on national security, you felt warning chills just then.

For the past month, I’ve had two phrases repeatedly rolling through my subconscious mind. 

The first is “Then they came for me” from the poem by Martin Niemöller. There are several versions because Niemöller, a Lutheran pastor in Nazi Germany, didn’t initially publish the poem but rather included it in addresses or speeches. Here’s the most common version.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

The second is the Biblical directive: “Do not be afraid” or “Fear Not”.  It’s what angels say, and the psalmists say and what Jesus says.  Some claim that some version of that sentiment is included 365 times in the Bible.  I can neither confirm nor deny, but I will say it seems a bit convenient.  Still, it’s in there a lot. Maybe as much as once a day.

I’m struggling with feeling the tension of both phrases.

I am afraid for innocent people who are being targeted and getting hurt—Muslims, Jews, immigrants, refugees, women, disabled kids, people of color, LGBT people, people losing health care, the Earth itself—and I want to speak out for them early and often and lovingly.

And I trust the angels and psalmist and Lord when they say, “Do not be afraid.”

Here’s the thing.  I don’t think the command “Fear Not!” is a call for me to sit back ‘cause God’s got this.  I think it is a call for me to jump in with both feet because God’s got me.

What does the Lord require of us?  You know the answer. To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.  (Micah 6: 8)

So how do people of faith interpret the current event avalanche of facts in a way that’s faithful?  Faithful to our personal narratives. Faithful to God’s requirements.

Several of you responded really beautifully to this month’s blog preview.  You share my ambivalence about this tight-rope time in the life of our republic.

Margaret correctly identified the power of distraction: “I am very concerned that this administration seems bent on obfuscating facts and issues. We are being set up to be fighting with each other rather than toward the common goal of mutual success and satisfaction.”

John confirms my frustration with debating facts.  “I see facts as something that can be proven so an ‘alt-fact’ is nonsense to me.”  (Here are some of John’s facts: “I drank coffee this morning. I have two kids. My wife wears the pants in this family…”  Needless to say, I love this man.) 

Kate talks about professional standards of journalism and takes issue with people not understanding (or caring) that “there is a difference between a professional reporter with a major newspaper and someone who just posts stuff on the internet.”

John also confirms my understanding of how facts are used.  “Facts can be manipulated in telling a story; like correlation vs causation, or selectively used to paint a picture the way one wants to see it.”

Here’s one example.  Valentine’s Day is associated with love and romance because Geoffrey Chaucer, in the late 1300s, took creative license with the sparse facts of the life and martyrdom of Saint Valentine (there were actually two) in the late 200s.  Chaucer used the facts to create his own version of reality, and here we are 700 years later passing out Frozen tattoos and Spiderman pencils.

This is why I think all people of integrity, and especially people of faith, need to be consciously, carefully, selecting our words. 

I really like Bert’s self-awareness here: “I’m biased as a human and evaluate ‘facts’ based on my life’s experience and intellect (or lack thereof). What I read, see or hear as a fact can be challenged by someone with a different perspective.  That challenge is a crossroad of sorts. Do I have the capacity to accept the challenge or do I want to stick with my own view of the issue?”

I also like this ‘litmus test’ Bert uses: Does the ‘fact’ still apply if he argues from the other point of view?

That willingness to engage both/all points of view will be more and more helpful the deeper we get into the extremism of this Administration.  The deeper the extremism—on all sides—the deeper the fear.  And when fearful, people are less willing to examine their own hypocrisy.  Looking at ourselves that closely feels too vulnerable and risky when so much seems to be at stake.

But when the fear is large and a lot seems at stake, that’s actually a good time to go deep.  We are stripped so bare of artifice in our naked fear.  Go gently with this, but don’t shy away from it.

As Margaret noted, “Meditation and remembering truly to listen to each other, regardless of our differing positions on the issue at hand, can carry us through. Lovingkindness is everything.”

I have to say, even at my most fearful, I still have a tremendous amount of hope for America and for the world.  Hope because of seeing civic engagement like I’ve never seen it in my lifetime.  Hope because lots of people across lots of seeming divides are coming together to profess a shared vision of inclusion and of true Constitutional originalism:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

I believe this moment gives us a chance to reform both political parties—maybe even birth a viable third party.  But not with fear.  And not with extremism. The moment is ours to lose.

In fearful times, sometimes a bene-diction really is a blessing. Here is one of my favorites.

Go out into the world in peace. Have courage! Hold fast to what is good. Return no one evil for evil. Strengthen the faint-hearted, support the weak, help the suffering. Honor all people. Love and serve the Lord your God, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Don’t rush love.

Do not be afraid.

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