Someone once told me that the phrase “Do not be afraid” or “Fear not” is in the Bible 365 times. Once for each day of the year, I guess. I don’t know if the count is correct but it does seem to be a biblical theme of some importance.
In my life I’ve been afraid (and often overcome the fear) of:
mad cow disease
being in a wreck
having a terminal illness
losing someone I love
… the list goes on, but you get the gist.
These days I’m afraid in ways I’ve never been before. The constants in our lives are no longer certainties. Not longer can I assume that:
-our governing bodies ultimately put the nation over self-interest
-our president is not the pawn of a foreign and hostile nation
-our structure as a nation of laws will survive
-our people stand on common ground amidst disagreements
-our nation is bending the arc of history toward justice.
Those are things I believed, that grounded my way of being in the world. Yes, I know there was much evidence to the contrary, but my experience was that our deeper values of freedom and justice would prevail because I have seen and been a part of years of radical change – albeit slow – of civil rights for African-Americans, women’s rights, gay rights, immigrant rights… We are not there yet but our trajectory was on course.
Now I am deathly afraid of this slow-motion dive. If our nation was a jumbo jet I feel like I’m watching it break apart in v-e-r-y slow motion while diving at the speed of sound. We see it. It’s happening. Solutions are sluggish when we need immediate and desperate measures. Many of our leaders appear to be wearing blinders at best or are colluding with a hostile power at worst. It is not a paranoid statement when I’m referring to Senators and Representatives who are funded by Russian money siphoned through the NRA.
So how the hell do we not be afraid? Is the Bible selling us a bill of goods or could it be inviting us into a way of living when fear overwhelms us? Maybe it’s an invitation to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. Do what, you might well ask.
So far this is what I can imagine doing while terrified:
-fighting for the ideals on which this nation was founded
-speaking out, speaking up, making noise,
-living as if we will emerge from this horror.
When my daughter was in high school I took her to see Richard Harris in Camelot. The closing scene is of Arthur telling a young squire to remember what Camelot was: a place where majestic dreaming commenced. He sings this song in the midst of the smoky ruins of battle. Before the curtain dropped I began to cry. I cried all the way to the parking lot and sat in our car with my head pressed against the steering wheel until my wrenching sobs quieted. The loss of hope, of a time of justice, of seeking the good, was too much for me to bear. I’m feeling like that now but I and we cannot afford the luxury of letting our fears and grief overwhelm us.
I believe a pastor’s most important task is to see and offer hope. Here is what I can offer today:
– when others count on our fear to paralyze us, we discover our courage
-when the plane is plunging into destruction, we pull up
-when fear isolates us, we come together to make change
Is the Bible selling us a bill of goods when it repeatedly encourages us not to be afraid? I think not, though sometimes I feel like it is. ‘Don’t be afraid’ means to me that we live into our truths, that we don’t allow fear to control us. It means we can pull up. As afraid as I am, I have another vision of our crashing plane and it’s this:
We can make it through these times if we hang together.
Hold me up and I will hold you up.
I am less afraid when you are with me.