Thoughts from Pastor ReNe’e R. Teague
August 25, 2018
This morning, in an RV group on Facebook, a person posted about the difference in younger campers who don’t mix or relate to others in the campground. The poster was reminiscing about a time when everyone in the campground gathered around a single fire in the evenings, a time when being invited over to visit and share a meal was common place. The poster, as many of a certain age do, blamed the younger generation for not doing what they deemed appropriate.
A young person replied with no blame or ugliness but simply stating the facts of her upbringing, “I was taught to fear the stranger, to trust no one, to stay in the back yard under a watchful eye – How was I supposed to trust other campers or even have the skills to strike up a conversation?” She went on to point out that as a parent herself, there’s constant scrutiny about never letting your child venture out of your sight. She can’t let her children run to the next aisle in the grocery store to pick up needed items and get what has been forgotten. And yet, she’s supposed to open herself and her family to the “strangers” in the campground? Fear.
This morning, in the news, was the story of the Pope’s visit to Ireland. In 1979 the Pope visited and 75% of the population turned out to see him. Today, they expect a good turn out but nothing, absolutely nothing like that. In the article, the reason stated for the decline in Catholicism in Ireland was laid firmly at the feet of sexual abuse by priests and the incessant and ongoing cover ups. A population once filled with devotion to the Catholic Church, is no longer, because of fear of abuse. Fear.
When I was a child I was taught that police were always trustworthy and good. Their job was to serve and protect and I was to run to them if I had a problem or was lost. Police stopped when your car broke down, offered rides and help, followed the laws of the land. At first, I noted the traffic infractions and speeding of officers, then I witnessed the abuse of particular people and the unfairness of racial profiling. Law officers make arrests in our schools where there used to be correction based in formation rather than isolation. I know personally of the lack of willingness to pursuit the perpetrators of car theft and rape. Little by little mistrust and disrespect creeped in. If I were a person who had been stopped repeatedly with no reason, just because of my race; if I were a person who had been knocked around or witnessed my husband being knocked around, just because of my race; well, I would be afraid of the police. Fear.
Our fear breeds mistrust of church leaders, law officers and virtually everyone in authority. We send our children to school afraid of teachers, other children and their parents. We go to church afraid of priests, pastors, youth leaders and Sunday school teachers. All of this fear costs us joy, it costs us community, and it eliminates times of happy abandon.
As I drove down 360 today, I noticed a sign that read, “A free people ought to be armed.” I’m not questioning one’s Second Amendment right to bear arms, I am calling the question on whether one who is afraid enough to need to be armed is free. Let me distinguish between having a gun, or even multiple guns, in a gun safe with trigger locks in place and having a pistol in your lap as you watch TV. If you are afraid of attack, you aren’t free. Fear has robbed you of your freedom and you can’t shoot to kill fear, violence will only bring a rise in fear and further erosion in your freedom. Freedom exists in a climate without fear. When my heart is racing and I’m petrified, I’m trapped, cornered, unable to move myself into a better place. Fear does that. When I’m calm and sensible, joy and community can enter my life space.
When fear takes root and grows, our cocoon of isolation wraps around us, we fail to participate in all of the things that have lasting value. We go home, close the blinds, lock the doors, build a huge fence and stay inside of it with our own little family and our own little family time has value. But that’s just a glimmer of the value possible. Value of family time is diminished when it isn’t relished within the greater human community. Church picnics, community dinners, time at the park, walks, games and fun with others…those are the times that memories of deep, lasting value come from.
The fear we know is deeply corrosive and it seems we’ve avoided it with busyness and then justified our busyness with fear. Fear of scarcity, fear of harm, fear of attack, fear, fear, fear. And to make it more pointless, the fear isn’t even rational. Our little hunter gatherer brains can’t understand beyond 100 and so we think everything is happening in the next 10 people when it’s really in a million and we just know the fear. Isolation grows fear and so we fall head long into more fear. And pretty soon, we are a people so bent on ourselves we can’t see or trust God and hope and joy are just shadows of their former selves.
This fear that separates us from others, removes us from the community of faith and takes away our sense of well-being and safety; this fear has a price. Last week, I listened to a report on NPR about how relationship and community are as essential to lifespan as weight and exercise. They actually said, being isolated and alone is every bit as bad as obesity and lack of exercise. In the same way advertising has baited us into over-eating and poor nutrition, the irrational and illogical fear of others has robbed us of community, and that detachment from community and relationship is shortening lives. Fear has a price and the price is exceptionally high.
We pay for our fear with a loss of value in the day to day. You see fear takes energy and we have a limited supply. So if I live afraid that the next person means me harm that’s energy I don’t have to offer love or conversation to that same person. Human eyes reflect human hearts and if I’m afraid of the other, that person is repelled by my eyes. Being repelled hurts, even if we are unaware of the pain, and that pain makes us avoid speaking, even avoiding eye contact with others in our community. And lack of relationship lets the imagination multiply any perceived danger. Hate and self-righteous anger can grow unabated in a world of fear.
But this is not a hopeless problem. I can’t change the world but I can choose to not live in fear. I can choose to speak to other people in stores and along life’s way. I can throw up a hand and wave. I can use the person’s name that waits a table, delivers items, checks out my groceries. I can speak to people in elevators and in hallways. I can walk around my neighborhood unafraid. It seems like so little but to the one who is greeted by name it is everything and a ministry of presence is a ministry indeed. We can watch our children without teaching them to fear. Being afraid doesn’t make them safer, just like fear doesn’t make us safer, it just robs us of the moment, the joy, our living.
We weren’t born this way. There’s a facebook video of these four babies who can’t stop hugging. As I watched it, a thought came to me, from God I’m sure…babies don’t dislike or mistrust other babies. At 14 months old they haven’t built reasons to not hug another baby. They don’t dislike this one or that one for one reason or another. They aren’t afraid to open their arms to one another. It’s time we recapture what we knew when we were born, before the world muddied our sight. We have nothing to fear in loving others. Let’s choose to trust and live in community with open hearts of joy, because the price is too high for a life of fear.