And then I took a look around
And I saw the love that surrounded me
I knew that it was up to me
To cast off all the fears that bound me
– Jackson Browne’s “Cast off All My Fears”
Old stories such as “Hansel and Gretel” and “Little Red Riding Hood” were meant to put fear into children. Lessons such as Aesop’s “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” were likely to prevent a child from basically ringing the fire alarm for fun. Fear is a motivator. It works. Fear of losing your job can be leveraged to keep you and your coworkers from offering legitimate grievances and used in turn to add hours and workload without additional compensation. From TV news to Facebook posts about the ending of the world, fear sells and gets our attention. Our fight or flight chemistry is amped to the max. It’s a science and it works.
When it comes to issues of faith, fear is surely present. Fear of making God upset seems paramount in our churches. God is an angry God. Things will only get worse. The Earth is doomed and if you do not get right with God you are doomed along with it. Or, if you don’t learn the right way to pray and worship you may lose financially or otherwise. God seems to be bent on keeping us in line either by the carrot or the stick. Fear motivates.
In fact, some argue that theologies that keep us in fear are necessary. “How can we motivate people to holiness if salvation is secure?” “How can you truly be evangelistic if we think this earth is our home?” Pessimists breed fear, draw crowds and shout louder than optimists. Just as in the fable, are many Christians “crying wolf”—pretending to be concerned but really simply building platforms and drawing crowds? How “different” are we to the worst of our culture in the fear department?
Reality TV is based on up-close examination of the unusual, the decadent, weird and surely fringe lifestyles of society. The reason we watch is the same reason we look at a train wreck in progress—we simply can’t turn away from something so rare and awful. It usually is not that dramatic, however. Fear of being behind the times at the water cooler might actually be a weapon used to keep us tuned in. We may feel ostracized if we don’t know the latest trends, news or happenings. Indeed, being ostracized is yet another fear.
How about the fear of being unheard, marginalized or invisible. As a Christian community it seems that we can make a lot of noise on blogs about celebrities, leaders and issues. We can drum up comments on both sides and feel accomplished that our noise makes further noise. Our fear of being marginalized draws us into debates we perhaps are at times too immature to be helpful in or loving to be effective with. Fear motivates us to do things we wouldn’t do if rationally loving people were the goal.
I say, let us cast off fear and instead of noise offer peace. With celebrities living larger than life, news outlets projecting violence and hate and politicians slicing us into pie pieces we still have a choice. Do we follow “flight or fight” chemistry or do we embrace rational, sane and welcomed peace? Peace is not weak, but peace is not loud, either. Forgive me Lord for not realizing this countless times over!
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
John 14:27 (NRSV)