FEAR (AND ITS OPPOSITES)
Our theme for our reflection and worship at UUSF in December is simply this: “Fear.” When our intuitive, articulate lay Worship Associates chose this theme, frankly, I, as minister, grew somewhat anxious. Really? Fear? Amid all the build up to holiday cheer? How perverse!
If not prophetic. After all, what did mythical angels say to shepherds abiding in the fields: but simply this: “Fear not!” This transmitted in a season when our pre-Christian ancestors were building bonfires to encourage the sun to come back again after the winter solstice.
As I write tonight, in mid-November, the whole world is reeling, as it often does, in its growing global e-community -- one that can often amplify, not reduce, fear and anxiety -- with the news of terrorist attacks in Paris. As my own daughter Mary wrote on Facebook,
“I'm feeling all kinds of sad and angry as a result of the attacks in Paris. I'm also holding our Muslim brothers and sisters close. We can't allow the fringe extremists of any faith, or lack thereof, who have convinced themselves that hate and murder is acceptable, to breed the same feelings in others. On the heels of Armistice Day, let us breathe, speak, envision and actively work for true peace.”
Well said! The goal of terrorists, by definition, is to instill fear. Terror. And to provoke retaliation. Which so often results in escalations or well-named “dead ends,” both here and there.
So what strategies are available to US, as people of reflection and more inclusive faith? Not many, I’m sad to report on the basis of my quite long experience in such spiritual matters.
[NB: These are the “Five Stages of Grief,” according to Elizaabeth Kubler-Ross, et al.]
We can practice denial. This includes blaming the victims. “We (or France) deserved it.”
Frankly, the more “left” we are, the more this temptation also denies “feeling. . . sad and angry.”
A part of grief does, and should, involve anger. May it not also not move to revenge! Which simply perpetuates a cycle of hurt, fear, and recrimination.
A third stage of grief is often simply sadness, depression. To stand up to speak against violence and revenge (or even denial and the passivity of depression) takes courage.
“To accept what cannot be changed” – which includes all of our human fear-filled past – yet yearn for the “courage to change what can be changed,” most often starting with one’s self, requires “the wisdom to know the difference.”
A fourth part of grief is called “bargaining.” What must I or we do to prevent more loss? As Winston Churchill said of diplomacy, “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”
So how do we fear ourselves from fear and anxiety? Not all at once! That would require what Flannery O’Connor once called “a miraculous intervention of God in our human affairs.” Whereas we are left, by grace, to work out, in freedom, our own salvation, in fear and trembling.
Some will try to short-cut the responsibility for discernment by saying, “Love everyone!” This too often becomes a cheap short-cut to what I call a “false universalism.” In which we self-proclaimed liberals or progressives no longer accept our responsibility for either the bargains nor prayerful discernment about how best to avoid polarities of either passivity or of power-plays.
Why is this so hard? Scripture says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. [Who] feareth is not made perfect in love.” [I John 4:18]
But who among us is now perfect in love? Not I. All we can do is help us in the struggle toward more love and spiritual maturity. Into which we invite ourselves, one another, and our fellow grieving humans into more reflection on what it takes to shape a future with less fear.
Yours in shared ministry,