Go Into the World and Fear Nothing!
It reads, “Go Out Into the World and Fear Nothing!”
That’s easier said than done, don’t you think?
Most would say there is a lot to be afraid of in the world today. The shooting of innocence in Newtown, CT on Friday reminds us again of why we are afraid. The world is a place where tragedy can strike in the blink of an eye. Evil is on the prowl, and will devour even our babies if given the chance. So be vigilant, and watch out. Stand guard. Protect the homeland. Defend your family. The not so subtle message is clear, “Be Afraid. You’re on your own...”
But that’s not true. You’re not on your own. At least, not if you don’t want to be.
In the wake of the shooting on Friday, there are cries for a national conversation. President Obama has declared that we are not powerless in the face of such violence. He encourages us to consider what we can do. Ok. What should we do?
At the risk of sounding self-serving, perhaps we might do faith. The value of religious institutions to our society is that we continue to avow faith in the importance of community. Our mission is to declare a reality greater than ourselves with all our might.
Our correction is over against the over zealous pursuits of the individual. There is surely a place for independence and freedom. Our great country was founded on such principles and our ideals have blessed the world over. I'm proud of that.
However, let’s be honest. The unexamined side to independence and freedom run amuck and that is the fear that we are all alone. Religious communities hold in healthy tension a balance between freedom and independence and the responsibility to things greater than us, like neighborhoods and what’s good for all. I believe churches, synagogues, mosques and the like are the only ones that can do that. That’s our job and our gift to the neighborhoods where we dwell. There is a reality greater than us and our job is to point to it.
It is no surprise that as the influence of religious institutions in North America has steadily declined, fear has been on the rise. We hear the message of fear all around us. We must defend our nation from terrorism, international and domestic. We employ our military not just to protect us but to seek out and destroy even those that might threaten us using drones. Our police are outfitted with body armor, helmets, goggles, and weapons that can deliver one thousand rounds per minute. Our televisions are filled with police dramas and crime scene investigation programs. Our heroes are those that keep the bad guys away from us with technology and firepower. The not so subtle message is that we are at war with what we are afraid of. Fear...
Then there is identity theft protection, and home security systems. Make sure your doors are locked all the time, even when you are home, in case of home invasion. Hide your pocket book in the trunk of the car or someone will steal it. Don’t walk from class back to your dormitory at college after dark, because evil is lurking in the bushes ready to pounce on those that aren’t vigilant. The world is filled with danger, and you should be afraid. Fear...
Many of us have adopted this as just our way of life. This is just what smart people do if they want to remain safe. It’s even what religious people do. Support the troops. Lock your doors. Watch your back. Buy a gun. Be afraid. You’re on your own.
But faith teaches that’s not true. We’re only on our own if we choose to be. We don’t have to be afraid of one another. We don’t have to live in isolation, hunkered down with our guns behind locked doors. Christians believe that we love God, but more than that, we love our neighbor as we love ourselves. We are certainly and most definitely not on our own. We are not afraid!
I like so many others long for a national conversation in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown. I just want to make sure we are having the right conversation about what to do. One way many will react to the news of Friday is to be even more afraid. We will buy more guns. We will hire more police to keep us safe. We will be tempted to be even more isolated from one another. As people of faith, I hope we do not succumb to our fear because we must be open enough with each other to have another conversation. We must have a national conversation about overcoming our fear.
It is our fear that makes guns so available. Guns are simply a symptom of our fear, and not a solution to it. Do we really want a society in which the average citizen must protect his or her own at all cost? Why do other developed nations in the world not have the problems with gun violence that we do? I am not opposed to a conversation that includes gun control. Some forms of controlling what kinds of guns are on our streets are valid, but I also don’t believe it will solve all our problems with gun violence. To reduce this debate simply to gun control misses the point.
More police officers, including resource officers in schools is not the answer. Police officers, firefighters and other first responders are heroes to be sure. But not even our heroes can always protect us. We cannot simply hide from our fears behind more and more supermen and superwomen.
It is our fear that keeps us from knowing our neighbors and helping with life’s deepest and most complex problems. It is fear of mental illness that keeps us from having a national conversation about how to best care for those that are mentally ill. Newtown reminds us again, that we can’t just ignore the mentally ill hoping they will stay on their side of the street, while we stay behind our fences and our gates.
It’s time for religious communities to be given their rightful place at the table in a national conversation about what ails us as a society. It is fear, and the answer to our fear is a reality that is greater than us. Truth is our political leaders cannot have this conversation without us. There is a too much separation in our national politics between the individual freedom to pursue and protect happiness on one side of the aisle and the need for all our citizens to be responsible for one another in compassion on the other. Everyone means well, but without a will for compromise nothing gets done. Religious communities could be a means for reconciliation by insisting both sides deal with the real human problem of fear in our society. There is a place for independence and protection from what we are afraid of, and there is also a place for reaching out and reaching up for something greater than our fears.
The sign by our driveway was there when I arrived, but perhaps it’s time to repaint it’s lettering. Perhaps we might even consider turning it around, or painting the other side with the same message, so that those driving by can see it and know us as people of faith. We will not be controlled by our fear. We will not hide. We will not hunker down behind walls and barriers. Our sign about faith might even be an invitation for the neighborhood around us to come and have a conversation about our fear.
That’s our job. We believe our role in society is to stand against fear, to avow community and to point to a reality that is beyond ourselves. Nobody else can do it...
We must continue to declare that it’s possible to... “Go Out Into the World and Fear Nothing!”