There is a lot to be afraid of.
I have spent the last week and a half trying to write about fear. And the illusion of control. I wrote a whole lot–so much it was probably going to have to be split it up into three posts. It was all about how schools around here are on a full-time quasi-lockdown as a response to the Newtown shootings, and how there is really very little we can do to prevent a demented person who is determined to kill a bunch of kids. And it was about the Russian meteor that injured so many when the explosion blew out glass all over the country, and how an appropriate response to that event would NOT be trying to get rid of all the windows. And it was about how we, as a country, take steps toward fear with every new terrifying thing we see on the news, and how, if we let ourselves keep taking steps toward fear, we may embody the tragedy of Oscar Pistorius–Firing a gun blindly through a closed door because we heard a noise in the middle of the night in the bathroom, where there are no bars on the window…. Killing the thing we hold most dear.
I was pretty proud of what I had written, but I think I’m going to scrap it.
There have been a lot of events lately that have led to a very heated debate about guns and their roll in our society. Some people think that trying to prevent gun violence by restricting access to high-capacity, military-style weapons is an appropriate response to a tragedy like Newtown. Other people believe that the best thing we can do is arm more people in the hopes of killing the bad guys. When we’re faced with a tragedy like this, and one group says “More guns!” and the other group says “Less guns!” there is probably very little room for common ground. With such polar opposite reactions and starting points, I don’t think this debate is going to get settled any time soon. And as much as I disagree with the rational behind the idea that “More guns = less gun violence,” the solution isn’t “More guns” or “Less guns,” because the problem isn’t about guns. The problem is about fear.
In the Bible, when Jesus was asked about which side he was on, he almost always revealed himself to be on a third side. And this third option always dealt with the heart, and less with the “rightness” or “wrongness” of a specific action. I can imagine someone pressing Jesus about the “More guns/Less guns” issue, and Jesus looking at that person and saying, “What are you afraid of?” That’s a good question for us to ask ourselves. Are you afraid of people taking your stuff? Are you afraid of being shot? Are you afraid of being powerless? Are you afraid of dying? I am too. We have become a church full of people who are full of fear. Full of “What if’s.” Full of shit. We preach about this wonderful Heaven that awaits, but the folks who are supposed to be the most assured of this “paradise to come” are the ones leading the way when it comes to doing whatever it takes to cling to this life with a white-knuckled grasp–up to and including killing our enemies instead of loving them.
Listen–I get it. If you are mugged while walking down the street, it can be scary to go for a walk again. Some people might decide to just stay in their house after that. Maybe you begin to believe that the world is full of muggers and rapists and murderers. Maybe you decide to buy a gun and carry it with you wherever you go, believing it will keep you safe and in control…. But we were not meant to walk around being prepared to kill. Anyway, most of us have never actually experienced that sort of violence firsthand. All it takes to have us diving head-first into fear is simply hearing about a story of something horrible happening to someone else…. But even if you did experience some sort of awful violence yourself, as understandable as it would be if you lived your life in fear, I think that just about everyone would tell you that a better–a healthier–response would be to forgive, and to expect people to be good and kind, even when you know that some of them aren’t.
Some people think that the opposite of love is hate, but I think that the opposite of love is fear. Fear just LEADS to hate. And if we sow fear, we will reap fear. The Bible spends a whole lot of time trying to convince us that we have nothing to be afraid of. If we hold on loosely to things in this world, then we have no reason to be afraid of people taking our stuff. If we realize that our life is not our own–that our old self is dead, then we don’t have to get more and more afraid every time we hear about yet another senseless murder. In Bible stories, when God wants to speak to us, many times he uses an angel as his mouthpiece, and whenever an angel shows up the first thing he has to say is “Don’t be afraid.” We are told that “we have not been given a spirit of fear,” and some translations even refer to the Holy Spirit as “Comforter.” Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
The world is full of fear, but if we’re going to walk around claiming to be “Christians,” we shouldn’t look just like the world–We should look like something different. We can’t claim to represent Jesus with one hand on a concealed Glock while bunkering down in our gated communities. Well….we CAN, but I believe it will only work to drive people even further from the church. We are so determined to not become martyrs that we arm ourselves to the teeth and put armed guards in our mega churches “just in case.” If followers of Jesus start fearlessly dying while attempting love our enemies, watch what will happen to the Church. Fear is a cancer that eats away at something as precious as authentic community, and it separates us from those we were called to love. But the cure for the cancer of fear is LOVE. Because “THERE IS NO FEAR IN LOVE; BUT PERFECT LOVE CASTS OUT FEAR.”
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If you let yourself get pissed off at stupid people, you’re going to spend a whole lot of your time being pissed off. Because there are certainly a bunch of stupid people out there…. But who wants to live like that? The same basic idea goes for how we respond to violence and evil in the world. If every time you hear about a violent crime or an act of evil in the world you allow yourself to take another step toward fear, the only thing that will happen is you will spend your life being more and more afraid. And who wants to live like that? There will always be people in the world who will do horrible, awful things for no good reason. And when those things happen, we feel out of control. And feeling out of control is scary. But if we let it, that fear will consume us. And we will become like Oscar Pistorius–Firing blindly into the darkness…. Never realizing that we were meant to be the light.