Tuesday, July 3, 2012

June 24, 2012 - Reflection by David

I had a discussion with a friend who had just finished the latest Elizabeth George mystery novel in the Inspector Lynley and Sergeant Havers series. There are a group of us who enjoy George's novels; this latest novel is called Believing the Lie. I won't give it away, but it is all about lies, gossip, and fear. All of the main characters have little lies that they keep, secrets that are based in fear... fear of confronting others and provoking conflict, fear of facing up to one's own inadequacies, fear of exposing something of one's vulnerabilities, fear of admitting to one's prejudices and biases. Fear...

If there is one thing in life that can deny our humanity, it is fear. Fear is usually what is the source of hate, commonly thought to be the opposite of love. But John, in his letter to the early Church, said "Perfect love casts out fear." Fear puts us into the fight or flight syndrome, that primitive part of our brains that takes over when we perceive a threat. Adrenaline starts to flow; blood flows to the big muscles of our legs and arms taking blood away from our higher brains where we reasoning and higher thought occurs. We all know what this fight or flight syndrome is like, for we all know fear at some level.

But we also know, in the calmer and rational moments of our lives, that fear is based on assumptions. We assume that the bear on the trail will attack rather than turn tail and run itself, which is what happens 99 times out of 100. We assume that the plane will fall out of the sky if I'm on it, when in fact, we know that air travel is the safest mode of transportation. We assume that gravity will take over if we get too close to the edge of a precipice, when we know that we are safe and will not fall. We assume that conflict will ensue when asked to state an opinion, when we rationally know that a deeper conversation might take place. We lash out at others for the biases and prejudices that we perceive in them when psychologists tell us that often our strong reaction is more provoked by something in our own characters that we don't like. We engage in gossip about others because it is safer to talk about them than it is to talk about us, or me and what is really going in my life. We are afraid, we keep secrets and we engage in lies to bolster the faade when we know what truth really is.

We all do it. We all have fears. The disciples knew fear. David knew fear when he fought Goliath. Jesus himself knew fear at the Garden of Gethsemane. The friends and family of Jesus knew fear. The early Church fathers and mothers knew fear.

Tell the story of The Valley of Elah, a movie starring Tommy Lee Jones. Especially talk about the scene where Jones' character tells the David and Goliath story to a frightened young boy.

Mark portrays the disciples and followers of Jesus as not understanding what Jesus was saying and constantly knowing fear and faithlessness in their lives. In the boat, while Jesus was asleep, the disciples panicked. What is true is that those who spend their lives on the water sometimes never learn to swim and so when storms arise, as they can quite swiftly and severely on the rather shallow Sea of Galilee, there is great fear. Perhaps Mark is also likening Jesus' journey to Jonah, who was also in a storm and was thrown overboard for being the cause of it. While Jonah, in full flight from his fear, couldn't still the storm, Jesus, engaged fully in his mission to highlight the power of love and to embody it, stilled the storm.

Mark puts the conflict between faith and fear. Some scholars think that Mark deliberately makes the disciples and followers of Jesus intentionally afraid and seemingly faithless so as to give courage to the readers of the story of Jesus or the other followers who might think, "Gee, if the disciples and close friends of Jesus are afraid and seem to lack faith, well there is hope for me!"

The implication of the story is that the way to conquer our fears is to confront them. If we cower from our fears or allow our fears to have power over us, we are diminished. And if we engage in gossip or keep secrets because of our fears, we not only lose something of our humanity, we drag others into the conspiracy of fear.

Fear is a hot commodity these days. Governments and those with something to sell rely on fear; they propagate it. The latest fear is that we will run out of money. We have to dismantle environmental protection, putting vulnerable species even more at risk in delicate ecosystems, because we need to develop land or water to ensure that we will have jobs and economic prosperity. We need to build more prisons because people are afraid of convicted criminals who will be out on the street sooner rather than later when research shows that crime is on the decline. We need to fear the alien, those who are from away, and so must put into practice strict guidelines about who is safe and who is a terrorist. We live in a culture of fear and we are exploited for it.

And what is the remedy? Well, Jesus embodied it and spoke about it. It was a strong part of his tradition and heritage. It was the message of the Rabbis and the synagogue at which he worshipped. It is love and its adjunct, faith. Jesus embodied love and he spoke about faith... "Go your way; your faith has made you well!" Have faith and the storm will be stilled. I am love and love can conquer fear; you are love, let your love so shine before others that light will win out over fear.

I'm reading a book by Nan Merrill called Journey into Love: From Fear to Freedom. It is my attempt to conquer my fears and live in the freedom of love more fully. It is a journey, as Merrill points to, and as Jesus lived out. His life and ministry is a paradigm for the spiritual life of encountering our fears, overcoming them and living more fully sister and brother to each other. The journey, as Merrill points out, and again as Jesus lived out, is about being part of a community who support us and challenge us. One of the lines from Jesus Christ Superstar that I've always liked, which is about the journey from fear to love is when Jesus knows that he will be crucified; he said, "To conquer death you only have to die."

Because Jesus lived and lives still, that power is ours also to live. To conquer fear, we confront our fears and in the process open ourselves more fully to love. It is a journey; it is not a once only thing. We gradually come to grips with our fears and learn to not let fear drive our lives. We learn that we can in our own ways speak truth to power and work with others to create justice. We learn that we can confront the phobias that keep us from living fully. We learn that we can refrain from gossip and thereby not perpetuate lies or prejudices. We learn that love frees us to live faithfully and fully embodying hope and new life.

Let us go out and live courageous lives. In Christ, with Christ and through Christ... 


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