There is a song that I used to love to sing during Mass, called “Be not Afraid” by Robert Dufford, a Jesuit. The refrain goes: “Be not afraid, I go before you always, come follow me and I will give you rest.” It is a reminder to me that throughout the whole of the Old and New Testament, the message is clear; God is always with us and will pave the way forward, regardless of the circumstances. It’s a difficult concept to embrace in these troubled times, given a pandemic, climate catastrophes and political upheaval (all the products of accumulative human free will and not God’s punishment, by the way). And yet, for me anyways, it is the most essential quality of any great leader that fear is never the guiding principle for any action and that the trust, hope and faith in the ideals and principles one stands for run so deep that nothing will impede their progression forward in bringing them to light. A leader must be the voice that rises above fear, and reminds us of who we are and what we stand for. A leader must not be swayed by the darkness that threatens us but be that hopeful voice that challenges us to stop hiding our light under a bushel basket and to uncover it for all to see and shine so bright the darkness cannot and will never win. They must remind us that we are not alone, and that together, with our combined light and talent (and for people of faith the presence of God) will guide us all to a better place.
I’ll end this short post with one of my favorite lines from scripture from the first letter of John in which we are reminded that love is the opposite of fear:
There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. We love because God first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates their brother or sister, they are a liar; for whoever does not love a brother or sister whom they have seen cannot love God whom they have not seen. This is the commandment we have from God: whoever loves God must also love his brother or sister.
So here’s something all humans have in common…we are all afraid of one thing or another. Here’s another thing…it’s not always clear what exactly it is that we are afraid of, and that is where truth becomes essential, otherwise, it’s difficult to control the negative behavior that fear inspires. Just google: fear as a source of negative behavior, and you’ll see what I mean. From a theologian’s perspective…fear is the antithesis of love, and will impede the work, the gifts, the power of God.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love 1 John 4:18
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!” Romans 8:15
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. John 14:27
Truth, is the armament of love.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers,nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And truth will keep fear at bay…but not if we don’t face it, accept that we have it, and work to overcome it. At the core of Christianity is the belief that on our own, salvation is impossible, but with God, ALL things are possible. My struggle in my over inquisitive mind is this: If this is true, then after all this time, where is the ALL possible? What are we, as Christians, doing wrong? While the answer to that question is demonstrably huge and complicated, I keep coming back to fear and behavior. When we let fear dictate the course of our actions and behavior, we do not act in accordance with the belief that in God we can do all things. It is a direct affront against that basic tenet. And well, that sucks because I come face to face with fear every day. Questions like: Am I enough, Did I do that right, Was that unkind, should I do more…the list is endless. When I am truthful about my fears, however, and ask God to help me overcome them…the power of that fear fades. More importantly, when I face the consequences of fear based behavior, I become even more determined to not let that behavior dictate future decisions…because those decisions have never taken me to a better place, ever.
I will also say this: pretending that we are not afraid, or pretending that fear is justified gives it strength over our future behavior. And if we can’t handle personal fears and the behavior it inspires, there is no hope that we can conquer fear on a larger level. I just don’t think its possible. And I don’t mean any of this in the way of chastisement, not at all. It should be a source of great comfort to know that nothing will stand in the way of God’s love for us and any and all the fears out in the world. It should cause a huge wave of relief.
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom do I fear? The LORD is my life’s refuge; of whom am I afraid?
There is much tragedy in the world. I know it’s an understatement. So our best response is not one of fear and condemnation…those are the tools of the darkness. If we actually have faith in a God who holds us dear, then I think it is about time was ask that question that usually brings out shudders of irritation: What would Jesus do?
He would have anger, like wrecking havoc on the money lenders in the temple when they demonstrably turned his fathers house of prayer into a den of thieves. He would make his point yet never raise a hand to harm another human being.
He would tell the truth, that those who live by the sword, will perish by it.
He would chastise the hypocrites, who are more concerned of images than building the Kingdom of God.
He would demand that we don’t judge, for until we walk in another’s shoes, we can never really know another’s perspective or circumstance.
He would do to the least of his brothers and sisters all that he would want for himself.
Most importantly he would unleash the power of Love; it is a power that is more forceful than any weapon. It is more forceful because it demands that the person become the intrinsic and efficacious expression of all that our faith professes. Love unleashes the power of heaven and puts fear on mute…because they can’t exist in the same result. We can only choose one.
Don’t listen to fear, the world is still a good place where miracles happen everyday. Embrace the miracle, extend a hand, put the weapons away
What it means to be fearless is different for everyone. I can’t comment on anyone else’s journey because I don’t walk in their shoes. Generally though, we should all be able to recognize the feckless trend of violence that has a hold of our world today. Do we bolster our weapons and military and take a stand? My question is this: stand for what? Is it for our country, our faith, our children, our future? Whatever that stand is, I’m sure it will manifest differently for each of us. So here is what it means to me.
When I look at my life in hindsight, I see a journey that I never could have predicted. And yet at each moment I recognize now, a pattern and a rhythm that suggests a benevolent and guiding hand. At the time of these often life changing moments, I wasn’t always aware of the guiding had of God…quite often I was frozen with fear and pissed off. Yet, somehow by the grace of God I came through them, none too worse for wear, which on a good day I am proud of. What does that mean? Yay me… this faith thing works?
I’ve been on a quest to be more fearless for awhile, and as my circuitous journey would have it, I feel like I’ve begun to figure it out. Beyond living in a contemplative monastery in the desert, the National Council of Churches in Soviet Russia, working among the greatest saints and sinners of the Catholic church and then through law, of the secular world, living in house of the most brilliant and yet completely dense men of my life, none of those experiences compare to facing the fears within my own psyche.
Until we can look deep within to see the true source of our fear, and I can say with confidence it is not Isis, or Gay marriage, or guns or a host of other things that keep us awake at night, we will never rise above it. I know what my fear is, the ability to fulfill the destiny God has for me, and I also know how the hand of God has been always with me. So there is no excuse to not walk freely among saints and sinners alike, with only the armor of God. Fear makes us weak…think about that.
Being ready to charge forth is how I always want to portray myself…but I am more a compilation of pacing, hyperventilation, tears, ending in quiet resolve. I am aware of what I have to say, no less committed to continue on the path that I see so clearly, shaking but never wavering. It just isn’t easy for me. On that note, I am provoked by the faceless ugliness of social media and the fearful nature of information, convoluted to champion ideological superiority and then weaponizing it as a way to justify a belief and behavior that circumvents the gospel, and yes I did say circumvent…because Jesus could never, would never stand for it…the finger pointing and the blame, the violent solutions and polarization of the world and its people. In John 13:13, Jesus lays out the model of behavior he expects of his disciples:
You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master’ and rightly so for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and the teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you because of it.
He goes on to say in John 13:34,
I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
There will be those who will pick through scripture to find ways around this to justify their hatred of those who are the momentary evil of day…whether it is a political party, or those who terrorize in the name of their superiority. We, as Christians, are not allowed that weakness. That is what Jesus meant when he said:
You have heard that is was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you…
There are plenty of places to find what love looks like….which is where everyone should start. More importantly, we have to look at what drives us away from love, which drives us to propagate gossip and innuendo as fast as wild-fire. It is fear. It is fear. It is fear. It. Is. Fear. How can that be?, we who wear the gift of grace?, we who are promised that anything we ask for in prayer, with faith will be given, we who are commanded not to worry because if God clothes the world in such splendor, how much more does he have in store for us, so little in our faith? We fear because we have been lulled into the illusion that evil has the greater edge, that it can defeat us, and the greatest illusion of all, that the gates of hell haven’t already been shattered by Jesus death and resurrection. On the night he was betrayed he rebuked a disciple who burnished the sword:
Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you not think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels? Then how would scripture be fulfilled which say this must come to pass in this way?
That is the question isn’t it? How will our fate, laid out in scripure be fulfilled? Could God swoop down and finish the job? Or does he know that the sacrifice of his son has given us the necessary tools to be our own champions? 1John 4: lays it out plainly:
There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. We love because He first loved us.
Love is what must be our core. It doesn’t mean that it will be easy, but at any moment in time we can pray to God to augment our imperfect hearts with His perfect love, or we can give into fear in all its seeming righteousness, in its promise of vengeance, its illusion of creating peace and safety. Violence will never be the answer; hatred exists as a bi-product of fear. But that doesn’t mean I am naive, either. I don’t condemn armies who fight for a cause…one of the conundrums of being human, I guess. Perhaps that is what Jesus meant when he said that we should render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. He also told us that we couldn’t serve two masters, and how narrow the road to righteousness really is. But certainly, the task at hand is to focus on how others will see us and know that we are his disciples…they will know us by how we love one another.