Fear not!

It has been said that there are around 365 incidents in the Bible that say either “Fear not” or “Be not afraid.” The actual number may be more in the neighborhood of 100 including both the Old or First Testament and New or Second Testament. There are plenty of quotations having to do with fear that we could add on to that, of course. Fear of the unknown (and so much of our lives falls into that category) creates or can create a deep self-absorption of what’s next and how to protect ourselves and those we love from whatever may be lurking out there trying to hurt us.

terrorismLast week’s attacks on the holiday party in San Bernardino have only brought more and more anxiety, fear upon us. If it could happen there and in such an innocuous setting, what, pray tell, will keep that fear at bay regardless of where we live?

Now, I have to admit that I’ve always been a worrier. From the time I was a wee one, I worried about everything from fitting in with my classmates to making good grades, to harmony or the lack of it at home. But I believe that worry is different than fear. Jesus tells us not to worry because worrying does not add one day to a person’s life. Fear, on the other hand, is a natural instinct and, in some cases, God-given, that alerts us to trouble brewing around us. Fear can be more than self-absorption. Fear, when healthy, is a way to beware of danger around us.

This morning I made a visit to my cardiologist (not to worry; everything is fine other than I need to lose weight which is a big enough worry for me as it is). His office is part of a clinic attached to a very large city hospital; one of those hospitals that has grown and grown and has seen addition upon addition; a place so confusing that, if we could, we would leave trails of breadcrumbs as we proceed further into the bowels of the edifice in hopes of finding our way out. Of course if we all did that, there would be so many breadcrumbs we would have a tough time sorting out the wheat from the rye. But if you’re heading in there for a simple clinic visit or for surgery and you already have much on your mind about what the outcome will be, adding that maze on top of those worries makes you feel more like a rat looking for cheese than a human being looking for the right concoction of attention and care to facilitate wellness.

I’ve been in that hospital and clinic many times over the past years as a patient but more often as a pastor and friend looking to add spiritual care to the medicinal mix. One would think after this much experience that I would have it all down pat. And I do to a certain extent. But I laughed at myself today as I headed into a restroom and then paused to take stock of landmarks around me so that when I came back out I would know in what direction to head. It is overwhelming. It is worrisome if you are a patient or family member. And while the staff there is really terrific, there is an occasional bad apple as in any field. I distinctly remember biding time in a waiting room there nine years ago while I was worried about my own health. Every time the door opened to the inner sanctum, all of the potential patients would look up in anticipation of hearing their names called. One time it opened and the professional staff said in a really loud voice “Mr. So-and-So.” There was no first name and with a distinctly different last name, there was no anonymity either. And then, rather than waiting for him to make his way across the room, she just announced loudly, “You’ll have to come back at 2 (about 4 hours later) because the doctor can’t see you until then.”

Mr. So-and-So was an elderly gentleman. I had observed him earlier. He was alone and agitated. Whether his worries, his fears were justified is irrelevant. He started a sentence to ask what he should do, and the staffer just cut him off. “Just come back at 2” and then she disappeared into the sanctum. All eyes were turned on this man who stood there contemplating his options. I wanted to go to him and ask him if we could have coffee together or lunch, but I was awaiting my own appointment for which I was soon called.

I re-emerged about two hours later and headed into the massive parking lot to retrieve my car. As I was driving out (and surrounded by traffic), I saw Mr. So-and-So just pacing back and forth outside of the clinic entrance. There was no way for me to reach out to him. There was no way to access him even if I made the big circle back around toward the entrance. It was non-negotiable. I will forever feel some guilt about leaving him with that look of anguish on his face and feeling such anger toward the clinic staff person who was not only without compassion, but cared little about confidentiality.

I’m not certain when our country’s breakdown in civility began. Certainly long before 9/11. That was the one thing that brought us all together for a few days. I suppose that depending on one’s race, we might conclude that there has never been much civility demonstrated. Incivility is not limited to a particular time or place in history, but the rules with which I grew up – to love one another, to respect those who are older than we are, to hold doors open for others, to be patient and helpful – those rules have become only suggestions, if that. It’s no wonder that people become afraid to venture out into the world whether that world is a small town or a big city.

San Bernardino scared the living daylights out of me. That’s not all bad. I know I need to be part of the solution and be watchful for anything suspicious. At the same time, I must also draw upon those rules I was taught as child and not draw conclusions based on how someone looks or is dressed. It’s a new world for many of us.

fearWhen I contemplate topics for this blog, I tend to avoid the political; that is, I try to avoid divisive issues and look for things with which we all might struggle or observe. Having said that, and in light of the fear across this country of the unknown element of terrorism, I find it unconscionable that a presidential candidate would single out a group of people based on their religion and adamantly say they should be kept out of the country. I’m not the best historian, but I remember that the Jews under Hitler were numbered on their arms and held in concentration camps before many of them were killed. I remember the Japanese living in our own country who were put into internment camps during WWII under President Roosevelt, no more guilty of treason against this country than any of the “regular” Americans on the street. I remember my own German grandparents saying that they tried never to let on to those around them where they and their parents had emigrated from. They lived in fear for much of the War.

We need leadership at all levels of our country whether that falls under the purview of a hospital, a church, or a presidential campaign. But allowing ourselves to demean others by calling them names like moron or idiot or stupid does absolutely nothing to elevate the conversation or, more importantly, to diminish fear. Being so caught up in our own ideologies, our own problems, our own struggles for power only brings hurt and division.

And to a country already so deeply divided, every single one of us needs to do our part to hold ourselves and each other accountable. Even if that means just making that big circle around the entrance to a clinic to see if that elderly man is still there and needs some help.

It’s smart to have some fear because it can be a protection. But we need to concentrate on a plan to protect everyone, not just those closest to us. Mr. Trump can take a hike as far as I’m concerned. He can claim to be a Presbyterian, but as a Presbyterian I am embarrassed to think that any of the rest of you might conclude that Presbyterians think or act the way he does. As for all of the other candidates on both sides of the political debate, whether I agree with you or not, take a lesson and learn how to unite rather than divide. Learn how to take the worry and the fear out of our people and remember the words of David from the Psalms. It’s the best way to alleviate fear in a people who are longing for peace.

 

 

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you. – Psalm 51:10-13

 

Hymn – “Create in me a clean heart” – Keith Green

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a right spirit within me.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from Thy presence;
Take not Thy holy Spirit from me.
Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation;
And renew a right spirit within me.

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3 comments for “Fear not!

  1. David Deutsch
    December 9, 2015 at 8:55 pm

    Sometimes your blog sounds like such plain, sensible conversation that one could overlook its brilliance and profundity, but maybe simplicity itself is profound and brilliant. This piece is all those things. Anything or anyone that promotes fear is not appealing to our higher good. Fear-mongers are like drug pushers peddling the addictive drug of fear — for the fear addict, an steady diet of fear may be temporarily gratifying but it is never soul-satisfying; fulfillment requires a far greater perspective, a loving and reasonable outlook, and a belief in something bigger than oneself or ego. Like you I think the days of my early youth resonated with more more common courtesy and idealism, and I wish the ruder, scarier, and strident voices of today were kinder and more willing to compromise. The exploitation of fear to drive humans further afield from their spiritual core may account for all the Bible’s reminders to “fear not.” This seems a basic universal wisdom. If God is love, then clearly love, not fear, is the saving grace.

  2. Emma Jones
    December 10, 2015 at 8:04 am

    After last weeks events, I decided I would not be afraid but wary and aware of my surroundings. Put a deposit on a trip to England next summer. Want to learm more about where my ancestors came from.

  3. December 10, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    Thanks, Gretchen for saying in such a clear way similar thoughts and concerns I’ve had about the discourse around us on so many issues. I, like most, don’t want to think of myself as “old” talking how things were better in the old days… but I recall as a political reporter how legislators disagreed in no uncertain terms, but still found a way to compromise to keep things moving.

    When it comes to fear, I’m right there when it comes to concern about situations and locations. When I think about it though, I get in my car everyday and never really think how much more likely I am to die doing that than anything else.

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