Word on Faith: How 'Be Not Afraid' Translates in Contemporary Life

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 9:36pm -- Toni

Published in the Frederick News Post  July 7, 2017

As I was culling my files this week in my efforts to set up my office in our new sacred space, I ran across some notes that I made 10 years ago on a Sojomail article written by Rev. Jim Wallis in which he listed four questions he would have asked the presidential candidate that year.  While all four were, and still are, relevant, it was his third question that really caught my attention then and now:  “The command “be not afraid” appears frequently in the Bible, and yet U.S. foreign policy seems to be driven by fear, primarily of terrorist attacks. Our leaders seek to justify the most important decisions in foreign policy with dire warnings of impending attacks. Have we let fear push out wisdom and prudence as the primary virtues of foreign policy? Should the biblical command “be not afraid” have a role in foreign policy decision-making?”

At the time, I noted that I would have modified that question to include domestic policy decision-making…today I find myself expanding that question even further: Why do we as a society continue to “fear” so many things?  What role can the biblical command “be not afraid” have in my everyday decision-making and in those of our elected decision-makers?  Would my decision to “see it differently” really make a difference?

Today there appears to be an even deeper divide in our society than was evident ten years ago.  Woven into the fabric of both sides of the divide is fear.  Some fears are shared between the two sides and others are exclusive to one side or other -- fear of terrorists, fear of immigrants, fear of recession, fear of inflation, fear of liberals, fear of conservatives, fear of homosexuals, fear of aging, fear of death, fear of criticism, fear of change – and on and on – and they all serve as conscious and unconscious influences in our personal, societal and governmental decisions. 

For me, this raises another series of questions. Is the threat real or is this a manipulation tactic to push through an agenda?  And if the threat is real, do we, as individuals and as a society, really have a good understanding of the causes behind the threat?  And then, for me the big one, why fear, rather than optimism, around solutions?  Why does it seem easier for us as a nation and as individuals to move to fear rather than hope?  

So often when we’re not sure that the ground under our feet is stable, we get anxious, fearful – when ‘who we are’ is no longer clear, we get anxious, fearful – when our purpose, our vision is no longer clear and well-defined, we get anxious, fearful.  In order to move past these feelings of anxiety and fear, we find ourselves in the need of some re-defining and re-aligning.  In the past, in this country and in our personal lives, we have had a number of these moments.  For our country, after most of them, the world was moving slowly enough around us that we had breathing space to clarify, regroup, rethink, and realign.   The impact of decisions made during these times was not necessarily immediate.  There was no internet, no mass communication and so it took a bit longer for the word to get out and systems to shift.  Issues created by the decisions made had time to show up and to be modified before the whole world knew about it!  We as individuals had a bit more time to absorb the effects of the change and become comfortable with the new ground under our feet.  This “time” gave us the opportunity to move from fear to hope, to love, to stability. 

Our world today moves at a much more rapid pace; the level of real-time connection is amazing.  The amount of information to which each individual has access tends to be overwhelming.  The rate of change is astounding.  The following quote from Ray Kurzweil, inventor and futurist, puts this into perspective:
“Centuries ago people didn’t think that the world was changing at all.  Their grandparents had the same lives that they did, and they expected their grandchildren would do the same, and that expectation was largely fulfilled….What’s not fully understood is that the pace of change is itself accelerating, and the last 20 years are not a good guide to the next 20 years.  We’re doubling the paradigm shift rate, the rate of progress, every decade.  This will actually match the amount of progress we made in the whole 20th century, because we’ve been accelerating up to this point.  The 20th century was like 25 years of change at today’s rate of change.  In the next 25 years, we’ll make four times the progress you saw in the 20th century.  And we’ll make 20,000 years of progress in the 21st century, which is almost a thousand times more technical change than we saw in the 20th century.”

When I ponder this quote, I think of my father – the year he was born, the Wright Brothers were still working to get us to accept airplanes as viable modes of transportation.  Before he passed away at 83, men had walked on the moon and there was an international space station.  Dad said on several occasions that he was having a difficult time keeping up!  And even if Mr. Kurzweil is overestimating the rate of change by 50%, this 21st century is going to be a really wild ride! 

Now, back to my modified questions – 1. What role can the biblical command “be not afraid” have in my everyday decision-making and in those of our elected decision-makers when change is happening so quickly?  2. Would my decision to “see it differently” really make a difference?

 If fear arises out of change and uncertainty, then in a time of such change and uncertainty, how can we ‘be not afraid’?   Can we find concepts and ideas upon which we can stand as we build a more stable foundation, a more peaceful world?  

If the answer to question 1 is yes, and I do believe it is, we can again look to the teachings and actions of Jesus for a primer on “how-to” release that fear and uncertainty.  In that primer, we are asked to re-define who “we” is, re-align our will to Divine Will, and practice the Presence in all that we do: Love God; love yourself; love your neighbor as yourself: love your enemies; be inclusive of all; feed the hungry; take care of sick; respect the earth; live in the present moment rather than in yesterday or tomorrow; know that there is a power in the universe that is there for all to use; that this power is the same power that beats every heart; that this power is the source of wholeness and wellbeing.    And when we fall short in holding the thought and applying the principle, remember that it’s practice until it’s second-nature.

Rev. Eric Butterworth, in his book, In The Flow of Life, reminds us:  “Fear and worry and anger are conditioned reflexes to outside stimuli.  When we really know that life is lived from within out, then no matter what happens around us or to us, we can always get into the transcendent flow from within us. . .Life is whole; the universe is whole.  Even though we may experience this wholeness ‘in part,’ there is that of us that is changeless and deathless, that is integrally and eternally involved in the universe.” 

In answering question 2, I must remember that times of change are times of fearfulness and times of opportunity.  Which they are to be for me – and for you – depends on our attitude toward them.  And attitude can change everything!

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