Facing Fear

Facing Fear

September 9, 2012
Stina Pope

The theme that popped up for me from this morning’s readings was fear. Fear is such a big demon. It sucks up everything it can to make it seem even bigger, like the unnamed spirit in Spirited Away, a wonderful movie if you don’t know it, that eats anything and everything, and everyone, for that matter, until suddenly the little girl gives it something it can’t digest. In the end, the fearful monster is seen knitting, peaceful at last.

[pullquoteright]The more we love, the less we fear – and the more we fear, the less we can love. You can’t love more until you fear less. They are inextricably bound up with each other.[/pullquoteright]Jampolsky’s classic, Love is Letting Go of Fear, spends a whole book explaining that love and fear take up the same space in us, and if we increase one, the other automatically decreases. The more we love, the less we fear – and the more we fear, the less we can love. You can’t love more until you fear less. They are inextricably bound up with each other.

Why do we fear? We fear, because we are afraid we will not get what we want and need, we don’t believe that God will take care of us on an ultimate level, much less a temporal level, and so we take things into our own hands. As the epistle notes, we pay attention to people who have lots of money, and we put down those who are poor. When we read those parts that are very clear that God gives the poor preferential treatment, we just kind of skip over them.

And we hide our fear, we call it worry. Some people make a virtue out of worrying, but there is a big difference between worry and paying attention. Someone said that worry is like rocking in the rocking chair and being surprised that all that movement doesn’t get you anywhere.

My favorite saying about worry is that “worry is a mild form of atheism.” When we worry, we are saying that we do not trust God to take care of the things we cannot. There is no question about us doing the things we can take care of – of course we should do that! But the child who is going off to a new place where he knows no one – I can do a couple of things, find people for him to connect with, help him think through how to do some things, but ultimately I can’t do much. At that point, I can either worry, or I can give him back to God, again. I figure, if I worry, I’m just putting more negative emotion out into the universe – that’s a lot of help! If I give him back to God, I’m letting go positively, opening the door as best I can.

There are so many things we can worry about, and the outside world is geared to making us be more and more fearful, hoping we will buy more things to try to take care of our fears. What they don’t want us to realize is that buying things does not do one bit of good for fear. It may distract us for a few minutes, but only a few, and then the fear demon is back again, making us wonder how we are going to pay for that stuff we just bought!

[pullquoteleft]When we worry, we are saying that we do not trust God to take care of the things we cannot.[/pullquoteleft]Our lessons advise us to do two things: be strong, don’t fear, hold the image of God’s love as is shows forth in creation. Don’t focus on the blind and deaf and lame, don’t focus on the dry desert, focus on what is true in God’s reality, where the waters break forth in the wilderness, and things change. There is a key there, yes, things change, but they change out in the wilderness, not in the “human-controlled” city. If we want to have things change, perhaps we need to let go of what we know, and enter the wilderness.

Sometimes it is easier to show love in the wilderness. When we think back to 9/11, we can focus on the fear and terror, or we can focus on the amazing love that was shown as people helped each other in a city that was famous for them not doing that. The same thing is true when we think about the tsunami, how in the midst of so much pain and fear, people showed great love, not being afraid of strangers, but helping them. When we think of what keeps us apart from each other, is it not the fear that we have been taught? Very small children instinctively share with each other, and with the dog, until the parents teach them not to do that. And what do the parents say? If you give it away, then you won’t have any left. In other words, be fearful!

Actually, it is bred into us, it is normal for our eyes to identify a stranger as someone to be feared, and there is a certain amount of good in that. However, we have gone so far to the other extreme that it is ridiculous. And we say that we follow someone who did not live in fear. But even he had been taught that the stranger was “bad.”

Look at this story in Mark. Here Jesus is interacting with a woman who has a daughter with an unclean spirit. Bad enough that this person who wants his help is a woman, but on top of that, she is a foreigner of a different religion.  She asks for his help, and he tries to shoo her off. “Why should I help you? You are a foreigner.” And then the difficult words, “it is not right to give the children’s bread to the dogs.” She is fierce for her daughter’s sake and does not give up. She argues with him. Her argument is actually quite interesting. She does not say that he is wrong about giving the children’s bread to the dogs. She simply says that the little house dogs under the table do get the crumbs. He is clearly stunned by her argument, and grants her request.

I think this is one of several places where it is clear that the eyes of Jesus were opened to a new reality.

[pullquoteright]if we are going to follow Jesus, we are going to have to step over our fears, we are going to have to walk into “foreign” territory and deal with strange people.[/pullquoteright]Finally we have the story of the deaf man. The first interesting thing about this story is its placement. We have just read about Jesus having the encounter with the foreign woman, and having his eyes opened, by a foreigner. What is the next thing he does? He goes to the Decapolis – the area that was not under Jewish control. He goes to foreign territory in Tyre, and then he goes to Sidon, also foreign territory, and then he goes over to the east side of the Jordan, the Decapolis, which was also foreign territory. All this from someone who calls foreigners “dogs.” Interesting, don’t you think?

And what does he do in this foreign territory? He does not behave like a good Jewish rabbi, which would have meant totally ignoring anyone who was not Jewish. It would have been totally “correct” according to Jewish law, and according to his Jewish followers, and according to the first readers of the Gospel of Mark, for him to have ignored both the woman and the deaf man, or at least the woman – because we don’t know who this “they” is that have brought the deaf man to him, and we don’t know if the deaf man was Jewish.

The point is that Mark makes a big deal out of Jesus choosing to be in foreign territory, when he clearly did not need to be, and doing his work there.

When we ask about the role of fear in all of this, what I hear out of it is that if we are going to follow Jesus, we are going to have to step over our fears, we are going to have to walk into “foreign” territory and deal with strange people. We may have to revise our ideas about who is “worthy” of the nourishment that Jesus has to offer. Indeed, this has already been discussed at the highest level of our church in the form of Eucharistic openness.

I remember when I first visited the Episcopal Church with a girlfriend in junior high, and she showed me how to come up for a blessing. I was not impressed with not being able to receive communion. In my Methodist Church, we fed everyone. The rule was changed, so that anyone who was baptized, not just in the Episcopal Church, but in any “trinitarian” church, was welcome to come for communion. That is still the official rule. However, like most churches in this diocese, we openly break that rule and invite anyone who feels drawn, to come receive. I’m not sure exactly what the reasoning is for other clergy, but for me, it stems from this and other passages where I see Jesus opening the circle to include more and more people in the invitation to love that God gives us. If Jesus, and then the very early church, could overcome so many very tight rules about who was “in” and “out” then who are we to draw the circle smaller? Yes, it is scary sometimes. But it is that love that pushes out the fear that keeps us going.

So where are the people that are scary to you? Who and what are they? At ACDC the other evening, we were talking about the emotional pain of being excluded, of not being wanted, and everyone around the table knew that pain. There are two responses that one can make to that pain. One is to have a careful circle of people like me, my family and friends, and a large wall around us to make sure that we are safe against the outside world. The other response is to try our best to make sure we do not cause that pain for others, that we do not exclude them, and that they do not feel excluded. This is a very difficult task when dealing with Japanese and Chinese and Korean and Filipinos and Caucasians! We all know the history, and that history would say we should fear each other and stay away from each other. But ACDC says no, we choose to love each other. The same is true with JARF. Many people would say that because there are non-Christians, we should not be associated with them in substantial way. They are “foreigners” in the religious sense. But we choose to open the circle, as I believe Jesus did.

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