Fear is a Jealous God

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“Fact, we all like our video doorbells,” says one of the Property Brothers with self-assurance that he is speaking for a large percentage of the viewership.

In another commercial for home security devices, a woman under a dryer at the salon looks at her phone and yells, “Get off my property, you creeps.”

In yet another, a man at work spends time making sure his doors at home are locked and the security alarm on via his cellphone.

Meanwhile, other people in commercials are worrying about their investments, the medicines they take, and whether they’ll have to walk five yards further to get to their rental car.

Is it me, or does it seem as if in the last few years fear itself has become a sellable commodity?

Okay, I’m fortunate. I’ve never owned anything except pets that I would fear losing to a burglar. I’ve often never even had to lock my door at night. I’m pretty healthy and I intend to stay that way. I don’t have investments.

But in conjunction with the fear-mongering that began four years ago when a certain someone descended a golden escalator, and what we have seen happen since including murders of people trying to hold back the white supremacist tide, it just seems to me as if someone is promoting the fear factor.

We all know that fear is one of the most primal instincts in human beings. We also know that, evolutionarily, it was a damned important instinct; without it, the species probably wouldn’t have survived long enough for us to be here.

As the world became more sophisticated (I won’t say civilized), there were far fewer things to fear in much of the world. But fear is a jealous god, and wants to hold people to itself. The voice in the brain went from, “Psst, there’s a sabre-tooth tiger about to pounce on you” to “Psst, that person over there owns more than you do” or “Psst, you might have that nasty disease” or “Psst, those people don’t look like you; get rid of them.”

War is fear, usually of boundaries. Racism is fear of others who don’t look like us or speak in the same language. Selfishness is fear that we will lose our toys. Injustice is fear that we can’t control others.

It is comes down to fear, that jealous god that wants us to live in a continuous state of anxiety so we won’t worship any other god.

One might say that the notion of Satan came about as the embodiment of fear.

I’m not saying that one shouldn’t feel secure in one’s home. I’m not saying that sick people shouldn’t seek medical help. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t invest their money.

I am saying that if we let fear rule our lives, we have sold our souls to Satan, and we will become the people in whom the consequences of fear – cruelty, lies, amorality – will become normal.

There is a plague of fear in this country, and it is spreading like a red tide. In ancient humans, the fear instinct evolved into the fight or flight response. Are we going to run away from this plague, or are we going to fight it?

I Believe in a Wall

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I thought that might catch your attention.

I don’t usually post blogs so close together, but my daily Lenten reading from Howard Thurman could have been written today and resonated with what I wrote earlier this week in “Grieving Violence Near and Far.”

“The final thing that my faith teaches me is that God is love. Not only that He is; that he is near; but that he is love. Fully do I realize how difficult this is. There is so much anguish in life, so much misery unmerited, so much pain, so much downright reflected hell everywhere that it sometimes seems to me that it is an illusion to say that God is love. When one comes into close grips with the perversity of personalities, with studied evil – it might be forgiven one who cried aloud to the Power over Life – human life is stain – blot it out! I know all that. I know that this world is messed up and confused. I know that much of society stretches out like a gaping sore that refuses to be healed. I know that life is often heartless, hard as pig iron. And yet, in the midst of all this I affirm my faith that God is love – whatever else He might be.”

Thurman knew all too well of what he wrote. Closely aligned with the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and as an African-American who grew up in segregated Daytona, he knew about “unmerited misery,” about “downright reflected hell,” and about “perversity of personalities” personally. All of his books treat in one way or another in how the Divine can help people to overcome these situations. But I had not read a paragraph that was such a naked confession as the one above.

I read it this morning after a group meditation on the holiness of hospitality and “entertaining angels unaware.” Most Wednesday mornings, I am part of worldwide group of people who pray for the world over the telephone. We are led with a guided meditation and then 15 minutes of silence before we offer what the Divine Spirit has said to us during that time. It seemed particularly necessary to pray together today after the slaughter of Muslims in New Zealand.

So after that experience, and then immediately reading Thurman’s meditation, my first response was to think that the amount of hatred and violence in the world today makes it seem not only like an illusion, but almost a profanity to say that God is love.

My second response, however, was to see that love is the only cure for the hatred and violence.

I’m not talking about loving the people who perpetrate this hatred and violence. I’m talking about connecting with all the people who believe in the Divine unity of creation and all beings in it to come together to build a wall of love that will eventually make it impossible for hate to enter in.

That wall is invisible, and it is penetrable for all who see themselves as part of a great whole. This is not to say that there will not continue to be violence, but it will not fragment that wall of love.

May it be so.

Grieving Violence Near and Far

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I sat in the traditional Congregational Church in my little New England town early Saturday evening with many others to grieve and ponder the series of tragedies that hit my town and the world last week.

I had come home from a refreshing vacation to learn, first, that one of those who died in the Ethiopian Airlines crash was a local woman, Samya  Stomo, who worked for an organization called ThinkWell. She was young, vibrant, and dedicated to her job of bringing global health initiatives to the under-served. She had visited Africa before; this time she was on her way to Uganda.

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The Rev. Erik Karas and the Rev. Jill Graham organized a prayer service where people could communally grieve the tragic deaths of members of the community and those who died in the mosque attacks in New Zealand.

The next morning, the town was again rocked by what is being called a murder-suicide. Five people died in their home, which was set on fire. It is not yet known whether the wife, a lawyer, and three young children were dead before the husband killed himself and set the fire.

On Friday we learned about the white terrorist attack on mosques in New Zealand that killed at least 50 people and injured many more.

It was not just a one-two punch, but a one-two-three punch because all of these tragedies could have been averted.

I don’t believe in coincidence. I had started listening to Richard Rohr’s new book, The Universal Christ, during my long drive to North Carolina and back. Aside from the Christian theology, Rohr’s book emphasizes a concept I have believed in as long as I have been able to believe in anything: that every person on earth is brother and sister to everyone else on earth. Genetics proves it as much as theology. I believe it in both senses, and Rohr, a Catholic priest, seems to as well. He speaks to everyone, people of any faith, people of no faith, WE ARE ALL ONE.

And he sees, as many others do, that not understanding this is key to the actions that terrorize our world. Racism, Islamophobia, domestic violence, corporate violence: These can all be traced to thinking that we are not part of a global community, not one with all of creation, not accountable to each other for decisions we make, for taking our own pain on the world, for thinking that our skin color makes us better than anyone else.

One only had to watch Kirstjen Nielsen, head of the Department of Homeland Security, being grilled by Democrats in Congress on the outrage going on at the border with Mexico. As congresspeople were almost in tears trying to get her to give a yes or no answer about the evil policies in which she is complicit, she stared at them as if she had no clue that the damage being done to  babies, children, and adults because of the color of their skin is damage being done to all of humanity. She gave no clue that she felt any responsibility to give a damn about these “others.”

Ultimately, she gave no clue of any self-knowledge that she has willingly put herself into an existential hell on earth as she has put these asylum-seekers into a physical hell on earth.

I cannot bear to think of anyone as irredeemable. But it is not my place now to worry about the fates of those who commit violence on others. My place now is to grieve for my brothers and sisters around the world (and just this morning we learned of those killed in the Netherlands) and hope to persuade people to think of themselves as my brothers and sisters too.