Be Not Afraid

Rev Toni Fish

As I was culling my files this week, I ran across some notes that I made 14 years ago on a Sojomail article written by Rev. Jim Wallis in which he listed four questions he would have asked the presidential candidates during the 2008 campaign.  While all four questions 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:

  1. Does the biblical command “be not afraid” have a role in my everyday decision-making and in those of our elected decision-makers when change is happening so quickly?
  2. If so, what is that role?  
  3. 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 14 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 those whose skin color is different from mine, 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, the big one, why fear, rather than optimism, around solutions?  Why does it seem easier for us as a nation, as a community, 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.  To move past these feelings of anxiety and fear, we find ourselves in 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.  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 took some time to manifest.  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” seemed to give 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 – in 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 just 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. Does the biblical command “be not afraid” have a role in my everyday decision-making and in those of our elected decision-makers when change is happening so quickly? 2. If so, what is that role?  3. Would my decision to “see it differently” really make a difference? 

If the answer to question 1 is yes, and I do believe it is, then the answer to question 2 can be found by looking 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 well-being.    And when we fall short in holding the thought and applying the principle, remember that it is practice until it is 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 3, I must remember that times of change are times of fearfulness and times of opportunity.  These “opportunities” may require standing up to power; working to change systems that do not work for everyone; stepping out to get to know individuals who don’t look or think like me; looking deep into my own biases and blind spots and releasing old beliefs that no longer serve me or my world; supporting with time and money those who are too weak yet to hold the fishing pole.   Whether these times of change will be ones of fear or opportunity – for me and for you – depends on our attitude toward them.  And attitude can change everything!