Perhaps not “everyone”, but certainly many of the people I personally or virtually know. Fear infests the headlines I read on news websites and manifests in personal conversation. It greets me when I open Facebook and follows me to parties. People fear the government, corporations, the other political party, and faiths different from their own. They fear immigrants and natives, cops and robbers. They fear guns and those who might take them away. They fear the loss of freedom or its manifestation in others. They fear the uncertainty of the future and the sins of the past. They fear the lack of belief in God or the practice of belief in God. They fear things changing or things staying forever the same. Fear has become so prevalent that, in my opinion, many don’t even see it as fear anymore. It is the elephant in the room that we all carefully ignore even as we walk between its legs on the way to the kitchen.
Some will immediately say “I am not afraid!” Watch carefully though, and we see this is seldom the case. The “unafraid” person will commence hyperbolic statements about some danger, or call those they don’t understand demeaning names, and these are clear signs of an abiding fear. So, in the interests of transparency, I will tell you I am afraid. Not of the democrats or republicans. Not of the Mexicans or the gun nuts or the gun grabbers. Not of the Muslims or the Christians or the Jews. Not of the UN or the government or the Illuminati. People will always be people and there will always be imperfections and abuses and even outright crimes. There will always be differences of opinion and judgment and culture and faith. Something will always need to be changed.
No, I’m afraid that I will give in to the fear that seems to be devouring us. Give in as in “surrender”. Stop fighting it. Allow my life to be enveloped and consumed by what appears to me to be a creeping paranoia that corrupts most attempts at problem solving or even basic relationship. I am afraid that I will not be strong enough to be kind when it is most needed but least appealing, to be gentle when being harsh gets the applause. I’m afraid of being afraid.
A great paradox (or perhaps “irony” is a better term) about fear is that which we fear doesn’t have to become real to enslave us. The mere threat can be enough. The person who fears the beast without can unwittingly allow the beast to settle within as they expend precious time and energy trying to ensure that the beast without never never gains power over them. But if the beast controls my thoughts and emotions, the beast controls me–even if the actual beast fails or doesn’t even exist! Fear serves me well when it helps me fight or flee when attacked by a bear. I serve fear when I see a man-eating bear behind every tree, or even in every bear.
There is also another reality. My fear might just come to pass, despite my furious efforts (in fact, I think it quite possible our fears can feed their own fruition). The tyrant might gain the throne. I might lose my rights, my freedom, my health, my relationship, or even my life. The last one is actually one I can guarantee. What then? What if our greatest fear comes to pass? Don’t get me wrong. I desire freedom and rights and health and a great marriage as much as the next man. I would love to live to one-hundred and die exhausted in my bed with my boots on, just home from climbing some mountain, my gorgeous wife at my side. But what if I get none of that? Do the greatest lives triumph only in flourishing circumstances? If I can only flourish in victory, is that flourishing at all? That seems to make me slave of what happens, not master of it.
No, the great lives bloom in whatever comes their way, and often their power is seen not in victory but in defeat. There’s a word for that. Transcendence. Life above our circumstances while living graciously in them. Life above fear. Life above. Life that says things like “Father forgive” in the midst of brutality and barbarism. Oh that such would scream from our headlines and social media. What might this world become then?