Question of Fear

In Sojomail, the weekly email-zine sent out by Rev Jim Wallis, he listed 4 questions that he was not able to ask the three leading Democratic candidates during the Candidate Forum on Faith, Values, and Poverty held on June 4th.  The first was about our commitment to Africa; the second concerned the impact that the world view outlined in the beatitudes (peace, justice) would have on their leadership; the fourth dealt with the relationship between faith-based initiatives and the government.  All of these are relevant questions.  However it was the third one that really caught my attention –
“3.   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?”

And actually, I would broaden the question – I would replace the word “foreign” with “domestic and foreign”.  We seem to have 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 –  as conscious and unconscious influences in our societal and governmental decisions. The question has been asked, “Is the threat real or is this a manipulation tactic by decision makers to push through an agenda?”  And if the threat is real, do we, as individuals and as a government, really have a good understanding of the causes behind the threat?  And then, 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?  

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.  When these conditions exist, we find fear and, to reach past fear,  we are called to do some re-defining.  In this country, we have had a number of these redefining moments in history.  After most of these “moments,” the pace of the world around us was such that we had breathing space to clarify, regroup, rethink, realign.   The impact of a decision made during these “realigning” times was not necessarily immediate – it took a bit more time for the news to get out, for all of the primary and secondary systems to be affected.  Issued created by the decision could be surfaced and tweaked before the whole world knew!  We as individuals had a bit more time to absorb the effects of the change.  We had time to integrate the “New” and become comfortable with the new terrain 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 each individual has access to tends to be overwhelming.  The rate of change is astounding.  The following quote from Ray Kurzweil, inventor and futurist, brings 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 her 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 the original question – should the guidance of Jesus – “be not afraid” – play a part in our world – our governmental policy – our daily lives?  If fear comes from change and uncertainty, then in a time of such change and uncertainty, how can we ‘be not afraid’?   Can we find things of which we are certain – can we use these things to build a more stable foundation, a more peaceful world?   I don’t know about things of which we are all certain; however, I know there are ideas – concepts – that appear to be universal and perenniel.  For me, these provide a good starting point.  More on them next time!

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