Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Do Not Be Afraid

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among all people!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

Luke 2:5-15

Do not be afraid. Or in the King James translation, “Fear not.”

That is a good summary of the biblical message.

In Matthew’s Gospel those words are spoken by an angel in a dream as Joseph contemplates the coming birth, and at the end of the story the same words are spoken by an angel to the women at the empty tomb, and then finally by the risen Christ.

Luke’s birth narrative repeats that phrase over and over to Zechariah, to Mary, and to the shepherds.

It is hard to be faithful when we are afraid.

There is so much that is wrong with American politics that it is hard to find anything that we might understand to be a root cause. But fear is one of the leading candidates.

Fear is not new. The biblical record makes that clear. But it has grasped us in new ways since the destruction of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001. A new Freedom Tower has been built on the site of the original twin towers, a symbolic declaration of national resilience and pride, but the fear has changed us.

The tanks that rolled out onto the streets of Ferguson, Missouri in response to the protests after the killing of Michael Brown were available to the Ferguson police department as part of a Homeland Security program in response to the 9/11 attacks. Ironically, we responded to the terrorism of 9/11 by terrorizing our own people.

In a recent piece in the New York Times, columnist Thomas Friedman talks about a new book by David Rothkopf, the editor of Foreign Policy journal called, “National Insecurity: American Leadership in an Age of Fear.” In an email, he asked Rothkopf how long this fear will continue to haunt us, “Will it ever go away or will bin Laden be forever that gift that keeps on giving?”

“The post-9/11 era will not be seen as a golden age in U.S. foreign policy,” Rothkopf responded. “Largely, this is because 9/11 was such an emotional blow to the U.S. that it, in an instant, changed our worldview, creating a heightened sense of vulnerability.” Friedman reports that he went on to say, “not only did we overstate the threat, we reordered our thinking to make it the central organizing principle in shaping our foreign policy.”

We spend vast sums of emotional, political, and financial capital preventing events which could theoretically be devastating, but in reality are highly unlikely. As comedian John Oliver observed, after one failed attempt by the “shoe bomber” everyone has to take off their shoes to get by airport security. We invest heavily in preventing another terrorist attack, and neglect the strength we could build by investing in infrastructure or education or medical research or climate change.

In real and measureable ways, our fear has made us less secure. And consequently we are more fearful.

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