Fear Itself

Photo by Pressmaster on Pexels.com

I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened. — Mark Twain

My wife is the smart one. She is also the quiet one in public settings. Most people never hear or know it, but she is the unquestionable intellect in our family. Most of our mornings begin with a cup of coffee and conversation. I usually wake up charged and ready to go, ready to jump into ideas and thoughts. She tends to be more relaxed and likes to ease into such things, usually after the second cup of coffee or second half hour of wakefulness. Yet every morning, part of our daily ritual is some sort of discussion, usually dealing with something one or the other read.

This morning we had our coffee outside, enjoying the rising sun and the various wildlife chattering. We had both been reading articles online and started talking about one a friend posted on Facebook called, Jesus, John Wayne, and John Wesley: Why the Curious Silence on Masculinity in the Wesleyan World? The general idea was churches in the Wesleyan tradition didn’t have as many problems with toxic masculinity (thought they are not immune to it) because women have had leadership roles through much of the latter half of the twentieth century. This means Wesleyan men don’t find it so unusual for women to be pastors, superintendents, or bishops (again not all Wesleyans are created equally, some would argue…with signposts). 

As with most of our conversations, we wandered afield. Eventually, the conversation ended in empty coffee cups and the need to get to work. But I began to think after the fact about many of the driving forces behind the Jesus and John Wayne mentality. The author quoted “Baptist scholar Alan Bean as saying, ‘The unspoken mantra of post-war evangelicalism was simple: Jesus can save your soul; but John Wayne will save your ass.’”[1] I wondered at the motivating factor behind the two ideas, the sacred and the secular wrapped up in a pithy, Twitteresque one-liner intended to rebuke one side and stir the other. The word I got was fear. 

Fear, I think, is one of the most powerful and most damaging motivators. It originates as a reaction to environment, something needed in our early days as a species to keep us alive. When things posed a serious threat to our health and wellbeing, our brain developed a mechanism to defend or retreat. The world changed, true mortal threats are fewer and farther between. But the mechanism for fear response is still hardwired. Now, the issue is ideas and whether those ideas threaten our way of thinking. Anytime we encounter ideas our context regards as uncomfortable or challenging, the response kicks in and we become defensive or inquisitive. 

We now live in a world of religious and political fear. Throughout the life of the United States, we have blended politics and religion and the most recent version of this is the wedding of the Republican Party to the Religious Right during the nineteen-seventies.[2] You could also say there has been a wedding of the Democratic Party to the more liberal expressions of Christianity, although many of those have existed long before the later twentieth century. The greater point is both sides of the arguments—left/right, conservative/liberal, etc./non-etc.— use fear as a motivator. If you don’t vote/think/support this, they win and if they win, they will take away X, make you do X, or make you think X. If they aren’t stopped, they will destroy our country. If we don’t do something about X, the moral fabric of our society will unravel. 

I’m not buying it. 

Communities define culture. If you live in a rural community, you will likely think in a way which benefits rural causes and champions rural ideas, regardless of whether they are conservative or liberal. The same can be said of suburban and urban environments. Your community will be what it is because your people are who they are. And over time, they will change. Some places previously X will become Y. Some places previously X will become X2. The issue isn’t a right or wrong issue, the issue is what is perceived as good for the community residing there. Churches are communities. Churches define their own culture. Church culture will change over time based on pastoral and communal influence. There will be no force involved only the shift in people and the shift in dynamic brought by them.

Fearmongering is an anti-Christian waste of time.

Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.

John 14:27

There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love.

1 John 4:18

Stop letting people who want to control your thoughts and your votes tell you what to think and who to be afraid. 

Seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance to understand and live out the Way of Jesus, a fearless way of living not bound by changes in political office or denominational ideology. 

Live into the love of God and the love of neighbor as you live by breathing. 

Rise above the noise and hear the voice of the Divine.

[1] https://firebrandmag.com/articles/jesus-john-wayne-and-john-wesley-why-the-curious-silence-on-masculinity-in-the-wesleyan-world?fbclid=IwAR1VQj6NCw6oKguVezT9QyJtNzVcuQwId-oF855nCpKo2NjdNNDelH62yoM

[2] https://www.thearda.com/timeline/movements/movement_17.asp