Afraid of others: Move away from the edge

by | Nov 8, 2020

Are you one of us? How we answer this question affects what happens next.

For the last two mornings, Cyndi had the news turned on when I came up stairs. She wanted an update on election results. Still no clear answer. Just a lot of speculation about possibilities. Meanwhile, litigation strategies are underway in the hopes of changing the outcome, should the outcome not meet the desired results. Democracy at work?

I’m afraid of what comes next. Aren’t you? Notice that I’m not qualifying whether you are one of us. I’m not presuming that your political ideology matches my own. Only that, like me, you have a certain amount of fear about an uncertain future.

I learned some time ago that I prefer to avoid conflict. Perhaps this makes me more vulnerable to fear when there are two sides to an ideological argument. I’m not talking about disagreement here. I cherish opportunities to have an honest debate over answers that matter. Conflict, however, lights up the parts of my brain that signals danger. While debate lights up the parts of my brain that turn to logic as the path to solutions.

But debate presumes some common assumptions about how ideas are presented and evaluated. And these assumptions don’t include name-calling, bullying, lies, threats, or other tactics that take the attention away from the logic. When this happens, the debate becomes a conflict. And I equate conflict with fear.

Since I’m sharing my own struggle at this point, I’m using this word, “conflict,” in a particular way. The prevailing conclusion coming from the newscasters I’ve heard is that the close election results illustrate how “deeply divided” we are as a nation. Each one of us is the “other” to half of the people, in terms of political ideology.

In his book Unafraid, Adam Hamilton writes that “Being right is not the defining mark of the Christian life. We are defined—and ultimately judged—by how we practice love.” 1

According to one source published in 2013, 90% of people living in the United States identified themselves as Christian. That was 1963. Today the number is closer to 60%, depending on who you ask. The decline has little to do with people immigrating to the U.S. who aren’t Christian. It has more to do with younger persons choosing not to identify as Christian.

The reasons cited for this exodus are numerous. Perhaps the most disturbing is the attitude among younger persons that Christians are hypocrites. Which I suspect is both accurate and obvious. Most, if not all, of us who identify ourselves as Christians resemble that remark. And I guess that fear plays a significant role in both causing and revealing our hypocrisy.

Our nation’s history offers numerous examples of how fear leads to decisions that push us away from the values taught by Jesus. Instead of decisions exemplified by courage and compassion, self-preservation leads to conclusions that highlight our hypocrisy. For example, during the last century, communities across the country created neighborhood covenants that restricted who could live there. Boundaries were established to separate us by our ancestry and by the color of our skin. It took decades of conflict before such covenants became unlawful.

Love one another. As I have loved you
John 13:34

Another example is the prevalence of guns in our country. It is estimated that three hundred million guns are owned by people in the United States. Just over 20% of us actually own guns, although 40% of us live in a household where there is a gun. While a large percentage of gun owners are hunters, the surge in sales that occurred leading up to this year’s election was not fueled by persons anticipating a productive deer season. Meanwhile, the fear of losing this legal right is one of many examples of how fear is weaponized by political strategists as a way to create fear and gain an advantage.

Jesus often debated with leaders. And seemed to differentiate between what is said and how it is practiced in everyday life. Jesus warned the people caught up in what the leaders said to listen and do the right things the leaders encouraged them to do. But not to do what the leaders do.

Jesus’ warns us to avoid hypocrisy. To claim that we are doing things that are good while we actually do something else that is not so good.

The word “love” appears in the Good News Translation of scripture 679 times. This gives this very progressive way of being in the world all the electoral votes it needs to lead you and me, lead our nation, and lead the world. Perhaps this is why Jesus summed up His instructions for you and me with these parting instructions — love each another as I love you.

Showing love towards others is the way that Jesus summed up what it means to live according to God’s will. The Ten Commandments begin with loving God. Most of us find this easy when we’re not mad at God for not doing what we wanted or afraid of God for what we did do.

Love your neighbors as you love yourself
Leviticus 19:18

The 2nd part of love, however, is where the rubber meets the road. The law itself is found in the Book of Law that we call Leviticus — love your neighbors as you love yourself (Leviticus 19:18). This chapter list numerous specifics about how this love is carried out, which are violated by numerous Christians on an almost daily basis.

The stories about Jesus include His response when asked if any of God’s expectations of us are more important than the rest. Jesus pointed out that it all hinges on loving God and each other. Not just in words, but in how we treat each other. Even when we disagree. Even if our disagreement is seated in profoundly held beliefs.

Coming up

This month’s series is called Naked and unafraid. If you’re fearful about the present or the future, this series is for you. You can read about our series in our newsletter or online. I pray that you will join us online or in person over the next four Sundays. Make it a habit.

After Thanksgiving, our theme moves to God living among us. Our next series, Incarnate, explores the importance of God among us in the aftermath of an intense election. The Christmas season is guaranteed to be different this year. God’s presence is our greatest hope for the future.

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Pastor Tommy

1 Adam Hamilton. Unafraid: Living with Courage and hope in Uncertain Times. © 2018. New York: Penguin Random House.

A Community in Love with God, Each Other, and our Neighbors.