Fear

Tom Ehrich 10-21-2014

President Obama talks on the phone with Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC. Official White House photo via Pete Souza/RNS.

Once the first person in America died from Ebola, the usual bigots and ideologues blamed it on President Obama, whom they loathe. Some suggested Obama deliberately allowed the virus into the U.S. for nefarious purposes.

“He wants us to be just like everybody else, and if Africa is suffering from Ebola, we ought to join the group and be suffering from it, too. That’s his attitude,” said Phyllis Schlafly, the matriarch of America’s religious right.

Every misstep will be laid at the president’s doorstep, as if he personally ordered a Dallas hospital to screw up.

Such nonsense plays well in an election year, at least with a certain portion of the electorate. But the question remains: How are we as a society to deal with a potential contagion that could impact our lives?

Our worst instincts, as always, will be to blame whatever we don’t like, to imagine barriers and travel bans that would protect us, and to turn against each other. Schlafly, for one, blames Obama personally for  “letting these diseased people into this country to infect our own people.”

Stephen Mattson 5-22-2014
Via Doug Shelton, Creationswap.com

Via Doug Shelton, Creationswap.com

Spiritual accountability and discipline are slowly becoming extinct within church communities Here are some reasons why:

1. A Desire for Comfort and a Fear of Conflict:

Confrontation is awkward, messy, and just plain hard — so few do it. Additionally, churches and spiritual communities are intentional about creating a sense of peace, encouragement, happiness, and joy — even if it’s a façade.

Identifying sin, exposing immorality, admitting the truth, uncovering corruption, and acknowledging failure contradict the image many churches are trying to portray.

In reality, Christianity was never meant to be comfortable or easy, but in a society obsessed with self-gratification, pleasure, and comfort, churches too easily succumb to an attitude of placation and appeasement instead of responsibility and intervention.

Patrick Foto/Shutterstock.com

We need something like a mother's love in our churches. Patrick Foto/Shutterstock.com

In my Santa BarbaraCalifornia neighborhood, which we sometimes call “Leave it to Beaver Land” for its seeming serenity and peace, a new practice has become evident: Children no longer walk alone to our neighborhood elementary school. Every morning, a parade of mothers and fathers accompany their children the short distance to school, dogs in tow and cellphones in hand. It looks like the practice of safety, but it’s also the practice of fear. You just never know. It could happen anywhere. It could happen here.

These parents know about something we call “school incidents.” They know the statistics about the number of American children that are shot, stabbed, and killed in our schools each year. Like the rest of us, they know about the big ones, from Columbine to Newtown to Chicago to Pittsburgh, and they know there are so many more stories that never make it to CNN.

The soundtrack for the story of childhood in America reverberates with gunfire and the sobs of stunned classmates and grieving parents. It’s the soundtrack of fear.

Fear is our newest neighbor, even in sunny “Leave it to Beaver Land.”

Rachel Laser 4-14-2014
Memorial at the finish line of the Boston Marathon after the bombing, RobinJP /

Memorial at the finish line of the Boston Marathon after the bombing, RobinJP / Flickr.com

My first marathon ever — 2003 in New York City — did not go according to plan. On the positive side, I would never have guessed that P. Diddy would be running the same marathon and at the same pace for much of it, providing an entertaining entourage to distract me from my exhaustion. On the negative side, my name, which I had taped to my tank top so the crowds could give me much-needed encouragement, quickly peeled off, and I was anonymous in the crowd. My plan had been to run that last mile to the mantra “you can do anything” or “you are power,” but instead, my legs barely moving and my husband and close friend no longer by my side, I chanted dejectedly to myself: “Never again, never again.”

I didn’t know what misery associated with a marathon really was, though, until I heard about the Boston Marathon bombings, which took place one year ago today. On this day, two young brothers set off two bombs at the end of the Boston Marathon. As we waited to understand the damage, I remember thinking about the juxtaposition of the runners’ feelings of accomplishment setting in just as shrapnel began to fly. Then I received the painful — even if relieving — news that my first cousin had been right at the finish line with her husband and baby (born a year ago exactly on that marathon Monday) and had escaped the violence only because the baby needed her nap. We eventually learned that three people were dead, hundreds were injured, and the two suspected perpetrators were associated with radical Islam. I felt disgust and horror.

Moments such as this challenge each of us to live up to the “better angels of our nature,” as President Abraham Lincoln put it. As has been borne out by various terrorist attacks around the globe, terrorism breeds fear — its intended consequence. Too often this fear becomes fear of a religious group. We, as Jews, know intimately the perils of a society surrendering to this type of fear.

Tom Ehrich 3-25-2014

Fred Phelps, the 84-year-old founder of Westboro Baptist Church, died last week. Photo court: Rudolf 1922 via Wikimedia Commons.

As anti-gay preacher Fred Phelps passes on to whatever is his reward, we need to ask how he managed to inspire a following.

His was hardly an exemplary life. One neighbor remembers seeing his children in Topeka, Kan., in the 1970s and noticing they were bald. He was told Phelps sent his kids out to sell some product, and if they didn’t make their quota, he shaved their heads as punishment.

Another remembers how Phelps beat his wife and children with his fists, a belt, and a piece of wood.

Many tell how Phelps and his followers at Westboro Baptist Church sent vicious faxes when gay men were dying of AIDS, picketed military funerals with “God hates you” signs, and blamed terrorist attacks and fallen soldiers on America’s growing tolerance of homosexuality.

He was consistent, that’s for sure. Brutish and bullying from home to pulpit to public forum. Filled with anger and hate. And totally unrestrained in how he expressed his rage.

David P. Gushee 3-05-2014

How the U.S. became a torturing nation—and how to make it stop.

Joe Kay 1-27-2014
Chick breaking out of a shell, S-F / Shutterstock.com

Chick breaking out of a shell, S-F / Shutterstock.com

Have you ever watched a chick break out of its shell?

My first experience with hatching was at the poultry barn at the Indiana State Fair. The building is the temporary home for hundreds of chickens, ducks, geese, and pigeons each summer. And they make quite a ruckus. There’s a constant din of crowing and honking and cooing and whatever other adjectives you care to apply. Colorful feathers drift through the air.

As you walk through the front door, there’s a protected case for baby birds that have just hatched. And there’s an incubator full of eggs that are slowly being pecked and pushed apart by the little ones inside.

If you have some time, you can stand and watch a miracle unfold, peck by peck.

It takes hours for the chick to work its way out of the shell, sometimes an entire day. A 4-H volunteer sits by the incubator and records each chick’s progress during the exhausting escape from the shell into the greater world.

The chick has spent its entire life in its protective shell. But now, the nourishment of the yolk is all used up. The chick no longer fits comfortably inside the oval confine. It has no clue what lies outside the shell, but it knows instinctively that it has to break out or it will die.

Is that a good analogy for what we experience in our lives? Do we often find ourselves breaking out of shells?

Patrick O'Neill 1-05-2014

Crossing the Line: Nonviolent Resisters Speak Out for Peace. Cascade Books

Christian Piatt 1-03-2014

Illustration by Ken Davis

Where do our ideas about hell come from?

Emily Dause 12-19-2013
Alexander Hoffmann/Shutterstock

Maybe a picture-perfect nativity scene isn't the whole story. Alexander Hoffmann/Shutterstock

Last December, I decided to run after dark and entertain myself by running through neighborhoods, looking at lighted Christmas decorations as I passed by. It was a novel twist on my regular exercise, and I enjoyed gazing at the beautiful, the creative, and the tacky alike. 

Then, I started noticing the insides of houses, too. The Christmas trees were lit and decorated; the insides of the houses seemed warm and inviting. Suddenly, instead of an independent adult on a crisp winter jog, I felt more like a homeless orphan from a George MacDonald Christmas story looking in at something I did not have and of which I could not be a part. Needless to say, the run lost its sense of adventure.

Recently, it has struck me how strange the situation was, both in what I saw Christmas to be and in my decision that I “didn’t have it.”

Harry C. Kiely 12-11-2013

The voices are singing, “All will be well, All will be well.”

11-05-2013

Flag of the National Security Agency in use since at least February 2001. Photo via RNS/courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Fear sold the National Security Agency’s phenomenally intrusive program of spying on everyone and everything, but fear doesn’t explain it.

A nation reeling from terrorist attacks, the thinking went, would excuse the NSA’s vast eavesdropping on Americans and non-Americans, even friendly heads of state.

The reason for doing so, however, probably lay in something more mundane, more like the all-night party outside our apartment window last weekend.

Young men and women stood on a patio facing the courtyard of our U-shaped apartment building. They drank, and they talked. They drank more, and their talking turned to shouting.

By 4 a.m., their shouting and chugging were out of control. Who was going to stop them? No neighbor would dare knock on a door to confront drunks.

This was self-centeredness run amok. It was complete unawareness of consequences, complete disregard for the rights of others. An essential freedom to act had become a license to violate.

Sound familiar?

Kenneth Tanner 9-19-2013
Sketch of God and Adam's hands, aleisha / Shutterstock.com

Sketch of God and Adam's hands, aleisha / Shutterstock.com

The bearer of Good News, the one who carries the message of Resurrection, is not motivated by fear of punishment (either for herself or others) but by confidence in her experience of the love of God. She knows God's love is greater than anything in herself or in her hearers; that Jesus can conquer anything in them that is not controlled by holy love.

"Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love." 1 John 4:18

God's love has the final word, for Jesus has conquered the sin of the whole world and has defeated the grave. Christ's best messengers know this love by its all-consuming redemptive activity in themselves and confidently carry this love to others, without fear.

Martin L. Smith 8-15-2013

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle C

Nadia Bolz-Weber 8-07-2013
Pile of Beanie Babies. Photo courtesy joeltelling/flickr.com

Pile of Beanie Babies. Photo courtesy joeltelling/flickr.com

Welcome to Ecclesiastes. All is vanity. Nothing ends up mattering. Everything for which we toil is fricken pointless. 

If the writer of Ecclesiastes were around today, I’m pretty certain s/he would be a really emo teenager in black skinny jeans who smokes clove cigarettes alone in his/her room listening to Morrissey or My Chemical Romance.

For someone like myself who is just a wee bit prone to cynicism, the fact that there is something in the Bible so whiny and sardonic about the futility and pointlessness of human activity is kind of delightful.

Because oh my gosh do people busy themselves with some fleeting ridiculousness while thinking it matters.

Alycia Ashburn 5-11-2013

How do we sustain our climate activism? It can't be about fear.

Gordon C. Stewart 4-17-2013
Above and Beyond Memorial. Photo via National Veteran's Art Museum, Chicago

Above and Beyond Memorial. Photo via National Veteran's Art Museum, Chicago

The National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago has an unusual work of art.

When visitors first enter the museum, they hear a sound like wind chimes coming from above them. Their attention is drawn upward 24 feet to the ceiling of the two-story high atrium.

The metal dog tags of the more than 58,000 service men and women who died in the Vietnam War move and chime with shifting air currents. The 10-by-40-foot sculpture, titled “Above and Beyond” was designed by Ned Broderick and Richard Steinbock.

Family and friends locate the exact dog tag of a loved one as a museum employee uses a laser to point to the tag with the name imprinted on the dog tag, now part of a chorus of wind chimes.

After the horror and tragedy in Boston, our heads have been down. This work of art serves as a reminder to look up to hear the sound of the spirit of goodness, compassion, and creativity that can turn tragedy and death into wind chimes played in silence by the air.

Not everything that's fun is a consitutionally protected right.

Onleilove Alston 3-14-2013

Hurricane Sandy vividly demonstrated the relationship between climate change, poverty, and immigration.

Brian E. Konkol 2-25-2013
Desolate landscape, Phil MacD Photography / Shutterstock.com

Desolate landscape, Phil MacD Photography / Shutterstock.com

If one were to conduct a nationwide survey to learn the most common human fears, it is safe to conclude thatfailure would be near the top of the list. Due in part to the high value that North American society places upon success and achievement, we recognize through the twists and turns of daily life that everyone has – in some shape or form – firsthand experience of the fear of failure. We fret over falling short, we agonize about disappointment, and we even lose sleep from the potential shame of letting others down.

What if we, as a Lenten discipline, make a commitment to give up the fear of failure — for such fears are too often personally devastating and publicly debilitating if left ignored or unresolved?

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