I’m barely back from a short vacation over the New Year, a few days of rest and the company of my spouse, and I am already trying to hold Fear at bay. Our world, my work, and the collective work we do together all seems enshrouded in this looming sense that something bad is coming, with good reason.
On Thursday the United States assassinated Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, Iran’s top security officer, and possibly the second most powerful person in that country (more info here). This attack, a response to the killing of an American contractor in Iraq at the US embassy in Iraq, is a significant escalation in the US’s Iran policy, one that hawkish members of the White House have been pressing for since before Trump took office.
The minute I saw that there had been violence targeting a US embassy a few days ago I could feel that all too familiar twist in my stomach reminding me that our national leadership, the ones making decisions about foreign policy and military response, are responsive to a head who’s rhetoric and bluster often includes appeals to punishment, revenge, and violence as viable components of US foreign policy.
I was terrified that this President, who scares me greatly, would be responsible for navigating a tense and dangerous international conflict. The Trump administration’s killing of Mr. Suleimani only escalated those fears.
Across Twitter there seems to be this widely felt fear that the Administration’s actions will lead to war and that the stakes might be even higher than we could have previously anticipated or that the administration is willing to admit. The hashtag #WWIII is gaining steam. It is clear that in light of this international theatre, fear has a hold on all of us.
But I am tired of living like some jumpy reactionary or a terror-stricken milksop, blown to and fro by every event of the day, and so I find myself wrestling with a question; How do we live well under the ever-expanding cloud of fear and dread?
For Christians, days removed from Christmas, we still have the words of the angel ringing in our ears, “Do not be Afraid; for see I am bring 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…” (Luke 2:10-11).
I believe with everything I have in me, that Christ’s presence in this world is the only assurance we need and the antidote to an all-consuming fear that saps us of our power and our ability to feel whole.
But how does this faith teach us to live in the face of never-ending fear and terror?
In my opinion, some of our greatest possibility lies in the experience of the early Christian community after Christ’s resurrection and ascension. In Acts we encounter a fearful group of disciples staring agape at the sky where Jesus had just been lifted up, confronted by two men in white robes who challenged them to stop staring off into heaven and to refocus their eyes on the world around them. And that is exactly what they do, knowing fully that they did so in a world that was consumed by fear and dread.
Despite their fear, the disciples get back to the work of building community and sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. It was while they were gathered at Pentecost that the Holy Spirit descended like tongues of fire, giving them the courage and the ability to climb beyond the safety of their own doors to proclaim the gospel and to serve all those in need.
Peter finds his power and preaches boldly in Jerusalem and the apostles begin healing the sick in the city, resulting in their arrest and persecution, realities that would pursue the budding community until a few centuries later.
The author of Acts tells us that, “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-45). They didn’t hoard their stuff; they gave it away. They didn’t exclude one another; they grew stronger together.
The disciples reclaim their power in the face fear and dread, not by responding in kind, but by serving one another and helping each person they encountered discover the power they had in Christ. They pressed on knowing that the Gospel was stronger than sickness, imprisonment, imperial power, and even death.
This doesn’t mean that they were not afraid, because they most certainly were. It means only that instead of giving into the demands of fear, that we cower and exclude one another in an effort to feel safe, they gave into the demands of love; that we serve one another in a spirit of mercy and generosity. It means that instead of acquiescing to dominating power, the early Christian community built one another up in power that looks like Christ.
This is how I Hope we can combat the feeling of our ever-present fear and dread.
I am hoping that in the days, weeks, and years to come we find our way to one another, and that we might practice the kind of relational power that Christ has called us to. I hope that we eat together and give thanks together. I hope we organize together and continue to build political power that reminds us that our leaders work for us, and that another world is most certainly possible. I hope we serve one another joyfully, knowing that it is the strength of our relationships that keeps the beastly fear at bay.
As we begin again to feel that all too familiar twist in our stomachs, that tells us to be afraid, that tells us to recoil and distance ourselves from one another, I am hopeful that we will hear the angels words telling us “Do not be afraid!”. And further I hope we are reminded by the two men in white to stop staring off into heaven and get back to work.
Are you afraid? Then lean into community. Lean into service. Lean into the work of building power. We can live powerfully in a world afraid, if we so choose.