Friday, July 22, 2016

Fear and love. Trump and Tribe X. Standing on New Ground and Believing We Are Not Lost

“…perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” – 1John 4:18

I watched Donald Trump’s speech last night with one eye on the television and another on my Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Candidate Trump’s message was clear

Be very, very afraid.

And over and over again, I saw a similar message scrolling across my phone from people reacting to the idea of this man becoming president.

I am very, very afraid.

Fear is hard. We generally don’t decide to be afraid of something. Fear happens to us. Fear grips us. It tempts us into our panic zones where fight or flight kicks in.

Fear is hard, and fear is human. It is never our best selves, but it absolutely is part of who we are and nothing of which to be ashamed. Even Jesus trembled in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Fear, however, is not our calling. Jesus – whose words were meant primarily for a people who knew daily fear because they lived under an occupying force that continually threatened their livelihoods if not their very lives – regularly invited his disciples to “not be afraid” and to have faith – to trust -- in him.

And that trust – that love, that perfect love – will set us free.

One of my favorite quotes about faith and fear is this:

“The difference between false faith and true faith is that false faith says, ‘Do not worry; that which you fear will not happen to you’ and true faith says, ‘Do not fear, that which you fear may well happen to you; but it is nothing to be afraid of.’"

I love this quote because it’s not the simplistic “don’t be afraid” that silences the cries of the genuinely fearful and traumatized who know only too well that there is a great deal to fear.

Don’t tell the women who sleep on the streets of downtown St. Louis that there is nothing to fear when almost every one of them has been raped.

Don’t tell the transgender teen there is nothing to fear when she has been repeatedly beaten up by her classmates and ostracized by her parents.

Don’t tell the 35-year old with two small children there is nothing to fear when he has just received a stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

Don’t tell Lezley McSpadden, Gwen Carr, and Sybrina Fulton that there is nothing to fear as they stand over the bodies of their murdered children.

We live in a fearful world. There is a great deal to fear. And none of this is anything new.

What makes headlines is when people whose privilege allows us to live in the illusion that those things that others fear every day cannot touch us finally pays (or threatens to pay) us a visit.

Fear is real. Fear is very, very real.

So what do we do in the face of fear?

Do we shrink back? Sometimes. That’s a natural response to trauma.

Do we lash out? Sometimes. That’s a natural response to trauma, too.

But ultimately healing comes from recognizing that although there are times when truly we cannot choose not to fear, we can – with the help of God and one another – choose not to let fear define us, not to let fear control us, not to let fear dictate who we are, what we do and who we will become.

We can speak our truth even though our voice is shaking.

We can hold each other’s hands and wipe each other’s tears.

We can, together, not denying the fearfulness of the world, not denying the right of the traumatized to shrink back or even the overwhelming and understandable desire of the traumatized to lash out, with trembling hearts, hands and voices look fear in the face and respond with militant, revolutionary, nonviolent love.

We can make sure that those among us who have the most to fear – those who are the most vulnerable, traumatized, targeted and oppressed – are never standing on that ground alone.

We can find new ground to stand on together – honest ground, ground where the truth of the traumatized is spoken, heard and believed.

We can, in the words of Becca Stevens and the women of Magdalene, “Stand On New Ground and Believe We Are Not Lost.”

In the face of fear, Resistance is Hope.

Yesterday afternoon, I responded to the call from some of our best young revolutionaries to come to the Old Courthouse and take part in an action for the #FreedomNow day of action.

Tribe X, Potbangerz, and the Ferguson Action Team brought us together to stand in a place of truth and name what there was to fear.

*A nation where police can shoot a black therapist lying in the street with his hands up and whose only explanation is he meant to shoot the autistic man clearly playing with a toy truck sitting next to him.

*A nation where we treat every social problem like a nail to be hit with the hammer of policing and incarceration in for-profit prisons.

*A city where fewer and fewer services are available to the most vulnerable among us … and we respond by criminalizing those who are trying to step up and fill the need themselves.

Despite the 100-degree heat, a great crowd took to the streets and marched down Market Street, where we held the intersection of Market and Tucker for 4 ½ minutes – remembering in love our fallen brother, Michael Brown, and the 4 ½ hours his body lay in the street in front of his grandmother’s apartment building.

The young organizers then marched us to City Hall to bring our demands to Mayor Slay, which included immediate withdrawl of a board bill that further criminalizes helping the most vulnerable among us, the firing of Police Chief Sam Dotson and an end to the use of policing to criminalized poverty, increased resources allocated to mental health services and completion of the proposed homeless shelter that is currently being delayed.

We were locked out of City Hall but a representative of the mayor agreed to take our demands to him.

We then crossed over to the park and brought water, sandwiches and homemade cupcakes to the people struggling with hunger and homelessness that were spending the afternoon in the park (making sure all trash and recycling was collected).

It was a beautiful action. The young revolutionaries led us in naming that which is deeply fearful – fearful to the point of being deadly – and literally linking arms to look that fear full in the face and meet it with militant, nonviolent love. To make space for anger and rage and trauma to be expressed – ‘cause as Magdalene has taught me “you’ve got to feel to heal” – AND to show with our actions that we will not let anything define us but our love.

It was beautiful. It was people whom are some of the most beaten down in our nation recognizing it was “their duty to fight for their freedom. That it was their duty to win. That we must love and support each other. “ and that since none are free until all are free, that “we have nothing to lose but our chains.” (Assata Shakur)

The words of Becca and the women of Magdalene from Find Your Way Home rang in my ears:

“What we are feeling and experiencing is not a sense of being lost but the wonder of discovering something new. This is sacred ground… The prayer is to walk this ground in faith and trust that the Spirit leads us toward God.” (Find Your Way Home, Principle 9: “Stand on New Ground and Believe You Are Not Lost.”)

Last night as I lay in bed and watched Candidate Trump peddle fear, as I watched friends of mine speak of their fears, and as I began to fear myself … I tried to remember.

I tried to remember that bravery is not being unfraid but facing and owning fear and moving forward anyway.

I tried to remember that Jesus calls us to a life without fear – not because we have been shielded from the fearful but because in love we have dismantled and destroyed that which threatens all of us, starting with and especially that which threatens the most vulnerable.

I tried to remember that even though there is indeed much still left to fear in this world, that perfect love casts out fear. And I was filled with gratitude for the young people who that day had shown me a glimpse of what that perfect love looks like standing in that intersection, shouting at the locked doors of City Hall, and handing out food and water in that park.

And this morning when I awoke and saw the fear still swirling around (including inside of me), I tried to remember that what we are feeling and experiencing is not a sense of being lost but the wonder of discovering something new. That this fear is an opportunity for all of us to stand together on the ground occupied by the most vulnerable, oppressed and targeted. Ground that for many of us will be new and fearful … but ground that is deeply sacred because it is a way that with tears has been watered, a path through the blood of the slaughtered.

This morning I awoke and my prayer was that together we could stand on this ground and believe we are not lost. Trust those for whom this is their native land to lead us. To walk this ground in faith and trust that the Spirit leads us toward God.


Tom Momberg said...

Mike, the old AA acronym for FEAR - Fakse Evidence Appearing Real - gets a new take in your excellent piece. Do not become your fear, especially when the evidence is false and the fear is indeed real. Thanks for your persistence in prayer and witness (Luke 11:8).

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