Fear is not your friend

There’s a lot of fear going around the world today. This isn’t an exaggeration. Right now, the world is united in their fight against a virus that for 20% of the people who get it, can be devastating.

My wife speaks with people all around the world, teaching conversational English. The topic with every single person, whether in Japan, Saudi Arabia, or Brazil, is the same. There is fear. Probably rightfully so. After all, it is better safe than sorry. My kids’ school is cancelled for three weeks, and my church has done the same. People are going to the grocery stored and stocking up on their apocalypse supplies like it’s Y2K all over again. As my country has closed the border, it is like the country is singing as a choir, the David Bowie song that goes, “I’m afraid of Americans, I’m afraid of the world.”

One of my favourite books is The Barbarian Way by Erwin McManus. While speaking of fear, McManus writes,

“What we fear is what we’re subject to; our fears define our master. Where there is no fear, there is no control.”

Right now, who is our master?

Before you jump to conclusions, I am not talking about ignoring Health and Safety advice and running into the senior’s home because you have no fear, or walking into the home of an isolated individual. Fear and recklessness are different. The verse “no weapon formed against you shall stand” does not mean that you will never get sick, be hurt, or die, let alone what you might give to someone else.

Just because there is danger doesn’t mean we need to fear. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is speaking to his disciples about worrying when he says,

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Matthew 6:25-34

There are a lot of things you could worry about. However, as the writer of Ecclesiastes says, life is but a vapour. Jesus came to show us that this life is merely the stepping stone into eternity. It is because of that we do not have to worry. After all, Jesus has come in perfect love, and as John tells us, perfect love drives out all fear.

When we open up our hearts to perfect love, we invite Jesus to be the master. Jesus drives out fear. Let’s confess our fear to Christ, allow him to squeeze it from our hearts, and choose to walk, not in fear but the life and hope of Christ. For we know that no matter what happens in this life, whether good or bad, that Jesus is still King, that his kingdom will come, that our present life isn’t all that there is, but there is an eternity ahead with the God of love.

It is because of this I can give that extra toilet paper roll away. It’s because of Jesus that I don’t have to be scared to go outside for a walk, while still being smart about my interaction with others. What it means is that even if I catch the virus, I can follow the steps, not getting all worked up, letting my mind going to the worst-case scenario. It means that we can hope and trust that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who leads by still waters, if not in this life, the next.

Be safe. Be smart. But do not live in fear.

Rejecting fear: Embracing others amid COVID-19

Toilet paper and bottled water are flying off the shelves as if it’s December 1999. As a parent of three asthmatic children and the spouse of someone who might be a verge hypochondriac, the threat is real. 

As Facebook fills with articles on the severity and memes that give perspective regarding other health issues, casual readers are left with conflicting voices that pendulum in our minds. When it comes to leaving our homes and going out in public, The Clashes famous lyric is flipped upon its head, if I stay there will be trouble, if I go there will be double.

Safety and hygiene are essential. However, I’m not qualified to comment on best practices or give health advice. My role is to remind us that there is a difference between fear and safety.

We have entered a time where sports teams have told players not to high-five fans and school boards are temporarily closing schools; it seems each decision is a roll of the dice in a true to life game of snakes and ladders. We either slide down the snake of fear or climb up the ladder of safety.

While safety is important, what I fear is that our fear drives us away from meaningful connections with others as we allow fear to drive us toward isolation and increased stereotypes.

Mitch Albom, in his book, The First Phone Call From Heaven gives an accurate commentary on fear when he writes,

Fear is how you lose your life…a little bit at a time…what we give to fear, we take away from…faith.

When we give in to fear piece by piece, we disappear. We become the opposite of who God created us to be. Fear causes us to become insular and reject love—both giving and receiving.

In 1 John 4:18 Jesus disciple John writes,

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

What I fear is this,

I fear that we let fear control us. As media uses fear to drive us to our screens to see the latest updates, I can’t help but notice a society that is allowing Covid-19 to drive us away from loving each other. Have we rejected the orphan and widow? Do we no longer take in the strange? Is it no longer worth visiting the shut-in?

Like John states, fear has to do with punishment. We punish ourselves and others for what might—possibly,—maybe—happen if we reach or step out of our Lysol sanitized bubble.

Of course, we must be smart. Yes, precautions are probably wise. Saying this, the question we must ask ourselves is, are we not doing something right because we fear what might happen to our family or us. Smart, yes. Negligent, no! We must weigh the risks of our particular situation and make a smart decision that we weigh in love. 

While there are parallels to various situations, the Covid-19 situation seems to be putting people on edge. We must ask ourselves, how would Jesus show love in this situation? As Erwin McManus states,

“We are not free from the emotion of fear, but we are free from its control and paralyzing effect. Our course is guided by an internal compass of convictions fuelled by passions.”

God has not given you a spirit of fear. God has sown creativity, compassion, and intelligence in you. As we approach a possibly dangerous, contagious virus, let’s reject fear and use the gifts that God has given us to respond to both ours and others fear and show that love and connection can and will endure. It may not look the same, but we will not be siloed. We will not be prejudice, and we will not stop helping because love endures no matter what happens, God still reigns on the throne.

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It’s O.K. to be ignorant… but don’t stop there.

In today’s polarized world, ignorance is one of the greatest crimes. Continually, someone is getting in trouble for saying something that offends someone. Sometimes these are words that are intentional in their direction of hurt. Other times they were phrases people grew up with that held no connotation to them. Historically some of these words did.

When I was in college, I remember one of my professors would always call the students a particular name. What it meant, I had no clue. He didn’t either. That is, until one of the students made a grievance. It turned out it was a racist phrase.

People continually are finding themselves in hot water because they have said or done something that has offended a person or group of people. The word ignorant has become a derogatory term to describe a person who is not, as the kids say, woke. The implication is that if you say certain things, do not know the history behind phrases or events, not understand the social impact regarding an incident or words spoken, you are evil in some way. We throw around words like racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, etc. not truly understanding what these words mean. The people on the opposing side of the table, calling out for rightness, fairness, and equality, end up missing the point of how our society works. Not to mention followers of Jesus who, when calling out these actions, end up in the mud they are accusing their counterpart of (whether they are or not—whether intentional or ignorance).

However, let’s think through the question, is it wrong to be ignorant?

If we look at this black and white—right or wrong—we miss all the gray that NEEDS to be explored. I believe that as we look at the acceptableness of ignorance, we cannot separate the topic from transparency and grace.

Let’s tackle these in order: Transparency. Ignorance. Grace.

We need to have transparency in our lives. That does not mean that you must tell every little dirty sin to every single person. It does, however, mean that we must be willing to express what we feel, think, and believe to others. We must share our experiences with those close to us. If not, both us and others cannot reclaim the cultural wisdom we once had. The past is broken, but we have tried to learn from our mistakes, moving forward with better understanding through hearing each other’s stories and feelings. We don’t always get it right. Even after the third, fourth, fifth, or hundredth time. Maybe I’m an optimist or too hopeful, but I like to think we try and move forward, which means silence is not an option.

The silence I speak isn’t on the part of the perpetrator or the accuser. We must dialogue. Not scream and shout — not blame and ridicule. As a professional speaker and writer, I roll with others who speak and write for a living. There is a growing fear of saying the wrong thing. 

Fear stifles communication. You cannot communicate to fear or in fear. All fear does is cause us to react. React seems to be the one skill our culture has down pact. We must be willing to reveal ourselves. As Jordan Peterson writes,

If you will not reveal yourself to others, you cannot reveal yourself to yourself.

Next is ignorance. It’s O.K. to be ignorant… but don’t stop there. You are not going to know everything about everything. Furthermore, we need to stop expecting others to know what we know. As Michael Wilbon, the sports commentator points out continually whenever there is, specifically, a race issue in sports is that he doesn’t know what that person knows, he doesn’t know how or where he grew up. Can I say yes to that?! We need to have this perspective about ourselves and others. 

You are ignorant. There are things you don’t know. You are going to offend someone at some point in your life. Again, it’s O.K. to be ignorant. But also, don’t stop there. What I mean is we are going to hurt others, but let’s have open ears of learning. Let’s do better as we move forward. 

I once used a term that I thought was the appropriate word to describe someone and a friend who fell into that category took exception. He didn’t hate me, slander me, accuse me. What my friend did was to be a friend to me and have compassion in my ignorance. I listened, and I no longer use that phrase, why, because I had no idea it was the wrong one. Up to that point in my life, I had never been corrected, educated, or whatever. It was O.K. that I was ignorant. What would not be O.K. is for me not to listen, sympathize, and think of my fellow human being.

Finally, there is grace. We need it. No matter the pigment of our skin, our ancestral culture, how we identify, our gender, we need grace. We need it for ourselves, and we need to extend it to each other.

We can continue our battle of words, but in the words of Dr. Phil, “How’s that working out for ya?” We need to level our tone, and despite how hurt by others or maligned we feel, extend grace. Maybe they are ignorant. Perhaps they’re even an ignoranus. We extend grace because we need it sometimes, and so do others. 

Heck, if Jesus while on the cross, can look at his crucifiers, insulters, and accusers and say, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.” I can choose to assume that when someone hurts me—saying something completely ignorant—that they do not know what they are saying. I can choose to respond in love. I can choose to inform in that same love. Most importantly, I can choose to model what repentance looks like by modelling it myself when I am called out.

Transparency will lead to ignorance, which means we must extend grace.

It’s O.K. to be ignorant… but don’t stop there.

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Reclaiming our wild-eyed courage.

If you were anything like me as a child, you had loads of courage. I remember at four-years-old climbing a large wooden structure that stood about two stories tall on a raft and jumping into the water. There were crashes on bikes and daring feats from trees and large rocks. Even though they often eventually ended in crashes and tears, I never once thought I should stop trying adventurous things.

I don’t know when it changed, but there was a point when something did. For some reason, reason took over. 

When I was ten, my friends and I would ride our bikes down a hill that we affectionately called, “Devil’s Hill,” which had a fallen tree covered with dirt that created a ramp. We would ride full tilt down the hill and fly–and I mean fly–landing roughly on the windy, rocky, root sewn path. One of the times I went down, I peddled as hard as I could. As I sailed through the air, it felt that my bravery was rewarded. Unbeknownst to me, when I landed my handlebars twist just enough to be dangerous, but not notify my ten-year-old brain to any problem. As I turned my handlebars, thinking I was straightening them, I turned the bars, aiming and hitting a rock just big enough to stop my front wheel. 

What proceeded next looked an awful lot like the Tazmanian Devil’s dust swirl mixed with tears, a little blood, and ten-year-old pre-pubescent screams.

The next day I went and did it again.

Somewhere along the way timidity, trepidation, and fear set into us.

We never plan for it. Responsibility, maybe you might call it maturity eventually takes over. However, I believe a lot of us have lost our courage.

I like what Jordan Peterson writes about our fleeting courage,

“Something is out there in the woods. You know that with certainty. But often it’s only a squirrel. If you refuse to look, however, then it’s a dragon, and you’re no knight: You’re a mouse confronting a lion; a rabbit paralyzed by the gaze of a wolf.” 

We grow up, and we allow fear to dictate our path. When rarely if ever risk the oceans of discovery. We stop chasing dreams, we avoid painful decisions, and we look for the path of least resistance. 

But aren’t experiences worth the tumble? The stories and lessons serve as valuable memories that help you for the next adventure.

We don’t risk enough. 

What if James, John, and Matthew said no to following Jesus?

What if Peter hadn’t stood up in front of the crowd and proclaimed the Good News of Christ (Acts 2)?

What if the Apostle Paul hadn’t risked life and limb to spread Christ’s Kingdom through the Roman Empire?

They all took a risk. Anyone we have known as significant has. 

We need to tap back into the wild-eyed childhood bravado. With adult wisdom and a childlike fearlessness, how would our lives and the world be changed for the better?

Yes, it’s scary to step up and out, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. As Tolkien writes,

“Adventure can be scary and unpredictable, but the more you continue in it, the more you lose that sense of fear and doubt (and the less you care about being late for dinner). You begin to gather up your internal resources with confidence.” 

We need to readopt a sense of adventure. As we courageously step out in the small things, it allows us to step into the unknown a little further each time the easier it becomes.

It’s time to think like a child again.

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