The Power of Fear

By Blogger Chuck Redfern

Perhaps a quivering child crawls in the psyche of our slam-your-fist-on-the-table society.  Perhaps greed is a symptom more than a disease.  It’s the splayed claws of the wounded tiger, the adrenaline of the cornered fugitive, the panic-stricken roar of the captured lion. We’re more fearful than we’re greedy.

Fear stopped me Monday from savoring the dream-come-true of any humble narcissist: A smiling television reporter wafted the microphone and asked me an innocuous question, “Why are you here?”  I could now wax eloquent on my reason for joining thirty-five clerics about to march the half mile from Asylum Hill Congregational Church to the “Occupy Hartford” encampment at the junction of Farmington and Asylum avenues.  This was my moment, my opportunity, my fifteen seconds of fame … And my overbearing prayer was, “Please God, don’t let the people of my church see this!”

The clerical march was organized by The Rev. Alison J. Buttrick Patton of Simsbury and Bishop John Selders of Hartford – both from the United Church of Christ – after they heard a “shout out” (Patton’s words) calling for church leaders to convene on Monday at 10:30 a.m. in every American city and walk to the nearest Occupy site.  A Facebook page declared: “Many of us have been moved by the moral voices for corporate political accountability.”  Now was the time to put our best foot forward.  Literally.

I heard the feint whispers of fear while the clergy gathered.  There was an imam, a Unitarian, and a host from the UCC.  I was the lone evangelical.  What would my tribal colleagues think?  What would these people here think once they learned I was a theological Neanderthal?  I knew the whispers were laughable:  I mingle among theological liberals all the time and almost always find “them” welcoming.  Indeed, Patton took her turn before the reporter and then urged me forward.  There I was, being recorded for the evening news in my moment in the sun … and … The whispers blared into screams.  I once stumbled over the trip wires of political correctness in a previous congregation and ignited a chain reaction of late-night meetings and subtle charges of anti-patriotism.  My current church is far more lenient, but … you never know …  I have a wife and a son and a home and a pet rabbit and bills to pay and cars to fix — and then there’s the back porch begging for repair.  I can’t afford to lose this job.

The fear wailed again when we began our march.  Selders proclaimed: “Let’s walk in the street!” and joked how his church would bail him out.  Flashing blue lights, hand-cuffs and jail bars; a wife … a son … bills to pay … back porch … pet rabbit … late-night meetings … anti-patriotism.  I bravely strolled on the sidewalk: Mr. Courageous smothered his quivering child …

That’s when Proverbs 29:25 flashed: “The fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe” (NIV).  And Romans 8:15: “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption” (NRSV).   And 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” (NRSV).

I cannot escape the insinuation: Fear is a “snare.”  It is quicksand.  It holds us captive and nurtures distrust in God.  We conceive of ourselves as orphans, not as God’s children.  It robs us of God’s power and dams the inflow of his love.  We lack discipline (witness today’s wild tempers).  We are, to put in bluntly, disobedient.

I couldn’t help but wonder: Am I the only one?  Where are my kindred evangelicals? Do we not implore our people to walk the path of Christ and mingle among the disenfranchised?  Do we not make appeals for them to seek openings for the Gospel? Surely we can commend the “Occupy” movement for highlighting America’s golden calf: Greed.  Are we so afraid of the tent-dwellers that we’ll not reach out to them?  Or are we draping ourselves in those seductive excuses: We have families and pet rabbits and back porches.  We’re free to disobey Proverbs 29:25, Romans 8:15, and 2 Timothy 1:7.

Photo by Alison J. Buttrick Patton

We reached the tent-dweller village, complete with a media center powered by solar panels as well as tents for first aid and information.  Introductions abounded between the garbed clerics and the blinking, weary occupants.  The imam prayed and three of us spoke, including me (I thanked them for highlighting greed and I confessed evangelicalism’s sin: We’ve become so greedy ourselves that we’ve lost our credibility).

Then some of them spoke – and I heard our chains fall as I listened:  One told of his 10-year bout with homelessness.  He feared little because he had little to lose.  Another, named Moses, boldly proclaimed that we have nothing to fear from the devil.  Preach it, Moses.  There was a 24-year-old named Sean, who said he didn’t go to church but constantly cited the Gospels as he thanked us. Others spoke — including sympathetic suburbanites who come during the day and drive home at night.  Some were veteran radicals; others were new sympathizers.  All told compelling stories – but I couldn’t help but focus on Sean and those two homeless men.  They had little to lose and, therefore, little to fear.

I refuse to romanticize their story.  Homelessness is dangerous – especially in New England winters.  I know that people with knives prowl the shelters and I know that homeless people die at younger ages.  But those realities could not smother the living allegory before me: Our things — including our pet rabbits and our back porches and our houses — can turn on us and own us.  They make us hold back and cover up our tracks with a series of yeah-buts (“yeah, but this … yeah, but that”).  We shun the microphones and hug the sidewalks, unaware that fear is curling around us like a python and strangling out the love (notice the juxtapositions in 2 Timothy 1:7).

Perhaps we should stop slamming our fists.  Perhaps we should allow ourselves to feel the coiling snake.  Perhaps the child will stop quivering when we peel it off. We can breathe in God’s love once more.  Perhaps the frightened child will stop quivering as the greed fades.

Chuck Redfern is Interim Pastor at First Baptist Church in Meriden.

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