Tuesday, March 24, 2020

On Fear

We are in strange times, indeed. And one of the things that's coming forward in these times is just how important fear seems to be. The media want you to be afraid. The health officials want you to be afraid. The public wants you to be afraid. Everywhere you turn, they are reminding you how quiet and deadly this virus is, reminding you of all the things you can never know about it, reminding you that what should be first and foremost on your mind is the damage you could cause to others without even knowing it. You're supposed to be afraid.

And if you should happen to say anything about having another emotion, even one, during this time, there's a whole panicked public out there who will be quick to shout you down and remind you that whatever else you're feeling is small beans compared to the fear that you're supposed to have. Angry? So what? Others are terrified to leave their house because they might die. You'll just have to deal with anger; others are afraid. Sad? Too bad. Think about all of those who are scared witless right now. That's how you ought to be. Tired? Boo-hoo. Confused? Big deal. None of that matters. What you're supposed to be is scared, and the world wants you to know that that's the most important thing.

In one sense, this matters. Fear keeps us safe. It keeps us compliant. If we're scared, then we're going to stay in our houses the way that they want us to. If we're scared, we're going to wash our hands more. If we're scared, we're going to think about others - maybe to protect them, but definitely to protect ourselves. Fear keeps us vigilant, and if we have to be vigilant to be safe, then fear, it seems, is what we need.

It's false, of course. Fear isn't the only thing that would keep us vigilant. It isn't the only thing that would keep us compliant.

Love would also do that.

But I digress. Can I tell you a secret? Most of us are having mixed emotions amid all of this pandemic stuff. We're scared, sure. But we are also angry. We are sad. We are confused. We are tired. And one of the ways that the church can respond in this time is to make room for this whole range of emotions, to create space for the human element amid the infectious one.

It's perfectly natural for us to be angry. We're angry because our lives have changed. We're angry because others aren't taking the same steps that we're taking. We're angry because others are being selfish and hoarding all of the basic necessities that we all need. We're angry, as one meme circulating says it, because we feel like a classroom full of schoolchildren who keep losing more and more recess because one or two kids can't follow basic instructions.

We're sad. We're sad because not everyone cares about our grandmother the way that we do. We're sad because we're watching fear in the eyes of our loved ones, and there's nothing we can do about it. We're sad because real human beings are dying, and in some cases, they are now living on the other side of the glass from their loved ones, unable to have the basic comfort of not being alone. We're sad because we're watching our neighbors go without.

We're confused because there are a lot of numbers thrown at us that don't always make sense or that we don't understand. We're confused because there's a lot that we just don't know right now, maybe more that we don't know than we do. We're confused because we're all locked in our houses by ourselves and can't see what's happening in the world except to turn on the news, and it's hard to have a grip on something we aren't actually seeing. One pastor friend recently asked, "Does anyone even actually know anyone, personally, who has been infected?" The comments were always 3-4 degrees of separation. When we are sheltered away from what's happening, it's only natural for us to be confused.

We're tired. We're tired because it already feels like forever, but we know it's only just begun. Some of us are tired because the things the world is just now starting to think about are things we've had to think about our whole lives, and just when we've fallen into our own rhythm of it, the world has come to screeching halt. We're tired because we're talking ourselves blue in the face, trying to get through to those who just refuse to listen to anyone at all about anything. We're tired because we're clinging to what we know while others are spouting whatever they can find from any ol' unverified source and confusing everyone all over again. We're just tired.

And you know what? All of these things are perfectly normal. They're all fine. There are probably some I missed, and you know what? They're normal, too. We are dynamic human beings, not static creatures. Living in this broken world affects us. It has an impact on our very soul. Pandemic included.

What we need to do, and what the church (Christians) are better poised to do than any other, is to create space for these emotions, too. We need to stop shouting down what is human so that we can force everyone to hold onto fear. Trust me, it's not necessary. We're scared. If we're not scared of the pandemic, we're scared of the panic. We're scared of the uncertainty. We're all scared of something.

But we're also human, and we're feeling a lot of other things, too. As Christians, we know that our God is big enough to handle all of them. We know that He has given us this range of emotions because it is essential to our being human. It is necessary for our sacred engagement with the world.

The world runs on fear, but that doesn't mean that we have to. Even in times like these. Let's create the space among us to be human again. To be afraid, yes, but to be more than afraid. To be angry. To be sad. To be confused. To be tired. To be whatever we are, whatever is coming out of our very unique hearts. 

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