Fear not! was the very first thing humankind was told upon the birth of Jesus Christ; and on this 2014th anniversary of that historic event or world-changing legend, it’s about the last thing we remember.
That’s certainly the case in this country, where the overwhelming majority are members of one of the three religions that honor Christ as redeemer and/or prophet.
We rejoice in fear. We make idols of it, knowing full well that a golden calf is an inedible waste of money and an invitation to retribution.
We’re afraid of criminals, afraid of the police, afraid of guns, afraid of gun control, afraid of entrenched government, afraid to vote out incumbents, afraid of foreign competition, afraid to pay for homegrown talent, afraid of certain immigrants, afraid to change an economy that runs on their subsistence wages, afraid of socialized medicine and afraid we’ll lose Medicare, afraid of a president who seems too friendly to other nations and afraid of losing our sons and daughters in another war.
Afraid. Of everything that moves. Of shadows. Of authority and of questioning what passes for authority. Of one another.
The generosity that gushes forth in this holiday season, both the traditional and spontaneous and the calculated and self-promotional, illuminates our better and stronger nature for a moment but leaves pretty much intact our hunkered-down posture toward the Other. As the great Brazilian radical priest Dom Helder Camara said, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint; when I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.” That’s fear. Fear of change, of losing whatever it is we think we have, a fear transferred to the poor themselves.
The property-less teacher born in a stable 2014 years ago, like the Old Testament prophets before him, was nothing if not a radical advocate for the downtrodden – those who don’t read newspapers or know how to work the political process. Yet the Christianity that dominates politics in a place like Indiana proudly pushes the poor outside the gates.
In health care, foster care, welfare, preschool and taxes on the wealthy, our pious leaders have invariably taken the path of least assistance to the “least of these my brethren” as held aloft in Matthew 25 throughout another dreary year. From our legislature and most profoundly our governor, the poor – and the near-poor – have been handed a permanent place in a soup line of sanctimony.
And the majority of us give our imprimatur, if not by votes and checks then by omission. Like the foreigners, the other political party, the unions, the heretics, the bottom-dwellers are easier to fear than to get to know.
How’s that worked out for us? On the social, if not family, level, how serene and secure are we as we sit down to Christmas dinner? Wouldn’t it be divine to know that everybody’s around a table somewhere, and there’s room at ours?
“The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?” Psalm 27 proclaims. If we believe in any Higher Power so great that it dares to arrive tiny and helpless in the year’s darkest hour, we can rise to the call that shattered and calmed that hillside long ago. Keep the faith and lose the fear. Quit finding ways to disturb the peace.
Dan Carpenter is a freelance writer, a contributor to The Indianapolis Business Journal and Sky Blue Window, and the author of “Indiana Out Loud.”