Be Not Afraid
Just before Christmas the weekly email from Sojourners arrived. The article was titled Be Not Afraid and it was written by Jim Wallis, President of Sojourners.
[Be Not Afraid.] “That’s what Jesus said, eight times in the New Testament: “Be not afraid.” In fact, “do not be afraid” is the most often repeated command in the Bible. And if you look at the whole Bible, you will find 365 scriptures that command us to not fear or be afraid in reaction to the world, people, or events around us. That’s enough for one reflection for every day of the year!
Why does the God of the Bible, the angels who announce the birth of Christ, then Jesus himself, keep telling us, again and again, not to be afraid or to live in fear? Perhaps it is because our human nature makes us fearful. And what we most easily fear are the people who are “different” than us. Fear of “the other” is a very common human trait.” *
Many of us are challenged to welcome the stranger into our lives because we are afraid of “the other.” When my family was in Chicago at Thanksgiving, a panhandler approached my wife and said, “Don’t be afraid of me. My name’s Jesse.” Jesse had learned that people are afraid of “the other.” His survival depended on calming our fear of strangers. A label like “poor” creates distance and distance creates fear of the unknown.
Reducing poverty requires tangibles such as tax policy, programs, health care and living-wage jobs, but solutions are not exclusively found in the outward and upward bias of our culture. Solutions are also found by moving inward and downward. Inner work, working on ourselves, is required. We must discover and heal why we are we afraid of people of color and why are we afraid of those with different religious beliefs. We must discover any bias we may have toward the poor. We can’t “be” for someone else if our being is filled with anxiety.
I have often reflected on the reality of fear. A poetry book of mine is titled Three Simple Words and “be not afraid” is revealed as being those three simple words. Parker J. Palmer has been quoted as saying, “The message of the world’s great religions is the same—be not afraid.” In Leading from Within, Palmer talks about ways that leadership can become distorted because of fear (by our living, we are all leaders): “…a leader is a person who has an unusual degree of power to project on other people his or her shadow, or his or her light.”
What we think of the poor may be more dependent on how we project our shadows onto them versus who they truly are—persons of innate dignity, deserving justice.
* email from sojo.net, 12/20/18, Be Not Afraid by Sojourners President Jim Wallis.