Friday, February 3, 2017

People are Afraid | Friar Friday

“People are afraid.” I heard these three simple words recently in a news broadcast and they are three words that have really stuck with me. I haven’t been able to shake them from my mind, from my heart, from my prayer. People are afraid.
There are many ways to look at this. People are afraid of their economic situation. Perhaps they’ve struggled finding lasting or meaningful work. Perhaps their wages have been stagnant for too long. People are afraid of terrorism, of violence. There are so many voices in our world that want to ratchet up that fear and fill us with unlikely scenarios. And so people are afraid of refugees and immigrants as voices make false connections between those who are fleeing danger in their homelands, or those simply seeking a better tomorrow here, with the violent acts that spring up throughout the world from time to time. People are afraid.
But there is a real problem with fear.  Fear often gets out of hand. Fear leads us to conclusions that often mismatch or outmatch the concern.  I keep thinking of a quote from Yoda in the movie Empire Strikes Back, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” So take the source however you will, but it points out a simple truth – fear is a slippery slope down a dangerous path.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be concerned, even gravely, about some of the situations in our communities, in our world.  It doesn’t mean that the only other option is to turn a blind eye and pretend that everything is okay. But, fear arises because we perceive a problem and we don’t know the solution. That can lead us to act rashly.
Instead of fear, I think we are called to a different approach. Instead we are called first to remember who we are.  Recalling our identity will ground us and keep us rooted in something bigger.  Our identity as Americans calls us to be welcoming, generous, desiring for all people the same kind of opportunities and freedoms that we enjoy. The great wonder of the American dream is that it is limitless. It doesn’t have a maximum number of participants. It doesn’t have a limit on who can succeed. We believe that nothing can hold you back once you have arrived on these shores and read the words emblazoned on Lady Liberty:

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
We remember who we are not only as Americans, be even more so as Christians, as people of faith, as Franciscans. That is an identity that calls us to have a preference for the homeless, the hungry, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned, the refugee and the immigrant – because these are the places and the people who invite us into a real encounter with Jesus. What we have done for the least of these, we have done for Christ.
It is that identity that does not blind us to the challenges and dangers in our world, but reminds us that as we assess the challenges in the world, our response must be moral.  Never do we excuse a response that does not deal with these issues in a moral, fair, caring and compassionate way. Because that is not our way. We know, because of who we have been called to be, that we can balance our safety with our beliefs.  These are not contradictory realities.
At this very moment at the start of this new and challenging year, we have to ask the question of who we are. We have to remind ourselves who we are, and begin to act from that place and not from a place of fear.
Ithink of the way that Robert F. Kennedy was able to likewise remind Americans of their truest identity in the midst of a difficult moment. Responding to the news that Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated, RFK said, “In this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in…We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, with compassion, and love. We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond, or go beyond these rather difficult times…What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country.”
Yes, people are afraid. But that does not have to be so. That fear does not have to define who we are and how we respond. We can also be reminded that people are kind, people are loving, people are compassionate, people are united. People are filled with the hope that together we can make things better, together we can seek peace, together we can find an end to the divisions and violence and negativity that trouble our world. Let us remember who we are and move together towards that hope.



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