I remember the day 9/11 happened. We lived in Northern Virginia and my wife was in Alexandria at an appointment with our midwives at the time when the plane crashed into the Pentagon. I was at work and initially there was talk of some kind of widespread invasion which later proved to be false. Later in the evening we watched in disbelief as they replayed the burning towers in New York – an image burned into our collective memory. It was a day I will never forget.
On the anniversary of 9/11 as I watch news clips talking of the supposed new terrorist threats that they have freshly uncovered- and in turn the massive show of heightened vigilance in New York City and Washington D.C. – I am reminded how different our post-9/11 culture has become. I wonder if we realize how much of our collective focus is driven by a sense of fear (ex: the “See Something, Say Something” campaign). I wonder if in our efforts to pursue safety and “homeland security” could we be constructing a culture of fear – one in which we ultimately cripple ourselves by our legitimate need to defend ourselves from our unseen enemies.
Many of you may remember the sniper that was loose in the D.C. area several years ago. During that time a prevailing atmosphere of fear was so thick everywhere we went you could have cut it with a knife. People wore helmets to pump gas, mothers and children abandoned playgrounds for the safety of homes- every white truck was suspicious. Everyone was on edge – and with each new seemingly random shooting some part of us wondered if we could be next. When it ended the anxiety lifted off of the region like a dark storm being swept by the wind. The spiritual and emotional difference was night and day.
Unfortunately with the “war on terror” there is no real end. One boogeyman is cast down and another emerges- phantom enemies always about to strike. I am not saying these are not legitimate realities- only that our response is not always born of wisdom but instead a kind of zealous self-protection in which suddenly we all begin looking like the enemy. In this state of paranoia sometimes the cure is worse than the dis-ease. As the French philospher Jaques Ellul said:
“There is an exact equilibrium. The more security and guarantees we want against things, the less free we are. Tyrants are not to be feared today, but our own frantic need of security is. Freedom inevitably means insecurity and responsibility” (from p.168 – The Subversion of Christianity).
It’s easy to point fingers at society though and forget that we too cultivate this seed of fear in the soil of our own hearts. We must remember that to follow Jesus is to be invited towards a life of faith, hope and love- not in an abstract way- but in a real way- in a felt reality that continually conforms our souls to the truth of GOD’s reign – of His solid grasp that while mountains give way and foundations shake He is our Sovereign Help and Refuge in times of terrorist threats and economic volatility. We can live beyond our fears when we submit our anxious hearts to Him.
In the book ‘The Faith of Leap‘ missional church leaders Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch have some relevant observations in light of this discussion on security, fear and faith:
“In light of GOD’s claim over our lives, personal security is all an illusion. As Helen Keller observed, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing”…When our need for security becomes obsessive, we remove ourselves from the journey of discipleship. By then we have given in to insecurity, and the price is a high one – it becomes an enslaving idol. Making ourselves ever more secure will not keep the fear of insecurity from becoming a possessive demon. The hold of the idol can be broken only by acting directly against it…” (p.32-33)
I admit, even as I write this, I have not conquered fear. It is still a formidable foe. And again, I am not saying there are not genuine threats and crisis that we must face. But I am beginning to see fear’s subtle influence and how it silently sets up shop -at times throwing off-course our lives, our churches, our communities and our nation. Fear is a powerful motivator – a potent cultural force. In it’s purest form it is a healthy response- in it’s basest form it is the fuel for a world of evils.
In this post-9/11 world will we be people of fear or faith? May GOD’s perfect love cast out fear.
“…There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love…” (1 John 4:18)
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