"Fear: It's Real!"

"Fear: It's Real!"

by The Rev. Dr. Richard L. Tolliver Rick2251@aol.com
St. Edmund's Episcopal Church, Chicago, Illinois
The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 23, 2001

"Fear: It's Real!"
1 John 4:18; 2 Timothy 1:7 and Psalm 139:7-11

On July 15, 2001 the following promotional advertisement for the movie Jurassic Park 3 appeared in a periodical which I read: "Better buy your big buttered popcorn, get yourself a mammoth iced soda with a long, thin straw. Find a center cinema seat and prepare yourself for primal fear, toothy terror and bone-crunching horror, because in just three days, on Wednesday, July 18th, Jurassic Park 3 is scheduled to open in a theater near you. Will this flick give us what we expect? Will we get the fright we paid for? If Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park 2 are precedent-setting, we will." A few paragraphs later, the advertisement states, "If you're looking for disaster, mayhem, carnage, gloom, doom and death, stand in line on Wednesday if you wish to be one of the first to see the third version of Jurassic Park."

I thought about that advertisement when I read a very insightful and thought-provoking editorial titled, "The Day Before Tuesday" in the Saturday, September 15th OP-ED section of The New York Times. Listen to a few paragraphs: "We live in a different America today than we did only the day before Tuesday. Yes, as it's incanted hourly, we have lost our untroubled freedom of movement that we consider a birthright. We have lost our illusion of impregnability. But beneath those visceral imperatives an entire culture has been transformed. This week's nightmare, it's now clear, has awakened us from a frivolous if not decadent decade long dream, even as it dumps us into an uncertain future we had never bargained for.

"The dream was simple-that we could have it all without having to pay any price, and that national suffering of almost any kind could be domesticated into an experience of virtual terror akin to a theme park ride." Several paragraphs later, the author Frank Rich, states, "From the rampaging fears over school shootings following Colombine (at a time when U.S. juvenile homicide rates were falling to a 33-year low) to the protracted bellicosity surrounding Elian Gonzalez to the California blackout that didn't happen at the start of this summer, we've been looking for a Pearl Harbor. But always a Pearl Harbor of few casualties-always a Pearl Harbor that could readily be brought to 'closure.'

"In our pop culture, this same impulse for vicarious, finite warfare could be seen in the rise of TV reality programs like 'Survivor,' 'Fear Factor' and 'Lost' in which we thrill to the spectacle of contestants competing in war games-always with the understanding that no one is really going to get hurt in a prime-time slice of 'reality' that must move the sponsors' products. On the day before Tuesday, after all, 'survival,' 'fear' and 'lost' had different meanings than they did the day after."

Rich states, "For the America that is gone, the America that could have it all and feel no pain beyond that on cable TV, George W. Bush was the perfect president. We could have a big tax cut (or at least some of us could) along with increases in spending for better schools and defense, and all without having to dip into the Social Security stash. We could lick our energy crisis-does anyone still remember the energy crisis?-while still guzzling gas. Faith-based institutions would take care of the poor and unfortunate. No serviceman would have to spend any more time in harm's way than Mr. Bush (or most political leaders of his generation, regardless of party) did during Vietnam."

Yes, my brothers and sisters in Christ, the day before Tuesday, Americans had to invent opportunities to vicariously experience "fear" if we wanted to indulge in it on a grand scale. Franklin Delano Roosevelt once uttered those immortal words, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Those words ring hollow today to most Americans. As one reads the newspapers, the one word that seems to dominate many headlines is, "Fear." The front page of Wednesday, September 16th's Chicago Tribune featured an article titled, "Fear of Flying Cripples Carriers." That same day, a cover story of The New York Times was titled, "Vacant Rooms, Empty Tables and Scared Tourists." Boldly Appearing Across the front page of this past Friday's Chicago Tribune were the words, "Freedom and fear are at war..." The cover page of Saturday, September, 22nd's Chicago Tribune, includes an article titled "America's Psyche takes another blow: Old Assumptions no longer apply; 'there is fear in the marketplace.' "

Listen to the following quote from the sermon, which the Very Rev. Nathan Baxter preached on Sunday, September 16th at Washington National Cathedral, "Last week I had the opportunity to make a pastoral visit, regarding this tragedy, with the children in our Cathedral elementary school, Beauvoir. I tried to allow them to talk about what was on their hearts; what had they seen and heard; what they were thinking and feeling. They talked about the terrible loss of life-which included mommies and daddies and little children. They talked about the bad people making bad things happen.

"Finally, I asked them: 'what did the 'bad people' want to make happen by these attacks?' Everywhere in that assembly came the statement 'they want us to be afraid!' There was no hesitation. They instantly knew the intent for they felt it, as do we: the vulnerability, uncertainty, anxiety, apprehensiveness."

Those of you who watched Ted Kopel narrate an ABC special on TV this past Thursday heard him interview children in Chicago and New Jersey. The common sentiment they expressed is their fear. Fear: It's Real!

What is it most people fear? The fears are many, but certainly high on the list is the fear of death. I have buried over 200 people from this congregation since becoming, your rector. I am often required to think about death, help other people make sense of it, and confront my own mortality, with a frequency that most people, except funeral directors, can ignore. A tragedy, such as the one that recently occurred forces each of us to confront our mortality and the uncertainty of our days on earth. The words of the late John Donne, resonate with every America.

You may recall that John Donne lay ill in his bed in the English Village in which he lived. As was the custom, the church bells began to toll indicating that someone in the village had died. His servant rushed into his bedroom to inquire, who had died. John responded, "No man is an island entire of itself; everyman is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or thine own. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee." As you confront whatever fears the recent tragedy has raised for you, perhaps some statistics cited in a book titled, Scared to Life, written by Douglas Rumford might be helpful to keep in mind.

He cites a study that explains why we shouldn't allow fear to rule our lives. Sixty per cent of our fears are totally unfounded, according to this study; 20% are already behind us; 10% are so petty they don't make any difference; 4-5% of the remaining 10% are real, but we can't do anything about them. That means only 5% are real fears that we can do something about.

In 1 John 4:18, we read, "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." In 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul writes to Timothy, "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, once said, "Nowhere is far from God." Thus, we read in Psalm 139: 6-11, "Where can I go then from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast. If I say, 'Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night, darkness is not dark to you are both alike."

I am convinced that most people would rather live a life sustained by faith and not fear. To aid you in achieving that objective, I leave you with a list, which I recently discovered, that includes 10 simple things you can do to live faithfully, not fearfully. Here are 10 small things you can incorporate into your normal routine that can help your faith create a future that outstrips your fears.

10. Be hospitable to the "strange" and "stranger" in your life. Break your daily routine in some small way. Use as your motto Isaiah 42:16-"Along unfamiliar paths I will guide them." Try some new food each week. Take a new route to work. Try a new book of the Bible each week.

9. Take off your shoes the first chance you get. Remember what God told Moses? "Take off your shoes," God instructed Moses. "The place on which you are standing is holy ground." A study reported a few years ago in USA today revealed that those individuals who habitually kick off their shoes under the dining table or their desk or their pew tend to live three years longer than the average American.

8. Meditate 15 minutes every day. According to the American Institute on Stress, 75 to 90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related complaints.

7. Do one "wild" thing a day.

6. Say "No" sometimes.

5. Find someone new to "Barnabas" each week. Remember Barnabas? He was an "encourager." Who can you find to encourage in their journey through life? The best health insurance out there is relationships. Find someone to encourage and lift up.

4. Laugh a lot. The Latin root of the word humor means "fluid," like water. What keeps us fluid and flexible? The fluids of laughter and humor.

3. Find a way to "Go with God" in everything you do.

2. Find your own biblical mantra, and recite it whenever you feel the need.

1. And finally, the number one thing you can do to add years, not fears to your life-shift your prayer from "Please, God" to "Please God." Take the comma out of those two words when you pray, and transition your praying from asking God for things to asking God for the pleasure of God's pleasure.

You want a future without fear? You want to add years, not fears to your life? These simple exhortations will bring perfect love which "casts out fear" into your life.

Let us pray.

O God, who often leads us by way of the wilderness toward uncertain difficulties and futures of which we cannot be sure, help us to trust always in your guiding purpose and in the plan that rules our lives. When we are fearful and inclined to go back, give us the courage to stand still and then go forward, knowing that the strength we need is the strength we will be given. AMEN.


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