I was lamenting at lunch today about the state of politics in our country and the astute person I was eating with ventured, “You know, much of our politics is based on fear.” And so, instead of focusing on what I perceive as the fears of others, I started thinking about my own fears and how they influence my perspective. So, what is it that I fear?
I guess, at my core, what I fear is unbelief. Of course, I fear this personally because I am a pastor. If I work in a denomination that historically attracts folks with above average education and our educational system tends to steer young people away from belief and faith and more to what is quantifiable (usually the only thing we use to measure truth these days) then attracting new people into church is challenging. Perhaps Presbyterians need to become comfortable anew with trying to reach the average person rather than the more highly educated person in our society because we can only enact change one person at a time. But this type of unbelief is a fear that has been with me since becoming a pastor.
There is another type of unbelief though that I dwell on more and more. I fear that people do not believe in our society. That might sound like a strong statement but many of the very things I learned growing up that we valued as Americans seem to be fading. We often say America is a melting pot culture and anyone can make it here if they work hard and try hard. But when I see the reaction in our society to immigrants (including legal immigrants) I question if we do value our diversity. From watching kids getting bullied in school to listening to adults lament in the changing ethnic makeup of the neighborhood, I don’t think people value our diversity as I always heard.
I hear people say they value our constitution, which I learned was a distinctive mark of our nation. As am armed service member, that is what my oath is to support and defend. But when people bring up the constitution, they often are either bringing up the second amendment or are citing it as a rationale why they want to opt out of some directive of the government. If people’s freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, etc are raised, I most often hear people speak against our constitution rather than for it. Just listen to the way people say the word, “Protesters” versus any other word. It is not a term of admiration in our society even though our nation was born out of a protest.
Most of all, I was taught that some of the most admirable people in our society were those who chose to work for the government. We called them public servants when I was a kid. Everyone understood that people could choose to work in the private sector, and make more money, but that some folks, for the sake of our nation/state/county/city sacrificed and worked for the common good. It wasn’t just members of the military that we viewed as public servants. We viewed people who worked for the Highway Department, the Department of Corrections, and the Forestry service in the same light. We very much viewed teachers this way. They were all sacrificing for the greater good.
Yet, today, it seems to be “normal” political dialogue to see how much we can cut government services, government programs, and government employees. We have privatized and contracted work that used to be done by government employees (often at a fraction of the cost today) and then turn around and decry government spending. And we take programs that were for the sake of the average worker, most often being compensated far below what they would in the private sector, and talk of their benefits – their pension, their health care, and even their housing as “entitlements.” It is as if we have bought into the mantra, lock stock and barrel, that if someone isn’t making a profit off of everything we do, then it has no value. Government programs are supposed to be for the good of the people, not in making a simple financial profit! Sure, we need to bring in more income to pay for what we do. But many see taxes, any taxes, as onerous despite living in a country they will turn around and call the best on planet earth. Do we really think they way to make it better and better is to cut off the programs that made our society the place that it is? Are we really so unwilling to fund what our grandparents and parents paid for with little griping?
At the core, what I fear is that if a real genuine crisis came, you could convince many people in our society to shed off our history, heritage, constitution, and rights with little thought. What I fear is it would be none too difficult to turn Americans today against one another as is being done in so many other countries around the world (making citizens of a country begin viewing their neighbor as their enemy rather than as their natural ally). I fear what has been fought for, sacrificed for, and lives given for isn’t as fundamentally valued as it should be.
In the church today, I see people willing to drop denominational affiliations over, at their core, issues that do not really effect most of us. And they are convinced to do this by people appealing to their faith! If we are willing to do it with church, would it be so difficult today to get people to think that a “true patriot” would do away with all the rights guaranteed us in the constitution?
And yet, in the end, I have to remember what Jesus said after the resurrection. His most frequent phrase was, “Fear not.” It is easy to give into fear if we truly believe no one is in charge, no one cares, and the only thing that can and will protect us in the end is our own might (financial, firepower, or even knowledge).
I am called to have faith, faith in the one who created us, redeemed us, and sustains us. I am also called to have faith that despite the fears in our society, and maybe for our society, that our better angels will prevails and we can convince most of our brothers and sisters that we truly are blessed and still live in a very special place and at a very special time. Our neighbors and allies are not our enemies. We are stronger together than we are apart.
We can build for the future. And we are called to build a better place for our children, not bunkers to hunker down in.
That’s my confession for the afternoon. I as much as anyone, maybe more than anyone, needs to make sure I am basing my politics and perspective on hope rather than on fear. Hold me accountable. If you see my fear envelope opening, call me on it. :)
Back to working on Vacation Bible School.
What do you think?
Until next time,