Posts Tagged Fear
Last Thanksgiving was one to remember. Somewhere in-between the compliments on my mashed potatoes and questions about whether dessert should be both pumpkin and pecan pie, I was told by a fellow Christ follower that I was accursed and going to hell. The conversation had turned from culinary choices to Christian responsibility in discussion of things like same sex marriage, security at church, and evolution versus creation. I felt comfortable around my fellow believers to speak openly about the bible and how it is used in our modern churches. I think that may have been my mistake. Honestly it probably was one of the better thanksgiving meals I have had. It was enlightening.
The specifics of the conversation are less important but the overall context speaks volumes to how we understand God and how the world actually sees us. The modern church seems to have adopted a unique view of biblical understanding. We mash verses like James 1:5 explaining where we should seek wisdom together with Colossians 2:8 about reliance on Christ and not human acumen and we end up with the ability to blame the Holy Spirit for our willingness to argue with the world about what we don’t like. Do we really think that is honoring God?
It seems like our desire for expedience and frankly our fears that we might agree with something we shouldn’t causes us to jump to conclusions about things we probably should chew on and struggle with more. Paul preached in a town called Berea and their response in Acts 17 was to examine the scriptures daily to see if what Paul said was true. The word used (anakrino) is one of active and diligent searching. We seem to have sacrificed that today with a rote memorization of lists of things we are suppose to oppose. One offers the ability to swim in the words of the Creator himself and see how they change us to be more like him. The other affords us the ability to regurgitate on command. How can this truly honor God?
This is not a dark plot to squelch the words of the Spirit or a plan to usurp the throne of God with a conservative agenda of monotone “churchspeak”, it is more realistically a direction adopted from society itself to ease the burden of actually performing anakrino. With the information superhighway linked to everyone’s phones and the focus of modern communication, we are inundated with so many factoids that the only possibility to absorb them is to respond with “like” or “dislike”. We have exchanged the idea of a well-rounded and thorough education with a strong web presence. This does not honor God.
Don’t get me wrong, technology is not to blame, it is just a tool. Our use of it though will determine our efficacy in preaching the true gospel. I met a young man who was pursuing an online theology degree through a major Christian University. He explained it was faster and would get him into ministry sooner with the same educational value. He had been studying for a while so I asked who his favorite theologians were and his answer was that he couldn’t remember the names but he was willing to let me review his textbooks. If the quality of theological education being pursued by ministers today reduces the need to understand the history that brought us where we are and replaces that need with the requirement to offer an opinion in a class discussion post then we are breeding future ministers that will have no real ability to speak for the God they serve. Frankly this dishonors God.
If the some total of biblical examination that we are fostering in our church bodies is to look at an abridged online commentary or for that matter listen to a person who has done that and accept their version of truth, than how are we actually pursuing the call that was given? We are no longer preaching the gospel. We are preaching modern “churchspeak”. One of the clearest directives given in the text is from the prophet Micah. He tells us to pursue justice and mercy and walk humbly before our God. Humility starts with recognizing that our words about God are steeped in the tension of the fact we are speaking about something we have no possibility of understanding fully. If we present it as if it is simple and can be verified through a checklist, if we address the world’s concerns as if they are either on that list or not and therefore some type of abomination, if we stop examining the scripture and just read it to find agreement with our preconceived notions, than our ability to honor God has left the building. I have a large concern that God will follow shortly.
The message of the modern church is being obscured by our own voice. We are reaching some people, but I have to wonder if we are doing justice to them or the ones we are not reaching if we are encouraging compliance instead of diligent scripture searching. This does open up doors for possible misunderstanding and even not addressing sins in peoples lives. I am just not certain that is a bad thing. If we are truly seeking to honor God, then the most important thing to remember is we cannot bind his power to work in people’s lives by the insecurities of our own beliefs. The alternative is simply not working and I fear is an offense to the one we serve.
It is a single moment in time that all too often changes the world. It can be quiet or cataclysmic, profound or mundane, but our reaction to it determines our direction and builds a pathway into our future.That pathway may be completely separate from the actual event but will trace back to it somehow even though we may not know how. The event itself is less important but our reaction to it is key to our behavior and future self so responding in the best way seems obvious but is much harder than it seems. Frequently we choose to follow instinct rather than use instinct as the tool it was intended to be. One of the most common instincts is fear.
The Limbic System in the brain contains the Amygdala. This area acts like a filter for the stimuli that comes in and funnels the information to the appropriate bodily areas for response through aggression or fear. Anthropologists feel fear is the oldest emotional response that goes back to the evolutionary stages of man. Although the Neuroscience and Anthropology is interesting, the conclusions are a bit of a stretch and more importantly the learned behavioral actions of the process pay a much larger role. Two people can respond to the same stimuli differently. The patterns of behavior suggest that the how of fear is less important than the why. Some people fear heights and others do not, some fears snakes and others do not. The stimuli of the height or the snake are the same for both but the circumstances surrounding the why are different. Fear is the reaction to the stimuli due to the learned behavior of the past circumstances. It is not a genetic trait but moreover a physical tool.
Fear is the catalyst for revolution in the moment of revelation. It is the cosmic “Oh Crud” factor. It is a biochemical response to external stimuli. We let it become a motivating factor in our decisions rather than use it to create better decision making. We fear the unseen rather than seeing what we should fear and avoiding it. We let it control us rather than using it as a tool to control our circumstances.
Fear comes in all flavors but for conversation purposes can be broken down into a simple causal factor. Freud noticed the first instance of fear a person has is separation from their mother. I think he began to go pretty south after that point but realistically started with a key idea. Fear begins with the recognition of separation from something we want. The idea is simple, we understand loss and it sucks so we want to limit it as much as possible. The reaction to anticipated loss is fear. This manifests itself in all forms of loss. Whether it is loss of items, health, relationships, life, status, etc., the reaction to this anticipated loss is fear. In reality, if we had no concerns or problems with loss, we would never fear.
The problem is no matter who we are, we will at some point in time, and some place experience loss. We cannot avoid it. Expecting that we accept the loss without regret or problem is unrealistic and frankly unhealthy. The real challenge is managing the tolerance for loss. How much do we fear things that really should be no concern and no long term value? If I am walking across the street and a bus comes at me at full speed, the anticipate loss of health and or life should cause me to get out of the street and protect myself. However if the news tells me that a major earthquake is anticipated in the future but that could mean days, weeks, years, decades, or centuries away, should that really cause fear? The anticipation of loss should be negligible and not something I need to plan for. The specifics of circumstances are less relevant than the perspective. Are we really willing to allow the anticipation of possibilities to control our actions.
The fear itself should be healthy and protective but the reaction to it can be and usually is unhealthy and in some cases can be deadly. The irony is that the reaction to fear can cause worse problems than the loss or separation that is feared. If a person overeats or smokes due to anxiety and fear, the physical problems will be much worse than anything they fear. In order to be healthy, we need to control the response to the stimuli causing the fear.
What is the value of protecting a dollar and losing a thousand? What is the value of protecting a moment in a relationship but losing the relationship? How can we get to the place where fear is managed like the tool it is? Simple really, we need to stop worrying about the loss and accept it as part of life. This includes appreciating the things we have while we have them. The list of items we own is worthless if we do not have time to appreciate them. The amount of money in the bank is worthless if all it does is make money for the bank. The number of friends we have is meaningless if the relationships are founded on shallow purposes. The need to accumulate spawns the need to protect and the desire to fear.
If we control our expectations by appreciating what we have while we have it then losing it will only be a step in a new direction. Fearing the loss will be meaningless if the loss is understood as part of the journey and the lack of fear will give us the ability to appreciate it all the more. The apparent circuity makes far more sense than we want it to. The only thing it depends on is our willingness to let go.
I have spent many years working in technology on a team delivering software systems. I am not a coder but have developed a large amount of respect for them over the years. The focus and energy it takes to translate systematic requirements into binary statements that integrate into other chunks of binary statements and deliver an overall whole is impressive. Part of the reason is that even the smallest error or miss directed code jeopardizes the overall project. The devil is in the details so to speak. It does not have to be a critical fault or even an errantly written syntax; there are programs that check for those things. It just has to be something that veers off from the goal of the project to sink the whole thing. It is not even that the program wont function, it will just not be able to ever reach the potential that it was created for.
I cant help but see the similarity in the world today. We seem to be living a dream that says somehow we will be able to master our circumstances and achieve success. Confucius said “The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.” The Dalai Lama said “With realization of one’s own potential and self-confidence in one’s ability, one can build a better world.” Pope John XXIII said “Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.” These people are just icons of this overall thought process and have many counterparts. The problem is that their direction is as wrong as it is right. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that there is no value in their wisdom. I am saying we need to be careful not to think that this will fix the world. It won’t. It can’t.
The problem is in the code. In the deepest structures of our soul we have a binary device that gives us the ability to choose right or wrong. The choices are not predetermined, they are left up to us. That is the bad code as essentially we are able to rewrite the code daily and even wipe out all existing code, barring consequences, up to but not including that initial line that gives us the ability to choose wrong. No matter what we do, no matter how hard we try, we will never wipe out the ability to choose incorrectly. This is what prevents us from being able to reach our utmost potential. Without that, we will never truly solve problems or eradicate evil in this world. Simply put, we cant because we will always have the ability to choose it. This is pandemic at the largest scale. It is not a few bad seeds but basically bad code in all.
We need to re-adjust our thinking in order to address this and stop proliferating the hollow ideal that says we can rise above it. We are breeding a problem by preaching two sides of this coin. We either preach that you are bad and will be punished by a God who is out to get you or we preach a false sense of security in that if you try hard enough you will finally after great patience and struggle reach a state of set actualization that will afford you true peace and happiness. I realize there are many other philosophical views on life but they seem to either broach off of or are summed up in these archetypes. Both however are wrong.
If we keep reproducing the same ideas without addressing the root cause we will never reach our intended and true potential. We can choose to blame God for instilling the bad code if we wish. There is a flaw in that as well. It presupposes that the code is bad because of the programmer and not the choices of the program. In other words if we always answered by choosing right, we would be able to reach God on our own. Again, the devil is in the details. We would be able to reach our human potential, but that does not mean we would attain or reach godliness. We would simply be fully productive humans or in other words, machines. God is what makes the machine human. God is the one who brings value to the potential. God is the one who brings reality to the dream. God is the one who takes that bad code and corrects it by forgiving the wrong choices and rebooting the program. God is the one who takes what is wrong and makes it right. God is the one who brings relationship to existence. God is the one who makes true potential occur. God is the one who takes bad code and makes it a son.
Without understanding the true expectations of the program, we will never be able to correct the bad code to reach what the program was intended to do.