Friday, September 9, 2011

I hate being afraid.

I interviewed a Catholic monsignor for an assignment once.  He was elderly, very pastoral, and won me over right away with thoughtful responses to my questions that surprised me, being far from the typical theology I expected from a Catholic priest.  Our conversation ended up off-topic, as my conversations often do, and he shared with me about an experience he had as a young man, exorcising demons.  He looked me in the eye and assured me that evil is real, that it is terrifying, and that a person should never open themself up to evil.  Some people might say he was a quack, but I believed him.  The fear he expressed, and the sincerity of his warning made a strong and lasting impression on me.

That was early in my seminary career, right around the time that we had a collective experienced of evil, September 11th, 2001.  My oldest girl was two months old and I was getting us ready to go to work at the church, when I flipped on the TV to check the weather and instead found out that there was a new world unfolding.  The towers were still up, wounded and smoking.  I began to pray the people inside would know peace.  It felt so weird to look at those towers and know that people, who were otherwise just fine, were in a death trap from which they would not escape.  I pictured them, possibly huddled under their desks and in stairwells, and couldn’t think of anything else that would help, so I prayed they wouldn’t feel panic, but would be overwhelmed by the peaceful presence of the Holy Spirit.  It seemed wrong that their last moments should be overwhelmed by wasted panic and worry, I hoped they could experience peace.
If my prayers were answered, and there was any peace, I haven’t seen much of it since.  Hate and fear dwell in such close company.  One leads to the other in an endless cycle of human brokenness.  There have been moments where it peaks for every generation: WW II, the assassinations of JFK & MLK.  There are many others, but for my generation, it will always be 9/11.  In the ten years since, we’ve normalized a level of hatred and fear that I still struggle to accept.

Ten years later, we are still at war.  I tied up a yellow ribbon when it started, and it weathered for so long, as one war faded into another, I couldn’t decide what was appropriate – take it down? Replace it?  Eventually it wore out and fell off the tree.  I wonder what kind of fear and hatred our extended presence abroad might be stirring up.  Ten years later, being X-rayed and frisked is the price of travel.  As much as it frustrates us, it also reminds us of that day.  It reminds us to look around and be afraid of our fellow travelers.  Ten years later, we pay European prices for gas, and the economy has yet to stabilize.  My generation, and the one after me, is defining ourselves by our relationships, because we’ve come of age in an economy where our wealth and careers are never secure.

I know we can’t unsqueeze the toothpaste tube.  Many of the changes evoked by September 11th, like those of the Cuban Missile Crisis or Pearl Harbor, are changes we are right to normalize, because they aren’t going away.  But I’m tired of hate and fear.  If we assimilate them into our culture, we invite the evil they breed.  The scripture claims that through Christ, we have power over demons.  We can order evil to pack up and leave us.  Instead of using religion to fuel the flames of hatred and fear, I want my faith to be a tool for peace, that the love and power of Christ could prevail.

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. 1 John 4:18

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