I am a parish minister currently serving the Eliot Church of Natick MA. Eliot Church is a Community Church affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Any statements made and postions held in "Unity," however, are solely mine(of course, they may be used with appropriate atribution). Therefore if you disagree, please do not blame the church!

Monday, October 31, 2005

Fear Itself

Well, this is my 100th post! How exciting is that?!

To celebrate this momentous event and, of course, the holiday (Halloween), I have posted yesterday's sermon. I should say that the sermon took a turn away from ghosts and goblins and more toward societal ills. Still, that can, at times, be a strength. I have been thinking this week about Rosa Parks, Aung San Suu Kyi, and the 2,000 soldiers who will not be coming home from Iraq, among others. There are many people to pray for it seems...

Anyway, my sermon written (as usual) in the form I deliver 'em...

Fear Itself
October 30, 2005
by: Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot

This past week we marked the death
Of civil rights leader and legend Rosa Parks
Who once said
I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear
When we look at our own lives
And at the state of our world
I think we all sometimes wish
That we were as brave as she was

Because there are times
When everything around us seems to be changing
And changing so fast that it is hard, really, to keep track
Of all the coming and goings
During these periods of chaos; decisions
--The right decisions--must be discerned and made
The status quo which so recently seemed so comfortable
Seems less strong and wise
And each of us is required to dig down deep
To find that well of courage
To face our fears

Rosa Parks lived during a time of change
And she made the right decision
Another person from a different era
Who had decisions to make
Was president Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Who said in our reading this morning
The only thing we have to fear is fear, itself
Now, I realize that a select few of you
May be able to remember that speech
But, if you are my age
(If you went to High School in the '80's)
FDR’s era has been conflated a bit
And The only thing we have to fear
Has become interchangeable
With The day that will live in infamy
Pearl Harbor
But Pearl Harbor was in 1941
And the First Inaugural Address was in 1933
So the fear of which the President spoke didn’t have to do with the war
But with a situation that may sound familiar to many of us today

In 1933 the nation was experiencing an economic depression
Exacerbated in part by a natural disaster
First a drought and then the dust storms
Made worse through human error and poor planning
And resulting in the impoverishment and relocation
Of an awe-inspiring number of people
In the area of Oklahoma and Texas

People were afraid and confused
The way things had always worked
Wasn’t working anymore
The best plan was no longer clear and
Seeing through to our nation’s future
Was as hard as looking through the clouds of dirt
Rolling over the Texas Panhandle
So folks started blaming each other
Immigrants, unions, freemasons and communists
The government, from Herbert Hoover on down
Was blamed as well
And certainly they seemed to be as confused
And frustrated as everyone else

In the midst of this came Roosevelt
The former Governor of New York
This nation will endure as it has endured [he said]
All we have to fear, is fear itself

All we have to fear is fear, itself
Why is the condition of fear
The one thing, the lynchpin in the wall that holds us back?
Now, certainly this idea seems a bit simplistic
We all can probably think of other things
To be afraid of
But the new president had a point

Much more recently
The Nobel Peace Prize Recipient
Aung San Suu Kyi put it best, I think
When she said that Fear is not the state of civilized people
She, too has had to make hard decisions
This past week brought the cumulative number of years
That she has been under house arrest to 10
For resisting the fear-based government of her country;Myanmar

To put her statement another way,
It is only through our ability to be civilized
To reason to problem solve in community
That we will be able to survive the hard times
And the emotion of fear is what breaks down those bonds
It is the very thing that causes people to blame each other
To “point fingers” as we say today
It is what precipitated many of the darkest moments in our history
From the Japanese internment camps
To segregation
To the torture of detainees in Iraq
In the words of the philosopher Bertrand Russell
Collective fear stimulates the herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd

That is what fear does to us
It makes us circle the wagons
To define not so much our friends
As our enemies
And fear hardens the line between us and them
What FDR was saying not so long ago
Is that we fail when we succumb to fear

So, how do we overcome fear?
We have been talking about collective fear
About the herd and the mob
But the answer to the problem
Is the same in our private lives as well
For many, the best answer can be found
In the first letter of John
There is no fear in Love, but perfect Love casts out all fear

The answer then, is to love
An easier thing to say than to do
(After all, FDR was known to fail spectacularly from time to time)
And This is for two reasons
The first, is that it is hard to forgive
And the second is that it is hard to act

For example, fogiveness
May at times be hard to find
In Aung San Suu Kyi’s heart
Rosa Parks may not have been feeling all that loving
Toward the police officers who came and took her off the bus
The victim of a crime or of a terrorist attack
Probably isn’t at first
Thinking about forgiveness and love either
So much as running away or fighting back
But love needs to be there
Not Valentine’s Day love
But the love born out of respect for life
Even if it seems a one way street

So, it is hard to forgive
But we have to, as Desmond Tutu once pointed out
Without forgiveness, there is no future
And given our ability to kill and starve each other
With great efficiency
Tutu’s statement is literally true

Still, what makes this love that casts out fear
Even harder to attain
Is that it calls us to act
It isn’t enough to feel sorry for those who are suffering
Or for people who are oppressed
And to try not to hurt others when we can
As I have said before, this love calls us to act
In fact, it is our love that makes us work to help others
That forces us to take stands on controversial issues

Think of all that Paul went through
In his work because he loved God and he loved humanity
Many a time [I have been] face to face with death. Five times I have been given thirty-nine strokes; three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned, three times, I have been shipwrecked…
His list goes on and on
It is hard to stand up for what you believe in
It is hard to sit in the front of the bus
To try a new thing
To think creatively about problems
In such a way that you risk chastisement and isolation
Yet this is what this love requires of us
It is what the times require of us as well

But just because it is hard
Doesn’t mean that such a life
(A life of Justice and of action
A life not of fear but of love)
Doesn’t mean that such a life is without rewards
That is it merely a joyless but noble slog through our days

For all the people we have been speaking of today
Found a way to take their perfect love
And grow from it
They became more human for their struggle

In the words of Martin Luther King
Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is an attitude
And it is the very attitude
That King speaks of
That helps us to overcome our fear
In order to make that right decision
Even if the price of that decision is high
(As it was for him)
For fear relies on ignorance
And forgiveness requires
That we seek to understand what scares us

In fact, this cycle of forgiveness and action
Based in that Divine love
Makes it easier to do so again
It makes us strong

Think of Paul
Paul didn’t write down that laundry list of suffering
Just because he was looking for sympathy
No, he was making a point
For many people back then believed
Just as many people today believe
That the best way to fight what we fear
Is not with understanding but with force
That a show of strength requires us to be physically combative
Or intellectually inflexible
To admit no mistake in judgement
No error in action

In fact, there are those who believe
That to love your neighbor as your self
To turn the other cheek
To forgive
Are clear signs and tools of the weak
To them Paul writes
I am well content with weakness, contempt, persecution, hardship, and frustration; for when I am weak, I am strong

Paul’s story tells us that
Love strengthens us
Because we are loved in return
Forgiveness of others strengthens us
For we are then able to forgive ourselves
Our ability to see the good in others
Makes it hard to hate and
Shows our anxieties to be our own creation
When this happens
We, too can survive the storms and shipwrecks
That come with a life of faith and conviction
And achieve what enlightenment
There may be to be had in this world

This is the hope
It is the hope not just of Paul and Jesus
Rosa Parks and Mohandas Gandhi
But of billions of average people
It is the hope that Will and Ariel Durant are wrong
When they tell us that The first lesson of history is that life is competition That animals eat each other without qualm and civilized people consume one another by due process of the law.
Not that this hasn’t been true
But that it doesn’t need to be

Maybe instead we can dream with Isaiah
When he says
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,and the leopard shall lie down with the kid:and the calf and the young lion... together;and a little child shall lead them."

Maybe then, too
We can build a better society
One where all the people have a place at the table
And where really all we have to fear
Is fear, itself