I am going to start off by talking about two general levels of fear: anxiety and true fear which are both gifts from God. Anxiety or the *perks up, looks up suspiciously* what was that? level Is the gift that God gave you that makes you rethink things, it makes you try to anticipate any downfalls of plans. Then if negative effects are unavoidable, it prepares you to deal with those and to look for ways to lessen them. True fear or the “AAAAAAHHHHHH!” level of fear is used in those hopefully rare but truly risky situations that happen. Those situations where the “fight or flight?” decision really needs to be made. When you are in those situations, your body helps you releasing adrenalin and proteins and hormones to help your muscles do more, to push a bit more, your senses are heightened so that you can be more aware of what is going on around you.
I have an example from my own past that shows the benefit of both of these. When I was around two or three my family was on vacation by a lake with a hill that sloped down into a beach area with a long dock. My Mom was doing something in a cottage when instinct told her that it was “Quiet, TOO quiet” and she looked up and around to see me happily riding a tricycle at full speed heading down the hill towards the dock. At this point Mom’s Wonder Woman powers kick in and she runs out of the cottage, down the hill, onto the beach area, down the dock and catches me just as my really dumb self is at the edge of the dock about to plunge into the water. My Mom had been terrified. I had thought the whole situation at the time was pretty fun. So I am grateful that God also gave her great patience which stopped her from murdering me that day. But God has given you both of these things to help you protect yourself and others and for that we should be thankful.
However these things can go too far as I know because I have a mental illness, that is called Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Now I know many of you might be thinking “Well I have trouble believing that, as you are currently speaking in public which is something that terrifies me.” And fair enough but anxiety often isn’t rational or predictable when and where it flares up. I organize the annual rummage sale which I love to do but every single year when I am driving to church on that morning I am completely petrified. Hate that drive. Hate it. And again it would be correct to say right before a stressful event it’s natural to be more anxious. However my anxiety doesn’t just run away it jumps on a rocket, and puts another rocket under each arm just so it can go that much faster. According to my brain if the rummage sale failed, somehow the possibility of any future peace in the Middle East was at risk. Now I am exaggerating a bit, but not as much as you’d think.
But then I wasn’t just feeling anxious over the rummage sale, I was dreading making phone calls and talking to strangers who might be mean to me. I was scared of driving because there are bicycles on the road and sometimes they are hard to see and maybe I should avoid making right turns because maybe there is a bicycle right there that I’ve missed and I might hit them when I take my turn. I eventually even dreaded going to social things that I had set up, and I couldn’t even say what scared me about them. “Oooh I going to have to meet up with people that I like and eat good food with them” Ooh! Awful! Such suffering. I tried exercising and meditation and those were things that helped later on but what I really needed was Lexapro also known as an SSRI or a Selective Serotonin reuptake inhibitor. It didn’t completely eliminate anxiety from my life, I’m still going to be sensitive to things, I still don’t like the drive to the rummage sale but the drug helps me react more appropriately to situations and assess them more accurately as to what could really happen. Things are much better at least for me, though unfortunately not all people with mental illnesses will have the level of success with meds as I have.
Fear hurt me and it can also lead us to hurt others. I attended the Southeast UCC conference on racial justice and a lot of the focus on race issues is often on very consciously done, very obvious, hate or prejudice. We were read an official government document created after World war two about the neighborhoods in Milwaukee that was pretty upfront about which ethnic groups the government thought were a threat. There were the usual scapegoats: The black and Jewish populations. But it also reminded me that when fear and hate is tolerated against whole groups it always spreads out like a fire. A third group listed lived in a certain area in the south side of Milwaukee which is exactly where my Husband’s grandparents lived. The document called them the “Polish infiltration”. I did tell my husband that if he ever needed a wrestling name as you do on occasion, he could be the Polish infiltrator.
But sometimes it is not conscious hate but mere discomfort, discomfort that maybe even the person is not aware that they have, that can still end up hurting people. Labor market studies have shown that often racial minorities and others that are considered different such as those with disabilities are less likely to get interviews or hired for jobs even when they are qualified. For example, In a Harvard study, researchers sent out 1,600 resumes for fake male applicants to jobs appropriate for that resume to different sections of the United States. The resumes were the same except that some hinted that the applicant might be African American and others that the applicant might be white. For example by having the name of the applicant be Jamal Johnson vs. Jack Johnson. The researchers then tracked how many were invited for interviews. In the end 25% of “white” resumes received call backs while only 10% of African American resumes were. I assume the people reviewing the resumes in the studies weren’t consciously going “grrrrrr how daaare you apply to this job black person or deaf person” or whatever the issue was in that particular study. Well probably a few were unfortunately But it’s likely that when called to make a decision as to who to call back, the person might have told themselves something like the applicant wasn’t “a good fit” as if it was the applicant that was at fault, but really it was because they were made uncomfortable when envisioning having this person as a coworker.
Moving over to the higher level or fear, True fear, when it happens too often, it can actually kill. There has been a lot of research into the effect of trauma on children and its long term consequences. Maybe some of you have heard about this it is called trauma informed care and measured using Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACES . Researchers found that people who said that they had had 2 or more kinds of traumatic experiences as a child ( physical abuse, neglect, loss of a parent)had a much greater risk of heart attack along with other health problems. This is partly because such a person is also often not shown positive coping mechanisms and thus may turn to harmful coping mechanisms instead. But also because when the true fear response gets triggered those hormones and things that I talked about getting released, are useful in emergencies but harmful long term to your body especially when exposed to a young, developing brain and body.
Let me just make sure to say if you have had two or more, you are not doomed. If you have one or zero you also are not doomed because for all of us God and love are here to help out.
Starting with those huge overarching existential fears such as: Is there meaning in existence? We know that God exists and because of him we know there is justice and meaning and love and that those things ultimately will prevail.
At the next level still super important are the very worst things that can happen in our mortal lives i.e. someone is sick, someone has died, we are lonely etc. we know that at all times we are never really alone. God is with us, he cares about us and will always be there listen to our fears. The trauma studies showed that certain people while exposed to trauma will not suffer the effects because they were given an underlying resilience or strength that buoys them up. I am a zero on the scale (thanks again Mom!) but I know people who are 5’s, 7’s etc. who are much better adjusted people than I am which I can’t figure out frankly…but. Plus (as mentioned in my last sermon Why go to Church, true classic) I think it’s obvious that God told us to worship with others so that we could meet each other and not only have lovely potlucks together but also so that we can form a life raft of love with God to help keep each other above water. In fact, the same trauma studies in children found that if a child that had suffered trauma had a supportive adult in their life whether a parent, grandparent, or even a teacher or coach if the adults at home were not a help, that the negative effects of trauma could be lessened or mitigated.
The fear of eating out with people I like I may leave to Lexapro because really it seems rude to bug God with that one.”Ahhh! Save me Lord!….. there might be appetizers”
I’m ending with something Nansi gave me from Emily C. Heath’s Courageous Faith It had meaning to me as someone who has experienced firsthand how fear can hurt you and shut you off from the good things in life and from other people.
Thea Racelis…has written about her experience as a foster parent. “The worst advice I heard,” she writes, “was the warning to be cautious with our love.” Well-meaning friends said things like, “You know this is risky. Be careful.” They didn’t want Thea and her spouse to grow attached to a child who could be taken away and returned to her birth mother.
Racelis responded like this: “When faced with life’s many uncertainties, the answer is never going to be ‘love less.’ If that’s the answer you come up with, you are asking the wrong questions. . . . Love is risky.” It is indeed. Love makes us risk the best parts of ourselves getting hurt. Yet not to love would be even riskier; it would be to choose death, both for ourselves and for the world.
Racelis writes, “I wouldn’t be a Christian if I wanted to stay safe. I will love as much and as hard as I can, for as long as I can.” In the end that’s all that any of us who try to be Christians can do. We can love God enough to risk loving the world. “
Scripture for June 24, 2018 MATTHEW 6:25-34
Jesus taught His disciples, saying,
“Do not worry about your life- what you will eat or what you will drink. And don’t worry about your body- what will you wear. Isn’t life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they don’t sow, or reap or gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than the birds? And can any of you add a single hour to your life by worrying? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider how the lilies of the field grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was never clothed as well as these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, won’t God even more so clothe you? Where is your faith! Therefore don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ People of no faith scramble after these things; but God knows all your needs. Instead, strive first for the kingdom of God and in God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worry of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today!
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.