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by Kate Kooyman
Remember a week ago, when the President was threatening nuclear war? (Doesn’t that feel like a long time ago?)
I was stunned by it, and also not at all surprised, and couldn’t reconcile these two things. But it felt important to me — the shock coupled with the indifference. So of course I coped the way anyone would in this modern era: I threw up a snarky post on facebook.
“Perhaps this is an important moment to remind ourselves that we are not watching a reality show,” I said.
My friend left a comment. Here’s what you need to know about this friend: she is easy-going, whip-smart, no-nonsense. She has deep faith, and she lives it out with an earnestness that is rare and important — that comes alongside oppressed and forgotten people, proclaims their dignity, bears their burdens. She once gave a children’s message just before I preached a sermon, and it was so profound I felt a bit foolish trying to pretend I was “the real preacher” after she sat down. She has really spunky bangs. I love her.
Her comment on my facebook post was, “I find this terrifying.”
My other friend also left a comment. Here’s what you need to know about him: he is the guy who cracks a joke that is so true and also inappropriate and also timed so perfectly that I can’t recover, I keep laughing when everyone else is trying to move on with the conversation. When you’re talking to him, you feel important, seen. He has the kind of faith that has weathered suffering that many of us will never know, a depth and commitment that inspires me and convicts me. In seminary, he stole my Old Testament textbook and defaced it like a seventh grader. I love him.
His comment was, “I am being convicted that, over and over again, God’s word to his creation is ‘do not fear.’”
Those comments felt like they were in conflict, like an argument. And yet, I felt both of them. Equally, simultaneously, overwhelmingly.
So I do what I always do when I’m feeling confused by my faith. I googled “Walter Brueggemann” and “___” ← [insert problematic phrase here]. This time it was, “Do not fear.”
Here’s what I found.
“…those in power want to keep people frightened and demoralized, because frightened and demoralized people are no political threat.”
I remembered that “do not fear” isn’t about piety; it’s about subversion. It’s not about proving to God that I’m strong. It’s about exposing the weakness of the evil empire. It is my most powerful act of resistance, to be unafraid.
Here’s what else I read:
“I think a case can be made that the heart of the gospel is ‘do not fear.’ This formula is the quintessential world-changing assurance in the Bible.”
I remembered that “do not fear” is based on a truth that does not rely on me — it is already true. It is based on the empty tomb, not on my inner resolve. Its foundation is God-with-us, not a flippant avoidance of current events.
I learned this:
“The truth is that frightened people will never turn the world, because they use too much energy on protection of self. It is the vocation of the baptized, the known and named and unafraid, to make the world whole: The unafraid are open to the neighbor, while the frightened are defending themselves from the neighbor.”
I remembered that “do not fear” finds its purchase not in piety, but in proximity. This is the antidote to white nationalism. It is in hospitality to the stranger. Generosity with those who have need. Forgiving the stupid, belligerent, blind, ignorant, beloved people who still think everything’s just fine. It is in praying for the enemy. It’s in marching. It’s in speaking words of truth to Facebook snark, even when it’s the opposite of the truthful word that some other wise friend just posted.
It’s in making visible the love that has changed the world — which has mysteriously already overcome all this hate.
Church — baptized, known, and named — do not fear. May it be our terrified, subversive witness.