Can We Do Better Than Fear?

In the aftermath of the Newtown shootings, 24/7 conversation goes on about how to make ourselves safer.  One side says ban or strictly limit access to guns or ammunition. The other side says we need more guns. And so the banter goes back and forth.

The conversation has branched out to a discussion of whether there is anything we can do to make schools safer, even though it appears that those in charge at Sandy Hook Elementary School did everything by the book. Just yesterday, the NRA proposed putting an armed guard in every school in the country. (It’s hard to take such a proposal seriously, not just philosophically, but practically. I can’t imagine the NRA supporting the kind of tax dollars it would take to fund such a proposal.)

I’ve also noticed a proliferation of self-help kinds of articles aimed at parents with young children. The 7 Things You Can Do to Make Sure Your Child Is Safe at School kinds of articles.

Behind all of this is a usually unspoken assumption that a breakdown in security is the problem. We just have to work harder and smarter at making ourselves safer and we can prevent the kinds of horrific crimes like Newtown. Figure out at way to control or eliminate the bad stuff and we won’t have to be so afraid.

The kind of security we yearn for is, of course, a fiction. As long as we are human, we will be vulnerable. So, the notion that we can get to the point where we can take refuge in our own security is an exercise in futility. It’s chasing after the wind. There is too much to get secure against.

Yet we try. And the movement proliferates. Our culture teaches us to fear almost everything, despite the fact that living in fear is a really lousy way to live.

In the Moravian Daily Texts earlier this week, one of the readings was the opening verse of Psalm 127:  Unless the Lord guards the city, the guards keep watch in vain. And then my mind went to the second lesson from the Third Sunday in Advent (Series C), which concluded. . . and the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

So, we can’t guard the city. But we can choose both to live in God’s shalom and to work for that shalom. Shalom is not just the absence of conflict, but the the presence of harmony. It’s creation as God intended it to be. Everything in the world and in life is in it’s proper place and function. It’s the opposite of chaos and disorder. It’s the opposite of fear. It’s the opposite of Newtown and and Aurora and Dekalb and Virginia Tech.

Protecting ourselves with guns may be on some level effective, but it’s not shalom. Instituting security measures that seem more and more to isolate ourselves from one another may prevent certain crimes. But it’s not shalom. One might show by research or anecdotal evidence that more guns or more security measures have some degree of effectiveness (an argument which I don’t buy), but they are not shalom.

So, let the policy wonks and legislators debate about security and safety. As members of faith communities, our questions ought not stay at the superficial level of how we can make ourselves safer, about what security measures are most effective, or how we can prevent violent crime.

As the church, our mission is shalom. Our commitment is to living in such a way that we bring shalom to all of creation.

It starts with all of us as individuals. What will I do to bring shalom in my closest community, my family? How do I talk with them? How do we solve problems and deal with conflict? How do I talk with them about other people? How do I practice generosity?

Then it moves into the other places where I interact with others: where I work, where I play, where I shop, where I go for amusement and entertainment, in social media. Does my speech build up or tear down? Am I interested in the advancement and development of others? How do I practice generosity in these places?

How do I foster shalom in the community where I worship? Anyone who’s been around the church for any time at all knows that congregations are not automatically places of shalom. In my congregation, how do I interact with others when there are things we disagree about? How do I talk at my church about other people? If I’m a leader, how do I model an inclusive way of coming to decisions?

And, finally, I think we have a responsibility to bring that shalom to the larger community. Shalom is nurtured when we turn from suspicion of others to embrace their differentness and discover anew the wondrous variety in the human community. Shalom comes when we work harder at building relationships than we do at isolating ourselves for the sake of security. And we will find ourselves much further along the path to shalom when we find a way to care for, support, and lift the most vulnerable: the poor, the aged, the disabled, the addicted, the diseased in body, the troubled in mind and spirit, and the imprisoned.

Maybe the notion sounds crazy, but I’m naive enough or jaded enough or hopeful enough to think that a lot of us committing to such behavior will make a difference. What do we have to lose? Living from fear sure hasn’t worked very well.

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