We live in a culture of suspicion—
one that strategically both fosters and focuses fear—
fear of identify theft, fear of home invasion,
fear of cyber or bio-chemical attack,
fear of mass shootings and random savagery,
fear of those who believe in violence and terror—
fear of the known and the unknown enemy.
We are encouraged to look out for and report suspicious behavior
as we ascribe to “the other” the worst of intents,
and as distrust of “the other” becomes our default response.
We do not so much seem to live in fear
of incompetence and greed,
in fear of the ramifications of expedience
and the prioritizing of immediate gain—
in fear of the voracious hunger
for ever more graphic depictions of brutality
our media feeds (and when you feed a hunger, think about it,
are you satisfying hunger or intensifying it?)—
in fear of the agendas of those who benefit
from sustaining and manipulating fear,
and in fear of those who spew forth hate
whom we put on the radio and in Washington, DC.
And there’s no arguing the legitimacy of any of these threats.
They are all real.
There are those with the worst of intent,
and there are those greatly incompetent
in positions of power and influence.
There are those who believe absolutely in coercion,
and those who believe absolutely in profit—
none of whom care about the consequences
to individuals of their priorities.
There are plenty who deserve our mistrust.
And so while “they” are not always “the other,”
our culture of suspicion is
But what, we must wonder—we must,
does such an ethos do to our Christian faith?
What does such a way of life
do to our calling to live as Jesus?
Do we resign ourselves to the impossibility of our calling
and just let ourselves off the hook?
Do we justify circumstances that mitigate the expectations of God?
Do we allow our ethos to shape us in its fearful image?
Or do we set our sights on changing our culture?
And we can, I do believe, be a part of change,
but our expectations ought fall more along the lines
of salt and yeast working their slow transformation
than on dictate and decree immediately enforced.
Or do we root our hope in choosing, again and again,
as spiritual discipline—as the practice of faith—
to change ourselves—
to choose, unrelentingly, the image of God in which we were created—
the love that casts out fear?
Can we do that?
As part of claiming God,
reject our own profoundly influential cultural ethos,
and thus cultivate the discipline
of changing ourselves into who we were created to be?
So much harder than insisting someone or something
make everyone else change.
And how would we go about that?
It involves weaning ourselves from too much we take for granted—
including the fear toxic to our faith,
the materialism that chokes hope,
the objectification that strangles love,
the violence that suffocates initiatives of grace.
Okay, but how would we do all that—
Oh well, I might actually need to stop going to certain movies,
movies that I really enjoy—stop reading certain books—
ones that do not conform to my faith claims—
censoring myself, in other words, not the movies or books.
I might also have to censor my own immediate reactions
to people and circumstances—
the way I talk about others.
And I might have to pay a little more for Fair Trade items—
for locally grown, fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables,
noting that my buying habits help determine
whether or not those who work in those fields
are exposed to pesticides—
whether they have to live with that fear.
I might have to research the companies that produce
the clothes I wear and the shoes and the electronics I use—
and the living conditions of their workers.
I might have to accept that my careless use of water and utilities
demonstrates an absolute, if unintentional
disrespect for most of the people of the world.
I might have to consider my budget
morally and not just economically.
I might have to investigate how I can live more simply.
overwhelming how much of my life becomes subject to scrutiny.
When all I wanted was not to be suspicious and afraid of them
how much it ends up being about me.
Overwhelming how much of my living is part of a bigger cycle
too often creating fear, using violence and promoting suspicion—
overwhelming how big the issue is—
and how small I feel.
I might need a larger community sharing my values to help discern
where and how I participate, most often unknowingly,
in systems that lead to violence and to someone’s fear.
I might need a larger community
allowing me to focus on some changes to my living
while others focus on other changes to their living
so together we might make more of a difference.
I just wanted to not be so suspicious all the time.
I just wanted out of the cycles of fear and violence.
Turns out not participating in fear
turns into a holistic enterprise,
and that one of the most important antidotes to fear (and violence)
is my investment in that profoundly important symptom of love—
May it be so.