We are experiencing a lot of fear these days.
Sometimes fear is legitimate and real. Other times, our fears are overblown and irrational. We call these kinds of fears phobias. The fear of immigrants coming into our country is a phobia, that is, an irrational fear. Some running for public office say that immigrants are “poisoning the blood” of the country and invading the United States.
These horrible and unfair characterizations are a pitch made to the most fearful part of our individual psyches and to the most fearful part of the electorate. For a country that has been built by immigrants for two centuries, it’s quite a stretch to fear immigrants, but nevertheless, it connects. Why is that?
Probably because fear is so important to keeping us alive. If our historic ancestors were never afraid of potential dangers, we’d likely not be here. Primal fear has been our friend over the eons of our existence. We learn to distinguish between things that are threats of greater and lesser importance. When do we run or fight, and when do we know that we are safe?
Fear can be our friend or our enemy. I think that we fear what we don’t know—probably most of us have never been threatened by immigrants. The same is true of fears of Jews (anti-Semitism), Muslims (Islamophobia) and other minorities. In these instances, fear is our enemy and becomes a phobia; it’s irrational and overblown.
Now, why can’t we be more into giving than into fearing? That is the question of the moment.
There is a lot of research about the effect of giving on our bodies, minds and spirits. We really do get more out of giving than receiving. When we give a gift, it lifts our spirits, especially if we are there when the gift is opened and we see the joyful response. There is a reaction in our brain that sends out “feel good” chemicals into our neural network. That in turn makes us feel better all over.
Of course, being in the season of giving, we get into the spirit of joy that comes from buying, wrapping and sharing gifts. Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries and other occasions of giving are happy times. Somehow, fear slips away.
It seems to me that people can exploit our fears for personal or political gain. If arousing the fear in us will gain an advantage or a vote, why not go for it? That seems to be the way of the world at this point. We need to be very discerning in our responses to those who sell fear to gain an advantage.
For Christians, the season of Christmas is filled with the news of a giving God.
God does not terrorize us into believing or scare us into a certain behavioral response. That is a distortion of the message, and that approach is for those who are full of fear.
However, God comes with a gift! If we can personify God, it’s a gift that gives God great delight when God sees us receive it. The gift of Jesus is a gift of justice and peace. Christians are called to be the presence of God to a hurting and fearful world, and that presence is a gift that brings us joy.
From Howard Thurman, an American author, philosopher, theologian and civil rights leader: “When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flock, the work of Christmas begins. To find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among people, to make music in the heart. ” (The Work of Christmas)
Giving, not fearing. Be a blessing.
Ronald E. Koch is Pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Gilroy. He is a founding member of the Interfaith Clergy Alliance of South County. Pastor Koch can be reached at [email protected].