And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Fear is quite likely the most potent force in human community. It is painful to have to admit that, but the evidence is everywhere and irrefutable. It is the chief tool in the toolbox of the advertiser and the tyrant alike, and our American landscape is littered with the broken bits remaining. We are encouraged to be afraid, of our neighbors, of the Other, of our feelings, of our own inadequacies and those whose fortunes are made as a result, need us to remain mired in fear.
This week, in particular, we see the fresh and tragic tracks of fear in Ferguson, Missouri. The cycle of violence is a part of the larger cycle of fear. A police officer is afraid, but tasked with enforcing rules that seem arbitrary and repressive to many on the receiving end. The fear results in an attitude of bullying and disproportionate enforcement of small infractions. Young men, also afraid, but used to being harassed, resist in the little ways they can. In the case of Michael Brown, fear won out, he may have responded unwisely, he was killed. In the outrage that followed the now frighteningly militarized police respond to protest with weaponized aggression. The police seem terrified, and respond to that terror with repressive violence. Protesters ratchet up their response and engender greater fear and fury. The cycle continues.
Michael Brown isn’t unique here, he was simply the latest victim of the cycle of fear. Fear creates nothing but victims. We might be talking about Israelis in Gaza, ISIS in Mosul, America in Iraq. Fear triggers bigotry, bullying, anger, hate, paranoia, violence, and repression. Some people profit handily from the cycle, but fear leads inexorably to destruction. Love, agapic love, freely and courageously demonstrated, is ultimately the only countervailing force to fear. The only thing capable of breaking the cycle is the risk of compassionate response. It is easy to excuse non-loving responses to the world around us, it is easy to pull up the drawbridge and retreat into the castle of personal security and justification. But, as Jesus repeatedly taught, it is only Love that can actually change things for the better.
“A man (sic) is called selfish not for pursuing his own good, but for neglecting his neighbor’s.”
“It is easy to believe we are each waves and forget we are also the ocean.”
Jon J. Muth