Thursday, April 30, 2009

Thursday 30 April 2009

From MLK,Jr. on faith casting out fear.

Abnormal fears and phobias that are expressed in neurotic anxiety may be cured by psychiatry; but fear of death, nonbeing, and nothingness, expressed in existential anxiety, may be cured only by a positive religious faith.
A positive religious faith does not offer an illusion that we shall be exempt from pain and suffering, nor does it imbue us with the idea that life is a drama of unalloyed comfort and untroubled ease. Rather, it instill us with the inner equilibrium needed to face strains, burdens, and fears that inevitably come, and assures us that the universe is trustworthy and that God is concerned.

I find King's qualification of Religion as "positive" is important. There are too many witnesses to religions that offer illusion and try to create a world that is not able to live within the real realm of everyday life. A non-positive religion would be one that tells you that you can eliminate the pains and worries of the day or you can find financial or physical well-being by trusting that God will do whatever you need to make your life better - the way you would like it to be. A non-positive religion is one in which you give the glory to God for your victory but no one hears of the glory given to God when there is utter failure and despair. Positive religion does not promise a glowing outcome. It promises that God will be trustworthy and with us no matter what may come our way. It is in the middle of that promise that we are surprised by how God never abandons us to our own wants and demands. Rather, God will transform the day no matter how the day appears to be going. We are often the ones that need to be transformed to see God with us in and through all things.

Connection: Don't give up on this day when it appears to be going down the tube. Instead, take the time to trust that you will be embrace no matter where things end...and we may be quite surprised by what comes.

Lord of this New Day, shape us by the power of your Holy Spirit. When we try to clutch to what we want and how we want it remind us of what we already have when we trust in you alone. For when you create such faith in us, we are sustained by your life-giving presence. Amen.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wednesday 29 April 2009

Today we being the final section of "The Strength to Love" by Martin Luther King, Jr. It deals with the fourth way to master fear - faith.

A common source of fear is an awareness of deficient resources and of a consequent inadequacy for life. All too many people attempt to face the tensions of life with inadequate spiritual resources. When vacationing in Mexico, Mrs. King and I wished to go deep-sea fishing. For reasons of economy, we rented an old and poorly equipped boat. We gave this little thought until, ten miles from shore, the clouds lowered and howling winds blew. then we became paralyzed with fear, for we knew our boat was deficient. Multitudes of people are in a similar situation. Heavy winds and weak boats explain their fear.

This is why we talk of our God as our rock...our foundation...our mighty fortress. It is to be for us a reminder that in and through all things, we are in the presence of our God who brings life even when we are threatened. This is life that may mean things will change or the day will not go as we had planned...but we will be in the midst of life in which God will still be our rock. Fear may paralyze us and keep us from being held up by hope, so we are responsible to one another to keep bringing words and actions of life and hopefulness to one another when we are about to "go under." To be of aid to other and to be able to receive the aid of others, we must continue to walk within a discipline in which we continuously remember the promises of our God even when we cannot see or hear God's presence or are not open to how God walks with us. Faith enables us to walk out onto and over the fears that would own us and drown us.

Connection: Are your able to know when you are walking on this rock? Are you able to know when you are needing to be hoisted up onto this rock? Do you know the way from fear into the path of faith as you move through another of the ordinary days of life?

Most of our day, O God, we long for your Spirit to hold us up long enough that we will learn how to walk within your gracious presence. When that takes place, we are not so easily blown around by fear. But that Spirit is a constant need and a blessed hope. Abide with us. Amen.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tuesday 28 April 2009

Today will be the last Day on M.L. King's reflections on love mastering fear.

This truth is not without bearing on our personal anxieties. We are afraid of the superiority of other people, of failure, and the scorn or disapproval of those whose opinions we most value. Envy, jealousy, a lack of self-confidence, a feeling of insecurity, and a haunting sense of inferiority are all rooted in fear. We do not envy people and then fear them; first we fear them and subsequently we become jealous of them. Is there a cure for these annoying fears that pervert our personal lives? Yes, a deep and abiding commitment to the way of love. "Perfect love casteth out fear."
Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear; only love can do that. Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.

Often I like to spell disease as "dis-ease." I think it shows how our lives can be a bit off...we can lose our sense of ease with ourselves or with others. The dis-ease of fear set us at odds with everything around us. In many ways, this dis-ease is often the reason for somehow wanting to gain control of our world so that it looks and responds and acts just as we would want. There are so many ways that we fall into the dis-ease of fear. So many things that move by us through the day become obstacles that we convince ourselves are things that must be conquered or defeated because they are not under our control. Too soon, we begin to fear those about whom we have heard things that are not like us. Quickly this dis-ease settles in. I'm often amazed at how often a stereotype is accepted rather than questioned. It is as though we are more able to settle into dis-ease than we are able to settle into a position of health and wellness in our relationships.

Connection: "Hatred confuses life." What a wonderful notion to remember. What a important word of clarification as we begin to set out into the various situations in which we will enter today.

As always, O God, your love is the power that makes all people settle down and live within a sense of shalom - an ease that frees us from fear. Before we act out of fear and anxiety, remind us again of your love and the power that is handed to us when we walk within your Reign. Amen.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Monday 27 April 2009

This week we continue with King's reflections on how fear is cast out by love.

Once a helpless child, the Negro has now grown politically, culturally, and economically. Many white men fear retaliation. The Negro must show them that they have nothing to fear, for the Negro forgives and is willing to forget the past. The Negro must convince the white man that he seeks justice for both himself and the white man. A mass movement exercising love and nonviolence and demonstrating power under discipline should convince the white community that were such a movement to attain strength its power would be used creatively and not vengefully.
What then is the cure of this morbid fear of integration? We know the cure. God help us to achieve it! Love casts out fear.

The way the world operates must change. King really catches it here. The gift that the oppressed can hand the oppressors is a new way to be humanity. The usual ways of violence fall short of our full humanity. The ways of injustice and hatred and retribution fall short of our full humanity. King is calling for a new day in which those who most would say deserve to be hostile - give up their hostility and fear so as to open up the vision of God's Reign. It is action that is not simply for one side. It is action for all. What a creative position. And yet, I imagine that it was not a word that was well received the first time he opened up this vision to others. Most of us cannot walk the way of love when our hearts long to get even or long to destroy the other. As King notes, we know the cure...but oh my it is not the easiest way to continue on through this day. Love demands that we reinvent the day within a domain of possibilities that we too often do not let into our lives.

Connection: How long does it take for love to cast out fear? I suppose it depends on the fear at hand and who we have to help us move from fear to love.

Lord of Love, your Reign continues to transform our days. Pull us into that Reign even as we resist and run back to the ways of violence and fear that are so familiar to us that they seem comfortable and secure. Open our eyes to your love that is able to work for the welfare of all your beloved. Ame n.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday 24 April 2009

When King deals with fear, he attempts to help all sides take a look at the responsibilities all of us have to overcome that fear. Both sides must be willing to act out of love.

If our white brothers are to master fear, they must depend not only on their commitment to Christian love but also on the Christlike love which the Negro generates toward them. Only through our adherence to love and nonviolence will the fear in the white community be mitigated. A guilt-ridden white minority fears that if the Negro attains power, he will without restraint or pity act to revenge the accumulated injustices and brutality of the years. A parent, who has continually mistreated his son, suddenly realizes that he is now taller than the parent. Will the son use his new physical power to repay for all the blows of the past?

The followers of Jesus move into the day with this contrary love that will not be let go in order to give fear and hatred a place at the table. In, with, and under all the days of our lives, we are invited to be a part of the incarnate presence of God's Reign where fear does not rule our hearts. King once again shows how the power of this love and nonviolence is the only way that the hearts of those who fear and hate can be changed. Conversion comes not from fear and threat. It comes from the pull of the power of love and nonviolence that is the gift within God's Peaceable Reign. The world always expects revenge. The followers of Jesus do not listen to the expectations of the world. Instead, we take on the day and fill it with the surprising presence of life that is not typical. It is in reality a life of liberation for all sides for fear is cast out of the picture by the power of an unending love.

Connection: Love like this almost sounds like wishful thinking. And yet, it has always been the way of peace that is handed to us by our God. Both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures bear witness to its ability to set people free.

Lord of Liberation and Hope, it is so easy for us to turn to the ways of brutality and hatred. We like to "get back" at those what harm us or mistreat us. And yet, you continue to call us to walk in the land of your love that will not let the walls of separation shape our day. Thanks be to you. Amen.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thursday 22 April 2009

Today continuing with King's thought on fear being mastered through love.

...Racial segregation is buttressed by such irrational fears as loss of preferred economic privilege, altered social status, intermarriage, and adjustment to new situations. Through sleepless nights and haggard days numerous white people attempt to combat these corroding fears by diverse methods. By following the path of escape, some seek to ignore the question of race relations and to close their mind to issues involved. Others placing their faith in such legal maneuvers as interposition and nullification, counsel massive resistance. Still others hope to down their fears by engaging in acts of violence and meanness toward their Negro brethren. But how futile are all these remedies! Instead of eliminating fear, they instill deeper and more pathological fears that leave the victims inflicted with strange psychoses and peculiar cases of paranoia. Neither repression, massive resistance, nor aggressive violence will cast out the fear of integration; only love and good will can do that.

Whenever we fight against coming together to understand and appreciate one another, we create more violence among us. King's comments about his day may have changed through the decades, but there is such fear still at hand that we are able to construct more and more "sensible" excuses as to why we keep ourselves separated from one another. I am still amazed at comments - often without using all the words necessary to be openly clear - that continue to keep races separate. One side may do it out of a lingering fear the other side may do it out of a lingering anger. The end result, we move away from one another rather than building bridges that reunite the separated. As I started reading this piece on fear, I also thought that the same situation of fear is at hand in all of our civil and church discussions about the place of people in the GLBT community. As King moves down through this discussion of fear, I hear the church - afraid and unable to live with a sense of grace and hopefulness. Instead, there is verbal violence, segregation, scapegoating, and an utter refusal to be the community of love we claim to be.

Connection: Sometimes, it is not easy to know when our actions are being led by fear. When we act out of fear for so long, it becomes our well-justified way of life that we then try to protect and defend at all costs.

When you call us to love one another, O God, we say it with gusto but we shrink away from opportunities to walk in your ways. Encourage us. Amen.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Mastering fear through love continues to be another way that we are invited to live in our broken world - from "The Strength to Love" by M.L. King, Jr.

What method has the sophisticated ingenuity of modern man employed to deal with the fear of war? We have armed ourselves to the nth degree. The West and the East have engaged in a fever-pitched arms race. Expenditures for defense have risen to mountainous proportions, and weapons of destruction have been assigned priority over all other human endeavors. The nations have believed that greater armaments will cast our fear. But alas! they have produced greater fear. In these turbulent, panic-stricken days we are once more reminded of the judicious words of old, "Perfect love casteth out fear." Not arms, but love, understanding, and organized goodwill can cast out fear. Only disarmament, based on good faith, will make mutual trust a living reality.

King was writing in a day of great nuclear threat. The arms race was so fear-based we actually believed that this was a way of peace - since there was no war. But we were still living in fear and spending money as though our fear was the motivating power of our lives. With all the money both sides were spending, we could have fed the world and created something that is truly unbelievable. But - fear wins out....still does. Mutual trust seems like some "pie in the sky" notion. But have we ever allowed ourselves to go there?!? Our fear has caused us to build up gods that we have allowed to claim our lives. I remember hearing a speaker in the late 1970s talk about how our nuclear weapon arsenals have been like false gods. The are false gods because they demand our complete devotion - we are willing to sacrifice economic stability, care of the poor, medical care for all order to sustain what we have let rule us - that is the sign of a false god.

Connection: Being realistic doesn't mean we must keep preparing for war. Being realistic may be that we look to new ways to create something that has not been our way and may bring life we really need not fear.

Prince of Peace, you are the one who leads us through all time. You promise to be our ground and our foundation so that we need not let our fears rule our hearts. Make us instruments of your peace and witnesses of your love. Amen.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tuesday 21 April 2009

MLK ties fear close to our warring madness.

But does love have a relationship to our modern fear of war, economic displacement, and racial injustice? Hat is rooted in fear, and the only cure for fear-hate is love. Our deteriorating international situation is shot through with the lethal darts of fear. Russia fears America, and America fears Russia. Likewise China fears India, and the Israelis and the Arabs. These fears include another nation's aggression, scientific and technological supremacy, and economic power, and our own loss of status and power. Is not fear one of the major causes of war? We say that war is a consequence of hate, but close scrutiny reveals this sequence: first fear, then hate, then war, and finally deeper hatred. Were a nightmarish nuclear war to engulf our world, the cause would be not so much that one nations hated another, but that both nations feared the other.

In one of the newspapers on Sunday there was a picture of President Obama with some of the leaders of the Conference of the Americas. The President was gesturing and speaking across several people to President Hugo Chavez. Some folks will be very upset with this kind of engagement. For many, Chavez has been demonized as he has demonized President Bush. In the meantime, fear grows into hate and hate continues the spiral of separation which gives both sides the argument to be ready for military conflict. Threat upon threat. Why is it that it is so easy to fear dialogue between countries that may have differences. Remember, love is not a sweet relationship. It is a tough-minded respect that honors the other in order that the two parties might bridge differences and really heal the separations that we let push us away from one another. Rather than live in a world what looks at who we can blame for the conditions of the world, it would be so much more creative to engage one another with a sense of respect that seeks to envision relationships that are not shaped by fear.

Connection: When we are being led by fear and anxiety, it would be good to talk to someone who can help us see the creative gifts we have to overcome the temptation to react in warring way toward those we fear.

Again and again, O God, you remind us to trust in your alone. You tell us to "fear not" and you remind us that you will be with us through all that makes up the valley of death. We long for you Spirit of Life to sustain us and turn our heads toward the Reign of love that is your domain. Amen.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Monday 20 April 2009

Another week of Martin Luther King, Jr. on mastering fear - from "The Strength to Love."

...fear is mastered through love. The New Testament affirms, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear." The kind of love which led Christ to the cross and kept Paul unembittered amid the angry torrents of persecution is not soft, anemic, and sentimental. Such love confronts evil without flinching and shows in our popular parlance an infinite capacity "to take it." Such love overcomes the world even from the rough-hewn cross against the skyline.

This is that love "that will not let us go." This is a love that will not allow fear to be the only word that is lifted up to shape how we will go through the day. Love is the power that continues to work toward reuniting that which is separated. Often, fear is the power the separates. Fear not only separates, it makes the separation a war zone. Fear gives us a list of reasons why we not only stay away from the other...we are also given the reasons for waging war against the other. In many ways, when we are ruled by fear and operate within the dynamics that bring about war, we become a part of tools fear uses to shape the world. No longer are we merely acting against that which we fear, we become that power that creates fear in others. This is an endless cycle that finds no resolution because it does not practice the discipline of love. When pushed by the power of fear, we are invited to stand up and live contrary to the prevailing fear that is attempting to shape the day. In some way, we will have to "take" a hit for that action. Taking a hit here means that we will trust the way of reuniting that which is separated more than we will trust the power of fear to lead us and guide us. Just imagine being someone after 9/11 who was not willing to be ruled by fear but rather insisted on dialogue and conversation and forgiveness. And yet, as followers of Jesus, this is our way - the way of love.

Connection: Love is not sentimental here. It is the power to change hearts and re-establish a life where fear will not create hostility and war.

Come, Spirit of Peace, and help us past the desire to wage war when we are made a people who are blessed by the shalom of your Reign. Though fear can easily twist us away from being your beloved people, be our encouragement and hope. Amen.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday 17 April 2009

The week draws to an end with more on Courage by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Courage and cowardice are antithetical. Courage is an inner resolution to go forward in spite of obstacles and frightening situations; cowardice is a submissive surrender to circumstance. Courage breeds creative self-affirmation; cowardice produces destructive self-abnegation. Courage faces fear and thereby masters it; cowardice represses fear and is thereby mastered by it. Courageous men never lose the zest for living even though their life situation is zestless; cowardly men, overwhelmed by the uncertainties of life, lose the will to live. We must constantly build dykes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.

Are we shaped by fear or do are we responsible for the shape of our lives in the presence of fear? Can a cowardly person becomes courageous? Can a courageous person become cowardly? Are these mere choices or are we talking about character traits that will activated no matter what the situation is? I have always introduced myself as quite a coward - a simple bit of self-reflection as I look deep within myself at what often motivates me. When I say that I am often met with a sense of surprise. That is not how others would see me. In fact some disagree strongly. That is where the "in spite of" has come to mean so much to me. In spite of the fact that I am afraid and could easily shut up and stay that way, I cannot because I know whose I am. For me - at times - that works. In this season of Easter we are reminded that the powers that attempt to rule us and push us around and shape us into their ways of living in the world are not able to silence the life that was put to death. The life that was put to death was one of compassion, forgiveness, peace, justice, mercy and an utter commitment to the welfare of all. And we are told on Easter with a mighty "Yes!" that this is the life of God's beloved...all of us. That is why we are called followers of Jesus...we actually follow and live that life "in spite of" the dominant powers that can create moods of fear and anxiety. I still think it takes more than one person to be courageous. That "more than one person" is the Holy Spirit that shapes communities of Jesus' followers.

Connection: Sometimes we must act for the welfare of others in spite of the fact that we may not receive anything back in reward. In fact, we may only receive back bitterness.

Lord of New Life, shape us again this day. Within the power of your Spirit, guide us into your domain of peace and all hopefulness so that we may face all that will come our way. Amen.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Thursday 16 April 2009

More with courage as a way to face fear - from "The Strength to Love."

Courage, the determination not to be overwhelmed by any object, however frightful, enables us to stand up to any fear. Many of our fears are not mere snakes under the carpet. Trouble is a reality in this strange medley of life, dangers lurk within the circumference of every action, accidents do occur, bad health is an ever-threatening possibility, and death is a stark, grim, and inevitable fact of human experience. Evil and pain in this conundrum of life are close to each of us, and we do both ourselves and our neighbors a great disservice when we attempt to prove that there is nothing in this world of which we should be frightened. These forces that threaten to negate life must be challenged by courage, which is the power of life to affirm itself in spite of life's ambiguities. This requires the exercise of a creative will that enables us to hew out a stone of hope from a mountain of despair.

"A creative will that enables us to hew out a stone of hope from a mountain of despair" - what a wonderful image. In some ways, there is a bit of poetry involved in courageous living. That doesn't mean we must be poets and good with words. Rather, it means we must be able to release our imagination and grab hold of images that can sustain us when we are in a place and time that seems to be overwhelming us. That one stone of hope can gather up within us the courage to take on that mountain - or at least find other people of hope who will face despair and fear with us. Being courageous means we use the gifts God has given us so that we can be a peaceable people who will not be overcome by evil - but rather face it all with an integrity of purpose that leaves behind rocks of hopefulness for others.

Connection: Again, my old theme, find other people who are able to see those rocks of hope and are willing to be vulnerable and pick them up and begin to build a new way rather than simply throwing them at our fears.

Be our courage, O God. Remind us again that you call us as a people and never alone. We are your people and therefore, we are nourished as we come together as a creative and imaginative collection of people who will find opportunites to be courageous together. Amen.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wednesday 15 April 2009

We continue to address ourselves to facing fear - by the way....taxes are due today.

...we can master fear through one of the supreme virtues known to man: courage... the power of the mind to overcome fear. Unlike anxiety, fear has a definite object which may be faced, analyzed, attacked, and if need be, endured. How often the object of our fear is fear itself!... Courage takes the fear produced by a definite object into itself and thereby conquers the fear involved. Paul Tillich has written, "Courage is self-affirmation "in spite of...that which tends to hinder the self from affirming itself." It is self-affirmation in spite of death and non being, and he who is courageous takes the fear of death into his self-affirmation and acts upon it. This courageous self-affirmation, which is surely a remedy for fear, is not selfishness, for self-affirmation includes both a proper self-love and a properly propositioned love of others.

From the first time I read some of Tillich's work, he has been one that has helped me to come to some understanding of the power of love. Love is a courageous endeavor. As we are called to reunited that which is separated (act in love) we are not merely about the healing and care of the self, we are about the healing of the world. King captures that balance between love of self and love of others. It is within that vision of life that we not only stand up to that which we fear, we also are engaged in the process of honoring the other that is attempting to frighten or destroy us. Within the Reign of God, we do not merely must up courage in order to defeat the other side. That is the old game that keeps fear in power. Rather, courage is that power to bring peace by honoring the life in the other as we honor and uphold our lives. Courage in the life of MLK was a journey of vulnerability in pursuit of justice for all. Within God's Reign we are called to face our enemies and love them. That is no whimsical dream. That is the power of courageous living that knows of a power for life that cannot be ruled by fearing others.

Connection: This is no fantasy. MLK is writing about a daily discipline that needs constant attention. Again, this is why a community of saints is vital to building a compassionate and courageous life.

When your rule of Shalom rains down upon us, O God, we are living within the possibility of the transformation of all things. You call us to be agents of your love and that love continues to stir up our hearts so that we will courageously live within your Reign even now. Amen.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tuesday 14 April 2009

We continue with facing our fears from "The Strength to Love" by Martin Luther King, Jr.

By bringing our fears to the forefront of consciousness, we may find them to be more imaginary than real. Some of them will turn out to be snakes under the carpet.
And let us also remember that, more often than not, fear involves the misuse of imagination. When we get our fears into the open, we may laugh at some of them, and this is good. One psychiatrist said, " Ridicule is the master cure for fear and anxiety."

The imagination of fear is one that leads us into a downward spin into places we do not need to go. Unfortunately, if fear leads our imagination we shut doors. When fears leads our imagination we can easily be locked into the three common responses when faced with moments of threat: freeze, fight, or flight. There's a time and a place for all of those responses but if our imagination is ruled by fear, these tend to be the only responses we can see for ourselves. It is not wonder we can be so easily drawn into war - we have given up our ability to imagine more than a world reacting to fear. This is particularly why I have always been drawn to Walter Brueggeman's use of "faithful imagination." It is the way the beloved of God look out at the world and the way in which we will engage the day. Faithful imagination takes note of threats and tight places and mounting anxiety but then it steps back and calls on us to wonder. When we go there - lift our eyes to wonder, the world takes on another face and we give ourselves space and time to become centered upon the promises of our God to be with us in and through all things. Fear may never leave...but we have the opportunity to face it with more real eyes and eyes that take us into the possibilities we have yet to contemplate - possibilities that really do set us free.

Connection: Take the time to release your life into the domain of wonder. It may be an odd experience - but so is the Shalom of God's Reign when it is put up alongside the fear-filled world that so often tries to gain our allegiance.

Lord of the Resurrection, there is so much that we let direct our lives. It can become so easy to forget that you promise to sustain us and support us and to encourage us even when the day is filled with more threat than assurance. Be for us - that blessed assurance. Amen.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Monday 13 April 2009

As was noted last week, this week we would go into some ways M.L. King, Jr., encourages us to face fear - from "The Strength to Love."

First, we must unflinchingly face our fears and honestly ask ourselves why we are afraid. This confrontation will , to some measure, grant us power. We shall never be cured of fear by escapism or repression, for the more we attempt to ignore and repress our fears, the more we multiply our inner conflicts.

Over and over again we are told to "fear not" or "do not be afraid." And yet, anxiety and fear has a way of ripping into the day. The admonition to live without fear comes when our God attempts to remind us that it is in God alone that we are to trust for the fullness of life that is promised to all God's beloved. But as we all know, many thing rise up to be the power of our lives - or at least we think they are the power the will drive us and bring us new life. In such a life as this, we will quite naturally fear losing that upon which we have bet our lives. Fear and anxiety propels us into living many story lines in which we will give our all in order to sustain the story we long to have be our story...the story we have decided will save us, make us fulfilled, give us great rewards. As you might expect, any conflict with the story we are attempting to make for ourselves becomes an enemy. Enemies are often that which we fear will hurt us or rob us of the story of life we want for ourselves. So, rather than live within the peaceable Reign of God where we need not carry around the fears and anxieties of our lives, we go to war with other - we fight against them - we take the first shot in order to prevent any loss to ourselves. It is so vital to ask why we fear something. Another question would be to ask why in the world am I acting like this. We may uncover something about ourselves that is masterful at brewing fear and disguising it as something else. In the meantime, we walk right past the Reign of God.

Connection: Fear and anxiety is nothing we need to hid or ignore. Most often, they will at least alert us to the fact that something is going on around us or deep within us. The simple exercise of stepping back and looking again at what we have let rule us and direct us is a good way to stay honest with ourselves and hear God's constant affirmation.

Come, Lord of Life, come and shake us up so that we may be reminded of the life you invited us to enter - a life of peace and community and love. We so often choose to walk in other ways but when we are able to taste your gift of life we are amazed at the rest and peace that prevails even in the worst of days. For another day - we thank you, O God. Amen.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Friday 10 April 2009

It is Good Friday - a good day to hear about fear. Next week we will begin looking at how King suggested that we master fear.

After writing about the creative side of fear, King writes:
But we must remember that abnormal fears are emotionally ruinous and psychologically destructive. To illustrate the difference between normal and abnormal fear, Sigmund Freud spoke of a person who was quite properly afraid of snakes in the heart of an African jungle and of another person who neurotically feared that snakes were under the carpet in his city apartment. Psychologists say that normal children are born with only two fears - the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises - and that all others are environmentally acquired. Most of these acquired fears are snakes under the carpet.

Last evening I was watching a part of a program that showed a new commercial being put out by a group that is against the slow movement toward accepting and making legal gay marriages. The commercial moved from person to person as they read a continuous script that literally attempted to sow fear in the listeners. It was filled with unproven assumptions. But isn't that what really is the power behind some of our "snakes under the carpet" fears? In the face of such storytelling what are we to do. I have to admit that I can swallow stuff like that too quickly myself. It really depends what the material is trying to say and how close it comes to my present state of mind. We must at least take the time to test whether that which we fear is really worth wasting our life energy. And then, what can we do in the face of our fears. Facing fears seems to be something we do with others. Not that others have to hold our hands to walk through our fears (although that is needed at times). Rather, I was simply thinking about the way others can "talk us down" or help to uncover truth and help us to see that life will not be destroyed by what we are fearing. Isn't this how we overcome our prejudices!?

Connection: The crowd in Jerusalem was whipped up with fear when they shouted they would rather have Barabbas free than Jesus. Some of that set up took time to develop - the rest was like a waterfall. Being swept up in the fear and anxiety of the moment doesn't take much energy.

You tell us, O God, to not be afraid. Again and again, you have urged your people to "fear not" and to turn to you for our salvation and life. It is not easy to walk away from fear, even when the Creator of all things is our encouragement. Therefore, again and again we need the presence of the Holy Spirit to be our help in times of great fear that often take control of us and begin to rule our lives. Amen.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Thursday 9 April 2009

More from "The Strength to Love" by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Realizing that fear drains a man's energy and depletes his resources, Emerson wrote, "He has not learned the lesson of life who does not every day surmount a fear."
But I do not mean to suggest that we should seek to eliminate fear altogether from human life. Were this humanly possible, it would be practically undesirable. Fear is the elemental alarm system of the human organism which warns of approaching dangers and without which man could not have survived in either the primitive or modern worlds.

This alarm system sounds throughout our lives. When the alarms sounds we lift up our heads to that which has created the fear within our lives. I know that sometimes when that alarm goes off, I simply want to run...or hide...or ignore it with the wish that it would go away. Any of those reactions to fear sounding in my life have an impact on how I go about the rest of the day. And, I would add, how I look at myself later in the day. When fear has been able to press me down it not only changes what I do next, it changes how I imagine myself acting the next time I'm confronted with situations that create fear within me. Then again, I know that it is empowering to face a situation that is fear-filled and walk out the other side. I don't think it matters whether the fear has been beaten down or if I am still shaking with fear afterwards. The important part of facing my fears is that I faced whatever it was that was about to rule my life. I call that Good Friday. Facing the fears and going on without having the day go my way. Facing the fears and trusting that there is life on the other side of whatever has been causing me to shake in my shoes or even think about giving up. Before us, we say, Jesus goes to the cross and faces the fears and pains that are almost unimaginable. Before that we too will know of the life of fear-facing and the surprises that can come next. Fear does not defeat hope and promise - it brings shape to it all.

Connection: I'm always surprised by what little things can cause me to fear what is coming next. Change....something that little....breathing....something that essential - fear will settle in and be a part of shaping even those moments.

Lord of New Life, we are always walking in a world of fear and you call us to keep walking - remain focused on the promise of life that no fear can defeat. It is not easy and it is so easy to let fear shape us. Continue to be our strength and hope. Amen.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Wednesday 8 April 2009

Again from M.L. King in "The Strength to Love."

Especially common in our highly competitive society are economic fears, from which...come most of the psychological problems of our age... And consider, too, the multiplication in our day of religious and ontological fears, which include the fear of death and racial annihilation. ...our fanatical quest to maintain "a balance of terror" only increases our fear and leaves nations on tiptoes lest some diplomatic faux pas ignite a frightful holocaust.

I know it was the early 60's when this was written but it sure has the feel of today. Between the economics of the day and the threats of war and terror, the world is still able to keep itself as a brewery of fear. It is no wonder gun shops are telling of record sales in the past few months. We can easily convince ourselves that we know the best way to secure ourselves from the break down of society and the violence of the world. Unfortunately, our ways have a long history of adding to the break down of society and the violence of the world. The Reign of God is the domain among us where we can live out of a sense of peace and love. That is a radical new direction that will be laughed at most of the time. It is so radical that we have never let it be our way - thus the ongoing pattern that we have come to know so well and fear so greatly.

Connection: We face fear first in the step-by-step manner in which we move through our individual lives. It is not always easy but it is necessary for there to really be a glimpse of new life.

Prince of Peace, help us to rest within your promised Reign even as we walk within a world that continues to deal in fear. In your presence, we are given a new light with which to see all things and that light opens up the way to your peace. Amen.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tuesday 7 April 2009

From "Antidotes for Fear" in "The Strength to Love" - King.

Everywhere men and women are confronted by fears that often appear in strange disguises and a variety of wardrobes... Almost without being aware of the change, many people have permitted fear to transform the sunrise of love and peace into a sunset of inner depression.
When unchecked, fear spawns a whole brood of phobias - fear of water, high places, closed rooms, darkness, loneliness, among others - and such an accumulation culminates in phobiaphobia or the fear of fear itself.

That last one is the one that creates a mood of hopelessness. In the middle of all the things that could have created fear in the world of the 1930's, Roosevelt made sure that people heard what was really driving people into deeper despair - fear itself. This source of the fear can become nameless and thus much more able to control and direct and pervert. It is so important to help one another examine that which we say we fear. It is in that examination that we will find ourselves better able to decide what it is that is pulling us around. Many times, the fear is dismantled and loses it power over us. At other times, we expose the center of what is creating fear or anxiety and we are able to then deal with it in an appropriate manner. A real danger at this point is that we do not fall into the abyss of scapegoating that seeks out a sacrifice in order to calm our nerves and our lives. Just look what happened after 9-11. Scapegoats do not solve the situation in which we find ourselves filled with fear. They merely divert our attention...for awhile.

Connection: Maybe that which we fear is not really just "out there." Often, we are looking at ourselves when we come upon moments of fear and trembling.

You continue to be the rock upon which we can face this day, O God. This firm foundation enables us to resists the winds that can whip around us as fear is brewing in our lives. Keep us trusting in your gift of life that brings peace in the middle of our most despairing moments. Amen.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Monday 6 April 2009

This week we will spend time in the last section of "The Strength to Love" - Antidotes for Fear, by Martin Luther King, Jr.

In these days of catastrophic change and calamitous uncertainty, is there any man who does not experience the depression and bewilderment of crippling fear, which, like a nagging hound of hell, pursues our every footstep?

This makes fear sound like something after us...something that will not let us rest. Within the normal stuff of the day, we all experience those moments when fear attempts to prick us so that we will turn our heads and wonder what will come next. It is in those brief moments that we decide what will lead us - fear or not. I was going to write fear or courage but wasn't sure that was the word to use in opposition to fear. And yet, it is. In the face of that which threatens us we are, as followers of Jesus, invited to engage a courage to be the beloved that we are. That means resistance against fears that attempt to rule our lives. It also means taking the time and being vulnerable to those around us so that the powers that are used to create fear can be met with others alongside. In Sunday school today, we watched a video call "American Prophet." It was about William Sloan Coffin. I always marvel at such people. They stand in the way of evil and though they may fear, they keep standing because they trust the God who has given them life. If God has given us our lives, no one has the right to treat our life as though it is worth-less than others or that it is something that can be sacrificed for the well-being of a few. People like Coffin are remembered for being out front and standing for a vision for life that creates peace and standing against the powers of death in their many shapes. Sometimes, it take more than one person to make any of us courageous. We learn to stand in hope and challenge the ways of the world when we see others who have gone there before us or are willing to stand alongside us in order to face our fears.

Connection: What leads you down a path of courage? First don't think too grand. Think very basic. Think very contextual. Start there and capture what is going on at those moments when you are able to walk through even the smallest fear.

Lord God of Vision and Hopefulness, be our sustaining power of life that walks us through all that we fear. That walk is one unknown except that we know that you are eternally with us. That may be all we need remember. Amen.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Friday 3 April 2009

This week comes to an end with this piece from King.

Admitting the weighty problems and staggering disappointments, Christianity affirms that God is able to give us the power to meet them. He is able to give us the inner equilibrium to stand tall amid the trials and burdens of life. He is able to provide inner peace amid outer storms. This inner stability of the man of faith is Christ's chief legacy to his disciples. He offers neither material resources nor a magical formula that exempts us from suffering and persecution, but he brings an imperishable gift: "Peace I leave with thee." This is that peace which passes all understanding.

It is within the embrace of this gift that we are able step out into this world in the way of Jesus. This inner peace is not merely to keep us safely tucked away in a corner away from the realities of the day that long for the living presence of the Christ. Rather, it is this inner equilibrium that give us the ability to walk down that way for we know that whatever may come, (lions and tigers and bears) we have written on our hearts this claim that God has made on each of us. A claim that gives us a place to rest and a promise on which we can walk in the light of the Reign of God even when there is trouble brewing around us.

Connection: So...during this day...within in the ordinary moments...when you may only be glimpsing at something passing by you, be reminded of this peace that is ours. Then...go forward. Look for those reminders everywhere and at all times.

You are the foundation upon which we can rest our lives, O God. From that rest, we may take trips within the fullness of your Reign as it breaks into this day. Be our guide and our strength. Amen.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Thursday 2 April 2009

More from "God is Able" in "The Strength to Love" by M.L. King, Jr.

Let us notice, finally, that God is able to give us interior resources to confront the trials and difficulties of life. Each of us faces circumstances in life which compel us to carry heavy burdens of sorrow. Adversity assails us with hurricane force. Glowing sunrises are transformed into darkest night. Our highest hopes are blasted and our noblest dreams are shattered.
Christianity has never overlooked these experiences. They come inevitably. Like the rhythmic alternation in the natural order, life has the glittering sunlight of its summers and the piercing chill of its winters. Life brings periods of flooding and periods of drought.

Many times these are the only troubles we talk about. We leave the troubles of the world and injustice and hunger, etc. for other discussions. But reality is, we all must face the days of our lives when things crash in on us and we are not sure how we will walk through them or when we will move to a new place where the pain is not as great as it is now. In all things and through all times, we are told throughout Scripture that our God is able to encourage us in all things. This does not mean that we will be spared from the bad stuff of life. There is no magic that comes when we trust our God who promises to be with us. There is, the assurance that in and through all things we are being held onto and embraced with a love that will not stray from us. Therefore, when we are attacked by life's stormy days, there remains this blessed assurance that gives us our foundation on which we can stand or sit and face whatever will come. Then...on the other side of the storms, we find that we are still embraced and becomes the power to continue on just as the beloved we were before storms raged around us.

Connection: This is really where we need one another - An extra voice to remind us of the fact that God is able to bring life - always.

Blessed God, you continue to remind us of your love for us even when we are being beaten down by the powers of the day. When we cry out, you are present. When we are being pulled down by the sadness and brokenness in our lives, you are present. Praise to you, O God. Amen.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Wednesday 1 April 2009

We continue this week with King on "Our God is Able" in "The Strength to Love." This was sent out by mistake on Sunday, March 22 - sorry.

God is able to conquer the evils of history. His control is never usurped. If at times we despair because of the relatively slow progress being made in ending racial discrimination and if we become disappointed because of the undue cautiousness of the federal government, let us gain new heart in the fact that God is able. In our sometimes difficult and often lonesome walk up freedom's road, we do not walk alone. God walks with us. He has placed within the very structure of this universe certain absolute moral laws. We can neither defy nor break them. If we disobey them, they will break us. The forces of evil may temporarily conquer truth, but truth will ultimately conquer its conqueror. Our God is able.

This is almost too much to hear. Yes, God is able...but for right now - when nothing seems to change and the forces that prohibit us from seeing and living within the fullness of the truth of God's Reign are winning the day, how does one continue. Elie Wiesel would say, "We must." We must because the God who is able is one who will see to truth's rule even though there is no visible proof that this will really be the reality of life among us. This word of truth must come from the midst of those who are oppressed. For when it comes from someone like really rings hollow. And yet, together, many voices - side by side, is the power behind "We must." We must live within the realm of those absolute moral laws that throw down the laws of oppressive powers of death that cannot abide within God's Reign that longs to be established among us - as us.

Connection: I need people to speak up. I need to be a part of a chorus. I need to see that the body of Christ really does resist the powers of evil and separation.

You, O God, are able to empower us to step forward and live as though your Reign is real and present. To do that we must be encouraged and sustained by witnesses to your love who are able to whip up an air of new life that will not settle for the brokenness that is. Set us on fire with your Spirit's power. Amen.