The words resonating from the Christmas story are “be not afraid” in conjunction the Greek word for love-plus “agape.“ These words for me date back to my early childhood and have been repeated over the years emanating from different churches. There should be no room for interpretation irrespective of the denomination. No wiggle room exists here. The words are clear as is their meaning.
These words come not only from the denomination of my youth but from several I have heard over the years. The specific church should not matter if we actually adhere to the words. Some disagree with the veracity of the Christmas story but not the message conveyed by the words. Often people claim acceptance of their meaning. A member of the clergy whose denomination shouldn’t matter would conclude with the closing remarks being “may the words I say with my lips, may I believe in my heart and practice in my life.” This concept of belief and practice are a common denominator for religions. Religious belief calls us to act by being respectful of others, helping others, taking the better course of action, if we choose to do otherwise are we believers or followers? Where is the line drawn, the “wiggle room” exceeded?
Religious membership to one church is not mandatory to accept the words but practicing them in your daily life is critical. Otherwise you may simply be a decent albeit nonreligious person trying to live life without fear. We make this choice numerous times throughout any given day. We vacillate between the “The Road Not Taken” and the easy road.
Years ago I read of a member of the clergy who stepped away from perhaps a more comfortable religious lifestyle. During the times of civil rights activism, it was expected and encouraged for people, clergy or not, to speak out against prejudice, racism and discrimination. This minister decided to assume the role of an itinerant minister. His chosen “flock” was not the oppressed but the oppressor even those who didn’t see themselves as oppressors. His belief was that by us looking down on those whose actions we find hateful made our actions no better than their actions. Responding to hate with hate is not an answer. This attitude of hate emanating from fear can only be changed by understanding the cause of the fear. He chose the gospels as his means of removing the fear and mitigating hate.
What do we fear? Is that language of the Christmas message still applicable? I generally do not fear being shot or robbed or kidnapped regardless of where I live. Yet baseless fear is often if not spoken of is at least acted upon. These days irrational fear may be for those who we see as different, people of color, immigrants, LBGT, even those who look like us but believe differently be it religion or politics. Perhaps fear of not knowing people who are different creates an animosity towards them even approaching hate. In the segregated South white people saw African Americans as less then themselves. If we see each other as equals than treating others as less than us would be unlikely. Refugees fleeing violence and poverty create an unfounded fear for those who already live here. Fear of truth itself has blossomed in this age of social media. Is it too much effort to look for truth in what we read or hear? Perhaps lethargy has taken precedence in our lives. Reading what we want to be true has substituted for integrity. Some of our elected representatives use this for their purposes. Although some leaders believe that playing to people’s unsubstantiated fears is advantageous, it should be denounced.
What do we have to fear? Do we fear what or who we don’t know. The world will not cease if one of us should die. Can we act like we believe lives matter and treating others like we want to be treated is essential? Through hope we can help each other cope and not despair. Expecting our actions to always be fair may be delusional. Demanding we treat all including ourselves reasonably may be the best we can do. If we maintain a belief in individualism-plus we loose the concept of collaboration on different perspectives, different views and voices, so that working together, solving problems is lost. We must accept there is something greater than just ourselves. If we believe only in complete individualism, we simply exist so why care. If something greater than just us is understood then we have reason to not fear and seek good will for each other.