Don't Be Afraid
- The Rev. Bob Dannals
- Aug 16, 2017
- Category: General
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"Do not be afraid," was Jesus' most frequent instruction to his disciples. More than anything else, he said, "do not be afraid." And even after they had witnessed the resurrection, when he was about to ascend, he said again, "Remember, don't be afraid."
It seems that within the last few years in American life we've been through a war -- from the Newtown shootings, the bombing at the Boston Marathon, the murder of the innocents during a Bible study in Charleston, the rescue of a kidnapped woman in Cleveland, and this past week, the horrific display of racism and fascism in Charlottesville.
Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, reminds us that the root of human disregard and violence is fear. The events of this past weekend in Charlottesville were justified from beginning to end on the basis of fear -- fear of the changing landscape of America, fear of losing access and majority, fear in misplaced anxiety and insecurity, fear in a misguided understanding of masculinity.
What we saw in the "Unite the Right" demonstration is deeply unsettling, especially for those of us who grew up in the "Jim Crow" South. As a priest, I peacefully resisted the KKK and the neo-Nazis in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and then again, joined with hundreds of clergy and lay leaders to petition the South Carolina legislature to remove the Confederate flag from the State House in the early 2000s. And during those years, many, many churches addressed the sin of racism and prejudice of all forms. Many of us thought those efforts helped us turn the corner on racism and bigotry. We thought we were (mostly) over the raw nerves of racial tensions and we were on to better and brighter days for our country.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of last weekend's demonstrations was the demographic of those who proudly flaunted Confederate and swastika-emblazoned regalia, and chanted "Jew will not replace us," and "blood and soil." All participants were white, mostly male and a large majority in their 20s and 30s.
When some of us gathered on Sunday for extra prayers, we became aware, as always, that we pray to a God of justice and peace, one who doesn't rest until all of God's children are living into the divine image instilled into each person. But something monstrous had happened -- again -- and something inside me led me to think that I should be able to see it coming and stop it. How could everything in my world seem and look the same when it no longer was? How could peace reign when violence and racism had struck again?
It's a confusing and complex time in which we live. I really don't know how to account for the spirit of division and disregard I sense in our country, but I do know that it is a mean and ugly spirit. That said, what I also know is that a vast majority of our citizenry object to the bigotry that raised its head this past weekend, and that we won't abide by its increase and continuance.
So what is our response?
In our Baptismal Covenant we are asked, "Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?" We respond, "I will, with God's help." Here at Holy Innocents' Church, Atlanta, in our neck of the woods, in our domain, in our homes, at our workplace, out in our community, we promise, with God's help, to be a vessel of justice and peace. Each and every day, you and I have the outstanding privilege of speaking and acting on behalf of God's love, forgiveness, justice and reconciliation. This includes our peaceful resistance against all manner of bigotry and disregard. As the the Letter of John so rightly attests, "one cannot say that he loves God and hates his brother or sister."
So, let us pray for the people of Charlottesville, and then rise from our knees and continue to work, with God's help, for a peaceable society.