Be Not Afraid: Letting Go of the Phobias
Fear is an odd thing. It’s a little like salt. We need salt in our diet for without it, our nervous systems would fail to operate and we’d die. Too much salt becomes toxic, even fatally. Likewise, fear can keep us alive; my fear of being struck by a car keeps me from walking out into traffic. On the other hand, too much fear can keep us from fully living, can turn off our brains and as the great prophet, Yoda says, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Is it any wonder that one of the most common instructions we are given from the Bible is to be not afraid.
I–like so many people–grew up learning what to fear. Some of these were the fleeting, emerging fears like fire, traffic, and stampeding elephants. Many though were the abiding fears that aren’t meant to keep me out of danger but more of a fearful white noise that constantly hums in my brain. These fears were earthquakes (I grew up in Vancouver), grapes (OK, I made that one up), and of course, “gays,” even though for the longest time I had no idea what this meant. What I did now is that people would whisper the word “gay” the same way one would whisper “cancer.” When I was called gay in elementary school, I didn’t really know what this meant but I knew it was bad. Even later, when I went to a religious high school, we were taught that being gay was an affliction that made God very angry.
It’s a funny thing about the fears that we’re taught early on – as we grow older and learn to think more rationally about the world, those formational fears hold on. The white noise of fear distracts us from beauty and truth and clogs our ears and brains from learning the reality of the world around us.
By now, I’d usually be writing about the injustice that this fear brings to the lives of our LGBT siblings but others who have posted to this series of blogs have expressed this more eloquently than I and if you’re following these posts, there’s a very good chance you’ve experienced first hand the hatred that is born in fear. Instead, what I can describe firsthand is what can happen when we let go of fear. As is so often the case, my liberation from fear started with relationships – finding out that people I loved and respected were indeed “one of them.” The story of this liberation is for another time but eventually, I discovered that I’d been wrong to fear but more importantly, the faith that I love had been persecuting people who God loves in the name of God.
What a relief! The white noise had been silenced and I was able to more fully hear Jesus’ call to love thy neighbor. No longer did I have to read the Gospels adding my own asterisks – when Jesus says love there is no “*except…” I was able to continue, and sometimes deepen my relationships with LGBT friends. I was also given a deep passion for dispelling the fear and hatred that had taken root in my church and fellow followers of Christ’s Way, leading to me being an aspiring ally.
The misplaced fear I was taught as a young person can in no way be compared to the very real and justified fear that many live with. For far too many, persecution, harassment, and exclusion is still an everyday reality. For me though, looking back at my irrational fears, I have to ask why?
Why choose to live with a fear that has no basis in reality? Why fill my ears with the white noise of fear that obscures the truth, beauty, and God’s call to love? And how dare I blame my own harmful biases, my own desire to separate “us” from “them,” on the Christian Faith which in all cases demands that we offer radical love and hospitality to all but especially those who’ve been turned away by others? Why not accept the liberation Jesus offers if we’ll only heed the words, “be not afraid.” The end of homophobia, racism, religious intolerance and all human-created divisions isn’t just for those who suffer persecution but instead promises liberation for us all.
Jim Tenford is a minister serving St Andrew’s United Church, a proudly affirming congregation.
Join us in Moose Jaw for the I AM: Panel Discussion & Faith Service. A panel discussion and faith service for queer Christians, open Evangelicals, allies, and curious friends making space for conversation about faith, Church and coming out. Happening on Sun. April 14 @ 2:30pm at St. Andrew’s United Church, Moose Jaw.
This narrative is a part of our “Out of the Tomb” blog series focused on Christian experiences with gender & sexual diversity.
In the Christian narrative of the resurrection, Jesus enters into the tomb dead and carrying all of humanity’s darkness, fear, hatred, and shame. When he rises from death to life and comes out of the tomb, he leaves all of the darkness behind and steps freely into life. The tomb is the place where everything that is not life is left behind.
For LGBTQ+ Christians and Christian allies, this narrative is an invitation to step OUT OF THE TOMB and find fulfillment, acceptance, and life in the ways in which we have been created in God’s image–including our spirituality, sexuality and gender identity.
Interested in reading more? Check out these other great blogs that are part of the “Out of the Tomb” Series: