The home of the brave needs a bravery booster shot.
We’re filled with fear of terrorism post the Paris and San Bernardino shootings. Yet we’re one of the most religious countries on earth, filled, too, with Christians who supposedly know those dozens of repeated biblical admonitions:
“Do not be afraid.”
“Do not fear.”
Trust in me, says Jesus, and faith will free you from fear.
So where’s America’s faith-filled refusal to turn fear into irrational acts and demonization? Where’s the fearlessness that’s supposed to flow from a nation’s strong faith?
I have no idea.
But I do know we’re now so afraid that we’re buying bulletproof backpacks for kids to hold up between themselves and terrorists who attack their school. A fast-growing Massachusetts company (one of several nationwide) sells them for $249, plus classic denim jackets, with Kevlar, $750; plus bulletproof shirts, $749; plus, for $125, bulletproof inserts for three-ring binders, The Boston Globe reports.
We’re now so afraid that fear-manipulator Donald Trump hit his highest poll numbers ever Monday in a new Monmouth University poll. Going into Tuesday’s GOP debate, he had 41 percent of the Republican vote in that poll and led by huge margins in most others. Yet he wants to ban all Muslims from coming to America and 59 percent of Republicans and 38 percent of independents agree with him, says a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
We’re more afraid now of another terrorist attack than at any time since 9/11, says a New York Times/CBS poll. After 9/11, we had a motto: to avoid ballparks or malls or movie theaters out of fear was to “let the terrorists win.” Well, we’re now so afraid that TV and online news stories report on how the home-of-the-brave citizenry is doing just that. And buying more guns.
After the Boston Marathon bombings we had another motto: “Boston Strong.”
What’s our motto now? America Jittery and Jumpy? The United States of Basket Cases?
Good for the American Catholic bishops, who’ve stood up to fear and made clear their continued welcome to refugees, Muslim, non-Muslim, from Syria, from wherever. Good for Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis. He just welcomed a Syrian refugee family of four into Indiana despite Gov. Mike Pence’s fear-driven and highly publicized plea that he turn them away.
Remember that popular line from the 1990s, “What would Jesus do?” It was supposed to remind believers of their call to act, or at least try to act, in a way that imitates Jesus’ example. Far be it for me to presume what Jesus would do. But on refugees fleeing for their lives? I think we can safely assume he would not say, “Forget about it. Too risky. Too scary. Where is my guarantee?”
Let me say right now: I’m not very brave. I wish I didn’t think twice about sudden noises in movie theaters or malls. I wish I’d never heard the terms “active shooter” and “shelter in place.” The attack in San Bernardino seemed so random. I get the anxiety. Yet unfettered fear leads to terrible places. Faith leads to embrace, and we’ve all seen how those with powerful faith show amazing courage, amazing grace.
I think of faith-filled mothers in Boston who’ve lost children to the terror of gang violence when those children, innocent children, were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I think of the parents of Boston Marathon victim Martin Richard, 8, who asked the court to spare his murderer’s life.
I think of the famously fearless. Before his “kitchen table conversion,” Martin Luther King Jr. was a terrified, reluctant civil rights leader facing death threats, mounting harassment, and trying to get out of leading the Montgomery bus boycott without looking like a coward. Then he bowed over that kitchen table and prayed. As he later wrote, he experienced, “the presence of the Divine as I have never experienced God before.” He heard the voice of Christ tell him to “stand up for righteousness, stand up for justice, stand up for truth,” promising to never, ever, leave him alone. King said his fear vanished on that night. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Let me reiterate. I’d die of fright before joining, never mind leading, any boycott anywhere involving cops and horses and clubs and guns. I am, basically, a chicken.
Yet faith asks us to rise above our fear, to turn from the temptation to retaliate or hate the “other,” to fake courage even if we can’t yet feel it. Even now, America faces nowhere near the threats and horrors other countries have endured for decades. And the legitimizing of our cowering — in this supposedly faithful nation, the strongest nation on earth — just baffles me.
Yesterday, after a reportedly “credible” threat shut down the entire Los Angeles school system, New York City police said Los Angeles displayed “significant overreaction.” New York Commissioner William Bratton said his city and others received the same threat in a generic email that looked like the sender watched too much of the Showtime thriller “Homeland.”
“These threats are made to promote fear,” Bratton said. “We cannot allow ourselves to raise levels of fear,” he said. To which I can only add, Amen.