Friday, November 6, 2015

Lessons from Sand Worms

Chances are pretty good that I'm the only minister in Texas who has used (multiple times) the "Litany Against Fear" from Dune during a sermon.  If you're not familiar with it, the main character recites this Litany during a time when his life is at risk: "I will not fear.  Fear is the mind-killer.  Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.  I will face my fear.  I will permit it to pass over me and through me.  And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.  Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.  Only I will remain."

Don't Mess With Shai-Hulud

Fear as the mind-killer has resonated with me since the first time I encountered the phrase.  When I was young it was merely powerful prose, but as I've gotten older it has become enshrined in my heart as universal truth.  Fear, at its most powerful, obliterates your mind.

But when you ask a nerd about fear, they are much more likely to quote Star Wars before Paul Atreides.  You probably know this one, a meditation on fear by Jedi Master Yoda: "Fear is the path to the dark side.  Fear leads to anger.  Anger leads to hate.  Hate leads to suffering."  Again, it was merely pithy when I was younger.  Today?  Well, I live in America and suffer through an endless election cycle.  Yoda is a prophet, man.

The Kwisatz Haderach and Master Yoda were both right: fear destroys your ability to think, it feeds anger, it is the root of suffering.  Fear guides our political rhetoric, fear seeps into religious life, fear haunts even benign holidays like Halloween when FB posts warn you to watch out for razors in your child's candy.  Fear is the root and anger is the bitter fruit that we all seem to be feasting upon lately.  At the end of last year, Slate published an "Outrage Calendar" that listed every topic we yelled about on Social Media by the day.  It was a telling reveal, that our public discourse has become dominated by what is wrong, broken, unfit, paltry, contemptible.  I have to search news with a fine toothed comb to find a semblance of "good" news.  We are all so angry; we are all so afraid.

Part of me wonders if our fear is healthy; life is actually quite fragile and often the worst amongst us have the most power.  But part of me also acknowledges that fear (and its child, anger) grow out from a shattering of expectation.  Maybe Americans are so angry lately because we're finally having to let go of the myth of our national exceptionalism.  Maybe Progressives are angry because the long arc of justice is TOO long and all this work is exhausting.  Maybe conservatives are angry because they feel the tide of the culture war turning against them and they don't know their next move.  Maybe.  Whatever the anger is about, though, I turn my eyes back to the Jedi and the Fremen and remember that our anger is ultimately rooted in our fear about the future.  And that fear?  It's killing us.  It's sapping our ability to think critically.  It's driving us apart from each other.  For God's sake, fear caused the people of Houston to vote AGAINST an Equal Rights ordinance that would have protected religious folk, veterans and the disabled.

Fear leads to suffering.  Fear is also not an appropriate response for Christians.  Over and over again, Jesus told his disciples, "Do Not be Afraid."  Or like the writer of 2 Timothy said: "For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."  We are called to something more: trust beyond fear, hope beyond anger, love beyond hate.  It's harder this way, but its vastly better than the mind obliteration that is our only other option.

Join me my friends.  Clear your thoughts and let your fear pass over you.  Let outrage leach out from your soul, like the poison it often becomes.  Let's discover together what life can be like when we aren't angry all the time.

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