What Fear Gets You

MLK Trayvon juxtopositionThe Zimmerman verdict had me moping around for a couple days. I read a little about Zimmerman when he was first charged, and he really sounded like a manipulative bully. Just the kind of guy who would want, but shouldn’t have, a gun. And then there was his “apology” that expressed regret for the consequences of his actions, but notably, not for the actions he chose. He even had the gall to assert Trayvon’s death was God’s will. The Guardian had a piece I thought sounded all the right notes.  Namely, since Zimmerman targeted Trayvon, where was Trayvon’s ground to stand?

After sleeping on it, I wonder if in some ways this tragedy is playing out in miniature a dynamic happening in America at large. Both men acted out of fear for their lives. One had lethal power and one had no power at all, but each felt genuinely threatened (whether justified or not). Likewise, almost half the people in this country own almost all the wealth, while the other half has almost none, and yet both feel threatened. To be more specific, the top 40% of Americans enjoy 95% of American wealth while the bottom 40% cling to 0.3%. The top 1% holds 42%–almost half–of American financial wealth, and yet many of those at the top are genuinely afraid that somehow healthcare for all or better public education or some other common good will take something away from their own wellbeing. They genuinely feel financially threatened and, frighteningly, have the clout to drive domestic policy.

Imaginary threats drive foreign policy as well. We dove into a decade of war that cost thousands of lives and trillions in taxpayer debt predicated on imaginary weapons that never turned up. The fear is not rational.  Dare I say, Americans would be more secure today had trillions been spent on diplomacy and education instead of war. And the richest Americans would benefit financially from a healthy, educated workforce. Despite this, much of policy discourse is driven by (and in fact depends on) people feeling genuine fear.

What happened to courage? High school kids all over Dallas have been assigned Devil in the White City for summer reading. It’s stacked on bookstore display tables and has long request lists at area libraries. Two kids in my house are reading it. From what I can remember from having read it a decade ago, it offered a fascinating account of how architecture and police work were done in the 1890’s. More fascinating still was the civic pride of ordinary citizens and their courage to undertake such an ambitious project. Where today, in our vapid celebrity culture, do we find ordinary people undertaking extraordinary things for the sake of human achievement?  Please comment with examples.  They would surely lighten my mood.

For both Zimmerman and Trayvon, fear drove the fatal missteps. If Zimmerman had had the courage to question Trayvon without a gun, if Trayvon had had the courage to respond without fists, if either had had the courage simply to ignore the other, what would have been possible? What would be possible if the 1% advocated common good or governments advanced diplomacy over jingoism?

Join the conversation. What fears can you identify within yourself, and what could a little courage make possible for you?

Copyright 2013 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.

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Courage to Change

Courage is not so much feeling brave while doing something heroic as doing what you have to do even though you are terrified.  This is a reader comment on a story of true courage in a dramatic escape from domestic violence from fellow blogger, Cathy’s Voice Now.  I commend it to all readers!   

It is presently the time in the Jewish calendar known as the Counting of the Omer.  It’s the time between Passover, when Jews were freed from bondage in Egypt, to Sinai, when they received the Ten Commandments.  Lyrically described as a journey from the sea of freedom to the mountain of responsibility, it reminds us that freedom and responsibility go together.  Cathy ends her post with the perfect poem to punctuate this reality, so I share it here.   

Autobiography In Five Short Chapters by Portia Nelson

Chapter One
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.

Chapter Two
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place
but, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter Three
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
My eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter Four
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter Five
I walk down another street.

Join the conversation.  Is there a hole in your sidewalk calling you to life change?

Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.

Obstacles to Intimacy: Secrets

This blog has been exploring the idea of intimacy and inner truths.  When we venture into intimacy with others, we reveal inner truths about ourselves to them.  In intimacy with God, our inner truths are revealed to us.  Hence, intimacy with God involves some honest introspection.

We all have secrets, and they take energy to conceal.  The worst secrets are the ones we try to hide from ourselves.  They can have power over us.  Keeping them hidden, one way or another, inevitably impairs our freedom to make some choices.  On the other hand, exposing secrets steals their power and can give us a new energy and freedom to move on.

Several traditions make a spiritual practice of speaking aloud one’s faults in order to make a break with the past and to set a new direction in life.  This includes ancient religious practices of confession as well as the modern spiritual but not religious practice of the Fifth Step in Twelve Step addiction recovery programs.  In either case, searching ourselves is sure to unearth some secrets.  If I am carrying a secret with an especially vicious hold over me, speaking it aloud and claiming responsibility for letting it impair my choices can be the most powerful way to break its hold.  Knowing that we intend to speak aloud what we find in introspection, however, can present its own unique obstacles.  I might discover something was worse than remembered, and I might feel embarrassed to say it aloud.

If you feel drawn to make a break with your past and to enter into new intimacy with God through one of the practices of confession, but feel the tight grip of secrets holding you back from honest introspection, I hope these verses and breathing prayer will give you courage to move on.

3 While I kept silence, my body wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
Selah

5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’,
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
Selah (Psalm 34:3-5)

Inhale: humility
Exhale: humiliation

Join the conversation.  How would you encourage someone trapped in the jaws of a secret he’s afraid to expose?

Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.

Obstacles to Intimacy: Fear of Brokenness

“I am barely holding it together as it is.  I don’t know how I can live with myself if I take an unobstructed look at this horror that is my life.”

Sometimes it’s not fear of pain that holds us back from taking an honest look at ourselves in the quest for intimacy with God.  Maybe you have an advanced degree in pain already.  Maybe there is something much greater at stake than feeling a little more pain.  Sometimes what is at stake is our very existence—an ability to get through this day, let alone tomorrow or the day after.  Maybe I have negotiated an uneasy peace with myself, and taking an honest look inward sounds a lot like opening Pandora’s Box.  Facts and feelings will fly out and there will be no way to stuff them safely back inside.  Or worse, maybe I strongly suspect I can’t live with the person I find under any terms whatsoever.

It’s a great paradox, seemingly nonsensical on its surface, but several traditions recognize a spark of blessing lurking in brokenness.  Twelve Step addiction recovery seekers talk about “rock bottom” as being the only ground on which an addict can take the first step to recovery—admitting powerlessness over certain things.  Jews have an expression, “There is no vessel as whole as a broken heart.”  Christian scripture offers verse after verse on the theme of dying to self and being raised to new life in Christ.

To be clear, I am not saying brokenness or rock bottom is a good thing.  No one wants to see it come to that for ourselves or for a friend.  There’s no good in glorifying or overdramatizing feeling this low.  I am not advocating that you press the pedal to the metal and hurl yourself towards it like Thelma and Louise.

What I am saying is that a lot of people have found themselves in a place of brokenness, and they have hope to offer those whose journey takes them through that place.  Sometimes it is the most effective way to break free from stubborn attachments or “bondage to self.”  Sometimes it gives us an impetus to take ourselves out of life’s center and to put God there instead.  Sometimes we need that spark of blessing more than we need to avoid brokenness.  Although all our survival instincts rebel against it, the truth remains:  brokenness saves us from ourselves.

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)

Inhale: healing
Exhale: brokenness

Join the conversation and give courage to your fellow travelers.  What spark of blessing did you find in your journey through brokenness?

Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.

Obstacles to Intimacy: Fear of Pain

It takes a certain fortitude to bring our full attention to inner inventory.  A tendency to avoid introspection or to cut the search short whenever we embark on it could indicate a fear within us asking to be addressed.

One possibility is fear of pain.  Looking honestly at where we fell short and feeling compassion for people we harmed can be painful.  Avoidance and denial can elude pain in the short term.  We pack painful memories into moving boxes, seal them with duct tape and chunk them into the attics of our psyches.  There they stay.  They might not interfere with day-to-day matters, but they don’t go away, either.  We can’t move on without dealing with them somehow.  We can lug them with us like dead weight or lighten our loads by unpacking them, deciding what needs to be discarded or given away, and choosing only those things of value for our journeys.

It’s often said fear of a thing is worse than the thing itself, and I have found that to be true with unpacking painful memories in introspection.  It’s no accident that Twelve Step programs call for fearlessness in the Fourth Step moral inventory.  Honest introspection is the most fearsome part of the practice of confession.  It helps to remember that the pain we fear can be extremely useful.  When we embrace it, it saves us from treading the same ground again.  When gathered up, it fuels the journey from the place where you were wounded to a place of healing and newness of life.

If you find yourself lingering at the threshold of introspection, you may need a shot of courage.  Ask God for it.  When we ask for God’s help navigating obstacles, we tend to be modest.  There are several reasons we ask for too little.  One is we miss the forest for the trees.  Our fixation on an immediate need or desire blinds us to a deeper trait that leads us repeatedly into distress.  Or we hesitate to ask for what we need because we don’t want to seem too greedy or to take more than our share of God’s mercy.  We ask for too little also because don’t really believe God can or will give what we ask, and doubting God seems safer than trusting him, being vulnerable, or being wrong.  We hedge.

Despite our modesty, scripture indicates nothing delights God more than answering the prayers of those who earnestly seek him.  God’s mercy is boundless.  Your share is not apportioned.  Consider whether you want to be driven by fear or something else.  Stephen Hawking put forward radical ideas about physics.  He wasn’t afraid to be wrong.  If he had been, black hole radiation would not have been discovered.  He was too curious to be held back by fear.  Let curiosity about what God can do in your life lead you forward.  Maybe these verses and breathing prayer will bring you courage for the first step.

7Remember not the sins of my youth, or my transgressions; according to thy
steadfast love remember me, for thy goodness’ sake, O Lord!
15My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net. (Ps 25)

Inhale: curiosity
Exhale: fear

Join the conversation.  Is there anything in your attic that you need to give away?

Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.