There’s something about fear that is spiritually dangerous. Why else would Jesus have told his followers so many times in the Gospels to “fear not?” It’s his most often repeated teaching.
It’s not that fear is somehow essentially “wrong.” It’s a natural and even healthy human response at times. We all experience it. I’m sure Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane. We all have to deal with fear–face it, work with it, understand it, and decide how we will be impacted by it. I’d even go so far as to say we often need to honor our fear and listen carefully to it. It can cause us to make wise decisions and motivate us to take actions that save lives. Fear, when it serves as an alarm of sorts that awakens us to then choose passionate commitments to bold and loving actions to serve the common good might even save the planet.
And yet, Jesus told us again and again not to be afraid. Why is that? Many reasons I’m sure, but perhaps the deepest one is because fear and love almost always exist in tension with each other. Fear almost inevitably causes us to be defensive, guarded, protective, cautious, closed off, suspicious, exclusive, blaming, and confrontational. Love goes the other direction—it opens us up, causes us to reach out, welcome in, invite, include, offer shelter and hospitality, be gracious and forgiving, erase dividing lines, and to often risk being deliberately vulnerable. In fact I would say it’s impossible to love as Jesus did—which is really what it means to be his disciples–without choosing again and again to risk being vulnerable for the sake of Love.
My friend Brian McLaren, known mostly for his many wonderful books, is also a very talented songwriter. He and I and a number of other folks are about to launch a new worship music company called The Convergence Music Project or CMP (click here if you’d like to learn more about CMP).
Brian is quite humble about his singing and performance abilities, but a few days ago he sent me a simple demo of a new song of his called “Not Welcome Here.” I asked him if it would be okay with him for me to share this song publically, and he agreed. I hope you’ll listen to it. Not only is it timely in terms of the Christmas Story, but it speaks deeply to this whole tension between fear and Love.
As Brian sings in the second verse of the song;
A family showed up at border control/ We want our kids to be safe, They said, That is our goal/ We’re homeless and hungry and frightened and poor/ And our country is ravaged by hatred and war. We said,
Not welcome here, not welcome here/ How do we know if you are sincere?/ It’s a dangerous world, there’s much we should fear/ So people like you are not welcome here.
Neither Brian nor I are suggesting cheap trite responses to the tensions between welcoming refugees at our borders and the very real threats of terrorist infiltration. Personally, I see no reason why we cannot have a wise and prudent approach to immigration policy that is also compassionate and just and openhearted. But what moved me so much in Brian’s song was the reminder of what fear can and will do to us if we’re not awake and in touch with the Spirit of God. In the name of somehow protecting ourselves and our loved ones and our country, we can all too easily close our hearts off not only to the most truly vulnerable folks among us, but to Christ, who recognizes no national borders, and who will always be found, according to Matthew 25, among the most poor and destitute. In other words, there is no way to shut out refugees at our borders without shutting out Jesus.
What I fear most is what fear will do to us if we choose it over and instead of Love. It is impossible to truly love without deliberately choosing to be vulnerable to some degree. May our fear lead us to be as wise and responsible as possible. But may the Love which chose to come to earth in the total vulnerability of a baby born among those “not welcome at the inn”… lead us to embrace a way of Living and Being that others will run to when they are most desperately in need of safe haven, hope, and welcome.