This morning I suspect I feel like many of us. Dismayed at the news from Dallas. Still confused and heartbroken at the news from Baton Rouge and St. Paul. Disheartened by the unrest and divisiveness that is prevalent in any day’s news. And, yes, afraid. Afraid of what I might hear next. Afraid of where this is all leading. Fear. That is the great enemy isn’t it. Fear that breeds hatred. Fear feeds ignorance. Fear leads to fight or flight…Maybe that is why scripture tells us not to fear so many times.
There are many things to be afraid of. Fear of loss. Fear of rejection. Fear of economy failure. Fear of violence. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of war. Fear of Donal Trump being elected, or Hillary Clinton being elected, depending on which particular camp one resides in. Or, fear of either being elected. I think perhaps, though, the driving fear of all other fears is the fear of the other. The other color. The other religion. The other party. The other theology. The other ideology. The other language. The other culture. The other opinion. The other idea. The other way. The other perspective. The other race. The other gender. The other sexual orientation. The other person. I’m sure there are other others I’m forgetting.
As a white middle class heterosexual Christian female, a place of privilege in our country, I have no right to speak to the fear of being the other. I don’t know what it is like to have grown up fearing my place in society because of my race. Or my religion. Or my sexual orientation. And, except for only slightly when I was a sales secretary in the 70’s for an oil company, my gender. And you couldn’t really call it fear, more irritation at some jerky sexist comments now and then. It is impossible for me to know the depth of fear that so many feel on a daily basis. Only once have I had even the slightest glimpse…
It was some years back when I took my dad back to South Carolina, where he had been raised, to visit one of his siblings. While there we attended a football game in which one of my cousins was the center for the team and the only white player on the team. In fact, he was one of a few white students at the school. I remember walking into the stadium and seeing anger on the face of a young man of color as we approached. He stood in the middle of the sidewalk so we had to go around him in order to enter. I felt fear.
When we walked into the stadium and up the steps to our seats there were stares. Lots of stares. I felt fear. Once seated I looked around and saw no one of my skin color. I felt fear. After a while I felt as though I had become invisible, as if I had been absorbed into the crowd. I know that probably sounds weird, but I lost sense of who I was, what I looked like. I felt separated from myself and from those around me. And it struck me hard. Was this what it’s like to be the other? It was lonely, disorienting, and yes, scary.
Of course, I was in absolutely no danger that night. These were lovely people enjoying the game and each other, and it was completely my white privilege and racial conditioning generating the fear. I confess that loud and clear and repent of being so self-centered. And, I share it because it was a waking up moment for me. It was the only time in my life when I wasn’t part of the majority.
I have always tried to see and love people as people, regardless of all the other stuff. To love people right where they are. And for the most part, I think I do. But that night I was awakened to the truth of how deeply rooted my own fears of being the other are and how much I have always depended on the security of being one of the majority. It is a sobering and humbling realization.
This morning as I sit, think, and pray for all of those who have had their lives ripped apart by hatred and violence, and fear in these recent days and weeks, I am remembering something I heard a long time ago. I heard fear is false evidence appearing real. There is so much to ponder here. Especially when it comes to our fear of the other.
I think the false evidence here is the notion there even is an other. We have created these separations for ourselves, out of ego, out of power, of greed, of fear, and apparently we’ve been doing this from the beginning of time. And, the truth is, we are all born into this life, given the same gift of breath, share the same planet, and will leave this planet the same way, through death. No one is immune to pain, or vulnerability, loss, or death. Everyone is born with purpose, to live the gift of life and to live their lives as a gift in any way possible. And to do it alongside all the other Life breathed vessels walking around.
Religions and faiths of all different kinds tell us the measure of life depends on how well we do it in community. Community with the Maker, with each other, within our own soul. Jesus said the two most important commandments were to love God and love neighbor as oneself. And he clearly illustrated each and all are neighbors.
Unity within diversity is the call. Allowing for the other (idea, language, ideology, theology, race, ethnicity,gender,orientation, perspective, ideas…) to be included in our love of one another. And, even for those who do not practice faith, common sense should tell this is true. We are connected by the very notion that we are living breathing humans. The survival of all depends on the harmony or connection of each and all.
We live so far from this truth though. It is frightening. Where do we start?
How can we re-member ourselves back as brothers and sisters of all race, creed, and color in such a way that all live free from fear? And, so all experience hope? What can I do? I want to look this false evidence appearing real smack in the face and say, “No more! No more violence. No more brokenhearted families. No more hatred. No more prejudice. No more separation. No more other. From now on let there be unity, and peace, and love, and forgiveness, and grace. And us. ”
And, I don’t have a clue how to even begin to do this in such a way it will make any difference. But I can try. In spite of the fear. It’ll work better if we do this together.
Something to chew on…