There are “trigger” words and expressions which push the political hot buttons of partisans on the right and the left. I allude to these phrases because they are part and parcel of our common public discourse. Far from being the exception, we use them as a rule, to demonstrate the differences of opinion between neighbors and friends.
For example, some advocates for gun control call for the repeal of the Second Amendment while the gun lobby seeks a wider distribution of weapons to teachers and workplaces. Both of these proposals are polarizing; they are positions which provoke fear, mistrust, and anger. Each group becomes angry and mistrustful of each other because their opponents don’t recognize the self-evident logic within their respective arguments. Each side views their position as the only common sense alternative to America’s gun crisis. Here, in verbal stalemate, is where the conversation ends. Because of the fear underlying the debate and each side’s implied inherent virtue, the dialogue dies.
It’s impossible for anyone to talk when they’re afraid. The chances of conversing reasonably with anyone about anything are negligible; especially when you fear for your life. Here is the truth: both sides in the gun debate are afraid. If I have no gun, how will I protect my family from tyranny or crime? On the other hand, if irresponsible people can obtain guns, is anyone safe? At the most basic level, fear drives the argument. We’re not ourselves when we’re afraid. It’s much easier to put our faith in fear than in God. Fear is the first step toward loading a gun or cussing out your disagreeable neighbor. Fear is first step toward alienation. Fear kills joy. Fear feasts on our own sense of self-righteousness. Fear amplifies itself, builds echo chambers, and listens only to fear.
Is it any wonder when Jesus appears to the disciples, post-resurrection, he tells them to “be not afraid”? Once the disciples have received and heard Jesus’ shalom, it’s possible to disembody their fears. In resurrecting new life, Jesus takes apart their old fears. Resurrection disables fear. Resurrection brings peace. Resurrection makes listening to Jesus possible. We can hear Jesus in a way we’ve never encountered his message. Those two steps make it possible for Jesus to begin a conversation with the disciples; an ongoing dialogue that’s still happening today. When the fear is gone, Christ’s shalom precedes our practices, listening, and mission. How do we acknowledge our fearfulness and embrace God’s shalom in our midst? Who is most unlike us, hardest to hear, and in need of God’s peace? May we listen without fear?
Richard Lowell Bryant