Fear can make you run and hide, it can motivate you to take action, and it can freeze you dead in your tracks.I don't think most of us need science to tell us this. Nor do I think it's very controversial. Most of us who are trying to pay attention to our lives know this in our bones. When we are afraid we have three choices: we can freeze, flee, or fight. And the fighting? That can be fair, or it can be WWF "no holds barred." It gets ugly when we go that route...
I don't study the brain for a living but I do deal with people on a daily basis, as I expect every reader of this blog does. And in my work I often encounter people who are afraid. As a pastor, I encountered people who were afraid to die, or afraid of a loved one dying or afraid about their child in the grips of addiction. As a rector I encountered people who were afraid of losing the church they loved. As a canon, I encounter people who are afraid that their rector is leaving - or won't leave or that the parish they love cannot continue along the same path. As a member of the polis I find people who are afraid about the future of this country. As a father, and husband, and brother, and son, and neighbor I find people who are afraid for so many reasons, some real and some imagined. But as I understand the way the brain works it does not much matter: fear takes us, quite literally, "out of our mind." The Greek word for that is paranoia!
As people of faith, we are called to metanoia - to repentance - to changed minds. Some want to get there by way of shame, but I think that shame is a close cousin to fear and it becomes a very vicious circle. (See my friend Rob Hirschfeld's helpful new book, Without Shame or Fear.)
How then do we move to metanoia? Only by love. The great commandment is to love God and love our neighbor. This is the whole of the Jewish and Christian heritage; it's in both testaments. We are commanded to love our neighbor. No exceptions. The Trump voter and the Muslim immigrant. We love them both indiscriminately. Is this hard? For sure.
But not as hard as trying to live life scared out of our minds. The Anglican priest/Welch poet, George Herbert, put it this way:
Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back, Guilty of dust and sin. But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack From my first entrance in, Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning If I lacked anything. “A guest," I answered, “worthy to be here”: Love said, “You shall be he.” “I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear, I cannot look on thee.” Love took my hand, and smiling did reply, “Who made the eyes but I?” “Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame Go where it doth deserve.” “And know you not," says Love, “who bore the blame?” “My dear, then I will serve.” “You must sit down," says Love, “and taste my meat.” So I did sit and eat.