In this episode:
We have been subtly tricked into believing that fear is the voice we should listen to. We have become enemies of one another, champions of causes over people. What if we found new purpose for life and we shut out the fear and lived by love?
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I read a book recently that really opened my eyes to something that had become a habit for me, and it made me want to break it. It’s an attitude that came on gradually when I wasn’t paying attention.
Some of it came throughout my upbringing and some from my own reading, observing, etc.
The attitude is fear.
When I read a book called Love over Fear: Facing Monsters, Befriending Enemies, and Healing Our Polarized World (affilate link) by Dan White Jr. it made me realize that I have been motivated by fear when I didn’t even realize it. The author says:
“The raw experience of fearing a common enemy bands us together and can energize use to action. In the early 1980s, a group of psychologists developed a way to study how fear influences our behavior. Their approach to understanding fear is using the Terror Management Theory. These psychologists were able to determine that, in general, when fear influences our decisions, we can be made to respond in wild ways.” (Pg. 20 )
"Nah, I’m not susceptible to that sort of manipulation," I thought. But I kept reading.
“They assembled a long list of fear-based code words such as hurt, danger, unsafe, peril, problematic, injure, sick, threat, and then tested them out in various communication forums. These words elicited a dramatic response of action from people...This language has become the constant drumbeat of American political speeches. Politicians play to our gut fears of each other.”
Again, I didn’t think this was true, until I started to listen objectively. On both sides of campaigns, it’s used as a tactic!
White says the report showed that positive language didn’t elicit the same action, therefore politicians who run on positive language don’t get the support. “Not surprising, this psychological Terror Management Report has become a formal guidebook for writing political speeches. Both Republicans and Democrats use this report as a framework for peppering their speech with fear-based code words.” They are experts at leveraging our fears.
Fear is good when it motivates us to flee imminent danger. But it isn’t good when it motivates us to hate people.
It has opened my eyes to see how often I have lived in fear.
White said, “When we are injured, dashed, and royally let down, we begin to fear those around us—we look for monsters. When we lack control over the suffering in our lives, our fears direct us outward into suspicion rather than inward to confront the pain in our souls.” P 30
So the more pain we have, the more we fear. We close down. We put up walls. We block out the love because we can’t take the risk of hurting. We manufacture hurts and fears that aren’t there. White says, “Fear ultimately does this—it shuts down relationships. This is quite arrogant, isn’t it? We assume we know who someone is, and what they are about, from a snapshot, from a distance.” P 31
This applies to more than just relationships. We have a natural scarcity mindset and zero in on lack, says White. This is the emotional framework that says we don’t have enough time, money, energy, education, protection, etc. (pg 33).
As we look at the comparison between how Jesus lived and how the Pharisees (religious leaders) of his time lived, there is a contrast. The religious leaders were afraid of him taking away their power, so they acted from fear. But Jesus acted from love.
Even when his life was on the line Jesus did not react from fear.
Let’s consider what this has changed in me as I have made this realization and talk about how we can live “repurposed” when we change our mindset.
There are boundaries between right and wrong, so declaring that something is wrong or not biblical is not acting out of fear. We can state truth. But it is the way we react that makes the difference.
I do want to make this clear because there have been times where someone has told me that because I didn’t embrace and ideology that clearly wasn’t biblical that I was motivated by fear. Love does not mean accepting what is wrong.
Instead, it means reacting to it in a way that leaves room for a relationship. We have to be careful that we don’t label every person who disagrees with us as a fearful person. But on the flip side, what is changed in me is not living as if those who are not godly are taking away my freedom and ruling the world. Or even if they did, knowing that God is still in control or my faith is fake.
White says, “Our transformation as beautiful and broken people has everything to do with tuning the dials of our eyes and ears to the way of love versus the way of fear. The language is so bright and direct that the power of this contrast can easily be lost on us. Let it sink in for a moment. If God is love, and perfect love casts out fear, then fear is the opposite of everything that God is.” P. 56
The more I think about this, the more I realize that it doesn’t matter to me if the “wrong” political party gets into power. My focus isn’t on what people could do to me, but on what God has called me to live out in practice.
This is hard because the voice of fear is LOUD.
“Polarization has many faces, but it makes us see each other as monsters to fear, closing us down to each other, creating an Us vs. Them mentality, forcing us to categorize ourselves in contrast.” (P. 76)
I have seen this polarization in the same way author Dan White has. In our churches.
There are lines that we sometimes teach our kids they can’t cross denominationally. Good solid Christian churches might not be of the same “flavor” of worship or theology as we are, and we draw lines.
We don’t mix our youth groups out of fear that another group of kids will “contaminate” ours. We won’t go to church with people who align with a different political party and in our fear we label those who are different with terms that demonstrate our fear.
It lead us to think our view is superior and our way is best.
The others are sinners. They are evil.
Us vs. Them.
We notice differences and eventually turn them from flavors to pure hatred. White gives these examples:
- I thought you cared about people, but you didn’t call me back.
- If you don’t support free health care, you’re supporting the oppression of the poor.
- If you don’t vote for the Republican candidate, you are supporting the murder of the unborn.
- You either support a Democrat for president, or you don’t believe in women’s rights. (P. 81)
I’ve sat in a Sunday School class where it was considered ok to refer to Democrats as demoncrats and people thought it was great fun to use the term.
And now it makes me sick to think that I didn’t say anything. Why? Because of fear of what they might think of me. I might be labeled a “liberal” if I stood up for humankindness.
Where do we go from here?
I’m not here to be on a soapbox. But I want to confess that I have not been loving. I have lived out of fear.
Loving someone does not mean I am endorsing their sin or validating their choices. Love is love. Jesus ate with people who the religious leaders condemned. He did not validate their sin. He validated their humanness. He saw past their flaws and saw their needs.
Dan White says what has helped him move from fear to love is:
- Showing curiosity and getting to know what someone else’s point of view is.
- Asking questions.
- Being quiet sometimes and listening.
- Seeing the suffering of people and showing compassion.
- Exploring and curiosity in interactions.
I’m working on doing these things. I’m listening. Exploring. Trusting that God has control over the things that make me fear.
I’m listening to campaign speeches and seeing where they play on my fears.
I’m letting go of some pride and releasing my need to be right.
Dan White Jr. said he wrote Love over Fear: Facing Monsters, Befriending Enemies, and Healing Our Polarized World because he wanted to irritate people both conservatives and progressives to wake us up to see each other as humans. Maybe this episode will irritate you. I can be ok with that because I will still love you. (Affilate link)
From the back of the book:
Whether it's the news, social media, or well-intentioned friends, we're told daily to fear "others." We fear strangers, neighbors, the other side of the aisle, even those who parent differently. And when we're confronted with something that frightens us, our brain sees only two options: Attack or Avoid.
Hear stories of those who changed hearts and minds through radical love, learn how to practice disarming compassion, and discover the disruptive power of showing affection for those we perceive as monsters.
I invite you to watch for fear and see where it flares up in places you didn’t notice before. Then I invite you to replace it with love. I’m a work in progress, so I invite you to be imperfect with me as I discover Life, Repurposed by love.
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(Please note: books posted here on my blog are purely because I want to share them. Sometimes I receive free copies for review, and other times I purchase the books. Some I get from the library. Either way, any endorsement I offer here on the blog is simply because I want to talk about the book. ) *This post contains affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, if you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission. I sell my ebook via Amazon but I’m also a part of their “Associates” (i.e. affiliate) program which pays a commission on books and any other Amazon products people purchase via my links.
Michelle Rayburn is the author of The Repurposed and Upcycled Life: When God Turns Trash to Treasure, as well as a small group Bible study to accompany the book. Learn more about these and her other books here. A sample chapter of the book and Bible study are available for free download.
All blog content copyright MichelleRayburn.com
This post contains affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, if you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission. I sell my ebook via Amazon but I’m also a part of their “Associates” (i.e. affiliate) program which pays a commission on books and any other Amazon products people purchase via my links.