Saturday, November 3, 2012

Things I Have Learned Not to Fear

When I was a young Christian in charismatic evangelicalism (Assemblies of God, followed by Maranatha Campus Ministries), 2 Timothy 2:7 was frequently preached:

"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and love, and a sound mind."

Other verses emphasized the point:

"For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption. . . "  Romans 8:15.

"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment.  He that feareth is not made perfect in love."  1 John 4:18.

"You are children of God and have victory over the devil," the pastors told us.  "Be bold as a lion, be strong and courageous!"  (Proverbs 28:1 and Joshua 1:6)  We would never have described ourselves as afraid of the world, or as living in fear of anything at all.

How, then, did I learn to be afraid of so many people, so many things?  Back then I would have said, "Oh, no!  I'm not afraid of these things.  But I know enough to be cautious.  There are things out there that God just doesn't want Christians involved in!"  Looking back, however, at myself and my young Christian friends-- at the strength of our visceral reactions against certain things-- I have to say that, no matter how we denied it, what we'd been taught to do was to be afraid. 

So later-- after I married a man who, though in the same church, had never bought into many of its ideas; after I began to live more in the greater community of my town than in an encapsulated Christian community where everyone I knew had the same beliefs as me; after family members I loved and respected showed no ill effects from things I'd been taught were roads to destruction and apostacy-- that was when I began to question if these fears were actually valid, or born out of ignorance.

The result is this list.  Here are some things I've learned not to fear.

Non-Evangelical Christians.

I thought that every Christian who didn't go to the kind of church I went to, was a Christian in name only.  They didn't believe Christ was the Son of God.  They didn't believe He had died for our sins and risen from the dead. And because they didn't believe these things, if I fellowshipped (Christianese for "hung out") with them, I would find myself doubting these things too, and I could even lose my faith. So I talked only to other evangelicals, and learned very little about other branches of Christianity.

Since then I have found that, though there are some Christians who don't believe in an actual resurrection, there are tons of non-evangelical Christians-- Eastern orthodox, Catholic and Protestant-- who don't differ from evangelicals much at all on these most basic issues of the faith.  And even those who do differ are usually kind, warm, caring people-- people who, it seems, often take the New Testament's actual teachings about things like caring for the poor, far more seriously than most evangelicals do.  Who is trusting Jesus more, following Jesus more closely?  Only Jesus Himself knows, and it's none of my business.  That's what He told Peter in John 21:22: "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?  Follow thou me."

Atheists.

I thought atheists would do anything to get a Christian to stop believing, and that atheists, having no foundation for morality, just did whatever they wanted.  But actually, most atheists are not interested in divesting religious people of their faith.  A few are, but atheists by and large just want Christians to not try to convert them.  They don't want Christians to impose their beliefs on others, and they are happy to return the favor.  Contrary to what I was taught, atheists usually have strong ethical and moral values and strive to be true to them-- truer, sometimes, than Christians do when they think a little prayer of repentance will automatically undo any damage they have caused.

Public Schools.

The purpose of religious schools are to impart their religious tradition to children along with the ABC's and addition and subtraction.  Many Christians think public schools are the same-- that their purpose is to impart "secular humanism" as a sort of quasi-religion to vulnerable young people who don't know any better than to imbibe it.  When the circumstances of my life resulted in the necessity of sending my own children to public school, I was very afraid of this.  I remember going to my first Curriculum Night (where the principal and teachers imparted to us parents what our children were going to be taught that year) with deep suspicion.  What anti-Christian teachings and values were going to be imparted to my helpless kindergartner?

None, it turned out.  The public school system and its teachers were mostly concerned with teaching my kid what she needed to know without getting involved in controversies and without getting sued!  This meant that yes, she was going to learn about evolution when she got older, but she was not going to be taught that evolution replaced faith or that there was no need for God.  And both my kids were going to learn something that I decided I approved of very much:  empathy and tolerance for others who were different from themselves.  This was something that had not been emphasized when I myself was in public school, but it was apparently a big part of these schools' new anti-bullying program.

I still had scars from being bullied myself.  If the school was going to strongly discourage bullying and strongly encourage empathy and tolerance, I didn't care if it was a public school or not.  If it was strong on academics (this system was), if the teachers were dedicated and cared about kids (they did), and if my kids were going to learn to treat others as they themselves wanted to be treated (hmm, doesn't exactly sound anti-Christian, does it?), I was all for it.

Secular Music (Especially Rock-n-Roll).

Yes, I really had come to believe that listening to any music with a rock beat that wasn't about God or Jesus, was a slippery slope towards licentiousness, lukewarm faith, and even apostacy.  In fact, even Christian music was suspect if it had a rock beat, and any music with lyrics was suspect if the lyrics weren't about Jesus.  I remember when Christian singer Amy Grant was declared to have left the fold because she recorded a few songs that weren't about God and which were picked up by secular radio stations.  No more listening to Amy Grant!

Now I wonder what on earth I was thinking.  There is a Protestant doctrine called "common grace" which says that all good things are from God, not just those things that are outwardly Christian.  God's grace is everywhere, and nothing good is to be feared.  I still don't listen to music that contains obscenities or promotes misogyny, racism, violence, etc.-- but I am very much uplifted by a lot of popular music today.

Halloween.

When I became a Christian, Halloween was just becoming anathema (an unholy thing) in Christian circles.  A well-known Christian comedian had-- falsely, it turned out-- confessed that he was once a Satanist high priest and that Halloween (which did actually come from pagan roots) was Satan's high holy day.  Letting your kid dress up as Mickey Mouse and ask for candy at your neighbor's front doors was tantamount to letting Satan walk in your front door.  Harvest festivals at local churches were the approved non-Halloween activity for the righteous, so you could be away from home while the antichrist holiday activities were in full swing.  Costumes were permitted at these harvest festivals so long as no witches, ghosts, zombies, vampires, ax murderers or any other evil and/or supernatural costume was worn.

It turns out that Halloween's roots aren't any more pagan than those of any Christian holiday.  The early Roman church deliberately placed its feast days on the days of pagan holidays in order to give the pagans a Christian way to celebrate the same holidays they were already used to.  Carving pumpkins and dressing in costumes certainly isn't inherently evil, any more than bringing a pine tree into your house and decorating it is inherently evil (I know some Christians are still against celebrating Christmas, either, but really, didn't God create the pine tree?).

Nowadays I think giving candy to people who come to your door and ask for it, seems to work rather well as a festive observance of Christ's words, "Give to everyone who asks of you."  Luke 6:30.  And making a game of things that frighten us is a very good way of coping with fear.  It used to be called "whistling in the dark," and I know of no better way to do this than by turning death into something to laugh at, one day out of every year.

Democrats.

Good Christians are supposed to be Republicans, right?  It's the Republican party which has embraced biblical values, while Democrats are only interested in increasing the power of the inherently corrupt State.  That's what I used to think until I actually talked to real Democrats and read real articles written by them.  Lately, too, it's been kind of eye-opening to listen to what real Republicans have been espousing.  A lot of it doesn't sound anything like what Jesus taught.

This year I left the Republican party, re-registered as an Independent, read the book Left, Right and Christ by Lisa Sharon Harper and D.C. Innes, and let go of my political biases once and for all.  So far I've felt no ill effects.

Feminism.

Feminists are ruining our country and destroying our men!  Aren't they?  Turns out that feminism is simply the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes, according to the dictionary, or "the radical notion that women are human beings," according to feminist Cheris Kramarae.  Certainly, there are some radical feminists that practice sexism against men, but most feminism is for men, advocating for men's release from gender stereotypes that hurt them just as much as gender stereotypes hurt women.  I happen to think men and women should be functionally equal in every area of life-- and that makes me a feminist, even though that is a bad word in many Christian circles.

I guess I'll have to get used to being called names for standing up for what I believe in.  Wait a minute-- as a Christian, I think I'm supposed to already be prepared for that, right?

People who are LGBT.

Many Christians will tell you that we are supposed to "hate the sin, love the sinner," but what I discovered in myself, much to my dismay, was that I was really "hating the sin, fearing the sinner," and I needed to repent.  Actually meeting , talking to, listening to and deciding to love real people who are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender-- and finding out they are not monsters with an agenda to take over our nation and recruit our children-- was a huge step in shedding my homophobia.  Because that's what it was, and denying it never changed anything.

Other Religions.

This was probably the biggest fear that I walked away from.  So many Christians believe that the only reason to learn anything about other religions is for apologetic purposes, so that we can learn how to argue against their beliefs.  Admit the possibility that there might be any wisdom, truth or guidance to be had from people of other faiths?  Might as well just go ahead and deny Christ and get it over with.  Your Christian friends will be praying for you.

Imagine my amazement when I found that Buddha, Confuscius and the Tao actually said some of the same things Jesus Himself taught. That Islam's concept of submission to God isn't really different than that of Christian surrender.   Sure, there are differences in the major religions, and I'm sticking to Christianity as my own faith-- but if common grace is real, then truth is truth wherever we find it.

I still believe in what Christ said:  "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me."  John 14:6.  But I do notice that He never said, "There is no truth to be found anywhere but in the Scriptures," or "Nothing that any non-follower of Mine tells you has any value."  In fact, in Acts 17:22-34, Paul commends the pagans in Athens for being "very religious in all aspects," even to the point where they had raised an altar with the inscription "To an Unknown God." Paul was not afraid of the Athenian's religion, even though he'd been a devout Jew all his life.  He related to them first through their own faith and did not condemn them.

I don't have all the answers as to how God deals with people of other faiths than my own.  But I must believe that when Jesus said, "If I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto me," He indeed meant "all."  I am not a Calvinist.  I don't believe in a limited Atonement.  I believe people can resist being drawn, but I cannot believe that God chooses certain people to never even have a chance.  So if Christ is drawing all peoples to Himself, then who am I to tell him how He's supposed to do that?


So those are most of the things I've learned not to fear.

There are still quite a few things that I fear.  Poverty.  Drowning.  Earthquakes.  People breaking into my house.  Spiders.  ElfQuest never getting made into a movie.

But I like to think that more of my fears nowadays are of things that actually can hurt me.  I feel like I may finally be learning to really live the verse I used to think I was following:

"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment.  He that feareth is not made perfect in love."

Someday I hope to be made perfect in love.  Till then-- I promise to try not to be afraid of you just because you're different from me.

8 comments:

JBsptfn said...

I remember that Christian Comedian that you are talking about(Mike Warnke). My mom used to have a few of his comedy tapes.

As for Halloween, this reminds me of a sermon that someone gave at, you guessed it, an on-campus Christian organization.

I remember that I was invited to a Halloween party by someone in one of my classes. The day or two before the party, there was a guy who gave a sermon at BASIC (Brothers and Sisters in Christ) about the dangers of Halloween and how you should be careful as far as celebrating it (like suggesting that you don't wear a costume).

anjtuesday said...

Great post, Wordgazer. I've been wondering... is there anything you miss about the "old times"?

perfectnumber628 said...

Great post! In my experience, I was taught to stay away from a lot of things because they were "a bad influence"- they would tempt me and I would be too weak to withstand it. Now, temptation is real, but come on, we have Jesus with us, we don't have to be afraid of just TALKING to people and LEARNING about other points of view.

Kristen said...

JBsptfn and perfectnumber-- you're so right! That's the way it was. And I see talking to others and learning from them as part of the Golden Rule, that fear held me back from.

Anjtuesday, so great that you stopped by! Yes-- the main thing I miss about the old times was the everyday closeness with the others in my group. Living with a group of people with an "us against the world" mentality draws you into that group in a very intense way. You become like a big, close family. I am still friends with most of those people, but we only see each other once or twice a year now.

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Fear is a destroyer. Look at all the beauty that has been destroyed due to fear, "pagan" temples, books, music, etc. I threw away some "evil" books and music back in the day. Today I try to recognize and not allow fear in my life.

Love this post!

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Oh, forgot to mention. I fear a poorly made Elf Quest movie more than it not being made. ;-)

Kristen said...

Thanks, Mike! I fear a poorly made ElfQuest movie too-- but I hope for the best!

Anj Tuesday said...

Kristen, I know what you mean, I think. Obviously it's not limited to religions, though perhaps the sense of possession of some super-ordinaty One Truth is strongest there. I miss it sometimes... to belong. But when I look at groups and see how they police each other's attitudes and language and whatnot... no, thanks.