Comforting Words: End the Fear

Friday, April 29, 2005

End the Fear

Three news items caught my attention over the past week or so, which left me with a sinking feeling in my stomach and caused me great concern.

A popular talk-show host in my island home of Jamaica was (and I believe still is) very fond of saying, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” It was hard not to agree with him as I watched the unfolding of the human tragedy on the world scene.

In the midst of the darkness that was descending on me as I followed these stories, I heard a familiar voice of comfort. Though the stories that this person told confirmed that, even at a personal level, things might get worse before they get better, there is hope that through the power of love “this too shall pass.”

I invite you to enter the discussion this week using the Words from Scripture, Words of Comfort and Words from the Heart as your companion and let us see how we can “End the Fear.”


From the New Testament:
Matthew 10: 31
“So, do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

1John 4:18
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”


My man was in town this week. It has been almost five years since we last saw each other and, as he held me in his arms on Tuesday, I was taken back to the time of our first hug.

His hands were soft and warm as I remembered them and his words were as hard-hitting and unapologetic as always. He brought tears to my eyes, laughter to my well-bruised soul and hope to my heart.

Yes – only he can do this to me. He is the only man who can move me to tears as I plan the next step or write the next sentence of my truth. Only Bishop John Shelby Spong can make the seemingly horrible passages of Scripture beautiful, only he can help me to understand and constantly reaffirm why I am a follower of Jesus.

Bishop Spong was in Edmonton as part of a promotional tour of his new book, Sins of Scripture. My woman-friend, B. and I had supper at a nearby restaurant, Glenora Inn, and watched admiringly as this tall, elegant and striking Bishop walked by on his way to the Robertson-Wesley United Church where he would speak to a packed hall.

Normally preferring to sit just a little away from the front, I was not complaining about the front pew seats B. chose. She probably understood by now how much this man meant to me and that I needed to be close to him, wanting his words to sweep over my soul, as I knew they always do.

The week had not been going too well for me although I had finished my exams (alleluia) and was taking a break from ‘book-work’. I was using the freedom to spend time with those who, B. included, had forgiven me for being physically, emotionally and spiritually absent and stretched.

However, there was this pain in my belly as, with some time on my hands, I took up watching television and even reading the community newspapers. Three stories brought me such forceful reminders that “all is not well’ in our world, thrusting me out of my personal problems and dilemmas. These stories reminded me how absent real love and the act of neighbourly care and concern have become from our collective lives.

The first story was from Florida, where sixteen mothers showed up at a government event, to express, no pun intended, their concern about the mixed communications about raising healthy children and the gradual erosion of the rights of women.

They were protesting, by publicly breastfeeding their children, after news broke that a City Commission candidate, Gabrielle Redfern, was harshly criticized for doing the same – choosing to raise a healthy child while exercising her right to be a member of the political establishment.

This is not a new situation, neither is it isolated to the United States. Some might recall that in 2003, a female Member of the Australian Parliament, former world-champion aerial skier, Kirstie Marshall, was shown out of the House after she began breastfeeding her child.

A later news report revealed that the parliament in the Australian state of Victoria was to review its rule prohibiting strangers in the House, after the public outcry about the eviction of this Member of Parliament. I should probably check with my woman-friend in Australia, Sonya, if they did.

The second story, the one that made me physically sick as I lost it and wept (I have been doing quite a bit of that lately) also originated out of Florida. I thought my hearing was playing tricks on me and that I had heard incorrectly when the anchor said, “Coming up, we will tell you about the five year old that was arrested today!”

“A five year old arrested, why?” I asked the television, anxious for the story to ‘come up’. To my dismay and disgust, I watched a replay of a video-recording of the entire incident, showing a school administrator doing very little to calm an obviously hysterical child.

In the next shot, I saw the child sitting in an office chair, defiant but much calmer, when Tampa Bay police officers (three I believe) entered the office. Obviously scared to her wits, the child started screaming and crying “No, no,” as the officers, all three of them, restrained and handcuffed the five year old!

Forgive me my dear friends, but I could not help wondering why was this happening to this little African-American girl; I could not help thinking that we are right back to the slave ship mentality.

Here was a child, like any child who might have had a bad dream, one taunt too many from a classmate or an unappetizing lunch (or none for that matter), venting her anger.

Whatever the cause, she was expressing her frustration, as five-year-olds are wont to do, by throwing a serious tantrum. Were there no guidance counsellors or time-out corners in that great American school for this little black girl? (Yes B., I used the word.)

Researching links for this story, I came across a website, Prison Planet, where this most relevant question was asked: “Just how long will it be until our children are not just arrested for minor tantrums but actually facing prison time? America is burning down and the most innocent souls, our own children, are being thrown into the flames of a police state fueled by fear and driven mad by power.”

Dose, an Edmonton daily newspaper, was the source of the third story. Afghanistan, the country where Mr. Bush has proudly claimed that he has brought democracy to and where women, he said, flocked to vote recently, was the scene of this story.

Whether she was among those who voted in the elections, 29-year old woman, Amina, will not be around to enjoy Mr. Bush’s democracy as she was stoned to death this week for allegedly committing adultery.

Some reading this might think, “Oh yes, that’s what they do in those countries,” but I would caution you to hold that thought for a moment as the scenario could very well soon be part of the Canadian landscape.

Orders for Amina’s execution was given under the Islamic sharia law, the same law which the Canadian government is actively considering as means to settle family disputes in the Muslim communities right here in Canada. Oh yes, you heard me right.

While I respect the multicultural policy of Canada, more so as a vigorous defender of the right to express oneself culturally, I cannot help but ask – what and who determines what is cultural and what is oppressive?

These three stories plagued me for days as I wondered what is the connection between them and why they stuck with me. A breastfeeding politician, a five year old African-American girl arrested for throwing a tantrum and an Afghanistan women murdered for allegedly committing adultery. “They are all female,” I thought aloud to my partner, “maybe it has to do with sex and sexuality.” That was the surface issue though.

As I listened to Spong speak about his new book and his funny story about how he tried to identify why women are not “made in the image and likeness of God,” as many men like think, using their second and oftentimes primary brain, I got my answer.

Paranoia – we are fast becoming and in some cases have become our fears. Our governments, led mainly by men, with some women following blindly along, with the aid of religions (led mainly by men!) have created “others” out of diversity and difference.

People were and continue to be enslaved or denigrated because they are “not . . . . . .” fill in the blank – male, white, middle-class, western, Christian, heterosexual, rich, intellectuals, physically ‘perfect’, well educated, mentally stable, wears six two if you are a women and jock straps if you are a man.

Difference is a curse.

Speaking about the war that is now on in and outside of the Church, Spong said, “Homosexuals are the new African-Americans.” I would go further and say that these days, the targets of hate, driven by fear, is any female, non-white, gay, lesbian, physically or mentally challenged or poor person.

There are some passages in the New Testament that give me some comfort when I look at our world – such as that of 1John 4:18. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” I hold these words in my heart, in tension with some that I have borrowed from Bob Marley.

Living in a multicultural and diverse world, I have added to Bob’s words as a constant reminder that “until the philosophy that holds one race,” gender, income status or sexual orientation, “superior and another inferior, everywhere is War.”

You see my dear friends, in the minds of those who create our collective paranoia, Africa and blackness is more than a continent and a skin colour. You are not immune to the paranoia that 'our leaders' - political and religious - continue to perpetuate.

Whether you are caucasian, American, Australian or Canadian, there is some "Africa" in you -- and I am not referring to the fact that, whether you like it or not, we all originate on that continent.

Africa is symbolic of all that is different from the white, male, materially wealthy paradigm. She is the unknown, the uncontrollable, the sensitive, the nurturer, the playful child and the sexual.

She is the nursing mother, the seemingly uncontrollable child in a tantrum and the beautiful woman who they will stone if they cannot possess her. She is everything they fear.

Bob Marley

Until the philosophy which holds one race superior
And another
Is finally
And permanently
And abandoned -
Everywhere is war -
Me say war.

That until there no longer
First class and second class citizens of any nation
Until the colour of a man's skin
Is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes -
Me say war.

That until the basic human rights
Are equally guaranteed to all,
Without regard to race -
Dis a war.

That until that day
The dream of lasting peace,
World citizenship
Rule of international morality
Will remain in but a fleeting illusion to be pursued,
But never attained -
Now everywhere is war - war.

And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes
That hold our brothers in Angola,
In Mozambique,
South Africa
Sub - human bondage
Have been toppled,
Utterly destroyed -
Well, everywhere is war -
Me say war.

War in the east,
War in the west,
War up north,
War down south -
War - war -
Rumors of war.

And until that day,
The African continent
Will not know peace,
We Africans will fight - we find it necessary -
And we know we shall win
As we are confident
In the victory
Of good over evil.

Blessings and take care of your Soul until next time.


Anonymous Betty said...

When I saw the telecast of the 5 yr. old being arrested, my continuing thought was why, pray tell, doesn't someone HUG the child. To me she was a scared child literally crying out for help. And help doesn't come with three uniformed white cops cornering her.

The case of the Australian legislator me, a woman breastfeeding is a beautiful sight. What harm could a suckling child do to the proceedings is beyond me. I trust these legislators weren't at the same time championing that mothers should stay at home.

The case of the Afgan woman being stoned to death goes to what Bishop Spong was saying how biblically women were deemed as possessions rather than humans. And I think this parallel is all the more apt when seeing the man received 100 lashes and lived. In adultery there must be two parties. Yet in this part of Afganistan it appears to our Western eyes, equality isn't valued or even given consideration.

Yes, we as women have a very long road to travel before women EVERYWHERE are free. Free to be safe. Free to be fed. Free to be clothed. Free to be educated. Free to be themselves.

And it's women like you who keep our feet close to the fire so we don't become complacent.

Sat. Apr. 30, 01:22:00 p.m. MDT  

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