“WE HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR EXCEPT FEAR ITSELF”

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     The words of the title may seem vaguely familiar, and for one who grew up in Arkansas in the late fifties and sixties they mean a great deal.  In the fifties Arkansas was beginning to transition from a land of poor “dirt farmers” into one of city dwellers with a developing professional class.  But in the 1930’s Arkansas was like a third world country in which poverty and economic destitution were rapidly becoming the norm rather than the exception.  People started to loose heart and give up.  They were so afraid they became paralyzed by fear. And then along came a Dutchman from upstate New York named Franklin Roosevelt who, while not a priest or theologian, wrought somewhat of a theological miracle.  The miracle was not finding a solution for all of the economic problems confronting the nation but rather a restoration of a belief that fear was not to be feared.  He preached that we as human beings were governed by something greater than that and fear of everything else was simply misplaced. On one occasion President Roosevelt was asked by a reporter: “What is your political philosophy sir”?  The President paused for a moment and asked rhetorically “political philosophy?” as if he had no idea what that meant. Yes, said the reporter, your political philosophy?  Well, said the president:  I’m a Christian and a Democrat.   Only this very day did I get the full import of Franklin Roosevelt’s response.  When he said he was a “Christian”  I always thought it meant he was a Christian in the same sense that all upright American men thought themselves to be Christians during that era.  That is in a nominal sense as he was a nominal Episcopalian who missed church quite a bit in favor of golfing or some other activity and could hardly be tagged with a “devout” label.  And yet, God works in mysterious ways and through people in ways we least expect.  Today during the noon Mass at Trinity Cathedral I was privileged to hear a sermon by a priest and preacher whose sermon took a complex theological principal and turned it into a sort of javelin penetrating the heart and mind with its core meaning.   This particular sermon caused me to “connect the dots” and called to mind my own thoughts about fear and the love of God.  Basing her remarks on passages in Saint Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 12, verses 4 through 7, my priest friend unearthed the central tenant that there is nothing worth our fear, nothing, except God himself.   And, God has already demonstrated to us that far from desiring our demise he actively and unceasingly seeks our life and our life lived to its fullest potential.  Through the sacrifice of his son we know this to be true.    So, what is it that we are all so are afraid of?  As children we are afraid of the dark, of Ghoulies, Ghosties, and Long Leggitty Beasties and things that go bump in the night, but we outgrow those things, and then comes the real terror.  We harbor fear about our jobs,  lack of one, our relationships, or lack of one, our status, or our lack thereof, and we fear to the point of incapacity.  There is nothing more debilitating than fear.  Fear is paralyzing, fear is numbing.  Fear is a true tool of Uncle Screwtape, that wily old demon from C.S. Lewis Screwtape Letters.  He whispers in our ears the potential for a future disaster and sure enough we buy into it like a fish swallowing a hook. And, when we do that we turn away from the one thing we really should be afraid of and that is God himself or rather the loss of contact with him. We should fear losing him, losing touch with him and failing to seek him day in and day out through a sort of rhythm of prayer in which we entwine our daily life and work with prayer, prayer in the form of seeking God on a constant basis.  In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis recounts a conversation between a “ghost” from the mythical town called Hell with a “spirit” who had already ascended from Hell and was working his way toward Heaven.  The spirit summarizes his thought about the reluctance of the other “ghosts” to choose Heaven over Hell by saying: “In the end there are two types of people:  those who turn to God and say, thy will be done, and those to whom God turns and says, thy will be done” Simply put, to choose fear is to choose Hell.  But more important we do have a choice.  We can head the wise words of our dear friend the priest and realize only God deserves our fear or we can follow the faints or Uncle Screwtape and choose to be afraid of those things which kill us but which have no power over us beyond that and in doing so kill us eternally because we turn away from God.

          Finally, what has FDR go to do with this?  Well, think about it, what changed as we came out of the Great Depression of the 1930s?  Did we really solve all of our economic problems? Or, did we change the way we thought about them?  Did we come to realize that the real problem was not economics, but rather fear, mind numbing paralyzing fear. And, FDR in his firm and enormous positivism brought to bear the very principle our dear friend the preacher talked about today.  Do you think God used him in a way similar to that of the prophets?  Perhaps he did,  but whether he did or not, we now know that God’s love for us, once again, saved us from ourselves when we simply turned toward the light and away from the darkness.

Art:  Portrait of President Franklin Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States. Offered as a representation of hope and the the light of God.

Art:  El Loco (cabeza de arlequín) (The Madman, Harlequin Face) 1971 Pablo Picasso. Painted when the artist was 91 years old. Offered here as a representation of fear.

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