By Jason Coker
A couple of weeks ago my whole family went to a “buy-in-bulk” store on a Saturday (never do this)! We live in a cold weather climate, so all the snow that has been collected in the parking lots are plowed into massive piles about 15 feet high and they take up dozens of parking spaces. The store was already busy due to it being the first Saturday with sunshine in months, but the loss of those parking spots made it bad — really bad. Everybody in the parking lot was circling like vultures over a dead carcass waiting to land in a recently vacated parking spot. Everybody was angry, everybody was impatient, everybody wanted to ram somebody else’s vehicle. (Have I been up North too long?) We finally found a spot about a mile away from the store and I walked hand-in-hand with my children toward the store through the time bomb that was the parking lot.
As we were getting closer to the store, a car began to back out of its parking spot and nearly ran over us. Being the good Christian father that I am, I yelled and kicked at the car — did I say that everybody was angry, impatient and wanted to ram something? Thankfully the car stopped. The driver looked at me with an expression that I interpreted as “I didn’t want to run over your kids, but running over you would have been fine.” No need to explain how I looked at him, but “Blessed are the peacemakers” wasn’t percolating in my mind.
I was afraid! Seeing the car jolt out of its space and toward my children shot adrenaline throughout my body and I went into Papa Bear mode out of shear fear. I can’t believe that I nearly kicked a car! I can’t believe that I yelled something really mean at another human being in front of my children! I was ashamed of myself and I’m still ashamed. Out of fear, I became a scary — even violent — person. Fear tapped something deep within me that automatically trumped my capacity to rationalize and be kind. Fear made me truly non-Christian during that interaction. Most parents would probably react in a similar fashion if they were afraid that their children were in danger, but I don’t want to let myself off so easily — I don’t want to let all of us off so easily.
Fear is a powerful experience. It has the capacity to trump our best selves. This is why I want to hold myself accountable — and all of us. Fear dramatically puts us in survival mode, which is perfect for survival, but terrible for abundant life. I read and hear so much fear in our media all the time. All the chatter about liberal/moderate/conservative and orthodoxy/heresy sounds like fear to me. Fear of what may be lost, fear of what is already lost, fear of not being in control, fear of not being able to determine the outcome, etc. Fear dominates public discourse severely damaging our capacity for civil discourse. We are a nation, and maybe a denominetwork, so afraid of (fill in the blank) that our best selves are being set aside. It’s like we are kicking and screaming in a parking lot.
What do we fear? Name the thing that frightens us the most. Let’s be honest here — no one around us can hear our thoughts. Are we afraid of white people, black people, brown people, homosexuals, heterosexuals, bisexuals, transgendered, men, women, liberals, conservatives, moderates, Muslims, Christians, Southern Baptists, Cooperatives Baptists, Alliance of Baptists, heterodoxy, orthodoxy (how long does the list need to be?).
Now that we’ve named it/them, let’s ask a more important question: why are we afraid of these particular people/things? Be very specific answering these questions. Don’t answer this question with generalizations. Did they try to run you over with their car in an icy parking lot? If so, did they intentionally try to run you over or did they simply not see you? Who was that particular driver in that particular car that made you turn into Papa Bear — how did this become so reflexive? Let’s get to the bottom of our fears. Let’s get to know our fears. Let’s come to terms with our fears because our fears say more about us than anything else.
Had I met the driver of that car, who clearly tried to kill me and my children, in a different circumstance beyond that experience of fear, I wonder how it would have gone? Fear blinded me to his humanity. I didn’t see a human being; I only saw danger. He was a symbol, not a person. I can see that only now. Better Christians, better fathers, better people, probably could have seen that then — but not me. It always takes me a little bit longer.
I don’t want to come across as some naïve person oblivious to the pain and suffering of humanity. Bad things happen and people do bad things. There are things beyond our control that can hurt us. Sometimes we contribute to systems that hurt others and ourselves that are destructive to our world. I affirm our very real human predicaments/conditions; I just don’t think fear is the best way we move through them. In fact, I think fear prohibits us from moving through our pains. It has a paralyzing effect, or even worse, gives birth to paranoia. I don’t feel like this is the best way to face the obstacles that life gives us, and it’s certainly not the best way to think through the most complicated and divisive modern moral issues of our era.
Had that murderous driver turned out to be, say, Suzii Paynter, I most likely wouldn’t have been so cross or foul. I would have still been scared, but I would have gotten over it as soon as I saw it was Suzii because I know her and I trust that she’s not trying to mow down children in a parking lot — but neither was that driver. He was most likely just a good guy trying to get out of a horrible parking lot filled with angry dads who were kicking at his car and yelling at him.
I wonder how many people like him exist in this world that I/we won’t know because of fear?