Last Sunday, when I got home from church and heard about the latest mass shooting at a church, I found myself thinking about the panic button on the pulpit and the necessity of these things today. My mind wandered to how I would handle needing to use it and whether we need to have an "Active Shooter" policy and drill "just to be safe."
Safety is something we assume is possible, whether in our churches, our schools, our supermarkets, movie theatres or just walking down the street. It is a basic human need. It enables us to shift from Fight-Flight-Freeze and Immobilization. And it is an elusive, deeply personal state that is in no way uniform across individuals, groups and populations. I am grateful that I've been able to live in places where I can leave my doors unlocked, where I can take walks without being afraid, and where my very presence will not evoke hatred form someone else. I am grateful, and yet I know this is a place of deep privilege gifted me by the accident of my birth. I was born and raised in a homogeneous small town in Maine where people knew and watched out for one other. It isn't that bad things did not happen. It is that we were not driven by the fear of bad things happening because we trusted one another to a greater rather than lesser degree. I brought this orientation with me when I moved to Hartford, CT at 17 to study at the Hartford Ballet. I was not afraid of the Hispanic housing development I had to walk through even though my classmates were terrified for me. My lack of fear allowed me to be curious about these others. After a few weeks this community came to see me as a part of their lives. I was their bailarín who came by most days at the same time. I was a part of them for those 500 feet. When I went to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia two years later, I was a little more world-wise, but I still did not fear the Black, brown, homeless and mentally unstable people I saw everyday as I walked from Board and Vine to the Shubert Theatre building (now Kimmel Center) 5 blocks south of City Hall. I had friends who were too afraid to walk those 10 blocks no matter the time of day. They had a different upbringing and experience and did not assume they were safe. They had always locked their doors and distrusted their neighbors. Today we live in a culture where fear is the currency of politics, of marketing, of "news" and nearly all social media platforms. It has become the opium of the masses. And yes, it IS an opiate. We know that our brains produce certain opioid-like substances as a part of the fear response and if we are living in prolonged states of fear (aka. stress) we can get addicted to these chemicals. This is why people like roller coasters, sky diving and other adrenaline-producing activities. It is why violent video games are so popular. The challenge we face today is the challenge humans have faced for millennia. How do we create places of safety in an unsafe world? We are not likely to buy guns and kill people out of fear, and yet, we can withdraw from people, places and things that no longer feel safe instead of resolving the traumas that keep our brains stuck in a fear response. When my car was tossed at my home last month, I noticed that my first response was to feel empathy for the person or people who felt the need to do that. I have worked hard to recover from a highly traumatizing time in my life and noticing my response tells me I'm in a pretty good place. And while I have started locking my car at night, I don't do this out of fear. I do it to avoid the "attractive nuisance" that would inspire someone to come back and look again. "Thou shall not tempt" you know. I am deeply grateful for all of the people and resources that I had access to so that I can know I am safe with myself even in an unsafe world. I can now choose not to live in my fear response. I do this as both as a practical matter and a theological belief. I want to be a healthy person well into my 90's and stress can rob me of that option. I also take seriously all of the ways we are invited to "fear not" in the sacred texts. I am so grateful to be in a community of people working fearlessly to resolve the traumas of the past so you can move into the powerful ministry and mission to which you are being called. I am grateful for the tenderness I witness every day as you hold space with and for one another as you heal. I am humbled by the "perfect love" (teleios agape - fully mature love) that is casting out the fear so that grace can be known and shared with all. Thank you for trusting me enough to be your guide.
In Peace and Passion, Pastor Robin