Cultivating…respect instead of fear

Greetings! I guess we are all busy following the news about coronavirus. Students are having to change their foreign travel plans. Nations around the world are quarantining entire regions. Cruise ships are being stopped offshore so passengers can be tested. I still remember the H1N1 scare from 2009. We all wondered if we should send our kids to school.

I’m not a person who panics. I do follow the news and am heeding the advice of our Center for Disease Control and other medical professionals. I have always washed my hands well, so I don’t have to change any habits there. I do find it odd that people across the United States (and maybe elsewhere) are buying things like toilet paper and face masks and bottled water in bulk. Stores are selling out of many common items. People are giving in to fear rather than following the simple steps being advised by professionals.

Here’s what I do know: I hope I don’t get the flu, coronavirus, strep throat, or the stomach bug. None of us like being sick and very few of us have the luxury of being able to afford to be sick. Every year, I make an online post asking people to respect others and stay home when they are sick.

Here’s what else I know: Goodness and justice and love are never present when you make choices based only on your own fears and never also consider the fears of others.

Fear Quote

When we fear, we make decisions that we hope will protect us in some way. We walk faster or pull out our cell phones if we fear the sound of footsteps behind us at night when we are walking to our car. We buy hand sanitizer because we worry about coronavirus. We build a storm shelter when our area has been hit by tornadoes.

But do we consider the fear that others live with? When we don’t feel great, but we also don’t want to lose a paycheck, do we realize that some people with weakened immune systems could be killed by the viruses we are carrying? When we go into a restaurant knowing we are contagious, do we understand that some of the workers fear losing a home or a car if they get sick and lose a paycheck?

People carry legitimate fears for many reasons. If we respect others, we will find ways to understand their fears and help ease those worries. I am around the elderly quite often. I assure them that I will never visit if I am ill or still recovering. I will not compromise their health.

When I am around refugees in my community, I learn about the fears they lived with all of their lives…fear of abusive leaders, of persecution, of war, of hate, of losing their families because of poverty. I try to show that I am willing to learn about those fears and work to find ways to open doors for them to be safe.

When I am around any member of the LGBTQ+ community, I try to make it known that I am a safe ally. I will stand with them if they are being bullied or disrespected in any way. I will love.

And some forms of respect just involve paying attention to what I am being told. Right now, doctors are urging people to quit buying up the entire supply of face masks. They are useless to most of us, and there are people who legitimately need them. I have to consider their greater need over my current fear.

When we live life reacting only to our own fears, we can cause quite a bit of harm to others. We need to be life-long learners and find out how we can care for ourselves and respect the needs of others.

Do not fear. Do not let fear cause you to make decisions that will harm others. Do not let fear cause you to exclude others. Do not let fear cause you to judge others. Respect and love should be our guiding forces in challenging times (and, actually, in all times).

The Sounds

candle

The Sounds

by Chris Pepple – 2017

The sounds of the words of hate

came first—

the name calling

the threats both aloud and

whispered to a passerby…

Then it was the fighting

in the streets—

the fist fights among

different groups

then knives

then guns…

Then it became real,

turning hate into a war—

winner keeps all…

The shelling came next…

the bombs rocked our houses

and our schools and places of worship…

No place was safe…

Then came the cries of children

and mothers calling out the names

of children who would

never answer again…

and husbands and brothers and

and wives and sisters

and best friends and lovers…

Then the weeping before

the enormity of our pain

devoured our ability

to feel much less grieve…

So there was silence

as if we were already dead—

dead to those who claimed victory,

worthless to those who didn’t want

to touch our wounds or

caress our shoulders weighted

with unimaginable memories

of the sounds of the places we left—

the places we once called home…

©2017 Chris Pepple

Dear Refugees…

Dear Refugees,

I can’t imagine what you must think about Americans right now, much less American Christians. You must be tempted to hate us, though we both know that hate solves nothing. You must be weeping tonight because lies and fear are putting you in harm’s way—keeping you from family members who are already here in America—keeping you in war zones where your children go to bed crying every night wondering if they will die or if they will waken to find that they have been orphaned.

Our nation—the same one who just held a march about being pro-life—have said through our actions that your life doesn’t really matters as much as our comfort. We know the odds are that you will die of disease in a refugee camp or be killed by a bomb set off by someone who hates you just for the sake of hate. But our nation just declared that you are somebody else’s problem. My faith tradition tells me that my Savior said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40). But my nation, my fellow Christians, just said that we will see if somebody else will help. It’s not going to be us. I am so sorry. I love you and would do anything I could to save your life. I know what it is like to be scared.

The Scriptures of my faith tradition, God’s Holy Bible, says “fear not” to us 103 times in the King James Version. There are more than 300 passages that don’t use those exact words, but still tell me the same message: just do my will without fear or worry. Walk on water. Have my Son. Lead my people. Cross the Red Sea. Stand up to Pharaoh. Take up your cross. Heal in my name. Go where you have never gone before. Yet today we allowed fear to win and rule our nation. People decided they should fear you—young mother, small child, worried father, aging grandmother, lost brother, wandering sister—because some people have done wrong. Many American men beat their wives daily, but we are more afraid of you according to people I hear declaring that you will be an outcast forever. I know your pain. I know what it is like to have no voice, to be ignored. I love you. I hear you. I am sorry.

My faith tradition reads our Bible each Sunday—the Bible that says this about love in I Corinthians 13…If I speak in the tongues] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal… If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing….Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres…And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love… But many people have chosen not to love you even though our Savior declared that He gave us a new command to love as He loved (John 13:34). He died for us. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to die because I love you enough to grant you safety, but even if I do, it is what I was asked to do by the One who died for me. If I believe Him, I must choose to love you enough to help you find life. It’s my turn to return the love I have been granted. I am sorry so many are refusing to love you. I love you. I will do my best to show you.

My faith tradition tells me to go into the world, to embrace you and tell you that Jesus loves you. How can I tell you Jesus loves you if I don’t show you? Jesus didn’t just tell me—He showed me. It’s what we are called to do.

We have Americanized our faith to believe that God wants us to feel safe and happy I can’t find those words in my Bible. My faith never asked me to pledge allegiance to my nation (but I do love my nation). My faith asks me to love, to go, to heal, to be among you, to embrace all people, to fear not, to walk on water and just do what I truly know is right.

I’m sorry many in my Church have ignored your pain and your tears, have labelled you evil instead of called you a child of God (even if you don’t know you are yet), have chosen our desire for comfort and happiness over your need for life. I love you. Hear that. I will be your voice as much as I can. I would swim to your rescue if I had a way. I would fly you to safety if I owned a plane. If you make it here, I will call you friend. I will pray with you. Just know many of us are trying to pray you to a new life until we can find more practical ways of helping.