Dear Thoughtful Pastor: One thing is abundantly clear as I read my newsfeed on social media and the 24-hour news cycle: Much of the world is in fear. When I think about fear in the Bible, I mostly recall angels telling humans “do not be afraid.” Which probably means that angels were frightening to see or experience. Is fear bad for religious people to feel? How should people of faith respond to anxiety and terror? Is there ever an appropriate time to just be afraid?
Yes, the first words angels speak when they show up is “Fear not.” Of course angels frighten us. They are not us. And humans have an intrinsic fear of anything that is not us.
One of my favorite Bible verses reminds us that perfect love casts out fear (from 1 John 4). Fear is associated with punishment. Fear keep us from loving.
What then shall we do? First, be aware that fear is a normal response to danger and the unexpected. It helps keep us safe in times of acute, momentary dangers.
The problem is when fear becomes chronic. The rules become: lock your doors, and your borders. Don’t turn your backs to anyone. Don’t be vulnerable. Always be vigilant. Stay armed at all times.
Now, think about the amount of energy you have on any given day to accomplish your work, care for yourself and family, offer courtesy to the stranger, commute safely, manage your finances, maintain your home. When fear rules, we have little left to deal with the ordinary things that make life possible and enjoyable. Fear kills joy.
People of faith have something to call on: the assurance that, despite the horrors around us, we still are surrounded and held by love. However we can not and will not experience that love until we are willing to give it away. It’s one of the many paradoxes of the life of faith: the harder we grasp something, the less likely it is that we will actually enjoy it or even keep it.
It is healthy to acknowledge fear. The angels do, after all. Let us look at it squarely. Name it. List the things we fear, either in the present or in the future. Then determine how to deal with those fears when love becomes the primary driver of our lives.
Love recognizes that hurt, loss and death are inevitable. Love also opens the door to the unknown which can bring us the glories of new life and hope.
When fear turns into self-protection at all costs and relievew us of the responsibility to treat others with basic human dignity, then we have given in. Fear and evil win.
That is the worst of all options.
Dear Thoughtful Pastor: How the hell do poor people pay for medicine? I needed to get some medicine when traveling and had left my prescription card at home. I thought, “I’ll just pay for it.” I mean how much could it be? $300 dollars, that’s how much. Who has that just laying around? Even if you are rich or somewhere in the middle, who wants to pay that? I called my insurance to get my number and it dropped to under $10. How is that even ok? I feel bad for people with no insurance. That life must suck.
You have just described one of the greatest injustices in US society today, the lack of affordable health care necessary to achieve basic wellness. It is fascinating: those who can afford health insurance pay deeply discounted prices. Those who can’t afford it, but are not so poor that they qualify for government help, pay highly inflated prices.
The least able to pay are charged the most amount of money.
That’s the life of those who dare not get sick.
The Affordable Care Act did help millions, but rising premium prices are now knocking many from that option. In states like Texas, where then Governor Perry refused to take Federal money to expand Medicaid to include many of the working poor, the problem is far worse. Public hospitals end up eating millions of dollars every year by those who come in desperately needing care but with no insurance.
These folks live in constant scarcity. Those who live on the margins can be one simple prescription away from a bottomless black hole of financial and family instability. Some economists say that the major cause of personal bankruptcy in the US are those soaring medical bills.
That produces life-sucking fear.
Basic health care needs are ignored as long as possible–and sometime so long that what could be addressed simply becomes a complex mess of multi-layered diseases, both mental and physical. Their abilities to earn a decent living plummet as health worsens. The worst of vicious cycles.
And we all pay a price for that.
All questions are welcome. You can email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, “like” her Facebook Page, use this form to send them or message her on Twitter. You can also send a question through conventional mail to the following address: Thoughtful Pastor, 314 E. Hickory St., Denton, TX, 76202.
[Note: a version of this column will appear in the Friday, Dec 4, 2015 print and online editions of The Denton Record Chronicle.]