Last night in worship here at the Company of New Pastors gathering, I heard something I had been looking for now for quite some time. It was an awakening, a call to arms, a moment of confession, and a rally cry all at the same time. And not surprisingly, the thing I heard was came from the good book of Scripture:
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
So I don't think it's a surprise to anyone who knows me, reads this blog, or enjoys my many Facebook posts, that politically these have been trying times. I don't even think that's a liberal vs. conservative thing either, I think that when we're honest the current administration doesn't really represent either side well. There are things that are being done on a national level that quite frankly scare me. I mean come on, when someone insists that there are such things as "alternative facts," we've kind of jumped off the deep end of reality.
Truth is, we in America right now have found our way to fear in so many ways it's hard to imagine how we get out of bed in the morning. We're afraid that immigrants are stealing our jobs. We're afraid of terrorists. We're afraid of offending other people with our views of immigrants and terrorists. And to give the current administration a little bit of credit, their actions are a perfectly good response to fear. I just happen think that a lot of their fears are a good bit unfounded. This again, to be clear is neither a statement for or against a political party. I've been pretty upfront about the fact that I'm an independent, and thus do a pretty good job of making everyone equally upset at my views. And besides, this post isn't about how anyone in Washington is doing it wrong. It's about how I'm doing it wrong.
Because lately I've been trying to find a better response to the fear we're all walking around with, and I've failed. My answer to fear is best represented in the following image:
(PS: Hot Rod is an amazing film)
I have tried to battle fear with facts. I have tried to shed light on the situation faced by millions of refugees around the world. I have negotiated with folks the benefits of the Affordable Care Act for our entire nation. I have even tried to use Biblical truths to battle some of the ways we speak to and treat each other. And I've spun my wheels.
And that's because facts, knowledge, and information are not the immunization for fear.
The immunization for fear is joy.
Paul says in Philippians (a book of the Bible I can never spell correctly on the first shot) that we are to rejoice ALWAYS. Not just when it makes sense. We're not called to rejoice only when we're in church, or only when our side won an election, or when Sidney Crosby finally scores that 1,000 point, or when all is right with the world. We're called to rejoice in each and every moment of every day. We're called to rejoice when we're standing in line in the grocery store. We're called to rejoice when we have to work late into the night. We're called to rejoice, to be a joyful presence, even when we're debating important issues like policy and politics.
I may have been arguing well. But I have not been a very joyful presence to those with whom I disagree I'm afraid. And that is a sin worthy of repentance.
Because I do think we in this nation have a fear problem. I think we scare pretty easy these days, and that's no way to live. Our politicians (and let's be very clear: on BOTH sides of the aisle) have mastered using this fear to win our votes. But I don't think anyone is ever happy living in fear, are they? Wouldn't we all be much happier if we lived in joy? So for my part, I'm going to do my best in every conversation, post, discussion, sermon, mundane task, and daily exchange to be a person who lives Paul's words in Philippians (hey! I got it!). I would love for people to see me and say "He's got so much joy!"
That's not the same as optimism. It's not the same as empty hope. It's not the same thing as abandoning the fights that need to be fought these days. This isn't wussing out. This isn't the waving of a white flag. It's just a change in approach. It's a call from God to live into joy. I don't know very many joyful people who spend a lot of time afraid. It seems to me those two ideas can't exist.
The joy of the Lord will be my strength. What say you? Will you join me?