I received a handwritten note last week from a reader that I've not met. Such notes are rare these days, and if you are like me, you open them first thing.
Actually, sometimes I save the handwritten notes until the last, just like dessert. I'd rather get rid of the bills first (At least I won't have any more misleading political nonsense filling my mailbox for a couple of years), so that I can savor the "real" letters as long as possible.
But back to the letter.
This reader, identifying herself as a senior citizen, said that in all of her years she had "never seen America in such a fearful condition." This observation was not part of a long harangue against our country or our leaders. It was simply an expression of her deep sadness for where she perceives us to be as a nation.
These thoughts are not intended to have any political spin. Politicians of both major parties use fear as a tool to get elected, an election ploy that is heinous regardless of political party. Of course, American citizens have the right and responsibility to be forewarned about potential dangers to our country, but too many so-called leaders cross the line into scaring people with rabid and unnecessary rhetoric.
Why? Because it works.
People need to develop a healthy fear of terrorism, financial disaster, crime, disease, and any number of other ills facing society. But we do not need to become a helpless puddle of quivering Jell-O over these eventualities. I am reminded of the man who, when told that most fatal accidents occur within five miles of home, moved to a new state.
One of the thorniest challenges to humankind is how to approach life without succumbing to fear. Every person learns to some degree or another from a very early age either that the world is a very safe place or the world is a very dangerous place. The trick is to be able to balance the two, because it's not so much a case of either-or; rather it is a case of both-and.
The person who is blithely unafraid and the person who jumps at every shadow are equally in danger of living fruitless, fearful lives.
We have just completed an election; pundits across the country will be drawing conclusions as to the reasons the Republicans won so convincingly just two years after the Democrats won so convincingly. Some people are breathing easier as a result of the election while others are more scared than ever.
Both reactions are a naive response to the power of a single political party to wreck or save our nation.
What should be the response of the person of faith in fearful times? I once heard that the phrase "Fear not!" is found 365 times in the Bible, one for each day of the year. I have not verified this statistic, but hope it's true.
Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at firstname.lastname@example.org.