There is a great scene in Star Wars Return of the Jedi, when Princess Leia, who has been taken captive by the maniacal criminal Jabba the Hutt uses the very chain by which she is held captive to strangle the life out of Jabba. Contemplating this scene, it occurred to me that all of us posses the means of freeing ourselves of our fears with the basis of the fears themselves. If I possess a fear of water then a way of conquering that fear would be to learn how to swim. By immersing myself in the very thing that is the object of my fear then the over time it loses its power to control me. I think this is helpful in every aspect of life, including the fears that restrict us in our relationships with others.
For example, we all have a desire to be liked. Unfortunately we come to understand that this is an impossible task. Even if we refused to speak up on any issue or take a stand for any truth, there would people who would dislike us for saying and doing nothing. It is a conundrum. As I continue to figure out how to navigate this life, I’ve come to the conclusion that I won’t be liked by everyone, but I still have the option of being kind. Additionally, I can still insist on being generous with my thoughts, my time, my energy, my resources. And I can answer a question when asked without fear of the consequences.
At the Christmas dinner table with my extended family, there was a conversation about “The end of the world,” an appropriate conversation given all that we have experienced in 2020. Some family members were speculating how people could brashly declare that they would refuse the ominous “Mark of the Beast” at the threat of physical, mental, and economic tortures. The conversation continued, and I noticed that there were a few glances my way with the expectation that I would chime in. I continued eating my dressing with cranberry sauce attempting not to get involved. Then my nephew asked me directly about what I believed. I tried to answer in a non confrontational way without fudging on the facts of how what the majority of people believe about the end times isn’t supported by the biblical narrative or historical tradition of the Church. But instead of contributing to a robust discussion that I hoped would follow, it seemed to shut down the conversation. Herein lies the difficulty of knowing what to say, how to say it, and when to say it, because it seems that many people are more comfortable in what they believe to be true than they would be pursuing the questions to demonstrate something to actually be true.
Socrates opined that ultimately the orator is in the service of God. I take this to mean that when asked a question I have a duty to answer that question to the best of my ability, sharing the knowledge that I have gained on the subject. The results of what others choose to do with my answer is between them and God. This is not to suggest that I have all the answers, but rather the exact opposite, the more I come to understand, the more I know that there is much I have yet to understand. But kindness, generosity of spirit, and humility dictate that when I am asked a question, that I contribute what I know for the benefit of the one who has asked.
This is true for all subjects, but I think it is especially true when it comes to the gospel of Christ. There is perhaps no other subject that demands our honesty, and when understood there is certainly no other subject that is as liberating, impacting every dimension of the human experience. This was certainly true throughout history. When Jesus first delivered His message of the Kingdom it scandalized the religious systems of His day, and has been challenging every notion of getting into the Kingdom of God on our own merits ever since.
Robert Farrar Capon writes in Between Noon & Three: Romance, Law & the Outrage of Grace, “The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar full of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof Grace–bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly. The word of the Gospel–after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps–suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started…Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, not the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case.”
Sadly misunderstandings of the gospel, and assertions of dogmatic religious demands do more to inform our fears instead of releasing us from them. This is diametrically opposed to what Christ came to bring us in His grace. He asserted “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” May all of our fears be strangled in the liberating truth of the gospel of grace.