Fear and love

I’m in Toronto for a week, enjoying the mild winter weather (relative to Winnipeg, I mean), but more importantly, making the acquaintance of our newest granddaughter and lending what assistance I can to the young family. While here, and travelling, I’ve been reading Scott Bader-Saye’s Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear (Brazos, 2007). This book is the second in the “Take and Read” series I’m participating in, though I’ll have to miss the discussion of it, which happens to fall this evening.

No doubt about it, we live in a culture of fear. It’s a very relevant topic. It’s especially relevant to the arrival of the beautiful, dark-haired infant in this home. Bader-Saye says, “We had not yet begun to know fear until we had our first child.” There’s the much advice and the many claims of the “experts,” not to mention well-wishing relatives and friends, an array of warnings about what can happen to children — eating, sleeping, playing — and a marketplace that has made child safety “a lucrative industry in part because legitimate fears are artifically heightened and manipulated.” (And grandparents, who are supposed to be wise, are not immune to fear either; they’ve lived plenty long enough to know that even in the best of situations, bad stuff occasionally happens.)

Parenting is only one of the arenas of fear that Bader-Saye addresses. He notes that we are a more fearful culture today despite the fact that “the dangers are not objectively greater than in the past.” Fear is a “strong motivator,” he says, used to advantage by advertisers, the media, politicians,even the church. Fear is used for profit, to fill pews, to consolidate power. In each case, he says, “we are encouraged to fear the wrong things or to fear the right things in the wrong way.”

Bayer-Saye’s book provides a fine analysis of fear and how to acknowledge it while not being overcome by it. Fear itself is not necessarily wrong, he writes, but “disordered” or excessive fear is. Disordered fear tempts us to vices like cowardice and violence. It also inhibits virtuous actions such as hospitality, peacemaking, and generosity. (The last three chapters of the book are devoted to these courageous acts.) Fear tempts us to make safety/security our chief goal; to make it our idol.

Correctly understood, he says, fear is also a gift, for it is not unrelated to love. It exists “in the nexus of love and limitation.” How great our children’s — and their grandparents’ — love for this new child of theirs, but drifting along comes the shadow of fear. In its proper place, this will lead us all to care for her as well as we can. Yet all we do is done will be done with an awareness of our limitations and those of life itself, for “every new love contains,” as Augustine said, “the seeds of fresh sorrows.” (I think of Mary, at this Advent season, “pondering” all the strange things connected with her first child’s birth.) On first thought, we might think it better not to even risk such planting, but we do, because to risk and to love is so much better than fear. So much better! I look at our darling infant granddaughter sleeping in her carrier close to me and affirm this, in love and faith.