As for this house …

Na­tion, its res­i­dents can choose love or fear

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE - Low­ell Gr­isham

Do you live in the house of fear or in the house of love? It is a dis­tinc­tion made pop­u­lar by the late Henri Nouwen in his book “Life­signs.” Nouwen notes how Je­sus al­ways re­framed ques­tions coming to him out of the house of fear: Who is the great­est? How often must I for­give? Is it law­ful to di­vorce? Whose wife will the re­mar­ried woman be? Are you the King of the Jews? Has the hour come? Je­sus al­ways put aside fear-based ques­tions. He reg­u­larly de­flected anx­ious con­cerns about pres­tige, in­flu­ence, power and con­trol.

“Do not be afraid,” he said. Come. Fol­low. Go, bring good news. God’s reign is at hand. There are many rooms in God’s home. Ev­ery­thing is yours. Love your neigh­bor as your­self.

Je­sus taught and acted from a place of com­pas­sion and love. In his wake came rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, heal­ing, gen­eros­ity and new life, in­clud­ing new life out of death. Though he lived in a fear­ful time, he showed how per­fect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)

We also live in an era of fear. Ev­ery day we are in­vited anew to be afraid. It is un­healthy for us. Fear cre­ates anx­i­ety which feeds our sense of threat. Threat re­leases hor­mones like cor­ti­sol and adren­a­line, scream­ing to ev­ery cell, “Fight, flight, or freeze!” The heart races and breath short­ens. Our body’s re­sources go to the ex­trem­i­ties — the mus­cles and bones; blood con­cen­trates in the prim­i­tive amyg­dala and brain stem. The ra­tio­nal frontal lobe of our more de­vel­oped brain loses oxy­gen, and we get stu­pider. Un­der stress our brain doesn’t work right.

Spir­i­tual prac­tices like si­lence and prayer, rit­ual and com­mu­nity, med­i­ta­tion and study help re­verse the dam­age. When we move from the house of fear to the house of love we be­gin to see con­nec­tions, we sense our union with cre­ation, our union with all hu­man­ity. Our hearts grow soft and our breath­ing deep­ens. Hope arises and cre­ativ­ity ex­pands.

In an era when fear as­saults us daily in news and so­cial me­dia, it takes some dis­ci­pline to re­fo­cus our at­ten­tion and turn con­sciously to­ward the house of love. “What­ever is true, what­ever is hon­or­able, what­ever is just, what­ever is pure, what­ever is pleas­ing, what­ever is com­mend­able, if there is any ex­cel­lence and if there is any­thing wor­thy of praise, think about th­ese things.” (Philip­pi­ans 4:8)

Je­sus re­jected the mes­sages of fear and divi­sion. He crossed ev­ery wall that sep­a­rated peo­ple in his cul­ture. He gen­er­ously of­fered the same gifts of heal­ing and feeding to for­eign­ers, aliens, sin­ners, non-be­liev­ers and even to his own peo­ple’s en­e­mies.

Chris­tians are called to act as Je­sus did and to break down the di­vi­sions that sep­a­rate hu­man­ity. The house of love is an ex­pan­sive house. It tran­scends di­vi­sions of na­tion and race. Love de­cries the abuse of power to­ward the pow­er­less­ness. Love also chal­lenges the nar­row fears of ex­treme na­tion­al­ism.

Ex­treme na­tion­al­ism is the so­cial form of nar­cis­sism. There are those to­day who pro­mote Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism. The He­brew prophets re­mind those who see them­selves as God’s cho­sen that to be cho­sen is to have a greater re­spon­si­bil­ity to serve the well be­ing of all hu­mankind, to be a “light to the na­tions.” Je­sus ex­pands that ex­pec­ta­tion with a com­mand: “Love your en­e­mies.”

Our na­tion’s work is to be a peo­ple of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, not divi­sion. To unite fam­i­lies and peo­ples, not sep­a­rate and de­port them. To re­sist the sin of pride that dis­torts love of na­tion and com­mu­nity.

Lloyd Stone’s 1934 lyrics ap­pear in many hym­nals, set to the beau­ti­ful Si­belius tune “Fin­lan­dia.” The words speak beau­ti­fully of a gen­er­ous form of na­tion­al­ism.

This is my song, O God of all the na­tions, a song of peace for lands afar and mine; this is my home, the coun­try where my heart is; here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine: but other hearts in other lands are beat­ing with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My coun­try’s skies are bluer than the ocean, and sun­light beams on clover­leaf and pine; but other lands have sun­light too, and clover, and skies are ev­ery­where as blue as mine: O hear my song, thou God of all the na­tions, a song of peace for their land and for mine. Pray and work for peace and gen­eros­ity to­ward all peo­ple, es­pe­cially the suf­fer­ing who yearn for free­dom and op­por­tu­nity for them­selves and their fam­i­lies. May we be an ex­cep­tional na­tion, a na­tion that loves and unites rather than a na­tion that fears and di­vides.

Low­ell Gr­isham is an Epis­co­pal priest who lives in Fayet­teville. Email him at Low­ell@stpauls­fay.org.

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