I stopped by the bookstore this afternoon, after spending the day at a workshop to learn how to use the software supplied by our yearbook company, with the hope that Mary Gordon’s book, Reading Jesus: A Writer’s Encounter with the Gospels, had come out in paperback. (These are not hardcover buying days at our house.) I heard about the book when it first came out and have been anxious to read it. Since there was only one copy and it was hardback (no paperback just yet), I did the next best thing and stood in the “Religion” aisle of the Barnes and Noble and read the introduction.
It rocks. Come on, paperback.
One line, in particular, grabbed me such that I wrote it down in the little notebook I carry with me: “When I try to understand a flavor of fear I do not share . . . ” The line kept coming back to me as I drove home, listening to news that the Senate balked on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” or finding out tonight they were equally as uncourageous when it came to the DREAM act, because I don’t understand the flavor of fear that flails against gays and lesbians, or immigrants. When I sat down to write, I found the introduction, thanks to Google Books, and read the whole sentence.
When I try to understand a flavor of fear I do not share, the impulse that produces the traditional fire-and-brimstone preaching and the even more contemporary don’t-worry-be-happy versions, I imagine that people who are in its grip feel the way I do when I’m experiencing turbulence on an airplane.
Her incarnational and faithful logic also comes through in an interview I found from Bill Moyers’ Faith and Reason. (Yes, this is going to be one of those posts with long quotes.)
And I think that I have to go back to a religious position, which is that if reading the Gospel means anything, if Jesus means anything, it’s about seeing everybody, every human being as Jesus. That’s what makes sense. That — therefore, every human being is of enormous value. Every human being is sacred. So it seems to me the only thing that stops me from going out and shooting people in Hummers is a religious belief that, even though I don’t like them, they are sacred and valuable in the eyes of God. And that does stop me. Because I could really, you know, go out on quite a spree.
The line about the Hummers will get a smile out of Ginger. One more:
But I think it’s very important to understand that– and I guess the reason I like Christianity, I thought it was a hit– is that it is incarnational, that Jesus is flesh and spirit. One of the things, details, that I like in the resurrection account is after Jesus comes back, he eats broiled fish. They actually tell us — they give us a menu. Luke gives us a menu. He ate broiled fish. So in his glorified body, he is still with other people, with an appetite for specific food. I think the genius of Christianity is that it insists on a physicality, which is sacrilized . . . [a]nd I think Christianity, at its incarnational best, honors the mixed lot of being human.
As Americans, we have been running scared since September 11, 2001. (Actually, I think it started much earlier, but we broke into a sprint nine years ago.) Since then, we’ve been doing what frightened people do: lashing out at whomever we can find to blame, trying to show how strong we are and that we can fight back, looking for someone to blame, and making sure everyone knows how big and tough we are. We have done little to abate the things out there that are truly frightening.
I’m reading The Crucible right how with my eleventh and twelfth graders. Arthur Miller does a masterful job of showing how the flavors of fear that infect us all can easily blend into a toxic recipe of tragedy and destruction, causing us to lose sight of our commonalties and seeing only the devil in each other.
What Gordon reminds me is the Incarnation is God’s way of saying, “I’m with you.” Jesus’ time on earth inextricably linked Creator and creation in a way they had not been before, answering Joan Osborne before she even had the chance to ask, what if God was one of us. We, too, are one of us. Us includes the immigrants, the gay and lesbian soldiers, the screaming fundamentalists, along with Hezbollah and the Hummer drivers. Oh – and I guess I should include Congress in that number as well.
That’s a tough one.
Here where we live, in the Baskin-Robbins of Fear, we can only find courage together, just as we can also band together as an hysterical, witch-calling mob. We can incarnate the fear, or we can remember:
listening is the opposite of fear
welcoming is the opposite of fear
justice is the opposite of fear
peace is the opposite of fear
courage is the opposite of fear
and love chases fear away.
No wonder lashing out in anger draws a bigger crowd. This is hard work.