fear

Exit 120. I know those voices because I hear them too.

Harry Potter has been on my mind again lately.  I just finished reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which for those of you who aren’t familiar with Harry Potter, is the script for a play set a generation after the Harry Potter novels, featuring the adult Harry Potter and one of his children.  The play is currently being performed in London.  But that is not the point I’m getting at here.

I spent a lot of time in the car this weekend, and at one point I was thinking about other parts of the Harry Potter story.  I was reminded in particular of a scene that always felt particularly intense and poignant to me, and I’ll try to share my thoughts without giving away any crucial spoilers.  In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final book in the series, 17-year-old Harry and his friends are on a quest to find and destroy a group of objects that Voldemort (or, as I called him before, Wizard Hitler) has enchanted with some very dark magic, in an attempt to make himself immortal.  About halfway through the book (chapter 19, specifically), Harry and his friends have one of these dark objects, and after carrying it around for a few months, they have found a means with which to destroy it.  While carrying it around, however, it seems to bring out all sorts of dark and negative behavior in whomever is carrying it, at times leading to fights between Harry and his friends.

Harry feels that Ron should be the one to destroy this enchanted object.  But as Ron is about to do so, the object suddenly speaks to Ron, saying that it has seen all of Ron’s greatest fears, and speaking and reenacting these fears in full view of Ron, Harry, and Hermione.  The object reminds Ron that he is always overshadowed.  In his family, he has his older brothers and younger sister, and at school, his best friends are Harry, who is famous within the Wizarding World because of the prophecies made about him, and Hermione, who is a super genius.  The object makes Ron feel like he cannot do anything right, that Harry and Hermione would be better off on their quest without him.  The voices coming from the object mock Ron by saying that no one wants him, and that no woman would ever be interested in him when they could have Harry Potter instead.

I know those voices.  I know those voices because I hear them too… at least in a metaphorical sense.

Of course, I am not carrying around an object that contains a piece of Wizard Hitler’s soul.  This is because Wizard Hitler and magic aren’t real, a fact that Church I With The Problems and many other legalistic conservative churches never fully grasped, but that’s another story for another time.  But all of those fears were already inside Ron’s head; the dark object just saw Ron’s fears and manifested them in front of him.  And some very similar fears are already inside my head.  Those fears become manifest whenever I feel excluded from something my friends are doing or talking about.  They become manifest whenever I see my friends in new romantic relationships while the months since my last date slowly turn into years.  Sometimes I can distract myself from those voices, just as Harry and Ron and Hermione did by taking turns who would hold the evil object, but they cannot be easily destroyed.

But I have to find a way.  I am a Gryffindor, just like Harry, Ron, and Hermione.  I can be brave and silence the evil voices in my head forever once and for all.  I must.

But I’m still searching for a way to do so.  And it won’t be easy.

Exit 96. I’m scared.

I’m scared.

I’m scared of what the world is coming to.  The Presidential election here in the USA is just eight months away, and all of the leading candidates scare me.  In one party, a crooked and dishonest career lawyer and politician is sparring with another career politician who, although he seems to be a decent man, has extremely radical views that go against much of what I believe this country stands for.  On the other side, a demagogue with a long history of baggage is telling angry people what they want to hear, even though it goes against his previous actions and positions, and his conduct is completely unbecoming of someone fit to lead a nation.  A few of the other candidates running I find somewhat tolerable, but splitting the vote among these minor candidates just seems to be helping said demagogue pull away in the race.  I fear for the future of this country if this many people really support candidates like this.

I’m scared of what passes for entertainment these days.  I’m scared at how desensitized some of us have become to depictions of adult situations and violence.  I’m scared at how shows that were considered horribly trashy just a quarter-century ago are so tame by today’s standards.  I’m scared that kids grow up thinking that the way violence and sex are portrayed on TV is normal.  I’m scared that my values seem laughably quaint to the rest of the world.

I’m scared of the way we treat each other.  I’m scared of how so few people are honest and straightforward anymore.  I’m scared of the way that so many of my friends seem to keep me out of the loop on purpose.  (To my friend who saw fit to keep me in the loop, recently, thank you.  You know who you are, and you know what this is about.  I appreciate it.)   And I’m scared that some people would throw away years of friendship and stab their loved ones in the back for totally selfish reasons.

Perhaps the scariest thing is that none of this should surprise me.  It’s all in the Bible.  Jesus said over and over again that difficult times were coming.  We will be persecuted for our beliefs.  There will be wars, and brother will rise up against brother (Matthew 24).  Paul writes that a man of lawlessness will come and make people believe the lies of Satan (2 Thessalonians 2).  (Note: I’m not saying I honestly think that Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, or Hillary Clinton is the Antichrist.  But the concept of deceitful demagoguery is in the Bible.)

I don’t know who or what I can trust anymore.  All I have left to hold on to is Jesus.  Maybe that’s where I need to be right now, so I can tear down everything holding me back and build something new.

Exit 81. If everyone feels this way, then the terrorists have already won.

The news this week hasn’t been good, for the most part.  Lots of terrorist attacks, drive by shootings, and other tragedies that have become all too commonplace in the world of today.  In response to this, a younger college student friend posted on Facebook that it was crazy that we have to be afraid to go anywhere these days because of terrorists.  She said that every day in class, or every time she goes to a movie, she wonders if someone is going to shoot everyone there.

I don’t mean to be harsh in my reply to this, but if everyone feels this way, then the terrorists have already won.

I’m not trying to say that we shouldn’t take these incidents seriously.  We should.  I’m not saying we should forget that they happened.  We shouldn’t.  There are a lot of people still out there who have lost loved ones in incidents like this.  They are suffering in a way I can’t imagine.  But I, for one, refuse to capitulate to fear.  Terrorists want to spread terror.  That’s why they’re called terrorists, not murderists or explosionists.  They want us to be afraid and capitulate to them.

I grew up in Salinas.  Historically, my hometown’s claim to fame is being the birthplace of Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck.  But more recently, Salinas has been earning a dubious distinction as a gang battleground.  A few years ago, I was visiting my family there, and one of the major local news stories was that a young child had been killed as an innocent bystander in a drive-by shooting.  In response to that incident, some sort of youth sports team based in nearby Monterey cancelled a tournament appearance in Salinas, fearing for the safety of the kids on the team.  A columnist for the Salinas newspaper wrote a brilliantly sarcastic column that I wish I had saved.  (If the author of this column happens to read this, I’m sorry I didn’t give you the proper credit, or if I got anything wrong.  And I’m going to use masculine pronouns, because I remember it being a man who wrote this, but I could be wrong on this as well.)  He wrote about how his nephew (or possibly some other kid he knew, I don’t think it was his own kid; as I said, I may be getting details wrong) had recently had a baseball game in the same neighborhood where the shooting occurred.  He explained how everyone around him was watching the game, not fearing for their lives, and when his nephew’s team scored, everyone cheered so loud that he couldn’t hear any shooting.  He said that if anyone from “crime-free Monterey” (a phrase he repeatedly used with proverbial tongue in cheek) had attended the game, they would have had just as much fun as if they’d been attending a game in crime-free Monterey without the threat of gunfire.  He concluded on a serious note, that someone can choose to live in fear whenever tragedies like this happen, but he and the families from his nephew’s baseball team chose to stand up for their neighborhood and not be afraid to live their lives.

Living in fear is easy, but you miss out on so much that way.  Yes, I could get shot tomorrow.  I could also die in a car accident through no fault of my own, or a crashing airplane could fall out of the sky on me, or a building could collapse on top of me or with me inside, or I could have a heart attack.  Bad stuff happens.  Jesus predicted that the world would plunge into chaos before he returned (Matthew 24).    There are plenty of reasons to be afraid, and living in fear like that gets me nowhere and do nothing about it.  I’ve learned that the hard way, and I’m still not always very good at it.  But living in fear isn’t going to help me grow.

Lord Jesus, I pray for Paris, and Sacramento, and the regions in the Middle East experiencing unrest, and for the whole world, as we cope with tragedy.  I pray for healing.  I pray that we will come together to support each other in difficult times, and I pray that we will love each other to the point that potential future terrorists don’t feel a need to turn to that life anymore.  And I pray that those who are afraid or hurting will be comforted and find peace.