I was watching TV the other day and a very odd commercial came on. A man was standing in a house, wrapped in duct tape and holding some pipes. He announced that he was a water heater and that his safety valve could get stuck. Then the commercial showed him rocketing out of the top of the roof to the sound of a loud explosion. A voiceover suggested that this could happen to you, and that your insurance may not cover the cost, which could lead to an explosion in your bank account as well. Then the name of the insurance company sponsoring the commercial flashed up on the screen and encouraged you to check on your own insurance coverage.
I have to admit, I was a bit nervous for a few minutes. I had never considered the possibility my water heater could explode. Then I got a hold of myself. Can this happen? Yes, I looked it up and it appears that this could certainly happen. However it seems like something that can be averted with proper inspection and maintenance of your water heater. So it’s probably not something to panic about. And I don’t think the point of the commercial was to educate consumers about getting their water heaters inspected on a routine basis. Rather, the point of the commercial was to generate fear so that viewers would think about switching their insurance.
We live in a fear driven society in many ways. When I listen to the news I hear fear of illness, fear of poverty, fear of other countries, fear of environmental catastophe and other fears as major themes. Our commercials and TV shows often play to these fears or even try to increase them to coerce us into buying products that purport to keep us safe. Even our religions cater to fear in many ways. In Sunday School this week a classmate made a comment that Christians should get their act together and fall in line together, so that we can outcompete other religions. When I objected to this as contrary to the pathway of suffering service that was shown to us my classmate voice the concern that Christians could be wiped out, that in a generation we could be gone. This was clearly a very real and present fear to my classmate and I think probably to others in the room as well.
Fear is a dangerous emotion. It drives anger and violence and greed, as we view each other as competitors for our very survival. It leads us to see difference as dangerous instead of interesting. Fear wipes out clear thinking and throws us into a fight-flight-freeze mode in which we react instead of respond. It takes away our ability to be curious, open and creative. And fear causes us to suffer in little ways; in our lives and relationships we hesitate to make changes out of fear. We fear the unknown, fear change, and fear the future and so we try to play it safe. We build security even when the cost is our own happiness. I know, because I do it too. The world is a scary place, and I have seen a lot of bad things happen. I have many fears.
Last week I was trying to explain Easter to my daughter. This is hard, because we haven’t talked about the concept of death yet. It’s not a subject I’m eager to introduce. I know it will come up eventually and we’ll have to deal with it then, but I don’t want to give her things to be frightened about. So Easter is a tough one, since resurrection doesn’t make sense without understanding death. The best I could come up with on the fly is that Easter is a holiday where we celebrate G-D freeing us from fear.
The more I think about it though, the more I think that maybe that was truer and more important than I realized at the time. Easter is the Christian’s celebration of the defeat of death and sin. It is the assurance of both G-D’s love for us and G-D’s victory over evil. As such, Easter truly is a celebration of freedom from fear and an invitation. The invitation is to let go of fear and its grip on your life and to live the abundant life G-D has planned for you. It’s an invitation to live fully in trust and love and dependence on G-D to care for you and everything you love.
I’ll be honest. I can’t live that yet. I can see it, shining in my mind’s eye, and I know I’d like to get there. But I can’t touch it yet. I can’t reach that far or trust that much. I can only try, tiny step by tiny step, to confront my fear and ask for courage to love and trust more fully. I can practice mindfulness, and so become more open to and honest with myself about my fears. I can learn to confess and acknowledge when I am allowing fear to rule me, even when I don’t yet have the ability to make a different choice, knowing that with G-D’s grace someday I will be free of fear.