I have been thinking about fear. The presidential campaign seems to foist fear into our consciousness. Fear is a tremendous motivator when it comes to getting people to vote.  When someone who is different from us does something that is threatening, we can get exorcized and strike out to destroy or exclude. But, if someone like us acts in a threatening way, we are inclined to ignore it or accept it as behavior that we simply have to live with. 

In a recent article in Foreign Policy, David Rothkopf reflects on how odd we humans are when it comes to fear. Politicians are keen on exploiting our fear of terrorism but seem paralyzed when it comes to limiting access to guns. Mr. Rothkopf points out that between 2004 and 2014, 303 Americans were killed by terrorists.  During the same period 320,000 Americans were killed by guns of family members and fellow citizens. Because of the fear of terrorism, Americans cancel trips abroad. But we seem to have no trouble passing laws for people to carry guns in public places.

Now if fear were rational, one would think that we would spend more on controlling guns in America than we would in fighting terrorism. But, we can’t seem to generate much energy for the former and have no trouble authorizing billions to fight the latter. It seems that fear of the stranger can generate millions of Americans to vote for walls to keep others out while at the same time we can’t get enough votes in congress to limit guns.

Fear indeed is powerful. Fear of the stranger seems to exacerbate it. 

Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)  The book of I John says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18a) I doubt that I will ever have perfect love, but I think the world might be a safer  and better place if we prayed for our enemies and grew in allowing love the overcome our fear. We might even come to appreciate the strangers more if we didn’t fear them as much.


I read a recent survey which suggested that half of Americans are angrier than they were last year. White Americans are angrier than blacks and women are angrier than men. The anger has to do with disappointment over things not being the way they want them to be. Women are angrier not only because of the way they are treated but because their empathy makes them feel for the way others are mistreated as well.

The survey also found that those who read something several times a day or week that makes them angry are angrier than those who don’t. Those who read anger provoking things less frequently are not as angry.

Now, we know that anger is frequently a response to threat. So, if people are responding with anger to what they read, what they read threatens something they think is important. It often threatens our sense of security, our sense of justice, our sense of what is right or wrong. I therefore think this survey suggests that people are also MORE AFRAID this year than they were a year ago.

This makes me think about how much our media saturated lives are manipulated by that which is that which is out of our control. If I not only read the news headlines and react to something that is happening in the world, but I am constantly reading of that which angers other people on my social media tree, I can find myself easily sucked into fear, anger and despair.

Therefore, I think we all might have a little more positive outlook on life if we were to consume less digital data. I am not suggesting that stick our heads in the sand, but I am suggesting that we don’t need to consume everyone’s distress several times a day. If we are not always reacting to our friends’ fears, maybe we would have more emotional energy to volunteer our time and gifts to organizations that work to overcome fear and threat. That way we can share the light of hope and courage and contribute to a less fearful world.


Sometimes I hear something that I think is worth repeating.

Laurie Anderson, performance artist, composer and musician, was interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air.  She shared that she and her husband Lou Reed, lived by three simple rules:

  • Be afraid of no person.
  • Get and develop a good BS detector—and learn how to use it.
  • Be very, very tender.

I really like these three rules. Fear is the fundamental barrier to living life awake. Fear blocks our curiosity and causes us to hide from the strange and the new. Our energy for living increases as we navigate the space between the familiar and the unfamiliar, the known and the unknown. If we can “be not afraid” we will be open to the rich complexity of our created reality.

Develop a BS detector! Much of what we hear and see is really BS. When we are vulnerable to every smooth talking charlatan we are constantly being manipulated by their words and our emotional responses to them. We live in a time and culture where we are so inundated with the thoughts and opinions of others that it is almost impossible to sort out what is real and what is BS. Sorting that out helps us remember what really matters and we can live more focused and purposeful lives.

And “be very, very tender.” Kindness really does matter. Tenderness is respecting the life experiences of others. It is knowing that everyone struggles to love and be loved, to belong and to find meaning. Tenderness is the best room in which to find what we long for. Tenderness gives people the benefit of the doubt. It is giving ourselves mercy and grace. It is discovering joy in a gracious glance, a simple touch, a soft word.

So, I think I will see if these three simple rules bring me more joy and meaning. I think they might.


Photo by Lindsay Alessandrini

Photo by Lindsay Alessandrini

I have heard it said that “Growing old is not for the faint of heart.” And indeed, as the body ages there are issues, or as Leonard Cohen sings, “I hurt in the places where I used to play.”   And the mind—the mind—that too seems to slow down and not recall things as quickly—and when it does finally recall them, the conversation has moved three steps beyond.

But, as I think about life, “Parenting isn’t for the faint of heart” either. After all, the heart explodes in a panic as we are awakened by cries of terror from the nursery. The mind “awfulizes” as you sit in the mid-hours of the night, long after the curfew has past, and your son isn’t home from his date. And what about the ache that fills in around the hole that is left when your daughter drives away, heading for the college.

And while we are at it, I don’t think that “being a teenager is for the faint of heart.”  Remember those years?  Remember the confusion when the body, racing with hormones, chased the longing for love and the urge to connect with unrelenting energy? Remember when you wanted to be your cool, unique self almost as badly as you wanted to fit-in and belong?  And then when you were left out? Ouch!

And maybe being a child is “not for he faint of heart.” The 5 year old in Indianapolis or Honduras stands at the door of the school, kindergarten waiting for him, trying to steel himself by getting a glimpse of what is to come. The unknown reaches around the half-open door to signal a hint of hope for the unsteady heart.

Maybe all this simply points to the fact that to live almost anytime and any situation in life requires a strong heart. Courage (heart, or inner strength) is required as we face the changes, losses, discoveries, unknowns of life.And maybe we can gain some strength in knowing that what ever stages of life we are in, we are not alone. Others around us are also drawing from deep wells of courage to stand in the midst of their fears and challenges. Maybe it helps to know that to be human is to have the capacity to face the unknown future to find heart enough to love life in the midst of the troubles.


Words are windows. They are windows on the soul. Sometimes the windows are clean and the view inside is crystal clear.  When words are used to express a truthful insight into the speaker’s heart, they can help us know each other more intimately.

But, sometimes the word-windows are fogged over. Sometimes the window is smudged and the what we see is distorted. Sometimes the words we use are designed to obscure a clear picture of what is really going on inside. Other times the windows are covered with shades to cloak the fear or dampen the desire.

I am satisfied that both kinds of window-words are important to help us navigate life. If we are communicating with someone we trust will treat what they see with respect, we will be inclined to use words that reveal as much of who we are as we or they can tolerate. We want to be known by people who will hear us with mercy, not judge us with malice. These grace filled relationships are sacred gifts to a lonely soul.

But, there are other situations where we find ourselves uncertain about how others will treat what they discover about us. When we are in these kinds of relationships, we will be hesitant to allow them to see too much. We will pull the shades on the window of our souls to protect our hearts from the glare of critical eyes.

So, be careful how you receive what you see through the windows others open to you. Listen with an ear that hears the tremor or delight in the voice. Notice with your eyes seeing the tears rimming the eye—tears of tenderness or tears of terror. Be interested, not critical of what you hear. Know that the soul of another is not yours to trample, but is a gift for you to receive that will help ease the loneliness in both of you.