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.


Hiking around the back roads of northern Wisconsin. Rainy and 60 degrees.  I heard it before I saw it. A car straining against a hill. I then saw evidence of it in the smoke from the exhaust. Then it appeared. Old but not antique. Out of shape and rusting. The aroma of the exhaust found my senses and I was immediate transported.  Stigler, OK. 1948.  Images careened through my mind: my grandparents place; an old frame house; a big vegetable garden; a back porch with a wash tub where we children bathed; and an old Model T  Ford in a dilapidated shed.

And the exhaust smell of pre-leaded, pre catalytic converted gas opened my memory data bank and there was my Granddad. Ball-headed, red faced, portly. And I remembered how he would take us kids in the old black Model T down to the gas station. There in the corner of the shop smelling of oil and sweat was a gum ball machine. For a penny you could get a gum ball and in most machines, if you were lucky, a trinket.  But there in the back roads of Oklahoma was this machine that spit out not only some gum, but often as many as 3 trinkets for one penny.  A bonanza!

I remember my Granddad sitting in a chair in the back yard. And I would sit on his knee. It was a wooden knee—part of a wooden leg that he had all the time I knew him. He would laugh and seemed to enjoy me.  I felt loved.

Later in my life I would discover that there were characteristics of this man that I might not appreciate. Hints from the past held rumors. I don’t know which of them were true. But at that point in his life and mine, there was a love shared—a love that passed between us. And I am grateful for the love of that imperfect man. 

And I guess that love from an imperfect man prepared me for life. For I have discovered that any love I give is from an imperfect man. And any love I receive is from imperfect people. And I am grateful that the giving and receiving of love does not require the perfection of the giver or the receiver. Because love does not require perfection, I can say that I have been greatly loved.


A poster on my desk.

A poster on my desk.


I have been thinking about freedom and integrity lately.  How do we sustain a sense of our own values when others around us seem to be threatening them? How do we live as people of faith who have been taught to love our enemies when those who threaten us hurt us with their actions or inactions?

Jesus advice was to love our enemies—to pray for those who persecute us. To pray for those who seem to wish us ill-will is not easy. To love those who would hurt us seems counter-intuitive. We are inclined to strike back, to wish ill for those who hurt us.

But, when I let other’s behavior determine my behavior, do I lose my freedom to be myself? I do not like myself when I am a hating person. I do not like myself when all I can do is respond in kind to those whose actions hurt me. When we do unto others what they do to us, we are not free. We are controlled by them.

So, praying for those who hurt us keeps me centered in what I care about—spreading kindness and love. To love those who hurt me is to pay attention to them as humans—as people who may be hurting me out of their own hurt—to see them as complex and maybe even confused—to see them as people who are unable to see my hurt and pain.

But, I want to maintain my integrity—my freedom to define who I am and how I will act. And when I pray instead of pout, when I love instead of lash out, I am able to continue to define who I am and work to be who I want to be.



Valentine cards. Never quite right. Words never capture the sentiment.

So, I sit by the sea. And my mind remembers a line from Pablo Neruda , “Give us this day our daily fish.” (Ode to the Sea)

And as I sit and ponder Pablo’s prayer and how hard it is to capture love in words, I write my own lines:

The sea, like love, is relentless.
It comes close and then fades away.
It returns to its source and then again, the sand.

Sometimes its dangerous, wild and unpredictable.
Sometimes calm, giving and forgiving.
Pressing in, paying attention.
Backing off, running from shore, hiding in itself.

It is mostly deep and unknowable
But surfaces to share a moment of furious foam.
In its depths it cradles unique treasures
To tease us with their scent on the surface of the sea.

It is courageous, pounding its chest 
And then holds its breath, waiting.
Expansive it swallows ships and souls, 
And then it salt-waters each creature with life.

On the horizon the sea touches the sky
And with a ribbon of green blue
Weds infinite space to finite sand.

Love, like the sea, cannot be contained.
It can be experienced and described, but never captured and held.
We glimpse its gifts, taste its offering, and rest in its song.
And we wait for a taste, a scent, to feed our hungry heart.

Maybe love, like the sea, is always there,
Eternal ebb and flow.
Maybe it offers its gifts in glimpse and whisper,
And we must but notice and let it in.

Pablo Neruda says, “Give us this day our daily fish.” I say, “Thank you for our daily love.”

WHAT IF . . . .

What if God is love? What if the core of the divine reality is love?

And what if love is “paying attention?” 

Does this mean that God is paying attention to creation? Does this mean that God is listening to creation’s groaning and laughing? Does this mean that there is a divine spirit that attends to each of us and to our friends, the birds, the horses, the caterpillars?

And what if the Apostle Paul is right and love is eternal? What if he is right that words about God will pass away, that emotional feelings about God will pass away? But love never ends.

And what if love is unconditional? What if love pays attention to us even when we don’t love, even when we shut ourselves off from attending to others because they hurt us or we hurt them?

And what if we quit trying to get love to pay attention to us and opened our hearts to see where love is already coming to us?

What if love is eternal and the creative energy for life? What if we started looking where it is rather than lamenting where it is not? What if we savor it when it comes rather than complaining because it doesn’t from where we want?

If God is love and love is paying attention, maybe the way we know God is to love God by paying attention to where love exists and joining with that love in the world.  Maybe this is what it means to be in communion with God—to participate in the acts of love (God) as they get acted out in our world.

And maybe if this is all true, we can live with more courage, knowing that nothing can separate us from love. Maybe we don't have to be afraid.