My mom was an English teacher. For this, I am grateful. Thanks to my mom, I grew up in a house where correct grammar was modeled and, as a result, my siblings and I grew up with a pretty good command of the English language. (I still struggle with the difference between “which” and “that” and have a proclivity for dangling modifiers and split infinitives, but for the most part, I think I’m pretty solid in my native tongue.)
Like many of you, I squirm when I see blogs, newspapers or billboards using “they’re” instead of “their” or “assure” when they mean “insure” or “ensure,” and, in my business, there is nothing more irksome than seeing the word “alter” when it is really “altar” that was intended- a noun to be used, instead of the verb- but the one that takes the cake, that has me shouting at the radio in my car, is the latest Capital BlueCross Ad that encourages us to “Live Fearless.” Oh, how I hate that. I shout at the radio, “Ly. Fearless-ly. It’s an adverb. It modifies the verb ‘to live.’ Live Fearless-ly!!!”
Just yesterday, I was driving home from the gym and I heard a new campaign for the University of Maryland on the radio. It was promoting the new branding of the school to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation, all built around the idea of “fearlessness.” Here is a position statement from their branding platform:
We believe that ideas lie at the heart of innovation and entrepreneurship, the heart of anything worthwhile. Ideas can be inspired by our faculty, our alumni or our students. UMD is dedicated to turning ideas into impact, to make them fearless. UMD believes in the power of fearless ideas to change our world.
What is it about fear? What is this media messaging that encourages us to shake the oppressive mantle of fear that has us all huddling in corners, unable to live our lives to the fullest or, in the case of the university’s approach, that stifles our capacity for creativity and innovation?
What has us so fearful?
We are afraid of losing control. We are afraid of being decimated. We are afraid of being attacked by our enemies, of nuclear bombs, of death and destruction. That’s the bottom line, isn’t it?
Just above that, we are afraid of our powerlessness in being able to effect change or to maintain the status quo. We are afraid that we might not be able to make ends meet, to provide for our children, or to skid into the home plate of our retirement with enough money left in the bank to pay the continuing care facility.
We are afraid of cancer and other health problems that lurk in the shadows of late middle age.
Now that I am of a certain age, I notice that I have started holding onto railings and bannisters when I make my way down flights of stairs. I am afraid of falling and breaking a hip.
And, oh, how wearying is this fear.
Some of it is manufactured. Fear is a tool used to keep us in our place and to maintain control by those who can get us to cower.
And some of our fear is existential. I remember one of my parishioners told me that when I reached his old age (73- it seemed old, then, but now… isn’t 70 the new 50?)… when I reached his old age I would lose the fear of death. I’ve thought about that comment many times and have decided that embracing death is not something that is necessarily an event determined by chronological age, but, perhaps by growth in faith, instead of years.
And some of the most unhelpful fear comes from our human desire to keep it together, to be self-contained, to be the master of our own destinies and to resist vulnerability and the influence of others. This fear is antithetical to the Christian Way.
When we join up with the Body of Christ, we agree to give what we have to the center of the circle, and to share in a bigger and broader existence than just our own. We are embraced by a community that extends into the ages and that reaches ‘een beyond the veil for strength and inspiration. To be a member of the Body of Christ is to win triumph over death and fear and demands of us a certain vulnerability.
Our icon for this vulnerabilty is the man, Jesus, nailed to the tree. And the glorious result of that dark day is the empty tomb that shows us that death and fear have no hold on us- and that God’s love triumphs over all.
It’s a long way, though, from the theological glory of Easter morning to my dark stairwell and the grip that I have on the bannister, keeping me upright and safe.
How do you move through your days? Do you push fear aside and move, boldly ahead… or are you weighted down by fear and stuck in your tracks?
When I was 22 I had a terrible summer in which I suffered from panic attacks. I remember sitting in the back of a Greyhound Bus on a late evening passage returning to Hartford, CT from Cambridge, MA where I had been visiting my boyfriend (now husband). I murmured the phrase “calm, ocean, home… calm, ocean, home… calm, ocean, home…” a mantra that I had learned to settle my nerves and steady me in the face of an impending panicky moment. Panic attacks are no fun. But worse than the attacks, themselves, are the in-between times in which one fears the possibility of an attack. The root of fear is uncertainty… and yet, we live in times that are wildly uncertain. The key towards managing fear, I think, is to command rationality, reduce uncertainty, embrace honesty, lean into community and be willing to exercise vulnerability.
Brene Brown, a scholar who has studied the social, psychological, spiritual and physiological aspects of vulnerability says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
(Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead)
How do you do this in your life?
Is Lent a good time to try it on?
Live fearlessly. Be vulnerable. Lean into the Body.