As I watch the election unfold here in the US, Brexit in the UK, and terror attacks around the world I can’t help but wonder, along with many others, “What in the world is happening to us? When did we become so led by fear?”
As I thought about this question it led me to wonder what changed in the make-up of the American people, and that led me to an interesting possible correlation.
World War II ended in 1945, just 71 years ago. Of the 16 million Americans who served in that war, only approximately 500,000 remain alive today. It would appear that the loss of most of the men and women who truly understand the cost of global warfare is coinciding with a brash return to isolationism.
World War II is the deadliest military conflict in the history of the world. Somewhere between 50 million and 80 million people died – 3% of the world population at that time. 40% of all jewish people were murdered – forty percent. Poland lost nearly 20% of it’s entire population. The USA lost 405,399 lives. We lost less than half of one percent of our population and yet everyone knows someone who served or was impacted by that war. Husbands, fathers, brothers, and uncles all gone, and many more came home changed forever.
My mother was born a few months before the war ended in 1945. By the time her father came home from the war, she was 11 months old. My grandmother often talked of how my mother had to be slowly introduced to her own father, as he was a stranger to her. My mother’s generation grew up with this shadow, but never in the midst, of war. In fact, the years following the end of World War II are the most peaceful in the history of the world.
Not only did our grandparents survive the deadliest war of all time, they also survived the Great Depression from 1929-1939. We cannot even imagine a life that began in hunger and then grew into global war. My grandparents were born in 1921 and 1923. So from the age of 8 and 6, respectively, until the age of 24 and 22 all they knew was lack and war. This was the reality that formed them – lack and war. An entire generation whose minds were completely formed in the embrace of desperate want and utter depravity. From this bleak beginning came what we now call the Greatest Generation. No greater example can be found of the redemptive power of this life we are given than to see the character and progress forged from such a bleak beginning.
They came home, started their families, and began building a new world. They ushered in the greatest advancements in the history of the world, the greatest time of peace and prosperity, and the greatest advancements in equality in the history of the world. From putting a man on the moon to a manned international space station. From computers that fill a room, to far more powerful computers that fit in our pockets. From the discover of Penicillin to the mapping of the human genome. The Greatest Generation did not only survive their difficult beginning, they thrived.
In the midst of these amazing advancements in science, the children of this incredible generation drove the civil rights era of advancement in the 50’s and 60’s, the sexual revolution of the 60’s and 70’s, and the current revolution in the rights of the LGBTQ community. Civil liberties have been greatly improved throughout this time of peace and prosperity.
Of course we are painfully aware that advancement in how we treat our fellow man does not come without cost. Our grandparents generation were dismayed by the turmoil at home during the fight for civil rights. Turmoil seemingly self-created. Having experienced so much death and despair in their formative years, it is not surprising that they longed for the status quo of perceived peace, and they resisted change. They had fought and watched friends die, for the life they had created and many were unwilling to weather any more change.
But it was that very peace that allowed these advancements to take place. Lacking external threat, and finding the basic needs of shelter and food easily met, the youth of this greatest generation – our parents – could finally focus on more existential and aspirational goals such as the goals of equality for everyone.
We are far enough removed from the civil rights and the sexual revolution, that almost everyone would agree equality for minorities and women are a good thing. However, this was not the case in the midst of these changes.
In the 60’s, during the civil rights movement, the majority of churches preached a message of doom and destruction. They taught that the changes were against the commandments of God, and proof of the imminent downfall of our great nation.
In retrospect we can see the fear behind this sad reaction. In hindsight we can tsk-tsk at how small minded they seem. From a distance we struggle to understand how scripture was ever manipulated to support their message of racial discrimination.
And yet the current work for the basic rights of economic benefits, employment, and housing for the gay community are met with achingly familiar fear and vitriol. I believe there are still 17 states, my own included, that allow a business to fire someone if they learn they are gay. The church, once again, is found to be leading the opposition to these basic rights. But in this case too, history will surely repeat itself, as it often does.
As a Christian, I am in support of these protections for everyone. Although I interpret the historical language and context of the scriptures differently than some of my brother’s and sister’s in Christ, I still believe that we all will someday agree that, at least, no person should be harmed because of who they love. We don’t agree on this basic tenant yet, but I believe we will. I believe there is a path to humane and loving laws regardless of your theology. We have done so in the past. We will do so again.
So we see this amazing generation, who endured the very worse of humanity, has also ushered in an era of the very best of humanity. We are surely not done, but the progress is practically unfathomable. Such beauty from such pain.
Is it possible that as they so quickly leave us – the greatest generation is dying at over 500 a day – we will just as quickly abandon their progress?
Isn’t it fascinating that as we lose the only people who truly understand the costs of global war, the world decides to return to isolationism and war?
It seems we have not only greatly increased our ability to advance ourselves, but we have matched this ability with the speed in which we forget the lessons of history.
I don’t suppose it has to be this way. I believe that a nation of people dedicated to the ideals of equality, happiness, and democracy could identify a path forward in which we could lead the world not through the power of our weapons, but rather through the strength of our convictions.
I suppose we could decide to bravely continue the progress of our ancestors. We could continue to work for a better world. We could continue to fight for the essentials of human freedom that unite us as citizens of the world.
I suppose that every realist knows that the democratic way of life is at this moment being directly assailed in every part of the world — assailed either by arms or by secret spreading of poisonous propaganda by those who seek to destroy unity and promote discord in nations that are still at peace. During 16 long months this assault has blotted out the whole pattern of democratic life in an appalling number of independent nations, great and small. And the assailants are still on the march, threatening other nations, great and small.
In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.
That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called “new order” of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.
To that new order we oppose the greater conception — the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.
Since the beginning of our American history we have been engaged in change, in a perpetual, peaceful revolution, a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly, adjusting itself to changing conditions without the concentration camp or the quicklime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society.
This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women, and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.
To that high concept there can be no end save victory.
Those last 11 paragraphs are not my words….the were delivered by FDR to Congress in January of 1941, almost 18 months after the start of WWII, and 11 months before the USA would enter the war following the bombing of Pear Harbor.
These are the ideals that united American citizens to come together, sacrifice, and do the impossible.
Certainly this is no time for any of us to stop thinking about the social and economic problems which are the root cause of the social revolution which is today a supreme factor in the world. For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy.
The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:
Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.
Jobs for those who can work.
Security for those who need it.
The ending of special privilege for the few.
The preservation of civil liberties for all.
The enjoyment — The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.
These are the simple, the basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.
The full speech can be found here: The Four Freedoms
So. Here we are.
We have the same goals and beliefs. The irony is that for all of our fighting and divisiveness, we all have the same goals. We all want security, freedom, equality – the inspiring qualities of our history and our future are unchanged.
It is as if the Greatest Generation having faced their ultimate fears of desperate want and very real danger, were more capable of living beyond that fear. Having walked through the fire, they understood the value of cooperation to dampen any embers. And now we, having never been through the fire, are being over run with fear. We seem to have lost all ability to talk with civility, much less work together.
Fear. Christ warned us over and over of the devastating effects of fear. Proverbs 29:25 explains our world very well. “People are trapped by their fear of others; those who trust the Lord are secure.”
We are trapped. We fear the other. We may define the other differently – but we all fear the other.
Both sides of the political spectrum use fear to garner support and to destroy their opponent, their other. I will not watch political ads. I refuse to watch Fox News or CNN. I will not participate in any tool wielded by evil, whose obvious goal is to increase fear. It is ungodly. It is inhuman. It is wrong. It is evil. I firmly believe that these ‘media’ outlets are ungodly in every respect. Unethical if you are not a believer. Antithetical to the very ideals we claim make us great.
But so many argue that fear is necessary. That the world is too dangerous to not be fearful and we must act from that basis of ‘rational’ fear. So many believe that the media is only manipulating the other side, yet…
By any statistic, by any measurement, the world is the safest it has ever been. By any statistic. By any measurement.
Love casts out all fear.
The enemy, the evil one, the conspiracy that actually is true – is that someone or something is manipulating us through the force of fear.
By any statistic, any measurement. Safer than we have ever been.
1 John 4:18. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
I truly believe that our ability to face and overcome our fear is the only hope we have.
I lived my life in fear on a personal level for many years. The process of developing the vulnerability and humility required to eliminate fear is incredibly painful. Fear fought a fierce battle to keep me hidden and small. But I know, on a personal level, the truth of these ancient wisdom’s from scripture. I know the freedom one finds on the other side of fear.
And even so, the collective fear sold by our ‘leaders’ and media can still entrap me. Personal freedom, no matter how hard-earned, does not automatically provide corporate freedom. I am still fighting through the clinging traps of fear in my broader life.
One of the things I learned in my personal battle is how critical it is to acknowledge and face our fears. An internal analysis and honest assessment of our arsenal of fear is critical to finding the freedom available.
Here are just some of my corporate fears:
I am afraid that the lack of rights for my LGBTQ friends will cause them irreparable harm, drive them far from the love of Christ, and in some cases continue to lead them – especially children – to suicide.
I am afraid that if someone believes that LGBTQ is a sin and because of that, they believe people who ‘choose’ to sin in that way are somehow exempted from employment, a home, and decent treatment – like say, getting a cake – I am afraid that one day some sin that I have done or do may limit my own civil rights.
I am afraid of the hypocrisy I see in sinners negating basic human rights for other sinners because of their personal beliefs on what constitutes sin and on which of those sins allows for discrimination and which do not. We disagree on what is a sin, we do not disagree on the idea that we all far short of living a life that brings forth the kingdom of God.
I am afraid that the rhetoric and demonization of ‘the other’ when it comes to refugees and the Muslim population is emboldening the radical fringes and giving them unprecedented recruitment tools that is compounding the risk exponentially more than treating people with love and kindness ever would. Love casts out all fear.
I am afraid that there is a elite group of powerful people behind the media whose only goal is to divide us in order to insure that their prosperity increases. I am even more afraid that they may actually believe they are acting in ‘our best interest’ and I’m terrified at how effective they are.
I am afraid that we have given such weight to the government and our laws that we no longer even understand that we can work together to enact change outside of government. I am afraid that we no longer own our personal responsibility, but rather have relegated our actions to the whims of corrupt legislation.
I am afraid that people actually believe it is possible to live isolated and insular in the current world, and that we do not need to create a healthy global community in order to truly claim to be a nation who follows the teachings of scripture, remains safe, and contributes to the betterment of the world.
I am afraid that nationalism has become our religion.
I am afraid that the response to the civil rights movement in the 50’s, which led to a quieter, more subtle set of unspoken and unwritten Jim Crow laws has grown both purposefully and organically to such an extent as to be so ingrained into our fabric that it has been rendered invisible to many. I am afraid that our unwillingness to acknowledge the reality of the black community will result in ever increasing escalations of violence on both ‘sides’ -which will only further perpetuate the inability to hear and see the other’s reality.
I am afraid of the fact that we still have sides, that we only have sides. That we seem unable to find common ground in any area, any arena.
I am afraid that our inability to have productive dialogue and reasonable compromise will lead to the utter destruction of the world that I know and love and raise my children in.
I am afraid that our inability to have productive dialogue and reasonable compromise will lead to a bleak future for my children.
I am afraid that our inability to have productive dialogue and reasonable compromise will devolve us into the animalistic people reflected in dystopian films like the Hunger Games. I am afraid it already has, but our district boundaries live in our minds at present….and our borders are coming.
There are more…..but that is a good example of the way fear effects me and my view of the world. This is why I can long for dialogue but also become enraged by fear.
My reality, however, is far different.
I worship in an inclusive community of Jesus loving believers who extend grace and mercy to all who enter our community. We love fully and completely in our human and flawed way. We are blessed with bountiful fruit from these efforts and it is a joy to see. We are not hindered from meeting in any way.
My children have learned to swim this summer. They are joyful and happy people. They are brave and loving and kind. They have a network of classmates who are loving and kind with incredible parents who are working to raise wonderful people.
I enjoy working and watching incredible organizations who catch our most vulnerable members of society and care for them. They do all of their work funded solely by the generous contributions of private citizens and businesses. This happens in my city and in ever city in this nation.
I live in safety and security with little exposure to unsafe conditions or environments. Despite my fear, I go into the heart of our major cities with little thought to my security.
I know and love a variety of people with a variety of viewpoints who I enjoy sitting down with and discussing hard things. I can have dialogue and I believe I and others are capable of compromise at a local level.
I follow and support amazing people who are working tirelessly to connect and unite people. They have hundreds of thousands of people who follow and support their work. Hundreds and thousands of people who see love as a powerful force. Hundreds and thousands of people, who even if we vary on our understanding of faith, know that we can still love, value and respect one another. I am not alone.
I am not alone – in my fear, nor in my hope.
My reality is beautiful. My fears are carefully cultivated by external forces – be that a grand conspiracy, or some force of evil, or a combination of both, but my beautiful reality is fighting a fierce battle for my mind and heart. And I know that love wins in the end. I know.
By any measurement, I live in the safest and most prosperous time in the history of the world. By any measurement.
My reality is beautiful and full of hope. If I didn’t own a television or any access to the media, I would believe that the world was as beautiful and hopeful as it actually is.
All I know to do is this. Tell my truth. Live my best life. Contribute to the beauty. Be part of the light.
All I know is to confront my fear and walk beyond it.
All I know is to invite you to walk with me in the light.