The world waits eagerly for a vaccine for COVID-19 as the answer to the increasing threat to our health and security. Meanwhile, in the US, news from our cities resembles civil war. Divergent political and social tribes are warring against each other with ever increasing vitriol and violence.
Fear drives many of the words and actions as people in my circles are adapting “Be safe” as a new way to say “Goodbye.” For so much of my life, my personal safety was assumed – I enjoyed the benefits of a largely safe environment. Across America as the rule of law and basic morality directed everyday behavior for our citizens, health, safety and security was the norm. Today that norm faces real challenges.
In his 2007 book, “Failure Of Nerve,” Edwin Friedman writes about the five stages of emotional regression in families and society.
- Reactivity: The viscous cycle of intense reactions of each member to events and to one another.
- Herding: A process through which the forces of togetherness triumph over the forces of individuality and move everyone to adapt to the least mature members.
- Blame displacement: An emotional state in which members focus on forces that have victimized them rather than taking responsibility for their own being and destiny.
- A quick-fix mentality: A low threshold for pain that constantly seeks symptom relief rather than fundamental change.
- Lack of self-differentiated leadership: A failure of nerve that both stems from and contributes to the first four. (Self differentiation involves being able to possess and identify your own thoughts and feelings and distinguish them from others. That means leading with objectivity based on values, precepts and facts.)
This list is a predictable script for the twenty-four hour news cycle. Emotions (primarily anger and fear) drive people into splintered “tribes” where people herd together along lines of offenses and fears, blame the “other side” and lash out for quick fixes – like dismantling institutions of faith and government – rather than do the hard work of coming together as self-differentiated people to solve problems through respect, grace, and dialogue.
In America, this emotional regression is destroying our way of life. In my view, fear is the weaponry of the politicians and mainstream media. It works well, does it not? Who among us is not fearful of either racial discrimination or labeling as racist? How many days do you live without fear of your exposure to COVID or the consequences of policy on public schools and the economy? Wear a mask or not, you are likely to be scowled at by someone herded into their view of reality by their set of “facts.”
As Christ followers, how then shall we live? How do we think and feel and behave in light of our self-differentiated relationship with Christ and the world around us? The only missiological way forward is to learn how to activate LOVE in a way that casts out fear. The only healing we can bring our neighbors is to love them. Rather than a posture of fear and anger fueled by favorite news channels or podcasts, let us not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Ro. 12:2). Can I suggest we strain our inputs through the filter of Proverbs 4:23? “Above all else, guard your heart. For everything you do flows from it.” That might mean un-following some “friends” on social media. Maybe you need to turn off the TV. Do Don Lemon or Tucker Carlson help you love your neighbor?
How about Jesus’ words to us on the Sermon on the Mount, “Judge not that you be not judged. For with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your bothers eye but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” Mtt 7:1-3
I am not suggesting our silence while the world rages around us. I am suggesting speaking in love with a genuine motivation of healing and unity.
I like to evaluate my thoughts and actions in light of 1 Corinthians 13, read like this: Scott is patient, Scott is kind. Scott does not envy, Scott does not boast, Scott is not proud. Scott does not dishonor others, Scott is not self-seeking, Scott is not easily angered, Scott keeps no record of wrongs. Scott does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Scott always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
If you find yourself in the Five Stages of Emotional Regression or judging others who seem to be, put your name in 1 Corinthians 13 and figure out how to activate it.
Love is the only vaccine for our fear. The future of our faith, our families, our country, and the world depends on it.
“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.” ~ 1 John 4:18
“When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.” ~ Psalm 94:19
“An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.” ~ Proverbs 12:25
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” ~ Psalm 23:4
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” ~ Joshua 1:9
“Humble yourselves, then, under God’s mighty hand, so that he will lift you up in his own good time. Leave all your worries with him, because he cares for you.” ~ 1 Peter 5:6-7
“Tell everyone who is discouraged, Be strong and don’t be afraid! God is coming to your rescue…” ~ Isaiah 35:4
“Immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’” ~ Mark 6:50
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” ~ Deuteronomy 31:6
“Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” ~ Proverbs 29:25
“But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats.” ~ 1 Peter 3:14
“I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears.” ~ Psalm 34:4