Fear of What?

Posted: June 17, 2021 in Uncategorized

Fear of What? 

The theme for today’s service has been the anatomy of fear as we journey with the disciples in the boat on the lake when as is apparently not uncommon a storm arises and Jesus’ confidence is seen as indifference to their fear of possible drowning.

What this reminds us of is that fear is a very powerful thing in our lives. It prompts us to seek protection in times of very real danger. Sometimes it is a positive force as it motivates us into needed changes and surprising adventures. It also serves as a constant reminder that we are fragile, limited, and human. But on the other side of these impulses, we know fear also prompts us to lock the doors of our lives from the mystery and wonder of the unknown and run into places of isolated hiding. Very few emotions are stronger than fear.

Fear is a natural, powerful, and primitive human emotion. It involves a universal biochemical response as well as a high individual emotional response. Fear alerts us to the presence of danger or the threat of harm, whether that danger is physical or psychological. Sometimes fear stems from real threats, but it can also originate from imagined dangers. Fear can also be a symptom of some mental health conditions including panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Fear is composed of two primary reactions to some type of perceived threat: those reactions are biochemical and emotional.

Taking a look at the biochemical reaction we see that fear is a natural emotion and a survival mechanism. When we confront a perceived threat, our bodies respond in specific ways. Physical reactions to fear include sweating, increased heart rate, and high adrenaline levels that make us extremely alert. This physical response is also known as the “fight or flight” response, with which our body prepares itself to either enter combat or run away. This biochemical reaction is likely an evolutionary development. It’s an automatic response that is crucial to our survival.

Taking a look at the emotional response we see that its response to fear, on the other hand, is highly personalized. Because fear involves some of the same chemical reactions in our brains that positive emotions like happiness and excitement do, feeling fear under certain circumstances can be seen as fun, like when you watch scary movies. Some people are adrenaline seekers, thriving on extreme sports and other fear-inducing thrill situations. Others have a negative reaction to the feeling of fear, avoiding fear-inducing situations at all costs.

Although the physical reaction is the same, the experience of fear may be perceived as either positive or negative, depending on the person, the environment and the situation.

This morning’s gospel story by the one we call Mark, is about fear. But fear of what? When Mark retold the story of ‘the stilling of the storm’ it is very likely his small community was either facing or recovering from, persecution in every direction. And in the face of this persecution or threats it seems their fear was directed at the silence of God. Or God’s felt absence (Webb 2007).

So, it is possible, their fears, their concerns, were expressed in these felt needs or similar words:
Is God indifferent to our suffering and persecution? For our tradition goes on to tell us, Mark told them this story. But I wonder if this story was heard?  Really heard, that is? It can’t be traced back to an event in the life of Jesus… All reputable scholars agree with that.

There are also strong hints this story has been influenced by the Hebrew story of Jonah. Or perhaps told as a counter story to the fame of Apollonius of Tyana, a contemporary of Jesus of Nazareth “who was regarded as the master of storms, of fire, and of perils of all kinds” (Funk 1998: 77).

And according to one myth which was widespread at the time, the original act of creation involved God in a desperate, but finally victorious, contest with the forces of chaos and evil, which were identified with the waters of the sea. As a consequence, Mark and other storytellers of the day saw that the ability to control the sea and subdue storms as characteristic of having ‘divine power’ (Nineham 1963: 146).

But staying within this story, we can wonder if the telling of it worked as an answer to the community’s fears. It is very likely however that is didn’t work. Tis brings us back to our question: Fear of what.

There is an old Buddhist saying. That says something like: If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. By itself its hard to see its value but the biblical scholar Walter Wink who had also commented on this Buddhist saying wrote: “We fall in love with our mentors or set them on pedestals, refusing to see their flaws and regarding them as bigger than life.  We project what we long for, into them” (Wink/LookSmart web site). And later on he added: “A storm threatens to engulf them.  Jesus is asleep in the stern.  They might have reproached him with, Don’t just lie there – bail!  Instead they attack him personally: ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’  They personalize the storm, almost as if he has sent it against them spitefully.  They address him not as another available hand in a crisis but as their teacher.  They project on(to) him concern for their well-being and survival, and are thus emptied of the inner resources to deal with the storm themselves – these weathered seamen!” (Wink/LookSmart web site).

Here we have an inkling of our answer to our original question: Fear of what? These experienced, fisher folk weren’t just surprised by, or afraid of, the storm. Been there.  Done that. The Sea of Galilee was notorious for storms. Every day they ventured out, was to engage in some risky business.

Neither were they suddenly regretting the fact they hadn’t clicked onto the Weather Company web site for the latest advice, before they set out. Yet, here they are, all “at sea on water”! (Carroll 2007: 46). Why? What were they afraid of? They, are afraid of themselves. They had lost their courage. They had developed a dependency on Jesus. And panic ensues as a result of their dependence.

Again Walter Wink is helpful, I reckon, with this comment: “They awoke (Jesus) with reproaches, not the cry of believers for help.  They also lacked faith in themselves.  The response is’ “You deal with the storm.  You are the seamen here.  You had the resources, and you failed to call upon them.  Exercise your own faith!” (Wink/LookSmart web site).

Now that is interesting…  Confront your fears. Forget your dependency. You have the resources.
Exercise your own faith! Stop relying on your beliefs, your set doctrines or creeds, stop being dependent on someone else’s interpretation. You have the resources, you have your faith and that is not belief but rather trust, find the positive fear not the negative one.

While these fisher folk were probably afraid of death in this moment, Jesus’ challenging of them in this story by Mark shows they (and by implication, Mark’s community) were also terrified of life!
“…they had given up their courage by entering into dependency on Jesus.  And so they experienced the storm not as challenge to overcome, but as an evil threat… A trap in someone else’s fears, where had their courage fled…?” (Wink/LookSmart web site).

They had not yet seen or heard the Gospel of Thomas (which didn’t make it into the Canon) says:
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.  If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you” (GTh 70. Quoted in Webb 2007: 133). Maybe this is an answer to our question: Fear of what?

A number of years back now Dr Francis Macnab, a man like our own Lloyd Geering unleased a storm of protest when he suggested the church should issue ten New Commandments. Ten New Commandments or guidelines which assert a new way that is meaningful for the way we will need to live, now. I want to read them to you in the hope that you might not have heard them and you might like to think of them as an opposition to the fears that are generated by many of our traditions beliefs that have remained unchallenged for too long now.

Commandment 1: Believe in a Good Presence in your life.  Call that Good Presence: God, G-D, and follow that Good presence so that you live life fully: tolerantly, collaboratively, generously and with dignity.

Commandment 2: Believe in a God-Presence in your life that will lift you constantly to live harmoniously in yourself and with others, always searching for your best health and happiness.

Commandment 3: Take care of your home, your environments, your Planet and its vital resources for the life and health of people in all the world.

Commandment 4: Be kind and caring of the animals, the birds, and the creatures of land and the rivers and the seas.

Commandment 5: Help people develop their potential and become as fully functioning human beings as is possible from birth, through traumas and triumph to the end of their days.

Commandment 6: Be magnanimous and excessive in your support of good causes, and use your affluence and material goods and scientific skills in altruistic concern for the future of the world.

Commandment 7: Study ways to encourage and sustain the dignity, hope and integrity of all human beings and study ways to help all human beings embrace their dignity, hope, and integrity. 

Commandment 8: Be alive to new possibilities, new ways, and to the unfolding mysteries and wonders of life and the world.

Commandment 9: We often focus our lives on many things and pursuits that promise our fulfilment.  Study the deeper things of the Spirit, and the things of ultimate concern for all human beings.  Be part of an evolving life-enhancing Faith that will also bring a new resilience to the future.

Commandment 10:  Take time to worship the great Source of all the positive transforming energies of life, and search to be at one with ‘the spirit of the good, the tender and the beautiful.’

These Ten Commandments, suggests Francis Macnab, are: “positive, plausible and powerful.  If you embrace them, really put them into practice, they will change your life.  And they will change the world” (FMacnab. St Michael’s UC web site, 2009).

Especially, these could be a way of avoiding the fears that lock us in dependence on other people’s faith rather than our own and especially those of our tradition that were chosen in order to appease political or social control of the people. They might just help us on the journeys which take us through fearful ‘storms’.

Carroll, J. 2007.  The Existential Jesus. Carlton North. Scribe Publications.
Funk, R. W. (ed) 1998.  The Acts of Jesus.  The Search for the Authentic Deeds of Jesus. New York. HarperSanFrancisco.
Nineham, D. E. 1963.  Saint Mark. The Pelican New Testament commentaries. Hammondsworth. Pelican Book.
Webb, V. 2007.  Like Catching Water in a Net. Human attempts to describe the divine. New York. Continuum International Publishing.

Harris Ian 2021 Hand in Hand Wellington NZ Cuba Press


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