The tag-line for this Christian Aid week, and for these Thinking Anglican reflections, is ‘Fear Less’. We are asked to be part of a movement for change by which those who suffer the immediate horrors of war can live their lives free of fear.
It should be a no-brainer. But then I stopped to think about the society to which this campaign is addressed. How ironic that we are offered this tag-line, asked to make this response, in a culture where fear is one of the great drivers.
How much of the concrete structure of our lives is shaped by fear, fear of those around us, our neighbours? We lock our doors, prime our alarm systems, invest more and more in CCTV, create gated communities, and deny each other the right even to walk up the drive to a front door.
For our children, we fear the random disaster, the wandering lunatic. So they are driven to school, discouraged from playing outside, hedged around by risk assessments and protective clothing. We are even encouraged to fear the home itself: the really, really, good parent, the advertisements assure us, will expunge every lurking germ, every speck of dirt or dust to create a sanitised, frictionless world for the young (though not, interestingly, for the old and vulnerable).
We fear the stranger. So our electoral arguments circle around immigration, and we hide ourselves in our phones, our music, our games, so that we don’t have to engage with that other person on the bus or the underground.
Fears infect the life of our churches. How many conversations are driven by the suspicion that they will not survive as congregations grow older and young people find different ways of expressing faith, if they have any interest in faith at all? In response, we turn inwards, putting all our energies into ever more creative ways of preserving buildings and the patterns of life and worship which they have housed and maintaining the organisational structures as nearly as possible as they have always been.
Some of these fears have substance. But each protective measure, each withdrawal from shared space limits our ability to respond to those whose fear is grounded in the realities of the bomb blast, the shattered limbs, the homes destroyed, the long sentence of the refugee camp. Consumed by our own fears, we have little energy left for empathy, let alone solidarity, with those whose lives hold much greater terrors.
‘Do not be afraid’. The phrase recurs so often in the gospel. It doesn’t mean there is no cause for trepidation. It does require us to have the courage to take risks: to take the small risks of allowing others into our private spaces, of engaging with the messy realities of the created world, of pouring our energies into loving service rather than counting heads; and to take the larger risk of trusting that God’s grace and God’s creation has sufficient for all. And if there is enough for all – then there is enough for a world where men and women and children in places of bitter, bloody conflict may fear less.
Canon Jane Freeman is Team Rector of Wickford and Runwell in the diocese of Chelmsford