“Be afraid. Be very afraid.” So said Geena Davis’s character in the 1986 version of The Fly.
No, she wasn’t talking about the predominant driving force behind much of our current public discourse, but it would be easy to apply her prescient words from decades past to what is going on today.
A slight dalliance through social media reveals people’s terror about our nation’s political climate, the actions (and sometimes lack of action) of elected leaders, or the influence of forces far beyond our individual control.
As we engage this world gripped by fear, how do we respond?
As the people of Samaritas, we offer a way to work to transform the world for the better – regardless of political persuasion.
To get there, to be a people who resist fear and take a positive approach, there are three steps to take.
The first is to connect with our history.
The second is to empower with hope.
The third is to transform for the better.
1 – Connect with Our History
Fear isn’t new. To this, we might shout, “But it’s never been this bad!”
This seems to be a mantra that swings back and forth across the political spectrum after each election cycle.
However, even a superficial survey of U.S. history reminds us that, yes, things have been bad in the past – it’s just that they have been bad in different ways.
To be clear, that reality doesn’t excuse injustice, ever; what it does is help us keep things in perspective so we might more effectively seek justice.
Let’s go back a few decades to catch a glimpse of how things were.
We might remember these words of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “there is nothing to fear, but fear itself.” He stated this at a time when 25 percent of Americans were unemployed. Many feared the country was on the brink of a revolution. Nations across Europe didn’t escape this peril, which gave birth to some of the most evil regimes known to humanity.
President Woodrow Wilson, the same person who said we needed to enter World War I to make the world “safe for democracy,” closed newspapers, imprisoned journalists and even prosecuted and then removed the voting rights of another presidential candidate who opposed the war and the draft.
Earlier in his presidency, Wilson re-segregated the federal government. Yes, desegregation had already begun, but the self-proclaimed champion of freedom unjustly disenfranchised people in pursuit of his understanding of democracy.
In the late 1800s, people flat out disowned their children for marrying members of a different political party.
And let’s not forget the Civil War, which uncivilly led to the death of 600,000 people. The thrust behind the war, of course, was America’s original sin of slavery.
Yes, things feel rough today. It feels like we’ve never known times this severe. Fear preoccupies many, but the wisdom of King Solomon is ever true that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
2 – Empower with Hope
Another wise reminder, this one from St. John, is: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).
He learned this through the school of hard knocks.
John was in the upper room with the other disciples after Jesus’s crucifixion, wading in utter despair, experiencing hopelessness, thinking his leader had lost. He immersed in total fear. The one who led them for three years, who taught them to love others unconditionally despite all the things the world uses to divide us, had just been nailed into a tree on top of Golgotha, a garbage dump outside the walls of Jerusalem.
John knew fear.
But eventually, John was empowered by a hope based in love.
Little did John know that while he and Jesus’ other followers trembled in terror, God’s bigger plan was in motion. For this confused cohort, the world seemed to be ending, when in fact, it was just beginning, about to transform radically for the better.
There was hope.
Jesus soon thereafter rose from the dead and defeated the ultimate power of death. Death might still be real, but life won. Life has the final say.
This hope empowered the disciples to bear Jesus's message of love into a wider world filled with fear.
This hope, this love, helped eradicate terror, because there is no fear in love.
People often think the opposite of love is hate, but it is actually fear.
Fear leads us to separate from neighbors and build walls, which can lead to hate.
But love – love has to do with being vulnerable, with tearing down boundaries, with being open to others.
This hopeful message empowered the followers of Jesus to put love into action and transform the world for the better.
3 – Transform for the Better
The disciples got active for the sake of this world that God loved literally to the point of death in the person of Jesus Christ and then loved to life through the power of the Resurrection.
Their story of helping others gripped by fear and transforming the world for the better didn’t end there.
We are part of the same story, a chapter in one book of a series many volumes long.
As the people of Samaritas, we connect with our history, empower with hope, and positively transform the lives of our neighbors through our mission of serving people as an expression of the love of Christ.
Knowing that there are about 11,000 children in the Michigan foster care system could be enough to make us recoil in the face of a need that seems insurmountable. But we don’t. We are the people of Samaritas, who connect with our history, empower with hope, and help children escape fear and then experience loving homes that remind them that every child is lovable and deserving of love.
We could retreat in despair at the changing political climate around refugee resettlement. But we won’t. We are the people of Samaritas who connect with our history, empower with hope, and advocate on behalf of those who experienced trauma too deep for words and now seek a welcoming and just home for their families.
Realizing the rapidly changing needs of seniors due to financial challenges, family dispersion, medical constraints and demands, and a host of other things could be enough to give pause to many people. But it doesn't stop Samaritas. We not only continue ahead boldly with our high-quality senior and affordable living, but in connecting with our history and empowering others with hope, we now actively help people find healing and wholeness in their homes through a continuum of home health services.
We could despair at the obstacles, physical and cultural, that persons with disabilities face daily, but as Samaritas we take a different turn, because our history of compassion rooted in hope compels us to establish and oversee communities specifically designed for fellow children of God who have different life circumstances.
Yes, the world is filled with fear, and fear drives so much of what happens in this world. But we, the people of Samaritas, are different. We are driven to serve. We connect, empower, and transform our communities for the better as we pursue being those who "come through when others don’t with a path home."
Rev. Dr. Niklaus C. Schillack is Director, Church Relations, for Samaritas.