Travelled to the USA recently? Hard work, isn’t it? Lots of hoops to jump through and queues to stand in and questions to answer, especially if you could possibly have any links with anyone anywhere in the Middle East. Or a strange sounding surname. Sue and I have ESTA pre-approval born of several years of coming and going to the USA and get to go in the short lines. We’re no possible risk!!
Of course, all countries have border controls, but countries like the USA and China exemplify paranoia. The Chinese seem to be worried about who might get out, but the Americans are more worried about who might come in and ruffle the waves on their continental pond.
The USA is a frightened society, like a castle with the drawbridge pulled up, only to be lowered for the ‘right’ people. Preferably affluent, English speaking first language, and the whiter the better! They are frightened that what they have may be taken away from them, and so they build walls to, supposedly, protect it. Walls against the Mexicans, the Iranians, Palestinians and anyone perceived to be ‘un-American’.
The rise of Donald Trump, the US anti-establishment hero, with the astonishing amount of support he is garnering, is a sure sign of a fearful populace. The possibility that he may become the next US president is sending shockwaves around the English-speaking world.
But it occurs to me that the frightened society is not just the preserve of our American friends. It is the preserve of that small fraction of the world, of which we in New Zealand are a part, who are the ‘have’s’. The rich right of US society is what we hear and see in the media, but it includes us in our beautiful South Pacific cocoon.
One of the evidences that we are a frightened society is the requirement for orthodoxy – of belief, behaviour, custom, and culture.
The move towards conservatism, even fundamentalism, in both politics and church is the unfailing pointer towards our anxiety and fear. We are threatened by difference. Our security is in having people like us populating our country, and sharing our worship. ‘Doing it like we do!’
When our life and lifestyle, when the way we have believed for generations (we think) comes under threat, we hunker down, pull up the drawbridges, and retreat into the rigid security of orthodoxy.
We get to vote about a new flag, but not about the TPPA, which has infinitely greater implications for our ordinary life and the way we relate to other beyond our shores. Let’s not rock the boat, let’s stay away from topics that make us different.
The Christian gospel is supposedly about freedom, life in all its full-ness (John 10.10)and unconditional acceptance and welcoming of others, irrespective of colour, creed, sexual orientation, politics. It’s about doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6.8) When our church talk is primarily about personal individual relationships with God, important thought that is, and heaven, rather than the here and now, I begin to wonder if we are a frightened church. I wonder if we are really uneasy about exposing ourselves to diversity and difference. I wonder if our ‘castle’ is that of a false orthodoxy of belief and behaviour that is actually rooted in the culture of individualism, but not in the Gospel.
It isn’t new. Jesus encountered the conservatism of his local community when he read the scripture in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4). The locals liked what they heard at first, but when the implication of what he said sank in he quickly became ‘personna non grata’! They too wanted someone to be religious, but to fit their mould and not suggest they should change the way they dealt with God and others.
We often seem to be scared to think in new ways…or maybe don’t have the imagination to do so. We are anchored to the idea that truth is a solid unchangeable block that was established some time ago, and from which we may not depart….or even look at in a different way.
The Biblical image of God, life-giver and sustainer, is one of generosity. God is generous with us…why do we struggle to be generous with others?
Let’s overcome this fear by modelling openness, relationship risk-taking, grace, acceptance and generosity towards those who are different from us, in church and community. It will be action that aligns us with Jesus and his kingly rule.
Perchance, then, we may have opened the door of darkness to a few amazing chinks of light!