The Disease Called Fear

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933. Lietuvių: Fra...
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933. Lietuvių: Franklinas Delanas Ruzveltas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


It was Franklin Delano Roosevelt who said, in his first inaugural address, that “the only thing we have to fear …is fear itself.”


The year was 1932. The country was in bad shape economically, and by 1933, the depth of the depression had hit head on.  People were deathly afraid, and Roosevelt not only knew it, but he knew times would get worse before they got better. The things they worried about most, he said, were “only material things.”  Said he, in that inaugural speech: “In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things. Values have shrunken to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone.”


He said that “happiness (didn’t lie) in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, the thrill of creative effort.”


Those were powerful words, a balm to the anguished citizens of the United States who were facing a horrible reality. A new normal. It was scary because all that Americans had come to know and love as “American” was being challenged and changed before their eyes…and they could not see where the changes would lead. Would they have their homes? Would they have a job? What would they eat? How would they eat? When was the nightmare going to end? FDR’s words were powerfully comforting, words I’m sure some people came back to again and again.


There is a lot of fear swirling around now. Hurricane Sandy has thrown people into pits of despair. The economy has had people carrying fear around like a heavy suitcase. Some people are afraid for the country if President Barack Obama wins, and others are terrified for the country if Gov. Romney wins. There is no peace in the land right now.


Why? Because the disease of fear is stalking. It is stalking our country, it is stalking individuals, and it is stalking with a sense of arrogance. Fear relies on control, and it manipulates people to much that they acquiesce and give in to being controlled. Joan Chittister‘s book, Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope talks in depth about fear. She says that “fear paralyzes a person,” and keeps people from doing things they know they should do. It makes them afraid to even try, and in so doing, lose their peace of mind. Chittister says we as humans must ask ourselves, “What am I willing to lose in order to have peace of mind and integrity of soul?” She says that it’s “not the grappling with a thing that defeats us; it is the unknown answers to hidden questions that wear us down.”


Fear, she says, “cripples us more than any disease ever could. It takes eminent good sense and turns it to gelatin.” Finally, she says “oppressors do not get to be oppressors in a single sweep. They manage it, because little by little, we make them that. We overlook too much in the beginning and wonder why we lose control in the end.”


I wonder what the world would be like if people were not so susceptible to fear. I remember a friend of mine in seminary, who said that his father hated racism but was afraid to speak out about it because he was afraid his church would fire him. I think how people have been intimidated into not speaking up when they’ve known they should, because they were afraid of the consequences. I am sure that, in light of Hurricane Sandy, there are some people who know that there are some predatory companies out, ready to suck the life blood out of vulnerable people, but will not say anything because they are afraid. I think much of the police brutality we hear about comes about because white officers are afraid of African-American males, not because the police officers are bad people. Young women who get caught up in life on the streets stay there far longer than they want because they are afraid of the pimps who initially lured them into “the life” with material things and the young girls translated “gift-giving” with love. Some people honestly think that the Palestinians are getting a raw deal in Israel, but they are afraid to say anything for fear of being called anti-Semitic.We have all heard stories about neighbors who suspected that a wife or children were being abused, but didn’t say anything because they were afraid. We have probably all seen something that we knew was wrong but have been afraid to say something because we don’t know what our “courage” will mean for our lives   Fear is like a mean overseer, stalking lives and countries and situations with a huge whip.


We are afraid of bettering ourselves, stepping out of comfort zones into an “unknown” and so we stay in situations that stunt our growth. We are afraid to move and afraid to stand still. It is no wonder that Thoreau said that many of us live “lives of quiet desperation.”


Chittister says that “moral maturity requires us to choose truth over self-preservation, whatever the cost.”  If we do not do that, as individuals or as communities, oppression and injustice gets to run its course, unopposed.


That’s what fear expects us to do: cower so that injustice can have its way. Sadly, fear is way too often the driver of the car, and it spreads its toxicity everywhere. Fear moves faith and hope out of the way. Fear will account for a lot of people making bad decisions in difficult times; it will add misery to people who are miserable enough.


At the end of the day, we have to decide whether we want to fuel fear and watch it metastasize throughout our spirits, robbing us of opportunities to be free, or if we finally want to face our Goliaths…whatever the cost.


Too often we leave Goliath standing upright, laughing at us.


But as long as Goliath stands, we cannot be free. And …we were made to be free.


A candid observation…











President Obama: Courageous Up to a Point

Whether or not one agrees with the work President Barack Obama has done overall, there is one stand-out quality that he seems to have: the courage it takes to be a leader.

From the beginning of his presidency, Mr. Obama has taken on one Goliath after another. Many thought (and still think) that his push for affordable health care for the vast majority of Americans via the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was a game-changer, an act of political suicide.

Then there were the bail-outs of the big banks and the auto industry. It is hard to understand why big business says the president has worked against them when these bail-outs really helped…big business, so much so that the president earned the ire of Liberals like Tavis Smiley and Cornel West, as well as others, who said he did not do and has not done enough for the poor.

There was the decision to go after and kill Osama Bin Laden in one of the riskiest moves one might imagine. There was no guarantee that that mission was going to be successful. Had it failed, his career as president would have been over, and even in light of its success, he has drawn criticism for “politicizing” it during this campaign. Still, the courage it took to make that decision and to stand by it is notable.

Now, he has come out in support of gay marriage. It is yet another decision that took courage not  because there is anything wrong with gay marriage but because angry Conservatives, including Tea Party members, are going to use it to skewer him in this upcoming presidential campaign.

The president has worked to fulfill the promises he made during the 2008 campaign, in spite of bitter opposition from the Republicans and an outburst of opposition from the American public as the Affordable Health Care Act became law. He has tackled the economy and done, it seems, the best he could, given the opposition, and has held the line – his line- even as he has nervously watched the unemployment rate hover between horrible and disastrous. Every day, it seems, there has been yet another decision of monumental proportion, and he has taken those decisions on and acted decisively.

The only area in which the president has not shown much courage is in the area of race, racial politics, and racism as an American reality. It seems like, feels like, the president is afraid to talk about it or even mention it, for fear of certain criticism that he is playing the race card. Anything he says and/or does as an African-American is carefully scrutinized, with people ready to accuse him of showing partiality to one race over another, and Mr. Obama, it seems, has caved into the pressure of not bringing that Trojan Horse into the middle of the nation’s woes.

Consider what felt like a fairly innocent and rancor-free statement that the president issued in the height of the attention that was paid to the killing of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. All the president said was that if he had a son, he’d look like Trayvon. Duh. That’s an innocuous statement, and yet people waiting to see even the slightest hint of

Official photographic portrait of US President...
Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

favoritism toward African-Americans jumped all over him.

It is a shame that the courageous president cannot be courageous when it comes to race; the political capital he would spend were he to delve into and address matters of race would far exceed that he spent even on getting the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed.  And …it’s a shame, because African-Americans are still the lowest on the American totem pole in areas including education, health care, poverty and unemployment. Surely, there is much to do and much to say.

Ironically, white presidents could address issues of race without spending as much political capital as Mr. Obama would. President Eisenhower showed courage when he ordered that segregation in public places had to end, and President Harry Truman likewise showed courage when he ordered that the United States military had to be integrated.

Mr. Obama could never get away with making a decision that would even appear to help black, brown or poor people too much. He would be seen as biased.

So it’s sad that this president, who has shown such chutzpah in all these other areas, has been loth to step into the swirling waters of institutional and structural racism.

It’s too bad, because he has shown that he is tougher than nails…and it is significant that not even this man of courage, who knows racism first hand, cannot brave this Goliath.

A candid observation …

A Sister Warrior Passes On

Accession No.: 07_07_000093 Call Number: no. 3...
Image via Wikipedia

Patricia Stephens Due has died after battling cancer, but cancer wasn’t the first serious and difficult battle in which she had been involved.

Due was one of several students who attended Florida A&M University in 1960, who decided that they were sick and tired of cowering under Jim Crow.  A small group of 4 students, including Due, went to a Woolworth lunch counter and sat down.

That doesn’t seem like a big thing, except that in these United States, black people back then were not allowed to sit at lunch counters and get a meal or even a drink of water.  Inspired perhaps by events in and following World War II, where African American soldiers protested because they were required to fight for America but were denied basic human rights in America, or perhaps by the stirring of African American souls that were tired of being relegated to back doors, balconies and separate restrooms and swimming pools, the students in Florida and elsewhere said, “enough.”

They were not necessarily encouraged by their parents, or, as in the case of Due, by their universities. After being arrested for sitting at the Woolworth lunch counter, Due and her fellow students were arrested and spent 49 days in jail.  They were not supported or encouraged by Florida A&M; her university suspended her.

The lack of support did not dissuade Due and others in Florida and elsewhere. Due was so tenacious in her fight for civil rights for black people that the FBI built a file on her, some 400 pages long. She at one point was attacked by a tear gas bomb, an incident which left her sensitive to light for the rest of her life. Nevertheless, she pressed on.

The story of Due, and others, black and white, is mind-boggling. So many of the basic civil rights that African-Americans have now is because of these people, like Due, like Irene Morgan and Ruby Bridges…who refused to back down or back out.  The story of the Freedom Riders, who rode on buses and willingly endured beatings, terrorism by the Klan, murders of some of their friends, fires deliberately set to the buses on which they rode …defies imagination.

Thinking of what these brave people did – so many of them students at the time, like Due was, makes me wonder if we really appreciate what they did. They were so brave.  Jim Crow laws were strong as was the hatred that surrounded them, but the courage of the participants in the Civil Rights demonstrations was stronger. They pressed on even when they could not get the federal government to listen to them or support them. Only when the news reports of how certain people in the United States were denied basic human rights began to hit the air waves in Europe did President Kennedy, for example, order federal troops to Alabama to protect Freedom Riders there. The treatment of African-Americans made America look bad in the eyes of the world.

Patricia Stephens Due was one of many sister-warriors who fought in that horrendous time of American history.  The women of the Civil Rights movement are often not mentioned, paled in comparison as the male leaders are lifted up, but it is clear that Due,one of the founding members of her local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality, were no less important and no less powerful. They kept the vision of a better life for themselves and for their children, and for all children, ahead of themselves and above their egos. They just would not quit.

Patricia Stephens Due fought cancer for years and would not quit that fight, either; in fact, she fought for everything she wanted.  In 1965, she was allowed to re-enoll in Florida A&M University to complete her education and was awarded an honorary degree by the university in 2006. There was never a doubt in her mind that she would finish her education and get her degree, any more than it was a doubt that she was going to fight for basic civil rights. She spent her life fighting …and cancer was but one of the enemies on her battlefield

She never got off that battlefield, and we, the children of sister-warriors like Due, are the beneficiaries of their work.

It is humbling to read and study about the people who really walked on the water called Jim Crow and overt racial discrimination. It takes a lot of courage to do that, as well as conviction; Jim Crow was a Goliath back in Due’s day, supported by armies made up of the local, state and federal governments. The warriors were as “unarmed” to face that Goliath as was David in the Biblical account.

It seems today that the Goliath is not as blatant as it was in Due’s day;  the Goliath has not gone away, however. It presents itself in more socially acceptable ways, but is just as big and threatening as it was when Due sat down at a lunch counter in Florida. The thing is, many to most of us do not or will not see it, and so are probably much more threatened than we would be if we would recognize it.

Due, I know, always saw the Goliath, in spite of having to forever wear dark classes because of the tear gas bomb attack she endured in 1960.

The Goliath called racism is still here, sadly. Its light is subdued by clouds of deception which make way too many people think that the Goliath has gone away. Ironically, too many of us wear dark glasses because we do not want to see what is still with us.

A candid observation …