Thought a lot about fear this week. It began with an evening conversation with my daughter. We were talking about her Spanish classes and she said she also needed to learn Arabic and Mandarin Chinese. I asked why. She's 16. She said those are the four basic languages, with a bit of French, that will be used when she is older. Here's her future world view: The Americas will all be Spanglish, Europe and the Middle East will be Muslim, Asia will be dominated by China, and I suppose Africa still won't be a player.
Then she said, I hate the way Europe is becoming Muslim, and the countries will gradually lose their identities and there's nothing you can do about it. While Kelsey is an independent thinker, I sensed in the talk that she'd had similar talks with her peers, and so was expressing more broadly held assumptions.
I didn't argue that such radical cultural acquiescence is highly improbable (note the Palestinian-Israeli conflict). Neither did we venture into cultural protectionism (as occurring in France - e.g. with laws limiting cultural dress in public, or the ghettoising of Muslim communities) or the effects of American interventions. What intrigued me was the latent fear expressed, that her world will be a global divide between the Americas and Arabic-Europe.
It immediately reminded me of the fear from the era of my youth, of a world embroiled in a global conflict between the Communist block and Democratic countries. I remembered the absurdity of nuclear fallout drills - an elementary class learning to wrap coats over their heads and huddling under tables and desktops! Flashbacks of fallout shelters, draft cards, and the arms race flooded my memories. Behaviors and national policies were shaped by our shared fears. Turning and turning in the widening gyre; here the fear comes around again, and yet the center continues somehow to hold.
Next I finished Michael Crichton's novel, State of Fear. I actually don't care that much for Crichton's writing style, overloaded with techno-jargon, and reviews have shown the book is riddled with errors about global warming. But this novel about ecological terrorism did have an interesting speech that essentially said: Nations need a pervasive fear of something, anything, throughout the populace in order to keep us all in line, paying our taxes, and supporting the global industrial-military complex.
A pervasive fear. We all have an assortment to choose from - fear of crime, of incurable diseases, of stocks tumbling, of running out of money in retirement, of ecological disasters, of nations rising up against nations and consuming our youth, and for some, a loss of morality in public behavior. We may not run around crying that the sky is falling, but we absorb the fears and they shape our lives, usually without our even noticing it. Why else at age 16 would you consider learning Arabic and Mandarin Chinese?
And then the words resound in my head, "I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!" (Jesus, per John 17) I wonder what latent, pervasive fears are shaping me. How would it feel to so trust in Christ's victory, that you can glow through the day like the lilies of the field, or sing like the birds of the air, that do not fret? We might make some of the same life choices (and still learn hard languages), but I think it would all be quite different. The beginning of peace is the death of fear.