Fear is running rampant across the country. People are afraid of losing their jobs. They are afraid their children will be worse off in the future than now. Many see the dwindling numbers of middle class and fear they will fall on the wrong side of the growing chasm between the rich and the poor. People fear that the culture and norms they know and trust are shifting under their feet. Some fear that the climate has irreversibly changed for the worse. And people fear becoming victims of terrorists – both immigrants and home grown – as the number of mass shooting become much too frequent. These are fearful trends to be sure. It doesn’t help that some politicians and some political pundits and some news agencies become fear mongers in order to advance their own self-interest or to pump up their own poll numbers.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. In a recent essay, poet Clarissa Estes tells us that we are “made for these times” and in response to them we should stretch out to “mend the world that is within our reach.”
I have thought deeply about the idea that we are made for these times. If that is true; if we are indeed made for these times, then what are we called to do? Certainly we are not called to cower in fear from the wolves, howling at our door about how desperate things have become. We are not made to tremble in the dark. No, I believe we are made to shine our light brightly. We are called to be a fearless witness to all that is good and right in this world and to oppose what is wrong.
What does it mean to become a fearless witness? The Quakers believe there is goodness in each person. And, that each of us is called to encourage that goodness in others to grow. To become a fearless witness, we must first acknowledge and embrace the goodness in our own souls. Then, we can reach out to those around us – our families, our friends, our neighbors - and we can treat them with tenderness and care and nourish the goodness in them.
We must also stand fearlessly and witness in support of community and a sense of the common good; especially when in the presence of those who want to divide us. In the final analysis, we evolve into the kind of society we expect. Eleanor Roosevelt expresses this sentiment eloquently in her final book entitled Tomorrow is Now when she states: “In the final analysis, a democratic government represents the sum total of the courage and the integrity of its individuals. It cannot be better than they are.”
· The majority of Americans believe the income gap between the rich and the poor is a problem that needs to be addressed now and that government should be doing more to reduce it.
· A majority of Americans favor stricter gun control laws and an overwhelming majority – 86% -favor requiring universal background checks for gun purchases.
· A majority of Americans believe that global warming is happening; that this climate change will continue; that humans have caused it; that it is a serious problem and that government should be doing more to address the problem.
If the polls cited in the above are accurate, then the America we want is not the America that we have. And so, if we are made for these times and the society we grow into reflects our own actions and the courage of our own convictions, then it seems our choice is clear. We must search our hearts in order to find the courage to become a fearless witness; to stand and uphold the values and ethics we espouse as individuals and as a people. We have a choice. We just need to be fearless in exercising it.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.