Dismantling Fear

The things that our country experienced on this day 11 years ago were horrifying. I remember leaving my science class in 7th grade so that the teachers could tell us all what happened. I remember getting home to see a tearful mother and neighbors in our basement watching the same film reel over and over. I remember fear. Lots and lots of fear. And, understandably so.

Unfortunately, I think, many of the ideologies we cling to in our personal and collective lives are born of fear. An author who has really impacted my thinking is Wendell Berry. I believe Berry spoke prophetically to our nation in the Fall of 2001 in an essay entitled “Thoughts in the Presence of Fear.” Here is an excerpt:

“XXI. What leads to peace is not violence but peaceableness, which is not passivity, but an alert, informed, practiced, and active state of being. We should recognize that while we have extravagantly subsidized the means of war, we have almost totally neglected the ways of peaceableness. We have, for example, several national military academies, but not one peace academy. We have ignored the teachings and the examples of Christ, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and other peaceable leaders. And here we have an inescapable duty to notice also that war is profitable, whereas the means of peaceableness, being cheap or free, make no money.

XXII. The key to peaceableness is continuous practice. It is wrong to suppose that we can exploit and impoverish the poorer countries, while arming them and instructing them in the newest means of war, and then reasonably expect them to be peaceable.

XXIII. We must not again allow public emotion or the public media to caricature our enemies. If our enemies are now to be some nations of Islam, then we should undertake to know those enemies. Our schools should begin to teach the histories, cultures, arts, and language of the Islamic nations. And our leaders should have the humility and the wisdom to ask the reasons some of those people have for hating us.”

So, on this September 11, I don’t want to forget what has happened. And I don’t want to downplay it’s horror. In fact, I want to remember so that we don’t forget that it is always possible that we commit the same kind of atrocities. A bunch of innocent people died. I never want to participate in creating fear because I am afraid. I don’t want to perpetrate or sanction fear that begets fear–no matter what names i give it.

What does the work of peacemaking look like? Personally? Nationally? I don’t know yet. I know it is hard. But, I do think that people like Jesus, Ghandi, and MLK are people to look to in times like these–leaders willing to do the work and suffer the consequences.


If you are interested in reading the rest of this essay, please read here.

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