Through the Glass Darkly; Our Fear of Strangers

The premise of my journal entry, The Fear That Divides Us, was that many Americans today seem to be overwhelmed by fear of those who are strangers or in some way not-like-us.  Of course, this is nothing unique to our time or generation.  Fear of ‘the other’ has been around as long as there have been human beings.  Historically, it seems difficult to love and accept those who we cannot relate to or understand.  We are naturally suspicious.

“I think what we’re seeing today is just because the spiritual waters have receded and so all the filth that lies at the bottom of human nature, so to speak, is being revealed.  Hatred has always been around.  Obviously, it’s human frailty that causes that, and tribalism, and then fear of the stranger.” ~ Rabbi Moshe Scheiner Beyond Fear and Anger

Categorizing, diagnosing, and labeling people allow us to disguise our fears by compartmentalizing them.  It allows us the smug comfort of stereotyping groups of individuals so that we are never required to know them on a personal level. Perhaps this is at the root of our crisis of fear in America.  We have insulated ourselves so tightly that it is impossible to know one another.  Our perception of spiritual, philosophical, physical, emotional, and moral otherness has reached explosive proportions.  

The apostle Paul broke down walls of spiritual division and exclusivity by bringing his message to the gentiles more than two thousand years ago.  He understood that the gospel of love was meant for everyone and found getting to know people eliminated fear and created bonds of oneness. Paul discovered the face of God in everyone everywhere. We are seeing through the glass darkly because we cannot bear to look at the stranger face to face. (See 1 Corinthians 13:12).  Our fears will not be dispelled until we are fully known to one another.

Finding the Middle Way

“I swear I will not dishonor my soul with hatred, but offer myself humbly as a guardian of nature, as a healer of misery, as a messenger of wonder, as an architect of peace.”

Diane Ackerman

Diane Ackerman offers some healing words to consider on this day after mid-term elections.  Emotions ran high when we were fighting for candidates who carry our banner and represent out principles and ideals.  Record numbers of us turned out to vote.  Some of us are happy with the results and some of us are disappointed.  What we do next to move forward is very important.

Fighting the good fight is an American tradition.  There is a great story in the History of Knox County, Ohio in which my ancestor, James Houck accused one of his young neighbors of stealing a ‘scrap of bees’ at the fall social gathering where apples were being prepared for drying (called an apple-bee).

The pioneer custom was to either ‘take it back or take a licking’. Though a fist fight occurred, there was no resolution.  The next gathering would be on Election Day 1808 where all community scores could be settled.  There was an abundance of whisky and plenty of fights.  But at the end of the day, differences and quarrels were to be finalized.  I’m not suggesting a return to this kind of dispute settlement. What I am endorsing is that we put aside the partisan divisions and work together again. 

Pioneer Schoolboys Settle a Score

The extremes of right and left can do exactly what we did under our 34th president, Dwight D. Eisenhower who called his administration “The Middle Way”.  We need our leaders to help turn us in that direction forgetting resentments and a desire for revenge.  Eisenhower accomplished much by being able to talk to, and work with, both sides on every issue. For a nation now mired in conflict, his model of getting things done by taking the middle way could provide a welcome alternative.  In the meantime it is up to all of us to strive for civil discourse and to find common ground. That is as American as Apple Pie.