In June I returned to ‘normal duties’ following my sabbatical, which I wrote about in my last letter for Look-In way back in February. Due to family health problems things didn’t go entirely to plan (do they ever), but having the sabbatical when I did meant I was able to offer a lot more support to my parents and Sue’s parents than I would have been able to do under normal circumstances.
Anyway, now life has returned to normal. Except it hasn’t. The last few weeks have shown a side of life that is far from normal. Terrorist attacks on Westminster Bridge, London Bridge and at the Manchester Arena; the attack on worshipers leaving a Mosque in Finsbury Park (was this a terrorist attack? It was certainly an attack designed to create terror); and the horrific fire in Grenfell Tower; not to mention the Brexit negotiations (oh dear, I mentioned them) have all shown that these are not normal times.
All of these events cast a shadow of fear. And the way they are reported often deepens the sense of panic and fear people feel, mostly unintentionally but some less scrupulous media outlets do seem to delight in turning tragic and painful experiences into opportunities to increase the sense of fear that many people live with. It is very easy to imagine that, in the words of Private Fraser from Dad’s Army, ‘we’re all doomed’.
How do we respond in the face of this climate of fear? Psychologists tell us there are two basic responses to fear, Fight and Flight – to run and hide or to turn and fight. Many want to run and hide – in fact it is one of the objectives of terrorism to make people run and hide, to disrupt normal social life, to cause people to want to stay at home and not go to public places, to cause society to grind to a halt. Some choose to fight – to become aggressive with words or actions. I have no idea what the motives of Darren Osborne were when he drove his van into the group of men outside the Finsbury Park Mosque but it does seem to me that it was an attempt at some misguided and misdirected form of fighting back.
Faith though, I think, should offer us an alternative to Fight or Flight. So what does our faith say to us in a time of tragedy and fear? The first thing I note is that having faith does not take away either the fear or the pain of tragedy. Nor does it offer us some false platitude, it does not say, ‘there, there, it’ll be all right. It must be said, at its worst faith can itself be the source of fear (though personally I think it is often just a tool used by people with other motives).
What I think faith can and should do is influence our perspective on a situation, colour our reactions and response, shape our frame of mind and direct our feelings. Faith can help us see beyond the attacks by a minority of Muslims, or Christians, to the vast majority who are peace loving and live side by side quite harmoniously. Faith can help us see that despite the reasons to fear there are far more reasons to hope, there are far more people doing good than doing harm, in the face of suffering and loss there always people willing to make sacrifices to help. Faith can change how we see things and in turn how we respond to tragedies.
In that way Faith can give strength, to individuals and to communities. It can be the supporting rod that prevents us from bending and breaking under the pressure of fear. To keep the alliteration with Fear and Faith, faith gives Fortitude, strength not to buckle but to maintain hope and continue to live positively and courageously in times of fear.
In these times of fear, may our faith be a source of fortitude. May we not listen to those voices that seek to make fear and terror fill our hearts but rather work to build a positive, strong and caring society.
Wishing you every blessing
This article was first published in the Summer 2017 issue of Look-In, our monthly church magazine. The views and opinions expressed in articles submitted to Look-In are those of the authors and may not necessarily reflect those of the church as a whole. To download the full issue, please click here: Look-In Summer 2017