Happy Moltmann Monday! Today’s reading comes from Jesus Christ for Today’s World. It incorporates four things I adore: Moltmann, fairy tales, philosophy and theology. At the end, it also incorporates some thoughts about the events in McKinney, not at all because I love talking about it but because I think it would be bad theology (and bad faith) if we didn’t.
The chapter I’m quoting from is long, and you need the context, so here’s a summary. There’s a Grimms fairy tale about a boy who was unafraid of anything, and so he sets out on an adventure to learn how to be afraid. After three really terrifying events, he is still unafraid. But he continued to complain about not being afraid, so one day his wife pours a bucket of cold water filled with minnows over him while he sleeps, and he finally learns to shudder. (Look: this fairy tale is all kinds of AWESOME but I am going to stay on topic and not go into it here. But go read it and ponder. We are going to take only one of the zillion approaches to seeing meaning in it.)
So, Moltmann mentions two people who take on this fairy tale, with different angles. Kierkegaard says this is a profound thing, to learn to be afraid, “so as not to be lost, either through not having learnt how to fear, or through being completely engulfed by fear. The person who has learnt how to be afraid in the right way has learnt the most important thing of all.”
As you may know, Kierkegaard is really into the concept of fear. And what he said above is really helpful and insightful, right? There is something wrong with us when we are not afraid.
Then, Moltmann turns to Ernst Bloch, who addresses the same fairy tale with this spin. He says that we are all now pretty proficient in knowing what to fear, and the more important thing now is to learn how to hope. He says, “The emotion of hope goes out of itself. It expands men and women instead of constricting them and hedging them in…” **
So then Moltmann asks, Why are we pitting these two emotions against each other? Indeed. He writes,
What anxiety and hope actually have in common is a sense of what is possible. In anxiety we anticipate possible danger. In hope we anticipate possible deliverance… The future means both opportunity and danger. It fills us with enthusiasm, yet at the same time it threatens us. And if this is so, how can we learn to hope without also learning how to be afraid? …When we look towards the open future, dark and undetermined as it is, it is hope that gives us courage; and yet it is anxiety that makes us circumspect and cautious-that gives us foresight.
And then, what does this have to do with God, or more specifically, Jesus? Well, Jesus is not like the boy in the fairy tale, who walks through life unafraid (though there are some who want to make him into that boy). He suffers. He is scared. He is so anxious and afraid in Gethsemane that the phrase “tears of blood” is used to describe it. Even Jesus had to learn how to be afraid in the right way. Because of this, he can be for us the example of true humanity. And because of this, we can find consolation in our own fears, for he is in community with us there. But that isn’t all, because the story didn’t end in Gethsemane, or on Golgotha, but on Easter. Moltmann writes,
By recognizing our fear in his, and by seeing our fear as caught up into his, we experience that ‘blessed anxiety’ (as Georges Bernanos called it) which kindles an unconquerable hope. To be released from fear means getting up out of fear and resisting it. It means walking freely through the midst of it.
In his very life, death and resurrection, Jesus intertwines his fear and our fears, his hope and our hope, his future and our future.
Now. If you just came here for the theology, that’s about all I’ll say about that passage so you can stop reading now if you’d prefer. But I chose it for today because of the events that happened in McKinney, which is just north of here, over the weekend. I have many things to say, but I’ll say just this: I think some people could really use some fear, and I think some other people could really use some hope. They are both necessary to produce mature human beings, and they are both integral to spiritual maturity as well.
First, if you have followed the story as someone who has never been in a position to fear the police, you may identify in this way with the boy in the fairy tale, who had no problem walking through situations others found terrifying. While some might shiver when a police officer drives up behind them, you may find the very idea of that being scary just silly. Or, you’ve never worried about someone thinking you are breaking into your own house when you go around back to fetch the spare key. Or, you’ve never worried about your son walking around the neighborhood park with a Nerf gun and getting killed for it. You cannot possibly imagine being afraid in any of these situations. That’s called privilege. Nobody begrudges you that privilege, but it’s helpful for you to be aware of it, and even better if you can see how others have advocated for everyone else to have it, too.
I do not think we can get to hope if we do not first recognize whether or not we are afraid of the way this situation went down. If we are NOT afraid, maybe someone close to us should pour a bucket of cold water with minnows in it over us until we wake up.
Second, some of us could use some hope. We are tired of these stories. And though, thank GOD, there were no casualties in this instance, there are too many other stories where there have been, because fear has taken over and produced violent and terrifying results. We need to learn not to be completely engulfed by fear, reacting as strongly against it as those who ride the wave of fear to detrimental conclusions. When we do, when we find our way to the other side, where fear is healthy but not debilitating or de-centering, we can find the kind of hope that is profoundly spiritual in nature- the kind that is unconquerable. We can see the possibility of deliverance as well as acknowledging the possibility of what is dangerous. Our fear keeps us honest, and keeps us asking the right kinds of questions. Questions like, “How can we empower more police officers to be like the two who rushed in to diffuse the officer who brandished his gun before things got out of hand? How can we foster environments where parents can maturely address complaints directly to each other rather than calling the police? How can we have realistic expectations of a bunch of teenagers at a pool party, regardless of their skin color?
Too little fear is a bad thing. If that’s where you are, consider ways you can learn to shudder with your neighbors who live with legitimate fear. Too little hope is a bad thing, too. So let’s stick together and seek a future that doesn’t reject the reality of fear and anxiety, but leaves room for the power of hope that is ours, too.
**nerd footnote: does this language and imagery sound familiar to you, dear Moltmann reader? That’s because Moltmann loves Bloch and used a lot of his work in his Theology of Hope and beyond.