America’s Wildfire of Fear

Scared people scare people.

This year’s season of Halloween is special, and I say season because it is no longer regarded as the singular night in our American calendar when as a child I would don some homemade outfit such as an old bedsheet (always white in those days) to go in search of the neighbors’ sweetest of treats.  It affords us, children of every age that we truly are, a great learning opportunity. We are all afraid. Our nation and our world seem in many ways more out of control than perhaps ever before. Death is in the news, with last week bearing witness to racially and politically inspired murders and potential murders.

Scary times we live in. This season of Halloween that won’t end.

Until.

We learn about how fear feeds upon itself, and how we can personally go about starving it instead. This is a learnable lesson. Now is a teachable moment. It’s Halloween. So let’s take another look at fear in our world, our nation, and ourselves.

Writing from my own perspective as a geezer who has first studied and then served his time as therapist and even pastor for hundreds of folks over the years, permit me to offer this perspective. Fear feeds first upon ignorance, or let's at least say misunderstanding.   To begin with, we are often ignorant of fear’s presence, our minds distracted instead by the hatred our fear produces. It’s as if we are blinded by hate from being able to sometimes even see our own fear.

I liken fear to fire. Hatred is the smoke fear produces. And sometimes all that we see these days in America is that smoke. And so we go about fighting smoke itself, for that is what blinds us to see the actual fire beneath.  Putting out the smoke is of little use unless we also learn how to fight the underlying fire. Ours is not a smoke problem. It is a fire problem. It is not a hate problem. It is a fear problem. And the fear is so large and its smoke of hatred so dark that we had better use this season of Halloween to help get it out.  Pronto.

Yes, we need safe outlets for our hatred. People are dying from inhaling the smoke of hatred resulting from our fire. By some lever we must certainly open the hot damper door above our fireplace, to use that analogy. There has to be a safe outlet for our hatred or it will truly blind us from ever finding the fear itself. And suffocate us in the process.

Staying with the fire metaphor, fear is like a pilot light in our brain remaining lit at all times. Fuels from outside our body can then feed that flame, but so can memories from within our brains. This is where past traumatic stress comes in. Past hurts. Tragedies of disappointment, perhaps loss or even grief act as fuel for the fire within. So just as underneath our angry hatred lies fearful anxiety, so underneath our fears lie all of our unhealed hurts from stressors past. Yesterday’s traumas fuel today’s anxieties and potentially tomorrow’s explosions.

Picture, if you will, an out of control wildfire whether in fields of grass or forests of trees. Each blade of grass or each tree limb becomes a carrier. Fires are like viral germ epidemics. Get too close to the next burning object and the fire spreads to the next object, and so on.

Scared people scare people. Fear spreads. Hatred then follows like billows of smoke. And as we feel increasingly out of control, we resort to calling out to others for help as well we should. We should indeed, in this season of Halloween, do as Fred Rogers was advised by his saintly mother and look for the helpers. There will always be helpers. But there’s even more to be done after looking outward for such help. We need to then look within to locate our own souls. There we will find a kind of immediate fire extinguisher we can begin using ourselves.

Halloween for me as an aging child, who still feels my own fears within being fueled by the world around and my past inner memories of stressful and hurtful incidents, is a time for both looking outward in search of helpers and within my own soul to begin helping myself.   And I find this.

I have a Heavenly Father filled with love for me that is expressed in two ways.   One, this Father sends Jesus to be my outside helper. For me, looking for the helpers means looking first for Jesus, the King of all helpers. Secondly, this Father sends the Holy Spirit to be my inside helper within my soul. My own fire extinguisher to use immediately in helping myself.

The good news is we are all Halloween children of this same Heavenly Father, whether we know or understand it or not. This same Father or Higher Power or God of our own understanding loves us all.   Sends helpers, like Jesus. And sends soul mates, like the Holy Spirit within us. And it is this love that then goes to work putting out the fires of our fears. Just as November 1st is what we wake up to after October 31st comes to an end, and just as our season of Thanksgiving follows our season of Halloween, so does love awaken us to fear’s extinction. It’s what comes next. And it happens when the church of Jesus Christ in communion with the Holy Spirit seeks out her own primary mission. An epidemic of love, spreading its relief throughout our world.

It's altogether possible.

Because loved people love people.

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