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more sheepishness: a few thoughts about our culture of fear

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Wednesday, July 14th, 2010


more sheepishness: a few thoughts about our culture of fear

the bible’s a funny thing. and so is following that guy jesus.

at best, they’re frustrating. at worst, they’re maddening. even illogical. counterintuitive.

you see, in scripture, we’re referred to as sheep. basically, mindless followers that roam without proper self defense or the ability to find the way on our own. we just sorta hang out with the flock and go where the shepherd leads.

we’re sitting ducks. but, you know, in the sheepish kind of way. (a shmuck?)

quite frankly, sheep should be frightened.

but the bible’s a funny thing.

i often ask people what they think the most common phrase in the bible is. most people have no idea, naturally, but occasionally, people will guess “verily something or other” or “something with lord”. i await the surprised look on their face when i tell them the most common phrase in scripture is “fear not” or some derivation (“do not be afraid”). well over 300 times (that’s almost 5 times per book), we’re told not to fear.

i repeat things to my children often. awhile back, we went through the process of potty-training lucy. while she did well and learned quickly, several times throughout the day, i’d have to say to lucy, “if you need to pee or poop, go to the potty” or “we only use the potty to go pee or poop.” what would happen if i didn’t tell this to lucy? well, you don’t wanna know the full details, but let’s just say we had to say goodbye to a few pairs of underwear and come to the realization that a couple sheets and blankets would never be the same. more to the point, though, we knew lucy wouldn’t go to the potty without our constant reminder.

lucy’s a sheep.

on her own, she would have left our home looking like mr. hankey and his flock of minions stormed its gates. with guidance from the shepherd, she was able to learn and change.

the shepherd knows the sheep are afraid and over and over and over, he tells his flock to not be afraid.

not only does the shepherd know the sheep are afraid but he knows that fear is the most crippling way to live. in fact, living in fear isn’t living at all.

a couple days ago, i blogged about the new law in louisiana that allows concealed weapons in church. more broadly speaking, it was a challenge to the “sheepdog philosophy” (pdf link) and my assertion that violence returned with violence violates the way of jesus.

but it isn’t just about violence and concealed weapons. those are symptoms. the underlying issue is fear.

simply put: people who carry concealed weapons for the purpose of self defense (or the defense of others) are driven by fear.

now, that statement just sent many concealed carriers into an internal frenzy of rage and denial (which is particularly frightening because they have guns…), so let me briefly unpack it. i don’t think that most or all of concealed carriers walk about trembling and bug-eyed, just waiting for johnny rapist to jump out of every bush. yes, i realize that you would tell me that you do it to feel empowered and to be a prepared, dutiful “sheepdog”. i’m sure you’d tell me other things, too. but all those things are surface-level. beneath the surface—at the core—is fear. if you assumed you were safe or protected by a good shepherd, why would you carry around a weapon for protection? fear, of course, drives concealed carrying.

sure, maybe you want to protect your family. in other words, you are fearful that your family is going to be hurt. yes, you might want to be a beacon of hope and safety in the event that a crazed gunman kicks down the doors of your church and begins firing. in other words, you are fearful that people are going to be hurt.

yes, these things seem to be somewhat reasonable.

but, for those who follow in the way of jesus—those who are sheep following the shepherd—know that over 300 times in scripture that we’re told to fear not. we’re told to live lives that are above fear. a life that is sheepish. that follows the good shepherd, trusting that he is our protection.

will jesus stop a bullet? probably not. will jesus eradicate your community of rapists and crazy people? probably not. but will he enable you to live free of a crippling spirit of fear? absolutely. if we so choose to actually be his sheep. and live like sheep—not sheepdogs.

fear ruins lives. it causes white flight. it causes people to avoid certain parts of town. it causes people to hide weapons on their body. it causes racism and division. it causes the dissolution of could-be friendships. it causes both petty fighting and global wars.

and that’s why the bible says over 300 times to fear not.

put the weapons down. live beyond fear. face the day with a boldness that assumes that our lives are guided and protected by the good shepherd. it seems illogical. silly. counterintuitive.

and it is.

why? because following jesus, living as a sheep and not a sheepdog, is a funny thing.


  1. Don Gaines says:

    dude, last time i was home i realized that most of my family lives in fear. they're afraid something's going to happen. i don't know what it is, a terrorist blowing up their house or a black man robbing them or something, i don't know, but they are afraid. it all of a sudden hit me like a ton of bricks and i just had to step back for a minute. it's also interesting b/c my stepdad does carry a concealed weapon. i think in his car usually? he 'claimed' on a phone conversation i overheard that crime went down in some area of the country when people were allowed to 'show' their guns on their hips or whatever. so lame. overall, it makes me really sad for my family. i wish they weren't so motivated by fear.

  2. Tom Hudson says:

    I do not like to "come out" as a concealed carry licensee. I REALLY do not like to align myself with the NRA.* I have no interest in lending credence to their mostly bogus arguments.

    However, I think these blog entries merit a thoughtful response.. "Generally correct" does not keep the statement "People who carry concealed weapons for the purpose of… defense …are driven by fear" as coming off as, well, a HUGE generalization.

    Generalizations are sometimes good for making public policy, but rarely good for judging moral fortitude.

    Fear is surely a motivator for many gun-toters, especially in the age of a black "socialist" President. But it is hardly the only one.

    There is also the "hero complex", which is shamelessly divulged in "sheep dog philosophy."

    The fun factor of guns cannot be overlooked either. It may not fit a "self-defense" criterion, but it is a strong motivator for many who say they carry for self defense. (If you saw me handling bottle rockets on July 4, go ahead and wince, but) guns ARE fireworks. And I like to stuff my "fireworks" in my pocket when I go to the woods, shooting as I please. I can't do that many places without a concealed carry permit.

    More legitimately, there is a practical consideration. Most of us buckle our seat belts when we get in our cars, "just in case." Does that mean we live in fear? It's unlikely we will get in a wreck, but the possible consequences are still dire. Likewise, some people would rather not be caught unarmed, but that preference may not illuminate their day-to-day level of fear.

    Indeed, the opposing side of the gun argument is often HIGHLY motivated by fear. I hold that to be self-evident, and won't delve into it.

    Finally, it is widely accepted that Jesus stood against violent self-defense. But what really was his teaching? He was with-a-doubt anti-retaliation. And his instruction to "turn the other cheek" seems like a pretty clear call for passivism.

    Then there was Peter's confrontation with the Roman soldiers in the garden. Another strong Biblical lesson regarding self-defense? Why did Peter, presumably well-versed in the teachings of Jesus by then, have a sword anyway? Did Jesus just not notice, or not care, till that moment?

    Peter was an idiot. Severing the ear of a Roman soldier, in a group of them, was asking to get Jesus and his whole group of friends slaughtered on the spot. It was not an act of self-defense; it was an act of Self-Righteous Self-Destruction.

    Jesus's act of healing the soldier was compassionate, yes, but also strategically defensive. He saved Peter's ass, and if the soldiers had decided to kill them all, he likely saved his whole message from extinction in that one moment.

    There-in lies the tricky part. At what point, for Christians, does self defense violate Jesus's generally "sheepish" message? And at what point does passive non-resistance become Self-Righteous Self-Destruction?

    (I have my doubts about how sheepish he wanted his followers to be: sheepish toward God, perhaps. Sheepish toward all mankind, I dunno. Jesus showed he was not always opposed to violence when he went on his little rampage against the merchants in the temple.)

    Yes, Jesus said "turn the other cheek." But I wonder whether or not he would have said "turn the other jugular."

    *I suspect the second amendment was placed in our Bill of Rights near the top for good reason. None of our rights are absolute, however, and the right to self defense deserves good regulation too, for the very reason it exists – the safety of the country's citizens. Guns, like automobiles, have become an issue of public health, and deserve the same sort of regulation. Groups like the NRA are ironically very effective in undermining Bill of Rights and the right to self defense by blanketly opposing any and all efforts to regulate.

  3. Tom Hudson says:

    (By the way, folks, I don't actually consider the founder of the church in Rome and supposed keeper of the Pearly Gates to actually be "an idiot." Bear with my hyperbole, please.

    Peter was a zealot, the political school of ancient Judaism that resisted Roman occupation of the Holy Land, and fought for Jewish independence by force of arms, to the death. "Give me liberty or give me death." "Out of my cold dead hands." The zealots got their lot in 70 AD.)

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