Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Truth or Fiction: The Closet

I found this post when I was hunting for things I'd written about 9/11... and realized I wanted to post it again with some revisions. 

As a kid, I was deathly afraid of my closet. I was afraid of other things, too: the dark, being beat up, giving a wrong answer in class, etc., but nothing trumped the abject terror I felt when I forgot to slide the closet door closed before I went to bed.

This was the kind of paralyzing fear where you try to yell but your voice won't work... where your imagination fills in all the details of what might lurk in behind the hanging clothes & piled-up toys and games. Once in a while, I could force myself to get out of bed and close the door, but many times I would just lay still on my bed, fixating on the shadows & the darkness.

Of course, there was nothing in my closet except boxes full of construction toys and scads of games. (Yes, even then.) :-) There was no secret entrance to my closet... it actually backed up on the bathroom my sister & I shared.

In other words, my fears had nothing to do with reality.


After September 11th, 2001, thousands of people in this country swore off airplanes and began driving cars, apparently believing that cars are safer. In fact, the number of deaths on U.S. highways in a typical year - more than 40,000 - is more than double the number of people who have died in all commercial airplane accidents in the past 40 years. To put it differently, the odds of being killed in a terrorist incident in 2002 were 1 in 9 million. In that same year, the odds of dying in a traffic accident were about 1 in 7,000. By taking the precaution of not flying, many people died.

Anne Applebaum, "Finding Things To Fear" (Washington Post 9/24/03) - quoted in Marc Siegel's book, False Alarm: The Truth About The Epidemic of Fear

Marc Siegel goes through one major "false alarm" after another: terrorism, anthrax, SARS, bird flu, etc., suggesting over & over that while there is a possibility of these things affecting our lives, the vast majority live with fear way out of proportion with the actuality of the threat.

In other words, our fears have little to do with reality.


So, when it comes to what we believe about Jesus, how does this fear-laden balancing act between truth & fiction play out? Again, I'll just pick one point this week and "land on it."

We are inappropriately afraid of other people's unbiblical behavior. Let me explain... we expend incredible amounts of time, energy & effort to convince and/or force non-believers around us to knuckle under to our moral practices. When those efforts are unsuccessful (and they almost always are), we then retreat in a hypocritical game of tightrope walking between the cultural enticements of the world and the safe companionship of those who appear to have it "together" spiritually. We'll take in media with questionable content, but excuse it because "we feel bad about it." We'll talk endlessly about "winning the world for Jesus", but never actually spend time with people who are struggling with questions about faith & life.

This was not the way Jesus lived!

How can I account for this generation? The people have been like spoiled children whining to their parents, "We wanted to skip rope, and you were always too tired; we wanted to talk, but you were always too busy." John came fasting and they called him crazy. I came feasting and they called me a lush, a friend of the riff-raff. Opinion polls don't count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Matthew 11:16-19 (The Message)

This is the same guy who asked woman with 5 ex-husbands & a live-in lover for a drink of water; the same guy who went toe-to-toe with demon-possessed people. Jesus populated his band of closest followers with anger-driven hotheads, a political nutjob, a greedy thief, a Roman sympathizer, and some guys that the fish smell was never going to wash off of.

So, how do we close the door to our bedroom closet? How do we turn off our "false alarm"?

  • Resort to prayer for a heart that loves people like Jesus loves us.
  • Rearrange our lives to spend time with people who need Him.
  • Refocus our energy on making healthy, Biblical choices for ourselves, rather than policing the rest of the world.

It's not going to be easy... and chances are we're going to make some mistakes along the way.

But it will sure beat living in fear.

A version of this article originally appeared in the 3/9/06 issue of the Grapevine, the newsletter of NewLife Community Church.