Confessing My Fear of Trayvon Martin

Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s murder.  It doesn’t seem that long ago and that is partly because it took months for the media to actually catch on to the story and call attention to the atrocity it was.  In remembering Trayvon Martin’s death as I move through Lent, this season of confession and penance, I have to admit that I am a part of the reality that resulted in the murder of an innocent teen.  I say this because as I think this week about what addictions are holding me from embracing God’s love the answer I keep coming back to is fear.

I am addicted to fear—it is something I can’t let go of and it fuels fantasies of violence in my mind.  My dog barks at the stranger walking down the street and I begin to imagine what I would do if that stranger intruded on my property.  It is instinct yes, it is a strong impulse in those deep recesses of the brain.  Evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker has said that everyone, every human being at one time or another has a fantasy of killing someone.  There’s little I agree with Pinker on, but I believe that this point is true.  We all have deep, instinctual drives to kill those who threaten us.  That is the “natural man” that Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 2:14—the person of animal drives that has not been reworked into the image of Christ.

Of course when I speak of fears they are not abstract.  They are, if I am honest, more often than not fears of a black man in a hood.  Even though I know with all my rational will that this fear is misplaced.  I know in my heart that the kid who lives down the street from me and paces the street at night in his hooded jacket is just a regular teenager; that the neighbor who just got out of prison and came over to introduce himself is just trying to get back on his feet and care for his dying mother. Still I have been given a whole host of images from sources as varied as TV to hip-hop that fuel me toward fearing these people to whom I owe love. We cultivate our fears just as we cultivate our lusts.

Even if the fear is well placed it is not good.  Lust does not become blessed if the object is worthy of it; fear is no different.  “Do not fear” is one of the most common phrases in scripture.  It is only when we move away from fear that we are able to follow in the way of Christ.  It is only when we set fear aside that we can move toward peace, not because it will result in less violence, but because we are called to be peaceable as a matter of our faithfulness.

In Arkansas where I live there was a recent law passed that would allow guns into churches.  There were many pastors who spoke out in favor of the bill, speaking of the risks and need in many congregations to have armed security guards.  All of this from people who worship a crucified God!  Followers of a  Christ who told Peter to put aside the sword because those who live by it, die by it.  What would the martyrs of the generations before us think of armed security guarding Christians from violence?  We are addicted to fear and we are so blind to the addiction that we do not even know how to confess it.

I once heard Dallas Willard argue that in Mark 4:35-41 Jesus was able to sleep through the storm not because he knew that God wouldn’t let the ship wreck, but because Jesus was so abandoned to the divine will that he didn’t care about the outcome.  This is living without fear at its best.  It is this trust, this faith that allows us to show love even to those who would harm us.

Our nation is involved in many debates that are more about fear than anything else.  Christians have a responsibility to confess that we are afraid.  We must confess that we have all too often fallen into the culture of fear that demands that we face our fear with a gun, “standing our ground” against whatever threat we perceive.  Forgiven of that fear we should turn and turn again to the God who is love, the God who said and says again, “be not afraid” whatever the outcome.

About Ragan Sutterfield

Ragan Sutterfield is a writer and Episcopal seminarian sojourning from his native Arkansas in Alexandria, Virginia. He is the author of Cultivating Reality: How the Soil Might Save Us, Farming as a Spiritual Discipline and a contributor to the book Sacred Acts: How churches are working to protect the Earth’s climate. Ragan’s articles and essays have appeared in a variety of magazines including Triathlete, The Oxford American, and Books & Culture. He works to live the good life with his wife Emily and daughter Lillian.

  • http://love2justice.wordpress.com Joe

    thanks for this Ragan. i also grew up in the South – rural Alabama – and i experience this same kind of fear. how have you faced this fear in the past? or tried to work through it?

  • http://desertmountaintimes.com Dan Bodine

    Ragan,

    You hit the nail on the head in many ways here, pardnuh! Excellent topic; excellently written! Congratulations and thanks! My big scarecrow I’m praying to turn loose of this Lent season is Fear of Failure. Rattles me constantly it seems at times like the wind bouncing Casper’s alter ego off a place from deep inside my stomach, up to the top of my skull, and then back down to my stomach again. Over and over. Your testimony that I’m a long way from being alone with these feelings is comforting some. Thanks again.


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