The Media Is Selling Fear – Why Do We Keep Buying?

The bedroom door creaked open slowly. I lay in bed, suddenly wide awake yet frozen in place. A whisper-soft footstep made its way across the room and the blood coursed through my head, a drumbeat pounding in my ears. I strained in the dark to see who was there but the black velvet of night obstructed the view. I could sense the presence of another. Fear clawed its way into my mind and wrapped its talons around my fast-beating heart.

Do you like to be scared?

I admit it. I like movies with suspense and some spine-tingling moments. Horror is too much for my taste, but I’m a sucker for nail-biting scenes that make my heart beat like a trip-hammer.

In real life however, fear is not welcome. At least, that’s what I claim. In reality, time and time again, I invite fear in, pull out a chair where it can rest and pour it a cup of tea. I nurture fear’s presence and welcome it like an old and dear friend.

We are sold fear at every turn.

Books, movies and TV shows are geared toward scaring us senseless. Some of you are nodding your head yes with gleeful enthusiasm at the thought of a good fright-fest, while others are shaking your heads with disapproval. You steer clear of anything that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck and have no appetite for fear. Or do you?

Fear creeps into our lives in other, less obvious ways. Social media and mainstream news exploit every real and imagined terror and hook us in, like fish on the line, profiting from our fears.

man in hooded coat looking over his shoulder in fear

I just scrolled through my Facebook feed and in a few minutes I found a list of things we are told to fear – dementia, guns, hurricanes, robbers, dangerous drivers, rising crime rates, failure, trans people, men, sexual assault, clowns, children being injured, war, terrorists, Islam, Sharia law, Hillary Clinton, more clowns, identity theft, the election, political correctness, climate change, more hurricanes

This election cycle has ramped up the fear like never before.

The candidates and the media are peddling it like an ice cream truck peddles Good Humor bars. They ring the bell all day long while we chase story after story, panting and hungry for more.

We’ve been told that not only do we have much to dread, we are foolish or naive if we don’t. Politics are built upon this. They present us with what we should fear, so they alone can provide a solution. Fear, they would lead us to believe, is informative.

In fact, the very opposite is true.

Fear certainly serves a purpose. It’s they way our mind and body signal imminent danger, preparing us for an immediate and real threat. But over the course of time, a steady diet of fear is debilitating.

This article from Psychology Today describes how our bodies respond to fear.

“As soon as you feel fear, the amygdala (a small almond-shaped organ in the center of your brain) sends signals to your autonomic nervous system (ANS), which then has a wide range of effects. The ANS kicks in, and suddenly, your heart rate increases, your blood pressure goes up, your breathing gets quicker, and stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released. The blood flows away from the heart and out towards the extremities, preparing the arms and legs for action.

…bodily responses to fear can be detrimental, especially since the most important one is a negative one: the brain basically shuts down as the body prepares for action. The cerebral cortex, the brain’s center for reasoning and judgment, is the area that becomes impaired when the amygdala senses fear. The ability to think and reason decreases as time goes on, so thinking about the next best move in a crisis can be a hard thing to do. Some people even experience feelings of time slowing down, tunnel vision, or feeling like what is happening is not real. These dissociative symptoms can make it hard to stay grounded and logical in a dangerous situation. Essentially, the body’s response to fear or stress can be stressful in itself.”

Did you get that? Let me repeat it, in case you missed it the first time. “…bodily responses to fear can be detrimental, especially since the most important one is a negative one: the brain basically shuts down as the body prepares for action. The cerebral cortex, the brain’s center for reasoning and judgment, is the area that becomes impaired when the amygdala senses fear. The ability to think and reason decreases as time goes on…”

Yeah, that steady diet of fear, that constant stream of bad news, that endless worry about…everything, it clouds our judgment and hampers logical thought.

I know, I know. There are real threats in this world. But look back at that list I posted earlier. Unless you are currently living in Florida, in the path of a deadly hurricane, most of the threats listed above are not an immediate danger to you and those that you love or else they are things beyond your control. Do some of them require our thoughtful attention and action? Yes. Do they warrant our fear. Probably not.

Maybe you still object. You are clinging to that fear like Linus with his blankie. You are comfortable living in that place. You feel a sense of righteous indignation at the thought of letting it go. So, what does the Bible say about fear? 

Fear of man is a dangerous trap, but to trust in God means safety.” (Proverbs 29:25 TLB)

The Bible does not promise us a life free of pain and tragedy but God promises to be with us in the middle of it all. I love the way Isaiah states it. This is a beautiful promise for those in the path of a hurricane.

“Do not be afraid, because I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called you by name; you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I’ll be with you; and through the rivers, they won’t sweep over you.

When you walk through fire you won’t be scorched, and the flame won’t set you ablaze.” Is. 43:1-2 ISV

Do we believe the Word of God or do we trust FOX News and The Huffington Post?

God wants us to be sober and mindful – NOT ruled by our fears. When the dust settles, when the hurricanes pass, when the election is over, what example will we leave, as people of faith, to the world around us?

“And so we should not be like cringing, fearful slaves, but we should behave like God’s very own children, adopted into the bosom of his family, and calling to him, “Father, Father.”” Rom 8:15 TLB

If we are hiding from our own shadows and quaking in the corner at every real and imagined terror, we are unable to administer aid to the wounded and bleeding lying there in the middle of the room.

Let’s refuse the package we are being sold, the one tainted by fear. Instead, let us keep our minds clear and our judgment sound, standing solid on the foundation of God’s faithfulness and mercy.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—

   so why should I be afraid?

The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,

   so why should I tremble?

When evil people come to devour me,

   when my enemies and foes attack me,

   they will stumble and fall. 

Though a mighty army surrounds me,

   my heart will not be afraid.

Even if I am attacked,

   I will remain confident.

The one thing I ask of the Lord—

   the thing I seek most—

is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,

   delighting in the Lord’s perfections

   and meditating in his Temple.

For he will conceal me there when troubles come;

   he will hide me in his sanctuary.

   He will place me out of reach on a high rock.

Then I will hold my head high

   above my enemies who surround me.

At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,

   singing and praising the Lord with music.

Psalms 27:1-6 NLT

 

Guest Post – A Wonderful World (A Response to Terror)

I had something else prepared for today but, once again, the world is rocked by terror. The people of France are dealing with the aftermath of yet another horrific terror attack. Last night, as thousands celebrated Bastille Day in the beautiful seaside town of Nice, men with hate-filled hearts drove a truck through the crowd, shooting and running over innocent people. 

My friend Patricia DeWit, lives in France and just returned from a relaxing holiday in the very spot where this attack took place. Eight months earlier, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks took place near their home in Paris. Pat wrote the following article in response to those attacks. Unfortunately, these words ring true for her and the people of France yet again.

 

 

Terror attack in Nice France

In childhood I truly feared …

Frankenstein coming up the stairs

A werewolf under my bed

A tornado flinging our house into the air

A house fire in the night

War, atomic bombs and nowhere to hide

The Rapture, being left behind

Armageddon

My parents getting divorced, or worse, being killed in an accident

Getting head lice

 

In adulthood I truly fear …

Getting into a horrible car accident

Losing a child

Kidnappers

Losing my husband

Losing my parents or siblings

Getting fat

Getting murdered in the forest

My children getting head lice

 

They say that except for the fear of falling and the fear of snakes, all other fears are learned. In the past year I have seen something. It taught me to be afraid.

Terrorism.

Terrorism came like a hardball through the window and rolled to a stop at our café, La Belle Équipe. When terror hits your city, you can’t just hide beneath your bed.

If we slept at all on November 13, 2015, we woke up feeling the aches and pains of survival. We got our coffee as usual but cut our feet on the shards, leaving a bloodied footprint on the cobblestone streets.

I felt small, like sitting where my feet didn’t reach the floor. We called on God and angels and doctors. Each siren’s wail was another raw prayer. With each flatline in an emergency room, someone’s walls collapsed.

When terror comes to your street, for a while you don’t care about any of the places on the map except one dot that says “you are here.” Surviving is painful because it is underlined in the red ink of someone who didn’t.

After terror we wait for tomorrow because they say that time heals all wounds.

So tomorrow comes. Then another. And another. Slowly you don’t feel quite as afraid, not so jumpy. But nonetheless, that day is a sticker on my suitcase that won’t let me forget “I was there when …”

How am I?

If you had asked me a few months ago, I would have answered, “Not fine, thanks.”

Anyways, “fine” is a word that lies.

If you were asking now, I’d have to say I’ve gotten used to a new way. Take today, for example. On my way home, I stopped on the bridge behind Notre Dame, sat on the curb along with many others, and listened to some live musicians. While the guy was singing the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” six fully armed soldiers walked in front of me, with the barrel of their weapons inches from my face.

I know. You want me to be fine, to be filled with faith. And victory. And give God the glory.

I know. You want heroic, or at least missionic-sized fearlessness. (You might remember that I have told you never to see me as a hero for I knew moments like this would come, moments when I’d be unheroic and afraid.)

I have faith. I can imagine a wonderful world again. ONLY I must feel all the feelings first.

After all, isn’t the comfort of God only as great or as deep as our suffering and weakness?

Isn’t His protection felt more acutely in our vulnerability? I admit my weakness and own my vulnerability. I lay my life down for you to witness what happens when God does what only God can do.

Which brings me to The Gospel According to Bob Thiele. He wrote the song that Louis Armstrong made famous in 1967—“What a Wonderful World.” That is quite a hymn; a declaration of faith if ever there was one. You see, at the time the song was written, it wasn’t a wonderful world at all. It was released during the Vietnam War, after the Six-Day War, and it was only six months before Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. See what I mean? Not much of a wonderful world.

Was Bob Thiele blind? Naive? A Pollyanna?

I think he had an ability to shift his focus. He started looking for other things. And he found them. He found the beauty on the top shelf, in the things that war and racism could not touch … a baby’s cry, people greeting one another, a rainbow, and the colour of the sky.

So simple.

So victorious.

And then it comes. That moment when you shift focus, and you can imagine (have faith for) a different outcome, and your emotions begin to turn around. First Faith. Then Hope. Then …

You knew it was coming.

Love.

After terror, love makes you a bit hyperactive when it comes to seeing and appreciating little things. After terror, you see mundane things in a brand-new way.

Everything is made new?

Nope.

Circumstances are different?

Nope.

Everything is the same as before, but we make a crucial decision to process things differently.

So this past Sunday I walked to church. I took the long way, through the market, along La Seine, and then crossed the city to the other side. I heard an avocado vendor shouting, “Un euro pour deux.” Two gals dressed as 1950s pin-up girls flirted with their eyebrows as they sang “Clementine.” Children’s chubby fingers sneaked bread samples while parents pretended to scold. I saw grandparents pushing strollers whose handles were heavy with bags of fresh produce and scraggly teddy bears. The man at the crêpe wagon taught his daughter how to make coffee and kept referring to her tenderly as “mon amour.” The bells of Notre Dame rang out much longer than usual, announcing a new “man and wife.”

Is it too much of a stretch to consider all of it as a sacrifice of praise, a collective and very flesh-wrapped sighing of relief in the ears of God? I like to think that for God (who told us He collects human tears), a quickened heartbeat is a standing ovation. In my expression of faith, every time people think to themselves, It’s a wonderful world, terror is defeated and God gets glory. In the midst of this fear and terrorism, the presence of God, the gospel, is the answer and our hope. That is why God has called us here—to show that with God, it can truly be a wonderful world.

(This article originally appeared in the Testimony Magazine. Reprinted with permission from the author.)

Patricia DeWit and her husband, Peter, are PAOC global workers in France. Learn more at https://paoc.org/donate/PeterDeWit.

Are the Beatitudes For Suckers?

Have you read The Beatitudes lately?

I recently revisited the gospel of Matthew, chapter 5 and was struck by how contradictory Jesus’ words are to the voices dominating the present-day North American church. Divisive political rhetoric, an emphasis on a Prosperity gospel and fearful discourse are currently drowning out all other points of view.

Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount are directly opposed to most of what the modern-day evangelical church has come to represent. It made me wonder. What would The Beatitudes look like if we wrote them today?

Perhaps they would look like this.

Cursed are the poor in spirit, for they lack faith.

Cursed are those who mourn, for they aren’t thinking positive thoughts.

Cursed are the meek, for they will always be failures.

Cursed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be called idealists.

Cursed are the merciful for they are suckers.

Cursed are the pure in heart, for they are naive.

Cursed are the peacemakers, for they will be conquered.

Cursed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for they were not well-armed.

Cursed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Complain and feel sorry for yourself, for you need to maintain your standard of living and nobody has the right to call you names.

Contrast the above with the following. Here’s the setting. Jesus has just returned from his time of testing in the desert. He is traveling around Galilee when he encounters Peter and Andrew, then James and John. He invites them to become religious radicals, taking up arms to defend themselves and overturn the Roman empire.

Scratch that.

He invited them to be ‘fishers of men’. He hung out with the sick, the diseased and the mentally ill and brought healing.  People were drawn to him and large crowds followed him throughout the area.

That’s when he spoke the following words.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” 

Matthew 5:3-12 NIV

Blessed are the pure in heart

 

 

When you read the true, tender words of Jesus, they ring clear, like a melody, they wash over you in a wave, like a benediction. They also sound radical and revolutionary in a terrifying and beautiful way.

So, how did we get to the point where…

  • we mistake our comfort for our rightful inheritance.
  • we hoard our abundance in disdain of the poor.
  • we let fear dominate our lives and influence our decisions.

Are you tired of the clanging and the noise? Does the constant stream of anger and division wreak havoc on your spirit? I know it does mine.

I invite you to join me – let’s spend more time meditating on the words of Jesus instead of the rants of a political pundit, an angry talking head or a religious spokesman and let the truth of God’s Word bring clarity to our minds and peace to our souls.

Mourn With Those Who Mourn

How do we make sense of madness when there is no logic to be found in the acts of a madman?

 

os-pictures-pulse-nightclub-shooting-orlando-2-033

Once again, the world has been rocked by news of a mass shooting. Images and stories of the terror-filled night in Orlando fill our TV screens.

At times like this, the world seems to be spinning out of control. Hate and fear and death appear to be gaining the upper hand. We can’t make sense of anything and we hardly know what to say, or what to think, or what to do.

May I suggest, that perhaps we can do this.

 

We can stop the gun debate long enough to clean the blood from the ground.

We can quit posturing and arguing long enough for loved ones to plan a funeral.

We can offer condolences and prayers without pointing fingers.

We can put aside our hatred of one another long enough to bury the dead.

We can silence the debate and rhetoric for just one day.

We can pause to honor each life lost with a breath, a prayer, a tear.

We can stand with the LGBTQ community while they mourn.

 

If this was my child whose blood had been shed, if this was your friend whose life was cut short, we could not bear to hear anything other than words of love and comfort at such a time. Anything other than the tenderest of voices would crush our spirit even further.

So, to the mothers and fathers, the brothers and sisters, the friends and spouses and lovers who have suffered the deepest of losses, we extend our hands in comfort, our hearts in love and our voices in prayer. May you find comfort where none can be found.