With the political season ramping up and our collective fears being stoked with every news feed, we invited Eric Law, author of the new book, Fear Not: Living Grace and Truth in a Frightened World, to share more about why it's so important to closely examine what's going on with our current culture of fear.
What's at the heart of your new book Fear Not?
I want to expose how fear is used to control, divide, and incite violence and for my readers to learn how to recognize the fear-exploiters of our time – those who stand to benefit from keeping us perpetually fearful of the others, our environment, and ourselves. We cannot make change and transform our communities unless we are able to name and describe this pattern of exploitation, and take concrete actions to resist it through forming courageous and gracious communities.
Why did you decide this book needed to be updated and re-released this year? What new insights and research have you brought to this new edition of Fear Not?
This edition provides discussion questions and activities after each chapter. Through doing these activities and discussions together, I hope to help local communities get a clearer understanding of how fears are being used in their local contexts and how they can find concrete ways to resist being divided by making real connections with one another to foster wellness in their community.
Is there really more to be afraid in 2020 than other times in history? Why is this moment particularly significant?
The impeachment and trial in the Congress of the United States is a prime example of how the fear-exploiters have successfully controlled our political system. The release of this book this year will help readers and communities understand what is going on. When I look at what’s happening in 2020 - the coronavirus/China, Russians and Ukraine, election campaigns - I can’t help but see that the fear-exploiters continue to have the upper hand and through invoking fear, their targeted fear-bears are willing to let go of their most precious and cherished democracy. We need to act in community to mine from fear the courage and grace to recover what we have lost in the last 20 years in the United States.
What’s the biggest misperception about fear itself?
That it can be conquered. Fear is not to be conquered because that often means that we don’t need fear or we fight it by acting in destructive ways to self and others. Fear is not to be ignored either, which can put us and others in danger. Fear is to be appreciated as a signal for us to pay attention and discern whether the fear presents immediate danger (we do something about that right away) or it is a fear projected by the Fear-Exploiters to get us to buy their substitute and give them power. Fear must be something we embrace and work through so that we can find the gems of ministry.
How can people of faith resist the culture of fear mongering and live with less anxiety and mistrust of the other?
We need to form courageous and gracious communities to share our different truths about our experience of fears and name the fear-exploiters. We need to refuse to be fear-conquerors, refuse to be fear-bearers, and be a beloved community of fear-miners.
You’ve worked with dozens of churches on building courageous communities that have the power to heal and change the world. Can you share a success story or two from your work, especially as it pertains to working with fear?
In 2017, The National Cathedral in Washington DC removed two stained glass windows – one with the image of Stonewall Jackson and the other, Robert E. Lee. Instead of avoiding the conflict that might ensue through protests and other means, the Cathedral leaders intentionally invited me and my team from the Kaleidoscope Institute to facilitate two 3-hour dialogue sessions. One for the Cathedral community and the other for the wider community. These dialogue events were well-attended by a very diverse population. There was an honest sharing on how these windows came to be, who paid for them, and the process by which the leadership decided to remove them and how they were removed with utmost respect. Then participants were engaged in three rounds of small group conversations facilitated by trained facilitators. As a result of these dialogue sessions, there was a strong sense of community filled with people of diverse experiences and perspectives working together to achieve understanding.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I didn’t enjoy writing this book. I didn’t want to write it, perhaps because of my fear, but I had to write it because this is want is needed now. The first draft was so depressing that I had to reorganize each chapter to offer more hope throughout the book.
What’s a first step we can take, personally, to become less afraid in our lives?
Find a small group and read this book together.
How might churches use this book as a resource during Lent?
To use this book as a Lent program, you only need to form a small group and invite participants to read one chapter a week and gather to share using the discussion questions and to do some of the activities together. The first 6 chapters will take you through the 6 weeks of Lent. After Easter, you can gather the group do 2 more weeks of discussion using the chapters 7 and 8. Another option is to kick off your Lenten study with the dialogue process in the appendix: Prep for the Holiday. Using the skills learned in this dialogue session, invite people to form small group to read the book chapter by chapter, weekly and come together for more dialogue.
Eric H. F. Law, an Episcopal priest, is the founder and executive director of the Kaleidoscope Institute, the mission of which is to create diverse and sustainable communities. For more than 20 years, he has provided transformative and comprehensive training and resources for churches and ministries in all the major church denominations in the United States and Canada. He writes a weekly blog called The Sustainist: Spirituality for Sustainable Communities in a Networked World.