Despair has had its day

“Fear and hatred had done their very worst,” went the opening line of our gospel choir anthem for Easter Day. “Despair had had its day.”

The anthem’s title was a shout of hope and praise: “I’m back!”

God would allow no easy victory for fear. No expansive room for hatred. No making nice with evil. No waking to another day of emptiness and obstacles and feeling helpless.

“I’m back! Death could not hold me!”

For me, the sad realization of 2012 is how many lives are governed by fear. There are too many victims of oppression, famine and poverty, whose fear has solid ground. There are too many workers fearing loss of employment, too many pension holders and savers fearing deterioration of their assets, too many older citizens fearing loss of health care.

The shouts of hatred are troubling. I listen to our political debates that venture into the universe of conspiracy theory that the Internet makes possible. I watch red-faced people shouting at their perceived enemies, and I wonder how can a nation with such abundance, such freedom, such opportunity be convulsed in so much hatred. We’ve gone far beyond healthy disagreement and are drowning in a toxic stew of loathing and dehumanizing.

Cynical political opportunists stoke this poison, foolishly thinking they can control the contagion they unleash. Special interests that serve the wealthy encourage hatred as a cover for their relentless plundering. This year’s “super-PAC” campaign ads promise new heights of misdirection and manipulation, as they mine racial bigotry and cultural angst among the insecure, while promoting policies that benefit wealthy patrons.

In the face of such darkness, faith communities seem helpless, paralyzed by self-inflicted institutional distress. They seem unable to speak convincingly the one word that we were given to speak: “Love!” Or the second word: “Mercy!” Or Jesus’ new commandment: “Do not be afraid!”

We take pride in plumes of sweet smoke, glorious music, and, for at least one day on Easter, full pews. But outside our doors, “fear and hatred” prevail without much opposition from us. I feel a deep sadness about a Christian enterprise that cannot do what we were called to do, but retreats instead into what we enjoy doing.

We are back where the disciples were on the day Jesus appeared to them: hiding from a world we find unresponsive, afraid of change, afraid of losing certainty and safety. It’s as if we don’t know that God has conquered fear and hatred, that God wants doors open and hearts bursting with love for a troubled world. How we could not know such basics after 2,000 years is a mystery. But there it is, for too many Christian fellowships, another day of hiding.

Maybe this will be the year we get it. Maybe this will be the year we discover courage, turn our eyes resolutely outward to a world that is self-destructing, say a fervent and dangerous “No!” to fear and hatred, and a bold “Yes!” to God.

Maybe this will be the year we see Jesus standing in our midst — not an icon in gleaming vestments, but in the form of a battered woman, a drunk seeking sobriety, an over-50 worker who has just lost his job, young parents bringing a child into uncertainty, an immigrant without papers.

Maybe this will be the year when we will find courage and speak as forthrightly as the disciples eventually spoke.

(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter (at)tomehrich.)

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