Be not afraid

Yesterday I entered a restaurant near the church. I had gotten to the restaurant ahead of the people I was meeting - two executives of local non-profit organizations. They have some chairs in the entry way and I took a seat and waited for them. While I was waiting, two different people asked me if I had been helped, and I replied that I was waiting for some friends. They smiled and went on with their business. I was comfortable sitting in the chairs and before long my friends arrived and we proceeded with our lunch meeting.

The day before - Wednesday - I got to a local coffee shop (not a Starbucks) a few minutes early for my Bible Study group. I went to a table and sat for a little while before ordering my coffee. When the next person arrived, we ordered coffee. Some of the participants in the study had coffee. Others did not. We had a leisurely meeting and the people working in the shop said to us, “Have a good day!” as we left.

On Tuesday, I met a member of our church for lunch. We had been trying to get together for a couple of weeks, but various conflicts and some snowy weather had forced rescheduling. With my schedule, we agreed to meet for lunch. It was a different restaurant than yesterday. And yes, I arrived a few minutes early. I do that a lot. I waited in the lobby of the restaurant until the person I was meeting arrived. Everyone was nice to me and I exchanged pleasant conversation with several employees of the restaurant while I waited.

Three times in three days I entered a local eating establishment and didn’t order hight away.

On April 12, two entrepreneurs went into a Starbucks restaurant in Philadelphia. They were there for a business meeting, but the man they were planning to meet there hadn’t arrived yet. They were asked if they needed help. They replied that they were waiting for a business partner. Rashon Nelson asked if he could use the restroom and was told he couldn’t because he hadn’t bought anything. He brushed it off. Within about 2 minutes after arriving at the cafe, they were approached by two police officers who talked to them. They were arrested for trespassing.

In the wake of the protests that arose after the incident, they have received apologies form the police commissioner, from Starbucks managers and corporate executives and others. Starbucks has announced that they plan to close all of their retail stores so that all employees can receive anti-racism training.

The difference between me and the two who were arrested and detained for nearly eight hours is the color of our skin.

The difference between us is that no one reacted to my presence with fear. The Starbucks employees, and perhaps the policemen they called were afraid of the two. People weren’t afraid of them because of what they had done. Their behavior wasn’t threatening. People were afraid of them because people are afraid of black men.

Had the incident occurred in our town, it probably would have been Lakota men.

Here is a bit of good news. A man none of us knew walked into our church on Sunday morning. I had met him before and I recognized him, so I knew there was no reason to be afraid. But I was leading worship and couldn’t be the one to greet him. He had a small backpack and he set it down as he slipped into a pew at the back of our sanctuary. After the service, folks invited him to join us for a potluck lunch. At lunch a half dozen of our members made a point of speaking with him and sitting next to him. After he had eaten, I visited with him and found out a bit of his story. He wasn’t a pan handler. He wasn’t begging. In fact he was happy because he finally was preparing to move into his own place after having been homeless for several years.

I was very proud of my congregation. They really are good people.

One of the major themes of the Gospels is Jesus’ teaching about not being afraid. But our society is filled with people who are fearful. And they are often fearful in situations where no fear is warranted. Irrational fear or excessive fear when no threat is present is a serious psychological condition. But no one is going to call the clerks in the Starbucks cafe paranoid. No one is going to call the police officers paranoid. It is clear, however, that the incident wouldn’t have happened without some irrational fear.

I can only imagine what it must be like to be a black man in our society. I have lived a sheltered and privileged life. And I live in a very safe place. Sure there is some crime in our city, but there is no place in our city where I am afraid to go. I don’t have to worry about who is afraid of me, either. I can approach clerks and waiters and not worry about them calling the police. I can sit for a few moments waiting for friends without feeling a need to justify my presence. Most of the time I don’t even bother to explain why i am waiting.

I’m not sure how to teach courage to people who are fearful. One way is simply to give them opportunities to meet strangers and to get to know them. Inviting strangers into our congregation and sharing a meal with them gives people an opportunity to meet folks that they would never meet in other settings. In fact, people might even be afraid of some of those folks if they met them outside of the church.

The way to get beyond fear is faith. The Bible urges believers to not be afraid in Isaiah, in Deuteronomy, in Joshua, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Proverbs, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and Acts. You get the picture.

"Be not afraid, only believe."

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!