I was never really all that concerned about the things that a security system is meant to protect you from before. But now I am. Because I have it. The protection preceded the threat, as it seems to do so often in our world.
I never used to be anxious about the safety of my graveyard quiet nowheresville neighborhood. But now I have a persistent beeping always reminding me that I have everything to fear each time I open the garage door. And nothing can be at ease until I satiate the alarm with a secret passcode that only my wife and I know. I had the good sense at least to shut off the setting that had the imperious woman always shouting “front door” or “back door.” My blood pressure was having a hard time distinguishing between a psychoserialkillerterroristassassin breaching the perimeter of our little suburban fortress and my wife letting the dog out.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t an totally irrational purchase. The ADT salesman assured me that this was the only responsible thing for me to do as the patriarch of my household “in light of the recent break-ins in this neighborhood.” I hadn’t heard about any break-ins, and a short internet follow-up turned up nothing in either the news or my HOA newsletter. But surely a security salesmen wouldn’t lie about the insecurity of my neighborhood would he?
I think to myself, is this what goes on implicitly on a larger scale every time we add a few tens of billions to the largest military budget in history? Does the existence of the thing we use to protect ourselves precede the essence of the thing we're protecting ourselves from? And how come no one ever picks on Finland?
We bring these protection measures into our lives out of paranoia. If we ever got that far, a moment's rational thought would reveal the cost-benefit analysis for what it is: a .01% chance my security system will ever protect us from anything real vs. a 100% chance it’ll make us feel constantly ill at ease, like the world is such a threat that we would be stupid not to make ours into a maximum security home (even though we don't have more than a couple possessions worth more than the overall cost of the system itself, and we never had any trouble monitoring each of our three doors before).
And everyone is on the side of the paranoia, by the way. If I mention my conflicted-ness about all of this in my smalltalk with a friend or a neighbor, they’re sure to respond with the full authority of the evening news and our post 9/11 zeitgeist behind them when they say, “Oh yeah. These days, you have to.” Really? You have to these days? By which statistical measure are you determining that the world is so much more dangerous "these days" than it has ever been? There are a whole bunch that say the opposite, if you're curious.
There is an alternative way to deal with our anxiety. It’s not very intuitive. But when all of our conventional methods seem to raise our anxiety more than quell it, it might be worth a shot.
John the evangelist puts it this way: “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).
It’s one of those things that doesn’t make sense at first, but anyone who has experienced it, even just for a moment, knows what it means. To love someone else truly is to look beyond one’s own wellbeing and safety. To love the world truly is to look even beyond just the wellbeing of one's own inner circle. "Something there is that doesn't love a wall," as Robert Frost said, and something there is about love that looks outwards where locks and alarms can only look in. To love truly is to see one’s own mortal concerns washed away into a sea of God’s concerns.
To love is to open the doors of our lives rather than to secure and encode them. Perhaps in the same way that guarding our lives off sends an ironic signal to our reptilian brain that there was something from which they needed guarding in the first place, maybe reaching out to others in love has the reverse effect.
Was I afraid of everyone and so I bought the security system? Or did I buy the security system and then become afraid?
Either way, if I want to not just cater to the fear but to cast it out, it’s probably time for a new approach.
No wonder Paul says that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2).
Cheers and Peace,
Jared Witt (Twitter: @realjaredwitt) is a pastor in the ELCA and, along with Aaron Schmalzle, is a Founding Director of Castle Church Brewing Community and Castle Church Faith Community.