Moving beyond fear to community

A pair of hands hoving over the keyboard of a laptop
 on January 30, 2024

It had been an inspiring morning, pitching in with other volunteers to do odd jobs completing a community centre at a new housing project for individuals who had been homeless. I marveled that this grassroots initiative to provide sleeping cabins and community services was nearing completion – and that it had all been accomplished without a dime of government funding. I appreciated that the project was based on the edge of the city, thereby avoiding hostility from nearby homeowners.

Or so I thought. During a coffee break another volunteer pulled me aside and in a low voice outlined that even though the nearest homes were several hundred metres away, some of those homeowners had voiced their opposition to the project.

This is just one example of the hostility that often bursts forth in response to housing projects meant to benefit “the least of these.” A veteran Ontario MPP once told me that any politician bold enough to support affordable housing projects in their riding must accept the fact that everyone living near the project will vote against them in the next election, and many will campaign for other candidates.

Yes, fear of plunging property values, crime and other reasons often lie behind this hostility. But other fears are at play here too – especially fear of “the other,” of people who are different from us. We also like to believe that we’re in full control of our lives, when in fact we are not. Life is full of unforeseen events, many of them difficult, such as illnesses or accidents. Worrying about what the future may bring stirs up fear. The deepening climate crisis is another factor raising anxiety about an uncertain future.

Our Christian faith has plenty to say about fear and about deepening our faith in God rather than succumbing to fear. Our faith does not rest of the predictability of safety, but on God’s grace. The first words Jesus says to his fearful disciples following his resurrection are “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 28:10). “Fear not!” is the most repeated command in the bible. It’s been said that there are 365 “fear nots” in the bible — one for every day of the year.

In his book Fear of the Other: No Fear in Love, American theologian William Willimon invites Christians to consider the gospel command to love and not merely tolerate those considered to be “other” or outside mainstream Christian culture. Rooted in the Christian story and its inclusive vision, he brings a bold perspective to what may be the hardest thing for people of faith to do: including and loving the “other” as they are, without expecting them to become like us.

Emphasizing biblical teaching that urges us to accept these persons for who they are and their differences as gifts and mysteries bearing the grace of God, Willimon also offers a strong critique of privileged people who often speak of reconciliation yet evade the injustice of huge inequalities faced by foreigners and strangers.

Willimon argues that God comes to us through so-called outsiders, strangers, immigrants and those without status – the kind of people with whom Jesus spent a lot of time. Beyond extending welcome, Christians must become “other” to the world, shaking off the dominant culture’s identity and privilege through practices of listening, humility and understanding.

Along with those disciplines, I would add that conquering fear needs to involve going beyond our comfort zone to form meaningful connections with people different from us. Unfortunately, our society – and our personal attitudes – all too often erect barriers separating people based on their differences. It’s a kind of social apartheid. I live only 10 blocks from a Peterborough community nicknamed “Cracktown” because drug addiction plagues the lives of some of its residents. My wife and I have been lucky enough to make friends with three people living there who have taught me much about generosity and about how to laugh despite life’s challenges. Our life experiences are radically different, but deep down we share a common humanity.

Moving beyond fear is far from easy. It can begin with a couple of basic questions: what is it, exactly, that I am fearful of? Who am I afraid of – and why?


Keep on reading

Skip to content