This was written by a colleague, he is also a small school headteacher. He is an inspiring head and his faith and love are inspiring too. In my worst moments Tobin is on my list of people to call. In the worst moments of humanity he relentlessly sees the best of us all. Here is what he wrote...
'This week has been difficult in many ways - murders in Orlando and the murder of Jo Cox, not to mention countless other pieces of news that cause fear and panic. I preached a sermon on the subject this morning, and share it with you are one possible response to the fear that we all often feel:
Luke 8: 37 – Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.
In 1933, in the midst of a global recession, with millions of working-age men begging for work on the streets, a physically very frail man, afflicted by the after-effects of polio and wearing heavy metal leg braces to enable him to stand, addressed the people of the United States of America and stated that the only thing they had to fear was fear itself.
In many ways Franklin Roosevelt’s words sound trite – and they probably sounded trite to some even then, when hope was so desperately needed and in such short supply – but are they really so trite, or might they be a message that we can carry within us as we move forward into uncertain times – which is, incidentally, what every generation before us has always done.
Jesus was asked to leave the country of the Gerasenes because the people feared that power that he showed in healing the demoniac. They were frightened of someone who made a man better. This fear came from the fact that they had never seen anything like this before – and there is nothing more frightening to many people than the unknown, however good it may be.
I have always maintained that most negative behaviour in children is caused by fear: fear of failure; fear of not fitting in; fear of how they will make their way in the world; and, most especially, fear of the huge responsibility placed on the shoulders of many of them to have complete control over what they do and how they act – because their parents have been unable or unwilling to provide them with a structured life where they do not have to be in control. As we start to work with these most bruised of children, the fear, and thus the behaviour gets worse, because they can see us taking away the iron control that they have exerted for so long, and they are terrified about what might replace it. When they learn that the control is benevolent, and that they will still be able to make safe decisions, the fear subsides, and so does the behaviour. It is hard work, but an essentially simple and straightforward task if carried out with consistency and love, and it is one that we, as adults, signally fail to employ in our own lives, as witnessed by the acts of fear by which our television screens and newspapers are dominated.
On Wednesday this week, I sat down with one of the children and his mum, and told him, as gently and as carefully as I could that he has autism. He is seven years old and has begun to be very unhappy and distressed because he knows that he is in some ways different from other children, and he is frightened that he will end up with no friends. At the end of our talk, where I had explained that different did not mean better or worse, but just different, he said that he felt less frightened because he knew that next time he felt different he would remember that this was because he had autism, and that it was therefore ok. He didn’t need to fear his fear any more.
On Thursday a frightened man killed Jo Cox, a Member of Parliament doing her duty by holding her regular surgery in her constituency. From the little that has been revealed so far, it would appear that this man was frightened about immigration, about Britain becoming a different nation from the one he thought it was, and about people of a different religion or a different colour of skin. The fact that there has never been an ethnically pure British genetic identity – even the Celts were immigrants – and the fact that Britain has always been a melting pot of different creeds, colours and nationalities - seemed to have gone unnoticed by this man – his fear overwhelmed him, and in turn came to overwhelm the life of a caring, innocent, committed public servant, who also was a wife and a mother of two small children.
Last weekend in Orlando in the United States, a man walked into a gay club and murdered forty-nine people. It later transpired that, far from being his first visit to such a venue, he had been many times before as a customer, and one may therefore conclude that, as a Muslim with fundamentalist tendencies, he was plagued by fear of himself – fear that his sexuality set him outside the norms of his religion, or of society at as a whole. He couldn’t handle his fear, and so he transferred it to others, and it cost them, and him, their lives.
So what can we do? Do we follow the line that says we must batten down every hatch, shun, deport or kill everyone who looks different, who prays differently, or who loves in a different way? We must, of course, ensure that dangerous people are kept away from those they would harm – I am not advocating no prisons, no justice and no rule of law – but if we only have these, then the problem will never go away, and we must therefore look back into scripture and find out what our faith tells us that we must do.
In the first Letter of John, we are told this: ‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.’
Although there are always consequences for every action, our response at school is not to focus on the need to punish but on the need to cast out fear though love. Once the children know that they are unconditionally loved, even when they do what they should not do, and that this love is strong enough for them face the consequences when they have done wrong – but with consequences given with love, and then welcomed back to the fold with love, they learn that they have no need to fear, and then there is no need to behave in such a negative way.
The same is true for everyone. Jesus knew this, John knew this, we, if we only read our Bibles and then lived out the teaching we found there, would also know it, and then the world would know it, as we shared it with everyone we met.
As she stood with her parents the sister of Jo Cox said ‘We want to say a most sincere and heartfelt thank you to everyone who has expressed their love and affection for Jo and sent their thoughts and sympathy to us.’ The words were heartfelt and right – they focussed not on the fear that one man’s paranoia and sense of persecution could cause to an entire nation – but the love that her sister had given, and continues to receive. It was not fear that made the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, never keen to stand shoulder to shoulder, do exactly that this week – it was love – for a talented young woman who made a difference to the people whom she served – and for democracy – which for all is sham and dodgy dealing is still the most Christian of all forms of government.
We cannot fight fear with fear – for then everyone is frightened.
So is it perhaps time to try love?'