When I started this article about what we face in the 113th Congress, I was focused on the challenge and frustration of trying to govern with an intransigent minority that would rather wreck the economy than grow it. The tea party fringe of the Republican Party has held the government hostage and while their attitude has not changed, what is different is the experience and commitment of others to do what is good for the country. The President’s Inaugural address and the apparent “results” of the Republican “retreat” last week have lightened my mood and encouraged me to think that there are some ways forward.
At a meeting with Vice President Biden 10 days ago, about ending gun violence in our nation, I realized that fear is at the heart of many of our concerns. The desire to have all sorts of fire arms comes in response to fear of others and fear of government. Negative attitudes toward immigrants seem to be rooted in fear of the stranger and fear about our economic vulnerability. Fear about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act often seems to be rooted in the fear that there is not enough health care to go around and the individual will be left out. Taxes and federal budget issues are often rooted in fear about the impact on business or individuals at the margins of our society. In short it seems to me that many of our issues as a nation are rooted in the same crippling fear.
In order to address this fear driven impasse, I believe that we, as people of faith, must reflect deeply on the scriptures and find the way forward. Jesus often says to the apostles “fear not.” We know that Jesus called Peter to come to Him across the waters. We know that Jesus gave food to the multitude while allaying the apostles’ fear that there was not enough. We know that after the resurrection Jesus told the apostles to fear not and receive His Peace. If we are to be active in this political moment then we must live the message “fear not.”
But what can get us to “fear not” in this political struggle? I believe that the way forward in this Congress is to connect as much as possible with ordinary citizens, Congressional staffers and members of Congress. What casts out fear is not controlling my environment or hoarding all of the money or healthcare that I think I need. What casts out fear is opening up and being friends and community together. Over and over on the bus this past summer we discovered that when people know we are connected and in this together, fear abates and community increases. Community can solve our tough problems and create something new. No one of us can work on all of the issues that we are facing. But together, if I work on the issues I’m called to address and you work on yours, all issues will be covered. And no matter what you choose to work on, we can all work to create community and thus reduce fear. By reducing fear we ARE addressing this intersection of all issues, even the challenging members of the Tea Party who are so frightened and thus individualistic…even nihilistic.
So as you consider the many issues facing us (federal budget and tax policy, immigration reform, climate change, health care implementation, gun violence, etc.) I urge you to pick one to work on for this 113th Congress. Work on it with diligence and open heartedness. Know that if you work to allay fear, you will be working on all of the other issues at the same time. Let us work at both the roots of our fearful culture and the branches of policy. By doing both we will be politically effective and spiritually alive in the Gospel! What more could we ask?