Citizen Intervention

Lawlessness, It's not just Ferguson

The double glass doors at the food store scraped open, revealing the scene.

She sat on the seat of her collapsible walker and she was not happy. Her walking-cane bounced off the concrete sidewalk repeatedly, betraying her agitation. In a raised voice, the elderly black woman explained that she was waiting for a cab and that she had not started the argument.

Equally loud and adamant, the young buck with a government paycheck and side arm insisted that she leave the premises. A middle-aged white woman was telling the young constable that a third woman initiated the loud incident by throwing money at the first, presumably implying that she was a social parasite who lived off others’ assistance.

But she received no attention. This wasn’t about her. It was about the elderly woman planted on her walker seat. She had waited three hours and no cab arrived. She had to leave the premises or be arrested. And she had to lower her voice or be arrested. And she had to stop threatening him with that cane, or be arrested.

He was no more threatened by her cane than he was my my cane, the judicious use of which restores enough mobility for me to shop for a few items. So what to do?

I pushed my cart between them and looking directly at neither said, ‘this gets deescalated now…’

‘Ma’am, do you need a way home?’
‘Come with me!’
‘You’ll drive me home?’
‘I’ll pay you.’
‘No, you won’t!’

That easily, it was done.

Still fuming, she explained the indignity of having money thrown at her.

She then pulled out a cell and called the cab company. She said ‘this is Angela, and I’m calling to cancel my ride.’ So that was that. She explained that she had to do that if she hoped to get future rides from that company. I wondered how a cab company stayed in business that made patrons wait for hours for a ride. I also wondered how Angela was supposed to catch her cab when it did arrive if she wasn’t at the location she called in to the company. I wondered why the young buck couldn’t grasp that dilemma.

I also wondered why this constable felt attacked by an elderly lady in a walker seat, bouncing her walking cane off the sidewalk. I wondered why he was powerless to bring anything helpful to the situation. I wondered what it is about a sidearm and a government pay check which makes cops think they own the world. And I wondered how many times such incidents are multiplied across the land because no citizen intervenes.

With ever-increasing immunity from prosecution granted to police, with increased state reliance on police before mounting social unrest, there will no shortage of opportunities for citizen interventions. Yes, one may be charged for ‘interfering with official business.’ But as I told this elderly woman, we must all begin standing together and building community — on the streets and in the courts.

But I also know that the woman who threw the money at my passenger would find much sympathy in fundamentalist churches. They would speak strong support for the ‘law and order’ antics of the young buck who thinks that a sidearm and government pay check make him ruler of the world.

Likely, more than a few fundies would say that the old guy with the cane who defused the situation really did hinder good police work. Had this guy arrested her, I think I would have made myself a material witness and articulate in court the perspective that he as not threatened, and that he needlessly acerbated an easily remedied situation to the detriment of community police relations.

Every year, well over a thousand people are slain by police. Many of them are unarmed. More than a few of them have mental health issues. I have to wonder how many lives could be saved if people involved themselves in such situations as they unfold before our eyes.

Sad to say — professing Christians in fundamentalist sects often support the most backward, repressive, reactionary and corrupting practices today found in public life. Even as they proclaim, ‘God bless America,’ they are a blight and a scourge upon it. Far from being the answer to today’s ‘America,’ they are in large part the reason for it.

On Fear and Trembling

Fear and Trembling

Fear and Trembling

An earlier post used the title, Working Out Your Salvation with Fear and Trembling as that motif seems to capture the fundamentalist spirit. But it also raised a reader question on the subject. By the time I finished a reply, it was too late to make another post. So that reply is today’s post. The tone is somewhat different, but this is offered affectionately none the less.

Fear gets plenty of traction in evangelicalism and fundamentalism. We put the fear of the Lord [or at least fear of their fathers] into our children.

We don’t hear good old fashioned hell-fire and brimstone preaching as much now, but we know that we need to hear good old fashioned hell-fire and brimstone sermons. We need ‘remember Lot’s wife’ sermons. We need ground opening up and earthquakes swallowing people sermons. We need sermons like 500 pound stones sitting on the rafters, that make us feel the flames of hell licking the soles of our feet, and smell the stench of sulfur in our nostrils. OK maybe that’s the roast burning at home…

It’s in the Bible!

…work out your salvation with fear and trembling [Phil 2:12].

Because Phi 2:12 says what it says, some IFBs have the idea that ‘fear and trembling’ theology is well vindicated. In fact, ‘fear and trembling’ is an idiom. It is a figure of speech. We know this because the expression ‘fear and trembling’ is used several times in both the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT, and the NT. In question is the meaning of the words ‘phobos’ [from which we get ‘phobia’ or ‘fear’], and tromos [trembling].

In Dt 2:25, YH says that Israel’s enemies will dread [tromos] with fear. In Dt 20:3, Israel is told, ‘do NOT fear or tremble.’ Eliphaz’ speech references dread and trembling [Job 4:14]. Ps 2:11 is interesting – worship YHWH with fear and rejoice with trembling. Clearly, that is no call to cravenness in worship. Moreover, Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel also use phobos/tromos in combination. Verdict? This is an idiom.

The NT uses the expression ‘fear and trembling’ in Mk 5:33; 1Co 2:3; 2Co 7:15; Ep 6:5, and Phil 2:12. In Mk 5:33, [the woman with the bleeding ulcer] MAY [quite literally] have trembled in fear. But we can hardly say that God’s affection for us is granted in exchange for our fear and trembling [as 2Co 7:15 says, cf. Ps 2:11].

Again, there is no question that ‘fear and trembling’ is an ‘idiom.’ And that takes nothing from the language or authority of the text. What it does do is call for a little care in what meaning we invest IN those two words in each case. So context matters wherever this idiom occurs.

But What’s in a Word?

In Philippians 2:12, both ‘phobos’ and ‘tromos’ are translated correctly. However other readings are equally plausible and may be more appropriate in context of Philippians 2:12.

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines phobos under two categories:

‘fear, dread, terror [followed by various examples].’
‘reverence, respect [for authority, rank, dignity].’

Friberg’s Greek Lexicon does the same. It handles ‘phobos’ …

‘in a negative sense fear, dread, alarm.’
‘in a positive sense respect, reverence, awe, … respect for those in authority’ (Ep 6.5).

‘Tromos’ [trembling] is not so clear cut, although the hint of distinction is there. For example, Friberg says:

‘trembling, shaking, as an outward sign of fear or of being seized with great awe.’

Thayer says that tromos is…

‘used to describe the anxiety of one who distrusts his ability completely to meet all requirements, but religiously does his utmost to fulfil his duty.’

Fear and Trembling in Phi 2:12

In context of Phi 2:12, Paul writes of Christ’s humiliation [a theological term to describe his incarnation, suffering and death] and of his exaltation [a theological term to describe his resurrection, ascension, session to God’s throne, and eventual return]. In effect…

So – remember what he did … remember who he is … and have a care people … as he humbled himself, you be ready to humble YOUR selves, you esteem others of more import than yourself, you look out for their interests as well as your own. Remember that he who became a servant to suffer and die on a cross is also the one who is elevated to highest honor and glory …

That ‘reverence of person’ and respect for Jesus’ rank and dignity well suit ‘phobos’ [fear] in context of Phi 2:12. The willingness of the Son to come down, to serve, to suffer and to die fits a response of ‘great awe’ as a rendering of ‘tromos’ even if minus the ‘outward sign’ of shaking.

Despite Eph 6:5, owners didn’t expect slaves to cower before them. Even if Paul says, ‘with fear and trembling,’ he adds immediately ‘in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ.’ That is the ‘heart’ of the matter.

Do we REALLY Need Multiple Meanings?

In 1Pe 3:2, the ‘respectful’ behavior expected of wives toward husbands is ‘phobos.’ Presumably, wives are not expected to cower before their men. Although one or two IFB ‘pastors’ might convince us that they DO think that way, this would be an horrid way to conceive either marriage or our relationship with God. So we really do need to honor the fact that words have multiple meaning, and to determine what fits each context best.

What’s Wrong with ‘Fear?’

Such a conception of God violates several Biblical norms. The spirit of fear is contrary to the spirit of adoption [Ro 8:15]. We do not have the spirit of timidity but of power, love and discipline [2Ti 1:7]. We have been freed from the fear of death [He 2:15]. There is no fear in love and the one who fears is not perfected in love [1Jo 4:8]. We are told do ‘not fear’ scores of times in references that run from Genesis to Revelation.

Exactly Who Is God Anyway?

Behind all this is the question of whether God is a vengeful, hateful tyrant who loves to drop the house on us if a toe goes out of line, or whether God is a loving, heavenly Father who sends his Spirit continually and strives tirelessly with people in all times and places.

Fundamentalism has little choice but to depict God as a cosmic grouch. Every time people are illuminated by the Spirit and drawn into the stream of grace that flows from the throne in Glory, another potential supporter is lost to Fundamentalism.

If we want to make a case for ‘fear and trembling,’ we should base it on Galatians 2. If Peter can be carried off by works-based theology, we must recognize that we are all apt to wander into aberrant thinking however much we deny it and may pay lip service to grace.

Glory to Christ!