I remember when I was growing up on Erie, Pennsylvania’s lower west side, that all the neighbors seemed to trust each other. These neighbors would have been my grandparents’ generation, and to a certain extent, my parents’ generation as well. A lot of the older people, who are for the most part now deceased, had a sense of belonging and community. They seemed responsible, productive, and trustworthy. As a little kid running up and down my city block, I didn’t have many fears of my surroundings. This was despite living in the middle of the city. Certainly, there was crime and drugs around the neighborhood. I had a bike or two stolen from me. My father had things stolen out of our 1985 Honda Civic. But, there was a sense that things were stable enough. After all, living across from the Church and School that I attended (also attended by my parents and by one of my grandparents even), things had a sense of normalcy to them.
Now, in our neighborhoods, people are strangers to each other. They don’t gather together that often. They don’t know each other. Sadly, they don’t seem to want to know each other. Certainly, there are friendships that endure in neighborhoods, but the new norm seems to be distance and silence in neighborhoods. I can’t say that I have ever lived in a place that had that same sense of community as that city block did 25 years ago. There is a sense of individualism, of preoccupation, and of mild fear in neighborhoods. As I talk to many people, this seems to be the sense they have as well. Community in our generation has undergone a tremendous breakdown.
On September 11, 2001, a tremendous element of fear and instability entered into our national mood. Even now, when watching the events of that terrible day on YouTube, it is fear-inducing. This seems to be the generation of fear and mistrust. We have seen so much tumble down around us. It is hard to trust. It is hard to reach out and build community. The elements of chaos and darkness seem too strong for us.
Yet, while big trouble has come our way, we must remind ourselves that we have bigger God! God is so much more. God is so much more than our problems, both big and small. God is bigger than all that we have experienced, yet He loves us enough to count every hair on our head (Luke 12:7). Our God is a God of the paradox. God can hold two seemingly irreconcilable things together. God can both be very big and very small, because God is all! God is more than our pre-conceived ideas and understandings. God transcends our understanding. God is to be respected and trusted by us.
On September 11, 2001, God was both very weak and very strong. He was both very absent and very present. God’s weakness and absence invited great fear and terror. God’s strength and presence invited gratitude and thanksgiving. In this generation of fear, we can surrender to fear. We can lay down in fear, and allow it to disable us. Or we can step out in hope, knowing that we are not left undefended. Our very hope in the Resurrection gives us courage that there is nothing that can be taken from us that God cannot restore. Even our lives can be restored by God.
Fear is useless. What is needed is trust. (Luke 8: 50)