Which is it?

In Engage, Think by Dieter Randolph

Growing up Unity means getting used to questions. I’d heard them all; people wanted to know if we were a cult, if we believed in Jesus, if we were the same thing as the Unitarians across the street. No, yes, and no, by the way. Thanks for asking.

I was pretty good at dealing with the questions. I’m a preacher’s kid, so I got them a lot. More than that, even if I didn’t agree with the position of the person asking the question, at least I could understand where they were coming from.

The only one I couldn’t get my head around was the one I got the most often: Are you a God-fearing Christian?

Well, yes. I think. But also no. Mostly yes, though. Christian, yes. I can talk about that until the cows come home. And God? Absolutely. My feelings about God go beyond an intellectual conception and into the realm of feeling; Spirit is the ground of my being. So I suppose, if you can’t think of a better word for an overwhelming inner thought and feeling that leads to action and a way of life, I’m okay with that fear part.

Except I am not okay with that fear part. I can think of a better word.

I could never understand how the same people who place so much emphasis on fearing the Divine will also tell you that God is love. Then, as now, fear and love seemed like direct opposites. There’s even a Bible passage about that:

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. (1 John 4:18, NASB)

That’s one of my favorites. There is a lot of depth there, and some other time we’ll talk about the implications of a punishment consciousness. For now, though, I want to focus on the more straightforward part: In this Bible passage, as well as in many others, love and fear are presented as opposites.

But you knew that. Even without referring to our primary textbook, the logical incongruity is clear. Anyone who’s experienced love and fear can tell you that love is oneness and unity, and fear is separation and duality. That’s why one feels so good and the other feels so rotten.

Trust your feelings. Even fear can lead you to growth; it’s a wonderful alarm system. When you feel that intense separation and panic, you are not only receiving a biological and physical cue, you are getting a spiritual message to change course. There’s something else going on there, too. Faith can be thought of as an inner conviction that leads to an outer realization. So can fear. It turns out that fear is just faith pointed in a negative direction.

This is important. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had people come to me and express their heartfelt desire to feel faith. So many individuals are hungry to have an inner experience so profound that it transcends knowing and moves into feeling and action. But everyone who’s ever felt afraid has had that wish come true. So let’s bless it and grow through the experience. The next time we feel afraid, let’s take a moment to give thanks for the profound experience of faith. You can fear yourself right into the emergency room, if you really want to, but I don’t recommend it. Instead, let’s find ways to say “Wow! Look how powerful my faith is. I’m really feeling this!” From there, we can start to point that awesome power in a more positive direction.

As always, the trick is to stop fighting and start knowing. We can use fear to move into love.

Smarter folks than me have pointed out that fear and morality are two different things. If a person does the right thing not because of its inherent good, but instead because they are afraid of punishment, was the action truly moral? This kind of question is often used to poke holes in the sin and damnation paradigm, and with good reason. That’s not why we do things. That’s not even what the Bible says about it. Remember the passage we just read about love and punishment?

The goal is inspiration rather than coercion. So what inspires you? Is there a song you play, a book you read, a speaker you listen to? What reminds you of unity? What helps you not just to see, but to celebrate oneness? It’s okay to start small. Any love is love. Any experience of this universal unity will necessarily and inevitably lead to bigger and more profound demonstrations. Love is the magnet, the gravity of the universe, and it will pull you on to the degree that you let it.

It’s Valentine’s Day. Let’s let love be in charge today. Within you, me, everyone, and in fact all things, there is an infinite and intimate oneness. The goal is to get so in touch with that oneness that our thought, word, and action flows effortlessly from that place. But it’s okay if we haven’t arrived at that grand conception yet. The good news is that we can walk backwards through this. Maybe we don’t have a huge conception of Love with a capital “L” today. Let’s ask a simpler question.

Look at the things you’re going to do today, the people you’ll see, the conversations you’ll have, the dreams you’ll dream. Ask yourself this question: Am I doing this out of love, or out of fear? You’ll know the answer. What you do from there can change everything.