The Sky Is Falling
Chicken Little is afraid. The sky is falling and she needs to tell the king. She dashes off as fast as she can, running into friends along the way with whom she shares her fear. “The sky is falling!” she yells, and her worried friends join the race to find the king.
The well-known misadventures of Chicken Little and her friends tell a tale of fear and its infectious grasp. Chicken Little had been minding her own business when out of nowhere an acorn fell on her head. Her assumption and subsequent proclamation of the absolute worst-case scenario caused hysteria wherever she went. The derived moral of the story is usually something about the dangers of jumping to conclusions or believing everything you hear. But the message we seem most popularly to have identified with is one pertaining to fear. Chicken Little’s mantra, “The sky is falling,” has become a phrase used to indicate the belief that disaster is imminent, however reasonably or unreasonably surmised.
From continued reports of international economic distress, unanswered corruption and unrest in Africa, government shutdowns in the U.S., the dangers of tainted drinking-water, or the increasing global epidemic of diabetes, the sound of alarm is uninterrupted. The current worldwide tenor is often one of fear and uncertainty. The sky indeed seems to be falling, and depending on the knock these stories make on our heads we may even join in the commotion. Broader cultural anxieties also add to this sense of fearful doom. If we are not consumed by increasing cancer rates and declining education scores, we are fearful of the multiple ways in which our children face dangers that we did not, within a world where uncertainty now seems the only certainty.
Playing on these anxieties, politicians, marketers, and media producers know well that fear is a compelling motivator, and a profitable one at that. Like the music man in the Broadway musical, if they can convince us that “There’s trouble right here in River City,” we will hear what they have to say and open our minds (or wallets) to do something about it. Just this week the inquisitive blurb, “Will staring at a computer screen make you go blind?” commanded my fearful attention and convinced me to stay tuned, ironically, staring at the computer.
While the worry and unrest that is ever being stirred into the worldwide caldron may indeed be based on real concerns, the combined ingredients in this pressure-cooker are at best a recipe for misperception. I read the “terrifying true story” of the Ebola virus in high school and became far more terrified that I would die of a super-virus than I have ever been impressed with the eradication of serious illnesses like polio, measles, or smallpox. Focusing on our fears, ever-reacting to our worries, and accepting this culture of fear as a given, not only affects our subsequent reasoning, living, and faithfulness, but our fears in fact become us. Our fears tell us how to spend our money, raise our children, vote in an election, and participate in (or isolate ourselves from) society. We become no different than Chicken Little or the slave in Jesus’s parable who withdrew in fear of his master and buried his talent in the sand.
Yet the harsh rebuke of this slave in the parable of the talents makes it clear that safe-living is not an option, nor an ultimate value, in the countercultural kingdom of God. Is there perhaps a distinctively Christian alternative to the atmosphere of fear that is so pervasive and contagious? The parable of the talent asks its hearers to see the power and control we allow to masquerade as security and so convince ourselves that we are living wisely, perhaps even morally upright, when we are really living only in fear. These fears move us to withdraw from the kingdom Jesus calls us to join and join with him in announcing. Instead of moving further up and farther into the kingdom He proclaimed among us, we dig for our souls a place in the outer darkness.
There is indeed an alternative, but it is neither safe nor easy. It involves laying down fears to follow Christ with faith’s daring; it involves opening our lives to a world that will scare us, and rejecting the anxiety of a world convinced the sky is falling. The Christian alternative to a culture of fear is a kingdom of hospitality and abundance, vulnerability and generosity, love and self-sacrifice—the very kingdom Christ shaped with his living and his dying.
“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’”(1)
(1) Matthew 16:24.
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