I’m sure you don’t remember, but when I arrived at Ascension seven years ago, I sported a very short haircut. It suited me fine—haircare has never been a priority for me. But when my new hairdresser gently broached the subject of a change, I was reluctant. I successfully fended her off for several months, but, finally she took the plunge: “Your hair cut is perfect. For 1987. Can we try something new?”
I was surprised at my visceral reaction to her professional (and accurate) assessment of my antiquated hairstyle. Was she criticizing the work of the wonderful woman who had cut my hair for the previous ten years? Was she making fun of my look? Had others been making fun of my look? Had I turned into the elderly family friend whose enormous hair-sprayed beehive hadn’t been ruffled by wind or opinion in 75 years? If I was so wrong about my outdated “do,” what else was I wrong about? And what’s wrong with 1987? It was another couple of months before I acceded to her request, and another two years to grow my hair from stubble to the style I now sport. (I’m still not sure about it.)
But what was so upsetting about it to me? She’s the expert on hair, not me. What harm could it do to try? After all, its only hair. What was I so afraid of?
Sunday’s gospel reading (Mark 4.35-41) is about many things—weather, wind, sailboats—but it is, finally, about fear. Fear of something far more significant than hair. Fear that is irrational and unreasonable. And I am reminded of other things we have feared.
In the 1970’s, women sought equal access to employment, healthcare, self-determination and a host of other rights that are now (mostly) mainstream. But the word “feminism” came to mean not empowerment and access, but danger. Feminists would abandon their families and marriages. Feminists would advocate for all sorts of sexual abominations. Feminists would threaten the very foundation of democracy, Christianity and decency. None of those accusations was accurate or fair, but, to this day, a movement that positively changed the lives of millions—including this feminist—is, in some circles, associated with selfishness and depravity. What are we so afraid of?
The same has been true of many social and cultural movements in our lifetime. Remember when “divorce” was an unforgivable sin, and “divorcee” was a slur? Remember when our gay and lesbian siblings were deemed mentally ill? Remember when “historical critical method,” a literary tool for the study of scripture, divided the Lutheran church beyond repair? What were we so afraid of?
We never seem to learn, do we? Wise and reasoned advice from health care professionals about the value of mask-wearing during a pandemic, has erupted into dangerous conspiracy theories and, last week, murder in a Georgia grocery store. An academic discussion called “critical race theory,” has been taken completely out of context and is now deemed a threat to public school children and the rule of law. Fearing “critical race theory” is akin to fearing “the theory of relativity.” They are discussions, lenses, ideas, questions, not public school curricula. We have much to learn and much to consider, in every avenue of our lives. What are we so afraid of?
Meanwhile, Jesus was sleeping in a boat while his disciples fought hurricane-force winds and bailed sinking ships. They were terrified. Jesus was comatose. They roused him with an accusation, “Don’t you care about us? We’re drowning over here!” What was Jesus supposed to do? He wasn’t a sailor or a meteorologist. But their fear drove them to irrational accusations and unreasonable expectations.
Grumpy from having been so rudely awakened, Jesus stretched, stood, scanned the horizon and shouted at the sea, “Stop!” To the wind he roared, “Shut up!” And they did. Mark writes, “Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.”
Suddenly, the disciples’ fears about the storm seemed small and short-sighted. It wasn’t the weather they had to fear, it was Jesus and his limitless power. Mark writes, “They were filled with abject fear, and said to one another, ‘Who is this, then, that even wind and sea obey him?’” And they were left to row their listing boats, through the “dead calm,” to the other side of the sea, casting terrified glances over their shoulders at Jesus. “Who is this guy?”
Whether it is a change of hairstyle (modest) or a change in our understanding of race (world-changing) or any other change, our failure to pause, to ponder, to imagine another possibility leads to all sorts of irrational accusations and unreasonable expectations. What are we so afraid of?
As Jesus’ disciples, we have nothing to fear. Except, maybe, Jesus himself. After all, if Jesus can still the sea and stop a storm, if Jesus can cast out demons, raise the dead and forgive the unforgivable, imagine what he can do with us. I suppose, we should just keep rowing, trusting that we will be guided safely through the storm.
Unafraid with Jesus in my boat,
Pastor JoAnn Post