Spiritual Life

Pastor's Perspective: How we can overcome fear – our most powerful enemy

We seem to be living in a terrified age. Good people all over the world are afraid that other people – “they” – will take our jobs, our safety, our privacy. Fear is at the source of racial conflict, immigration issues and arguments about gun ownership.

Michael Kinnamon, a scholar who has worked across religious denominations, recently wrote a book, “The Witness of Religion in an Age of Fear.” It doesn’t take much to make the case that fear and a contest for security may be the most dangerous forces at play today in our country and in the world.

Unchecked, fear causes us to contract, to withdraw into ourselves and into groups where we find only people who are most like us. It sends us too quickly to security systems, military options and locked-up hearts. It leads, often, to shortsighted and dangerous decisions.

Kinnamon quotes Martin Luther King Jr., who said: “Abnormal fear paralyzes us. It poisons and distorts our inner lives.”

Every one of the world’s major religions, Kinnamon observes, warns against the dangers of excessive fear. Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Sikhism, Judaism and Hinduism all teach their followers ways of overcoming fear, or at least putting it in proper perspective, he says. He’s right; in the Bible, the book of Christian scriptures, the words “Do not be afraid” appear nearly 400 times.

Because of this, people of faith have an important word to offer a fearful culture. Kinnamon makes the argument that this may be the most important contribution that religion – all religions together – can make to the world right now: a message of hope, and a collective reminder that our most powerful enemy is not other people, but fear itself.

I’ve been glad to find at Los Altos United Methodist Church, the church I have been leading since July, a determination to be a community of faith that is not afraid to extend beyond its boundaries and its “normal” work. For one week each October, the church turns all of its energy and resources toward uniting the Los Altos community in service. Compassion Week is scheduled Oct. 2-8 this year. Every day during that week – Monday through Sunday – the church will make available opportunities, tools and partners to anyone who would like to be involved in hands-on service in Los Altos, Mountain View or Palo Alto. We believe so completely that this work honors our Creator that we suspend our regular Sunday services for this one week. On Sunday, Oct. 8, we will worship with our hands.

There are opportunities for volunteers of every age and every ability. You don’t have to be a member of Los Altos United Methodist Church, or any church, to participate. For a list of Compassion Week opportunities and more information, visit laumc.org/compassionweek.

Come along. Be a part of the work of resisting a culture of fear. Let’s make this a city fueled by the power of compassion.

Kathleen McShane is senior pastor of Los Altos United Methodist Church, 655 Magdalena Ave. For more information, call 948-1083, visit laumc.org or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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