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Do you live in the house of fear or in the house of love?

It is a distinction made popular by the late Henri Nouwen in his book "Lifesigns." Nouwen notes how Jesus always reframed questions coming to him out of the house of fear: Who is the greatest? How often must I forgive? Is it lawful to divorce? Whose wife will the remarried woman be? Are you the King of the Jews? Has the hour come? Jesus always put aside fear-based questions. He regularly deflected anxious concerns about prestige, influence, power and control.

"Do not be afraid," he said. Come. Follow. Go, bring good news. God's reign is at hand. There are many rooms in God's home. Everything is yours. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus taught and acted from a place of compassion and love. In his wake came reconciliation, healing, generosity and new life, including new life out of death. Though he lived in a fearful time, he showed how perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)

We also live in an era of fear. Every day we are invited anew to be afraid. It is unhealthy for us. Fear creates anxiety which feeds our sense of threat. Threat releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, screaming to every cell, "Fight, flight, or freeze!" The heart races and breath shortens. Our body's resources go to the extremities -- the muscles and bones; blood concentrates in the primitive amygdala and brain stem. The rational frontal lobe of our more developed brain loses oxygen, and we get stupider. Under stress our brain doesn't work right.

Spiritual practices like silence and prayer, ritual and community, meditation and study help reverse the damage. When we move from the house of fear to the house of love we begin to see connections, we sense our union with creation, our union with all humanity. Our hearts grow soft and our breathing deepens. Hope arises and creativity expands.

In an era when fear assaults us daily in news and social media, it takes some discipline to refocus our attention and turn consciously toward the house of love. "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Philippians 4:8)

Jesus rejected the messages of fear and division. He crossed every wall that separated people in his culture. He generously offered the same gifts of healing and feeding to foreigners, aliens, sinners, non-believers and even to his own people's enemies.

Christians are called to act as Jesus did and to break down the divisions that separate humanity. The house of love is an expansive house. It transcends divisions of nation and race. Love decries the abuse of power toward the powerlessness. Love also challenges the narrow fears of extreme nationalism.

Extreme nationalism is the social form of narcissism. There are those today who promote American exceptionalism. The Hebrew prophets remind those who see themselves as God's chosen that to be chosen is to have a greater responsibility to serve the well being of all humankind, to be a "light to the nations." Jesus expands that expectation with a command: "Love your enemies."

Our nation's work is to be a people of reconciliation, not division. To unite families and peoples, not separate and deport them. To resist the sin of pride that distorts love of nation and community.

Lloyd Stone's 1934 lyrics appear in many hymnals, set to the beautiful Sibelius tune "Finlandia." The words speak beautifully of a generous form of nationalism.

This is my song, O God of all the nations,

a song of peace for lands afar and mine;

this is my home, the country where my heart is;

here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine:

but other hearts in other lands are beating

with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,

and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;

but other lands have sunlight too, and clover,

and skies are everywhere as blue as mine:

O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,

a song of peace for their land and for mine.

Pray and work for peace and generosity toward all people, especially the suffering who yearn for freedom and opportunity for themselves and their families. May we be an exceptional nation, a nation that loves and unites rather than a nation that fears and divides.

Commentary on 02/28/2017

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