‘There is no fear in love’ (1 John 4:18).
If I’m honest about it, these words strike me as optimistic, even somewhat whimsical.
Most people’s life experience has demonstrated at one time or another that fear takes absolute precedence when it comes to violent defining moments, or ‘crises’, in the full sense of the word.
When it comes to how we imagine we would behave in such moments, intentions are invariably good, even heroic, but reality, when it kicks in, often reveals us to be anything but heroes. Not that this is always a bad thing. The independent hero can be counterproductive in times of crisis. He or she can put the lives of others in danger.
On the night people were randomly stabbed in a London restaurant, the Youtube footage shows police telling them to lie down and not run, or even move. They were not to be heroes. If there was to be heroism, it would be a matter of holding together, and of having the courage to trust the police who were trying to contain the fear.
The lying down, and what must have been agonised period of waiting for the ‘all clear’, suggests that fear can only be confronted, and then contained, through trust in what it means to be real community. Real community is about being in ‘communion’ with one another. In a moment of violent crisis it means trusting those who give the orders which will enable innocent people to live. It is about everyone belonging to one another, so that whoever holds legitimate authority in any given situation is also fully in communion with the rest of us.
In the wider context of our shared public life, this is only possible when there is wise and competent leadership, wisdom being a combination of vision, compassion and common sense. Such leadership is vital in the context of mass violence.
The present mayor of London, a wise and compassionate leader, has told people to expect an unusual amount of police presence and high level security in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks. He has also told them not to be afraid, not because he wishes to delude them into thinking that these are not frightening times, but because he wishes them to know that their fear is valid and that he will do everything he can to protect them under his mayoral leadership. This is why Trump’s remarks about Sadiq Khan are both crass and dangerous.
A few nights ago, we saw another example of wise and compassionate leadership, this time coming from a twenty three year old woman and her co-celebrants at a rock concert. She was affirming communion, so you could say that her initiative to re-stage the concert so soon after the terror attack which took place at the last one was not only courageous in a human sense, but had something of the self-giving of Christ, and something of his innocence. His innocence was reflected in the faces of those attending the concert, as they faced down the violence that had been, and might yet be.
No doubt most of the young people attending the second Ariana Grande concert had been at the first one, with its tragic and terrifying outcome. What brought them together a second time? I believe it was the collective will to be as communion, so defying those who would fragment and ultimately destroy what is good about our society and our way of life. This is what made this concert so unlike any other concert. There was an exhortation to love one another in the facing down of fear.
All would be remembering the horrors of the previous celebration. Most of those attending this one were probably there when they took place. All would have felt the fear. Some would not have known what to do with the feelings these memories evoked, especially in their immediate aftermath. But they knew, and their leader knew, that to return to that moment of naked fear, evoked by the memory of the perpetrators’ crazed envy and untrammelled hatred, as it was expressed through brutal mass murder, was not why they had come to this second concert. To remain in that moment, or to return to it by re-invoking hatred, would have meant defeat for them and for all of us.
Their leader, was in this moment celebrating eucharist, a shared moment of love and thanksgiving. She was offering them a different and better way, a way out from fear, so that they would not spend the rest of their lives emotionally short-circuiting back to the lie which bred the hatred on the part of the perpetrators. But neither was she exhorting her fans to some kind of collective mental discipline involving them being seen to enjoy themselves. She was affirming and releasing the re-creative love which lies within each one of us. She was inviting her fans to be ‘as one’, or as communion in spirit and in truth.
To love one another is to worship God in spirit and in truth. I believe that, whether consciously or not, it was to this end that she told them to “Touch the person next to you. Tell them you love them – even if you don’t know them. Those watching this at home, do the same.” It was a sacramental moment, a hallowing of the ‘matter’, of our shared humanity, in the face of the sacrilegious acts committed a couple of weeks earlier in the name of God.
In saying these words, Ariana Grande was helping us all to face down our fear of terrorism, by being in deeper communion with one another as a free society. Perhaps she was thinking of the two generations who, in the last century, fought and died for that freedom. If so, she was also inviting communion across our generational barriers – all the nonsense we tell ourselves and others about how much better things were in the good old days.