The Post About Fear

My weekend adventuring found me smack-dab between wall-to-wall revelers at Chicago’s 20th annual Christkindlmarkt, an outdoor German Christmas market. Choosing not to brave the crowds alone, I invited my parents and sister to join me Saturday morning at this festive event, held on weekends throughout the month of December. I’ve always wanted to go, and this year I finally made it happen! I warned my family ahead of time about the weekend crowds, but even I was not prepared for the land-locked, stock-still standing in droves, and the bumping, inching, moving, but it was all cool because ALL THE SAUSAGES and ALL THE CHOCOLATE!

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I’ve mentioned before on my blog my crush on Germany (it’s where my parents fell in love) and how tiny bits of German culture have found their way into our family. Needless to say, we all enjoyed browsing vendors of authentic German goods, from nativities, to ornaments, to German Christmas pyramids (a beloved tradition of my childhood), to cuckoo clocks, and other hand-carved crafts. And of course we enjoyed fresh Bavarian soft pretzels, German marzipan, and sausage and sauerkraut! (All in all, a bit kitschy, but a good kitschy.)

Despite the crowds, my family did great! We all agreed that reserved parking was the way to go! (Thank you SpotHero App!) Ahead of time, I was able to procure for us a cheap parking space within one minute walking distance of the festival. (Located beneath the Block Thirty-Seven mall, we also had easy access to public restrooms.)

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These are literally the only three pictures I took. There were so many people, I could barely even raise my arms to get my smartphone in the air.

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But this is the post that’s not about Christkindlmarkt, but rather about fear. Because, honestly, I have to admit that my family was a little nervous about being in a large crowd like that in a major American city, considering recent current events. My family and I mentioned it before we went. Would we be safe if we go? I knew we would be less than two blocks from the location of last week’s Chicago protests (where three people were arrested). And considering other current event headlines… could it be possible that even Chicago could be the location of a terrorist attack at some point? (Normally, I’m not a very anxious person in large cities, but I have to admit that I did think about it before I went.) And the crowded spaces didn’t help either.

Interestingly, though not surprisingly, a piece of music offered a brilliant contrast to these fears and suspicions.

Creeping past yet another wooden food booth offering German sweet dumplings and bratwurst, I tuned into the holiday melody pouring out of the speaker of the tiny stand: Bing Crosby’s rendition of “Faith of our Fathers,” his respectable baritone and cheery orchestra weaving in and around the bobbing bevy of gray hats, black coats, and warm cheeks. My sister and I unconsciously began humming the familiar alto line… And as the lines of humans pushed me up against a wrought iron gate (behind which were free, liberated fat gray pigeons pecking at nothing, really), I thought about the words to that nineteenth-century hymn. Those words spoke to me in the midst of that slow-moving, confining crowd.

It spoke to me and to my questions of: What is the answer to all this violence? What is the hope for humankind? What shall we do for this injured and battered world? (Because I’m living a little heaven right now compared to the people of San Bernadino or compared to displaced Middle Eastern refugees.) What answers do I have for others? What answers do I have, especially in this world of bitter reactions to religious answers? What message do I have for the conflicts that seemingly abound on every front? Where, more and more, religion is aligned with fanaticism? And where fanaticism is aligned with violence, carnage, and death? Or where it seems that one cannot make any claim (especially about the relevance of God in these issues) without getting bitterly struck down?

The hymn spoke of something deep. Of a faith that gives resilience during times of antagonism. Of a love that is stronger than death. Of a love for our fearful friends and also our hostile enemies. Of a faith that gives one courage to follow one’s conscience. Of a faith that sometimes uses words. And of a love that always uses action.

(Interestingly, this hymn comes to us from a rather awkward time in Christian history, during the martyrdom of Catholics by the Church of England, beginning with Henry VIII. Inspired to memorialize these shattering, appalling events, Frederick Faber penned this memorable hymn in 1849.)

I can’t think of a more hopeless history, than of the church fighting with itself. Fighting with itself unto death. What despair these events must have initiated.

Perhaps this hymn has something to say about the multiplicity of conflicts in which we find ourselves today. (I’m thinking of the conflicts of politics, the conflicts of race and class, the conflicts of spirituality and nonspirituality, and the ultimate inner conflict between God and godlessness.) Yet instead of despair, these words offer hope (though it may seem harsh in its solidarity).

Faith of our Fathers! living still
In spite of dungeon, fire, and sword:
Oh, how our hearts beat high with joy
Whene’er we hear that glorious word.
Faith of our Fathers! Holy Faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

Our Fathers, chained in prisons dark,
Were still in heart and conscience free:
How sweet would be their children’s fate,
If they, like them, could die for thee!
Faith of our Fathers! Holy Faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

Faith of our Fathers! we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife:
And preach thee too, as love knows how
By kindly words and virtuous life:
Faith of our Fathers! Holy Faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

This tune floated above the faces of the crowd that slipped past, and as I searched their expressionless, multiethnic faces, I hummed the alto line, and I became strangely proud. Proud to be a Christian. Proud of my faith. Proud that I am celebrating Christmas. Proud that I partake of a faith, that, truly expressed, loves instead of hates. Proud that I serve a God of mercy, Who teaches me mercy (even though I am a slow learner).

It is this faith and perfect love that casts out fear.

And as sour smells of Glühwein and spicy scents of sausages punctuated the air, and as little families formed human chains midst the puzzles of shoulders, as college students laughed raucously, as inexpressive elderly couples munched on potato pancakes, and as strangers pushed and shoved past, this realization of the surety of love casting out fear brought a moment of peace. And I smiled.

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