I was recently reading a book by the author Parker Palmer called The Courage to Teach. In the opening chapters, he discusses the kinds of insidious fears teachers have that hinder their ability to teach effectively. To “avoid a live encounter,” as Palmer calls it, is to only deal objectively with people, places, and things as to not to have to either 1. reveal inadequacies about ourselves or 2. to alienate ourselves through carefully crafted fears so that we never have to truly dig deep into the the human experience — with others or even ourselves.
Palmer names four fears that are perpetuated by the fear of a “live encounter:”
- Fear of diversity
- Fear of the conflict
- Fear of losing identity
- Fear of change
(consider getting this book if for no other reason that to read pages 38-40 for Palmer’s full explanation!)
Palmer mentions a quote by Albert Camus, a French Nobel Prize winning author, who talks about how the rationale of fears is likened to that of traveling. He notes:
What gives value to travel is fear. It is the fact that, at a certain moment, when we are so far from our own country… we are seized by a vague fear, and an instinctive desire to go back to the protection of old habits… At that moment, we are feverish but also porous, so that the slightest touch makes us quiver to the depths of our being. We come across a cascade of light, and there is eternity.
Fear, when unaddressed, leaves us, as Camus suggests, “…impervious…that shuts down our capacity for connectedness and destroys our ability to teach and learn.”
As I sit in a dormitory on the campus of Universidade Metodista De São Paulo (Methodist University of São Paulo), embarking on what would be my first international trip since childhood, and, in six days, crossing the pond to journey to Uganda with Sole Hope, I can’t help but think of Palmer’s four fears that hinder our ability to have “live encounters.”
What is it that I am afraid of discovering, unveiling, revealing that will make my heart and soul impenetrable so that the light of God cannot shine through? What will it mean to let my inadequacies of any kind stifle the ability to minister to street children in São Paulo or sing songs of joy for children whose first pair of shoes come after years of infectious feet in Jinja, Uganda?
Where will my homogeneous ideas of what it means to be faithful and Christian and Black limit me?
Where will differences in theology or interpretations of privilege cut me off from seeing the bigger picture?
How will my identity as a woman, mother, round-the-way-girl transform — and will that transformation call me to cling to the newness or run away… frantically?
What will I be required to change as a result of encountering the unknown?
Most of what I know about culture outside of America is learned through books and television and academic research.It’s something to write and talk about caring for the other. It’s another one to have the other in your face, chin up and heart exposed, waiting for you to do the work that can change their lives.
Fear of the live encounter cannot limit us from seeing what God has called us to see or to hear what whispers lead us from one adventure to the next. Of what are you afraid? How do these fears limit your ability to fully engage in God’s work? Where do we begin to undo these fears? Who can help us in the process?
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