Where does fearing others get us?

Security checkpoint number two was surprisingly not crowded. TSA agents were even polite, which I took to be a sign that all was running smoothly for a rainy Monday morning. Flying brings with it a familiar routine. I hand my ID and boarding pass over to the person at the podium, who undoubtedly looks twice at me before making a squiggle on the boarding pass and highlighting something else. I find a couple of white plastic bins and empty my laptop and cell phone into them along with my quart-size bag of clear plastic containers containing shampoo, hair gel and toothpaste. I take off my coat, belt and shoes and put them in the bin.  I check and then recheck my pockets one more time, making sure there isn’t a recipe or a quarter lingering in the corner before I step into the body scanner. Missing that crumpled piece of paper in a pocket is apparently dangerous enough to require a full pat-down. I have learned the unfortunate consequences of that mistake.
On quiet airport mornings, I could go through the motions without thought. Indeed, that’s what I would have done, lauraexcept there was an inquisitive five-year-old beside me with a knack for unnerving questions. Why do you have to take off your shoes? Why do they need to see your computer? Is that enough shampoo for your trip? Will the body scanner hurt? What are they looking for?
I wondered about telling him the truth. I thought about telling him how adults will do all sorts of bizarre things to create the illusion that we are safe and we’ll go to all sorts of lengths to ensure that people we find “suspicious” are really not a threat.  I thought about adding some social commentary about how adults do a lot of things simply because we’re scared of others.  But in my naiveté, I thought, he is still a child, shouldn’t he get a few more years before adults corrupt his joy and teach him to fear others?
With his parents busy with his younger siblings, it was clear that I really might be the one to answer his questions, which were growing increasingly urgent and suspicious of my silence. “It’s no big deal,” I assured him, “the folks in those uniforms are just protective of their planes, that is why you have to put your shampoo in a bag that doesn’t leak so it doesn’t stain something, and they are kind of nosy so you have to show them your fun toys like computers, and they have to wear boring uniforms so they like to see if other people are wearing funny socks.” He smiled and nodded, confident in the process and content with the answers.
Not long after, thousands of feet in the air, I found myself wondering about the consequences of the hoopla of TSA, body scanners and temporarily barefoot tourists on the youngest of travelers. Maybe the hoopla prevents acts of violence, but perhaps it causes violence, too. The reality is that someone will eventually teach that five-year-old that the TSA agents are not worried about the plane’s upholstery or his fashion choices, and he will rapidly be stripped of wonder and awe and taught to profiling others and fear for the worst. That’s not what I want for him.
When will we teach our children something different? Jesus might not have been preaching and teaching in the age of the airplane and TSA, but he did know a thing or two about how destructive fear and fear of others was. When will we ever learn that fearing others gets us nowhere? Will we ever call for a different way of participating in our world?
—Laura Arnold, Iowa Conference Program Support/Adjunct of Lay Education and Pastor of Decorah Congregational UCC

2 Responses to Where does fearing others get us?

  1. Jonna Jensen says:

    Oh, AMEN, dear Sister. Thank you for this gift of holy wondering about the words and choices we offer to the children among us.

  2. Diane McClanahan says:

    Thanks, Laura! Great questions! The five-year olds and yours!

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