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Fearful Times; Living Faith by Robert Boak Slocum and Martyn Percy, editors

10 June 2022

John Inge reviews Anglo-American reflections on living in a time of crisis

“WE LIVE in fearful times with many threats and horrors,” one of the editors writes at the beginning of this book. To those he identifies, we could now add the most significant and terrible war in Europe since 1945. He hopes that, as we face “unanticipated challenges and unexpected horrors”, we may find “a new shape of Christian belief, hope, and practice”.

The 23 short essays by contributors from the UK and United States were written during lockdown or shortly thereafter. It is the pandemic, as much as anything, that colours them and is identified as precipitating fear in new ways. They are too numerous for any substantive engagement in this short review, but they are very varied and make hopeful, as well as challenging, reading, which make a useful contribution to the editors’ aim.

Emma Percy — commendably, in my view — makes a plea that “we might become kinder and understand more deeply the joy of our faith.” She uses the makeover programme Queer Eye, recommended by her sons and watched during lockdown, as a case study in kindness, demonstrating that kindness can build resilience and enable the practise of fortitude. She notes that, sadly, “in the face of fear, many become unkind.” Indeed.

Martyn Percy tells us we would be wise to remember that, just as perfect love casts out fear, “the reverse is also true: perfect fear casts out love.” It has long seemed to me that it is fear that is the opposite of love, not sin. Sin is the symptom. Why do we sin? Because we are afraid, though we scarcely dare to admit it even to ourselves: afraid that we don’t really matter, that we are not really loved, that we are not really lovable. All this fear leads us to sin, which makes us not unlovable, but unloving.

More than that, fear can cripple us and it can kill us. At the end of the book, Martyn Percy points out that our English word “worry” was originally derived from the word wyrgan, meaning to “strangle”. In Middle English, the verb gave rise to the meaning “seize by the throat and tear”.

Just as fear can strangle us, God’s love can liberate and save. Altagracia Pérez-Bullard suggests that “we have been living, to paraphrase the early nineties hit by Arrested Development, ‘Tennessee’, as if God were our spare tire instead of our steering wheel. . . Instead of having faith in our lives we need to commit to living lives of faith.” We need to wake up to the fact that, as St John of the Cross asserts, “in the end we shall be examined on love.”

Dr John Inge is the Bishop of Worcester.


Fearful Times; Living Faith
Robert Boak Slocum and Martyn Percy, editors
Wipf & Stock £19
Church Times Bookshop £17.10

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