As a boy, I spent a great deal of the summer at my grandparent’s ranch. It was a child’s dream – endless space to roam, all sorts of animals, ponds to swim in, trees to climb and stars to count.
One day, I was running around the yard instead of doing what I was supposed to be doing, getting ready to go feed the cows. I was barefoot and free.
I was about to step up to the gate to go into the pasture when I looked down and saw that my bare foot was about to land on a snake, a copperhead.
I screamed, ran inside the house, climbed on top of the bed and did not come down for hours.
That happened 25 years ago and still to this day, I don’t walk around the ranch without shoes and I keep my eyes constantly on the ground.
And now that I have children I take to the ranch, I have taught them the same. In other words, I have passed on my fear.
The question I pondered last time I was at the ranch while sitting safely on the porch was this: What all have I missed seeing with my eyes on the ground at all times?
What birds have I missed overhead? What sunsets and sunrises have I not totally absorbed? How many white tail deer and foxes have run past me while I was looking at dirt?
I don’t want to pass that on to my kids. I want them to be safe but not fearful. There is a huge difference.
As I reflect on the approach to ethics often used at the church in which I grew up, I realize that it was deeply based on installing a fear in my soul.
A fear of others who are not like me. A fear of doing things a new and different way. A fear of sharing and giving more and, thus, having less. A fear of losing control.
I look at the way so many churches handle the big ethical questions of our time and I wonder how much of the response is fear based.
For instance, would our answers to the current political (and theologically important) questions of our time – immigration reform, climate control, marriage equality, education reform and the use of drone bombs in our military, to name a few – be different if they were not rooted in fear?
Would we be more honest and concerned about the innocent lives being lost to drone attacks?
Would we be more willing to spend a few more dollars and a bit more time if it meant making meals that were truly environmentally friendly?
Would we feel differently about the rights of same-sex couples who live in our neighborhood?
Would we look differently at the plight of the undocumented mother working in the fast-food restaurant in order to buy her kids school uniform?
Would we see that the kids in the bad school across town are really our kids?
I think the answer is obvious.
Once the fear is removed, we will see so much more clearly. We will see beauty around us.
We won’t be OK with the pat answers that are way too easy, for we will have a wider, bigger and more beautiful vision.
And my guess is, we will still be safe – maybe even safer because we will be a bit closer to the Kingdom of God.
We have not seen a snake near my grandparent’s ranch house in more than 15 years, but I still watch every step I take.
I think a lot of my life is like this, even though something may have happened only one time, I allow it to define and reshape my everyday step.
Sometimes it’s time to remind the soul that it’s been 15 years since you saw a snake; it’s time to continue walking carefully but lift your eyes.
And I am counting on this: in the Kingdom of God there are no snakes in the grass.
Griff Martin is co-pastor of University Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, La.