Pondering Fear

In the July 4 Christian Century I was drawn into Dr. Marty’s weekly editorial, “Hollowed out by fear”.

“It’s not an overstatement to say there’s a fear epidemic in America these days. Swapping stories of fright has become our national pastime.”

For the next several hours, I monitored my thoughts to see how often the fear of something or someone came to consciousness. More often than I expected.

It doesn’t matter where we land on the political bell curve, fear is invited to be our constant companion.

“No one seems to have an unkind word to say about fear these days, unchristian as it surely is,” says author Marilynne Robinson. That’s part of her larger argument about fear not being a Christian habit of mind. Yet once fear gets aroused in any of our minds, its perspective dominates. All imaginative capacities get overwhelmed. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once preached of the spiritual damage fear created. “It crouches in people’s hearts,” he wrote, and it “hollows out their insides…and secretly gnaws and eats away at all the ties that bind a person to God and to others.”

These strong statements are hard to ignore. What fears are hollowing out our insides? What fears are gnawing away at the ties that hold us together and with God?

I will never forget what I learned from my Hebrew Bible professor many years ago as he taught us the use and misuse of the word “fear” in the Old Testament.

Often the accurate interpretation of the word “fear” in Hebrew is not as an emotion or being scared, but rather the “fear of the Lord” means we have an awesome respect and honoring of God.

Does our current understanding of fear carry any of this meaning? How often does fear come into our thoughts as an honoring and respect for our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer?

My late husband often asked his students to ponder,

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” 1 John 4:18a
 Does perfect fear then cast out love?”


Rev. Jolene Bergstrom Carlson
Executive Director/President


When an orchestra/band plays, I always find myself drawn toward the flutes. As they enter the song, they seem to silence the often fast and loud noises of the symbols, bases and even violins. I rest in their soft tones. I dance with their playful runs up and down the scales of harmony or dissonance. At times the sound of the flute is piercing and even shrill. It startles me. It makes my body jerk, and I protect my ears with cupped hands. At other times, I breathe in their long, high single notes and simply smile in silence.

An orchestra helps me catch a glimpse of the Holy Spirit; a daily presence that can and does startle me in unexpected ways shaking my smooth and harmonious patterns or letting me rest in silent tones. It invites me to look with different eyes, opens my heart to someone or something I had dismissed, or helps me enter the common music of the orchestra and just “be”.

The Holy Spirit lets me cry or sigh, always receiving me as I am. The Holy Spirit has the freedom to come as She chooses. We may need to be given the loud piercing sound of the clashing symbols. We may need to hear the notes of dissonance. We may need to receive the calm of the simple notes of the violin or flute. But always, the Spirit will be with us as we open ourselves to its Holy presence and receive the invitation to listen to the music of the Holy orchestra.

Thanks be to God for the gift of the Holy Spirit. May Pentecost be alive and present in our lives.

Rev. Jolene Bergstrom Carlson
Executive Director/President


When I was about 9–10 years old, I decided to show off my tractor driving skills with my uncle’s tractor. My cousins and siblings didn’t believe I could drive it, but I had driven a tractor many times, accompanied by my dad, so was sure I could drive it myself. My uncle let me give it a try.

It quickly turned into a near catastrophe. I headed right toward a machine shed and knocked a corner off of it. My observers were delighted at my failed attempt, but my uncle came running to me. He helped this scared, embarrassed, crying girl down from the tractor and said loudly enough for all to hear,

“Darn brakes! I thought they had been fixed!  So glad you are not hurt.”

My uncle was Easter to me that day. His love great enough to cover and love every bit of foolish me.

Leonard Cohen said it well:

“I greet you from the other side of sorrow and despair with a love so vast and shattered it will reach you everywhere.” 

Happy Resurrection Day!

Rev. Jolene Bergstrom Carlson
Executive Director/President

A Lament

Oh God,

From generation to generation you have shown steadfast love.
From the genesis of time, you have cared for your family.
Why, now, have you turned from your children?
You allow abuse and neglect.
Must your wrath be inflamed against children?
You allow death to come to babies.
You allow children to be struck with violence.
It is your honor that burns in ashes.
Where are you, Yahweh?
Must children scream in silence?
Their wounds drip with bitterness, their bruises pulsate with anger.
Their eyes are dimmed from despair.
Their bellies howl with pain.
Some try to care for them, to heal their hunger and pain.
Some try to help them in your name.
Why are you silent, Yahweh?
Oh God, you brought deliverance from Egypt; deliver the children.
You destroyed the enemies; crush the evil in their lives.
You played with Leviathan; restore their play.
Oh God, you fashioned the limits of the earth;
       weave limits of love for the children.
Remember Yahweh, you molded your children from the dirt,
       and said, “Behold, they are good.”
Come, O God, hear the voices of the children, do not be silent.
Do not let evil mock your name.

Rev. Jolene Bergstrom Carlson
Executive Director/President

Lent: Grief, Part 2

In an interview with a father of one of the children killed in Parkland, Florida, I heard him say the following:

“When people say to me, I can’t imagine what it is like losing your daughter. I say back, please try hard to imagine it then maybe you can feel what my days are like.”

This grieving father’s words hit like a hammer. He is begging us to waken with him every day as he sees his daughter’s still neatly made bed, no clothes on the floor, no complaining when the 6:00 a.m. alarm rings, no loud music, no laughter, no fights with a sibling. Just silence and an empty room. Imagine. Imagine.

He is asking us to live with him in his grief and pain. To be connected to him.

His request to try to imagine what it feels like to lose a daughter is a universal cry for companionship.

We have all lost loved ones. That is the only education and experience we need to walk with each other in the grief that forms our days and our world.

Yes, we all grieve differently. It is our own path to travel, but we all grieve.

When we go to funerals and we weep again for our own loss as well as the lost one, that’s beautiful. It can connect us to a universal grief.

Could the power, love and empathy of grieving be a hope for a broken world?

May we grieve as if every hungry child is ours.

May we grieve as if every abused animal is ours.

May we grieve as if people living in fear is also what we fear.

May we grieve with all the wounds of the world this week.


Rev. Jolene Bergstrom Carlson
Executive Director/President

Lent: Grief


Personal grief is real and can be raw. We have all known loss. Lent invites us to visit our personal grief and all the ways it wants to teach us. As hard as it is, acknowledging our grief can bring healing and growth. This week we are invited to welcome our personal grief and listen to what it wants to bring to us.

Let us listen to our grief through Father Thomas Keating’s, “The Welcoming Prayer”. The words of the prayer are more inclusive of all that we can welcome, if more than grief surfaces, simply embrace what comes. 

Welcome, Welcome, Welcome
I welcome everything that comes to me today
Because I know it is for my healing.
I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons,
Situations and conditions.
I let go of my desire for power and control.
I let go of my desire for affection,
Esteem, approval and pleasure.
I let go of my desire for survival and security.
I let go of my desire to change any situation,
Condition, person or myself. 
I open to the love and presence of God and 
God’s action within. Amen

As we welcome our personal grief so may we, too, welcome universal grief. We have much to learn from grieving together for our world. We will visit that next week.


Rev. Jolene Bergstrom Carlson
Executive Director/President