Whenever I feel afraid I hold my head erect And whistle a happy tune So no one will suspect I'm afraid.
He was much too young to die. Only 16 months after we graduated from high school one of my best friends died when the aneurism in his brain blew while he was out with his Navy buddies enjoying an evening of leave. The doctor said he was dead before he hit the bathroom floor in the Pizza Hut in Jacksonville, Florida. Our crew of friends gathered on a cold, Indiana October day to say farewell to one of us. His minister, a nice enough person, told us that if we had faith we would be rejoicing now that Tim was at home with the Lord. I felt a lot of things in that cold cemetery, but rejoicing was not one of them. I was scared—scared of the reality of death that was no longer an abstract thing for old people, but had taken my bud Tim. And even more scary was the possibility that the God I thought I knew wanted me to “whistle a happy tune” instead of being a God who would meet a group of sobbing 19-year olds, offering us comfort and peace.
Jump ahead 30 plus years, and now I’m scared of some other things. My doctor says my weight, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels are all way too high. One of the elders in the church I serve decided to be proactive and asked me to start walking with him. We negotiate our schedules and off we go –two middle aged, overweight, out of shape guys out walking around the park. Quite the sight –especially when we take his two Brittany spaniels with us. While we walk we talk–talk about all kinds of things. As we who serve the church are prone to do, I replay those conversations. And what I keep hearing when I listen to what we really are saying is fear: Fear that the church budget numbers aren’t where they ought to be. Fear that the ‘worship wars’ might consume us. Fear that the capital campaign will fall short. Fear of denominational structures that are no longer the source of strength and stability we thought they were. Fear about the economy. And fear about our own mortality.
While I thought I had decided long ago that ‘whistling a happy tune’ wasn’t the way to find true peace, when I’m honest with myself I find that’s what I’ve been doing for a long time. Believing if I thought positively enough, if I prayed hard enough, if I worked enough, I wouldn’t have to be afraid–or at least no one would notice. Well, guess what? EVERYONE knows!!! They know about those things and so many more. Fear of talking about the inclusion of our GLBTQ brothers and sisters. Fear of conversations around the issues of war and peace. Fear of offering a position from a faith perspective about the Federal budget mess that differs from that of the Tea Partiers.
If whistling a happy tune like Anna did in The King and I isn’t the way to go, what else might we try? Maybe what I believed as a 19-year old. If I’ll just admit that I’m afraid maybe I’ll hear a voice echoing through the ages telling me to not be afraid for there are tidings of great joy of one who has come who replaces our fear with hope. Just admitting we’re afraid is the first step to begin to find some peace. We go about our business, believing that being positive and upbeat is the way to have hope. Maybe what we need is a hope that’s a little bigger than that. A hope that remembers our souls are thirsty until that thirst is quenched by the God of the Ages. Now that’s a tune worth whistling either in cold, October graveyards, or hot and sweaty parks, or maybe even in our sanctuaries!!!