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Commuting Fear

Anything scares me, anything scares anyone but really after all considering how dangerous everything is nothing is really very frightening. – Gertrude Stein in Everybody’s Autobiography (1932)

My first two weeks of commuting to Montclair from our home in San Francisco have been way more interesting than we might have expected! The first week, the Bay Bridge was closed and I left our second car in Sari Kulberg’s driveway and used BART to go back and forth. (thanks Sari!) This worked quite well, although it took nearly 90 minutes on Sunday the 1st because I just missed a K-Owl on Market street and then had to take a 33-Stanyan to the 16th and Mission station only to discover that BART wasn’t open yet at that station.

Now you might not know that I’ve lived in San Francisco for most of the 22 years that I’ve lived in the Bay Area. And in the late 90’s, I did needle exchange and street outreach late, late at night in the Polk street neighborhood. My ministry in those days also included a regular shift at the Ambassador Hotel in the Tenderloin via the Listening Post, a program sponsored by the Rev. Glenda Hope’s amazing Network Ministries. So, I’m pretty street-wise and not easily intimidated by the usual bad smells and scary behaviors that happen amongst San Francisco’s hardcore homeless and/or drug-addicted population.

But on Sunday morning September 1st, because I was on my way to Montclair church for Sunday Celebration, I was in a good suit and not dressed for street outreach. As a result, I stood out in a way that was somewhat uncomfortable for me and it seemed like a bit of a curiosity to those hanging around the station. I found myself clutching my bag and a smidge fearful. But I have learned that fear in not only an unhelpful response (it makes you stand out even more!) but it is also disrespectful because it communicates disapproval to those who live in that neighborhood. So, I took a deep breath and struck up a conversation with a couple of other folks waiting for the station to open. Just small talk about the weather, the bridge project, etc. and my anxiety began to decrease. By creating a small pocket of “community”, I was able to manage my fear and relax.

My second week of commuting brought another set of more welcome changes. The new Bay Bridge is absolutely beautiful! My first morning driving across it was magical. It feels like you are riding on the deck of an enormous sailboat and gliding across the Bay.

But what I welcomed as a wonderful adventure, I discovered was another opportunity for fear when a friend of mine said, “I’m never going to drive on that bridge. Who knows how it will do in an earthquake with faulty bolts and substandard steel from China?”

Certainly his concerns have some validity and they have been rightly raised throughout this long, long, and absolutely obscene, political process of building the new bridge. I also have justice concerns myself about whether spending six billion plus for a new bridge was a wise use of resources when the old bridge could have been retrofitted for a fraction of that cost.

But am I afraid to use the new bridge? Nope. My lack of fear of the new bridge is partly because I’ve been regularly driving across the old bridge for over 20 years knowing that it has not been retrofitted and that it isn’t just likely to fail in an earthquake, it has already failed in an earthquake. I also regularly ride through BART’s Transbay Tube and the retrofit of that structure isn’t complete. I have served churches located on ALL the major faults in the Bay Area. Worst of all, I’m a regular pedestrian in the City and that is truly high-risk in a statistical sense.

This little meditation on fear does chronicle some of my own successes in this area of spiritual and emotional development, but don’t think that I have it all handled. You will definitely see uncontrolled and irrational fear should a snake come onto campus. It will be embarrassing and quite dramatic as I break into a cold sweat and heart palpitations. (try not to laugh – it doesn’t help) For those of you who are joining me for walks, let’s hope we don’t find any of them on those journeys either. But if we do, just know that I will probably be useless.

So here’s my question for all of us: what do you do when you find yourself beyond your comfort level and somewhat fearful? This happens to all of us in a variety of situations. It is normal and human to become afraid and/or anxious in the midst of change or whenever we encounter something different than what we expect.

My own knowing is that any way that I can create a pocket of community at the point of my fear is really helpful.

It helped at the BART station and it helps me when I think about earthquakes and other natural disasters that I know I will not be alone and that I have been part of the preparedness planning of many communities including my own neighborhood. And I am completely confident that if I encounter a snake, I do not want to be alone. When I’ve spent time on our family’s ranch in Texas, “in snake world”, I prefer to walk with a dog or be on horseback – just in case!

As we continue getting to know each other, I am listening for the moments of anxiety that exist within this community about the future of this church and for the anxiety and fears we may have individually. Feel free to speak with me if this blog has “rung any bells” for you or simply lean on your sisters and brothers in this community in whatever way you figure out. The Stein quote I put at the top of this is also helpful for me and so is my faith that no matter what happens, I can count on the love and strength of the holy one, too.

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