Betty Greene Salwak

What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?

Filed By Betty Greene Salwak | August 09, 2009 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: Christian beliefs, Geoffrey Farrow, Joe.My.God, Steve Lopez

In the last days of 2005, I experienced a catharsis, an awakening that stripped me of the armor I had used to protect myself for decades. I realized that I had been hiding in fear of just about everything and thus had been at the whim of the currents of life, almost totally without direction. While I had made good use of what had floated my way, it was time to take the helm. I had to confront my fears.

Fear does not disappear just because you decide to face it. I created then a mantra I have used whenever trepidation raises its ugly head:

"What would you do if you weren't afraid?"

I picture in my mind how someone who has no fear would act, and then I do what I pictured. Taking that step can be uncomfortable to terrifying. It is equally comforting to exhilarating to have stepped through the fear. The dread disappears only after I act. That is not to say that it always turns out well. But to have taken the step, to have gone through the mental and emotional contortions required to be able to step, is a life-giving moment regardless of the consequences.

One aspect of my newfound determination was to realize that I needed to speak up against the vitriol being hurled against the LGBT community by people claiming to be Christians. (Their claim is often the only evidence they offer that I can find.) The silent majority of Christians need to be shown how to offer a grace-filled welcome. Maybe I could be a willing leader, at least in my own church.

How do I start? What can I do? I went online. A friend sent me a link to JoeMyGod, and thus began my education on the current state of affairs. I used Joe's bloglist to find more blogs. What's this one? Thoughtful, interesting: bookmark. Next: WHOA backbuttonbackbutton. Next: angry, intelligent, literate: bookmark. Next: sweet, sarcastic, open: bookmark. Next: Whoa--wait. Ooh. No, backbutton. Next: foodie. I suppose. Next: hilarious, sexy, poignant: bookmark. And so on, over the years gleaning my bookmarks from link to link, finding those that tell me the heart of today's people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender, Christian and not. It is in those stories that I found the means to deal with my issues regarding my faith. It will be the same stories--your stories--that will turn the hearts of those who will hear.

I find myself talking to strangers about a subject that risks discomfort and means a great deal to me. (It would have to, since I am way over on the spectrum for introversion.) I have a growing network of support, people who are willing to help me in a sacrificial way on each step of my journey. It is an amazing experience to be a witness to the next civil victory, marriage equality, that I believe I will live to see on a federal level. It is my fervent hope to see a spiritual victory as well, as Christians embrace the radical love exemplified by Christ.

Father Geoffrey Farrow, a Catholic priest serving in Fresno, was removed from his pulpit last fall when he spoke against Proposition 8. Immediately following that service, Father Geoff came out as a gay man. The importance of supporting his community--Christian and otherwise--was greater than his fear. In an interview with Steve Lopez of the Los Angeles Times, he closed with a simple expression of a great truth:

When he was in seminary, Farrow interned as deacon at St. Vincent's Medical Center and worked with terminally ill patients. As the end nears, Farrow told me, people say the things they never could utter. They are "more alive than ever . . . because they realize the futility of fear." He found them all contemplating the same questions.

"Were you true to your conscience? Did you do what you felt was right?"

And one more.

"What do you have in the end but the love you gave away?"

Each day I try to face my fears--that never really go away--because if I don't, how can I ask others to do the same? Do you think you have no power? You're right, so long as you choose not to act. So I turn to you, Projectors:

What would you do if you weren't afraid?


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Rick Sours | August 9, 2009 4:55 PM

Hi Betty,

The question "What would you do if you weren't afraid?" really causes one to think. For me personally there have been a number of things which I was afraid of doing for a variety of reasons. Some of these being fear of failure or fear of embarrassment to myself. In each case, I am very glad I overcame my fears and at least tried. In most of these I was able to overcome unfounded fears. The most important part was if I had not tried I would have always asked myself the question regarding could I have done whatever it was. All of these things were areas that took me out of my comfort zone.

Your phrase "if I had not tried" says it all, Rick. Not knowing is sometimes harder than failing, and then you just have to jump. Thanks for showing us you still come through on the other side.

"Fear" is the worst gift I got from my mother. I'm glad she also gifted me with the chutzpah I'd need to overcome it. One of the few reasons I've always wished to be a parent was simply to give my child an overwhelming sense of self-confidence without his or her having to build it on their own.

You're still setting the example for those who wish to follow, Tony. More and more are watching you do it with style.

Betty, thanks for your thought provoking blog. As a queer believer who has had the blessing of having a family that mostly loves me, a church family that accepts me as I am, a a rather accepting community (actually feel more accepted as a lesbian than a christian), it will still always be a challenge to comprehend and to put into action the radical love of Christ.

So I will spend some time pondering "What would you do if you weren't afraid?" and "What do you have in the end but the love you gave away?"

And hopefully the pondering will lead to action.

thank you....

DL, I think our greatest challenge will be to be gracious to those who disagree because we are asking the same of them. Instead of demanding the right behavior of them, we must demonstrate it. Grace brings grace.

as soon as i read "what would you do if you weren't afraid?" i thought back to my initial baby steps into serving my gay desires.

after many years of fantasizing and trying to erase from memory the two encounters i had had when i was in my early 20s, i recognized an inner need to explore my sexual thoughts further. i made it a point to seek out someone local who was a stranger - after all, i didn't want someone who knew me to know i was interested in gay sexual activity!

my first encounter with steve scared me terribly. i enjoyed our sex so much that i thought i really might be gay after all. the mere thought of it, the recognition i went through, scared me enough that i swore off any future meetings.

naturally, that didn't last too long, and i called steve again after a while and we began a quasi-relationship revolving around sexual activity.

the bottom line, of course, is this: once i overcame my fear of being gay, i realized it wasn't going away and that i had to willingly embrace it. having done so has been uplifting and it's given me freedom to be who i am.

George, I wish everyone could be at peace with the person s/he was made to be. So many cannot find their way to self-acceptance and the freedom you embrace. I am especially concerned for the young person who has less discernment over the messages being broadcast about sexuality and identity. We need to speak louder to drown out those condemning voices.

I would demand the press tell George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio they have a right to live in the United States as openly gay men!!!!!!!

I have been afraid most of my life. It wasn't until life around me started crashing down upon me that I was really afraid of myself. I have told my children that there was nothing to fear except fear itself. I wish that I would have followed my words that my Grandmother had given me. It was about ten years ago that I really came into myself. I finally admitted that I was transgender (not the word I used) and that I needed to find myself and the true me. When I found out who I was, it seems that most of my fears had disappeared. I was no longer afraid to get in front of people and talk. I felt more comfortable with myself. In general, I felt at ease and happy with myself. I'm still afraid of spiders. Thank you for the nice article.

No matter when it happens, it is so freeing to finally have that peace of self-acceptance. How wonderful that you have found that for yourself, Sheila.

When it comes to spiders, I don't step through my fear. I step ON it. ;)