Spiritual leaders in Steamboat discuss fear, hope in America
August 21, 2017
Neo-Nazi rallies, a presidential faux pas and Confederate statues mixed with domestic and foreign terrorism to stun the nation last week.
So it's no wonder close to 200 people turned out Thursday night to discuss "Hope and Fear in America" with a group of spiritual leaders at the Bud Werner Memorial Library in Steamboat Springs.
Moderators asked the panel and audience to describe the consequences of the fear that is surfacing in society. Their answers were first troubling but eventually turned to advice on how to manage fear and replace it with love and hope through rational communication.
"To me the greatest consequence of fear is a rising level of isolation and belief that our brother wants something not in our interest," said Karen Post, a psychotherapist who leads a "Course in Miracles" study group. "These fears create polarization and stops conversation."
Buddhist Tim Olmsted agreed fear could be overwhelming if not checked.
"Fear has the function of taking the natural, open, fluid quality of our mind and our awareness and collapses that," said Olmsted, founder of the Buddhist Center of Steamboat. "We lose perspective and things that are big become enormous … we don't see the long view."
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Tim Selby, pastor of the United Methodist Church of Steamboat Springs, pointed out the size of the large audience that was attending the community discussion.
"Look at the room tonight," Selby said. "Most of us are probably here because of some kind of fear. Fear can be a powerful motivator for goodness."
The discussion of fear and hope was organized by "Exploring the Sacred," a group formed 15 years ago to overcome divisiveness in the Yampa Valley dommunity.
One audience member talked about recent "bellicose statements" from the leaders of America and North Korea who both have access to nuclear weapons. He claimed it was rational to be afraid.
The panelists agreed but reminded audience members that sometimes things are out of human control and fear can paralyze.
Another audience member brought up hate groups and the perceived rise of shameless neo-Nazi activity.
"Shouldn't you speak out against it now," the man exclaimed.
There was a long pregnant pause, and Selby responded with one word, "yes," as the audience laughed in relief.
Post agreed but reminded folks that fear often drives prejudice.
"Condemn the large groups, but work all the time to create open dialogue," Post said. "As a leader, I can teach about fear and encourage (communication).
"When someone speaks hate, I don't see them as a bad person," Post continued. "I see it coming from their fear. I try day in and day out to help them work through their fear but not by preaching to them and telling them they're wrong."
Rev. Catie Greene with St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Steamboat admitted trepidation at using her moral leadership in some cases.
"Sometimes, I'm afraid to speak out against these worldwide issues, or in this case in which world leaders are threatening nuclear warfare," said Greene. "My fear has to do with how it's perceived because of the polarization and the way people will take a comment and expand it to mean something else."
Nevertheless Green and the other spiritual leaders encouraged open dialogue along with one audience member who brought up recent anti-Semitic vandalism at Steamboat Springs High School.
"There are fears and hopes in our community we need to talk about and listen to," he said. "It's easy to say 'this guy is a jerk' instead of sitting down and listening. The community needs to be willing to listen and not afraid to talk."
Panelists at the gathering included: Bert Halberstadt, representing Har Mishpacha, Steamboat's Jewish community; Father Ernest Bayer, Holy Name Catholic Church; Olmsted, Buddhist Center of Steamboat; Greene; Post; Selby; and moderators Marchele and Tim McCarthy, founders of Exploring the Sacred.
Readers with suggested topics for future community conversations can send their ideas to http://firstname.lastname@example.org.