Once upon a time Will Willimon and I worked on a book together. As an acquisition editor in Nashville, I pitched one idea to him. He lobbed something back from his office at Duke University, and our conversation about the project began. I knew from others that Will spoke fluent sarcasm, but I learned that he also loves a good conversational debate. We had several stimulating conversations about his interpretation of John Updike’s novel In the Beauty of the Lilies. While I disagreed with his interpretation of Updike’s novel and argued for a less caustic perspective, I came to two realizations: 1) Updike did not need me to defend him and 2) Willimon was the author and I was not. I am glad to have seen the birth of that book titled Reading with Deeper Eyes. Despite that book, Willimon became a bishop of The United Methodist Church. Retired now, he has more time to preach and to write, a gift to all.
Fear of the Other: No Fear in Love, published in early 2016 by Abingdon Press, offers a corrective prescription to the fears fueled by a variety of news sources and alternative facts.
Remember Willimon’s love of conversation and use of sarcasm as you read this little book. He begins with these words: “Thanks to fellow Christians Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz. If not for them, I would not have been asked to write this book.” (p. ix) Then off Willimon goes to examine the fears that plague US culture. He bases his reflection on a biblical understanding of the grace or unconditional love and acceptance of God.
“Is there anything more natural, innate, and universal than our fear of the Other?” Willimon asks (p. 21) and then he counters by recalling the role of the stranger or the Other throughout the Bible. He points out the radical nature of biblical hospitality in welcoming sojourners or aliens. Along the way, Willimon brings in the neurobiology of fear and how we project such fear in our lives. In opposition to that natural state, Willimon points again to the difference in perspective that comes through faith. He writes of love in action and speaks of the command that we love one another—the people who are our most feared enemies and the people who attend the church we attend, but have another angle on faith and discipleship. Perhaps most helpful is when Willimon strives to work toward a rule of hospitality in life, seeking the good in the other. As part of that rule of hospitality, Willimon suggests some actions for congregations to take. These suggestions are not revolutionary, but offer concrete principles and actions for Christian disciples. They include participating in self-sacrificial service to people in need and identifying alienated or voiceless groups in the community.
Each of the five chapters closes with questions for reflection, making this book helpful for small groups and for congregation-wide study.