Monday, May 02, 2011

Bin Laden is Dead - But is Celebrating It a Legitimate Reason to Set Aside Christian Behavior?

When the news broke late last night that a naval SEAL team had infiltrated Osama bin Laden's compound just outside of Islamabad, Pakistan and killed him, I - along with millions of others - watched as spontaneous celebrations broke out in Washington, New York, Annapolis and Colorado Springs. What should have been a time of pride in America and the work of our intelligence forces and military, however, instead resulted in a time of emotional conflict for me.

In watching the celebrations, I was stunned by the feelings of vengeance and hatred spilling from the mouths of many in attendance. I was appalled by the newspaper headlines screaming phrases such as "Rot in Hell!" Truthfully, I was discouraged by the actions of men and women who were acting in a manner which would have provoked outrage were they watching crowds in the Middle East carrying out similar "protests".

Moreover, I have been feeling a very deep sadness. I remember very well where I was on September 11, 2001, and the tremendous - almost overwhelming - sense of sadness that we all felt on that day, both here in the United States and around the world. At that time, families across the country turned to the church and to their faith to sustain them through that difficult time. In watching the news last night, however, the one thing that I didn't see was anything close to prayer. Instead, I saw many people turning to the Old Testament theology of "an eye for an eye" - which completely discounts the message of the New Testament. And how long can we - how long should we - continue to take an eye for an eye? As a friend of mine pointed out today, if we continue doing so we will put ourselves in a position of being simply the blind leading the blind.

I am proud to be an American, but distraught by much of what I have seen during the past 24 hours from Americans.

I remember what Diana Butler Bass wrote about her daughter's reaction in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks. After hearing a radio report about what had happened, she asked Diana whether bin Laden was the one who hurt all of those people; when Diana responded yes her daughter said, "Maybe we should pray for him". It was a powerful thing to say then - forgiveness of our enemies, from the mouth of a child - but it seems to have been forgotten since.

I talked to several friends today - all clergy - who were kind enough to listen to my doubts and guilt. Yes, guilt - guilt that if I were to talk about any of my feelings out loud, my feelings of anger at the jubilant reaction of fellow Americans, I would somehow be labeled as being un-American. The question in my mind, despite the guilt, was whether it is even more important to exercise our faith and be models of Christiaity at this time.

One friend asked me - setting aside, for a moment, what I think I should be feeling - what it is that I would express to God. My answer was a rambling one: the frustration at the reaction of many among the crowds. Anger and sadness over the fact that, even today, people cling to the "eye for an eye" mentality. Disappointment that a country where 78 percent of the population claim to be Christian, and yet quickly throw that out the window when it is easier and more expedient to express joy over a death. Sadness that the evil in the world never ends, the killing never ends, and the need for retribution never ends.

Her response really gave me pause for thought: "You know how I keep saying that the things we criticize in others are the things we struggle with in ourselves? Here it is. We criticize them for their anger while the emotion we feel toward them is anger."

Another response also hit me, but from a completely different direction. This, in an email response to me from Archbishop Tutu: "You are wonderfully sensitive and God is proud of you. A Jewish saying when the Israelites were celebrating the drowning of the Egyptians during the Exodus. God asks them, 'How can you celebrate when my children have drowned?'"

Taken together, these two responses have brought together a reflection in my mirror of a flawed person - a person whom God loves, who grieves when people celebrate the death of another, and who has anger towards others because of their anger.

Yes, I am flawed. You are flawed. We humans are all flawed. But if we weren't, I don't think there would have been/be any need for Christ to come into the world.

If there has been any comfort in my struggle today - aside from the support received from family, friends, and one big mentor - it has been the quotations and prayers that many have shared. In particular, many have turned to the "Prayer for Our Enemies" from the Book of Common Prayer. It reads:

O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth: deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I would echo that: deliver us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge - and deliver me from my doubts, sadness, disappointment, and anger.

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