I went to sleep last night after hearing President Obama announce the killing Osama bin Laden and woke up to any number of blog posts and commentaries already written. You people need less sleep than I do – and I’m running on fumes. Those of us who love to put words to paper find moments such as this begging for us to write something while, at the same time, I wonder what I have to say that will add constructively to the virtual Tower of Babel filling everything from Facebook to Twitter to the Huffington Post. My reality is writing is part of the way I process what I see happening in the world and in my life. Though I would love to feel that I am saying something original and profound, I’m willing to own that I’m mostly writing to help me sort things out and choosing to do that in conversation with whomever chooses to join in because I believe we sort things out better together than on our own.
Osama’s death doesn’t change much of anything as far as I can tell. Even early this morning, one of the headlines at the Huffington Post talked about the possibility of reprisals from Al Qaeda. We are not safer because we killed him. We will still have to take off our shoes at the airport, still spend a ridiculous amount of money on national defense, still have to listen to our politicians whip themselves (and us) into a frenzy of fear to try and get elected as the one who can protect us. We are still running scared. Some have talked about his death as closure for what happened on 9/11, but their statements beg the question as to what is being closed. The grief is not over. His death replaces no one, nor does it measure us as some sort of equitable revenge. Ghandhi’s oft-quoted words find particular resonance today: “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” Nothing is solved or healed or bettered by killing Osama. We got revenge, not justice. The satisfaction will be short-lived.
I am left particularly incredulous by those who chose to “celebrate” his death, particularly those who clothed that celebration in Christian terms, as though this was some sort of victory for Jesus – that would be the same Jesus who said, unequivocally, “Love your enemies.” I’m pretty sure assassination was not one of the ways he imagined that love being expressed. Osama’s death is not a religious victory not a triumph of Christianity over Islam. We are not in a holy war. Our nation has chosen to participate in an increasing spiral of violence the consequences of which are far from over. Bin Laden didn’t represent Muslims any more than Fred Phelps or Terry Jones speak for all of Christianity. His presence and actions in the world called us to check our character and our resolve as Christians to show whether or not we are willing to follow Jesus in difficult and dangerous days. We appear to be about as reliable as Peter in the courtyard.
Here’s the part in the post where I begin feeling the creeping resignation that those who share similar views will read on and those who don’t will either stop reading or take time to send some sort of comment to tell me I am idealistic or naïve and even God knows there comes a time when you have to open a can of Whup-ass on those whom you see as enemies. I despair because most of the posts I read today – and perhaps this one – weren’t written with the expectation of a genuine conversation about how to live out our faith. We are writing to be heard more than we are writing to listen, which is the way in which Christianity in America has become most acculturated: we operate by the same polarizing, violent rules of conversational engagement that paralyze our country.
you say you see no hope
you say you see no reason we should dream
that the world would ever change
you’re saying love is foolish to believe
’cause there’ll always be some crazy
with an army or a knife
to wake you from your day dream
put the fear back in your life
look, if someone wrote a play
just to glorify what’s stronger than hate
would they not arrange the stage
to look as if the hero came too late
he’s almost in defeat
it’s looking like the evil side will win
so on the edge of every seat,
from the moment that the whole thing begins
it is love who makes the mortar
and it’s love who stacked these stones
and it’s love who made the stage here
although it looks like we’re alone
in this scene set in shadows
like the night is here to stay
there is evil cast around us
but it’s love that wrote the play
for in this darkness love can show the way
As I spoke of this song, a friend reminded me of another Wilcox song written when the AIDS epidemic was the designated dividing line among Christians called “Fearless Love.” The song tells the story of someone in a protest stand-off between the two sides. The verbal violence escalates to someone throwing a stone and hitting a man who was HIV postitive on the head and causing him to bleed. The person holding the sign of judgment was then confronted with what to do about the bleeding person at his feet.
your mind snaps back to where you stand
your church is here to fight a cause
and at your feet a fallen man
whose head is cradled in his arms
though his blood contains his death
and though the lines are drawn in hate
you drop your sign of Bible verse
and help the wounded stand up straight
oh yes the high religious still will scorn
just like that did all that time back
they’ll say you helped the other side
they saw you haul that soldier’s pack
but now how could you carry that man’s sign
in your heart the choice was clear
you didn’t join the other side
the battle lines just disappeared
when fearless love, fearless love
fearless love makes you cross the border
“Nothing changes just because one guy gets killed, even if it is Osama,” said one of my eighth graders as he came into class this afternoon. Fearless love, however, changes all of us.