I’ve been trying to keep up with the news around the Nigerian man who tried to light some type of explosive on a plane landing in Detroit on Christmas Day. I’ve been trying to keep up mostly because I’m getting on a flight to Austin on Wednesday to go to the memorial service for my friend David, and I want to know how much earlier I’m going to have to go to the airport to get through security. Trust me, when they start “randomly” pulling people out of the line for special attention, this man with the shaved head and the earrings is usually one of them.
The latest I’ve heard is the airlines are telling people they can’t get up or have anything in their laps during the last hour of a flight. What I know about what happened last week had to do with something the guy had strapped to his leg that he was trying to light. I’m not sure how telling people they can’t go to the bathroom, watch a movie on their laptop, or read a book would have stopped him or is going to make my flight any safer, other than it helps, perhaps, because we all feel as though the airlines are doing something at least. We stand on the cusp of a new year and we appear to be fueled by the same old fear. As David Wilcox wrote:
you say you see no hope you say
you see no reason we should dream
that the world will ever change
you say that we are foolish to believe
‘cause there will always be some crazy
with an army or a knife
to wake you from your daydream
put the fear back in your life
Not so many nights ago, we sang together, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight,” and here, on the fourth day of Christmas, even the four calling birds sound suspect. I heard one Senator talk of perhaps “preemptively striking” Yemen since the man on the plane was suspected of going there for training. Forget the calling birds, French hens, turtle doves, and even the partridge; trade them all in for sitting ducks.
Yes, I know it makes sense to be scared. If we look at things rationally, there are people out there who want to hurt us, who want to do harm. Our situation calls for something more profound, more substantive than rationality. The sensible response would be to say we must hurt them before they hurt us, or at least take our pound of flesh for whatever harm they manage to inflict. We are learning from our responses over the last eight years that neither of those rational responses does more than foment both fear and violence. Trying to make them as scared of us as we are of them doesn’t solve a thing, nor does it make us feel any more secure.
Fear may make sense, but it doesn’t make faith, as Wilcox sings:
it is Love that mixed the mortar
and Love that stacked these stones
and it’s Love that sets the stage here
though it looks like we’re alone
in this scene set in shadows
as if night is here to stay
there is evil cast around us
but it’s Love that wrote the play
and in this lifetime Love will show the way
We must move beyond the rationality of fear, or the irrationality of deciding all Muslims are terrorists or the rest of the world is just jealous of us, to the realm of faith and imagination, to a place where we allow ourselves to trust we can expect more from ourselves as human beings than an eye-for-an-eye existence, to a place where choose to respond in love rather than lashing out. Though 2009 appears to be ending on the same note as most of the last decade, the reality that will be 2010 doesn’t have to be pre-determined.
Those of us who choose to call ourselves followers of the One we also call the Prince of Peace would do well to also choose imagination over irony in the days to come. I’m getting on the plane Wednesday morning because I am going to gather with those whose lives were touched by David’s incarnation of God’s love in a way that led us to live imaginatively, believing the truth of our existence lay in something deeper than the reality of the headlines. Davy knew the reality of deep personal pain and yet chose love rather than lashing out. Wednesday night you can find a whole baseball stadium full of those who are both recipients and carriers of that love. Violence, like fear, is a lack of imagination. Peace is not naïve (though I am often told so), it is what love looks like when it is lived out.
I’m going to retell a story. (Hey! That’s new.)
A number of years ago, a missionary to Lebanon spoke at a church where I was serving. At that time, the violence in Lebanon was akin to what is happening in Israel and Palestine. After her talk, one woman in our church said to her, “We will pray for your safety.”
“Please don’t,” the missionary replied. “If you pray for me to be safe, I won’t get to go back because it’s not safe. Pray for me to be faithful.”
Life is not safe; but we knew that. Even on the fourth day of Christmas we know we are already following Jesus to the cross. On more than one occasion, he talked about what our faithfulness would cost us. His love was unflinching, all the way to his death. And his death was not the last word. If we can trust enough to imagine the skies filled with angels singing to the shepherds, or love strong enough to roll away the stone so Jesus could talk to Mary in the garden on that first Easter morning, can we not also imagine we could be faithful enough to wage a peace that would change the world?
Yes, I know out of two thousand years hardly any of those have known peace. Yes, I know those who would hurt us aren’t playing by the same rules. Yes, I know force feels like the only viable option.
That doesn’t change my question.