ding dong the wicked man is dead

Osama bin Laden is dead.

He was a monster.
He was created in the image of God.

He perverted faiths’ understanding of God.
God loved him.

He was a killer.
We killed him.

We were so angry at him and so scared of him.
We are … what?

I am grateful this day, for the measured response to the death of Osama bin Laden. On MSNBC today, Chris Matthews said, “Not a day to celebrate, maybe a day to go to church.” Yes.

I am grateful for how many of my colleagues in ministry, and how many of my fellow travelers in the way of God have struggled today—not so much with the death of Osama bin Laden (I don’t know of anyone confessing to grief at his death), but torn between our own deep anger and a profound respect for the enormous grief this man’s actions engendered, and the assumption that his death constitutes justice—that his death is something to celebrate—that our visceral and emotional immediate reaction should be indulged and can justify the suspension of our faith beliefs—that his death solves the problem of the fear that’s been cultivated and the extremist hate all too many foster.

How important in these days following this death, for the voice of the people of God to name our deep ambivalence—the mix of emotions that is but in part, naming the tension between the teachings and the expectations of our culture and the teachings and the expectations of our faith, and is also, in part, naming the tension between who and how we are and who and how God wants us to be. How important for our integrity and our development as the children of God.

I’ve already been asked by parents, in the midst of their own ambivalence and the mixed messages our children are and will be receiving, “What do I tell my kids? How do I talk to them about this?” It’s one of those times we ask quite specifically what it is we want to teach our children. For, as the people of God, we can tell them that bin Laden was a bad man—that he made bad choices—that he did not care about other people the way our God and his God teaches us to and expects us to—that bad choices can lead to bad consequences—that a lot of people hated this man because of choices he made—that he chose violence to express his anger—and so others chose violence in response to express their anger—and it’s so hard to get out of that cycle—that cycle he used to kill so many that came back to kill him—but a cycle that’s not justice—that’s not the way God wants things to work—that God wants to stop (and wants us to stop)—the vicious cycle of hate and violence.

I am grateful for the opportunity to benefit from the sharing of the wisdom of the faith community:

Are we seeking power for power’s sake? Or are we seeking to make the world and our nation better places to live. If we seek the latter, violence can never provide the answer. The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Joyfully celebrating the killing of a killer who joyfully celebrated killing carries an irony that I hope will not be lost on us. Are we learning anything, or simply spinning harder in the cycle of violence?
Brian McLaren

I hope I am never this happy about someone getting shot ever again in my life.
Stephen Colbert

Just or unjust, I am simply sad that we live in a world where death can ever be the answer or the solution. Looking forward with hope for a time when that is no longer the case.
Tiffany Triplett Henkel

And I thought of this excerpt from an old sermon:
And is it not expedient that one man should die for the sake of many (John 11:50)? And everything within me screams “Yes!” and “Do not kill,” or “Do not commit murder,” (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17) and “Love your enemy” (Matthew 5:44) are all temporarily suspended. They’re nice in church. They work in normal times. They work when my enemy is—I don’t know—someone who doesn’t like me at work—a gossip—someone who puts me at a risk I can accept. But they don’t work in Normandy and Poland and Italy. They don’t work in London and Paris and Leningrad. They certainly don’t work at Auschwitz and Dachau and Buchenwald. The cold, hard facts are, that when the going gets tough, it is the tough who get going—not the meek, the humble, the poor in spirit, those who mourn and turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:3-11, 39). So whatever I say I believe on any given Sunday morning must always be weighed against the conditions in which I say it, yes? And so I must confess the truth of the matter is that I have no beliefs that define me. I have only situations that define both me and my beliefs within their own context. And if I feel safe, then I can be a Christian, but if I’m threatened ….

So I, as a pastor—as a Christian—as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I, clothed above all else with love? (Colossians 3:14)—pull my tattered cloak around me and say, sometimes the best thing to do is still a bad thing to do. And we look at our options, we weigh them carefully, and we choose the bad option that is still nonetheless the best option, and we then work, and we sacrifice, because it’s a difficult objective to reach. We bleed, and we cry—suffering and struggling and striving to do this bad thing. And we do it. We do it. We must then remember, or empower someone to remind us, when we are joyfully celebrating the accomplishment of this long-awaited goal, that it is still a bad thing. And I try not to think of the utter sarcasm with which Paul asked about doing evil so good may come (Romans 3:8).

None of this sounds like Jesus, does it? But where is Jesus in times like this? Where is that radical, life-changing foolishness that is wisdom? Anywhere to be found? Unable to deal with the real world? Or, when I decided that God was only Lord of my life when that life felt good and safe, did I do my part to limit the transformative power of God?

The whole sermon (“when the best is bad”) was posted yesterday.

Finally, let not this opportunity for prayer pass us by—prayer for those whose lives will be forever untouched by a terrible anger and grief, prayer for our enemy, prayer for his many victims—in our country and others, of many faiths and ethnicities, prayer for the too many circumstances we allow and justify that breed anger and hatred, prayer for us as a people who stand in so many ways in direct opposition to this man, yet are touched by his choices in more ways than we want to acknowledge.

Let us pray for our children—pray for our future—that in days yet to come, our children would remember this day not just as a day of violence and death—not just a day voices were raised in exaltation, but also a day voices of faith were raised to ask more of ourselves—a day on which we spoke up to claim deeper hopes, to risk a more profound faith and to explore a more extensive love—thus rejecting, and committing to work to break the cycle that ever seeks to draw us into its spin.


2 thoughts on “ding dong the wicked man is dead

  1. and thanks for naming the tension. I was reminded of and reread your earlier post “soul conditioning, part five”. I recommend this heart workout for people of faith in times like this. I tried it and for me it was hard heart work, but a workout that leaves one feeling a bit stronger and healthier, and pleasantly fatigued. praise God.

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