Stranger in a strange land

Reaction to bin Laden's death (AP Photo / Charles Dharapak)

The news of Osama bin Laden’s death came garlanded in words and images of people celebrating and waving U.S. flags.

I don’t share that jubilation; the news does not make me want to wave a flag. I feel at odds with the country I live in, once again.

My immediate reaction to our flag-waving was to remember how people in the U.S. felt, seeing images of people in the Middle East celebrating after the World Trade Center bombing on 9/11. Those images added weight to the argument for retaliation … which may have been why we saw them. News reports since then indicate many of them were trumped up. By whom? Nonetheless, they stick in our minds. And now we wave our flags.

I don’t think any of these deaths are occasions to celebrate.

Death never creates peace, and “closure” — if that’s the best this event represents — doesn’t, either. Nor does closure create life, or its possibilities. As a person who has experienced violence and violation, I have learned closure is not my goal: opening is. Opening to possibility.

That gets me laughed at, I know. Labeled naive. “How’d you like to wear a hijab? Be killed in a jihad?”

The answer is, of course, that I don’t want to be killed for my religious beliefs, and I don’t want to have another religion foisted upon me. But neither do I want others killed for their religious beliefs, or to foist my religion upon them.

But that’s not really what this is about. At root, these struggles are about resources, and how to use them, and who gets to make those decisions. I am complicit in that struggle, on a scale that feels impossible to fully grasp, much less grapple with.

The story Greg Mortensen told in Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools has been tarnished by news of his financial and organizational mismanagement. I’m sad for that, because there was one thing I appreciated from his work: that he learned it was important to work with local leadership of the Afghan communities he was trying to help. Many faults can be found in his work; some of the same faults run through what little I manage to do. My thinking can be equally and perhaps more flawed.

But listening … and trying to learn about another’s customs and ways and priorities … that’s never a flaw.

Between September 11 and October 7, 2001, the U.S. had a chance to listen, and learn, and be a different kind of leader in the world. I remember October 7, because it was the first time I lifted a loaf of bread and a cup of wine as a pastor, blessing and sharing the meal of peace for a group of people — and it turned out to be the day our bombs began to fall on Afghanistan, the day our response to 9/11 took tangible shape.

Our response continues. Yesterday we killed more people. One of them was infamous, and his death a potent symbol that will mean different things to different people.

The scale of international violence as an approach to dealing with conflict is so universal and ubiquitous that it is numbing; and this is the point at which I have to continue to resist. Whatever numbs my soul is slowly killing me. I have to pursue feeling compassion, in the face of that numbness: compassion for all the flag-wavers, compassion for all those who feel they are prevented from living into their full humanity, compassion for all those killed in and because of these conflicts, compassion for those grieving the direct impact of these deaths. Compassion enough to keep feeling and listening, moving away from conflict and verbal violence, and living into the small acts of peace I am capable of in my little corner of the world.

The One I try to follow said, “all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” To wound another is to wound oneself … which reminds me. I have a sword to put down.

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6 Responses to Stranger in a strange land

  1. D.L. Diener says:

    This makes me want to cry because it so deeply expresses my feelings about this. Thank you for responding to this.

    Peace be within you, and within all of us, and them.

  2. Sandy Petersen says:

    I was troubled by the news last night, too. One of my concerns is that this will be more reason for the more radical Muslim factions to increase terrorist activity against Israel and the United States. They will gain new followers to their cause because Bin Laden will now be seen as a martyr for the Islamic religion. That will trigger a response from the current administration to impose even tighter security measures, perhaps even martial law should any act of terrorism succeed in this nation. Osama Bin Laden taken alive would have accomplished so much more. I also understand your point about the reaction as seen on the media to the news that Bin Laden had been killed. How are the reactions some were displaying any different from some of the horrific videos we saw when American helicopters went down in Iraq and the cameras caught cheering Iraqi crowds and young people burning American flags?

  3. Cynthia Schepps says:

    The death of Osama bin Laden leaves me speechless and my heart numb and confused. In my perfect world we would all pray for the healing of his soul. Pray for forgiveness for all those who followed his word and carried out is misguided works in to the world. It is a time for thoughtful prayer and healing. Not a time for celebration. Let humanity come together and pray for our fallen brother and forgiveness for those still living. Let us know that ALL of this is the spirit at work. Peace on Earth! I am a beckon of light joining with Tammerie’s very strong beckon in pray for the world.

  4. Karen says:

    I thank you for writing this, it says much of what my spirit is feeling. I cannot celebrate the death of anyone. We need to learn about and respect others who are different for us. Your comment, “But listening … and trying to learn about another’s customs and ways and priorities … that’s never a flaw.”–yes, that’s what I’m thinking!
    Thank you again!

  5. mj kaska says:

    You have helped me find words today and given us a space to listen to each other amid the national reaction.

  6. Sparks says:

    With deep respect for you and the wonderful intent of this particular piece, I want to voice a different perspective. No, yesterday was not a day of celebration for me, either. It WAS a day of justice delivered, a promise kept, however, For me, it was a day of reflection, of gratitude, of simple prayer, and thanksgiving. I reflected on 9/11….and how 34 children were either burned to death or crushed. I reflected on the firefighters rushing UP the stairs to sacrifice themselves in a building falling down. I reflected on the loss of innocent lives of people from multiple countries, multiple races, multiple backgrounds. I reflected on the many small acts of courage shown that day. I reflected on people in a plane, trying to keep it from going to its intended target and perishing in a field. And in the days following 9/11, I have continued to reflect and remember the Yankee baseball game when a stadium full of people tried to regain some sense of balance in the middle of unspeakable grief. I reflected on the sick perversion of religion…..into a tool used, for centuries, to justify violence.
    I felt gratitude yesterday. Gratitude that I live in this country, its imperfections and all, where I and my neighbors can practice whatever religion we wish, without being stoned or killed…..where you and I can criticize and and find fault with our presidents and our military without being slaughtered…..and where men and women take UP their swords and do their best to protect and serve you, me and those we love. My love for this country is unabashedly over-the-top melodramatic. I cry when I hear God Bless America, I sing the National Anthem out loud, I put my hand over my heart. I love the dirt I stand on and the air I breathe. This is, to some, a passe and embarrassingly silly show of ignorant lemming-like loyalty. I don’t care. I feel gratitude that you and I live in a nation where protest and difference and freedom to voice opinion is protected. Try to tell me that the Wesboro Baptist church behavior would have been tolerated in Iraq, that gay men and women would be allowed to “come out”, that blogs like yours would be allowed to go uncensored, that an American like me would be allowed to find her own path.
    I prayed a little bit yesterday……a small prayer……not for Osama. I am glad he is dead. I would have gladly pulled the trigger myself. No apology for it. My prayer was for the men and women who died on 9/11 and for all the military men and women who have died since, trying to do their part to make sense of a hate-filled, religion-perverted, greed driven world. I prayed for courage to do my own part, too, to be kind and gentle and loving to those around me.
    And, most of all, yesterday, I felt thanksgiving……..thanks for the life I have been given to live, the days, the nights, the challenge, the laughter, the freedom to love, to get things right, to make so many foolish and unkind mistakes, to say I am sorry.
    So, at the end of the day yesterday, when I said goodnight to someone I hold so dear, I went to sleep feeling all those emotions………and knowing that I am blessed.

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